If high school juniors and seniors weren’t stressed out enough as it is about taking their high-stakes ACT or SAT exams, we can blame COVID-19 for sweeping in and changing all the rules for effectively studying and preparing. I’m both a parent and a former school principal, and I’ve seen students rack their brains about how to study for their standardized tests—but with the right attitude and support, students can achieve their target scores during this year of educational disruptions. It’s easy for students to get discouraged by the pressures of taking college entrance exams, but there are many myths, especially right now during the pandemic, that foster this discouragement and need to be debunked. Here are four myths you should be aware of.
Myth #1: Online learning is not effective
This first myth is absolutely false. When people think of online learning, they often think it’s more “drill and kill” than anything else, where it’s more about getting the answer correct than actually learning. The right online learning tools offer students immediate feedback, whether their answer is right or wrong. Built-in instruction helps them understand why they missed a question and gives additional support on the content. Once they fully grasp a foundational concept through detailed explanations, they can take that information and use it to actively grasp a more complex concept.
I think this myth stems from the belief that online resources can only satisfy a surface-level standard of learning and mastering of school subjects—but that’s just not the case anymore. Besides the abundance of high-quality online tools, online learning can be more effective because students aren’t embarrassed about their knowledge gaps. They have the space and the emotional freedom to grow on their own terms. They can own it without comparing themselves to their peers, and it helps build a healthier confidence when it comes to academics. With that in mind, there’s a lot of noise around online resources. I would steer clear of a tool or piece of content that was published during the pandemic specifically as a money grab. I would also avoid resources that haven’t been backed by subject matter experts.
Related: Video: Adjusting to Online Learning
Myth #2: The learning loss from COVID-19 is too deep to be ready for college
This is a heartbreaking mindset that’s best to throw away. High school students are incredibly resilient and in the habit of learning every day. This also ties into another myth that most teenagers aren’t motivated to learn. Teenagers are adaptable and accustomed to consuming content online—a great combination for the times. My wife is a high school teacher, and she supports her students by using online tools to supplement her day-to-day lessons. Another factor of this myth is that students won’t be able to fill in the gaps that wouldn’t be there if they were at school in person. Students aren’t going to learn everything in class, whether their schooling is online or in person. However, students can fill in those gaps using quality online tools that’ll help them prepare for the ACT or SAT. They can also catch up by breaking their studying into manageable chunks, allotting specific times to study and complete practice tests.
Myth #3: ACT and SAT scores don’t matter anymore
This statement is getting more and more common—even without COVID-19. There has been a lot of news coverage of universities going test-optional for their admission applications. Test-optional doesn’t mean test-blind. The number of schools that are actually test-blind, meaning they won’t accept test scores on students’ applications at all, is so small that students would have to specifically target these schools to avoid the ACT or SAT altogether. After all, some colleges still offer partial and full-ride scholarships to students with high scores. Test-optional schools are still going to take applicants’ test scores into consideration; that score is always going to be a meaningful differentiator between an acceptance and a rejection—and even more so now. GPAs have skyrocketed for many students with the pass/fail grading system that came with school shutdowns. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, GPA has become an ambiguous source of what applications normally use as a direct measurement for university requirements. Even so, if accessing a testing center to take the ACT or SAT just isn’t in the cards for you, applying to test-optional colleges is a fantastic option.
Myth #4: You have to be a top student to excel on standardized tests
The ACT and SAT exams are not IQ tests. This cannot be emphasized enough. Your scores are an assessment of a your understanding of a concept. With a growth mindset—the belief that you can improve and develop your abilities—students can aim for and achieve their target scores. And surprisingly, one of the best preparation techniques has nothing to do with learning; it has to do with being ready for the environment. Every student should simulate the exam ahead of time. Before exam day, spend four hours of quiet time shut in a room with a face mask on and complete a full practice exam. This will exercise and grow your test-taking endurance. If you do this a couple of times, half your battle is already won.
Education is far and away different from what it used to be this year with the pandemic changing the way students learn and take standardized tests—but that doesn’t mean your learning isn’t valid or standardized tests aren’t worth it. Everything you’re learning is still preparing you for college, and if you’re able to take the SAT or ACT this year, it will still benefit you on your college applications. Just keep your goals in sight as we power through this strange time, and good luck in your college search!
If you are taking standardized tests despite the pandemic, we hope the content in our Test Prep section will help you achieve top scores!