The Secret to Performing Well on Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are a fact of life for students heading to good colleges and are a critical component in the college application. They are especially important for those who choose to homeschool high school.  The real key is to understand what tests your student needs, which ones showcase their skills the best, and how to spread them out to make life less stressful. 
Let’s look at the type of tests that will be required of your student at America’s top schools. Virtually all colleges require a reasoning test, so today we’ll discuss the SAT and the ACT.
The ACT Test
There are several reasons to take the ACT test, the first being that there are a few states that base scholarships to stat schools solely on the ACT. So, to be on the safe side, double-check what is available in your state and the requirements. You don’t want to miss out on scholarship opportunities!
Another thing that makes the ACT attractive is that some colleges do not require additional SAT Subject tests if you have taken the ACT. If you take the SAT, they sometimes require 2 or more of the subject tests, making for a much bigger testing load. You can’t count on this, but if your student is older and doesn’t have time for all the extra tests (and is willing to limit the college choices to those with this policy) you can save much time and effort.
Finally, some students just perform better on the ACT.  To find out which test showcases your student’s skill, check out the SAT/ACT Combo Sample Test from Kaplan.  It only takes 90 minutes.
If your student shines on the ACT, by all means let that be your test! The whole purpose of these tests is to put our best foot forward.  The ACT is a 3 hour test that includes English, math, reading, and science. It is offered 6 times a year. There is an optional writing test that many colleges require, so I recommend taking it just to be on the safe side. To learn more about the ACT test and find official released exams, visit:
The SAT Reasoning Test does not go beyond what is reasonably expected of high school juniors. It is a four-hour test offered seven times a year and covers critical reading, math, writing, and an experimental section that doesn’t count against your score. However, if your student is not expecting it, the strange questions could throw them. So, just make sure they know that if they run into something really wild, they just need to keep moving and not let it blow their confidence. Chances are it is the experimental section and won’t matter anyway!
SAT scores can be raised with practice (more so than the ACT test). Use timed, realistic practice tests from the Collegeboard as your primary preparation. This will help you get a feel for the test and find the strategies that work best for you. The summer after the sophomore year (about 5 months out), begin preparing, testing, and perfecting your skills.
The Collegeboard website ( provides detailed test information, released exams for purchase (real exams used in past tests), registration options, daily SAT test questions, SAT and AP test prep books, and tons of other information. Collegeboard resources are generally to be preferred over those of other companies since they actually design the tests.
The Secret to Scoring Well
For any standardized test, I recommend the student take a number of practice tests at home under exact testing conditions. Start your tests at the same time the official test starts. Take the same breaks.
About 5 months out (or as soon as they have the requisite knowledge) take a diagnostic test and evaluate it carefully. Buy a study guide, work on weak areas, and re-test at regular intervals. If they are weak on a test or in a particular area, you might want as many as 8-10 practice runs. 
The key is to evaluate every test carefully! 
Just taking tests doesn’t make a student better. Looking closely to see what was missed and why is vital. Usually you see a pattern develop and can address the problem areas. For example, in math, students often have just 2-3 concepts that they think they understand, but keep missing. Often a tutor can help identify the problem area and get it fixed.
Learn the test 
Each test is slightly different and asks questions in a certain way. The only way a student can understand this is through practice. Before going into an official test, they should know the instructions by heart, know how long they have on each question (and be wearing a digital watch to stay on track), know that the questions get increasingly harder as the test goes on, etc.
Spot Practice
While I do recommend taking multiple full practice tests to develop stamina (very much like an athlete), spot practice is also valuable and can be worked in easier throughout the week. For example, suppose your child is just struggling on the math section. Instead of practicing the full-blown test, just take multiple math sections. Students also need to practice writing timed essays – possibly 2 or 3 a week.
Next time we’ll look at SAT Subject Tests!

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