Tag Archives: standardized tests

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. If you are about to embark on an odyssey of exam preparation, whether through self-prep or with an expert, ask yourself a few pointed questions as you begin… and answer carefully! 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…

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Life throws all kinds of tests at us, the ones we feel ready for as well as the ones we’d rather avoid. Sometimes we can choose our challenges, and sometimes they choose us. More often than we’re willing to admit, the biggest and most fearsome tests turn out to be the ones that change our lives for the better. When Deepak Chopra said, “Obstacles are opportunities in disguise,” he may well have been talking about entrance exams. Many schools and academic programs in the U.S. and around the world use entrance exams as part of their admissions process, not as barriers to entry so much as screens to ensure that extraordinary opportunities accrue to extraordinary applicants. My friend and colleague David Blobaum of Summit Prep sought extraordinary opportunities when he was in high school. To reach his goals, he had to pass all kinds of tests of tenacity, intrinsic motivation,…

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Standardized admissions tests ranging from high school tests like the SSAT and ISEE to college exams like the SAT and ACT to even graduate school tests like the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT all share the same notorious reputation for lots of traps. This seems unfair somehow to those who find the depth and breadth of the reading, writing, and math content challenging enough. However, in the wild world of norm-referenced assessments, difficulty begins with content and weaves through a veritable obstacle course of constraints and pitfalls. Traps on tests are a feature, not a bug. WHY EXACTLY DO TEST ITEMS INCLUDE TRAPS? Standardized admissions exams are designed to rank large groups of testers–millions per year in the cases of the SAT and ACT–along the standard distribution. Most test takers should fall within the big part of the bell curve, huddled one standard deviation or so from the mean. For these…

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Love them or hate them, the ACT and SAT serve a number of valuable purposes. Currently, both tests are primarily (but not entirely) college admissions exams. And despite the controversy and anxiety that inevitably accompany the ACT and SAT, most colleges continue to rely on them to inform admissions decisions. Granted, a human being is so much more than a number, but quantitative data matters a lot when evaluating applicants in a pool that exponentially exceeds the number of available seats. Furthermore, standardized test scores aren’t even the most important numbers. All things being equal, a student’s grade point average is the first and foremost metric that matters. Why, then, are tests needed at all? Can’t grades tell the full story of a student’s academic ability? Unfortunately, grades are not enough in most instances. One reason they cannot always be trusted is the dramatic variability in academic excellence from school…

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“By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.” This quote, unironically attributed to Christopher Columbus, says as much about education as it does exploration. The path of learning entails all kinds of challenges, particularly if you want a piece of paper that proudly proclaims what you learned and where you learned it. This is to say, the more prestigious a degree from a particular school, the more obstacles and distractions an applicant will need to prevail over simply for admissions. This fundamental truth applies to both undergraduate and graduate studies alike. Obviously, we talk a LOT about the SAT & ACT around here. These two standardized entrance exams may be taken more than any others in the U.S. but they hardly stand alone as necessary steps to specific academic programs. Most graduate programs–particularly those at the most prestigious schools–require entrance exams…

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Students often come to us with expressed fear of the math and English sections, and we usually start with one of those sections first because there is so much content we can cover that will quickly lead to higher scores. The Reading section of the tests, however, remains elusive, and is often the hardest section to make progress in. The best thing a student can do to improve their reading comprehension for the tests is read more–read widely, read often, read actively–and seek to understand what the text is saying, ideally by looking up vocabulary that is unfamiliar. Sustained reading increases the skills tested in the Reading section over time, but many students are scrambling to prepare for the SAT and ACT only a month or two before the exam date. So, when faced with a time crunch, what can we do to increase a student’s score in Reading? One…

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