Testing Times

I am not a tutor, but I do have some clear and strong thoughts regarding standardized test taking.  I have guided three of my clients this past year where their scores did not match the schools they hoped to attend.  Each was a unique situation yet each improved their ACT scores by 3 points out of a total 36 (30 to 33; 28 to 31; 29 to 32).  Here is my approach:

1) Take and score a huge number of practice tests (timed and under test conditions).  By “huge” I mean eight, ten, twelve, whatever it takes.  Typically you can focus on a subject area that is the primary culprit impacting your score, making the time commitment more reasonable.  A subject area represents all of the sections of an exam that are needed to score it – e.g.:  Math SAT has 3 math test sections of 20 or 25 minutes each.  You need to take all three in the allotted 70 minutes to be able to score your exam.

2) Understand all of the problems you missed or skipped.  Taking practice tests is not enough by itself.  The key is to understand what you missed and why.  This is where tutors (or teachers, or friends who got a perfect score on that subject area…) come into play. Whomever you use, provide them with the problems you missed and what you think you did wrong. That means, of course, that you have to have tried to figure it out on your own before going to the tutor. Let them confirm or correct your understanding.

3) Do it again and again until your reach the score you desire on a regular basis.

There are test-taking tips as well.  These are secondary to content in my mind.  A prep class heavy on test-taking tips and light on content is the wrong type of class.  That said, it is useful to try out several test-taking tips (or devise your own) as you take your practice tests.  A few key ones:

1) Know that you know the content.  It is scary to open a test booklet to a question you cannot answer confidently.  Probably the single most important test-taking tip is to remind yourself that you know this stuff.  You’ve proven it time and again on the practice tests.  So don’t waste time struggling and fretting – move on and know that when you come back to it on your second pass the answer will be clear.

2) Always check your work.  Which means you are going to need to learn to pace yourself accordingly.

3) Bubbling efficiently. Sounds silly, but you need to find out how to fill out the answer sheet with both speed and accuracy.  Practice different approaches (many are recommended by the test makers and others on line) and find out what works best for you.  You may take different approaches for each subject area of the exam as well.  As always, the key is to practice in order to figure out what works for you.

I highly recommend the following article.  http://blog.prepscholar.com/how-to-get-800-on-sat-math-by-a-perfect-scorer . The sales pitch can be ignored, but you will find that many of the strategies are consistent with my own.