Every year when testing season arrived, I watched several of our best students get mediocre scores or even worse on standardized tests. After working for over 30 years in school placement and admissions, I realized the correlation between test scores and academic ability was questionable.
Yet every year I found myself on the phone with other school personnel, personally arguing the cases of hardworking, intelligent students who had become borderline admits because of poor test scores. And every year I felt frustrated.
Of course, part of the problem was test anxiety. Many of our brightest students just froze when faced with a bubble sheet. And, it turns out, there’s a reason they freeze.
Why Our Kids Are Anxious
So one day, I closed my office door and opened the guide book offered by our testing company. The sample questions amazed me. If I had taken that test, my scores would be nothing to brag about. Many of the questions were vague and confusing, the answer choices were loaded with traps, and several times I thought I could make a case for more than one answer choice.
I showed the book to my colleagues to see how well they tested. They were every bit as humbled as I was. Now if the test was challenging for us, what must it be like for a frightened student who not only has to deal with the obstacles we had found, but who is also well-aware of the importance of test scores in the admissions process?
I had come from a tradition that said preparing for a standardized test was useless at best and inappropriate at worst. But now that I had seen what our students were seeing, I no longer believed that.
OUR KIDS WEREN’T HAVING TROUBLE BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THE ACADEMIC CONTENT. THEY WERE HAVING TROUBLE BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO TAKE A STANDARDIZED TEST.
Teaching Our Children How to Test
I knew two teachers—both longtime educators—who had dealt with these same testing issues. Lisa had been a contributor for a standardized test company, helping to create sections of the test. One day, she was talking to another contributor who had grown discouraged, saying he enjoyed constructing the test, but did not like the final meetings, when the test team gathered to look for ways to make the questions trickier. Jim had seen the same exasperating issues that I had. Noting with dismay that even his brightest students often performed poorly on standardized tests, he decided to teach them how to take a test. Know what happened? Their scores shot up.
I met with Lisa and Jim to see if there was some way to help our students.
Piloting a Course
The three of us designed a pilot program that taught students better ways to deal with test problems. We didn’t waste any time reteaching academic content. They already knew that well. What the program taught were ways to answer more questions in less time, while avoiding the mistakes that result from rushing. They became familiar with the way in which questions were asked and they learned strategies that helped them answer correctly in a timely way. When test day came, we waited on the edge of our seats, wondering if the program had worked.
Thankfully, it had! We witnessed students’ scores rising almost universally.
Our kids didn’t know any more about the academic material they had been learning. THEY HAD JUST LEARNED HOW TO TAKE A TEST. They had discovered the basic techniques that would improve their scores, then practiced until using them came naturally. Every year that we’ve run the program in a school setting, the kids’ scores improved.
When we witnessed the success our students experienced, we knew we needed to create a way to reach as many students as possible. As a result, we created the ETP online test-prep program. Our online programs allow students to access our course any time of day and as many times as needed. Our goal has always been to teach students this important skill—one that will continue to be useful when applying to middle school, high school and college. It seems standardized tests are here to stay, so ETP will continue to help students learn how to take them successfully.
To learn more about ETP online test prep, visit ETPforSuccess.com or call 818.864.6725.