College Matters: Testing, Testing

The Mental Preparation for Standardized Testing

 Guest blog post by Drew Heilpern, PhD


"My son or daughter is horrible at taking standardized tests" is a common refrain that we hear as we talk to parents about the college admissions standardized testing process.  This can be due to a number of factors, but often the biggest hurdle that students must overcome to reach their full potential on these tests is the fear and anxiety that surrounds them.

To combat this fear, I encourage my students and parents to try to keep these tests in perspective.  The tests are important, but they are not the "be all end all" in the college admissions process.  Colleges look at many other factors.  Grades and the rigor of courses taken in high school are in fact the top two criteria that college admission officers consider when reviewing applicants.  Standardized testing is third.

Planning to take the test more than once can also relieve some of the stress of these tests.  Most colleges honor score choice, which means if a test did not go as well as expected, students do not need to send those scores to schools.  Thus, colleges will never see them. I remind my students to go into the test with the attitude of having everything to gain and nothing to lose.  If the test goes well, that is fantastic.  If it did not, they will still have another chance at it on a later test date.

I also remind my students to try to think about these tests as more of a rite of passage and not an intelligence test.  Their performance on these tests does not define who they are and what they are capable of.  At the end of the day, it is just a test.  Similarly, I also encourage my students to focus on themselves throughout this process and to not worry about how their friends did or are doing.  I know that this can be incredibly challenging, but the purpose of the college search is to find the college that is the best fit.  No two students are identical; each one has different likes and different needs.  I always encourage my students to focus on what they need and not worry about everyone else.

Forming a plan is an important first step in achieving success on these tests.  Knowing which tests the students are going to take (ACT, SAT, Subject Tests), when they are going to take them, and how they are going to prepare can go a long way in alleviating stress.  I always remind students that there is no overall perfect plan, but there is a perfect plan for them.  There are many different ways to prepare for these tests and many different paths to success, but not walking into these tests completely cold and having a plan of attack for them provides a huge confidence booster.

Lastly, I encourage my students to approach the standardized test as a game and an opportunity for them to show off and show what they can do.  I encourage them to try to have a little fun with it.  Hopefully, with this perspective, the standardized testing process does not seem so intimidating.

Drew Heilpern, PhD is the general manager of Summit Educational Group's1-1 in home tutoring division for test preparation and academic support.  For the past 25+ years Summit has worked with thousands of students to help them reach their full academic potential.