Jan 15, 2013

One Simple Tip for Maximizing Standardized Test Performance

For most high school juniors, standardized test season is about to take off.  Although a few eager beavers already tested the waters by taking tests in November or December, the vast majority of college-bound juniors will be signing up for test dates between now and June.

While it’s pretty obvious that preparation and practice as well as plenty of sleep the night before the test will help improve scores, one simple tip for maximizing standardized test performance often gets overlooked.  And it doesn’t involve too much effort on your part.

Just make sure you sign-up for the question and answer services offered by both the SAT and ACT.

In other words, get copies of test booklets and answer sheets using reporting services offered by the College Board and ACT Inc. 

These services cost a little money, but they’re invaluable when it comes time to evaluate performance and plan for future test prep.  Provided, of course, that you use them.

If you take the time to go over your answers—question by question—you’ll learn a great deal.  And you can use this information to decide what kind of test prep you might need before making a second attempt.

For example, if you need to fine-tune your performance in a specific area such as reading or math, you might want to hire a tutor specializing in these subjects.  If you need a little more general help understanding the test, you could sign-up for a class.  Or if you just need avoiding stupid mistakes or falling into obvious traps, you could discipline yourself to take more practice tests at the kitchen table without the expense of tutors or classes.

Regardless, question and answer services are available and you might want to take advantage of them.  Here’s how:

College Board
The College Board offers two reporting services.  The Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) includes a booklet copy of the test you took, with a table of correct answers and scoring information.  For each question, it also provides information about the type, level of difficulty, what your answer was, and whether it was correct, incorrect, or omitted.  This gives you the opportunity to analyze your mistakes in some detail.  It’s similar to the service offered for free through My College QuickStart for the PSAT.

QAS currently costs $18 and is offered worldwide only in May and for the October, January, and May tests in the US and Canada. You can get a copy of your answer sheet for an additional fee.

The Student Answer Service (SAS) provides a report with information about the type of questions on your test, their level of difficulty, and whether your answers were correct, incorrect, or omitted. Obviously this gives you much less information, but it can be helpful in determining if you have a pattern of missing easy questions or if basic algebra is still causing problems. SAS costs $13.50 and is offered for the November, December, March, and June administrations.  If you take the SAT under “nonstandard” conditions or on a date other than Saturday, you can only use the Student Answer Service.

When ordered during test registration, materials will be mailed two to three weeks after scores are released. Otherwise, you may order either service up to five months after your test date, so it’s not too late to put in an order for the January test. But note that if you plan to use the QAS to study for the next scheduled test, the materials may not arrive in time.

ACT Inc.
The ACT only offers the Test Information Release (TIR) service.  Similar to the College Board’s QAS, the TIR provides a list of your answers, a copy of the multiple-choice test questions used to determine your score, the answer key, and scoring instructions.  If you took the Writing Test, you will also receive a copy of the writing prompt, the scoring rubric, and the scores assigned to your essay by two readers.  It costs $19.  You can also order a photocopy of your answer document (including your essay if you took the Writing Test) for an additional fee.

TIR is available for the December, April, and June administrations only and can be ordered up to three months after your test.  Materials are normally mailed about four weeks after you receive your score report if you placed your order during registration.  Otherwise it takes about three to five weeks if you order after you receive your scores.  The TIR is not available for non-national administrations.

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