Starting Today: Test Better. Learn Better.
Although two-thirds of voters report that education is a “very important” issue to them, there is little agreement as to how it should be implemented, or even what its purpose should be. Still, one thing is clear: today’s educational environment requires you to be a good tester.
Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which introduced publicly viewable school “report cards” and tied financial incentives to performance, schools now place a huge emphasis on high-stakes testing.
The problem is that standardized testing is one of the few places we continue the false notion of an “average person,” as if the statistical average represents even a single student.
The best way for you to handle standardized tests is to drop the “average” approach and put your individuality first. Here’s how.
How to Handle Any Test
Standardized testing is a one-size-fits-all solution for students we know aren’t one size.
Fortunately, you can become a better standardized test taker with practice. After years of working with students of all abilities, we have discovered that the most successful test takers are comfortable. They are comfortable with exam structure, exam content, and themselves as students.
Get Comfortable with the Structure
Comfort with an exam’s structure keeps things predictable, reduces stress, and makes it easier to prepare. When you know what to expect, the exam’s fixed format can be very reassuring. Test formats don’t throw curveballs.
There is no reason to enter any standardized test blindly. Teachers and proctors can always give you an idea of what form a test will take. Get comfortable with the structure using practice tests whenever possible.
Get Comfortable with the Content
You can gain comfort with the content of a test by improving your ability to learn and retain relevant information. There are lots of ways to become a better learner, including:
- Creating a study routine
- Working with a tutor
- Participating in study groups
- Taking practice tests
These steps can help you understand the content of a test more fully. The more you know, the easier the test becomes.
Get Comfortable with Yourself
The final key to successfully handling any test is to get comfortable with yourself. Nothing is more important than a sincere belief that you can succeed.
You cannot harness your self-confidence by comparing yourself against the mythical “average student.” Self-confidence comes from playing to your strengths and padding your existing abilities with testing strategies, time management skills, and tactics for improving focus and reducing anxiety.
Equipped with these tools, confident students become more comfortable with themselves as test takers.
Improving Your Testing Skills
Here are three practical tips for making testing easier!
Nutrition is essential to brain function and prepares your body for periods of heavy usage. Balance your meals and supplement your diet with protein-filled snacks on the day of your test.
When you first start taking notes in class, deciding what’s important enough to write down is difficult. It’s easy to go overboard. Try trimming down your notes by focusing mainly on “the big picture” stuff. Focus on major concepts first.
Pro Tip: Implement individualized shorthand into your note-taking, if you can. It quickens your speed and leaves you with more time to focus on the lesson.
Study before bed
When you sleep, your mind organizes and stores new information. There are scientific studies that show studying before you sleep can increase your memorization. This is especially true when learning new ideas.
That means it is a good idea to study at night, immediately before you’re ready to go to bed. Count this tip as doubly effective if you back it up with a full night’s sleep.
Becoming a Better Learner
Testing is important, but tests are short-term obstacles. True learning skills enable you to fully comprehend ideas and information for the long-term. Here are four habits to turn you into more than just a test-learner.
Questions are the quickest and easiest way to obtain new insight. Questions are at the root of all knowledge.
Imagine I hand you an unknown object I call an “oofa.” You’ll know a few things right away – name, color, size – but you won’t know much. If you’re going to know anything more, you have two options: rededicate your life to observing oofas or start asking questions.
Which do you think is best?
Do What Works for You
We’ve already explained how important it is to recognize your individuality as a learner. That goes for subject matter as well as logistics.
It is always easier to learn something exciting. That’s why you can remember all the words to Rihanna’s new hit, but remembering Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” monologue feels like torture. Play to your strengths by learning things that excite you and you’ll never forget them.
Discuss your findings
One of the best ways to grow intellectually is to talk about what you’re learning. Academic discussions clarify your own understanding and boost comprehension.
They’re even better when you’re teaching what you’ve learned.
Teaching forces you to reconsider and simplify aspects of what you know. Plus, you’ll benefit from what’s called the protégé effect – learning better by teaching others.
Prioritize concepts and tools over details
We all know that details can be the most fascinating part of a story, but details require the support of major ideas first. You’ll be the most effective type of learner if you focus on concepts and tools over details. After all, it’s more important to know the theory of natural selection than to remember the differences between Darwin’s finches.