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Test or No Test: Skills That Matter


Students gain these skills during test preparation, but they’re also integral to 21st-century success.


Test prep pressure can be overwhelming, but the skills students gain from it are rewarding in the long term. As we coach students through standardized assessments, we’re helping them gain routines and practices that are assets to success in a highly-skilled world.

When it comes to test prep season, look for ways to incorporate skill-building into a lesson. Tests may end at the ring of a bell, but these strengths can last a lifetime.

Test prep skill: Persistence/Discipline

Hour-long tests challenge students to hunker down, concentrate, and put forth their best effort. Not only are the tests themselves long, but so is the preparation process. Many schools begin preparing students for state tests as early as the start of second semester. Most high school students spend three to six months preparing for the SAT or ACT. It’s classic persistence.

Applications beyond assessments:

In some ways, our world moves faster than ever, but the ability to persevere in pursuit of a long-term goal remains an essential skill. Students can expect to spend close to a month interviewing for a single job and three to six months in the college application process. The test preparation process gives students opportunities to hone the hard and soft skills – patience, long term planning, and prioritization – that they need to succeed beyond the classroom.

Test prep skill: Process of Elimination

It’s the universal test prep skill: cross-out what you know doesn’t fit; choose from what remains.

Applications beyond assessments:

Important life decisions mirror that dreaded multiple choice question: you have a problem to solve, and you are faced with several plausible choices. You have to sort through these tempting distractors and select the best option. We have to make thousands of decisions every day, and the number only increases as we take on additional responsibilities at home or at work. Practicing strategies to make decision making more streamlined can help students navigate the increasingly complex 21st-century world.

Test prep skill: Independence

At ThinkCERCA, we believe in the importance of feedback and collaboration. The modern classroom is becoming more collaborative and we think that’s a good thing. But the standardized test offers a valuable opportunity for students to persevere through challenges independently, without immediate feedback.

Applications beyond assessments:

While students are testing, they can’t raise their hand to get feedback from a teacher. They also can’t reason through a challenging question with a peer. This gives students the space to monitor and self-regulate their cognitive processes. Students must learn to be aware of their pacing, accuracy, and overall strategy as they move through questions independently. This skill will serve them well, especially in an increasingly connected world; almost a quarter of US employees work remotely.

Test prep skill: Growth Mindset

By preparing for assessments, students are taught that they can improve and do better. The good thing about standardized tests is that they are, well, standardized. In order for them to fulfill their purpose, there must be things about the test that never change. With practice, students can identify what these areas are. For example, the questions likely always have the same number of answer choices, and those answer choices are likely ordered in a specific way (for example, the ACT always orders math answer choices from least to greatest). Every test has a similar set of “rules,” and as students learn them, they can improve.

Applications beyond assessments:

When it comes to tackling a new job, working on a hobby or acquiring a new skill, students must know their abilities are not limited by nature. Learning that their skills are malleable early on is a key way to break out of that fixed mindset long term. Preparing for standardized tests can help students see that learning is an iterative process and measurable growth can take time to achieve.

Test prep skill: Managing Anxiety

Standardized tests are stressful; about 40% of students suffer report mild to high test anxiety. They’re also becoming increasingly high stakes. Students are under pressure from their schools and their families to perform at their highest potential on these tests. Many schools are adding anxiety management techniques to their test prep curriculums and teaching students how to use deep breathing and meditative techniques to manage the testing process.

Applications beyond assessments:

A high-stakes standardized test is not the final stressful academic or professional event that a student will face. The techniques that students use to overcome standardized test anxiety will be useful as students navigate the 21st century world, from job interviews to performance reviews.

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Catherine Tierney
Catherine Tierney

As Senior Editor at ThinkCERCA, Catherine brings a variety of experience in classroom teaching, test prep, and content development to her role at ThinkCERCA.

Catherine began her career in education as a Match Corps Urban Education Fellow in Boston, working as a full-time tutor and teaching assistant in a high performing charter school. After completing her fellowship year, she taught science at KIPP WAYS Academy in Atlanta, GA. She also spent two summers teaching high school biology at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

Catherine earned a masters in education from Teachers College at Columbia University. Her research focused on the cognitive underpinnings of teaching and learning. After working as a freelance content developer and editor, she is thrilled to join the team in a full-time capacity.