A Look at the Most Difficult Higher Education Standardized Tests, and Tips to Help Pass Them

Standardized tests are used to measure competency and professional aptitude. While many education experts are beginning to question their validity, that doesn’t do much good for people today who need to take them in order to get into college or begin their professional careers.

You’re a smart person, but tests just aren’t your thing. You’re worried that you might lose out on the benefits of years of hard work in an exam that takes just a few hours. If that scenario sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. There are lots of people who dread standardized tests. You still need to figure out how to pass them.

In this article, we take a look at several different types of standardized exams and provide some tips for getting past them.

In this article, we take a look at several different types of standardized exams and provide some tips for getting past them.

Types of Standardized Tests

There are many kinds of standardized exams. Most of them are in place to evaluate how well schools are teaching their students. The state (any state/every state) issues exams to measure progress and in certain cases, decide whether or not to implement additional oversight for certain districts.

These exams might be stressful, but they don’t usually have an impact on the lives of individual students.

There are also tests designed to measure aptitude for specific roles. The ACT and SAT are used to establish a high school student’s qualifications for continuing their education into college. These exams have been under heavy criticism for years. Isn’t it a little counterintuitive to give one test that much weight?

During Covid-19, many universities suspended their ACT/SAT requirement on the grounds that many of their applicants had no opportunity to take the exams. Some schools continue to suspend that requirement, allowing students to decide whether or not they want to take the ACT/SAT.

There are also exams that qualify students either for future careers (BAR, NCLEX, etc.) or for graduate programs (LSAT).

These tests, though sometimes also the subject of controversy, are still in place. If you are getting ready for a standardized test, you may feel overwhelmed. Below, we take a look at a few tips that should make your experience better.


Start Early

Say what you will about a standardized test—one thing they won’t do is sneak up on you. You should know about your exam months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to plan your study sessions. Most research indicates that cram sessions do more harm than good.

Instead, break your sessions into manageable, bite-sized pieces. There are many study guides available online— some may even be free—that will help you plan your study sessions.


Talk with Someone Who has Taken the Test

It can help to get an insider opinion on what to expect. If you have a friend or colleague who has taken the exam that you are preparing for, it may help to get their insights. Not only will this make the test feel more approachable (after all, if that did, so can you) but it will give you the chance to ask questions and get more recent insights into the test in its current form.


Practice Self Care

The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” mentality is popular in our hectic Western culture. However, the idea that rest is an indulgence can ultimately do more harm than good. Your brain is like any other part of your body. It requires breaks to perform at peak function.

Set aside time for healthy activities. This includes everything from relaxation (reading, television, walks—whatever you like) to rest and proper nutrition. Eat healthy, exercise, and prioritize sleep. You want to go into exam day refreshed.


Take Advantage of Study Materials

Most exams, including the NCLEX, have highly detailed study materials. This can include everything from flashcards to practice exams. Take advantage of the official materials. They will give you a great starting point and can be used to help narrow the focus of your studying efforts.



One of the benefits of starting your study sessions early is that you can start to relax as the test day comes. You don’t want the night before to be an anxious cram session. It’s much better to go in feeling loose and relaxed.

Work hard for as long as you can, and then taper off your studying the week of the test itself. You’ll go in on test day feeling more relaxed and focused if you can maintain a calm headspace.


Are Standardized Exams Receding?

We mentioned in an earlier heading that many universities are making standardized exams an optional part of a student’s submission packet. If you feel confident in your test-taking abilities, you can use the SAT or ACT as a way of propping up your credentials and maybe even qualifying for grants and scholarships.

If you’d rather let your grades speak for themselves, you can do that instead.

This approach is gaining traction with experts who feel standardized tests favor people who are already in an experience of privilege. The language on many exams reflects what some people call “standard English.” Basically, a distinctly white dialect.

The references also tend to skew toward experiences that might not be universally understood. Then there is the socio-economic component. Kids from middle to upper-middle-class families can afford tutors and test preparatory materials. Kids from poorer families have to study on their own.

But while not everything about standardized exams is fair, some warn that doing away with them might create more problems than it solves. Tests are designed to assign an objective metric to a very abstract consideration: intelligence. Competency. Aptitude.



Without standardized exams, admissions offices will be left with intangible, subjective considerations. Personal essays. Extracurricular activities. Recommendation letters. Things that, while an important aspect of an admissions packet, don’t necessarily indicate how well a student will do in school.

The same concerns pertain to professional exams. Yes, it is a little weird for a nursing candidate’s future career to come down to a two-hour test. They’ve already sat through four years of class, and hundreds of hours of clinical experience. Is the NCLEX more important than all of that experience?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Ultimately, it may also be an irrelevant one. The NCLEX is harder to do away with than the ACT because it establishes someone’s professional capacity, whereas the ACT or SAT only indicates their potential as a student.

Patients need good nurses, and the NCLEX is one final way to ensure that’s what they get. The good news? Most people (around 90% in 2023) pass the test the first time they try it. Standardized tests are hard, but they are doable.



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TWL Working Mom

Jennifer is the owner of TWL Working Moms. She is a full time teacher, a mom & step mom, and NBCT Facilitator. Jennifer lives in Washington State and is a born + raised New Yorker. In her spare time, she loves traveling, yoga, the beach, writing, listening to books and drinking coffee.

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