The 10 Test Prep/Application Commandments

The 10 Test Prep/Application Commandments


1. Thou shalt value good advice

Well, this is a good place to begin. What follows are suggestions of how to navigate the test prep and application process for you and your child. There is no such thing as a perfected, uniform approach, but these tips can certainly act as a brief guide of how to help you maintain your sanity, and how to help students of all ages achieve their potential as applicants.

2. Thou shalt not worship false information

Discerning rumors from facts is a vital feature of this process. Not only is this true in reference to deciding which schools your child should apply to, but also regarding details of the admissions test your child will take. There is obviously an endless avalanche of data on the web about schools and exams. However, seeking firsthand accounts or reaching out to educational professionals are likely the best ways to get your questions answered with as much accuracy as possible.

3. Thou shalt not use the phrase ‘test prep’ in vain

The good news about standardized tests is that they’re true to their name; they are standardized, which means they are predictable. The most common mistake made by new test takers is that they try to prepare for a test without becoming intimately acquainted with its particular structure, nuances and patterns. Practice tests are as necessary as dress rehearsals for a performance or scrimmages of a sport, and children should be encouraged to participate in at least two group test simulations prior to their actual exam. After all, standardized tests are only partially a test of a student’s ability to solve verbal and math questions. These exams are really a test of how well a student can take the test.

4. Remember the beauty of free time, and keep it holy

The same way that negative space around a piece of art enhances that item’s beauty, downtime helps bolster the productivity of a student’s time spent working. As an entrance exam nears and application deadlines approach, a student should indeed be expected to turn it up a notch. But it should be a steady uphill climb to this moment, one that will intentionally not lead to the student being burnt out and frustrated when the day of reckoning does finally arrive.

5. Honor thy child

Okay, so this one may seem fairly obvious. However, sometimes parents do lose sight of the purpose of this process, which of course is to help guide their child towards a new school that will best suit his/her needs, goals and interests. The whole family will put forth quite a bit of effort to make this happen, and allowing your child’s voice to be heard will be highly beneficial. The aim is not necessarily to guarantee that your child achieves entry to a particular school, but more so that your child has as many options as possible when it is time to make a decision. Make it clear that being able to choose from multiple schools is the goal, and this can decrease stress and pressure for your child.

6. Thou shalt not hate the process

Yes, the test prep and application process is stressful. There are so many tours to schedule, forms to fill out, deadlines to meet and variables to consider. A parent’s ability to manage these sources of angst with grace and levity will undoubtedly rub off on a child. Any opportunity to take a deep breath and do whatever you can to stay grounded during this time will have positive ripple effects throughout your entire household. The opposite is true as well – if you are overly stressed and miserable during the process, your child will likely have a similar experience. 

7. Thou shalt not praise yourself

The score you got on your SAT in 1988 does not matter. Your youthful ability to memorize Latin roots is irrelevant, and your childhood photographic memory is not important. While such comparisons may feel like a potential source of inspiration, it often acts as a conduit of fear for most children. In order to try, on either a micro or macro level, a child must accept potential failure. And in order for students to feel safe enough to put themselves in such a position, parents should aim to create an atmosphere of acceptance.

8. Thou shalt not cut corners

There are three realms of mastery that must be addressed in order for a student to be a good test-taker: Content, Strategy and Emotion. If students don’t have an opportunity to learn the material, practice answering questions in a test-taking style, and gain experience with monitoring their stress levels by taking test simulations, they are at a great disadvantage. Simply put, when it comes to standardized tests, cramming does not work.

9. Thou shalt not have false expectations

It isn’t the job of a student to get into a particular school. It isn’t even really their job to get a certain score. When it comes to test prep, the students’ true responsibility is to simply try their hardest and do their best. It’s perfectly fair for parents to hold and implement high standards of effort for their children, but presenting expectations in the form of scores or admissions to their children can often be counterproductive.

10. Thou shalt not covet your children’s friends’ accomplishments

Most children are quite stressed about admissions tests, and their angst usually doesn’t have much to do with getting into a list of schools. Often what motivates children to excel in such areas as standardized tests is a belief that their personal best will be good enough, and what stands in the way of children fulfilling their academic potential is the pressure of potentially disappointing their parents and friends. If children feel that their best efforts are incapable of producing acceptable results, the level of determination and willingness to try their hardest often plummets. In order for children to land safely on the other side of the admissions process, they must feel supported and championed not only based on their results, but on the merit of their endeavors.

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