Do you know that feeling when something you’ve anticipated or even dreaded for a long time finally occurs? Now that the new SAT looms just a few days away, many teens are experiencing that exhilarating mix of expectation and anxiety. But smart students prepare for tests, and we’ve had the privilege of seeing some really bright and motivated high schoolers integrate information about the new test into their existing understanding of the ACT and former SAT. In fact, I fully expect some of our students, for better or worse, to know more than the test proctors.
Standardized tests offer valuable data to admissions and licensing authorities because of the rigid consistency with which each exam is meticulously designed and administered. Yet for all the psychometric precision applied to test development, much less standardization occurs at the point where many important tests meet the testing public. For example, most SAT and ACT proctors receive little more training than a manual to read. No wonder so many test day nightmares can be traced to proctors who have no idea what they are doing.
But while everyone would benefit from better training on the proctoring side of standardized exams, each individual testtaker should focus on personal results. One way to ensure that you earn every point you are capable of is to know the business of the proctor better than he does himself:
- Know when the test begins, and arrive 15 minutes early.
- Know what documents you’ll need for personal identification. Pack them the night before the test.
- Know what you are allowed to bring to the test, including what kind of pencils, erasers, and calculators are permitted.
- Know how long each test section should be and what to do if the test booklet has the wrong times.
- Know when and how long each test break will be. Know when you can and cannot eat and drink.
- Know if you are allowed to have your phone (powered down, of course) in the room.
- Understand that proctors should give you five-minute warnings, but keep time on your own watch to be sure.
- Know the particulars of your test experience if you are entitled to any testing accommodations.
- Know your rights if you are on standby.
Most important, be aware that you are entitled to a standardized test experience. Advocate for yourself if anything out of the ordinary–from a broken desk to a seriously distracting deskmate–occurs. Raise your hand and politely request that the proctor rectify the presenting problem, then shake off the distraction and return to your test. Remember, the best way to ensure that you don’t have to deal with future test day nightmares is to earn your best score when it counts, no matter how problematic the proctoring may be!