sealPurdue News

March 1998

Expert: Students can plan to succeed on standardized tests

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Taking a college entrance exam can be one of the most stressful times in a student's life, but a Purdue University expert says it doesn't have to be.

Doug Christiansen, director of Purdue's Office of Admissions, says taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test (ACT) does not have to be a nerve-racking experience. Test results from the SAT and ACT are one of the tools colleges and universities use to determine which students to admit.

"Everyone can set themselves up for success on these tests," Christiansen says. "However, you can't spend a week cramming, go to bed early the night before, eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the test and expect to have fabulous success. The best preparation happens over time."

He suggests:

  • Taking college preparation courses (English, math and science) during all four years of high school. "Stay in academic courses throughout your high school career," Christiansen says. "Even if you've fulfilled your school's graduation requirements, keep taking solid college prep classes. Continuing to improve your reading comprehension and critical thinking skills will do nothing but help you when test time rolls around."
  • Making math comprehension a priority. "You really need to understand the fundamental principles of mathematics," he says. "If you are struggling with any part of it, retake the class and ask for help."
  • Reading a newspaper every day and a novel once a month. "Not only does reading the paper keep you in touch with what's going on in the world, but it's also a great reading comprehension tool," Christiansen says. "Books can expand your world as well as your vocabulary. Reading for pleasure will make you a lifelong learner."
  • Taking a practice test early. "Get over the shock of the exam," he says. "Take the SAT or ACT early in your junior year. It gives you a chance to see where you might need some additional work or tutoring, and it gives you enough time to retake the test if you need to."

During the entire week before the test, Christiansen says, students should prepare to be relaxed.

"Try to clear your mind as much as possible," he says. "Go to bed early and eat a good breakfast each day of the week. Staying up late trying to pack one more vocabulary word into your already overloaded head is only going to make you more nervous."

Christiansen also says students need to remember that test results alone do not determine who will be on campus in the fall.

"Of course test scores play a role in deciding who is admitted to college and who isn't, but they are just one component in the admissions process," Christiansen says. "It's very important to do the best job you can do, but your college life doesn't hang in the balance should you happen to not score as well as you would like."

Christiansen says admissions counselors are looking at a student's total package to decide if he or she will be admitted. At Purdue, that package includes six variables:

  • Subject matter requirements, successful completion of the prerequisites as required by the faculty of Purdue.
  • Class rank, how the student's grades compare to his or her peers.
  • Grade trends, showing grades always moving up. "The worst thing college-bound students can do is slough off during their senior years," Christiansen says. "Admissions counselors want to see constant work to maintain good grades or improvement in the case of a rough start."
  • Grades in core college preparation classes.
  • Guidance counselor comments.
  • SAT or ACT test results.

Christiansen says students do not have to take both tests, because most schools will accept results from either the SAT or the ACT.

"If you are unsure about which test to take, make sure the schools you are applying to will accept either test," Christiansen says. "Then take a practice test for both exams. The test that feels more comfortable is probably the one you will be the most successful on."

For information about upcoming SAT and ACT testing times, students and parents can contact their high school's guidance office.

Source: Doug Christiansen, (765) 494-7014; e-mail,
Writer: Jenny Pratt, (765) 496-3133; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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