While major standardized tests are commonly regarded as the territory of high school juniors and seniors, a number of underclassmen (and middle-schoolers) are gathering their no. 2 pencils and trying their hand at the ACT and SAT. Why? Many pre-college programs and camps for middle school and high school students require applicants to have taken the ACT, SAT, or PSAT, so some younger students may choose to take one of the tests in hopes of qualifying. Other underclassmen may look into standardized test-taking simply for the challenge and the learning experience.
Thanks to the suggestion of my eighth-grade enrichment teacher, I took the ACT as a freshman in high school. (Note: I took the ACT because it is a more prevalent option in the Midwest, but my experiences could also apply to those taking the SAT or other tests.) At the time, the thought of staring at scary science passages and something called “trig” in a ghostly-silent classroom surrounded by a bunch of “older kids” made my stomach churn (and still kind of does). However, in hindsight, taking the ACT as a freshman prepared me for the upcoming years of testing and opened up new opportunities for academic success.
If you are planning on taking the ACT as a middle-schooler or underclassmen, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Focus on testing methods more than material
As a freshman in high school, most of the test (especially the math section) covered topics I had not yet learned in school. I found it helpful to practice answering questions and analyzing passages to become familiar with the format and timing of the test. For me, spending at least one or two hours a week reviewing and practicing test-taking strategies, such as educated guessing and elimination, was more worthwhile than stressing over foreign calculus problems and other completely unfamiliar topics.
The experience is more meaningful than the score
As a middle-schooler or underclassmen taking a standardized test, you don’t need to worry about getting the score you think you might need for your dream school. Since colleges only consider test scores taken as a junior and/or senior, previous ACT or SAT scores will not count towards qualifying for college admissions. Even if you are aiming for a certain score range to apply to a pre-college program, remember to use this experience as a gauge to determine your testing strengths and weaknesses. Then, when you prepare to test as a junior or senior, you will have an idea of what to expect, and you will know from experience which subject areas need improvement.
Don’t worry about what other people think
I remember walking into the lobby to take the ACT when I saw a number of upperclassmen students from my school. They looked confused. “Wait, aren’t you a freshman?” When I was done with the test, I went straight from the high school to a swim meet a couple hours away. Even though my teammates knew I would be late to the meet, most didn’t understand the point of taking the test if my score wouldn’t count for college. Instead of feeling insecure or embarrassed, be proud of yourself! Don’t listen to anyone who says being an “overachiever” is a bad thing. Challenging yourself says something special about you as a person – and may open up great academic programs and opportunities for you in the future.
Standardized testing – at any age or grade level – should not be about “showing off” or having to “prove something” to anyone. Whether you’re a middle-schooler or a senior in high school, the most important thing to remember is to keep an open mind as you crack open the answer document. No matter the outcome, know that there are plenty of ways beyond the testing room to challenge and express yourself.