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  • Writer's pictureDr. Samantha Brustad

Supporting a Student Preparing for Standardized Tests With Evidenced-Based Psychology



Standardized tests are critical milestones in a teenage student's academic journey, as their scores can directly influence future educational opportunities. The tedious preparation process for tests like the SAT or ACT can be a source of stress and anxiety for many students.

Support from educators and parents, along with guidance from mental health professionals, can play a crucial role in helping students navigate this challenging period.


Support systems can significantly improve a teenager's learning outcomes and overall well-being by providing customized strategies that address their individual learning styles and emotional needs. Preparation for a standardized test extends beyond academic knowledge, as test anxiety is shown to be negatively associated with test performance. 


Therefore, emotional and psychological readiness is equally vital, and support from a therapist may benefit students facing test-related stress. Therapeutic interventions can help students build resilience, develop coping strategies, and maintain focus during preparation and test day itself. 


Engaging with mental health professionals who specialize in academic stress can ensure that students not only prepare adequately but also approach standardized tests with the confidence and composure needed to perform at their best.


If you or your child are currently dealing with the tumultuous pre-test period, including managing stress, anxiety, and elevated cortisol levels, we highly recommend a mental health professional to provide guidance throughout the process.


If you are in the Tampa Bay area, our team at Balanced Minds Psychology is here to help! We specialize in helping children and adolescents navigate life’s challenges, using evidence-based practices and a friendly approach to provide support during this challenging time.


Understanding Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are assessments designed to evaluate students' knowledge and skills in a consistent manner. State tests and college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT are common in the United States public schools. The format often includes multiple-choice questions, among other types.


Students should familiarize themselves with the test questions to understand the exam layout. Pacing is important as these tests are usually timed. Assessment accommodations may be available for those who qualify, providing additional support for individuals with unique needs.


Preparation for these assessments often involves various resources, including courses that focus on the exams' subject matter, as well as strategies for tackling the test format. It's important for a student to approach these tests with confidence and a clear understanding of the material and the test-taking process.


Effective Study Techniques

The effectiveness of a student's study technique plays a critical role in their performance on standardized tests. Students can significantly enhance their preparedness by fostering strong study habits, utilizing modern educational technology, and consistently engaging with practice tests.


Developing Robust Study Habits

Students should establish a regular study schedule, allocating specific times each day for reviewing material. This consistency helps to build a routine, making the process a fixed part of their daily life. 


Additionally, breaking down study material into manageable segments and tackling them with focused sessions can be helpful. Prioritizing assignments and integrating practice exercises into these sessions enables students to reinforce the material learned.


Leveraging Educational Technology

In the age of technology, countless resources are available that can transform how students prepare for standardized tests. They should actively incorporate educational games and programs into their study routine, which can provide immediate feedback and make learning more interactive. 


Utilizing platforms and programs that offer SAT support or ACT support based on their specific needs and learning styles will boost confidence and competence in students.


Engaging in Practice Tests

One of the most crucial elements in standardized test preparation is regular completion of practice tests. These simulate the testing environment and format, allowing students to become accustomed to the pressure and pacing of the actual exam.


Students should periodically assess their performance on these practice tests to pinpoint areas where further review is required. Regular performance review helps tailor subsequent study sessions to address weaknesses and consolidate strengths


Specific Approaches for Learning Disabilities

Academic research has proven that standardized tests can be a major stressor for students with learning disabilities. Every student will have a different set of circumstances, so it is vital to approach preparation with a compassionate approach from school administrators, parents and guardians, and other supportive adults like mental health therapists.


For example, students with ADHD often only marginally benefit from extended time on standardized tests, and it is better to provide a quiet and distraction-free environment or guided testing where a teacher reads questions to the student. 

Other strategies include using a focus object like a pen or eraser or dividing the test into sections to promote concentration.


Similarly, for students with Dyslexia, extended time alone is often not sufficient to improve testing results. Auditory and visual study strategies and accommodations are often a better choice for these students.


Test Preparation Strategies

Effective test preparation goes beyond merely reviewing content; it also involves the development of strategies to approach the test confidently. Here, we examine specific, actionable strategies for students to tackle test questions, manage their time effectively, and employ efficient review and revision methods.


Effective test preparation goes beyond merely reviewing content; it also involves the development of strategies to approach the test confidently. Here, we examine specific, actionable strategies for students to tackle test questions, manage their time effectively, and employ efficient review and revision methods.


Approaching Test Questions

When students encounter test questions, especially in multiple-choice format, they should employ a strategic approach. A few helpful tips for students to consider when practicing for a standardized test include:

  1. Reading the question carefully to understand what it's asking.

  2. Identifying keywords and phrases that signal what to focus on.

  3. Eliminating obviously incorrect answers to narrow down choices.

  4. Considering all remaining options before selecting an answer.


Consistent practice with this approach can build confidence and familiarity with common question types.


Time Management Skills

Time is a crucial factor during standardized tests. To optimize it, students should:

  • Prioritize questions they are sure about, moving quickly to secure these points.

  • Allocate their remaining time to more challenging questions, ensuring they don't spend too long on any single problem.


By practicing with timed quizzes in a controlled environment, they can develop an internal sense of pacing that will help them during the actual test.


Review and Revision Methods

An effective review strategy encompasses:

  • Focused Revision: Concentrate on areas of weakness or topics that are heavily weighted on the test.

  • Active Recall: Use flashcards or practice questions to reinforce memory and understanding of key concepts and vocabulary.

  • Practice Tests: Complete full-length practice exams to test endurance and apply test-taking strategies in a simulated environment.

Focusing on these strategies will lead to improvement and help in retaining information for the actual test day.


Maintaining Well-Being Before Tests

The period leading up to standardized tests can be stressful for students, but maintaining well-being is crucial for optimal performance. This section will explore practical strategies for preserving physical health, managing stress, and preparing for the actual test day.


Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Promoting healthy living habits in the days before a test is positively indicated for test success. Ensuring a balanced diet with a healthy breakfast can provide the necessary energy for study sessions and the test itself.

 Adequate rest is also essential; researchers have found that sufficient sleep is linked to improved academic achievement. Engaging in regular exercise, even light activity, can boost mood and energy levels, promoting a positive outlook beneficial for test preparation.


Relaxation and Stress-Relief Techniques

Managing stress through relaxation techniques can enhance a student's well-being. Methods such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, or yoga can help a student stay calm and centered. They may also seek SAT support from a therapist or ACT support from a therapist for tailored stress management strategies. It is important for students to find personal relaxation methods that work effectively for them, like deep breathing, yoga, or mindfulness meditation.


Test Day Essentials

On the test day, students should continue to employ strategies that foster a positive attitude. They should eat a nourishing breakfast to fuel concentration and ensure they have all the necessary materials organized the night before. 


It's also important to arrive at the testing center early to avoid any additional stress. Being prepared and timely can help maintain a sense of control and promote a calming atmosphere. Reviewing their action plan and performing a few ‘practice runs’ with the help of a supportive adult will also help children lock in and focus on test day.


Conclusion

In conclusion, standardized tests are vital in education and life after school. By understanding the nature of standardized tests, employing effective study techniques, and maintaining well-being, students can approach them with confidence and succeed. 


Additionally, standardized tests are extremely high-stakes and a massive source of stress, with cortisol levels often rising an average of 15% in the periods surrounding testing. However, with the help of a mental health professional in a student’s corner for test preparation, students can manage this stress, perform better, and learn essential skills for the future. 


If you are looking for a mental health professional in the Tampa Bay Area to help with test preparation or any of life’s challenges or goals, contact our team at Balanced Minds! With our friendly and evidence-based approaches, we will be able to provide in-depth support needed to navigate periods of stress and achieve goals with ease.


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