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Good Test-Taker vs. Bad Test-Taker?

March 16, 2021

Most people categorize themselves as either a good test-taker or a bad test taker. Is there validity to this notion? Are there only two leagues when it comes to tackling standardized tests? It is actually more complicated than that.

It is true that some students naturally do well on a test. Recognizing patterns, especially in math, is intuitive to them. They are often referred to as “left-brained” because they are inherently logically minded. Their cognitive skills are more predominant in deductive and analytical skills, which involve sequencing and linear thinking. This bodes well since tests like the SAT and ACT are reasoning and critical thinking tests; admission exams are written as logic-based and are designed to compare the aptitude of the whole (would-be) college-going population.

Other students, considered “right-brained” or creative thinkers, who may be just as smart as the logically minded student, tend to be more rule-followers when it comes to approaching a test like the SAT. They often specialize in areas of creativity, visualization, arts, and music. These students lean towards imagination and holistic thinking. When taking a test, they read and stress over every word of the passages and work out the math questions the long way, showing all their work. This burns up the clock and the test cannot be finished on time.

When examining the two brain classifications, there are certainly individual differences in hemispheric specialization across people with factors that influence how functions are lateralized. Early studies of the brain’s hemispheric asymmetries often relied on "split-brain" patients who had the corpus callosum — the bundle of neural fibers that connects the two hemispheres to determine various functions of each side of the brain.

Neuroscientists are gaining a clearer picture of what we do and do not know about hemispheric brain differences in humans. Learning styles, personality, environment, and small biological shifts, caused in part by (complex) genetic differences, can lead to different functional patterns, including whether a function tends to be very lateralized or accomplished by both hemispheres.

Research has shown that the brain is not nearly as dichotomous as often noted with subjects such as math that are strongest when both halves of the brain work together. The two sides of the brain collaborate to perform a broad variety of tasks and the two hemispheres communicate through the corpus callosum.

Generally speaking, the left side of the brain tends to control many aspects of language and logic, while the right side tends to handle spatial information and visual comprehension.

No part of a healthy brain is restricted from excelling at logical or creative skills.

 Regardless of the predominant tendencies of each individual student when it comes to taking a test, both sides of the brain may manage different functions but when working together they are stronger in their specific operations.

Colleges are aware that GPAs are not equal across the board and need a tool that is mutual to all applicants. Standardized tests were created to level the playing field by testing our critical thinking skills since it is the only thing we all have in common. Fortunately, logic is not a personality trait but a skill like piano or gold. All students can learn to train their brain to think more rationally.

There are also other factors to how well you do on your tests, including:

  • Your general academic abilities. Not the most important thing, but it sure helps.
  • How you feel on the day. Maybe you’re in tip top shape, or you have a cold, or a headache.
  • Your belief about how well you take tests in general.
  • Your belief about how well you’ll do on this particular test.
  • And then there’s your memory and…
  • Even whether you believe you have a good memory.  And more…

Yes, it’s complicated. (But believe me, there is an answer, the key to doing well, and how to stack everything in your favor for the best possible outcome. Read on.) 

Keys to learning

How you learn is important, both directly and indirectly. Take trigonometry. All those years of counting and having fun with numbers as a small child, all that math training before you even touched the subject of trig, have helped you learn it. All those years of playing, hand-eye coordination, learning to eat with a knife and fork, throw a ball, play baseball, whatever, have helped you learn to play tennis—not just tennis lessons. Indirect skilling is as important. 

Skills

Skill acquisition follows general rules. Learning the recurring patterns on a test and logically formulating an answer takes time. Standardized test questions can be purposely misleading with wrong but tricky answer choices. It takes a different skillset to master these tests. Identifying wrong patterns and discerning right ones is the key to understanding the concepts and rules of the test. Standardized tests have standardized questions and standardized answers. 

Ever met a poor student? Usually, it’s not because they lack intelligence. It’s usually because they lack either attention or drive. These are two different things.

Attention

At some point, if you’re serious about skill success, you’re going to have to pay attention. To the right skills. That’s what attending class is all about. You are (hopefully) taught by someone whose skills are greater than yours, who can show you what nuances of your subject you need to practice and master in order to get ahead.

It won’t help you to practice the wrong things. Did you know a tennis player who wants to be at the top of his game spends more time reviewing the basics before going over the tricky shots? You need a comprehensive program of going over the basics, mastering those and then moving onward and upward.

But just because you’re good at something doesn’t make you a master. You may be good at tennis. That’s not all that it takes. It takes practice. You can practice once a month with your buddies, or you could practice 6 days a week before and after school. Is there any doubt that practicing a lot will get you better results than playing socially once a month?

Practicing skills indirectly and directly are key to your success. So, what else is there?

Intention

The final piece of the puzzle is your intention or motivation. It’s your outcome, where you want to be now that you’ve decided to work on those skills. It’s your commitment to the idea you’ll succeed. 

INTENTION brings it all together. You focus on the big picture, on what you want out of practicing your high-level skills. It is crucial to find your drive to accomplish your test score goals. Motivation is usually external and can wane. Determination comes from within. You must be resolute and firm in your end purpose.

Synergy

Skills, attention, and intention are three parts of that equation that work together. Miss a piece and you’re less likely to get the results you’re after. Have an endgame in mind, where you want to be. Say that’s college. You want free college, to win scholarships to ease the financial burden of your life and your family’s commitment to your ongoing education. There’s your motivation. You determine to acquire the correct skills. Your attention is the way you practice, with the best program you can find, and by practicing the right way, with frequent repetition of skills over a long period of time to get it right, you create a predictable and good result. Accuracy always comes before speed.

When it comes to getting a free ride at college, you have to sit for an SAT or ACT exam. Are you going to just turn up on the day and wing it? How much test prep do you actually need? 

Let’s demonstrate that with a little Venn diagram as applied to college prep. You want a free ride. You practice a lot. That’s Skill Repetition over Time. You have your heart set on it. That’s your Intention. If you only have skill repetition and a wish (or strong intention), that may not be enough.

You also need to add in the secret sauce.  That’s where you place your Attention. You’ve got to have your Attention in the right place. In other words, you have to have repeated skill practice with attention on the right skills. This is where you practice repeatedly, while imagining your successful results and working towards your outcome. You can’t succeed with only skill practice, and you’re definitely NOT going to succeed just by imagining you’ll do well (although that does play a part). What’s the point of practicing 9 out of 10 skills when you can nail the 9 skills but the 10th one stumps you every time? 

(Erin-insert new venn diagram here)

This is where college test prep comes into play. If you’re a student (or the parent of one), then you know that time is scarce. You’re so busy. And the older you get, the less time and more school, social, academic, and sport commitments there seem to be. In all my years (heading towards 20) that I’ve been teaching students like you to win amazing scholarships, grants, free rides, and more, the most frequent thing I hear parents and students say is “I wish we had started earlier.”

Look back at that diagram. Don’t leave it until late in your high school years to get serious. You may have some time to repeat skills with the right set of attributes, but by then it may be too late to make the kind of difference you deserve. You’ll be so busy with work and the general busyness of your life, the time you can devote will be restricted.

The flipside of that is if you start one, two, three or more years earlier, not only can you just devote 30 minutes at a time, way more often, you get many more bites of the apple; you get to do your own test prep, multiple times, with opportunities to do many tests per year of either SAT or ACT and to combine scores to submit your best scores to be even more competitive.

It is often said that “timing can be the killer of opportunities,” so starting early can be the difference in incredible scholarships or years of college debt. It generally takes twenty deliberate, focused hours to learn the basics of most new skills but then you need time to practice to self-correct mistakes. For a naturally good test-taker, starting test prep early helps you gain test maturity; for the rule-follower, a head start helps to lessen the test anxiety. So ultimately what matters, hands down, is your preparation. End of story.

There are many test-prep programs out there, but many teach content and not the logical patterns of the tests. College Prep Genius has many special systems to understand and smash every section of the standardized tests for college entry. Would you rather go line by line through the test and work against the clock? That’s a recipe for disaster. Without being able to recognize the patterns and systems in the tests, you will waste an incredible amount of time trying to formulate your answers. 

College Prep Genius teaches you the systems to help you beat the test. Most of the time you’ll be able to eliminate the wrong information without reading the passages in detail or without working through all the multi-choice answers to find the right one.

This is crucial to your success. Why? Because there just is NOT enough time to go through each question “longhand” and get to the end of the test without leaving any questions undone.

College Prep Genius demystifies the SAT- and ACT-type standardized tests not only better than any other test-prep company but also does it at a markedly lower price than the other of the more well-known courses.

Some of the other factors, such as whether you believe you are good at test-taking, well, that belief is going to turn around. How? I truly hope by now you have well and truly understood that you need to start now with a college test-prep program. You could be incredibly young—even in the sixth grade. That does not matter. Without a doubt, it’s easier to start off when your school commitments are much reduced. Start now, get some runs on the board. You cannot get time back.

Anyone can become a “good test-taker.” Your belief about taking tests, and even your memory, will greatly improve once you have your attention on the right skills, practice with frequent repetition, and keep your eye on your endgame. It’s a no-brainer.

If you want the very best chance to get that most wonderful of prizes—a free ride to college—or some excellent scholarship money, then join me on College Prep Genius courses. 

https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/12/02/248089436/the-truth-about-the-left-brain-right-brain-relationship

https://www.verywellmind.com/left-brain-vs-right-brain-2795005

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