Psychology of Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are NOT school tests...

Know how your teachers (especially math teachers) have usually been adamant that you show your work? And maybe they've given partial credit for doing a lot of the work correctly even if you don't get the right answer? Not on standardized tests!!

Standardized tests care whether you get the right answer...and only whether you get the right answer.

If the test writer expects you to solve a problem using a challenging, circuitous, time-consuming method and you can find a way to get the right answer without doing any of that, you get the points. On the flip side, if you do 95% of a problem correctly, miss that the question asks for the answer in inches, and you give the answer in feet, you get zero points. doing well on standardized tests requires a different approach from doing well in school!

Doing well on standardized tests is not just about whether you can master the content on which the test is based. You've got to learn to think like a test-TAKER: nail process-of-elimination, use the answer choices, ballpark/estimate, quickly identify which test-taking tricks to use on which questions, master pacing, and know when to guess. And you've also got to learn to think like a test-WRITER: how trap answers are crafted, how twists and added complexity make easy questions tougher and how even more twists and complexity make tough questions diabolical. The way to get your best score is to balance mastering the content, thinking like a test-taker, and thinking like a test-writer.

If you've ever said, "I do really well in my classes, I just don't do well on (standardized) tests," the above is about YOU!

The biggest mistake many students make...

The biggest mistake that many students make when they prepare on their own (or with tutors aren't exactly cream-of-the-crop) is just doing tons and tons of problems and/or practice tests hoping (hoping!) that repetition will yield improvement. Practice without purpose is a great way to waste a bunch of time thinking you're studying for your exam without seeing much (any) return on that time.

...and what to do instead

For each exam section, there are only so many content topics on which the test-writer can test you, there are only so many ways they can structure each question, and there are only so many twists they can use to layer on complexity. If you completely master a few dozen carefully-selected sample questions (CSSQs) for each variation of content/structure/twist, the vast majority of what you'll see on your exam will resemble one or more of your CSSQs. You'll be able to identify each question as something you've seen before and you'll go, "oh, yeah, this one looks like the pencil factory question, and the sneaky test-writer punks put a 2x twist on the answer choices...ooooh, and and with the 2x twist, I can eliminate the two odd number answer choices and then just ballpark like in the forks and tweezers question...nice!!" Sounds like a foreign language? Only until you have your deck of CSSQs and learn how to use it!

I've seen all the variations of content/structure/twist and can help you learn to identify which ones are in play on each new question you encounter and how to attack each of those variations.