Your Study Guides and Strategies starts here!

The nice thing
about standards is that
there are so many of them
to choose from.
Andrew S. Tanenbaum, 1944 -
American computer scientist

Testing with success series

Succeeding with standardized tests*

A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or "standard", manner. Standardized tests are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner.

Popham, W.J. (1999). Why standardized tests don’t measure educational quality. Educational Leadership, 56(6), 8–15.

Their use has expanded from assessing and ranking students, to evaluating curriculum, teachers, schools, and even school systems. However, as a student, these twelve tips will help you succeed and perform your best:

Before the test day

Give yourself adequate time to prepare
Standardized tests are performance tests. Each standardize test has its own strategy for assessment. The more familiar you are with each of its sections, the types of questions, time restraints, etc. the better off we are the more focus you can apply to answering questions rather than organizing your strategy.

Pace your preparation
Give yourself a break from time to time so that your mind can absorb what you’ve learned during your preparation. By creating a study checklist and timeline, and holding to it, you will be better positioned to succeed. Another strategy is to seek advice at your school especially if you feel you need an accommodation for effectively taking the test. (Research on effective strategies for determining which students get which accommodations is still being done, and should be based on your individual characteristics.)

Familiarize yourself with the structure and directions (or instructions) beforehand
This will free up your time at the testing site to focus on the test items themselves.

Take practice tests under timed conditions
As you prepare, practice tests under timed conditions to simulate the conditions you encounter on test day. This will also aid you in building up your mental stamina.

Practice using relevant practice questions
Practice using questions and authorized sample tests by authorized sources of the particular standardize test. For example, if you are taking the The SAT or the SAT Subject Tests to assess your academic readiness for college, use practice questions made by the College Board that produces the test in collaboration with the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Practicing on these questions will be the best investment of your time. If you chose to practice through other test preparation companies, be sure to verify their success statistics!

Avoid cramming
Cramming for a standardized test will lead to minimal or no improvements. If you adequately prepare, it will be better to get adequate rest, food and exercise the day of the test to sharpen your mind. Cramming can also increase your stress and thus affect your performance on test day. See our guide on mastering one test.

Taking the test

Make use of your test booklet
Make use of your test booklet, scratch paper, etc. as permitted. Again, if permitted, use the test booklet as a workbook to best answer the question – underline sentences, circle key words, cross out incorrect answers to help arrive at correct ones, work out your math, etc. Don't forget to mark your answer on the answer sheet though!

Read test questions actively
Passive reading is reading for entertainment. Active reading is necessary when taking standardized tests. When responding to a particular question, understanding words or concepts, and their relationship to each other, can reveal the answer. With active reading, be on the lookout for any clues or context that leads you to the correct answer. By better understanding what is expected, you will succeed in arriving at the correct answer.

Pace yourself
Pacing yourself is extremely important on standardized tests. Standardized tests can be designed to be tight for time so as to access your ability to work under time sensitive conditions. If a question seems too difficult, move on and return as time permits.

Complete easy questions first
Answer easy questions first in order to build confidence as you proceed, and even to put yourself in a mindset of the content and test. Scanning the test will help you identify and answer the easy questions, and familiarize yourself with difficult ones and let your brain mull them over as you scan and answer. If the timed test is graded on the number of questions answered, you also gain points by completing those easy ones quickly. You can always return to more difficult questions after the first go-round.

Multiple choice testing: the process of elimination
Many standardized tests, or portions of them, are made up of multiple choice questions. With the process of elimination you first eliminate wrong answer choices on difficult questions towards evaluating the correction option from those remaining. This will also help you avoid careless mistakes. See also our guide on multiple choice testing.

Bring something to eat and drink during breaks (if there are breaks)
If your standardized test has breaks in between them, bring a piece of candy, vegetable or fruit snack to eat as well as soft drink or juice to drink--though nothing heavy. This will also help you relieve stress!

See also:

Mastering one test | Standardized tests | General test preparation |
Anticipating test content | Review tools for tests | Overcoming test anxiety | Organizing for test taking | Cramming | Emergency test preparation