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.

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.


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

The Importance Of Standardized Tests For College

Standardized tests taken by college students nationally are heavily weighed as part of a complete application. There is obviously trepidation and stress over the actual test taking process. Before the tests are taken and once they are over, it’s important to keep in mind the affect that these tests have on acceptance to a school. Many people have spoken out against standardized tests, claiming they are a poor representation of a student’s intelligence or academic potential. The fact remains, standardized test are very important to colleges when it comes to admissions.

The reason some students and administrators have been in opposition is because standardized tests are given and scored in a uniform or standard way. While accommodations are made for students with disabilities, but most other students who may have emotional problems or are simply not good test takers are all painted with the same brush. One or several test days can literally mean the difference between acceptance and denied admission to a school.

Knowing the importance standardized test have for colleges, it is therefore important to be prepared before taking a test. Some students opt to take test prep courses or even hire private tutors to prepare for this major test. The fee that students pay these professionals to help them with standardized tests are often deemed worthwhile when test scores are received or if a second or third attempt reaps greater scores.

Recently, in response to opposition to administering of the most popular standardized test, the SAT, changes have been made to improve the test itself. In lieu of the 1600 point grading scale that was in place, 2400 points scale has replaced that. Also, a writing section has been added in addition to the math and English sections. Some other subtle changes to questions have been made in the past few years. It remains to be seen whether students are reaping the benefits of these changes.

The ACT is also a common college admissions test, yet many students opt out of taking it. Not all schools require this test be taken-which measure proficiency in science, social studies and other specific subjects. This test is scored on a 1-36 point scale. Students can opt to take additional writing ACTs if they deem that a necessary part of applying to college.

Both of these more common tests have national testing dates that are have registration on certain days. Preparing for these tests well in advance and using sample materials to study can make a huge difference in performance come test day. Stress isn’t an inevitable part of standardized testing. Being prepared and knowing what questions will be asked can greatly reduce anxiety and demystify the whole process for student test takers.

It is an unavoidable fact that students wanting to gain access to public and private four year colleges will need to take standardized test as a show of their academic status. It’s important for students to remember that while important, these tests aren’t the only way colleges judge college worthiness. Colleges realize that achievement and success over time is more likely an indication of future success than one day of tests.