We at Chariot Learning administer a lot of practice tests throughout the greater Rochester area. A LOT of tests. During our busiest weekends, we’ve run three or more at different schools, libraries, and other locations. I actually proctor many of these tests myself as a way of meeting students and observing trends. One trend that doesn’t seem to be going away is that of the “repeat offender”–the student who comes to take the same test over and over.
Why would someone sit for the same exam multiple times? Usually, the reason can be traced to poor planning or failure to recognize that we administer the same SAT or ACT at every location. But some students commit to grinding out a better score, no matter how inefficient their efforts may be. This leads to a mindset that suggests taking the same test over and over is better than not testing at all. If only!
The renowned philosopher Heraclitus remarked, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Not so for standardized tests. When you sit for the same test you’ve taken before, you may indeed be different but the test remains unchanged. You may think you’ll find value in further exposure to the immutable elements of a standardized exam such as section length and number of questions, but their impact becomes diminished when you’ve already worked through the portion of a test that must change from administration to administration: the questions themselves.
Important exams feel like obstacle courses designed to baffle runners with both predictable and unexpected traps and trials. But most traditional obstacle courses are static affairs, which means that each trial teaches a runner how to move faster and more successfully to the end. Valid, reliable, and fair tests, on the other hand, retain a predictable structure supporting questions that must, of necessity, change every time. That content that is tested and even the question types retain consistency from one iteration to the next, but reusing actual questions spells disaster for any high stakes exam. So any score improvement predicated on repeating test questions will evaporate on test day.
Practice testing is not only laudable but absolutely essential for substantial score improvement. Students should absolutely seek out as many opportunities for quality proctored practice tests as both practical and possible. But don’t bother with the same test more than once. Bring whatever publication contains official released practice exams and take advantage of the proctored environment to take a new-to-you test under simulated test conditions.
Another reason I personally proctor so many exams is to recognize repeat offenders and help determine if they can take different SATs or ACTs at our test setting. The timing of the test is always the same, so having five students each taking a different SAT is no problem at all. This is why I’m usually thrilled to see many of the same students–usually our clients–at our practice tests. Continued practice is a cornerstone of real preparation, as long as you don’t take the same test over and over!