Standardized Test Preparation: It’s all in the details

Posted by College Corner on 5/15/13 9:33 AM

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As we wind down the academic year and start looking toward summer, most of us experienced academic tutors working in New York and Boston are working with two sets of students – those who have put in months of work in preparing for their upcoming AP and SAT subject tests and those who are just beginning to think about working with a private SAT  tutor or PSAT tutor.

Whether you’re dealing with the effects of a tired and beleaguered mind in the weeks before test day or setting out on a new course for standardized test prep, we have a few foundational test-taking tips that students can never hear too many times.  Internalize them in your last-minute prep or adopt them as your first step to best test-taking practices – regardless, these simple tricks help students to maximize their potential scores on all types of standardized tests and get the most out of their standardized test preparation.    

1. Read questions slowly

I work with many high school students preparing for the SAT subject tests right now, and one of the big keys to saving them easy points has been to ensure a slow and focused reading of every question.  Students are often so afraid of running out of time that they let their eyes scan questions and end up missing crucial terms.  This might sound silly, but I’ve been asking my students in Manhattan to touch their pencil points to every single word in their question prompts as they read along.  This really helps you to take control of the speed at which your eyes graze by terms, and after implementing this strategy I’ve noticed marked improvement in all my students going through standardized test coaching! 


Here’s another test tip that might seem a little obvious – always mark the word “not” in some way when it pops up in questions.  “Not,” “except for,” and “excluding” are some of the most common words test makers use to say that they want you thinking in the inverse.  Obviously, if your eye slips past the negative you’re in for some trouble because a lot of answers are going to start looking pretty appealing.  One of the first things that I tell new SAT and PSAT prep students – and something I’m repeating very often now with AP students focusing very intently on memorizing content – is to circle these words when they see them.  Regardless of how silly it might feel, this saves so many points!

3. Read the question – Think about it – Look at the answers

OK, this is my final super-obviously yet surprisingly often-forgotten tip for anyone who’s in the home stretch on AP prep or just starting out in their work on standardized tests.  No matter how many of the pertinent facts a student may have committed to memory, if she becomes flustered on test day, she’s likely to approach the questions in a haphazard manner.  Students just beginning their test prep many times also believe that reading a bit of the question, skipping down to skim through answers, and returning to read the rest of the prompt is a fine method.  But the strategy that I recommend – whether it’s AP Bio, SAT II World History, MCAT, GRE, or the plain ole SAT – involves three simple steps. 1) Read the question slowly.  2) Think about it and make a prediction before turning to the choices. 3) Assess your options and choose the one that most closely matches your guess.  Nine times out of ten, your prediction leads you in the right direction and so much time is saved in avoiding all the red herrings.

So if you’re looking test day in the eye right now, keep calm and remember these three basic strategies to avoid losing out on silly points.  And if you’re just beginning the journey with us, make these practices a part of your foundational toolbox.  Regardless of your grade level, test experience, or the exam you’re looking to be coached through, half the battle is in maintaining control and not letting the examination itself play tricks on you!

 Download 7 Test-Day Tips!

Tags: SAT