But in the absence of a perfect indicator of potential success in college (and life), tests like the SAT and ACT are really students have. Just about any SAT or ACT prep book will start off by declaring that tests like the SAT and ACT don’t actually measure a person’s intellect; they measure how well that student can take the SAT/ACT/etc. All of those standardized tests are relatively formulaic and if students know what to study and how to study it, their chances for success on them are signficantly higher.
The are a variety of practice tests available for just about every standardized exam out there (LSAT and MCAT students may take more than 10 practice tests before sitting for the real thing), but the SAT actually has its own standardized practice test, the PSAT. High achieving students spend an awful lot of time studying and preparing for something that has the word “practice” at the front of it, but they might not be as obsessive as one may think. Qualifying scores on the PSAT can make a student eligible for a National Merit Scholarship. Even if students don’t actually get the scholarship, if they’re National Merit Finalist they can put that fact on their college applications. College admissions are getting more and more competitive all the time, so every little achievement helps.
Students hoping to do well on AP exams have it slightly easier; if the teachers in their Advanced Placement classes are doing their jobs properly, they should be preparing students for the appropriate AP exams all year long. Unlike the SAT or ACT, these AP exams only test mastery in a specific subject, and aren’t simple fill-in-the-bubbles type tests. The AP English Literature Exam, for instance, requires students to write multiple short and long essays about a variety of works of literature (usually students can pick one or two from a provided list; they’re not immediately disqualified if they didn’t happen to read Crime and Punishment in high school).
Students may dread these tests (and rightfully so; who wants to give up Saturday morning in May to fill in a Scantron?), but if they learn to know their enemy, they don’t need to fear them. The right resources and insights from instructors and mentors can help them to study smarter, not longer.