Standardized Tests are different in many ways
How important are the tests?
It is important to realize that different Standardized tests have different purposes.
1.. Tests that you don’t need to worry about.
With some standardized tests, you can relax. Your scores won’t affect your grades. They simply provide information to help you see how you compare with other students and how your school compared with other schools. The test can actually help you understand what skills you need to work on.Relax and do your best.
2. Tests that you will worry about.
With other standardized tests, the scores are much too important. You may need to make a certain score to go on to the next grade or to graduate. Many teachers agree that these tests put too much pressure on students and that grades are a better indicator of what you have learned. These tests are especially unfair to students who are new in the country and are having problems with the language and to students with learning disabilities.
But the advice is the same. Relax and do your best. Letting stress upset you will only cause you to make more mistakes. Try slow, regular, deep breathing. Tell yourself you will be relaxed and do your best. Smile and start work.
3. College Entrance Exams
Another kind of standardized tests are the college entrance examinations. These are generally fair and even helpful. It is to your advantage NOT to be accepted by a college where most of the students have much higher scores that yours. You can go to a less competitive school with students whose skills are like yours and your can still get an excellent education.
How to Prepare for Standardized Tests
It is very difficult to prepare for standardized tests, especially if you don’t start until a week before the test. There are a few exceptions. Start by learning what the test covers.
If you are taking a standardized test on algebra or on a foreign language or some other single subject, you could really do some helpful preparation. It would be best to start at least a month before the test. Go through your textbook and spend a few days reviewing each chapter.
If you are taking a test on reading skills or general vocabulary, working for a year will make very little difference. Get a good night’s sleep. Relax and do your best.
3. Preparing for College Entrance Exams.
There are three approaches. You can use one, two or all three.
A. Start building your reading skills by reading challenging books, starting as early as possible. Improve your vocabulary by learning 10-20 or more new words a week, starting as early as possible. I started in 7th grade. If you are serious, whatever grade you are in, start now.
B. You can buy or borrow SAT practice books and go through them carefully. When you get to answers you don’t understand, ask a friend or teacher to help. When you finish the book, start over again. This is especially helpful because it helps you understand the kind of questions you will be facing. You will understand the directions and know what they expect you to know. You’ll learn a little vocabulary but you might learn more about grammar and understanding math. It is definitely worth the time.
C. You can pay a lot of money to a Test Prep Company. This will almost definitely help you improve your score, but I’m not sure how long you will remember what you learned. If you are absolutely determined to get into a selective college, you might decide it is worth the cost.
Personally, I think you can learn just as much going through the SAT practice books several times, especially if you get someone to help you when you don’t understand the material.
Before Taking Standardized Tests
1. Ask questions about the test
How much time is allowed? Do most students finish in that time or is it important to do the test quickly?
Are you penalized for guessing? If so, how much is taken off for a wrong guess.
Are you allowed to bring and use a calculator or other equipment on the test. If everyone else is using a calculator on math problems, and you didn’t bring one, you will make a lower score.
What subjects are covered on the test?
What kind of questions are on the test? Are they all multiple choice? Will there be essay questions.
2. Use this information to develop a plan.
If students rarely finish the test, do not waste time on difficult questions. Skip them and come back only if you have time. It is still smart to stay in control and take your time. Going too fast will cause you to make more mistakes.
If the test covers a subject where review will help, certainly do a carefull review. This is often especially true with grammar. You can review most of the grammar rules in several hours of work.
If the test includes essay tests, ask how they are scored. Practice writing several practice essay tests and decide how they might be scored. Think what you could do to get higher scores on an essay test.
If there is not penalty for guessing, then guess on ALL questions.
If each question is worth 5 points and a wong guess means they subtract 5 points, do NOT guess. If they only take off 1 point for wrong answers, go ahead and guess. If they take off 2 or 3 points, do not guess unless you can eliminate all but two possibilities.
Taking the Standardized Test
Do not stay up late the night studying for the test. Get some exercise to help you relax. Then get a good nights sleep. Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast before the test.
Get to the testing location a little early. Be sure to use the bathroom before going in. You don’t want to need to go in the middle of the test.
Be sure you have enough pencils (usually number 2 pencils) ready to use. If you are worried about needing to sharpen a pencil bring a small pencil sharpener and be sure they are allowed. Be sure you have any other materials you need.
Try to get a seat near the front. You will hear the directions more clearly and have fewer distractions.
When the tests are handed out, be sure you put your name and other information in the proper places. Relax. You will do well.
LISTEN to any directions. Is there anything in the directions you didn’t know?
Skim the test. Decide what part is easiest and start there. Don’t rush. Take enough time to do the questions well. If you don’t understand a question or don’t know the answer, either guess or skip it. Don’t waste your time on one hard question.
If you have an answer sheet like this one, you should be very careful. Be sure each answer is in the correct space. Students sometimes just go to the next line on the answer sheet without checking numbers. If you skipped one space near the beginning of the test, all the rest of your answers will be in the wrong spaces.
I made that mistake once, the first week of my freshman year of college. I realized it near the end of the time allowed and frantically tried to erase and move all my answers to the correct spaces but over corrected and they were all in new wrong places.
It wasn’t a test for a class. It was a vocabulary test for incoming freshmen. I spoke to the people giving the test and was permitted to take the test again. I completed the second test in half the time and my grade went from 19% to 98%. But I certainly learned a lesson. Check that your answers go in the correct space.
If you finish the test early, use the extra time to check your work or go back to any questions you skipped.
When the teacher or test administrator tells you to put down your pencil, put yours down and smile. You know that you did your best. Do not waste any time worrying about how you did. You deserve a break. Do something you enjoy after the test or after school.
When you do see your score, do not let it upset you. You have no reason to be ashamed. You know you did your very best. Do try to understand what skills you need to improve. You can work on these before you take another standardized test.
If you are interested in how and why I started preparing for the SAT in 7th grade, read My Story