Into each and every life, some rain and a whole lot of standardized tests have got to fall. That’s just the way of the world. Why are standardized tests as regular as rain? For one, norm-referenced tests exceed all other assessments in ranking large populations in a given cohort. Consequently, most school-based groups make better decisions when incorporating properly designed standardized tests into admissions, evaluation, and planning processes.
Students and strivers of the world, shake off that test anxiety: the path to most professions includes lots of bubbling answers in little ovals. Even without knowing what specific exams you’ll be facing, you can begin to prepare today by understanding the three major components of any standardized test:
Content describes the pool of knowledge and skills an exam is designed to assess. Some exams, such as APs and SAT Subject Tests, lean more towards discrete information and rules, whereas other exams, such as the LSAT, heavily test reading, logic, and reasoning skills.
The beauty, if you choose to recognize it as such, of a standardized exam lies in the predictable pool of tested content. Test makers ensure validity, reliability, and fairness by publishing previous official tests and releasing information about what content generally appears in each section. For example, we know that ACT English and SAT Writing and Language both challenge mastery of the conventions of standard written English. To score well, you need to thoroughly understand a suite of rules governing grammar and usage, punctuation, and sentence structure. On top of that, you must firmly grasp aspects of effective written communication like thesis, style, and organization.
Any pool of content can be tested in a variety of ways, in the same way that athletic ability can be challenged through a myriad of sports. To excel, understand what question types a standardized test employs to assess the aforementioned knowledge and skills. Peak performance requires foreknowledge of the rules of engagement, especially in terms of the ways questions on a test differ from those administered in school or related settings. Be sure to pay attention to common traps, uncommon traps, and time wasters.
Continuing our example, the ACT English and SAT Writing and Language sections currently share a shockingly similar structure. Both present a predictable number of passages through which both simple and complex writing rules are tested.
The third constraint on performance lies in how much time allotted per question, as well as at what point during a test a section appears. Many standardized test designers deliberately set a pace too rushed for a segment of test takers. Smart testers know they contend not just against their own readiness and the structure of an exam, but also against a cruel and unforgiving clock. Thus, proper preparation requires sufficient practice testing to develop the right pace and rhythm, as well as contingency strategies in case time slips away too quickly.
Timing can be the most influential factor in choosing one test over another. The ACT English section, for instance, provides 45 minutes to answer 75 questions, whereas SAT Writing and Language allows 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. Clearly, students who struggle with pacing on test grammar will appreciate the SAT over the ACT.
Every standardized exam demands its own preparation for peak performance, but any test taker can get a head start of test readiness by understanding these three major components of standardized tests.