Apr 19, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

They’re all over the news when it comes to education and assessment. Some folks favor them, some not so much. What are we talking about? Standardized tests

In Texas, a February 2017 poll revealed that residents think that cutting the number of standardized tests students need to take would improve public education—even more than increasing funding, allowing vouchers, paying teachers more, grading schools, expanding pre-k, and instituting alternative options.

Turns out Texans loathe standardized tests. Some claim that the tests create unreasonable pressures that flow from the state to school districts, principals, teachers, students, and then parents—who vote.

In Hawaii, the Hawaii State Teachers Association recently supported a bill to limit testing—specifically Smarter Balanced testing. The biggest complaint? It’s just not a good test—too many stakeholders involved in a low-quality test.

Vermont faces similar issues with the Smarter Balanced Test. A recent article in Stowe Today, reports a decline in average math and reading scores has educators and administrators scrambling to figure out why. The fear? It will come at the cost of instructional time.

Let’s take a closer look at what standardized tests are—and how you can ace them. 

What are standardized tests?

The idea is in the name—standardized tests are given to students on a consistent cycle with similar questions. Students have the same amount of time and must follow all the same rules.

Students take standardized tests from elementary school through graduate school.

Their purpose? To offer a lens into the classroom and give a cross-section of what students know and don’t know.  

The idea is that teachers, administrators, and state agencies will use the results of standardized tests to inform instruction in the classroom.

Standardized tests are designed based on a group of content standards accepted by states or groups of states, like the Common Core State Standards.

 Those standards outline the key concepts and facts that students should know and be able to show at the end of each school year.

Here’s the problem: not everyone learns the same way at the same rate.

What does this mean? It means that if you have to take a standardized test you have to be ready. In the US, at a minimum, you’ll probably have to take either the SAT or the ACT for acceptance at a four-year college or university.

Ready to figure out how to ace standardized tests? Keep reading.

How You Can Ace Standardized Tests

You need to do five things:

1. Study, study, study

Yes, you need to study a lot. The trick? Don’t make yourself sick about it. Make a study plan and stick to it. Make flashcards to help you memorize vocabulary and math formulas.

Don’t know where to start? Get a few study guides (see #2) and make flashcards for all of the vocabulary words that you don’t know.

Carry these vocab cards with you wherever you go.

Even outside your designated study time, you can use these to study a few words at a time.

Remember: study a lot, study in designated times, and make a plan.

2. Use varied resources

You should look at more than one study guide. If you’re a visual learner, try books from a variety of publishers.

More auditory? Get audio books and educational videos. The book publishers also publish these materials.

Is hands-on more your style? Try test-prep games and apps.

Even better? Get a study buddy and dedicate yourself to studying at least one part of the exam with that person. Flashcards quizzes with friends are the best.

3. Take sample tests

Get a couple of these. Set yourself up in mock testing conditions, set a timer, and go.

The more you do this, the better you’ll do when the real one rolls along.

The biggest benefit? Managing your time. You’ll figure out the places you need to improve, and where you have room to spare.

4. Learn about scoring

The ACT and the SAT are not graded the same way. On the SAT, you lose a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. ON the ACT, there’s no penalty for wrong answers—so you should always guess.

On the SAT, lots of guessing won’t help you.

It’s on you to figure out how the grading works on the test—and then maximize that information for the highest score possible.

5. Review your answers

On practice tests, you’re not going to get better if you don’t know what you got right—and what you got wrong.

During the real thing, you should review your answers before you submit your exam. Why? You might need to make a change. It’s also a good idea to make sure you answered all the questions.

Go forth and ace that test. You can do it!

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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