Gearing Up For A Big Standardized Test?

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2018 PSAT Prep Book, Photo by Maxine Latterell

Standardized testing: always a popular topic among high school students. The tests that bring more stress then an end-of-year final exam in a regular class. The test that has something riding on it, whether it be college admission, a college credit or just the satisfaction and relief of passing it or having it be over. According to College Board, an average of 2 million students take standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT and various AP Exams, every year. Ms. Mather, a vice principal at Franklin High School, discovered that 398 students took the ACT in February of 2018, 427 students took 767 AP tests in May of 2018, and 215 students took the SAT during both 2017 and 2018. The 50th percentile, or the average SAT composite score, is between 1050 and 1060 according to The Princeton Review, a company popular for helping students with test prep through prep books and classes. Different students prepare in unique ways and achieve different scores on all the standardized tests based on their work ethic and personality, the teachers that have prepared them, their knowledge of the subject, their socioeconomic status, and their cultural background.

One type of student seems to be prepared with little intense preparation. A representative of this group is William Hammond, a senior at Franklin High School who, has taken 5 AP tests, the ACT twice and the SAT once. In the past he has checked out textbooks from the Multnomah County Library, a resource that is free and helpful as it doesn’t require spending money on a textbook that you may only use once. Another resource that he uses is Khan Academy; their website has a feature that helps you prepare for the SAT through a personal program that helps you improve on the subjects you may have missed on the PSAT. William scored a 36 on the 2018 ACT and is a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist this year. He believes he’s a natural test taker. He credits speaking out loud when learning as a method of remembering information. He says that because the standardized test environment is so quiet, his brain can really focus and work well internally.

Before the night of a big test, William “hypes” himself up and reminds himself that this is an opportunity to score well, try his best and show his skills when it comes to test taking. He also recommends a good night’s sleep and not cramming the night before. “My biggest advice like I’m sure most teachers would say is what you do throughout the year is more important than what you do near the test. If you’re just focusing throughout the year you really should just feel in the zone and feel confident by the time you get to the test. When you feel confident going into it, you can just kill it.” His advice for those taking the ACT and SAT is very similar and includes using what you already know to prepare and reading the material slowly and making sure you’re choosing the right answer. Specifically for the ACT, he recommends reading the question, then thinking about what it’s referring to and remembering what the base question is. “I would say people that say there’s nothing good about them are probably wrong, I don’t think [standardized tests] prepare you very much for life. There are people that I know and I see being really successful, although it’s often in stuff like networking, social skills, hard work and study habits. I guess study habits can be the one thing reflected well from standardized tests, but people that just happen to be good at vocab and writing, the SAT kind of trick questions and analysis, I don’t know if that comes up very much in real life.”

Teachers are responsible for doing their best to prepare students for their tests, even when it’s not an AP class. They make sure you have good strategies, know how to use your knowledge to your advantage, and don’t get too overwhelmed during the test. Rachel Draper, who teaches AP World History, AP Seminar and Modern World History, has been teaching for almost 20 years. She has experience when it comes to preparing students for her tests as well as experience in the system of standardized tests. Ms. Draper’s strategies that she teaches for test taking are basic but worth remembering. “One of the things I did when I was in school was look for study guides like I remember going to Powell’s and getting an ACT prep book and an SAT prep book. When I’m teaching AP I think about what types of things will be on the AP exam or what types of skills students should be able to do and then practice them, repetition is important, you shouldn’t see the exam for the first time and think ‘wow there are short answer questions what are those?!”’ Ms. Draper wasn’t able to take AP classes in high school as they were exclusive and you had to be chosen to take them. But before taking the ACT and SAT, she did take a prep course. The course helped her feel prepared on the types of questions to look for and not to fall for College Board tricks. As a teacher of an AP subject, Ms. Draper has a different perspective on how the AP tests reflect the knowledge a student has learned. She doesn’t believe that standardized testing is the only way to see if a student knows the material and that standardized tests don’t show work ethic or different styles of comprehension. Ms. Draper understands that students may have anxiety about test taking and has strategies to use for coping with that. She agrees with many others who say tests don’t define you and that it’s not the end of the world if you aren’t a successful test taker.

Some elementary and middle schools aren’t focused on testing at all. Those schools are as likely as any to be high quality but may be considered alternative, and in the long run they may unknowingly have negative effects on their students when it comes to test taking in high school and beyond. Amanita Stewart-Kennett (11) has a more critical perspective on the standardized testing system. She went to Sunnyside Environmental School, a K-8 school whose mission is to create a rich learning environment through environmental education and justice, culturally responsive teaching, place-based education and service learning. During her years at Sunnyside, she didn’t experience a large emphasis on testing in regular classes or on preparing for future standardized tests. She believes this may put her and other students who may not have experience in test preparation previous to high school at a disadvantage. In her high school career, Amanita has felt teachers haven’t prepared her when it comes to standardized tests, and due to that feels her performance on standardized tests is questionable. Even with those obstacles, Amanita has strategies she uses to study. She suggests having people to study with so that you can learn from your peers, having your own thorough notes, and using the skills you learn in AP classes to your advantage. To avoid getting nervous before or during a standardized test, she reminds herself that she’s not alone in that test room, that many other people are feeling the same way. She also knows that the outcome of her test doesn’t measure her self-worth and that she’s enough even if she doesn’t pass.

There are many ways to combat anxiety when it comes to test taking and strategies to make yourself a better test taker. If you’re to take anything away from reading this, know that these tests don’t measure self-worth and whatever the result be of a standardized test, you are a smart and capable person.

 

 

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