As a rising senior in college, I have had my share of first hand experience with standardized tests. Through elementary, middle, and high school, students in my state (like most states) are required to take assessment exams. When I had finally suffered through my last of those, the SATs and ACTs were right around the corner ready to greet me with open arms. I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure I was quite as ready to accept the challenge.
Even now, it seems as if new variations of standardized testing are being created yearly. Although a lot of controversy has surrounded the validity of this method of evaluation, for better or for worse, this is our country’s preferred approach. Instead of fighting it, I learned how to live with it. And this is an evaluation of my experience. Hopefully, if you yourself have not yet experienced the SATs and ACTs, or other similar standardized tests, this article will help ease your fears and confusion.
Any standardized test comes with a few absolutes: you have a limited amount of time to complete the exam; the subject area is large and broad; multiple choice is more than likely involved, and you are in a controlled environment. Study and prepare accordingly.
Research the format of the test before test day so that there will be no surprises. Arrive prepared with pencils, erasers, water, and a calculator. I always felt better when I knew I had everything I may need. Also take a sweatshirt; you have no idea what temperature the room will be. These tests are usually scheduled for early morning. If you’re not a naturally early riser, get lots of sleep the night before, at least eight hours.
THINGS I’VE LEARNED THAT WILL BENEFIT YOU AND YOUR SCORE
Take the practice version of the required standardized test (e.g. PSAT for the SAT). It seems like an unnecessary evil, but trust me, it will help you. Instead of paying to take the SATs three times, I believe you can pay less to take the PSATs once, the SATs twice and end up with the same score. Experiencing a similar environment with less pressure allows you to focus more on the content of the test and allow your mind to subconsciously get used to the time crunch, material, and format. As we’ve all heard many times, practice makes perfect.
Take the standardized test more than once. If at all financially possible, do it. I took the SAT, was fine with the outcome, but decided I could do better. With the SATs, you receive a breakdown of your overall score. This way, I was able to see which areas in particular I was weaker.
Then, get help. I then worked with a tutor to improve on these specific subjects. This was much more helpful to me than if I had studied for the entire test before taking it because I didn’t waste time going over what I already excelled at. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and taking the SATs the first time can spell out exactly what you need to work on.
An important thing to master when taking these types of tests is to complete each section. Don’t get stuck on one question. Although this is good advice for any testing situation, it is even moreso necessary in regards to standardized tests. It is easy to get anxious when you see something you don’t know. If it’s multiple choice, first eliminate any answers you know can’t be true. Among the remaining possibilities, take a [hopefully] educated guess. But whatever you do, don’t dwell.
Answer the question, and move on. Circle all the ones you weren’t sure about and if there is time, go back and see if you can figure them out. There may have been an answer hidden later in the test or your brain may have retrieved some previously forgotten information.
Lastly, focus. When you walk into that testing room, know that for the next few hours, this is your sole job. There should be no wondering if someone has texted you, no looking around the room for potential boyfriends/girlfriends, no planning out the next weekend with your friends. Those few hours will go by and then you won’t have any more time to do what you came there to do. These tests are important, and someone has paid for you to be there. Take advantage of it, think positively, and know that concentration is necessary to achieve the desired score.
The ACT is a relatively new test that colleges and universities, especially in the Midwest and Western states, are adopting to replace the traditional SATs. The ACT is offered across the country, and currently, most schools are accepting either test score as appropriate academic measurement.
When I was deciding whether or not to take the ACT along with the SAT, it was still fairly new, especially to the East Coast. The main difference is that the ACT has a Science section, which the SAT does not. It was also to be believed that the ACT had a less strenuous and shorter Mathematics section. It was another standardized test that I didn’t want to take, but I was intrigued because Math was my lowest score on the SATs.
The ACT was certainly the better test for me. The science section contains graphs and articles that one must analyze and interpret, along with requiring a basic knowledge of scientific concepts. Although subjectively the Math section did not seem easier or much shorter, I did score considerably higher on that particular area. I used my scores on the ACT for every college I applied to and was happy I took the chance and signed up for this newer version of standardized testing.
I would recommend the ACT to students who struggle with math concepts and/or excel at science. Many people shy away from the scientific aspect, but it is mostly a test of logic and interpretation. Especially if you are unsatisfied with your performance on the SATs, give the ACTs a chance.
About the Author
Morgan is a graduate of Boston College and has worked with MyGuru for the past three years. Check out our home page for more information on standardized exam tutoring and helpful study materials!