Standarized testing: Get started now

By Leah Gibson-Blackfeather on December 12, 2013
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Melanie Serrou, a graduate of Ithaca College in New York, took the SAT after studying an SAT preparation book from the library. “I had to take it to get into college, even though I had been out of school for awhile,” she said. “I didn’t have money, so I just practiced out of a book. I scored average.”

Although specialized classes and tutoring do help, it is not absolutely necessary to shell out big bucks in order to succeed on the tests. The most important thing is to practice, practice, practice.

Check out free resources
One way to practice without dropping a penny is to use online resources like, a free standardized test-prep website sponsored by the U.S. Army. The site offers ACT and SAT practice tests in reading, math and science. Specialized programs are designed for students’ individual needs.

John Danks, as a tutor with Emerson Tutoring and Preparation in New York, advised that focusing on the basics, whether you are practicing on your own or working with a tutor, is the most effective way to study. Students can begin preparing for testing simply by paying extra attention to their classes.

“Pay really good attention to seventh- through 10th-grade math while you are in them,” Danks said. “Remember algebra. Know your times tables. When you practice on your own with a book, look at the wrong answers to see what you got wrong and then look at the explanation so that you won’t make the same mistake on the test.”
Ponying up for prep
Kaplan, an organization that specializes in test preparation, tutoring and other educational programs, is reaching out to students in innovative ways, including offering downloadable practice tests for an iPod and a video game. Students can add them on Facebook and check out their online quiz bank at to find out their skill levels. 

But if you are the type of student who needs a little more focus and interaction, it might be worth it to invest in classes or tutoring.

Brian Reiser of Bellevue, Wash., achieved a 2400 on the SAT. After tutoring for 12 hours and taking several practice tests, he discovered that knowing how the test works is the key to getting a high score on it.

“The most effective thing for me was understanding which questions people normally get wrong on the test and why,” Reiser said. “Once you know what the wrong patterns are, it’s easier to get things right.”
The big day
Once students have prepared all that they can for the test, it is a good idea to take a break and relax on the days leading up to it.

Sara Salvi, an instructor at Saturday Academy in Portland, Ore., relates the night before a big test to the night before a big game: “The night before a big game, you don’t want your players to push themselves too hard; you want them to save their strength for the game.”

Eating a good meal the night before with lots of carbohydrates, watching a funny movie, getting to bed early and waking up with lots of time to spare before the test are all excellent ways to get your mind and body into the right state so that you can succeed. It is a good idea to bring snacks and water to the test because you will be there for a long time and will need the energy. Also, dress in layers so that you will be comfortable.

Danks gives one last word of advice: “Expect the unexpected. You never know who will also show up at the test or what will be happening that can distract you, like someone tapping a pen or construction going on outside.” Bringing earplugs and your own stopwatch will also help you focus.

 “Don’t allow things outside of your control to irritate you or make you nervous,” Danks said. “Just try to stay focused and relaxed as best you can.”


5 Tips for making it through the big test


  1. Be a smart guesser: On tough questions, use your power of elimination, and on the ACT, answer every question because you’re not penalized for wrong answers. However, on the SAT, where a quarter of a point is taken off for wrong answers, make educated guesses but if you’re completely unsure, leave it blank.

  2. Watch the time: For most people, the reading sections take the longest. Know your strengths and weaknesses and how much time is left for each section. Make sure you answer as many questions as you can.

  3. Don’t be nervous: Yes, it’s much easier said than done. But you’ll do better if you’re relaxed and confident. Know that you can always take it a second time.

  4. Be equipped: The night before, gather everything you’ll need for the next day: Valid photo identification, several #2 pencils, a calculator with a fresh battery, a watch and a snack.

  5. Keep a steady pace: Don’t dwell on one question for too long. Skip a few hard questions if you have to and go back to finish them later. Other questions sometimes help you answer the tougher ones.

By Leah Gibson-Blackfeather| December 12, 2013

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Leah Gibson-Blackfeather

Leah Gibson-Blackfeather

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