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5 Tips To Beat a Standardized Test

5 Tips To Beat a Standardized Test

    I keep thinking that I’m completely done with standardized tests. I took the SAT and ACT in high school and thought how great it would be to not take anymore tests. But I wasn’t counting on placement tests and the other opportunities my professors found to pull out the Scantron sheets in college, and I certainly wasn’t thinking about the placement exams necessary for graduate school and many jobs.

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    As we get ready to head back to school, or go looking for jobs, or think about accreditation for our career of choice, it’s worth thinking about the tests that are coming up. Not so that we can worry about what score we’re going to get but so that when the big day comes, we can beat each of those tests.

    1. Understand test formats

    The thing about giving the same test to a whole bunch of people is that you have to make the questions understandable even for someone who will be taking the test cold. If a teacher is giving you a mid-term, she knows exactly what was covered during her lectures. But if a prospective employer is testing you on your computer skills, he has to make sure that the questions are written in such a way that anybody can walk in and understand them. That means that most standardized tests avoid jargon as much as possible. They also adhere to easy-to-use (and easy-to-grade) formats, like multiple-choice and true-or-false. Being comfortable with these formats gives you a head start.

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    2. Take sample tests

    If you can get a sample of the test you’re planning to take — or even a few sample questions — take advantage of the opportunity. Just taking a dry run once through before the real test can raise your score significantly — knowing that the questions aren’t horribly scary and recognizing the question format simply makes you more comfortable with taking a high-stakes test. Luckily, getting sample tests is usually just a matter of asking. College Board, the makers of the SAT, for instance, offer free sample tests on their website. It’s more than a matter of comfort. Familiarizing yourself with the test can help you understand questions better and answer them faster, important abilities on lengthy tests.

    3. Read up on the scoring

    The thing that tripped me up about the ACT and the SAT is the different way in which the two tests are graded. On the SAT, you lose a quarter of a point for every question you get wrong. On the ACT, there’s no penalty for incorrect guesses. That means that on the ACT, if you don’t know an answer, you should always guess. The worse that can happen is that you aren’t penalized. On the SAT, though, guessing a lot can get you into trouble. If you have no idea on the answer, you’ve got a 75 percent chance of losing a quarter of a point, and those can add up fast. If you can’t eliminate one or two of the answers, it’s probably not going to benefit you to guess.

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    Test scoring varies greatly. It’s up to you to know how the test you’ll be taking is scored — and to figure out if guessing is really a good strategy if you don’t know the answer. If you will be taking a test that doesn’t penalize for wrong answers, though, there shouldn’t be an unanswered question on your test sheet. Maybe you’ll get lucky.

    4. Don’t go overboard on the studying

    I would never advocate walking into a test without having studied at all, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend every waking hour studying. Even on bar exams, there are definite limits to the questions that will be on the test. There should be limits on how much you study, as well. In theory, you should have learned most of what you need to know for any given test in the class or course of study (like law school) proceeding it. Preparing for a test shouldn’t be a case of actually learning material — it should be more of a matter of reviewing it. That is an ideal scenario, of course. You may need to study quite a bit — but you should still spread it out. Cramming all of your studying into the few nights before the test is a sure way to let the test beat you.

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    5. Think about taking the test later

    There is not a single standardized test that there is absolutely no chance of retaking. Sure, there is typically a high cost associated with retaking it, but it’s important to remember that taking the test again is an option. I taught SAT test prep in college and I had one student who kept getting entirely freaked out by even the thought of sitting down to take the test. What finally got her to the table was the thought that she really could take the test as many times as she had to. Her parents didn’t particularly like the idea of paying for multiple tests, but they told her that if she struggled the first time, they’d pay for a second try without question. Eliminating the high-stakes can do wonders for the stress that normally distracts test-takers. Think about it: even if you had to wait a year or two to put the money together for a second shot, you’d still have the choice to do so.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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