Taking standardized tests is, for most people, an anxiety-laden ordeal that must be undertaken at one time or another.
In 2019, over 2.2 million students took the SAT and around 1.8 million took the ACT, and millions more took similar tests such as the CLT, GRE, ASVAB, MCAT, and LSAT. If the stakes were not so high – college acceptance, scholarship money, admittance to grad school – then these tests would simply be annoying intrusions in one’s life.
According to the US Department of Education, “College is still the best investment a person can make in them self—bachelor’s degree-holders earn roughly $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates.”
WHY THESE TESTS ARE IMPORTANT
The truth is standardized tests are here to stay. Yes, due to the pandemic, many colleges temporarily suspended entrance exams, but don’t get too excited yet. They will be back in full vengeance. Why? Because this is the only way a school can compare ALL students fairly since a 4.0 at one school is not the same at another. These tests level the playing field regardless of where you live, what school you attend, or your socio-economic situation. 85% of colleges admit and give money solely based on a student’s test score. The schools receive their national rankings based on test score, so the higher the score, the more money the student receives!
Every college accepts the SAT and ACT, and they are about 95% the same test with a crossover of information. Strategies for one work on the other one. The CLT has not only become the differentiator for some Ivy League schools but also for students whose SATs and ACTs were cancelled.
The PSAT should not be overlooked. It counts for the National Merit Scholarship program in the junior year. Since it is created by the College Board, when you study for the SAT, you are studying for the PSAT. Scholarship offers can include full tuition, free room and board, grad school money, honors dorms, and more.
UNDERSTAND THE FORMAT
Unlike a normal school test, for which many students cram at the last minute, standardized tests are not about a subject area, but rather are logic tests that examine our critical thinking skills. As a matter of fact, they pull their questions from all over the place. Any last-minute studying is generally useless and a waste of time. You cannot study [any specific information] but students need to study the actual tests themselves.
Any athlete playing a game knows that to win, you must know the rules and your opponents (in this case, the test makers). Students need to learn the recurring patterns, rules, profiles, and tricks inside and out to beat the test. This not only means learning the built-in shortcuts and test-taking techniques but also taking many, many actual practice tests until it becomes second nature. It is a different skillset to attack standardized tests.
Standardized tests have one objective, clear-cut, indisputable answer with several tricky distractors that are landmines that students tend to step on. Since these tests are created for a vast audience, the correct answer will rarely be enigmatic or profound.
Students only get around a minute per question, and this time doesn’t count any passage reading or transferring of answers. Logistically, there isn’t enough time if the questions are approached in a normal fashion. The test makers design the questions knowing that most students work at supersonic speed to finish the questions, so they build in a system that favors carelessness and lack of attention.
Get an overview of each section of the test. Learn to retrain your brain and not look for the right answers, but eliminate the wrong ones first. Once your test-taking skills have been trained, your pace picks up. Accuracy before speed!
GOOD OR BAD TEST-TAKER
Most students, even smart ones, bomb these types of tests. Some students are naturally good test-takers. Check out our article on Good Test Takers and Bad Test Takers.
TEST PREP COMPANIES
There are a plethora of test prep programs, books, and classes on the market, so where do you begin? There are several questions to explore before you jump ahead into any system that advertises to help raise your student’s test scores.