Test taking - can you improve that?

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Leroy
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Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by Leroy »

I mean, duh, yeah, you can get smarter. But my question is more on the lines of I have a friend or unadopted daughter that is working towards college and her first shot at the ACT was pretty rough. Really rough. She is not unsmart, so I was kind of surprised at her result. She just took it again and got the same exact same crappy score. I don't really know what to say or how to help.

Tests were always easy for me, except the CPA test...that was a bugger. But I always scored higher on Iowa Basics or whatever given in school than my grades said I should. I know anxiety is a huge deal, and is for my unadopted daughter. I don't know if she will even take the test again, she is really bummed. I wish I had some words of wisdom.

I did tell someone I worked with once, don't stress over crap you don't know. It isn't going to come to you no matter how long you stare at it. Just check b or whatever and move on and forget it. Thinking that way helped him improve from a 21 to a 24 which is what he needed for a scholarship. No idea if it was my advice, but I stand by it.

With this person, I just don't know what to say. I know some people just test terrible. I knew a kid in high school that couldn't pass the ASVAB test to get in the military. That test was pretty damn easy. He failed twice, I have no idea how you could do that.

Anybody else just a bad test taker, and what did you do to improve?

I'll hang up and listen.

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GeddyWrox
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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by GeddyWrox »

What grade is she in? If she's a Sr already, then there probably isn't time for taking a program. If she's a Jr, it may be worth looking into one of those test prep tutoring places. I don't know how much they cost, but it could be well worth the "gamble".

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by Popeye_Card »

My first questions would be around what she found difficult about the test. Did she feel rushed for time, leading to not having enough time for the later questions? Was that because she agonized between answers for too long? Did she come out of the test feeling like she aced it, but the results say otherwise? (That might suggest that she didn't spend enough time thinking about her answers.)

There is a certain structure to the questions on standardized tests like the ACT, which I agree with Geddy that a test prep service can likely help with, or even some internet research.

I'm generally a very good test taker, so unfortunately I can't provide much help from a bad test taker perspective. My main advice would be to just practice, practice, practice. Get comfortable in the problem solving mode, and learn from where you are making mistakes. Get ahold of as many sample tests (with solutions) you can get and run through them.

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Leroy
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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by Leroy »

She is a senior, but I would think a year off might be the best to really work on improving her 'skills'.

I know it is hard to give advice on something that is kinda second nature unless you have teaching skills, which I do not. I'm 0 for a lot as far as teaching violin.

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by BottenFieldofDreams »

Mindfulness could possibly be helpful. The ability to step back and recognize that your mind is spinning like a top on cocaine can be very valuable in stressful situations like that--even if you can't entirely stop it, knowing what's happening up there can improve performance.

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by sighyoung »

It is possible to improve test-taking skills, and both GeddyWrox and Popeye_Card provide good suggestions. Practice tests help because, as Popeye says, there's a kind of answer some of these tests are looking for, and it may take a bit of practice to figure it out. That was my experience with the analogy sections on the SAT, which I took back when trilobites were wandering the earth.

Going in knowing the format and the kinds of questions helps, too. However, these tests are now via computer, which I think is more difficult than when I took it.

Those prep courses can help, too.

I will say that many schools are test-optional, this year, because of the coronavirus, which is helping my daughter, who took the ACT right before the COVID-19 shutdown, and hasn't been able to take it again. She got a 25, but was really harried at the time, and probably would have done better the second time around.

Does your friend really need to take it again, or can she get in and get support based on grades/school activities? I know some scholarships still want the test scores, but it many cases, it doesn't matter.

I will suggest a dictionary of Latin and Greek word roots to help with vocabulary, if that's an issue. https://www.amazon.com/Dictionary-Engli ... B002LV63JS

I wonder if test anxiety or impostor syndrome are issues here, too. (And yes, some smart people just don't test well.) I took the GRE assuming that nobody would accept me into graduate school, so I had nothing to lose, and it was the best I ever did on a standardized test simply because I thought of it as a game, rather than my life on the line.

And I'll add one more thing: this generation is tested to death, and they REALLY REALLY worry about tests in ways that I never worried about the Iowa Basic Skills test or the SAT or GRE.

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by Leroy »

I remember feeling sick after I took mine, thinking if I got an 18 I would be shocked and I would never take it again. I did better than that but I walked out feeling really dumb.

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by AWvsCBsteeeerike3 »

I've always wondered what makes some people better/worse at taking tests. No idea if it that skill even exists, but it sure does seem like there's a lot anecdotal evidence (including people I know well) suggesting there is something other than intelligence/knowledge of the material that leads to higher scores.

From what I've seen, it sure seems people that 1. care excessively 2. have anxiety and 3. get too detailed in their preparation tend to do worse. Of course, this is all just anecdotal and I'd defer to any data that exists.

It's been over a decade since taking a meaningful exam, so take it fwiw, but especially wrt math/science questions, it really helps to no think critically but just pigeonhole every problem as much as possible. That probably sounds screwed up, but...that's standardized testing, imo. It's really tough to get nuanced understanding about a person's ability/understanding from a multiple choice exam graded by a computer and not looking into the work, again, imo. So, it seems like they take the principles they're testing on and try to fluff them up such that it's not a straight if x = 3, what does 3 + x equal? If you can understand what principle they're trying to test with the question quickly, it helps determine how to attack it.

I went to the ACT website and looked at example problems and it seems like, according to the example problems, this is still the case. Of the first 11 problems, 5 were straight algebra problems that can pretty easily be converted into simple equations:

https://www.act.org/content/act/en/prod ... &chapter=0
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It just takes practice getting used to converting words to numbers, variables and equations while keeping the variables to a minimum and understanding what you can set equal to what or what can be plugged in for what such that it is a solvable answer, and that's something you can practice every single day without a practice exam and can just make them up for funsies. But, it should be assumed that the answer can be found, and as such its just a matter of doing it.

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by AWvsCBsteeeerike3 »

Leroy wrote:
December 29 20, 9:20 pm
I remember feeling sick after I took mine, thinking if I got an 18 I would be shocked and I would never take it again. I did better than that but I walked out feeling really dumb.
I could never finish the reading portion. As a matter of fact, I don't think I ever got through 3 of the 4. I remember being somewhat dejected after taking it, but all standardized testing is made to make you feel that way. It's like a game of wits between question makers that have seemingly unlimited time and an advanced understanding of the subject material vs students that have a set time and a lesser understanding of the material. The balance is inherently lopsided.

I remember taking the PE, which I did a piss poor job studying for, and afterwards just being like...well, if I passed, it is by a pretty thin margin so just went out and drank a few beers. Which in hindsight was a good idea. A couple guys I studied with wanted to sit around and analyze the problems and see how they did....I was like...no thanks. There's a bar across the street. Peace. They kept texting being like....what did you do for this, that, the other...and I was like...dude, I don't know if I did it right.

By far the tests that made me feel the dumbest were these ones in high school where for whatever reason my school asked me to be on this scholastic team and I accepted bc a friend was doing it. On saturdays we'd go take tests for fun. And it was ridiculous. The questions were pretty easily college level matrix style stuff that we had no idea how to do, so taking a test on it was pointless. We'd get like 4/20 right. And those 4 were generally problems that could be figured out with logic or elimination of choices more so than actually understanding the complex equations that were above our head. We never won anything.

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Re: Test taking - can you improve that?

Post by Popeye_Card »

AWvsCBsteeeerike3 wrote:
December 29 20, 11:58 pm

I remember taking the PE, which I did a piss poor job studying for, and afterwards just being like...well, if I passed, it is by a pretty thin margin so just went out and drank a few beers. Which in hindsight was a good idea. A couple guys I studied with wanted to sit around and analyze the problems and see how they did....I was like...no thanks. There's a bar across the street. Peace. They kept texting being like....what did you do for this, that, the other...and I was like...dude, I don't know if I did it right.
Going into the PE exam, I was certain I was going to fail it. I got slammed at work, which threw off my whole studying schedule so I ended up cramming in the last week. Working out all of the sample problems, I'd only get like 25% of them right. I took a sample exam and got a ~50%. Then I started reading up on the cut score. While it is normally set around 70, that usually equates to about a 50% after they throw questions out. I felt somewhat better after that, but still pretty certain I wasn't going to pass.

Then the day of the test, I just got in a zone and felt like I was nailing nearly every question. The only part I struggled with were some engineering economics questions that I felt should have been layups, but I skipped studying any economics in advance so I wasn't sure how to work them. I finished with 2+ hours to spare. When I walked over to turn it in, they told me I should sit back down and review any questions I might want to re-work. Nope - if I went back, I would only second-guess myself and probably change answers to the wrong ones. Like you, I went over to the bar and waited for my friend to finish his test so we cold head back.

They stopped telling you what your score was, and simply report pass/fail. I passed - that's all that matters.

I do think multiple choice tests help for math/engineering problems especially, since if you messed something up in your calculations your answer likely isn't available. Though they are pretty clever with coming up with wrong answers that you would arrive at if you used the wrong approach.

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