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10 Expert Test-Taking Hacks for High School Students

10 Expert Test-Taking Hacks for High School Students

Throughout their academic career, high school students take a lot of tests. Not counting final exams and in-class tests and quizzes, the average student in America’s public school system takes about 112 mandatory standardized tests between kindergarten and 12th grade. That’s a lot of study time, and a lot of stress.

While pre-test nerves and jitters are normal, some students experience more text anxiety than others. Effective study and test-taking strategies can help students feel more at ease, and also boost their performance. So whether you are preparing for finals, the SATs, or another standardized test, here are 10 test-taking hacks from academic experts.

1. Get to Class Early

Make sure you get to class early the day of your test. You don’t want to lose any precious test-taking time, but also, you don’t want to feel rushed or stressed. According to findings from scientists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, the Yerkes-Dodson law shows that when your stress level is too high or too low, your performance suffers.

Also, keep in mind that some teachers won’t let you take the test if you show up late to class. Do yourself a favor and get there early.

2. Pack a Bag of Essentials

You may find yourself scrambling to do some last-minute studying, or get some food before your test. When this happens, you’re more likely to forget important materials like pencils or pens, a calculator, or books (for an open-book exam).

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Lindsay Bressman from Privateprep, a private tutoring company, recommends packing a bag of essentials that includes snacks, a bottle of water, a test-approved calculator (with fresh batteries), and #2 pencils (and erasers).

Consider packing your bag the night before your test so you can feel confident that you have everything you need when it’s time to leave in the morning.

3. Don’t Cram

It can be easy to lose track of time in the days leading up to a test, and as a result, a lot of students resort to cramming the night before a test; but this isn’t the most effective way to study.

Discipline yourself to spread out your study time. Parenting expert and children’s book author Julia Cook says, “Don’t cram…It’s hard on your brain! Instead, spread out your studying time over a few days or weeks. Practice doing sample problems and look over your class material every day until you take the test.”

4. Create a Test-Like Study Environment

Students often make the mistake of studying in a relaxed, comfortable environment. While you want to de-stress before a test, being too relaxed while studying can actually hinder your performance. Try to time yourself when you study and keep study aids (notes, books, etc.) to a minimum while attempting actual problems or questions.

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According to USA Test Prep, “Students often practice with far more assistance than they will have on the test. Stress to them that EVERY problem should be attempted – at least to begin with – as though it were being done on a test.” The more you can simulate a test-taking environment, the better you will do when it comes to the real thing.

5. Create a Routine

Having a routine or some sort of familiarity prior to a test can help ease stress and anxiety. “I have seen that test anxiety can be managed by having a plan in place that you follow every time you have to take a test,” says parenting expert Varda Epstein from Kars4Kids. “Just having that plan and sticking to it makes you feel calmer and like you’re more in control of the situation.”

Epstein recommends the following tips for your pre-test routine:

  • Eat a good dinner the night before that includes complex carbohydrates.
  • The morning of the test, eat breakfast to improve your memory, mood, and concentration. Whole grains will give you energy and keep you satisfied for a longer period of time.
  • Give yourself a pep talk before the test. Research proves kids who do this perform better on their tests than kids who don’t.

6. Read and Re-Read ALL directions

Students have a tendency to skip over test directions, either because they feel they’re unnecessary, or because they think it will save time. If you skip the directions, you may not be answering questions in the correct way, or you may miss out on important clues that could help you on the test.

According to TestingMom, “Many kids skip directions and go right to the questions, which may lead to them answering every question in a set wrong.” Don’t skip the directions, and if you’re unsure about something, ask the teacher.

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7. Focus on the Fundamentals

Tests are made up of a lot of different types of questions, and some are more challenging than others. When students approach a test, they need to control the things they can control, like understanding the basics.

“Many students stress about all of the things they may not know, but the reality is there will be less of those concepts – likely the harder problems – on the test,” says Ralston Medouze, a private tutor from Strive Academics. “For this reason, it’s important that students focus on the basics. Thoroughly understanding the basics of any subject does not only mean that they will get more questions right, but it will allow students to get through the easier problems faster, meaning they can spend more time working on the truly difficult problems.”

8. When in Doubt, Choose “None of the Above” or “All of the Above”

Multiple choice questions can be very confusing, but you can usually rule out certain outliers and narrow down your choices. Turns out, if you’re unsure, your best bet may be selecting “none of the above” or “all of the above.”

According to Business Insider, William Poundstone, author of Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody, says, “‘none of the above’ or ‘all of the above’ were correct 52% of the time. Choosing one of these answers gives you a 90% improvement over random guessing.”

9. Take the Test Backward

This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a logical method to this madness. “Take the test/exam backward,” says Sarah Tippett, Homeschool Base editor. “If you work backward, your brain has to think a bit more. The more thinking it does, the better recall you should have. Lots of the hardest questions are at the end of the exam and it’s best to tackle these when your brain is fresh.”

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Plus, questions toward the end of the test can often give you clues or hints for previous questions; go ahead and give it a try and see how it influences your performance.

10. Write Down the Important Stuff First

On test day, you most likely have lots of facts and figures or formulas (i.e. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally) swirling around in your brain. Former teacher and counselor Julia Cook says, “Write down the important stuff that you need to memorize (formulas, facts, definitions, etc.) at the top or on the side of your test paper so they don’t clog up your brain and you don’t forget to use them.” These are important and you want to remember them, but it may help to write them down before you start your test.

Try these test-taking hacks to ease your anxiety and boost your performance. Which test-taking hacks have you found are successful? Let us know in the comments below!

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Maile Proctor

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Published on January 30, 2019

How to Support a Working Mother as a Working Father

How to Support a Working Mother as a Working Father

In roughly 60 percent of two-parent households with children under the age of 18, both parents work full time. But who takes time off work when the kids are sick in your house? And if you are a manager, how do you react when a man says he needs time to take his baby to the pediatrician?

The sad truth is, the default in many companies and families is to value the man’s work over the woman’s—even when there is no significant difference in their professional obligations or compensation. This translates into stereotypes in the workplace that women are the primary caregivers, which can negatively impact women’s success on the job and their upward mobility.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of long-term time-use data (1965–2011), fathers in dual-income couples devote significantly less time than mothers do to child care.[1] Dads are doing more than twice as much housework as they used to (from an average of about four hours per week to about 10 hours), but there is still a significant imbalance.

This is not just an issue between spouses; it’s a workplace culture issue. In many offices, it is still taboo for dads to openly express that they have family obligations that need their attention. In contrast, the assumption that moms will be on the front lines of any family crisis is one that runs deep.

Consider an example from my company. A few years back, one of our team members joined us for an off-site meeting soon after returning from maternity leave. Not even two hours into her trip, her husband called to say that the baby had been crying nonstop. While there was little our colleague could practically do to help with the situation, this call was clearly unsettling, and the result was that her attention was divided for the rest of an important business dinner.

This was her first night away since the baby’s birth, and I know that her spouse had already been on several business trips before this event. Yet, I doubt she called him during his conferences to ask child-care questions. Like so many moms everywhere, she was expected to figure things out on her own.

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The numbers show that this story is far from the exception. In another Pew survey, 47 percent of dual-income parents agreed that the moms take on more of the work when a child gets sick.[2] In addition, 39 percent of working mothers said they had taken a significant amount of time off from work to care for their child compared to just 24 percent of working fathers. Mothers are also more likely than fathers (27 percent to 10 percent) to say they had quit their job at some point for family reasons.

Before any amazing stay-at-home-dads post an angry rebuttal comment, I want to be very clear that I am not judging how families choose to divide and conquer their personal and professional responsibilities; that’s 100 percent their prerogative. Rather, I am taking aim at the culture of inequity that persists even when spouses have similar or identical professional responsibilities. This is an important issue for all of us because we are leaving untapped business and human potential on the table.

What’s more, I think my fellow men can do a lot about this. For those out there who still privately think that being a good dad just means helping out mom, it’s time to man up. Stop expecting working partners—who have similar professional responsibilities—to bear the majority of the child-care responsibilities as well.

Consider these ways to support your working spouse:

1. Have higher expectations for yourself as a father; you are a parent, not a babysitter.

Know who your pediatrician is and how to reach him or her. Have a back-up plan for transportation and emergency coverage.

Don’t simply expect your partner to manage all these invisible tasks on her own. Parenting takes effort and preparation for the unexpected.

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As in other areas of life, the way to build confidence is to learn by doing. Moms aren’t born knowing how to do this stuff any more than dads are.

2. Treat your partner the way you’d want to be treated.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a man on a business trip say to his wife on a call something to the effect of, “I am in the middle of a meeting. What do you want me to do about it?”

However, when the tables are turned, men often make that same call at the first sign of trouble.

Distractions like this make it difficult to focus and engage with work, which perpetuates the stereotype that working moms aren’t sufficiently committed.

When you’re in charge of the kids, do what she would do: Figure it out.

3. When you need to take care of your kids, don’t make an excuse that revolves around your partner’s availability.

This implies that the children are her first priority and your second.

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I admit I have been guilty in the past of telling clients, “I have the kids today because my wife had something she could not move.” What I should have said was, “I’m taking care of my kids today.”

Why is it so hard for men to admit they have personal responsibilities? Remember that you are setting an example for your sons and daughters, and do the right thing.

4. As a manager, be supportive of both your male and female colleagues when unexpected situations arise at home.

No one likes or wants disruptions, but life happens, and everyone will face a day when the troubling phone call comes from his sitter, her school nurse, or even elderly parents.

Accommodating personal needs is not a sign of weakness as a leader. Employees will be more likely to do great work if they know that you care about their personal obligations and family—and show them that you care about your own.

5. Don’t keep score or track time.

At home, it’s juvenile to get into debates about who last changed a diaper or did the dishes; everyone needs to contribute, but the big picture is what matters. Is everyone healthy and getting enough sleep? Are you enjoying each other’s company?

In business, too, avoid the trap of punching a clock. The focus should be on outcomes and performance rather than effort and inputs. That’s the way to maintain momentum toward overall goals.

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The Bottom Line

To be clear, I recognize that a great many working dads are doing a terrific job both on the home front and in their professional lives. My concern is that these standouts often aren’t visible to their colleagues; they intentionally or inadvertently let their work as parents fly under the radar. Dads need to be open and honest about family responsibilities to change perceptions in the workplace.

The question “How do you balance it all?” should not be something that’s just asked of women. Frankly, no one can answer that question. Juggling a career and parental responsibilities is tough. At times, really tough.

But it’s something that more parents should be doing together, as a team. This can be a real bonus for the couple relationship as well, because nothing gets in the way of good partnership faster than feelings of inequity.

On the plus side, I can tell you that parenting skills really do get better with practice—and that’s great for people of both sexes. I think our cultural expectations that women are the “nurturers” and men are the “providers” needs to evolve. Expanding these definitions will open the doors to richer contributions from everyone, because women can and should be both—and so should men.

Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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