The SAT and ACT can be challenging for students and may seem more like puzzles than tests. Teachers can help students prepare by incorporating test prep into their curriculum. Here are some strategies that teachers and counselors can use to ease the stress of standardized testing:
Organize Practice Tests for SAT and ACT Prep
Practice tests help familiarize students with the format of the SAT and ACT. Break the tests into class-length chunks and time students. If possible, organize an opportunity for students to take the whole practice test in an environment that mimics the test-taking location.
Even those who perform well on traditional tests need to familiarize themselves with the unique challenges of these standardized tests. Often, students have trouble with standardized tests because the questions are presented differently than on traditional classroom tests. The presentation can cause students to answer incorrectly because they don’t recognize or understand the question, not because they don’t understand the concepts. This difficulty can be more prominent in non-native English-speaking students because cultural context can be a factor in comprehending the questions.
Throughout the year, teachers can vary the way they model questions on tests to include ones that mimic those on standardized tests. That way, students will be familiar with the structure of SAT and ACT before they take them. One way to do this is through warm ups where teachers can alternate ACT and SAT questions at the start of each class period.
Teach Test-Taking Strategies
Make sure students know what to expect from the test and how to best approach it. Some important tips to know include:
- Answer every question. Students aren’t penalized for guessing, so they should use the process of elimination to answer as many as they can. If they can eliminate even just one of the multiple-choice answers, they should do so.
- Start with the questions they know. They should mark the questions they’re not sure of the answer. After students have answered the ones they know, they should go back to the marked questions and work through them.
- Don’t change answers. The first response to a question is usually correct, so unless students are certain they’ve made an error, they shouldn’t change the answer.
- Read the question carefully. Sometimes, the wording is intentionally tricky. Students should make sure they understand what the questions is asking before they answer.
- Bring a watch. These tests are timed, and students may not have a direct view of a clock. They should bring their own form of a timer and keep an eye on it.
- Write in the booklet. Students should scratch out wrong answers, write down formulas and underline words and passages in the text. It’s their test booklet, so they should do whatever is needed to answer the questions.
Discuss Anxiety-Reducing Strategies
Test-related anxiety is very common for students and not just about standardized tests. Giving tips on managing stress when taking tests will benefit students throughout their academic career. Stress-reduction tips aren’t one size fits all, so be sure to implement a mix of strategies in the classroom.
Some common anxiety-reducing strategies:
- Show students how to practice deep breathing.
- Help them develop positive mantras, like “keep going,” “I’ve got this” or “focus.”
- Tell them to tense and relax different muscle groups.
- Have them plan a post-test reward to keep them motivated throughout the exam.
Give Students SAT and ACT Prep Resources They Can Use at Home
Students may feel more at ease with taking the test if they’ve studied independently for it. Here are some of the most reliable free resources:
- Most local libraries’ websites feature practice tests for the SAT and ACT, among many more standardized tests. The local or school librarian should be able to direct students to these resources.
- Khan Academy offers a comprehensive “Tips & Strategies” course online as well as online and printable practice tips.
- The Princeton Review offers tests and online live events.
- The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and ACT, has a site with tips, practice exams and general resources.
Encourage Study Groups
Sometimes, the best answer for easing test stress is to have study buddies. Study groups offer support and community, which can benefit anxious test-takers. Research has shown that when students study together, they learn nearly three times more than when they study alone.
Study groups should be small, comprised of five to eight members, and diverse. The groups should mix together students with different strengths. Students can lead their group themselves, or each group can have a faculty, parent or coach sponsor to help keep the students organized and accountable.