Sep 10, 2010

Standardized Tests for Fun and Profit

Saturday marks the official start of the 2010-11 standardized test season, which traditionally begins with the first administration of the ACT. And in response to the growing popularity of the test originally marketed as the “un-SAT,” this is the first September the ACT is being offered in all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

For most of us, it’s been at least 25 to 30 years since we took a college entrance exam. And some of us are looking at more than 40 years since we sharpened up the old #2 pencils and headed over to the high school at the crack of dawn to bubble-in answers on a grid.

We didn’t prep. In fact, I have a dim memory of taking both the SAT I (now Reasoning) and the SAT II (now Subject) on the same day—one in the morning and the others in the afternoon. Could this possibly be true?

Happily the mind is a wonderful thing, and most of us are mercifully spared the memory of our standardized test scores. And for the most part, kids don’t think to ask.

To remind parents of what they’ve so conveniently forgotten, I routinely suggest that families (not just high school students) sign-up to receive either the ACT Question of the Day and/or the SAT version of the same. Although sometimes embarrassing for mom and dad, I also recommend comparing results at the end of the day.

But for those seeking a bit more exposure, the Princeton Review has come up with the SAT Parent Challenge—a 12-question quiz created to give the old folks an opportunity to “test their academic acumen” and experience some of the challenges faced by kids when they take the real thing.

Requiring only about 15 minutes, the quiz covers the basics and aims to convert parents and children from “adversaries to allies.” While it’s a far cry from the nearly 4-hour, 190-question exam, the mini-SAT can be scored in exchange for registering with the Princeton Review system. Registering also gets you (or your dog) on their mailing list.

Parents can also try an ACT quick quiz on the Peterson's website or a longer sample version of the test on the ACT website. Although both provide answers, neither offers to “grade” results.

If sampling leaves you craving for more, you can always sign up for the real thing, like Sue Shellenbarger, a mom and reporter for the Wall Street Journal. In a truly inspiring tale of failure and redemption, Ms. Shellengarger’s experience suggests a glimmer of hope for the nagging parents among us.

By the way, before contracting with any particular test prep company or tutor, you might ask how often staff takes the tests—both SAT and ACT. Truly dedicated professionals have been known to routinely sit for exams. If you’re really bold, ask for scores.

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