Standardized Tests and OAT Preparation

I was one of those students who had a terrible time with standardized tests.

I used to have problems with standardized tests until I realized the professors are on my side…

It was a classmate in optometry school who came to my aid and taught me this simple principle that changed my perspective dramatically: when you’re stumped on a standardized test question, take a deep breath, don’t panic, but rather, ask yourself “What is it this test question is asking?” or, “What is it that the professor is trying to determine whether or not I know?” It sounds SO simple! At the root of this theory is the assumption and assurance that the professor is ON YOUR SIDE! He or she is simply trying to find out what you know and NOT TRYING TO TRICK YOU! A person who has trouble with standardized tests feels panic and paranoia during the test-taking process, which adversely affects confidence, and negatively impacts performance outcomes. If you simply reassure yourself that the professor is NOT trying to trick or trap you with his or her questions and that he or she is simply trying to determine your knowledge of the subject matter, you will relax and answer the question with more confidence.

It was that simple for me. I look now at every test question from this viewpoint. I hear all the time, students report that they aren’t good at taking standardized tests–the OAT being a prime example. Try to reframe that thinking: don’t let yourself be labeled as a poor test taker—perhaps it’s more the case that you haven’t learned the skills necessary for successful test taking or haven’t practiced them enough.

Here are some suggestions from SCCO’s Student Ambassadors on how to develop those skills that should help cultivate skills necessary to be successful on standardized tests:

  • “Know your test environment. Knowing what to expect on the day of the test is a huge part of walking in with confidence. Read the materials supplied by ASCO as far as what you need to bring with you the day of and what you should leave in your car.Set out everything you’ll need the day before so you can wake up & start the day off organized and focused. You wouldn’t go to the airport to catch an international flight without checking for your passport and packing for the destination, so don’t go into this important event unprepared either.”
  • “Know what tools will be available during the test. There are no formulas given for any of the subjects on the OATs, you’ll have to memorize them. Since time is such a large factor on the OAT, having a quick recall of formulas is important. Try focusing on the main equations from each subcategory that help you remember conceptual ideas. The best thing about physics is that a variable in 1 equation is often relatable to another variable from another equation, and most of the calculations involve cancellation of variables. To keep everything organized, you may find it helpful to do all of your calculations on the sheets of paper they provide you and then plug in the final equation. A basic periodic table of elements is given as a pop up window during the necessary subjects. You only get to use the calculator on the QR section, and the calculator is a pop up window and you will have to use your mouse to click on the numbers, which can slow you down dramatically. The calculator does not do trig functions – only the basics (i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication, division).”
  • “Practice like you’re actually taking the test. Headphones are great for minimizing distraction, but you won’t have them the day of the test, so don’t get used to using them. Try to set up your studying routine and practice exams in a test-like environment–this means a silent room, no Facebook, no phone, no talking, and most importantly, obey your time constraints with a stop watch. Since the OATs are on the computer, practice at the computer and take online diagnostic tests. The average person reads much slower on the computer as opposed to a paper in front of them, so get comfortable with reading and working on the computer. In addition to a test-like environment, try to build up your stamina to take this lengthy test by taking full length exams, rather than just doing problems over a short amount of time. One of our students recommends doing a practice exam on the same day of the week for 2-3 weeks before the day of the exam. In other words, if you’re exam is scheduled for 8am on a Saturday, do a practice exam at 8am on a few Saturdays before your official test. This way, you are not only preparing for the standardized test, but also preparing your mind for that exact day and time!”
  • Don’t over-think the questions: I think it holds true for all types of standardized testing (including boards..eek!), but really relax and don’t over-think the questions. The tests are designed so that you won’t know every answer. Educated guessing based on context can help you gain a few extra points on questions that you really don’t know. Prepare as best as you can, but on the day of the test just let the cards fall where they may. If you think you don’t know the answer, ask yourself, “why are they asking this question?” Maybe something will pop into your head. 🙂 Good luck to everyone! Don’t stress too much..it’s a small stepping stone in the grand scheme of things.” (this tip came from Mallori Aschenbrenner, SCCO Class of 2013 who received the highest score on Part I of the NBEO board exams–she’s worth listening to!)

There is no magic bullet when it comes to acing the OAT. You should consider various options that work well with your learning style. Here are insights from SCCO’s students on what worked for them:

Study Option #1: Take a Prep-Course

Many SCCO students recommend the Kaplan course. Kaplan provides free practice exams, both online and in person, which can help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses. They help you get your mind wrapped around the process. Go to http://www.kaptest.com/OAT/Home/index.html and type in your zip code next to “attend a free event” near the bottom right hand side, or visit your school’s academic advising center to see if Kaplan is coming to your campus. As far as timing goes, most of our students recommend taking the Kaplan course during summer right before you take the exam rather than trying to juggle a full class load and the prep-course at the same time. For the most part, you should be good to go right after the class, but you’d be best advised to take an extra week or two to memorize the physics formulas. Overall, the most helpful thing the students reported from the Kaplan course was that the books and materials they provide and the computer-based exam simulations were most helpful. Typically our students took the OAT around two weeks after completing the Kaplan course, and utilized that time to work on practice problems. Kaplan provides a lot of homework assignments that, as well as practice tests and flash cards to supplement studying. For those who cannot afford the Kaplan course, our students still found the materials helpful.

Study option #2: Study On Your Own

Use materials from prep-courses like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and MCAT books. The Princeton Review and MCAT books are sold individually based on topics, so they’re helpful if you need improvement in specific subjects.

  • The OAT Destroyer is recommended as being helpful for Math, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Biology. http://www.orgoman.com/oatdestroyer.html
    • The OAT Achiever is a good online simulation of three full length exams that one student reported that “it really helped to get me ready for the OAT. You definitely have some good advice here. Practice tests are very helpful. Many of the tests are very similar to the actual OAT. I took the course and then did practice tests every day for the next couple of weeks to condition me. That worked out well for me.” http://www.3tquest.com/index.php?module=products&id=2
    • Chad’s videos allow you to purchase individual videos or order different packages to work on areas that you where you need more concentrated help. The videos teach shortcuts and how to derive the answer or recognize the answer quickly. These videos also help with shortcuts and simplifying information to make it more understandable. http://www.coursesaver.com/index.php

Link to a FAQ about Applicant Planning Resources and OAT Preparation: https://optometryadmissions.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/oat-preparation-and-scores.pdf 

General Resource:  http://www.studyguidezone.com/pdfs/oatteststudyguide.pdf

Blog link where used OAT materials are listed in “for sale” ads: https://optometryadmissions.com/oat-materials-for-sale/ 

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