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Studies With Interesting Insight Into Our Trouble With Testing

Ideally, testing is about knowledge and skill. However, there are so many other human factors that come into play when taking a test. How we think about the material, our mental state, how much sleep we got or even what we ate can impact how we perform on a test. When preparing for a test like the SAT it is important to understand the problems people face when it comes to testing and how to overcome them. Here are several studies about test taking and how knowing about them can improve our scores.


The New York Times cites a study done in a university setting. A psychology professor tested students to see if taking a pretest improved scores on the final exam. She gave pretests, then followed up by giving the answers to the pretest questions in a lecture. At the end of the semester she gave a final exam. Some of the questions related to the lectures that were associated with the pretest. Other questions were related to lectures that had no pretest. The students scored 10% better on the questions that were associated with the pretest.

The author of the New York Times article provides two reasons that the pretest improves test scores. The first is that a pretest gets our brains used to thinking in the terms and concepts that will be used on the final exam. It prompts us to know what to look for as we study and feel comfortable with the language and method of questioning involved.

The second is that it guards us against what the author calls “fluency illusions.”We assume that what we know in the moment we will always know and we quit studying. However, during an exam when other plausible answers are presented we become unsure of what we thought we knew so well. Pretesting reminds us of the information we don’t know and encourages us to work to solidify the material in our minds.

This is important information when facing the ACT or SAT. Taking practice exams is an excellent form of study. It will help you become familiar with the language and style of the test, as well as point out information you need to study to solidify in your mind. You may be confident that you are fluent in the material expected on the exam, but when you look at it on the test it can become muddy. Taking practice exams will improve your test taking skills and help your brain recall important information when it comes to the real test.

Relieving Anxiety

Test taking anxiety, also known as performance anxiety, can range from mild to crippling. Many students simply cannot control their anxiety well enough to perform their best on a major exam. This anxiety can be especially prevalent when the results of the exam will impact future life options so directly, as with the SAT.

Fortunately, studies have revealed ways to relieve test taking anxiety so that students can perform better.

The Washington Post cites a study published in the journal Science that discovered kids who wrote about their feelings before a major exam shortly before taking the test performed better on the exam. The group of students were simply given ten minutes to write and then given the exam immediately after. Beilock, the scientist who performed the study, suggests that “offloading”the anxiety on to paper allows the brain to focus all of its resources, including memory and recollection on the test.

The morning of the ACT or SAT consider taking a few minutes to write down your anxieties. This may help relieve any tension you are feeling and help you focus fully on the questions presented on the exam.

Chewing Gum

LiveScience cites research that suggests chewing gum a few minutes before testing, but not during testing could improve test score. Students that chewed gum a few minutes before testing had a short burst of time when they performed significantly better. The effect only lasts 15-20 minutes. Researches speculate that chewing gum stimulates the brain and increases blood flow to the brain, making memory recall easier for a short time.

The effect may not be drastic, but if something as simple as chewing gum before your go into the SAT or during breaks could improve your score, it is worth the attempt. Try jumpstarting your brain by chewing gum just a few minutes before you take the SAT.

Overcoming Your Challenges

Testing will always be difficult. There are so many factors such as anxiety, outside pressures or problems, focus and amount of preparation that can influence how well you will perform. There are however, a few things you can control. You can prepare well, work to relieve anxiety and try little tricks such as chewing gum. What is your trouble with testing and how do you plan to overcome it when you take the SAT or ACT?

Santa Clara SAT Test Preparation

Mr. Test Prep strives to prepare students with his Santa Clara SAT Test Preparation program. When students engage in his Santa Clara SAT Test Preparation program their scores reflect the hard work and dedication put forth. Call Mr. Test Prep today and be prepared!

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