Standardized tests were no stranger to me through my primary and middle school careers.
I attended the New York City public school system, where every year ended with a state-wide exam testing English writing skills and math skills. Standardized testing was something everyone of all ages and grades had to do at the end of the year.
There was a pattern in my test-taking throughout elementary and middle school: reading sections were far more stressful for me than math sections. My forte wasn’t interpreting texts, as I found it bleak and unexciting. I enjoyed solving problems with one calculable answer, rather than picking out the answer that made the most sense in context.
Then, three years ago, I moved to Boston from New York, after I got into Commonwealth, a small private school. It was the opposite of my public middle school in New York: a grade of 30 students, and no standardized tests at the end of each year.
When the only standardized test came around, I realized how little exposure I had to standardized tests of such importance. The first standardized test I took was the practice “new” SAT (PSAT).
I came in thinking it would be an easy test which I could get through easily, backed up by the thought that the new SAT had moved closer towards Common Core.
Instead, I found it challenging: I remembered few of my previous tactics and the forgot the stress of taking a standardized test.
During the winter, my parents and I agreed both to take a class at my school and to hire a tutor to help curb my worries and stay on track for the March SAT.
I remember the reading section of the PSAT being dreadful. The countless stories melded together in my brain and I became less excited to turn the next page to some excerpt from some Jane Austen novel.
In my view, after all the new SATs I took, the reading questions were well-thought-out and could mostly be inferred easily through the text.
The questions that required very close reading and understanding of complex sentences and character development were much more demanding and took more time.
I was thankful that many of the questions were a “text hunt” for evidence, which led to finding specific meaning, rather than much broader summary questions.
My class and my tutor at Signet Education were both helpful in addressing the problems I knew I had with the reading section. Although, the tutor was more helpful, as I was able to tailor my studying to my worries, rather than a class of ten students’ worries. We focused on going through the passages much more efficiently while still understanding the theme, and finding pointers to comprehend the whole passage.
I began to look at the questions first to speed through the section, and found it much more productive.
One problem we encountered was the lack of study materials: there are only four College Board-approved practice tests, which is a burden for someone like me who needs to focus on one section.
Nevertheless, my scores in the reading section improved from the PSAT due to the methods we used, and I felt confident during the actual SAT, a feeling I would’ve never expected.
The math section too was difficult, mostly due to the time constraints with which I had to work. The first math section was 25 questions I had to answer in 20 minutes without using a calculator.
The questions got progressively difficult, and during the PSAT, I found myself rushing through problems making obvious mistakes I would never make without the threat of running out of time looming over me.
I remember leaving the room surprised and frustrated, thinking that the true capabilities of a mathematician are measured by how one does the problem, not when.
Admittedly, while studying, I paid less attention to the math sections than the reading section.
This was because during my weekly class and my sessions with my tutor, we went over many math problems and I felt comfortable with them. I could also finish the sections in my practice book before time ran out sometimes, but each one of the practice tests varied highly in difficulty, which didn’t provide certainty.
After the final SAT, I felt unsure about my performance in the math section, which was especially troubling given my goal for an engineering degree.
Now I realize, in this test, timing is just as important as the content.
Reid Yesson is a junior at Commonwealth School, an independent high school in Boston. He is interested in computer science, engineering, and urban planning.