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8 Biggest Test-Taking Misconceptions

Here are a few common misconceptions about standardized tests and mistakes that students make when taking them. Don't let them happen to you!

Tests like the ACT, SAT, and PSAT can be intimidating. However, there is no need to freak out. Here are a few common misconceptions about standardized tests and mistakes that students make when taking them. Don’t let them happen to you!

“These tests are all about the content”

What a lot of students don’t realize is that while an understanding of the content is important, they’re really being tested on their test-taking skills. The writers of these tests realize that most schools don’t have the same curriculums, so they have to write questions that are fair to everyone. This is why they provide readings, prompts, and data tables in the Reading, English, and Science sections. When studying, you should focus most of your time on math, as that requires the most prior knowledge.

“I should spend most of my time practicing and reviewing for my worst section”

While this may seem logical, it’s actually a bad studying technique. Every section is averaged together, so it is entirely possible to do poorly in one area and still get a great score if you do well in everything else. While you should make sure you’re comfortable with every section, make sure you practice your “good” sections too so you don’t miss any easy points.

“I’ll do better if I stay up studying the night before”

Again, because you are really being tested on skills, not content, you will do much better if you get an adequate amount of sleep. Aim for about eight hours.

“I’m going to need a large cup of coffee to get through this test”

If you drink coffee every morning, then go ahead and have a cup. However, if you never drink coffee or do only on a rare occasion, don't do it the morning of a major test. Coffee will make you hyper and may make it hard to focus, plus it could result in a crash. Don't take the risk.

“I should spend the most time on the harder questions”

Because every question is weighted equally, you will get the same amount of points for getting the hardest question on the test right as you will for the easiest. Therefore, don't waste your time trying to answer something you don't know. If a question has taken you more than 30 seconds and you don't think you'll be able to solve it in another 30 seconds, skip it and come back if there’s time.

Bonus tip: When you're looking at the answer choices, read up (from D–A). Questions will usually have at least one answer that seems right but isn't completely, and because we naturally look at the answers starting with A, they often put the misleading answer toward the top.

“I should read the passages in the English section before looking at the question”

Although the readings may be interesting, in some cases you may not even need to read the passage, and reading may actually be a waste of time. Questions in this section often give a line or paragraph to look at (i.e., “What does the word “___” most closely mean in line 16?”). Also, if you look at the questions and the answers first, you're more likely to recognize important information in the text because you’ll know what you're looking for.

“People will think I’m stupid if I have to constantly use my calculator”

Use all of the tools available to you, including your calculator. Chances are that everyone else will be too busy taking their own test to notice what you’re doing. If using a calculator makes you feel more comfortable, go ahead and use it.

“The writers of the test want me to fail!”

Although it may feel this way, this is not true. They simply want to find out what you know and how you comprehend information. Remember that the correct answer is somewhere on that page, and it’s just a matter of finding the right one.

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About Elyse Baden

My name is Elyse Baden, and I am a junior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. I have been a member of my school newspaper for the past two years and am currently an editor. I am so excited to be a CollegeXpress writer!


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