Senior Wisdom: Standardized Testing

As the current Senior class learns where they are attending college in the fall, Juniors are beginning to sign up for one of the most dreaded parts of the college process: standardized tests. When discussing standardized tests, there are many factors you need to consider—what test do you want to take, when and where you want to take the test, how much preparation you want to put into studying for the test, what score you want to achieve on the test, etcetera—but the bottom line is very simple: standardized tests are not the end of the world. You will succeed in college and beyond regardless of what you score on a single standardized test.

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, so when deciding what test you want to take—ACT or SAT—consider the layout of both tests. On one hand, the ACT is 4 sections—math, science, english, and reading—and an optional writing section. On the other hand, the SAT is also 4 sections, but they differ from the ACT—reading, writing and language, math with a calculator, math without a calculator. While I wont get too in depth as to what’s on these 2 tests, there are a few important differences to point out

  1. You get more time per question on the SAT than the ACT. 
  2. If you are very good at math, the SAT may be for you since there is 2 times the amount of math. Also, if you struggle with the ACT’s Science section, consider taking the SAT, as there is no science on the SAT.
  3. I strongly recommend against taking the optional writing exam on the ACT. Colleges do not consider it when evaluating your ACT score, you’re already burnt out taking the first 4 required sections of the test, and I believe it is simply a waste of time. 

Prior to taking standardized tests, I didn’t put great thought into the test center I took the exam at. Many schools in Omaha offer the test on set dates. Looking back, here’s a few factors I wish I took into consideration when I selected the place(s) I would take the ACT:

  1. Convenience: I took the ACT at locations close to my house. Since the test starts promptly at 8am, you want to have as much time as you can in the morning to sleep in and mentally and physically prepare yourself—so choose a test center that is close to your house if possible.
  2. Reputation: When choosing a test center, ask upperclassmen where they took the exam and their experience. Was the test center loud? Did they give you a small desk or a large table to take the test on? These factors may seem small but make all the difference when testing. 

Depending on how much you care about the score you get on the standardized tests, it is important to consider preparation. Here are a few factors to consider when preparing for the exam:

  1. You do NOT need to get a tutor, but you definitely can if that is something you want to do. Again, ask upperclassmen who they went to for standardized test tutoring if that is something you want to do. Last thing you want to do is waste your time and money on ineffective tutoring, so make sure you trust the tutor/tutoring company you sign up for. Also, Brownell Talbot provides students with test prep opportunities, so ask Mrs. Vander Vorst and Mrs. Beaner what resources they can provide you with that will help you succeed. 
  2. If you do not want to get a tutor (or even if you do), the main way to succeed at standardized tests is to take practice exams and correct your mistakes once you’re done. Standardized tests are just like sports: you have to practice in order to perform well at the game. And before you say it, I know what you’re thinking….practice tests are borning, time consuming, and miserable…and I completely agree. Standardized tests are by no means meant to be fun, but taking test after test will get you familiar with the time limit you have on each section, what types of questions you’ll encounter on the test, and what type of content you are already familiar with compared to what you may need to work on/study more. 

Ok, you’re done. You’ve taken the ACT or SAT for the first time and you are awaiting your score…now what? Well, you need to think about what score you want to get on the test. Depending on if you get that score (which is based on your own satisfaction, what the score range is for the colleges you’re applying to, etc), you can either take the test again or be done. If you choose to take the test again, take the test and see if your score goes up. If it doesn’t, think about what you need to do to prepare for the test so your score goes up—whether that be taking more practice tests, getting a tutor, etc. But, if you take the test 3 times and your score keeps going down, I recommend stopping, as it may be a waste of time and money to keep taking the test when no positive change is seen on the test.

As I said in the beginning of this advice column and will always continue to say: a score on a standardized test doesn’t define your value, intelligence, or future. Some students are good at taking standardized tests, and we should be happy for those people. But, if these types of tests are not your strong suit, that is ok! See if the colleges you’re applying to offer a test optional policy and take advantage of that. If they require tests, still apply and submit your scores. You never know what will happen until you apply. You’ve got this!