Tag Archives: standardized tests

Standardized admissions tests ranging from high school tests like the SSAT and ISEE to college exams like the SAT and ACT to even graduate school tests like the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT all share the same notorious reputation for lots of traps. This seems unfair somehow to those who find the depth and breadth of the reading, writing, and math content challenging enough. However, in the wild world of norm-referenced assessments, difficulty begins with content and weaves through a veritable obstacle course of constraints and pitfalls. Traps on tests are a feature, not a bug. WHY EXACTLY DO TEST ITEMS INCLUDE TRAPS? Standardized admissions exams are designed to rank large groups of testers–millions per year in the cases of the SAT and ACT–along the standard distribution. Most test takers should fall within the big part of the bell curve, huddled one standard deviation or so from the mean. For these…

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Love them or hate them, the ACT and SAT serve a number of valuable purposes. Currently, both tests are primarily (but not entirely) college admissions exams. And despite the controversy and anxiety that inevitably accompany the ACT and SAT, most colleges continue to rely on them to inform admissions decisions. Granted, a human being is so much more than a number, but quantitative data matters a lot when evaluating applicants in a pool that exponentially exceeds the number of available seats. Furthermore, standardized test scores aren’t even the most important numbers. All things being equal, a student’s grade point average is the first and foremost metric that matters. Why, then, are tests needed at all? Can’t grades tell the full story of a student’s academic ability? Unfortunately, grades are not enough in most instances. One reason they cannot always be trusted is the dramatic variability in academic excellence from school…

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“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” This quote, unironically attributed to Christopher Columbus, says as much about education as it does exploration. The path of learning entails all kinds of challenges, particularly if you want a piece of paper that proudly proclaims what you learned and where you learned it. This is to say, the more prestigious a degree from a particular school, the more obstacles and distractions an applicant will need to prevail over simply for admissions. This fundamental truth applies to both undergraduate and graduate studies alike. Obviously, we talk a LOT about the SAT & ACT around here. These two standardized entrance exams may be taken more than any others in the U.S. but they hardly stand alone as necessary steps to specific academic programs. Most graduate programs–particularly those at the most prestigious schools–require entrance exams…

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Students often come to us with expressed fear of the math and English sections, and we usually start with one of those sections first because there is so much content we can cover that will quickly lead to higher scores. The Reading section of the tests, however, remains elusive, and is often the hardest section to make progress in. The best thing a student can do to improve their reading comprehension for the tests is read more–read widely, read often, read actively–and seek to understand what the text is saying, ideally by looking up vocabulary that is unfamiliar. Sustained reading increases the skills tested in the Reading section over time, but many students are scrambling to prepare for the SAT and ACT only a month or two before the exam date. So, when faced with a time crunch, what can we do to increase a student’s score in Reading? One…

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I’ve been happily immersed in ACT Certified Educator training over the last week. This is a great program with terrific trainers. Jason Derby, for example, is a true educational triple-threat, teaching high school classes, ACE courses, and private test prep. No wonder so many of his insights resonated with my own experience of testing. For example, who could argue with this analogy? The ACT is like a rock wall: there are usually multiple ways to climb to the top. Jason hits the nail on the head here. Great climbing walls are designed to challenge a wide range of complementary skills and strategies along a spectrum of successful outcomes. Great tests do the same. Neither trial is necessarily designed to allow every competitor to attain the summit but still permits numerous paths to the highest levels of success. The comparison doesn’t end there. Solving a tough test question is a lot…

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How is a test like a duck? They may appear unruffled and serene on the surface, but underneath they are usually paddling frantically. Great tests, meaning those designed to be valid, fair, and reliable, require tremendous effort and insight to put together. Casual observers may see a random assemblage of items, but those in the know can glimpse the many hands–not to mention reams of data and decades of experience–that go into crafting entire tests, specific sections, and even individual questions for standardized exams like the SAT and ACT. Basically, assessment design goes very, very deep. If you are going to spend weeks, months, or perhaps even years of your life analyzing test questions, some insight into testing terminology can’t hurt. ITEM A test question–both the problem itself and any answer choices–is called an item. Tests can feature all sorts of objective and subjective items. The standardized tests used for…

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