Why Tests Matter, and How They Can Help Your Child

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Updated on Mar 26, 2010

When students perform well in high school, they gain knowledge about the whole panoply of high school subjects. And while students might not realize it, their school experience develops in them invaluable talents, too. These talents can advance students through their educational life, their work life, and well beyond.

An important talent developed during the educational process is learning how to take tests. Test-taking is a talent that students must learn and exercise with determination throughout their education and, to the surprise of many, throughout life.

Developing test-taking expertise is also a sign of increased academic maturity. As students mature, they approach tests as welcome challenges rather than dreadful confrontations with heartless teachers.


Test-taking is a topic of special interest to me because my son, Tom, suddenly found that his testing abilities were “tested to the limit,” after deciding on a career in law. He had selected a very competitive law school that required a high score on the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). When he took practice LSATs, his scores came up short by a few critical points.

Tom loves learning and his grades always reflected this love. Now his dilemma was to bring up his score. With his usual determination, he set out to confront the LSAT head-on in an effort to capture those few needed points. He constructed a strict preparation schedule for himself, used the time to study the prep books he bought at the bookstore, and enrolled in a prep course in “taking the LSAT.” He self-administered what seemed to be hundreds of practice tests. He scored them and kept practicing. Finally, after several weeks of effort, he took the test and got the score he needed.

Tom achieved his goals because he was already a seasoned test-taker and with that foundation, he knew how to improve his “game.” During high school, he made sure to take college preparatory courses, including several Advanced Placement courses. As tests grew harder, his confidence grew, and he had the courage to take ever more challenging courses with more challenging tests.

When he got to college he was well prepared. He had taken a variety of high school courses that made his intellect flexible – from physics and math to foreign language and music. The rigors of these courses and his Advanced Placement work had prepared him for the intensity of the exams that he faced in college.

And, unlike many of his college friends, he really welcomed tests — not only as a measure of his knowledge but also as an indicator of his academic and intellectual abilities as a whole. Without a doubt, when tests are challenges rather than struggles, outcomes are always positive.

Test-taking: a progression

Students need to have a long educational view to appreciate the power of mature test-taking skills. They must grow to see that success on a biology or English test taken today will affect the next test they take in the same courses, and indeed, in all their courses.

Building test-taking skills means greater academic confidence so that SATs, ACTs, and Advanced Placement tests are easier to manage. Success in these standardized tests means fulfilling college goals.

With both high grades and high SAT and ACT scores, students can confidently go about the college admission process not having to worry about their admissibility, but rather focused on selecting the right colleges that fulfill their goals and expectations. And, of course, high achievement also means more opportunities for scholarships and grants to defray the costs of an expensive college education.

Scores aside for a moment, well developed test-taking skills help students appreciate the value of learning and to develop a long-term knowledge base that advances their life goals and builds an intellectual confidence that will have both a practical and personal impact on their life.

Beyond college there may be graduate school, medical school, law school, or an MBA. Each area demands high achievement in qualifying admissions tests. And if students think their test-taking skills are challenged more in college than in high school, they should talk to students in medical, law, and graduate school to discover what tests are like in those academic arenas.

Then there are all the professional qualifying and certifying exams that follow professional school like the Bar Exam for lawyers, or Board Exams for Physicians.

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