Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ack! Standardized tests!

Don't get me wrong, I like taking standardized tests, always have. Even back in elementary school, I thought of them as a neat game, a chance to pit myself against naive test designers who didn't expect me to get every answer right. I'm just not thrilled about the cost of test prep materials.

The TFA office sent me an email informing me that they've received the scores from the Praxis II tests I took last month and I passed. Now I have the Praxis I, Mathematics Content Knowledge, and Physical Science Content Knowledge out of the way. I really should have taken Physics Content Knowledge (0265) this morning, but several weeks ago when I tried to register my university's testing site was full, as was the next nearest site. Luckily, the TFA staffer I spoke with agreed that it made more sense to register for the June test date than to spend over two hours on the interstate before a 7:30 a.m. test. Thus, I've been able to focus on my thesis and schoolwork and pretty much blow off testing for the past few weeks.

Now, the test date is looming, and I know it's essential that I pass. I've started looking over the list of topics and planning my study time. It's all stuff I ought to know, and the giant University Physics with Modern Physics tome they made us buy to use for one semester of the introductory sequence should contain just about everything I need to review. Even though getting a B.S. in physics ought to be pretty good preparation, I've allowed myself to get sucked into spending money on test prep materials yet again. I broke down and ordered a test-specific guide so I'll have plenty of practice problems at the right level of difficulty. If nothing else, it'll calm my nerves, and that alone is worth the $35.44.

All told, I or my parents have probably spent close to $100 on test prep books for my use to study for the SAT, ACT, GRE (not that I've really done much studying for that yet), and Praxis II tests. It could be much, much worse. In other areas of the country, there's much more pressure to keep up in the standardized testing arms race, and parents pay big bucks to tutors to get their kids ready for the PSAT and SAT. (The PSAT for Pete's sake! I prepped for that by working through the free booklet from my guidance counselor the night before I took the real thing.) I have a friend who makes pretty good money as an ACT tutor, and pretty much every pre-med I know takes the Kaplan MCAT course, but test prep isn't the big business here that it seems to be on the coasts.

I'd argue that's a good thing. Taking standardized tests is a learned skill, but doing well doesn't require a large investment of money. Classes or tutors may be helpful for getting unmotivated teenagers to put in the time, but the information on what to study and how to prepare is available for much less. There are lots of low or no cost resources to try before resorting to pricier options. Official sample tests and study questions for the SAT, ACT, and both general and subject GRE tests are available online at no cost. offers very good online SAT, ACT, general GRE programs absolutely free. If you prefer printed materials, having a test book you can mark up as you would the real test is helpful so I'd shell out a few bucks rather than checking materials out of the library. Personally, I like the test preparation books from Barron's, but picking something that'll actually get used is the only important thing.


Mrs. Micah said...

I loved standardized tests in high school, but I'm a bit scared of taking anything like the GRE. Sometimes I want to take the GED to see how I do on it.

Good luck, I'm sure you'll do well! :)

Shuchong said...

I live in test prep central (yup... I'm on the coast), and you're definitely right about the test-prep arms race. That $100 could easily become over $1000 if you signed up for a fancy prep course.

When I first moved here, I viewed them with disdain, both because I think it's unfair that some people can afford test-prep classes while others can't, and because I felt that if you needed a class to take the PSAT, it didn't speak very highly of your intelligence. I guess I'm going native now though... from a purely financial standpoint, I think they can be a good investment.

Anyway, no need to feel guilty about your $100, and best of luck on your exams!

DogAteMyFinances said...

Even back in my day there was big scholarship $$$ from the PSAT. If I had known that, I would have at least studied or something.

Anonymous said...

You will have no problem with the physics PRAXIS, or the physical science one. Here's my story: I had to take the 1-hour versions of the physics and chemistry tests to get NJ certification one summer. I already had a PA certificate, but PA requires the two-hour test--go figure. So I flew home from Wisconsin in the middle of a summer workshop to drive a rental car (my car being still in Wisconsin) an hour and a half to a testing site where I could take the PRAXIS on standby (I had to pay a lot extra for that) about 10 years after having taken freshman chemistry. I still scored high enough on the chemistry PRAXIS for the state to waive a requirement for a second semester of chemistry that I had never taken in college. And seriously, it is not because I know a lot of chemistry. Required scores tend to be LOW. So don't sweat it!

E.C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fabulously Broke said...

I got the same thing when I went for my LSATs..