Keys To Doing Well On Standardized Tests

If you’re like most people, you probably dread the idea of taking standardized tests or even preparing for them. Whether it is the SAT’s, or a test you take to get into graduate school, it is no fun preparing for those tests. You’ve probably enrolled into a test prep course, which is obviously a good idea. There are a few other things you can do as well which will make the test prep process much easier.

#1: Spend Some Time Each Day Preparing

What I mean by this is to spend time even before your prep course starts. This might involve taking a practice section of the test once each day or learning a new vocabulary word each day. This will help you stay sharp during the test prep course as you will become more conditioned to taking practice tests and studying each day. Effective mental conditioning will be key if you want to do well on standardized tests. It is very easy to get lazy, especially toward the end of the test prep course. Thus, preparing in advance by spending a little time each day will go a long way in building your conditioning so you can pace yourself accordingly.

#2: Be Realistic In Your Expectations And Do Your Best

This is a point that is mentioned in a lot of articles, but it bears mentioning here as well. It’s always important to be realistic whenever you approach a task like this. If you feel like you need a day off because you are tired or exhausted, give yourself the day off and recharge your batteries. It is not mandatory that you memorize every word or that you score a perfect or near perfect result on every practice test. What is important is that you are able to step back, analyze what you did wrong in the process, and be able to think of what you can do to fix the problem. Once you do this, you will be able to relax and do your best.

Ace Any Standardized Test (SAT, GRE, MCAT) For Free

The original purpose of the standardized test was to level out the playing field for applicants to degree programs. As we all know, the magnitude of expensive prep programs and materials have tipped the balance in the favor of those that can afford them. Nevertheless, there is still a way to uncrack these tests without spending such a large sum. The great thing about standardized test prep is that a lot of the things you learn while studying can also help you in all your other academic work as well.

At home test preparation requires some effort, especially motivation to do well in the first place. For many test preparation classes, this is the job of the instructor. The instructor supervises performance and supports improvement. However, if you are self-disciplined enough, you can be your own teacher.

The first step for at home prep is to develop a realistic study schedule. If you plan on studying for the SAT during the school year, you must assign a day and/or time that you will stick to until your test date. Ask yourself: how long will you give yourself before your registered test date to study? 6 months? A year? Will you be willing to study daily in small increments or study weekly in larger ones? Planning is another thing that you pay test prep companies to do for you and if this already seems overwhelming to you, check out my time management section. I must warn you that I’m still working on this section (I have only 2 articles up at this point), but if you would like some personalized advice, please feel free to email me.

The first thing you can do to improve your English score is to memorize vocabulary. My favorite tool for this task is Visual Education Study Card sets. Instead of buying the SAT vocabulary, I highly recommend the English I and II cards. The great thing about VisEd is that they include a sentence using the word on the flashcard, which made it easy for me to learn the definitions as well as incorporating these words are best used in my own writing. So in a lot of ways, this method kills two birds with one stone: you are improving your verbal score plus improving your ability to write concisely. Also, you do not need to buy these vocabulary sets. You can always make your own vocabulary flashcards inexpensively by pulling up test-specific vocabulary lists online.

Although it may seem like a mundane task, vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of any standardized test and you can never learn too many words. If you go for the VisEd card sets, there are a total of 2,000 words to be memorized. Whatever you may choose as your vocabulary test prep, do recognize that vocabulary is important in both the critical reading and grammar sections of the test. It improves comprehension of passages, elucidates on grammatical usage of words, and reveals redundancy.

Learning 2,000 words may appear impossible, but this is when your time management comes into play. For example, if you are committing your entire 10-week summer to the test and want to learn all of the words by then, you will need to memorize 200 words/week. This means 40 words/day if you want your weekends off. It took me about an hour to really get the words down.

You will also need test preparation books by any major test prep company. These can be found at the library for free and the sample tests, the most important part, copied quite cheaply. Otherwise, you can always purchase them used or new. I have also found that the these books do not normally vary much year-to-year, but it is more helpful to use books that are geared towards a newer version of the test such as the new 2400 SAT rather than the old 1600.

Getting as many of the sample tests and their answer keys with explanations is key to doing well on standardized tests. Finding a resource that provides real previous tests is even better. But in the end, once you have a method to build your vocabulary and your practice tests, you are set to start.

Increasing your vocabulary will surely affect your performance, but there is still that dreaded reading comprehension section. There is a solution to this. For me, I always did well on the reading comprehension because I outlined every passage while reading. By outlining, I mean quickly writing down a summary of each sentence. For instance, the following passage is Sparknotes’s current example:

Galileo Galilei was born in 1564 into a Europe wracked by cultural ferment and religious strife. The popes of the Roman Catholic Church, powerful in their roles as both religious and secular leaders, had proven vulnerable to the worldly and decadent spirit of the age, and their personal immorality brought the reputation of the papacy to historic lows. In 1517, Martin Luther, a former monk, attacked Catholicism for having become too worldly and politically corrupt and for obscuring the fundamentals of Christianity with pagan elements. His reforming zeal, which appealed to a notion of an original, “purified”

Christianity, set in motion the Protestant Reformation and split European Christianity in two.

My outline would look something like this:

-Galileo was born in Europe when there was cultural boom and religious upheaval.

-Even the popes succumbed to the pressures and gave into their immorality

-Martin Luther later appeared to denounce Catholicism and it’s corruption and proposed a more “purified” form of Christianity

-This led to the split of Christianity into Catholicism and Protestantism.

Now the question:

Which of the following was not a reason for Martin Luther’s attack on the church?

a. pagan elements in its practices

b. the amorality of its leadership

c. its excessive attention to piety

d. its corruption and worldliness

e. the political involvement of the popes

As you can see, the answer cannot necessarily be found in the outline (i.e. I did not include that Luther had an issue with pagan elements in it) but by the act of outlining, it has increased your comprehension by having to mull over the content of the passage. Also, you can see that knowing the definition of words such as ferment and strife could have significantly improved your comprehension of the purpose of the passage. The answer to this question is C.

Generally, this works best with non-narrative passages, where you will most likely be given a question speculating the author’s opinion and/or argument. The outline format could work with narratives as well, but the trick is moreover identifying points of ambiguity in the passage, such as vocabulary words, that will most likely be questioned in the multiple choice.

There are many other methods you can find in test prep books, but I find this one the most effective. The secret is to find the method that you are best at, which can only be figured out by practicing as much as you can. Realistically, your outline will not look like the one I have typed above because of the time constraint. My outlines normally were sloppily written phrases or words, but they were well worth the effort. This plan can serve as a disadvantage at first since it will take longer to finish a section. However, it enough practice, I’m sure you’ll be able to pick up the pace.

With the math portion, I suggest that you go over all the algebra and geometry rules that are summarized in test prep books. Usually, any test prep book that has an overview of topics can do the trick and if you find that there is one topic, such as right triangle rules, that you do not know make sure you have them hammered down by test time. For any difficulties in the math section, they best way to conquer them is with PRACTICE. Practicing increases your speed and familiarity with common mathematical problems as well as the identification of trick questions.

When taking practice tests, I think the best way to start off is to time how long it takes you to complete each section rather than trying to beat the clock. This way, you’ll know by how much you will need to speed up. I can almost guarantee that your speed will increase with enough practice and the time limitation should not be stressed unless you are experiencing circumstances where your speed is not increasing as much as you hoped.

While taking these tests, it is important to write down your answer and how you feel about this answer. Are you sure? Unsure? Make sure you do this because this is the best way to be able to gauge your correctness during the actual test. When you go back and correct the test, do not just mark the wrong answers and give yourself a score. Go over the detailed answers of every question, if available, and if you got the question wrong, jot down why you got it wrong. Was it a concept error? Attention to detail? Time constraints? If it is a concept error, make sure you take note that you will need to relearn this concept. If it was more logistically, make sure you read the passage more carefully next time and take your time with those types of questions.

There are stories out there of people that have been out of school for years and managed to score in the 98th percentile for both the math and english portions of the GRE. I do not think it is impossible to do well on any standardized test without shelling out the big bucks to test prep companies. It is very possible and the secret ingredient is practice. If you would like more tips and help, please let me know at http://www.meeraonthewall.com .

How Do Study Skills Improve Standardized Test Scores?

Educators are under enormous pressure to have students perform well on standardized tests. Since standardized tests assess students’ mastery of state benchmarks, it is well known that the best way to improve scores is to provide clear instruction of those benchmarks.

As a result, teachers and administrators are spending vast amounts of time “mapping” their curriculum, carefully aligning their instruction to match state expectations. However, the most solid curriculum map in the world does nothing to ensure that students will learn that content effectively.

In other words, you can teach all the right content, but that does not guarantee that students are “getting it.” Or, that they will “keep it.”

Imagine the path to Benchmark Mastery is a freeway. The students enter the freeway as the teacher introduces the Benchmark to the class. They have a series of reading assignments, lectures, homework, and assessments to complete along their journey.

But, at each mile-marker, there are obstacles that can interfere with their progress towards Benchmark Mastery. Some students overcome these obstacles, but at every interval, several are forced to take the nearest exit ramp. Very few students will actually reach the final destination.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

The teacher had done his part. He has followed his curriculum map, covered the benchmark, and provided plenty of instruction, practice, and assessment along the way.

The problem is, the students don’t know HOW to learn! Take a closer look at some of these obstacles to see how they push students off course:

Mile Marker 1: Reading Assignment

Exit Ramp: Students cannot comprehend the information in the text. The technical structure and advanced vocabulary of a textbook will derail 80% of students, right out of the gate!

Mile Marker 2: Class Lecture

Exit Ramp: Students do not know how to take notes effectively. They struggle to understand the “big picture,” therefore do not know how to identify key points, let alone create an effective study guide.

Mile Marker 3: Homework

Exit Ramp: Students do not do homework, or do it poorly. Even “good students” do not know how to do homework properly. They do homework just to “get it done.” They do not engage effectively in homework to learn from it. Meanwhile, “struggling students” are frustrated because homework takes too long. They often decide it is not worth their frustration.

Mile Marker 4: Chapter Test

Exit Ramp: Students memorize information for the test, but forget it by the next day. They only know one method for studying: cramming!

Destination: Benchmark Mastery

Some students will avoid all of the exit ramps and reach Benchmark Mastery for the short-term. The problem is, the Standardized Test is three months away…

ENTER: STUDY SKILLS

Students are never explicitly taught how to study or learn effectively. Our education system expects them to just “get it.” However, students can apply strategies to homework and studying, just as they do with sports or video games. Someone just needs to show them what to do!

Imagine if students knew how to effectively read textbooks, take excellent notes, and complete homework efficiently? Imagine if they knew how to study so that they were LEARNING, not just memorizing and cramming?

Then, the situation would look like this:

Mile Marker 1: Reading Assignment

Since students know simple, time-saving strategies for reading a textbook, they do the reading. Most importantly, they UNDERSTAND it!

Mile Marker 2: Class Lecture

Students have reviewed the textbook and understand the “big picture,” so they can identify key points. They know shortcuts for taking notes and write down important information. Their notes are now an effective study guide.

Mile Marker 3: Homework

Students know strategies for getting their brain into “high gear.” They can now complete homework faster AND learn from homework at the same time.

Mile Marker 4: Chapter Test

Students are ready! They have been learning information every step of the way and have no need to cram. They know how to use their textbook to review, they have created effective study guides from their notes, and they have learned from errors on homework assignments.

Destination: Benchmark Mastery

Since the students were equipped to LEARN the content (instead of memorize), they have retained the information for the long-term. They can recall the information quickly. Now, they are ready for those standardized tests!

Three Keys to Preparing for Standardized Tests

The recent SAT cheating scandal involving Long Island high schoolers and college students has raised alarm bells across higher education. How could students from top notch Long Island schools pay college students to take their SATs for them? How wide spread is this practice, and how long has it been going on for?

For those of us in the field of education, and in particular test prep, the New York incident comes as no surprise – it is the natural evolution of a system which has placed an extremely high value on the results of a single test. It has created an arms race among students who are driven to exploit any means (both legal and illegal) to increase their odds of admission to their college of choice. For better or worse, this is the current environment which students (and their parents) have to deal with – and the reality is that standardized tests are one of the most important factors in college admissions.

While the importance of standardized tests may change over the long term – for now, the idealistic idea pioneered by Harvard University to liberalize the admissions process is the most serious hurdle high school seniors will face.

Given these conditions, what are students to do? What priorities should students set, and how should parents help them get there with their integrity intact? There are three simple rules for navigating the college admissions process and the SAT/ACT – and this applies to the GMAT, LSAT, MCAT and GRE as well. These rules are designed to take the stress out of the college admissions process, and make it possible for anyone to achieve a higher score on the SAT/ACT.

1) Think Long Term

2) Maximize Repetitions

3) Tailor Your Learning

Think Long Term – Begin your formal test prep activities one year before the exam date. Every good test prep process begins with learning the ins and outs of the SAT or ACT. This requires a thorough review of each of the question types, the scoring method, and the format of the exam BEFORE ever doing a practice question. This is a relatively low pressure, low stakes way to prep and feel comfortable with the exam.

Maximize Repetitions – Do as many test prep questions as you can in order to get familiar with the patterns and habits of the question writers. This doesn’t require you to buy a ton of books or download massive databases of questions. As long as you get coverage across all the common question types, doing the same questions over will build the confidence and pattern recognition necessary to succeed.

Tailor Your Learning – You should avoid the cookie cutter approach at all costs. If you are testing at a high level on the math, but struggle with the verbal – attack the low hanging fruit! For you, an hour’s worth of verbal prep will yield more of a score improvement than an hour of math prep – so focus on the right things. Don’t waste your time (and money!) learning skills that will not help you improve your score. Do spend time practicing question types where you don’t feel as comfortable, and always look for new ways to relate to the material.

Above all, stay focused – don’t spend time practicing concepts you already know or which won’t be on the test. Once you’re done studying, relax and be confident that you’ve done your best and that is all you can ask.

The Bell Curve and Standardized Tests

I have long been a proponent of finding alternatives to standardized tests, including the use of portfolio assessment and other authentic assessments that measure real learning and not the ability to choose the correct answer. Along this line, I had a conversation a few days ago with another educator about the concept of the bell curve and how intelligence, as it is viewed, can be a more accurate determiner of achieving proficiency.

While I do not believe that the current view of proficiency being propelled by many educational “leaders” is an accurate view of what learning has actually occurred, I thought I would delve a little deeper into this other educator’s viewpoint that if the bell curve is a sound theory, and if students are spread along that curve, how will all students achieve the numerical score that indicates they are proficient? In 1968, sociologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen decided to test the theory that perceived intelligence is in actuality a self-fulfilling prophecy. To put it concisely, Rosenthal and Jacobsen convinced several teachers to give a test they called “The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.” Rosenthal and Jacobsen randomly picked students who had been given this test, but told their teachers they had been identified as students who were expected to do very well academically. Test scores from the teachers, behavioral observations, and even a second administration of the test showed that these randomly chosen students did much better than the rest of the class. The reality was, however, that these students were more academically gifted only in the mind of the teachers, and the results were revealing.

This study may not have abolished the idea of intelligence as based upon a “standardized test” but it does go a long way to invoke questions about how reliable a measure any standardized test may be.

As for the bell curve, there is still ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of that particular statistical concept, mainly due to a noticeable rise in IQ over time, making the initial view that the mean IQ score should fall somewhere around 100 (the Flynn effect).

According to J. Atherton, there may be other, more compelling factors that influence educational growth, including motivation, opportunity, background, and teaching.

This debate I had may not be solved in so short a piece as this, and it may raise more questions. What is the next step? Perhaps, these questions need further study. In any event, however, these questions do tend, at least in my professional opinion, to shed doubt upon the real benefits of standardized testing.

References

Atherton J S (2011) Learning and Teaching; Intelligence [On-line] retrieved 1 April 2011 from http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/intelligence.htm Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston