Are you a high school, college, graduate, or professional student frustrated with standardized testing? Do you have a good GPA and you’ve just never felt successful at test-taking? Maybe it has made you feel lost, not smart, and a bit hopeless? You are far from alone. First and foremost, tests are not a measure of your intelligence or self-worth. They just measure how well you can take that test. Outwardly, you may acknowledge this but inwardly the feeling of low test results often lead us to feel the opposite. That’s because tests can be important if they allow us to demonstrate a particular knowledge and distinguish ourselves to colleges, universities, certification boards, academic scholarships/programs and employers. Similar to Boy Scout and Girl Scout merit badges, good test results can be merit badges that contribute to a larger more holistic academic portfolio, but they do NOT singlehandedly define who we are.
Test Taking is a Game!
No one is born good at test taking. Test taking is a game like any other, albeit it a lame one. How you play it AND the more you play it determines how successful you will be on exam day. Those who do well, often just have better initial habits/techniques or a more solid hold of the material. Frustrated test-takers have either improper test taking habits/techniques or the material is not second nature to them. Often it is both. Either one or the combination of the two leads to unsatisfying scores. The great news is that both are addressable and can be fixed in a matter or weeks!
How you play it
Imagine playing Super Mario for the first time with a friend, Alice, and you both each have one life/chance to get through the level before tallying your final scores. You have a limited amount of time to collect as many coins as possible and if you fall or get hit by a goomba, that’s it, your score is set until the next opportunity. Since it is both your first times playing Mario, you implement the following strategy because it’s natural to do and you just don’t put much thought into how you play Mario:
Get every single coin along the way.
Alice however adopts the following strategy for herself without much thought either:
Get the easiest/moderately accessible coins while avoiding the most difficult ones.
You both get to the end but Alice scores higher overall without exerting herself to get the difficult coins and you had to rush at the end to get to the finish line missing some of the later opportunities. Here is why she succeeded:
By going for the easy and moderately accessible coins, Alice avoided the risky and time consuming difficult ones. Ultimately, she was able to collect more coins overall. She didn’t run out of time or have to rush to the finish line at the end skipping those easy or moderately accessible coins. Difficult coins are equal in value to easy and moderate coins. By pouring more time into the difficult ones you had to rush at the end and missed opportunities to score higher. Alice used her time to maximize her score whereas you focused on trying to get everyone linearly. Her goal was MAXIMIZATION OVER PERFECTION and that led to her success.
While this is a simple example and not reflective of all testing situations, it illustrates a fundamental strategy most test-takers, even if they recognize it as obvious, do not have ingrained in their behavior when testing. The strategy is that test-takers should work towards maximization over perfection every single time. This is why having an academic coach to push and guide you in this direction is vital.
A great academic coach works with you to adopt this strategy and teaches you the many techniques and behaviors to maximize your score. They work with you over time, keep you accountable, and help you develop these behaviors so they become automatic. These behaviors will serve you on almost any test you will take.
The more you play it
How you play the game is important but this should be in conjunction with how much you play the game which should be often. You can have a maximization strategy but if you don’t take practice tests often you will not maximize your score to your fullest potential. You need time to not just absorb the test-taking strategies but also time to master the material and refine your recall with the information and concepts. There are two core components to playing the game more often:
- Ingraining the concepts through frequent and targeted studying and review.
- Simulating examination through frequent but spaced practice exams to force recall of the material and force implementation of effective test-taking behaviors to the point where they will become second nature.
Many test takers may know the material but only loosely and if you asked them on the spot a question they may know the answer but their recall was slow. Great test-takers prepare for and ultimately know the material inside and out and if the problem has different numbers or slightly different conditions, the fundamentals are so well ingrained that the struggle to come to an answer is minimal. This level of proficiency takes time to develop and for most students an academic coach will expedite this process. They will identify your weaknesses, work with you to address them, and retest you to build towards a higher score. Ultimately, a great academic coach will work to help you achieve a state of flow with the exam where you don’t have to think that hard, you just know what to do.
Why you should invest in an academic coach…
We have coaches for so many sports but why do we have so few academic coaches? This is in part, especially in America, due to the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality. We don’t have this mentality when it comes to sports and tell baseball players “Just pitch faster!” or cross country runners “Just run faster!”. We have coaches that work with players on the various details to help them get there. But for some reason we have this stigma that someone who needs a tutor or academic coach is not smart and if you need one it is a sign of weakness. THIS IS INSANE! We are all capable of amazing things and isolating our weaknesses and not seeking help is the true sign of weakness. This doesn’t mean an individual isn’t responsible for working hard and pulling their weight. Of course they are, but it is a team effort and we can do more together than alone. Imagine if we expected each person to get themselves to the moon by themselves! We are on this Earth for a limited time so let’s bring out the best in each other by working together. An academic coach is a partner and will be upfront, clear about expectations, hold you accountable, but also be supportive. They will:
- Provide one-on-one support with your exam preparation.
- Guide you through the cycles of practice testing, material weakness identification, and addressing conceptual deficiencies.
- Address the smallest of details of how you approach the exam and prepare for test day. This includes behaviors like managing your movement through a particular section, incorporating exercise into your study schedule, making sure you have a good sleep schedule, and even evaluating what you eat before the exam! All of these behaviors are polished over the preparation time to add up to a holistically powerful and successful examination.
- Not only design but teach you how to design a preparation/study schedule so you can fly on your own in future exams if you want to, although it never hurts to just always have a coach throughout your academic life.
My offerings as an academic coach…
Investing in an academic coach can be significant but worth the investment. An academic coach will change your your life. Finding the right one is crucial. Most academic coaches provide a complimentary phone call or meeting to gauge whether the relationship will be a good fit because they are invested in your success and not having volumes of students like major commercial test-taking companies.
My name is Dan Walsh and I have been privately coaching for over seven years to many students ranging from high school to professional school. I hold a master’s degree in data science. I have created a system to identify, monitor, and create success for students. I created a program called PACT which stands for Practice, Analyze, Calibrate, and Try-again and it is what I have used for the major examinations in my life since high school and the dozens of students I have helped. I have refined it greatly over the years and it will help you prepare for any major exam. While the preparation time may vary depending on the exam, the approach is the same. PACT has helped dozens of students in the following areas:
High school: SAT, ACT, PSAT and general exam preparation.
College/University: MCAT, GRE, GMAT, and general exam preparation.
Professional/Board Certifications: NPLEX (Naturopathic Doctor certifications), NCLEX (Nursing certification), and more.
I am interested so how do I move forward?
Let’s set up a complimentary 20 minute phone call to discuss your particular situation, goals, timeframe, and see if we feel it would be a good fit. I will then discuss the financial investment necessary for working together. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603-724-3834 to set up a time.
What are going to be my results?
Just like predicting the future or weather, I cannot predict what your exact scores or outcome will be. I am a data scientist by trade and work within the realm of probability and confidence intervals. I can say with certainty though that the clients who have stuck with the program are all satisfied and all have had score increases. My methods are not magic nor are they ingrained overnight. The results though have left many of my students feeling like they are on Cloud 9 and in an unbelievable state of awe when they’ve jumped hundreds of points or passed a board certification they were struggling with. I was there many times years ago dealing with testing frustration and through trial and error I developed a system the works and even better with a coach guiding and supporting you along the way. We will work hard together and the PACT program is not easy but it is highly effective. I’ve had students in very frustrated places that left with a new sense of where their life was going and what was possible for them.