Standardized testing – the greatest of necessary evils.
For years, students have had a negative image of standardized testing drilled into their minds. They see it almost like a fiend, like a monster that they cannot truly avoid. They dread it – or at least, I did.
My tenth grade year was often spent thinking of the looming horror that was just around the corner for me: the SAT. Formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT is an acronym which often makes students drop like 14th century Europeans with the Black Plague. It is something that they absolutely despise with every inch of their being, and something which they try to delay talking about unless absolutely necessary.
Soon, though, as I reached eleventh grade, rather than thinking about the SAT, I found myself preparing for it.
After I registered for the October SAT my junior year, many of my classmates looked at me in disbelief. They questioned my decision, and subsequently, my sanity. I received an expected barrage of questions, ranging from ‘You’re taking it in October, so soon?’ to ‘You’re taking it in October, are you crazy?’
I don’t think standardized testing is an accurate measure of intelligence, but I know there has to be a way for institutions of higher learning to assess knowledge in a common, widespread standardized manner, and in my opinion, the SAT does an adequately good job at it. It is impossible to please everybody, and the SAT is certainly not perfect, but it works, and has worked pretty well for almost a century now.
I simply never understood why people seemed to hate the SAT. This idea of mine remained the same even after I took it for the first time in my life last Saturday, October 6, 2018. The SAT is not bad. The SAT is not out to get you. I think, in some ways, the SAT is just misunderstood.
Based on my new experience, I would summarize the advice I have to give to three areas: 1) preparation, 2) awareness and 3) mentality.
Note that my advice is mostly on test approach – I am not a tutor or a teacher, so content-based preparation is fully up to you.
If you are not ready, don’t take the SAT early like I did. I did it because I had researched about it beforehand, and felt mentally and physically prepared to do so. Don’t feel rushed if somebody else does something – it simply may not be for you.
Research is an important part of the preparation process.
High school senior Inhyuk Seo, who also took the October SAT, states that you “have to make sure to read a lot and go to the Collegeboard to work on practice tests.” While he discourages memorization, he believes that practice is the key to success, and that continued exposure to content will give you greater confidence and higher scores in the long-run.
First research if you want to take the SAT – there are a variety of tests out there, like the ACT, that might be better for you. Then, research the format, the dates and anything else pertaining to the test. For instance, if you’re taking the SAT, do you want to do it with Essay or without? Do you want to take it December or March? Where do you want to take it? Go into the SAT feeling good. Don’t do it to ‘get a feel for it’ – that’s what online practice tests are for! As much as the College Board claims it is a ‘non-profit,’ we all know it makes good dough out of testing fees. Don’t spend around a hundred dollars just for an experience – spend it because you think you have a chance to do well. Prepare for content, but also prepare for the feel by researching information and practicing a lot.
Sometimes, I am a bit of a hypochondriac. If my knee cracks, I fear I have osteoporosis (now, I’ve long accepted my cracking joints). However, in my opinion, a little over-awareness is a good thing. Before, during and after the test, you should be aware of yourself and your surroundings.
This ties in quite well with preparation. For instance, last Saturday, a student brought their calculator for the Math with Calculator section – only to find that its batteries did not work. Fortunately, the crisis was averted, but one can avoid these types of situations by always checking and rechecking things. I recommend that the day before the test make sure you have packed everything you need, especially your registration ticket and ID.
However, awareness is not just about preparation. It’s about using your intuition to make certain decisions. It’s knowing how you should prepare for content or what you should do the day before the test. For instance, in addition to being mentally ready, make sure to be physically ready to take it as well.
“As with any other good test, it is absolutely important to get a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast in before taking the test!” says Lisa Lippay, standardized testing coordinator at the American Nicaraguan School. “It makes a huge difference in your performance.”
Senior high school student Josie Ann Duran also advises students to be calm and to reach out for adequate support throughout the whole testing process, something which decreases stress.
“I took classes to reinforce some math concepts I needed to improve in,” she states. “Everybody is different. Make sure to adopt a preparation schedule that is suitable for you. Practice, practice, practice! Make sure to review as much as you can, like grammar rules. Some aspects of the test, like reading, I think, are hard to improve, so you have to start doing that early so you can start seeing results. You have to be committed.”
Mentality, I think, is the most important thing when it comes to testing. Certainly, many people would prefer to be sleeping in on a Saturday morning instead of working with quadratic equations or reading passages from 18th century literature, but coming to the testing center with a poor attitude is not going to help you at all.
Most likely, a poor mentality, regardless of how much you prepared for the test, will become the biggest thorn on your side. If you come to the testing center feeling defeatist or pessimistic, then yes – whatever your worst fears are will most likely happen.
I went into my test positively – so positively, I woke up at five in the morning and came to ANS at 6:30 A.M. when the hallway lights weren’t even on yet. I was certainly a little nervous, but I tried to look forward to SAT, to try and enjoy certain things.
“There are many resources out there,” recommends Lippay, as a tip to reduce potential nervousness in students. “Khan Academy is the best one, I think. It just has everything! Many students don’t know, but they have ways for people to practice math, reading, writing and language, and even the essay portion! I recommend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day to see consistent growth.”
Even if you face mishaps during the test, try to push forward and do your best to finish well. Regardless if it is your first SAT or your last SAT, you should try to give it your all. In reality, no obstacle is impossible. As much as we are often convinced that the system is ‘out to get us,’ it really isn’t. The SAT, after all, is a way to help you get into your ideal college. It is important, but it is not the defining factor. Instead of approaching the test like an enemy, try to think of it is as an old friend.
Overall, the SAT is not as bad as you think. I don’t regret taking the October SAT – in fact, I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my student career so far! So, approach standardized testing fearlessly, and don’t be afraid to ask those around you for support and advice.
Best of luck to all those taking standardized testing, and for all the recent October SAT takers like me – let us hope that we get the scores we want and deserve!