The MuchSmarter Blog

A Better Approach to Standardized Tests

Steve Schecter
November 4, 2015

Recent news on standardized tests sounds grim. A September 3, 2015 article in the Washington Post reads, “SAT Scores at Lowest Level in 10 Years, Fueling Worries About High Schools.” Among other things, this trend of falling scores suggests that, when it comes to the whole matter of standardized tests, you probably don’t want to follow the crowd!  If you want to do well, adopt an approach that truly makes sense for you. Approach it as a game!

Think about the SAT or ACT in the same manner as you do the other games of skill that you play: sports such as tennis or golf, performing arts such as piano or ballet.

When you think of it, the SAT or ACT game has many of the characteristics of a game.

  • Like any other game of skill, the SAT and ACT have an “object”—a way you win. In this case, the object is to score as high as you can.
  • Like any other game, the SAT or ACT has identifiable steps that you take toward your goal: you need to successfully complete a certain number of passages and questions.
  • Like any other game, the SAT or ACT has rules: for example, you need to complete sections within time limits, and work on only one section at a time.
  • Like any other game of skill, the SAT or ACT is subject to strategy:  how to approach the game as a whole, how to approach each section, how to practice.
  • Like any other game of skill, the SAT and ACT has “moves’ that you can learn and practice.  By “moves” I refer to the components of a game.  In tennis, “moves’ include forehand, backhand, and serve.  In golf, tee shot, fairway shot, chip shot, and putt.   In SAT or ACT math, “moves” include operations with exponents, percentages, and averages. In SAT or ACT grammar, “moves” include learning to spot errors in punctuation, verb tense, and subject/verb agreement.

Now, here’s why it’s such a good idea to approach the SAT or ACT as a game.

First of all, this approach helps you get rid of excess stress. You may experience excess stress because you think often of how important these tests are.  You may be burdened with the pressure of your own expectations, your parents’ expectations, or even your peers’ expectations. A certain amount of stress is inevitable and probably helpful, but excess stress can seriously depress your performance.

Second, approaching the SAT or ACT as a game can help you eliminate unnecessary and premature self-judgment.   If you view the SAT or ACT as a test of your intelligence, then a single weak performance on a practice test might seriously discourage you.   Similarly, if you view the SAT or ACT as a test of how well you will perform in college, then a single weak practice test could derail you.  We at MSTYT see time and again that two outstanding students may have entirely different paths to success with standardized tests – one may need comparatively little preparation and another may need extensive preparation.   When you approach the SAT or ACT as a game, you can suspend the self-judgment and think clearly about what you need to do to play your best game.

This idea brings us to the third big benefit of approaching the SAT or ACT as a game:  doing so enables you to give yourself both the time and emotional support that you need to get what you want from the experience.   Many people will give themselves time to learn tennis, golf, piano, dance, or language.  They understand that skill is developed through consistent practice over time.  They don’t expect to be experts in two to three weeks.  SAT or ACT students, though, often prepare two or three weeks before the test, then declare themselves “no good at standardized tests” if they don’t do well.   When they view these tests as games of skill, they allow themselves to practice consistently over time to develop mastery.

If you feel like you could use some help learning this different approach to the SAT or the ACT, get in touch with us at our Get a Coach page, and we’ll set up a time to talk about how our team can help you perform beyond your expectations on your standardized tests and become smarter than you ever thought you could be!

Until next time!

- Steve

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