When it comes to major standardized tests or coursework—the sort that can determine whether you get in to a particular high school, college, or graduate program or whether you obtain professional certification—you could probably use all the help that you can get.
Of course, you’re going to have to invest mounds of personal effort and energy, but the entire process can be made a lot less stressful with expert help.
We’ve put together a massive list of tips and tools to ease your way through standardized test prep and coursework writing, whether it’s the SAT, GRE, GMAT, ACT, or GSCE that’s got you worried.
Tips for Understanding Standardized Tests
Standardized testing is meant to provide schools with an evaluation tool that evens out the vast heterogeneity in students’ educational backgrounds and serves as a reliable alternative to grades and recommendations.
These tests have been designed to test the knowledge of and elicit correct responses from as wide a variety of people as possible.
They also have been designed to distinguish people who guess wildly from those who follow a logical train of thought.
We should make a disclaimer right about now and point out that no amount of exam prep will make up for an inadequate primary or secondary education. Or for a long history of lousy attendance and paying poor attention in class.
However, if you’ve been keeping up with your classwork over the years, consider your bases covered.
Once you’ve got the knowledge of the subject covered, the real secret to acing a standardized test is to become intimately familiar with its format.
Understanding Standardized Test Questions
Test tutors tell students that there are four major types of questions to expect on standardized tests:
- Drawing inferences/conclusions
- Mustering facts/details
- Identifying the main idea/author’s purpose
Other common types of standardized test questions ask the student to identify the tone or mood of the piece.
Sometimes a question will ask about figurative language.
Finally, some questions require the student to pick the correct description of the structure of the story and explain how the author made his or her point.
The key to success on standardized tests is reading and practice.
Reading the questions ahead of reading any text, doing any calculations, or picking an answer from among several visual choices allows you to spot significant information in the material that you might have otherwise missed.
- Take notes.
Underline important words or facts and circle key images (if allowed). If you can’t write on the exam, at least make a mental note about the location and content of key words, facts, and images.
- If presented with a passage oftext, read the corresponding questions first.
This approach has many benefits, especially since knowing what will be asked ahead of time allows you to be thinking in line with the questions as you read the text.
- Look for word clues such as “not,” “same,” “different,” and “similar” in the questions, and underline them if allowed.
- In particular, the addition of the word “NOT” can transform a straightforward question that you could have gotten right into a trick question that will haunt you with regret.
- When it comes to math problems, again, read the instructions first—even if the problem seems to be a simple calculation.
Reading the instructions first saves a huge amount of time.
Many experienced test takers have similar horror stories. They speak of having performed a long and laborious calculation, only to find, upon finally reading the instructions carefully, that something else was called for.
It could have been an estimation, a comment on the set-up of the problem, a definition of the parts or symbols in the problem (e.g., divisor/dividend, power/logarithm) or some other non-calculation issue.
The takeaway here is to READ the instructions FIRST
In fact, you should read the test all the way through, as far ahead as you are allowed by the test administrator.
Knowing the format, content, and style of questions will help you allocate your test time more sensibly.
And it may just give you enough time to recall that dim and distant memory of a specific type of calculation, part of speech, or term for a particular type of figurative language.
Your language and reading skills are instrumental.
The most important preparation for standardized tests is reading.
Often, at length.
And in the greatest possible variety.
If you can’t read well in the language in which the test is administered, you’re going to find yourself at a severe disadvantage in all but purely numeric calculations—and even in such questions, there are often additional instructions to read.
Students who can’t read swiftly and accurately, distinguish subtleties effectively, decode complex sentences with multiple clauses, and avoid skipping crucial words are also going to find themselves terribly handicapped.
Reading is a skill that must be built up over time. No amount of tutoring or test prep is going to make up for such deficits entirely, but it’s never too late to start practicing your reading skills.
So, the only solution is to read.
In all genres, all formats, all the time, everywhere you go.
Read recipes, computer and software manuals, and tax filing directions.
Read fiction and non-fiction, tabloids, periodicals, forms, and reports.
Check your comprehension constantly by asking others whether they understood the same meaning from the material.
It should also be noted that students with major learning differences need to be sure that they get the full accommodations to which they are entitled, whatever that may involve. Gaining access to legally guaranteed accommodations may require some effort and advocacy well ahead of time, so be sure to start the process early.
Tips for Practicing for Standardized Tests
While nothing replaces a lifetime of good reading and practice in math and critical thinking, some diligent practice under realistic conditions will help reduce panic and avoidable errors.
Every major testing company issues practice books that can be very helpful.
In order to get the most from them, however, you’ll need to commit to practicing in as realistic a fashion as possible.
- Time yourself.
Checking the time constantly is a distraction. If possible, use your smartphone or another device that can give you a five-minute and three-minute warning.
Otherwise, ask a friend to administer the test for you.
- Choose a very quiet place with minimal visual stimulation or distractions, somewhere you won’t be interrupted.
- Set yourself up as though in a testing center, with only your writing implements and a permitted calculator.
- Commit to completing the test without a bathroom break.
You need to make the experience as close to the real thing as you can. Stick to the correct timeframe for each section of the test, and put down your pencil the instant that time is called.
5. Remember that the correct answer is there for each question.
Use the process of elimination to whittle down your choices.
Then use the content of the problem, as well as what you know from outside the test, to determine the correct choice.
Use estimation to double-check plausibility.
Read the answer as a complete sentence to hear whether it is reasonable. This will help you pick up on silly mistakes that can trip you up.
Let’s look at an example.
The question might ask which term is not associated with Marxism and offer the following choices: “classical liberalism,” “proletariat,” “dialectic,” and “bourgeois.”
The correct answer is “classical liberalism,” because Marxism was a critique of liberalism in the 18th and 19th centuries.
However, if you did not pick up on the word “not” in the question, you would be tripped up and perhaps dither or choose an incorrect answer.
Reading ahead will help to avert this sort of problem.
Tips for Getting Professional Assistance to Practice for Tests
There are dozens of professional, paid test prep services available online and in classroom formats.
The grandfather of all test prep resources is the ubiquitous and huge Stanley Kaplan Organization.
Kaplan provides help with admissions tests for high school, college, and graduate school, as well as professional licensure preparation in medicine, nursing, allied medical, law, the TOEFL, and real estate IT certification.
Their test prep classes are available both online and off, and certain school districts even offer these services to their students at a sizable discount, so make sure you check if yours does!
Grockit.com is another service providing preparation programs for the GMAT, ACT, and GRE.
As one of the leaders in test prep business, Grockit’s methodology is largely based on the expertise of their experienced staff.
They offer users a free diagnostic test and free access to practice tests.
For their subscription price, they provide the chance to give and receive mutual help from other students around the world.
Subscribers also can access special in-depth courses, as well as tutoring and solo study sessions.
An attractive and well-designed web-interface makes test practice all the more comfortable. And the website’s progress-tracking functionality allows you to track and visualize your results.
Brightstorm.com combines online video courses with test prep and offers help with the ACT, SAT, and AP placement tests.
Success on standardized tests is not just a matter of knowledge.
There is a considerable amount of psychology involved in managing important tests. If you are overly nervous or panic-prone, for example, all your preparation could be in vain.
Brightstorm.com offers test preparation tips in addition to videos on topics such as the logic of standardized test construction, wordings, and answer choice strategies.
These resources are great, but that doesn’t mean you should write off other online resources.
Khan Academy is a free, reliable non-profit online learning platform that also offers SAT practice tests and tutorials.
On their website, you’ll find free full-length practice tests, along with videos that include step-by-step solutions to challenging problems.
Khan Academy also has an excellent unique feature: unreleased actual SAT problems and questions provided by the College Board.
Khan Academy offers two categories of tutorials:
Math section – divided into five difficulty levels.
Verbal section – dealing with the three SAT reading and writing question types:
- Identifying errors
- Sentence completion
- Improving sentences
Tips for Writing a Coursework
Finally, we’re devoting a whole section to coursework writing, including the GCSE.
Despite what you may think, coursework is not an evil plan created by the Association of Mean Teachers.
It’s just a particularly effective way of checking students’ knowledge.
In Britain, coursework writing is used in the GCSE—the non-compulsory qualification exam for secondary school students.
Apart from the GCSE, colleges and universities in English-speaking countries have designed their assignments for coursework writing as a way of in-depth examination and investigation of a specific subject.
What is coursework writing?
Coursework writing is usually longer than any other kind of academic writing.
The reason for it is clear:
The purpose of writing a coursework is closer to that of dissertation writing, although it is shorter in terms of completion.
There are five basic elements to a coursework:
All writing begins with choosing a topic.
A coursework topic has to discuss an important question.
If you find yourself hesitating about the assigned topic or don’t know where to start, feel free to ask your instructor for advice. It is not your professor’s duty to write a coursework for you, but it is his or her duty to guide you through the process and help you find your sources.
It’s a good idea to include an abstract (sometimes called an executive summary) at the beginning of your coursework.
The abstract is usually a paragraph of about 200 words that does the following:
- Summarizes the conducted research
- Explains new terminology and the importance of the investigated question
However, don’t start your writing process by trying to write an abstract.
You will be better equipped to do this after you’ve finished your coursework. By then, you’ll be more familiar with the most important points of the paper and have a better idea about how to review them briefly.
Since a coursework is a well-structured assignment, the abstract is naturally followed by an introduction.
Your introduction should describe the necessity of your research in greater detail and state your hypothesis.
Your hypothesis is a suggested explanation of the issue that you’ve researched.
You can have several hypotheses, as long as you realize that ten is just too many.
A hypothesis should do one of two things:
- Suggest a causal relationship – A causes B.
- Set up a correlation – A is related to B.
The introduction should also include your predictions and expectations.
- Results and Analysis
If you have important graphs, charts, and tables, include them in the Results and Analysis section.
Remember that all illustrations have to be properly numbered.
If the content of your coursework writing does not involve visual components, it’s best to avoid using irrelevant visuals.
Finally, your coursework needs a conclusion.
Concentrate on the methodology you used during your research, and evaluate it.
Answer these questions:
- Was it effective enough?
- Did it bring you the expected results?
If the answer is “no,” explain what could have been done differently to give you a positive outcome.
Analyze the procedures critically.
Try to look objectively through your coursework writing as a regular reader.
Emphasize the importance of your research and the impact it will have on future investigations.
Formatting your Coursework
After the writing work is done, compile a bibliography of all the works cited.
Remember that you must cite all of your sources—otherwise you’re plagiarizing.
Plagiarism may cause you to fail the coursework or face even more severe repercussions.
Format your bibliography and the rest of your coursework according to the preferred writing style of your school or university.
Go over your writing once more to double-check all headings and subheadings.
Do not forget to include a title page if one is required.
Edit by correcting stylistic mistakes and checking grammar and punctuation.
Double-check whether the main question of the coursework writing was answered, and then you can turn in your paper.