Should you Recheck and Double-Check your Answers on the ACT and SAT?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, PSAT, SAT Prep
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One of the major obstacles to top test performance on exams like the ACT and SAT is when test-takers want  to finish with tons of time to spare so that they can go back and double check all of their answers.  While this may be a good technique on other types of tests, it can lead to serious issues on the ACT and SAT.  Here are the reasons why:

1.       If you don’t understand the question the first time, you likely won’t understand it the second time.  The questions on the ACT and SAT are very, very well written.  If you misread a word or two, you will often find that you will miss the point of the entire question – the wording is just too intricate.  You will be much better off if you take the time to read the questions really well rather than rushing through them so that you have time at the end of the test to go back and double check them.  Reading them once well is far preferable to reading them 3-4 times poorly. 

2.       You can’t easily plug in answers.  The math section is one on which you would think you could go back and effortlessly double check your answers by plugging the answers back into the equations.  Unfortunately, it is quite rare that the SAT and ACT will give you an equation into which you can easily plug in answers.  Usually, the difficulty in answering these test questions is found in attempting to set up the problem in the first place.  Because of this, you would be better off devoting more time to understanding and setting up the problem rather than skimming through the questions so that you have time at the end to recheck. 

3.       The ACT and SAT are tough to finish – don’t make them more difficult than they already are.  By setting the unreasonable expectation that you should not only finish the questions  but should have time to recheck your answers, you will set yourself up for failure.  Rushing through the test will contribute to careless mistakes as well as increased test anxiety.    

4.       You will often simply convince yourself you were right rather than do anything productive.  A multiple choice test is different from  fill-in and essay tests in that you are always able to put something down as an answer.  This makes it very easy for you to want to spend your time going back to make yourself believe you picked the correct answer.  Many people do this because it helps with their test anxiety.  Spending time convincing yourself that you were correct will make you feel better during the test, but will do nothing to help improve your score. 

5.       You will often change things that you had correct.  The incorrect answers, or distractors, on ACT and SAT questions are extremely persuasive.  Time spent analyzing answers after you have made a solid attempt usually just persuades you that you picked the wrong answer.  Instead of going back and changing answers around, spend your time making sure that your answer is correct the first time. 

6.       It is unlikely that you will make a gridding error.  The SAT has sections no longer than 35 questions, so you will probably not make bubbling errors on your scantron sheet.  The ACT has longer sections – up to 75 questions on the ACT English – but questions alternate between ABCD and FGHJ in the answer choices, making it highly unlikely that you will get off by one question as you bubble in your answers.  Rather than worrying about a gridding error that is unlikely to happen, focus your mental energy on the much more productive task of answering the questions well. 

When does it make sense to spend time double checking answers?  On School Tests, not Skill-Based Standardized Tests.  Why?  On school tests, you might recall key facts when you give your mind a chance to think through things, use solutions to some questions to help you think of answers to other questions, and plug numbers back into equations to check your answers.  So be certain to modify your approach to checking answers depending on the type of test you are taking.  

Guest Post from Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the College Board

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Familiarity Breeds Comfort

By: Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program at the College Board

Every so often I find myself speaking to a high school student who, upon finding out that my work involves the SAT, looks at me in awe.  (At least, I like to think it’s awe). 

And then takes a big step backwards. 

Unfortunately, to them the SAT represents some huge and inscrutable test that they feel they should fear, some Goliath that they are going to have to conquer in their junior or senior year for which nothing can ready them.

Relax, I tell them, the SAT is nothing to be feared; and when the time comes, you will successfully conquer it.  In fact, there are things you are probably doing right now that are preparing you and you don’t even realize it. 

The best preparation for the SAT, I counsel, is to do well in school.  First, make sure you are on the path to completing a core curriculum; then, make sure those courses are truly challenging – don’t take the easy way out.  Study hard and read as much as possible.

There are even little things that students can do early on.  Create an account on the College Board website – it has a bunch of free planning and preparation resources.  One my favorite tools is the SAT Question of the Day, or QOTD for those in the know.  It’s an actual question from a past SAT and it’s a really great way to both become familiar with the exam content as questions come from all three sections as well as get your brain up and running in the morning. 

I have to confess I receive the SAT QOTD each morning in my inbox.  If you don’t want to register for the email, you can visit the site each day and “play”. 

The Question of the Day is a great way for underclassmen to engage with the SAT in a fun and introductory manner and for those who are practicing more seriously to take advantage of all the possible resources.  With a little familiarity the SAT won’t seem intimidating at all.

As Publilius Syrus once said, “Practice is the best of all instructors.” (I know, because I got it in an email this morning.)



What if You are a Bad Test Taker?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, College Admissions, SAT Prep
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Having worked with thousands of students over the years, I’ve come to realize that no matter how much content and strategy discussion some students receive, they are simply not very good test-takers.  What can you do with respect to college admissions if no matter how hard you work, you can only make miniscule or zero improvements in your test performance?  Here are six ideas:

1.       Look into extended time.  Maybe your issues with timing and test anxiety are due to an underlying learning disability that only manifests when you are doing a major test like the ACT or SAT, but you can manage when you do normal school work.  If you have never been tested for a learning disability and you find that you have serious issues with attention, reading and problem solving, it may be worth checking out.  Typically, a school psychologist will do it at no cost.  If you want to move the process along, you may need to have a private psychologist conduct some testing.  If you end up finding that you have a learning disability, you would then need to get an IEP or 504 plan through your school.  After that, you could apply for extended time for the ACT and SAT. 

2.        Know it’s just part of the process.  In my reading of the blogosphere and my discussions with college admissions counselors, the consensus seems to be that about ¼ of the college admissions decision is based on your standardized test performance.  If you know that tests are not your thing, be sure to make your extracurricular activities and grades as good as they can possibly be.  

3.         Check out Test Optional Schools.  Many colleges are now test-optional, making it possible to gain admission to a great college while having poor performance on the ACT or SAT.  You can find a complete list on the website  

4.         Submit a Portfolio.  If your true intellectual talents cannot be demonstrated with a test, take the initiative to demonstrate them in a different way.  If you are a great artist, send in a portfolio of your creations.  If you excel at music, submit a CD of your recorded work.  If you are an excellent writer, direct the admissions officers to your blog or novel.  Admissions officers will only know that you have non-testable talents if you show them – the application gets accepted, not the person. 

5.         Have a personal meeting with someone on the admissions staff.  Schedule an in-person meeting with someone who works in the admission office at the school.  This will give you the opportunity to explain your unique situation or share accomplishments that cannot be easily presented in an application.  Most colleges will be more than happy to do this with you, provided you give them sufficient notice. 

6.         Evaluate if college is really the best choice for you.  So many recent college graduates find themselves with tens of thousands in debt and only able to find jobs that they could have gotten with simply a high school diploma.  If you feel that you are likely to end up with a degree that won’t really help you find work, perhaps you should look into an associate’s degree in a field that is more to your liking.  There are tons of people who have made great livings starting plumbing, electrical, and web design companies, just to name a few.  Here is a great article that lists some of the top-paying jobs you can have without a college degree:

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