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Flexible Thinking and Test Prep

For: Students, Parents, Teachers


Standardized Test Prep Middle/High School Strategy


Flexible Thinking Self-regulation

Flexible Thinking and Test Prep

I like criticism. It makes you strong.
— LeBron James

On standardized tests, students must work efficiently through a variety and somewhat random ordering of problem types, some of which are intended to be novel. You need to quickly identify the best strategy for the specific problem and then readily adapt if your solution doesn’t match the answer key, either by adapting your approach or recognizing a mistake.

Have A Plan

  1. Prepare and practice strategies on how to approach unfamiliar or unexpected problems. As you go through practice tests, create specific, step-by-step approaches. This includes having a strategy to know when you will skip a problem and come back to it so you do not spend too much time on any one problem.
  2. When you are practicing a section, mix up the order of problem types, the difficulty level of problems, and handling curve balls. As you grow more comfortable adjusting to uncertainty, you will become more efficient handling the unexpected challenges you might encounter on test day.
  3. Prepare for all the potential scenarios you might encounter on test day. While these scenarios might be low probability, be mentally prepared for exactly what you will do if an unfortunate situation arises.

Sat Vs. Act Considerations

  1. ACT: You have less time per question, so you need to adapt more quickly if your first instinct is incorrect.
  2. SAT: Questions tend to be more nuanced and less-straightforward, which requires more flexible thinking.
  3. Bottom Line: The ACT questions tend to be more straight-forward and predictable which can be more comfortable for students with weaker flexible thinking. Students with strong flexible thinking might outperform on the SAT.

Why This Is Different From Classroom Tests

Many bright students rely on their stronger abstract and verbal reasoning skills to quickly understand the content, perhaps ahead of their peers. As a result, they don't need to rely on flexible thinking to handle what to others might feel like a challenging, novel or unexpected problem. In addition, many teachers are more predictable than a standardized test. As a result, students might come to class familiar with what types of problems will be on the test, so again, they are relying on reasoning rather than flexible thinking to succeed.