Tag Archives: act

State Sponsored ACT in Ohio: Pros and Cons

Starting this year, the state of Ohio is paying for every Junior in high school to take the ACT. Most schools are requiring every eligible student to take the test during the school day sometime in the next month.  The ACT is now one of the simplest ways to complete testing requirements for graduation; one path to graduation involves receiving a 22 on the math, 21 on the reading, and 18 on the English. Free testing makes things very easy for the schools.  There is no longer any excuse for students not to have an ACT score for graduation or college applications! This is great for low income students who previously might not have been able to take the test due to cost! It is also great for students who have anxiety and want to take the test in a familiar environment. However, the way the state has set up the testing, along with the choices several districts have made, may actually have negative consequences on several different groups of students.

My biggest concern is that the state has chosen not to pay for students to take the writing portion of the test.  For students who cannot afford to pay for the ACT (the students who this is supposed to be helping) this is their only chance at this test. Many universities  require the writing portion, so these students will be cut off from applying! In addition, highly exclusive schools want to see a writing score for every test that their applicants take; students from Ohio may look bad to these schools because they were required to sit for an ACT without the writing portion.

Similarly, students who are very high achieving will most likely be applying to schools that require ALL test results be submitted. These schools generally don’t want to see students taking the test more than three or four times as it can begin to look desperate. These students will have to “waste” a test sitting on the in school test on which they may not do as well.

There are two main reasons that students may not do as well on the in-school tests as on regular Saturday tests.  First, students have been trained not to prepare for in-school standardized tests. Their teachers make them do small practice tests, but generally students do not study outside the classroom. Not many students took time out of their days to study for the old OGT or the more recent PARCC tests. The preparation given by the school was really all they did. However, students can benefit greatly by preparing for the ACT outside of school, they just may not think to do so if they see it as just the next in a long line of standardized tests they  have to take for graduation.

The secondary reason students may not do as well on the in-school tests is that many schools are only offering on screen ACTs.  Tests on computers have several setbacks. It is difficult to flip through the test, to go back and answer questions you chose to leave for the end.  It is impossible to write on the test; students will not be able to circle key words in questions or underline important parts of the reading comprehension test. In addition, computers have a myriad of problems associated with them, they can get unplugged, run out of battery, go offline, or crash. Finally, students will have to stare at a screen for four hours, straining their eyes and making them even more tired than they normally would be during this test. Schools choosing the computer option aren’t doing their students any favors.

While this in-school test may be a wonderful opportunity for many students, if it’s not good for you make sure you do something about it! If you think you may be adversely affected by these tests then talk to your guidance counselor! Explain your concerns and ask if you can be exempted from the test. If you have already taken the ACT they may be willing to allow it, especially if you have legitimate concerns which you explain respectfully. If your guidance counselor tells you that he or she “can’t make that call,” ask who can make the call and get in touch with them. Remember, you are the best advocate for yourself. Stand up for your rights and for what is best for you.

 

I hope you have found this blog informational! If you enjoyed it please consider sharing it with your colleagues or friends!

Michal Strawn

New ACT Accommodations for English Language Learners

The ACT has long been a test with which English Language Learners (ELLs) struggled. The test is based largely on the English language; even the math portion requires a thorough understanding of English. However, the ACT will soon allow for accommodations for students who are still learning English.  The ACT wants to ensure that the test accurately reflects the potential of the students who take it and so they will be allowing certain aids for students who are ELLs. These accommodations include

  • Up to time and a half on the test
  • A bilingual word to word glossary (not containing definitions)
  • Test instructions in the native language of the student (limited to certain languages)
  • Separate room testing

These accommodations will be available to students starting in the fall of 2017 to students who are enrolled in their school’s English learners program!

How Many Times Should I Take the ACT or SAT?

 

How many times should you take the SAT or ACT?  Ask this question of a dozen people and you’ll get a dozen different answers.  Here are my thoughts on this, based on my tutoring experience, personal experience, and from reading everything I could find on the topic.

The Quick answer:  If you take the ACT and SAT 3 times each, you really don’t have anything to worry about.  Taking it more times than this could start to look a bit desperate, and taking it fewer times than this may not allow for the best performance.  Also, statistics from ACT and SAT indicate that test scores tend to plateau after 2 tests.  But what you should do really depends on your personal situation.  So, let’s break down some things for you to consider when deciding how many times to take the ACT or SAT.

First, here are some things everyone should do:

  1. Determine the score use policy from the college.  You can use this document from the College Board to find out more:  http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/sat-score-use-practices-list.pdf. Do this because if all the colleges to which you are applying will take the best overall score, then take the SAT or ACT as many times as you want!  If some of the colleges require all sets of past test scores¸ you may have to watch out that you don’t appear too desperate by taking it 5-6 times.  Many of the more selective schools do require that you send in all your past scores, but less selective schools generally do not require this.  (I have never come across a college that averages all past SAT or ACT test scores, so don’t be concerned about that).  Check with the individual colleges to be sure on their requirements.
  2. Practice before you take the SAT or ACT so your scores will look good.  There is no reason you can’t at least familiarize yourself with the ACT and SAT before you take them.  If you are on this website, you are already part way there!  You want to do this if for no other reason than you don’t want ACT or SAT to think that you may have cheated if you have substantially improved scores the next time (this happened to a student of mine once).

Now, let’s investigate the pros and cons of taking the ACT or SAT more than 3 times so you can make a decision for yourself:

Pros of taking the ACT or SAT more than 3 times:

  1. Most colleges superscore the SAT, and some do for the ACT.  Superscoring is taking the best score from each section of the test from multiple test dates, arriving at one “superscore”.  By taking the ACT or SAT multiple times, you can have an increased superscore even if your composite score does not improve.  Check with individual colleges on whether they superscore.
  2. You have the opportunity for more scholarship money.  Although your score may be fine to get you into a particular college, you open yourself up to many more scholarship opportunities by having a higher score.
  3. I can’t find any college that averages the SAT scores.  You don’t have to worry about a bad test date bringing down your overall score.  I’ve looked and looked, and I can’t find any college that treats test scores in this way.
  4. Score Choice for the SAT, only one set of scores for the ACT.  When you register for the SAT, you can select the “Score Choice” option that will make it so that you only send in scores from the test date you wish.  There are some colleges that will require all test scores from any date, but these are more selective institutions. The ACT only sends in one set of scores from a test date.  You can pick and choose what you want them to see, unless they require all test scores.
  5. Can simply leave the score BLANK on the application – it is not lying.  If you are applying to a school where they do not require all test scores, there is nothing wrong with omitting a bad score on your college application.  If the ACT went much better for you than the SAT, only put the ACT score down on the application.
  6. It is unlikely that the person making your admissions decisions will bother to go through all your test records.  Admission officers have to read thousands of college applications.  They will likely take any measures they can to make their jobs easier.  Often, after a secretary has entered the scores into a form for them, they will simply look at only the highest scores to make the decision.
  7. You’ll know you won’t have any regrets.  If you go ahead and give the ACT or SAT another try, you’ll at least know at the end of your senior year that you did all you could to get into the college of your choice.
  8. Your brain continues to change and you continue to learn in school, even without test prep.  The human brain continues to develop and change all the way up through age 25.  Even if you have done no test prep, giving the ACT or SAT another try after some time has passed may result in improvement because of your biological changes, and also because of your general academic progress.
  9. Cultural hostility towards doing it multiple times due to how it’s done elsewhere.  Don’t let a cultural bias prevent you from taking the SAT or ACT again.  In many countries, like China for example, there is only one opportunity to take the college entrance exam.  Students expect that they should be absolutely flawless in their preparation before giving the test a try.  That is simply not the case with the American University system.  There are many, many opportunities to give it a try.

Cons of taking the SAT or ACT more than 3 times:

  1. Will you look Desperate?  Colleges don’t want to have “grade-grubbing” desperate students – they want talented, curious, and level-headed ones.  Will your repeated test-taking attempts make it look like you have massive insecurities and that you won’t have much room for intellectual growth at the university level?
  2. Despite score choice, some colleges will require all scores anyway.  As discussed above, if you are applying to highly selective schools, they may require all scores, so you want to be sure that what they see puts you in the best possible light.
  3. Does your High School Transcript record the test scores?  Check with your guidance office to see if they will automatically send in your scores as part of your transcript.  Many high schools do, and despite all your score choice and planning, colleges may receive all your scores no matter what.  If your school does do this, consider omitting your high school code when you take the ACT or SAT and you may avoid having it show up in your school transcript.
  4. Waste of time and money, lots of frustration. It is true that students tend to plateau after a couple of tests.  It does cost a decent amount of money and takes a huge chunk of time to do the ACT and SAT, so make sure it is worth the time and money to do it.

 For most people, the pros of taking the ACT or SAT more than 3 times seem to outweigh the cons.  Think about your personal situation and figure out what makes the most sense for you.

A final word:  Are there any people who shouldn’t worry at all about taking it a bunch of times?  Absolutely!  Here are some potential situations:

  1. Athletes looking for a score for admission.  If you are being recruited by a school and they have told you will get in with a certain score, take it until you have what you need!  I can think of no downside to this.
  2. Someone already in to a school looking for a magic number for a scholarship. I have had students in my classes who have already graduated from high school, but who can earn far more in scholarship money be attaining a certain score.  I have even had students who only focused on what part of the test, like the SAT Critical Reading, when they took it because the other scores were fine for a scholarship.  Take it until you get what you need!
  3. You’re taking it as a seventh or eighth grader.  No need for concern about a college later rejecting you based on your talent search score.  Go ahead and give it a try to see if you are eligible for summer programs.
  4. You’re ONLY applying to schools that take the best score.  If you’ve done your research and you know for a fact that you are in this unusual situation, go ahead and take the ACT or SAT until you are all set.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have found this information helpful!

 

 

 

The July ACT

The ACT recently announced that they would be adding a new test date in 2018. The new date will be sometime in July. This is causing some students to ask “should I take important tests over the summer?” The answer to this question is multi-faceted.

Take a summer test if:

  1. You’re busy during the school year.

If your school year is packed full of activities, trips, homework, work, and other obligations you may not have time to properly prepare! If the summer is less stressful, the July test may be perfect for you! You would have all of June and at least part of July to prepare, free from the stress of school.

  1. You have definitive goals.

If you know exactly what score you want, then the July test might be a good idea, especially if you’re a rising senior. Rising seniors should have already taken the test once and know what score they’re shooting for. The July test allows these students an extra chance to reach those goals. Rising juniors probably don’t have to worry about these tests yet and can wait until the September or October tests to start.

  1. You are applying early action or early decision and want an extra chance.

If you will be a rising Senior next summer and you know that you’ll be applying early action or early decision you may want to take advantage of the July test as if gives you an extra opportunity to raise your scores. Before, you would have only had the September and possibly October test to reach those scores before applications were due. Now you have an extra opportunity.

Don’t take a summer test if:

  1. You tend to forget things.

If you’re a student who forgets what they studied as soon as a unit is over, this test may not be for you. The July test will take place at least a month after you’ve left school for the summer so your English and math scores may suffer if you have a “summer brain.”

  1. You aren’t self-motivated.

Yes, the July test gives you all of June and part of July to prepare. However, if you’re the type of person who can’t self-structure study time then this test might not be your best bet. During the school year, you have a definitive schedule into which you can work some ACT prep. However, during the summer you have all free time so you may not feel as motivated to get that work done! Unless you’re on top of things, leave test taking until the school year!

  1. You’re not a “morning person.”

The ACT is a morning test. This, in general, isn’t great for teenagers whose circadian rhythms make them “night owls.” However, during the school year most teens are used to getting up early, even if they don’t like it.  If, once summer rolls around, you revert to nocturnal ways, this test may not be for you. Wait until the school year when you’ll be used to waking up early. That way, your brain can be operating at full capacity.

 

I hope you have found this article to be helpful! If so, please share it with your friends!

Michal Strawn

ACT Science Content

Although many people claim that the ACT Science test does not require any background knowledge, they are incorrect.  If you examine several ACT tests, you will find that you must have basic knowledge from these two high school courses:

  • Physical Science
  • Biology

They require you to have this background knowledge because high school juniors across the country should have taken these two courses, no matter the rigor of their individual high schools.  Expect to see just a handful of questions that involve actual background knowledge from these two areas.

If you have taken advanced science, such as AP Chemistry or AP Physics, that certainly won’t hurt you.  It will help in the sense that your general ability to reason through scientific charts and graphs will be stronger, not because you need to have specific knowledge from any of those areas.

The material they present on the passages can come from all sorts of general scientific areas:  physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, astronomy, geology, and so forth.

The ACT Science Section has 3 types of passages:

  • Data Representation (38%). There are three of this type of passage, and each passage has 5 questions.  You will need to evaluate information presented in graphs, tables and figures.
  • Research Summaries (45%). There are three of this type of passage, and each passage has 6 questions.  You will need to analyze 2 or more experimental summaries, thinking about the results and the experimental design.
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (17%). You will only have 1 passage of this type, and it has seven questions.  It will present viewpoints from anywhere from 2 up to several scientists.  You will need to read a good bit here, although sometimes there is a graph or two given as well.  You will need to sharpen your ability to compare and contrast differing scientific explanations.

The passages are in a random order of difficulty, so just be on your toes to think critically at any point.

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

The ACT English Section

So what is on the ACT English? The ACT provides great information on what is on their test; that information is often hard to understand. I’ve broken it down for you here!

Usage/Mechanics – Half of the ACT English Test

  • Punctuation (13%).  Primarily you need to know commas.  Also, review usage of semicolons, colons, and dashes.  It is critical that you don’t just know simple punctuation rules but that you also know how proper punctuation affects the meaning of sentences.
  • Grammar and Usage (16%).  Look at subject verb agreement – words that need to agree with one another will often be separated, so you’ll really have to pay close attention to context.  Watch out for vague pronouns, idioms, and proper adjective and adverb usage.  Basically, make sure that the intended meaning matches up with the actual meaning.
  • Sentence Structure (24%).  You have to be more than a proofreader – you need to be an editor.  Be certain that individual words and longer clauses are placed in a logical order.

Rhetorical Skills – The Other Half of the ACT English Test

  • Strategy (16%). You will need to examine the intent of the author, and pick answers that do what the author actually intended to do.  You will also need to see if phrases and sentences are relevant, or if they can be removed.
  • Organization (15%).  You need to know where sentences and phrases should be placed – rearrange things until they make sense.  Also, you need to connect paragraphs, sentences and phrases with logical transitional words, like “but”, “also”, or “because”, as demanded by the situation.  You’ll  need to be able to see what a sensible introduction or a conclusion would be based on the context.
  • Style (16%). This is big picture stuff. How do you make an individual sentence have the same tone as the rest of an essay?  Depending on what the goal of the author is, how do you pick the best wording to express what is wanted?  How can you be clear with pronouns?  How can you prevent needless repetition and wordiness?

Check out our full length practice test and see how you do!

What to expect on the ACT: Timing

 

If you’re taking the ACT, you’re in for a long morning.  You should arrive at the test center before 8 AM in order to find your room and check in.  You will then have a roughly 4 hour test in front of you.

The ACT is broken up into four sections with an optional fifth section:  English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.  To remember the order in which the test sections fall, simply remember that they go in alphabetical order!  

Here is the breakdown for timing of the test, and how you should pace yourself on the ACT:

English Test – 45 minutes, 75 questions, 5 passages.  You should take about 9 minutes per passage.

Math Test – 60 minutes, 60 questions.  Questions increase in difficulty so start out quickly and then slow down about half way through.

You then have a 10 minute break when you should have a snack!  Bring it yourself. 

Reading Tests – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 4 passages.  Take about 9 minutes per passage.

Science Test – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 6-7 passages.  Take about 5 minutes per passage.

If you are sticking around for the writing, you have a 5 minute break.  If you are not doing the ACT Writing, you can go home at this time. 

Optional ACT Essay – 40 minutes.  Spend about 5 minutes prewriting, and 30 minutes writing and 5 minutes editing.  They typically give you 4-5 pages on which to write.

 

As the tests go on, they become more difficult for most students to finish.  English is very easy to complete, and Science is quite tough.  Practice ahead of time so that you have a good internal feel for the pace at which you should go.  Also, by practicing, you will have a good idea of whether it makes sense to skip and guess on some questions.  Remember, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so if you don’t complete all the questions, be sure to at least bubble something in for each question.

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Questions on the ACT, SAT, GED, and other Major Tests have only One Definitive Answer

One of the most helpful things for students taking the ACT, SAT, GED, or other major tests is to know that there is one definitive answer for every question.  This can be quite a change if you are used to coming across rather vague questions on school-based tests that indeed could have a couple of correct answers.  The ACT and SAT take significant steps to ensure that they do indeed only have one correct answer for each question.

They do this by testing the questions before they are given on scored tests.  The SAT does this on every test.  Each SAT has 10 sections, only 9 of which are scored.  The 10th section is an experimental section which they use to test out questions for future tests. They want to be certain that the questions are not biased towards any gender or ethnic group, and that the questions are of appropriate difficulty.  The ACT does not test its questions as frequently as does the SAT, but they seem to pick the June test date to add in an experimental 10 minute section for test-takers to do at the end of the test.  In order for these experimental sections to be valid, the test-takers cannot be aware that they are experimental.  Otherwise, students would simply go to sleep and save their energy for the questions that actually impact their score.  The test-makers are quite good at this question experimentation – the last time I took the SAT I thought I had determined which section was the experimental, but when I received my answers and test booklet in the mail, I realized I had been mistaken.
How good are the SAT and ACT at making sure there is only one definitive answer to each and every question?  Very, very good, and if they do mess up, they fix it.  Check out this great New York Times article on the appeals process for questions on the ACT and SAT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/education/edlife/strategy.html

What struck me is that in a 22 year period, no ACT questions were thrown out.  Between 2005 and 2008, only 3 questions on the SAT were deemed to be flawed.  If and when the SAT and ACT do find that they have made an error in a question, be assured that they will take care of it and omit it from scoring.  This is one reason why it takes time for your scores to come back – ACT and SAT need time to make sure that they have not made any errors on the test, and need the opportunity to find any questions they might have to omit.

One potential reason that the ACT has a more of a spotless record is the strong possibility that the test makers repeat some questions.  I do not know this for a fact, but I do know that the ACT limits you to taking the test 12 times in your life while the SAT allows you to take the test as many times as you would like.  (I try to take the tests regularly, and I am spreading out my ACT test taking experiences so that I don’t run out!)  I can see no reason other than the possible repetition of questions as to why they would place these limits on test takers.  Once the ACT knows they have a perfectly worded question, they are in the clear and can use the questions on subsequent tests.  Since the SAT is starting fresh each time, they have more room for error.  Keep in mind that this is all just an educated conjecture on my part.

How does knowing that there is one definitive answer help in your test-taking and your test preparation?  Two ways:

 1.       Don’t waste time looking for games or tricks on the test.  Spend your time thinking instead.  There is no point in overanalyzing a question to see if there could be two correct answers; this simply isn’t going to happen on the SAT or ACT and if it does, they will omit it from scoring.

2.       Make sure you prepare with practice tests that have definitive answers.  If you are prepping with practice questions that in fact have 2 correct answers on occasion, you will drive yourself insane in overanalyzing the questions.  As a result, you will have a flawed strategy when it comes time to take the test.  So, be sure the materials you are using are high quality.  One great place you can go for solid questions is the website of the test you are taking. You can also purchase actual materials from ACT and SAT.

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would greatly appreciate it if you passed it along to your friends.  Thanks so much.

Should You Do Test Prep Before Taking the ACT and SAT for the First Time?

Students and parents often wonder whether to take the SAT and ACT with or without any test preparation the first time.  There is not a simple answer to this, so I will offer you some things to consider when making your decision:

1.  How close to applying to college are you?  If you are in the spring of your junior year or the fall of your senior year and are going to take the ACT or SAT for the first time, I would highly recommend doing some test preparation prior to taking the test.  Because you don’t have much time left you want your first time taking the test to be a solid experience, so do some test preparation beforehand.  If you are in the fall of your junior year or earlier, you may decide to take the ACT or SAT once as a run-through just to see where you stand.  You can then do more targeted test preparation based on the areas of weakness that you find in your test results.

2.  Do you have significant anxiety about testing?  For many students who are quite anxious about testing, having a bad experience the first time around on the SAT or ACT can give them baggage and hang-ups the next time they take the test.  For students like this, it usually makes sense to do some test preparation ahead of time so that the test goes smoothly the first go-round.  However, I want you to consider that once in a while, I see students take the SAT or ACT without any prep and, because the students expect so little of themselves, they are able to truly relax and let their intellect shine through.  For example – I had a young lady who took the ACT after doing some preparation and scored a 27.  Then, she took the SAT thinking that it didn’t matter, did zero prep for it, and scored the equivalent of a 30 on it!  I have found that this may be the case for students who are very bright and pretty anxious.

3.  What is your personal schedule like?  Some students have significant extracurricular commitments during part of the year; they have no time to do any test preparation during those months.  However, they may need to take the SAT or ACT during those times.  If this applies to you, you may want to do your test preparation the summer before school starts so that you have the opportunity to give it your full attention.  If your schedule permits you to do test preparation leading up to a test date, that can be quite beneficial as all the strategies and concepts will be fresh.

I hope that you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

How to Increase Your Mental Focus and Endurance When Taking the ACT, SAT, GED or Other Standardized Tests

A common concern that students have when they take a major test, like the SAT, ACT or GED is being unable to maintain focus.  Here are 15 things that can help you improve your mental focus when you are taking a test.

  1. Get Plenty of Sleep.  If you are cramming for a major memorization test, sacrificing a bit of sleep can make sense.  If you are studying for a major conceptual and problem-solving test, however, adequate sleep is essential.  The SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, GED and most other major standardized tests are conceptual, problem-solving tests.  As such, be certain that you are well-rested for test day.  If you are thinking about staying up late to study the night before the SAT or ACT, please don’t! Get a good night’s sleep instead.
  2. Caffeine Can Backfire.  Caffeine can be a helpful supplement for students who have attention deficit issues (please talk to your doctor about your personal situation).  Most students, though, find that caffeine can make them jumpy and jittery on test day.  The adrenaline you have pumping through your veins will more than be sufficient to make you alert.  You want to make sure you are not accelerating your thinking to the point where you make lots of careless errors.
  3. Don’t Ask Too Much of Yourself. If you only scored in the 50th percentile on practice tests, do not expect that you will score in the 99th on the actual test!  You will have significant focus issues if you attempt to do more problems than you should or if you try to read faster than what is comfortable.  If you give your mind a reasonable task to do, it will comply.  If you don’t, your mind will shut down and think about other things.
  4. Get Medical Help if Needed.  If you notice that you have quite a bit more difficulty focusing on tests than your friends do, it couldn’t hurt to have a doctor or psychologist evaluate you.  I once had a student who told me that every time he took a test, he struggled to focus.  I suggested that he see a doctor since he had never been evaluated for attention issues.  He was able to get ADHD medicine for his test.  He took the test with his prescription, and did well enough to get into the college of his choice.  It doesn’t hurt to look into this if you never have.  If paying for a medical evaluation is a concern, your school psychologist may be able to do an evaluation free of charge.
  5. Control Where You Take the Test.  Don’t just sign up for any old test-center.  Try to take it at a school or facility where distractions will be kept to a minimum.  If you are distracted by large rooms and lots of noise, take the test at a school with small classrooms.  If you are distracted by having lots of people you know at a test center, sign up to take the test on the other side of town.  In any event, think about where you should do it.  As long as you plan far enough in advance, you should be able to have plenty of control over where you take your test.
  6. Declare a Drama Moratorium Leading Up to the Test.  You don’t need to be as extreme as one of my students was – he broke up with his girlfriend a week before the ACT so she wouldn’t be a distraction to him!  You may want to isolate yourself a bit more leading up to a test so that you don’t have the “drama” that your “friends” may often cause.  Plan on going out for a fun evening with everyone after the test is over!
  7. Practice Without Social Media Distractions.  Nowadays, we are almost like cyborgs in how we are constantly connected to our phones, computers and tablets.  If you are practicing a standardized test with the test in one hand and your phone in the other, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Get used to practicing without having the constant interaction of social media so that you don’t experience internet deprivation when you are stuck taking a test for five hours.
  8. Have a Snack During Breaks.  This is one of the easiest yet most helpful things you can do to stay focused during tests.  Almost every major test will give you some sort of a break.  Use this time to get your blood sugar up to where it should be by having a healthy snack:  almonds, banana, jerky etc. Stay away from processed carbs and sugars though as they can make you sleepy!
  9. Wear Earplugs. I have never come across anything saying you can’t use earplugs during major tests.  If you are distracted by the smallest of noises, go ahead and bring earplugs (they only cost a few dollars) and tune out your fellow test-takers.   Just be sure that you are aware of when the test proctor is calling time so that you aren’t ejected from the testing site for continuing work when you shouldn’t.
  10. Eat Peppermint When Studying and When Test-Taking.  I have heard and read from various sources that eating peppermint while you study and then having peppermint while taking memorization-based tests can help you remember things because you are connecting key concepts to your primitive sense of smell.  I have not tried this personally, but I have had students do this and say that it is helpful.  If nothing else, it will have a placebo effect, giving you more confidence in your ability to remember things.
  11. Do Relaxation and Hypnosis Exercises.    Athletes do mental conditioning.  Musical and dramatic performers do too.  Performing well on a standardized test is a major undertaking – why not do some relaxation or hypnosis exercises to help you focus?  If your situation is really bad, you may even consider hiring a professional hypnotist to help you learn to subconsciously tune out distractions and focus on the task at hand while taking a test.  If your lack of focus is more mild, you can do any number of relaxation exercises available in books or online to help you channel your energy when test-taking.
  12. Get Test Anxiety Under Control if Needed.  If you are always distracted by serious worries about your performance when taking a test, address these concerns ahead of time by thinking through how you will handle your test anxiety.  Having a plan in place will actually help to reduce anxiety!
  13. Get Motivated if Needed.  If you are distracted when test-taking because you just don’t care, find motivation.  The best way to do this is to talk to your parents, teachers, or older friends who can tell you why doing well on the test is indeed very important. I can assure you that their advice will ring true for you.
  14. Accept That There is Nothing Else You Can Do During Test Time.  When I go on an airplane ride, I accept that I will not be able to call anyone or use the internet.  I embrace this quiet time and spend it reading or talking with family members.  Use the same mindset when you take a major test.  Let go of any of the other things that could be bugging you during this time because there is absolutely nothing you can do about them during the test.  Given the ever-present media distractions we face, taking a standardized test can be, in a way, a bit liberating!  (I know that’s a stretch, but some of you may be able to look at it that way. . . )
  15. Your Mental Endurance.  If you are about to run a marathon and you haven’t even gone for a run around your neighborhood, you will completely fall apart.  Similarly, if you are going to take a 4 or 5 hour test, it is unlikely that you will be able to focus for this long if you have done nothing to build your test-taking stamina.  If you know you have issues with mental focus, be sure to do some full-length tests leading up to the actual thing.

I hope you have found this discussion helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart