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.

Test-taking: in the workplace

Getting a job requires good interviews, and interviews are simply oral tests.

With knowledge in all professional areas expanding exponentially year by year, anyone in any kind of job may face exams to qualify for new areas of job responsibility. Professional success and advancement (promotion) is often rooted in test achievement.

And when one stops to think about it, life is filled with unwritten exams. Every job is filled with tests on a daily basis. A boss says to an employee, “Can you work out this problem for me?” (The response can’t be, “Well, I’m not sure.”) A client asks a professional person, “Can you answer this question for me?” (The response can’t be, “I’ll have to ask someone else.)

Supplying a wrong answer in a high school chemistry test loses points. In professional life, wrong answers can have dramatic consequences. Miscalculations by an engineer could mean that a building collapses. A misdiagnosis by a doctor endangers lives.

Test-Taking: in life

Tests, examinations, quizzes are all an inexorable part of life. So students should learn as early as possible that if they want to really feel confident about themselves and their learning ability, they should become great test-takers. Even if students cannot grow to love tests, students must respect them and rise to the challenge because their future could depend on it.

Students should master the whole nature of “test-taking”, from accepting a challenge to really understanding the questions, to providing complete, accurate, and articulate answers. And finally, the result: the satisfaction of having gained knowledge and the confidence to use that knowledge in whatever the future might bring.

How Parents Can Help

As students prepare for tests, parents can offer a positive support role:

  • Make sure that your child does all his homework and reading assignments which will help make sure he is prepared for the test.
  • Encourage your child to space out their studying and homework assignments so that he won't be forced to cram on the night before the test.
  • It’s normal to be anxious about your child's test, but try to keep cool around your child. You don't want them to get anxious about their tests, too.
  • Encourage your child to do well but don't pressure him. You may stress him out. It’s important for your child to stay relaxed on the test.
  • Provide a quiet, well lighted area with little distractions to help your child study efficiently.
  • Mark down test days on your calendar so you and your child are both aware of testing dates.

Robert Neuman has spent the last 25 years advising students as the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) which has 7,000 undergraduates. Dr. Neuman’s book, Are you really ready for college?, A College Dean’s 12 Secrets for Success— what high school students don’t know, is packed with tips about how to succeed in high school and college. For more information or to order a copy of the book, go to www.areyoureallyreadyforcollege.com