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So You Plan To Study Abroad? Here”s Everything You Want To Know About Standardized Testing

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By Rhea Kumar:

They make us stay up late at night, poring over thick, unwieldy books. They make us struggle with OMR sheets, graphing calculators and mind-boggling words. And before test day, they make us toss and turn in our beds all night, wondering, “What if I don’t ace this one? Where does my future lie?”

testsThese are the multiple exams that one takes to study abroad, known collectively as standardized testing.

Gone are the days when the boy or girl next door who went to ‘Amreeka’ or ‘Lundun’ for higher education became a local celebrity. Today, applying abroad for undergraduate studies has become a norm for many young people in Indian cities. Globalization, liberal mindsets towards the ‘West’ and the competitiveness of our own system of higher education have made many students consider colleges abroad as their first option. With an increasing number of students choosing to study abroad, standardized tests like the SAT, the TOEFL and the GRE have become as commonplace as engineering or medicine entrances. A whole industry has spawned around standardized tests, ranging from a plethora of ominous looking guides, coaching centres, counsellors, consultants and the list goes on.

So what are these tests that are needed for applying abroad? The SAT Reasoning test is the first and most basic test that is required by ALL universities for undergraduate programs in the United States of America, and by some universities in other countries such as Singapore and Australia. The SAT consists of three sections: reading, writing and mathematics. The reading and mathematics sections are entirely multiple-choice questions while the writing section requires you to write an essay on a given topic. A perfect score on SAT is 2400 and most students applying to top colleges will aim for a minimum of 2200 or even 2300. Most universities in the US will also require a minimum of two SAT Subject Tests as well, which test aptitude for a particular subject such as Mathematics, World History, English Literature, Chemistry or Physics. TOEFL and IELTS are English proficiency exams for the US and UK respectively.

At the graduate level, the testing requirements are different. Graduate programs in management require the GMAT while GRE is required for all other graduate programs. The tests for English proficiency at the graduate level remain the same: TOEFL or IELTS.

When applying abroad, the multitude of tests one has to give can be daunting and overwhelming. For those students whose hearts are set on going abroad, the pressure to perform well can be intense and the fear of failure can be paralyzing and counterproductive.

So all of you who get psyched out by these tests: sit back, calm down and take a deep breath. Standardized tests are not difficult; in fact, most of them are easier than the school exams you take. Moreover, they do not really matter that much in the scheme of things.

Several common misconceptions exist about standardized tests; let’s look at a few:

1. Excellent Score = Dream College: While a good score on the SAT is essential if you are planning to apply to top colleges, it is not the only thing that matters on your application. Colleges look at an application from a very holistic point of view; school grades, extra-curricular activities, letters of recommendation and essays matter as much as SAT scores, if not more. Even for students scoring between 2300 and 2400 on SAT, the acceptance rate in top colleges is only about 15-18%. An excellent score may enhance your application, but it does not guarantee a place in any college. So work hard and do your best, but don’t sweat too much if the result is not in line with your expectations.

2. Coaching Centres Help Improve Your Score: A good proportion of students taking these tests enrol with a coaching program for preparation. Most of these carry a steep price tag. The truth is that coaching really doesn’t help much in preparing for the SAT, except for the fact that it builds a routine for you and provides you with vast amounts of study material. It is entirely possible for students to buy this material themselves and study on their own steam, with the same or even better results. Think about it: have you ever gone to a coaching centre to learn how to walk? The skills tested on standardized tests such as TOEFL or SAT are developed throughout your schooling years. If you haven’t acquired these skills in twelve years of schooling, it is quite unlikely that you will acquire them in three or six months. No coaching centre can teach you how to analyze passages or write effective essays. Moreover, the essays are meant to evaluate how effectively and cohesively you can organize and present your thoughts, they don’t test your knowledge about a particular topic.

3. The More, The Merrier: Advanced Placement courses are offered by American schools to their students and help to build extra credits before applying to colleges. They are an established part of the American education system. Many Indian schools following the IB program offer these courses in school itself, but students studying in CBSE or ICSE schools need to prepare for these on their own. Often students feel that if they take the Advanced Placement courses, it will put them into favour with colleges by showcasing their ‘academic rigor’. They couldn’t be more wrong. Colleges abroad do not expect Indian students to take these courses. So if you plan to take an AP exam, only expect extra credit from a college, nothing more. And don’t fall into ‘The More the Merrier’ trap. You might consider using the time to work on more crucial parts of your application.

These are a few things to keep in mind while preparing for a standardized test. Don’t overburden yourself, keep a cool head and give it your best shot! And remember, you can always take a standardized test again if something goes terribly wrong. Unlike board exams, they are not a one-time gamble!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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