Long-Term "Test Prep": Building Skills & Gaining Perspective

The parents I work with all have one thing in common: they want their students to have every opportunity to succeed.  Some parents (and students) want to maximize these opportunities, beginning when students are anticipating or just starting high school.  Here are my suggestions for working toward full preparation for college admissions testing, starting early!

Although there is such a thing as  too  early...

Although there is such a thing as too early...

The first step is probably what most parents already know: encourage your student to apply himself.  It takes some students a little bit of time to grasp that fact that, for college applications, things "start mattering" in 9th grade.  You can tell a student this fact all day long, but each student has to take ownership of this realization for himself.  One of the things that can help is making college visits early on (I did my first official college tour the fall of my sophomore year, but I had been on college campuses with summer camps since 7th grade).  Actually seeing what the goal is can sometimes help students have more motivation.

Okay, that general stuff aside, test-prep specifics:

  • The PSAT: Most students take the PSAT in school in October of 10th grade and October of 11th grade (some schools start in 9th grade!).  Encourage your student to take the PSAT seriously each time!  It will allow him to get a feel for the SAT and also will give him a guideline for where he needs to work the most as he looks toward the big test.
  • Math: I cannot stress enough the importance of staying on top of math skills.  These skills build on each other, and any gaps in understanding will affect a student's performance on future, related concepts.  Using after-school hours to have him meet with his teacher or setting him up with a regular weekly tutor are the best options to make sure things don't snowball if you know math has been an issue in the past.
  • Reading: Read.  Read.  Read.  I encourage my students to keep up with in-school reading as a bare minimum.  On top of that, they should participate in classroom discussions so that their brains are processing what they're reading and so that they learn how to pull out important information from their reading.  These suggestions are not just for English class!  Much of the reading students encounter on the SAT and ACT is actually non-fiction, so reading assignments in history and science are also crucial!  To improve reading even more, I encourage students to read for fun (Am I crazy or what?).  They don't have to cuddle up with Jane Austen; they can pick up a copy of The Washington Post and read the sports section or human interest stories or, for more advanced students, a copy of The New Yorker or The Atlantic (although some parents may want to screen which articles are read in these magazines).  The point is that they are being exposed to new vocabulary (which they should also be learning in school!) and are having to process what they are reading.  Reading speed also improves with reading volume.
  • Writing: Actually read the comments that teachers make on essays.  If the opportunity for re-writes is given, take advantage of it!  Keep up with grammar lessons, too.  On both the Redesigned SAT and the ACT, the essay portion is optional; the grammar portion is required.

A final note: I strongly encourage students to consider Latin as a foreign language option, especially if the high school has a reputable program.  I'm a little biased, I admit: I earned my degree in Classics!  Bias aside, Latin gives students a strong foundation in English grammar and vocabulary, along with the analytical skills that are applied in mathematics.

In a nutshell, I agree with what the College Board says about being ready for the SAT: "The best way to get ready for the SAT is to take challenging courses, study hard, and read and write in and outside of the classroom."  The same could be said of getting ready for the ACT.

I also believe, of course, that test prep can help struggling students score well and strong students score even better.  View my upcoming courses here or contact me about private tutoring programs.