The Myth of the “Bad Tester”
Anyone is Capable of Great Scores
Over the course of my career, I’ve spoken to thousands of parents and students readying themselves for their SAT and ACT prep. One of the things I hear in about 80% of my conversations:
“My child is a bad tester.”
Chances are that you’ve either heard this phrase before, or you’ve said it yourself. There’s a common belief that the SAT and ACT are different from everything else that you learn in school (and in life), and that some students are innately “good testers,” while the vast majority are “bad testers.”
Here’s the problem: this entire concept doesn’t really make any sense.
The SAT and ACT are extremely intimidating. The stakes are high, they test a lot of random, specific information, and they test it in a way that’s very different from the way that students are usually tested in school. But everything on these tests is learnable – if you take the time to learn it. If not, they’re practically impossible.
Every student is capable of high SAT and ACT scores – all you need to do is learn the material, practice the strategies, and build your experience. A “bad tester” is just a student who hasn’t learned the material and the strategies. This has nothing to do with innate qualities, and everything to do with adequate preparation.
How the Conversation Goes
Here’s the conversation I’ve had hundreds of times with parents around the world:
Parent: my daughter is a bad tester.
Me: what do you mean?
Parent: well, she gets straight A’s in school, but she does very poorly on her standardized tests.
Me: what was the last standardized test she took?
Parent: her PSAT. She got a 40th percentile score.
Me: how long did she spend studying for it?
Parent: she didn’t.
Me: and how long does she spend on her homework each night?
Parent: about 3-4 hours.
See the discrepancy here? This parent’s daughter is a good student because she works at it – not because she has magical “grade getting abilities.” And she got a bad PSAT score because she didn’t work at it – not because she’s a “bad tester.” It seems obvious once you look at it – but millions of parents and students have this belief. Why?
We’ve been taught that the SAT and ACT are either “intelligence tests” or direct reflections of your performance at school. They are neither. They have nothing to do with your IQ, and almost nothing to do with what you learn at school. But because we believe both of these things, and that these tests are reflections of your innate ability, we believe that students can’t study. So they don’t. And the results speak for themselves.
First, let’s address the intelligence myth. Are these tests IQ tests? Not at all. The simplest way to disprove this: you can’t study for an IQ test, but you can study for the SAT. For example, if you want a high SAT score, you need to know how to find the slope of a line. If you don’t know how to do so, and you learn this skill, then boom – you have a higher score. If you don’t know what “objective” means, and you learn the definition, then boom – you have a higher score.
Do you need a high IQ to learn the slope formula, or the definitions of key vocabulary words? No. You need to put in the work and study the right things. Sure – having a high IQ might make learning certain things a bit easier/faster, but it’s far from a requirement for an amazing score.
What about the school myth? A lot of people think that you already learn all the necessary skills for the SAT and ACT in school, so there’s no point in studying. But this is way off base.
School teaches you most of the required math formulas and facts. It teaches you some of the required grammar rules. It teaches you how to read. And it teaches you how to write an essay. But there are two big problems:
- The SAT and ACT test a LOT of material that ISN’T taught in school. These tests rely on a lot of weird, specific grammar, math, and comprehension-based information that most students never learn in school. And if they are taught it, they’re not taught it in a way that they can use on these tests. You need to study to these tests, and just just assume that you know the material already. You don’t. It’s not hard to learn, but it isn’t coming from school.
- The SAT and ACT use the material in ways that you’ve never seen it used before. Knowing the material isn’t enough. These tests speak their own language. They ask bizarrely-worded math questions that no level of material-based math knowledge will prepare you for. They require unfamiliar essay formats that you’ll never learn in English class. They use error-based grammatical frameworks that most students have never faced in their lives. And they test reading comprehension in a manner that has nothing to do with the skills you’ve learned in your life.
This all boils down to one key point:
NOTHING will prepare you for the SAT and ACT except STUDYING FOR THEM, SPECIFICALLY.
There’s no such thing as “cross training” for these tests. If you want to get better at the ACT, study for the ACT. Everything else you learn at school and in your day to day life isn’t just inadequate – it actually might be teaching you counterproductive skills and habits that hurt your ability to get a high score.
So what IS the truth?
The truth is simple: if you take the time to learn the following, you’ll get a high SAT and ACT score, regardless of your beliefs about whether or not you’re a “bad tester”:
-The material facts tested by these exams. Math formulas, grammar rules, and a couple key vocab words will do the trick.
-The strategies and tactics necessary to use them. It’s not enough to know the material – you need to know how to use it. But these strategies are easy to learn with a bit of practice and consistent application.
-How to apply it all on test day. If you get enough practice in realistic conditions, working on your timing, your ability to navigate through the sections, and your ability to keep your energy and attention levels high, you’ll get a high score.
Again, any student can learn this stuff. It’s not hard – you just need to put in the work and get the test-specific experience. Here’s the entire plan you need to get a higher score:
- As soon as possible, get your hands on relevant study materials, along with a program that shows you how to use them to focus on your weaknesses.
- Engage with that program and its selected materials on a daily basis – ideally 15-25 minutes a day, every day.
- Take frequent diagnostic tests at home in order to gauge your progress.
- When your practice test scores match your target scores, go in and take the real thing.
- If you don’t hit the mark on your first try, keep prepping lightly and register again until you do. If you begin early, there’s no stress involved.
It’s a simple, straightforward process. Want to get good at the SAT? Study it. Want to get good at the ACT? Study it. Learn the material, learn the strategies, get a bunch of practice, and you’ll be a “good tester.”
The belief that you’re a “bad tester” is the only thing preventing you from beginning the prep process and learning what you need to learn. And the only thing that makes someone a “bad tester” is delaying the prep process!
Break the cycle, begin a light, consistent study program, and you’ll be good to go!
I designed Green Test Prep, my online SAT and ACT program, to allow you to do just that. You can use it for as little as 15 minutes a day, on your own schedule and from any internet-connected device, to begin the process. It’ll show you how to learn all the material, all the strategies, and all the test-taking skills necessary to master these tests. However, whether you use my program, another program, or study on your own, make sure to start right away! The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll realize that the entire concept of the “bad tester” is bunk, and that you’re capable of amazing scores with a bit of practice and the right focus!
So what’s next?
Check out my free study calendar, which will show you exactly when to start prepping, for how long, and what to focus on for maximized score improvements.
Also, before you start prepping, be sure to pick the right test! It’s an essential investment in future high scores. Check out my guide to the SAT vs. the ACT here.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you found my guide helpful! Good luck with your prep, and I can’t wait to see how you end up doing on your test(s)!