To the Test Takers

I do a lot of test prep tutoring, and it amazes me how similar my students’ concerns are regardless of age, gender, skill foundation, and even the test they’re taking. This is for them.

An open letter to the kids taking standardized tests:

You are somewhere in the middle of a test acronym barrage, and are feeling incredible pressure. With school, club activities, chores, friends, and maybe even a part-time job, how are you supposed to find time for this test prep thing your parents have stuffed into your already busy schedule? You’re feeling such intense pressure from all directions that you’re quite certain that the only reason you haven’t collapsed into a tiny cube is because you’re exerting just as much pressure on yourself as you feel from other people.

It’s ok.

I can see the thoughts scrolling across your forehead. Do I have time for this? What if I don’t understand it? What if I fail? Are we done yet? I’ll pretend I don’t see that last one. Yes, you have time. You doubtless watch TV shows but I’m willing to bet you don’t actually watch the commercials. Use that time to quiz yourself on vocabulary or math formulas. It’s amazing what an extra 15 minutes of review a day will do for you. And it’s ok if you don’t understand everything perfectly. Solidify as much as you possibly can and become an expert at those things – I am all about emphasizing quality over quantity – and familiarize yourself with the rest.

The reason you needn’t worry about the fact you can’t learn and memorize every single concept and formula is because you can’t technically fail – or pass – a standardized test. While you should definitely take your studies very seriously, at the end of the day, your score is just a number and not the be-all-end-all of your future. It neither determines nor defines who you are as a person. That part is entirely up to you.

Then there are the concerns I hear directly as opposed to reading your little neon forehead signs, and there are two that are painfully frequent. The number one concern is that the goal of the test makers is to trick you and make you fail. Remember that it is a standardized test, and is therefore not smart enough to trick you. Repeat after me: There are no trick questions. The other concern is for the essay and what happens if you don’t finish. There’s a reason teachers harp about thesis statements and topic sentences and proper outlining. Those things let your reader know where you’re going, even if you don’t get there. Remember that it doesn’t matter so much what you write as it does how you write it… just be sure you’re answering the question. And it would behoove you to write with an annoying tutor toddler in your head asking, “Why?”

So much of preparing for a standardized test is mental preparation. Put forth the effort and repeat this:

  • I have the time to prepare. I will use it wisely.
  • I am smarter than the test. A standardized test cannot trick me.
  • My score does not directly determine my future successes or failures.
  • She’ll leave in five minutes.

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