The Myth of the Bad Test Taker

At Pivot Tutors, we often hear parents say that their student is a bad test taker, especially when it comes to high stakes tests like the ACT and SAT.  This is even more disheartening when the student does really well in school but just cannot seem to get the score they want.

Common phrases we hear when talking with parents and students--

“My student is really bright but they cannot seem to do well on tests”

“I’m a terrible test taker. I just don’t know what they want from me.”

“My student has a 4.0 but does awful on the big tests!” 

Important caveat—The ACT and SAT do not measure your student's intelligence nor do the scores correlate with their true knowledge.  

Many parents who were “bad test takers” themselves often presume that their children will also be bad test takers. But, luckily, bad test taking is not an inherited trait.

The truth is no one is a really bad test taker.

Most students who identify as bad test takers simply don’t know what standardized tests like the ACT or SAT want from them and struggle with how to approach these tests. The most important thing to remember is that there is no finality in being a bad test taker. Overcoming being a “bad test taker” starts with changing your mindset. Don’t tell yourself you are going to fail before you even start. You can always improve. You just need to learn how to take the test. 

While standardized tests, like the ACT or SAT, are intended to evaluate a student’s high school learning and college readiness, these tests don’t reflect what students are currently learning in their courses.

For Standardized Tests, the sections are not what you think!

  • The Math sections on the ACT or SAT are not testing on math in the same way as your math courses.

  • The Science section on the ACT is more like playing a game than testing on actual scientific knowledge or inquiry.

  • The English sections on these tests are typically unfamiliar to students, testing on language patterns and grammar. Most schools do not even dig into grammar instruction anymore--diagramming sentences anyone?

  • The Reading sections on the ACT or SAT probe skills, such as reading speed and comprehension, which differ from your usual English course tests.

Schools do not teach students how to be good test takers.  Most academic classes are focused on teaching content and critical thinking and have little time to spend on teaching testing strategy.

What can your student do to become a Good Test Taker?

Usually students who do not do well on these tests have some of the following problems:

  1. Recognition. What is the question asking them to do?  For some students, reading questions on the ACT and SAT feels similar to reading an unknown language.

  2. Application. How can a student apply the knowledge they do have to answer the question? Some students will over think the question and try to do more than what the question is asking.  

  3. Testing Anxiety. High stakes tests like the SAT and ACT can cause stress/anxiety for students because there is much riding on their doing well!

Standardized tests are tests that have their own specific challenges, such as timing, and their own specific rules. Every student, especially those who label themselves as bad test takers, has to learn how to play the Standardized Test game. 

Seeing the game behind the test is not easy on your own. Like playing a sport, learning how to be a good tester takes good coaching and lots of practice, including taking practice tests. Test Prep tutoring is the easiest way for students to become good standardized test takers efficiently. 

Working with a test prep company, like Pivot Tutors, will help your student learn how to prepare for the test in the most effective way with all the right materials and know how.  Here is how we help:

  1. Students will learn the content for each section, and they will also learn/become familiar with all of the various questions that are found in the test.

  2. They will learn the strategies necessary to answer each question effectively and in a timely manner (the joys of timed tests).

  3. They will also practice what they are learning in session, through homework and by taking practice tests.  Practice makes perfect. :) 

Growing familiar with the standardized test and with the game behind each section will strengthen a student’s test-taking abilities and help reduce test-taking anxiety.

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