No, You're Not a "Bad Test Taker"

“I’m just not a good test taker.”

It’s a line I hear all the time as an SAT® and ACT® prep tutor.

In fact, I hear it especially often from academic high performers. I’m talking about perennial honor roll members who maintain extraordinary GPAs and ace challenging courses and assignments but, for whatever reason, can’t seem to cross the test score thresholds of their dream schools. Searching for an explanation that can reconcile their excellent academic performance with their underwhelming test scores, many students arrive at the conclusion that they must simply be bad test takers, a fate to which they’re permanently doomed.

There are, of course, situations (involving significant test anxiety or learning differences, say) where there’s truth to this claim. For the most part, though…I don’t buy it.

People who consistently make As and Bs are not bad test takers. People who take—and score well on—an entire buffet of AP exams are not bad test takers. No one achieves a 4.0+ weighted GPA by accident.

So, I’ve got tough news and good news.

Let’s start with the vegetables: No, you’re not a “bad test taker.” You just haven’t prepared enough for this specific test.

Consider this analogy: Imagine you’re a track sprinter who sets a goal to run a competitive 300-meter hurdle time by the end of your spring season. “I do short-distance training every day at practice,” you reason. “Surely this will adequately prepare me to run a respectable time in the 300-meter hurdles, especially if I make sure to get in a few practice runs.”

So you go to practice every day, train for the same sprint events you always do, but add a twist to your training regimen: you run one practice 300-meter hurdle time trial in January, another in February, and yet another in March. Come April, you run the actual race…and you clip your leg on half of the hurdles.

Are you “just a bad hurdler”? Of course not. The answer is obvious—you didn’t train enough for the specific race you were running! You needed to run more hurdles. You probably should have worked with a hurdle coach, too.

You can see where I’m going with this. Just as sporadically running a handful of hurdle time trials amid your normal short-distance training won’t prepare you for a hurdle race, scattered or insufficient test prep amid your normal schoolwork won’t set you up for success on the SAT or ACT.

Aren’t standardized tests intended to be academic achievement and college readiness tests, though? Shouldn’t your scores reflect your normal academic training at school? Sure. But the SAT and ACT are standardized, which means that they each test specific curricula. In theory, those curricula should more or less align with that of a quality high school education. Whether they are successful in that goal is an issue I won’t litigate here. What I am arguing is that if you want to see the best results, you need to train with the SAT’s and/or ACT’s specific curricula in mind. The tests each have their own particular quirks and structures, and we would be foolish to ignore those elements.

Now for the dessert! Getting good at taking the SAT and ACT is a learnable skill! Better yet, because the tests are standardized, they’re also predictable. If you’re looking to boost your performance, consider private tutoring with someone who knows these tests inside and out and can offer you personalized guidance and strategies to address your specific needs.

Or if you prefer a more self-guided approach, you may want to consider a learning platform where you can work through lessons, practice problems, and test-taking strategies at your own pace. Methodize, our comprehensive online learning platform, is designed to help you do just that.

Remember, success on standardized tests is not a matter of innate ability but of targeted, consistent preparation. You’re not a bad test taker—you just need the right training for this specific challenge. With the right preparation, you can clear the hurdle of standardized testing and cross the high school finish line with confidence.

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