Standardized tests are just a fact of educational life. And it’s a real alphabet stew: SATs, ACTs, APs, IBs, LSATs, MCATs, DATs, GMATs, GREs.
Students get their first taste of bubbling answers with number-two pencils in second grade. Such tests continue through elementary and middle school to rank students and mark their academic progress.
In high school, however, standardized tests take on a new meaning: They become qualifying tools used by colleges to admit or reject students.
In college, students who want to continue their education after graduation undergo standardized tests to qualify them for entrance into graduate or professional programs, like law, medical, or business schools. Later on, standardized tests are used for licensing and certification.
Younger students and pre-college tests
For the last several years, some students in middle school have been invited to take college admissions tests, like SATs and ACTs. Such early starts in test-taking aren’t a bad idea. They give students much needed practice. If you don’t get the chance to take tests in middle school, make sure you take at least one test each year beginning freshmen year. Like it or not, you’re going to have to learn to succeed with these tests:
• Most colleges require either SATs or ACTs, or even SAT IIs.
• High scores are becoming more important than grades to colleges.
• Students with high scores will not only get into better colleges, these students may also be offered more money to attend.
• With gifted students vying for competitive colleges — where all applicants have equally high scores — a few points can make a difference.
Not doing well
To say, I was never good at standardized tests, is not an acceptable excuse. A college of quality will deny admission and reply, why didn’t you do something about your deficiency?
Carelessness and nervousness are often cited as reasons for low scores. But the real reasons students don’t do well? Lack of preparation and not being familiar with the tests.
Meet these deficiencies head-on as early as possible.
The ACT and SAT are not the routine tests of grade school. Yet some students resist preparing for these tests, saying If I don’t know it by now, I’ll never know it. A disastrous attitude.
All students should prepare for standardized tests weeks in advance of the test.
An arsenal of preparation tools exist: practice sessions at school, workbooks, software, and preparation services. “Prep” services can coach you in how to take tests. These professionals can help you discover both the obvious and the more elusive roots of problems. But if you’re going to invest in services, ask your guidance counselor for the names of families who have used the service and get their comments.
(In fact, your guidance counselor is your best resource about test-taking and college admission.)
Your test preparation should include —
• taking sample tests
• analyzing incorrect answers using the answer key
• identifying special weaknesses
• consulting not just teachers in troublesome subjects
Even students who have the “knack” for doing well on tests will improve their scores if they prepare and practice.
At the sound of the bell, open your test booklets and begin….