When we take major tests like the SAT and ACT, we often expect WAY too much of ourselves by thinking that we should be able to clearly explain why we picked the answer we did.
Don’t get me wrong. Being able to explain why you picked the answer is a great thing. The problem is when you feel you must spend too much time on a question because you cannot give a detailed justification to yourself as to why you picked what it is.
If you are teaching a class on test preparation, then you should definitely be able to explain and justify why a particular answer is correct. I know that if I attempted to explain a question by simply telling a student, “well that’s just the obvious answer!”, they would ask for a refund. If, on the other hand, you are simply taking the test, then you only need to have a good sense of what is correct. This is a significant issue for test takers in the following situations:
- On vocabulary questions where they hesitate to trust their intuition and instincts as to what a word might mean.
- On math questions where they might be afraid to use unconventional methods, like plugging numbers in, because they are not what they have been taught as a “proper” method in school.
- On grammar questions, they will know that something is incorrect, but because they can’t think of exactly what would replace it, they just leave it as is.
- On science questions, they think they need to recall in-depth facts from school when what they actually need is just a bit of common-sense problem solving.
The SAT, ACT, and other major standardized tests are not long short answer and essay tests: they are predominantly multiple choice. You will not need to give extended explanations as to why an answer is correct – you simply must know that it is correct. Do your best on these tests by letting your instincts and intuition guide you when it is called for.