“I absolutely think standardized testing is stressful for students,” Rebecca Frese, math and test prep teacher, said via email.
As a test prep teacher, Frese helps students (mostly juniors) get ready to take the ACT by teaching them material and skills to help them succeed. She assists with the math and science portion, while English teacher Sarah Gray oversees reading and English.
“It’s a mixture of teaching the content as best I can for what courses they’ve completed to that point, but also test-taking strategies,” Frese said. “A junior can be in any number of possible math courses, so I do my best to cater to their needs and show them the quickest way(s) to answer questions.”
One way of doing this, Frese said, is by “exposing the students to the style of questions and getting them used to the time constraints.” She tries to put her students under similar conditions as what they’ll experience while taking the ACT. “Putting them under that physical stress of the clock is an aim to gradually relieve some stress they’d feel the day of their test.”
“Forcing students to remove their headphones and airpods is also something that’s important,” she said. “All students have their own way of focusing, but music is definitely a practice for the majority of our students. Forcing them to work without anything in their ear is important for them to get used to for any standardized test.”
“I do a mixture of activities where students can work with each other to collaborate, or they are working alone under a time constraint in the testing conditions. We then review every single question and talk through multiple ways to solve,” Frese said.
Counselors are another resource available to students preparing to take the ACT and SAT. Counselor Cassie Aschinger said via email, “The counselors work to offer resources to students to help them prepare for the tests.” Meeting with one’s counselor can be helpful, and ACT and SAT prep books can be found in the department. “We might encourage the Test Prep class here on campus, or could suggest outside agencies that do test prep.”
“What I always tell my students to do,” Frese said, “is to speak with our college counselors.”
College and career counselor Ellen Silverstrand said, “There are many ways to prepare.” The counseling office has a list of out-of-school resources that are sent out online, in addition to what’s offered in the office itself.
“Standardized tests, in many ways, are now worded in a way that’s no longer simply ‘solve for x.’ You must know multiple concepts to accurately answer one question,” Frese said. Tests like the ACT and SAT word their questions differently so that understanding the question itself is a large part of succeeding.
“They try to avoid questions that allow you to simply plug in the answers to get it correct,” Frese said. She said on the ACT and SAT, some questions may be over material a student hasn’t learned yet. “This is particular[ly] geared towards the math section. I can’t speak much towards the English and reading sections, but the science section is more so science reasoning, not so much to do with concepts you actually learn in a science course.”
The actual format of the tests and the way that the questions are composed, can cause confusion for test takers.
Aschinger said, “Some students struggle with testing in that standardized format, and the tests then become less about a student’s actual academic abilities.” The format of the test can make it so that it depends more on the student’s ability to take the test than their knowledge of the material itself.
“I don’t know that I would say it is a good measure of intelligence,” Frese said, “but more so a measure of a student’s potential intelligence of what they’ve learned to this point combined with their problem-solving and reasoning skills. As we know, many students are simply not good test-takers, so a student scoring lower than another on a test does not in any way mean they are less intelligent.”
“Right now is a great time for students who aren’t great test takers,” Silverstrand said. There are “a lot of schools that don’t require test scores.” Many schools want to see performance and grades over the four-year time range of high school, than results on a four-hour test.
This will be Margaret Korte’s first year on ECHO staff. She made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year.