Helping Students Choose the Right Testing Center

Helping Students Choose the Right Testing Center.png


A lot of preparation goes into a successful test day. Students sharpen skills and master testing strategies. They sign up for test dates and decide where to send their scores. Unfortunately, students often overlook one important decision: where to take the SAT or ACT test. And that small decision can have a significant impact on test day performance. Today, we help tutors answer the question, "Where should I take the SAT test?"

Not So Fast

This may seem like a no-brainer; find the nearest testing center available for your test date and check the box. Both the ACT and SAT websites even include handy tools to make this search as simple as a few clicks. 

Unfortunately, not all testing centers are created equal. I know, I know…these are standardized tests; how different can these locations be? As it turns out, there are plenty of ways the testing environment can be either a help or a hindrance come test day.

Do your research

Thanks to the internet, you can find reviews about seemingly everything. Encourage students to do a search in the old Google-machine to see what comes up about a testing center before committing to it.

As with many things online, the negativity tends to rise to the top. This type of feedback, while potentially informative, should be taken with a grain of salt; these are strangers complaining on the internet, after all.

Talking to actual test-takers directly is more valuable. As part of your follow up conversations with clients, be sure to ask about testing environments and conditions. Were there any issues like disruptions, uncomfortable seats, extreme temperatures, or general testing irregularities? Anyone of these factors could wind up costing students valuable focus and, in turn, points.

Keep track of this feedback so that you can refer back to it when helping students register for future tests. Steering students away from centers with spotty reviews will help promote optimal achievement.

Proximity matters

Come test day, there is a checklist of things that successful test takers must do to ensure they are prepared to do their best. SPOILER ALERT: a lengthy, traffic-ridden commute first thing in the morning isn’t on there.

Test Day Checklist
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Selecting a testing location that is nearby, easy to get to, and provides ample parking can help ensure a student’s test day starts off on the right foot.

However, research and experience may dictate that the closest testing location isn’t the best for your students. If that is the case, be prepared to suggest alternatives that are still within a reasonable range (note: this may be more of a challenge in rural areas).

That said, before students make any formal testing center decisions, encourage them to test out the commutes first. Not only will this help students plan for ample travel time on test day, it also establishes familiarity with the route and its key landmarks.

Home Court Advantage?

Many times, the closest and most familiar testing center is a student’s own local school. Depending on both the student and the school in question, this can prove to be either a huge plus or major minus.

You can help your students evaluate this important decision by having them weigh in on the following factors unique to testing at the local school:

Close Proximity
PRO - There probably won’t be a testing center any closer to a student than their own local school.
CON - Some students may find a slightly longer drive to the testing center a cathartic way to clear their head and cleanse the palate.

PRO - Students know how to get there, where to park, how to navigate the building, etc.
CON - If students typically struggle to focus during class time, being in that same environment for a lengthy test may be counterproductive.

Friendly Faces
PRO - Many of the staff and fellow test-takers will be familiar which could be more comforting than a building filled with strangers.
CON - For some students, familiar faces may prove to be more distracting than comforting.

Recent Insight from an All-Star ACT Tutor  

This may seem like an unrelated question, but it could come into play if you live somewhere that the weather can be an issue for travel. For example, we heard this from one of our partners after the December ACT last week:

     The ACT is scheduled today, of course, and it's a last-chance test for seniors. It snowed here last night, less than an inch, and is forecast to snow up to two more inches this morning and afternoon. It's the kind of day where school would have likely been delayed or canceled. 
     We had three test centers scheduled to offer the test -- a city public, a county public, and a college prep private. I had a student scheduled at the private school, and yesterday we started wondering whether to be concerned about a cancellation -- but we knew the private school would stay open if possible to protect their kids. Sure enough, the county public canceled, and city public and private stayed open. 
     That got me thinking. I usually advise kids to go to whatever center they're familiar with, but in inclement weather-prone months, I may start mentioning to kids that certain centers have a greater tendency to cancel than others. 
     I think it's case-by-case as to whether kids want a center than cancels or not -- my kid's family drives SUVs and would want him to take the test today no matter what. But other families live on top of mountains and have much worse snow than we do at the base where I live -- since the county canceled, they might get to reschedule next week or the following week. Kids who just chose not to go out on the roads to the other centers may be stuck waiting until February, which is way too late for seniors! 

Ultimately, there is no universally “best” testing center. As with most things in education, it comes down to fit. Work with your students as a part of the test registration process to help steer them to the test day seat where they are most likely to succeed.

Have any test center horror stories to share? Give our readers an idea what to look out for when helping students choose a testing site! by sharing your experiences in the comments below or on social media!  And be sure to like, share, and subscribe!

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Matt McCorkle