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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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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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