Taking standardized tests is, for most people, an anxiety-laden ordeal that must be undertaken at one time or another.
In 2019, over 2.2 million students took the SAT and around 1.8 million took the ACT, and millions more took similar tests such as the CLT, GRE, ASVAB, MCAT, and LSAT. If the stakes were not so high – college acceptance, scholarship money, admittance to grad school – then these tests would simply be annoying intrusions in one’s life.
According to the US Department of Education, “College is still the best investment a person can make in them self—bachelor’s degree-holders earn roughly $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates.”
WHY THESE TESTS ARE IMPORTANT
The truth is standardized tests are here to stay. Yes, due to the pandemic, many colleges temporarily suspended entrance exams, but don’t get too excited yet. They will be back in full vengeance. Why? Because this is the only way a school can compare ALL students fairly since a 4.0 at one school is not the same at another. These tests level the playing field regardless of where you live, what school you attend, or your socio-economic situation. 85% of colleges admit and give money solely based on a student’s test score. The schools receive their national rankings based on test score, so the higher the score, the more money the student receives!
Every college accepts the SAT and ACT, and they are about 95% the same test with a crossover of information. Strategies for one work on the other one. The CLT has not only become the differentiator for some Ivy League schools but also for students whose SATs and ACTs were cancelled.
The PSAT should not be overlooked. It counts for the National Merit Scholarship program in the junior year. Since it is created by the College Board, when you study for the SAT, you are studying for the PSAT. Scholarship offers can include full tuition, free room and board, grad school money, honors dorms, and more.
UNDERSTAND THE FORMAT
Unlike a normal school test, for which many students cram at the last minute, standardized tests are not about a subject area, but rather are logic tests that examine our critical thinking skills. As a matter of fact, they pull their questions from all over the place. Any last-minute studying is generally useless and a waste of time. You cannot study [any specific information] but students need to study the actual tests themselves.
Any athlete playing a game knows that to win, you must know the rules and your opponents (in this case, the test makers). Students need to learn the recurring patterns, rules, profiles, and tricks inside and out to beat the test. This not only means learning the built-in shortcuts and test-taking techniques but also taking many, many actual practice tests until it becomes second nature. It is a different skillset to attack standardized tests.
Standardized tests have one objective, clear-cut, indisputable answer with several tricky distractors that are landmines that students tend to step on. Since these tests are created for a vast audience, the correct answer will rarely be enigmatic or profound.
Students only get around a minute per question, and this time doesn’t count any passage reading or transferring of answers. Logistically, there isn’t enough time if the questions are approached in a normal fashion. The test makers design the questions knowing that most students work at supersonic speed to finish the questions, so they build in a system that favors carelessness and lack of attention.
Get an overview of each section of the test. Learn to retrain your brain and not look for the right answers, but eliminate the wrong ones first. Once your test-taking skills have been trained, your pace picks up. Accuracy before speed!
GOOD OR BAD TEST-TAKER
Most students, even smart ones, bomb these types of tests. Some students are naturally good test-takers. Check out our article on Good Test Takers and Bad Test Takers.
TEST PREP COMPANIES
There are a plethora of test prep programs, books, and classes on the market, so where do you begin? There are several questions to explore before you jump ahead into any system that advertises to help raise your student’s test scores.
1. Are they reputable? With Google, information is immediately at our doorsteps, and you can do independent research or seek advice on Facebook groups or blogger reviews.
2. Reliable testimonials? Many programs inflate testimonials by offering free classes to students who ALREADY score high on tests, which gives false statistics for their company.
3. What do they teach? Many programs, even expensive ones, teach more math concepts and thousands of vocabulary words, i.e., reteaching high school over again. Tests like the SAT/ACT are logic-based and test our critical thinking skills.
4. What practice questions do they focus on? True practice should only use actual problems from the test makers. Many companies create very hard diagnostic tests which produce low scores, and then after their program completion, students are given another made-up, easy test that reflects improvement. Other companies concoct thin imitations to impress the students with the value of their course, which inadvertently produces a false sense of confidence and leads to a rude awakening on the real test.
Khan Academy has its own free test prep, but beware. The site is a great place for subject matter but not for test prep. The program doesn’t teach techniques or shortcuts but how to work problems the long way, which in turn will cause students to run out of time by burning up the clock.
With College Prep Genius, there’s no content to memorize—just learning a common-sense approach to the rules and patterns of the test.
COLLEGE PREP GENIUS
College Prep Genius (CPG) is an award-winning program that has helped tens of thousands of students ace standardized tests. SAT score raises are as high as 700 points and ACT score increases are as high as 9 points. The same CPG techniques can be used on many different tests.
One strategy that we teach is called “Reverse Clone Invasion” in which we identify the similar punctuation problems that are most in common. The test makers take variations of the correct answer to create the wrong answer choices. So, logic tells us to start with the answer that contains the most common elements of all choices, which is probably correct. In the following actual examples, in each respective section students are given anywhere from 36 to 52 seconds per question, which includes reading several passages and transferring answers.
Here are examples of actual SAT, PSAT, ACT, and CLT questions using our writing strategy:
Source: CLT Study Guide 1st Edition Test #1, Grammar—Section 2, Question 41 (College Prep Genius is the official SAT prep company endorsed by the CLT)
Students should start early on their road to college prep success. The sooner you start, the more time there is to improve. This helps a student gain test maturity as well as lessens the anxiety that many students encounter. You can’t get time back. Instead of waiting and scrambling, put test prep on your radar as early as possible. Many students start in 6th and 7th grade.
It is crucial to practice what you’ve learned on actual tests from the company that makes them. Other books/materials generally have made-up questions that are irrelevant to the real test. The more questions you are exposed to, the more you become familiar with the rules and patterns. Understanding and conquering your weaknesses are accomplished through focused self-correction.
Once a student has learned to internalize test-taking techniques, it is crucial to practice with full-length tests. Since there is no instant success, a few tests may not be enough. We recommend a minimum of 15 and as many as 25.
Using our Journal for Success, students can record their missed questions so they can review them periodically. The test makers use the same type of patterns on every test, so by understanding your weaknesses, you can overcome them on a future similar question.
Most students run out of time, but questions are designed to be answered in 30 seconds or less. The more you practice, the more you will learn your “RATS” rate—Right-Answers-to-Time-Spent.
TEST WEEK SUCCESS
Practice like you play. The week of an actual test should be a culmination of months of practicing correctly. Check out our article, When to Prep for the SAT.
A standardized test contains standardized questions with standardized answers, and this is why they can be figured out. Even companies give similar tests to their employees who are different ages with different backgrounds and experiences.
Test taking is a skill that should be taught to all students since they probably will be tested all their life, not just for getting into college or receiving scholarship money, but also if they go to grad school or are tested at their job one day.
There is a lot of wrong information that can cost your student scholarship money or entrance to their dream college, so be informed and know your options.College Prep Genius’ proven strategies have been used on many tests such as:
There is no need to spend a fortune on a program that may or may not work and leaves the student frustrated with lost time and money. Since there is a crossover of information for many standardized tests, one program can mean the difference not only for scholarships, free college, and a debt-free degree but also a cool, extra million dollars!