All exams, with the exception of those administered by medical professionals, presuppose some level of background knowledge or experience. Score data lacks meaning without the context of the test takers themselves. The same standard applies to test prep, in that knowing where a student begins not only explains prior results but also future paths and potential outcomes.
How familiar are you with the exam you are preparing for?
REASON: Familiarity with test content, structure, and timing represents the low-hanging fruit of score improvement. Those who retake a standardized test often score higher simply because they have more experience and insight into what to expect. However, that trend won’t hold for further retakes without additional practice and coaching.
How much do you read outside of school?
REASON: Any exam testing reading is usually designed to evaluate both comprehension and speed. The skill of reading develops over time, so those who read for pleasure either presently or from an early age have a powerful advantage. Conversely, those who cannot be bothered to pick up a book that has not been assigned will have to work more diligently to build those critical skills.
How well do you know how to use your scientific calculator?
REASON: Not a single question on tests like the SAT and ACT require any type of calculator, let alone advanced machines like the TI-84 or nSpire. However, those with the training to unlock the power of advanced calculators wield powerful advantages on these tests.
How anxious do tests make you feel?
REASON: A certain level of nervousness is only natural before an important event, but high stakes exams elicit so much panic that we’ve coined a special term. Test anxiety can absolutely hurt performance, but test prep usually ameliorates the underlying insecurity and uncertainty. Those who struggle from more profound anxiety benefit from focused training to turn fright into fight.
How hard are you willing to work to get ready for this test?
REASON: Victory in most arenas derives from intrinsic motivation and a strong sense of commitment to the process of preparation. Testing is much more like a sport or skill than a subject in school in that success comes after lots of deliberate practice. If you want to win on test day, you have to possess the will to prepare to win. Other people can provide resources, opportunities, and instruction but only YOU can make it work.
How fast a learner are you?
REASON: While some tests require–and even benefit from–intense eleventh-hour study, others resist last-minute prep. You cannot cram for tests like the SAT and ACT, so don’t even try. I recommend at least 2-3 months. However, the pace at which you learn may necessitate a longer runway to test day.
What other questions are worth asking before beginning test prep?