Apps to Help You Test Prep

Do you have apps on your smartphone?  We suspect that most of them are probably fun ones.  Perhaps you like to nerd it up with Words with Friends or take over kingdoms in Clash of Clans.  Or you like sending the picture of the moment on Instagram.  The top of your app-favorite list probably isn’t…a study app. But, as you know, we are always trying to help you improve and get better for these tests so today we wanted to review the official mobile applications for both SAT and ACT, as well as throw out a couple free apps to help you study when you’re not in class with us, doing homework for us, or studying on your own.  We aren’t trying to take up all your time with test prep – just use some of the unused current bandwidth you possess.


SAT Question of the Day App

Unfortunately, dear readers, this is only available on for iOS devices.  However, the price is right: free.  Question of the Day is a gambit that has been around for a while.  You get an authentic SAT question – you try and answer it, and you are given detailed explanations as to why an answer may be correct or incorrect.  This is a snapshot of the close-in work we do with our students, and it’s an excellent way to prepare.  We don’t believe in “question answering” in which you just answer a bunch of questions and get told solely whether they are correct or wrong. You have to know why you got a problem wrong.  Your teacher needs to identify your patterns of weakness so you can address them together.

This app includes the question as well as the most recent 7 questions.  They aren’t exactly giving away the farm but it’s not bad, either.  It’s simple, clean, and well done.  Now if only the SAT was like that!


ACT Student App

ACT, which prides itself on being the “big tent” test, definitely has more questions for you, but like College Board, only services iOS (I have a sneaking suspicion given how much money these organizations spend on research that they found out their target demographic overwhelmingly uses iOS devices).

The ACT’s app is generous in that it also allows you online access to your account, where you can see previous test scores.  It also gives you access to a bank of questions.  Now – I didn’t find out exactly how many.  In prepping to write this article I tried 20 questions in each category – English, Math, Reading, and Science – and I didn’t get any repeats.  I guess the point is – you’ll have more than 7!  And remember these questions should be supplements to the work you are already doing.  Have a few minutes in between class and are in “school/nerd” mode – do a question.  It won’t hurt, I promise!


Vocabulary Apps

For as long as I’ve been doing test prep (this is my 10th year) I’ve warned students about the dangers of traditional flash cards: word on the front, definition on the back.  I know that many of us have used traditional flash cards to much success.  But it’s short-term success.  It’s a study method that places these items into our short-term memory, and then those memories fade with lack of use.  I propose a stickier method: write a definitional sentence on the back of the card.  For example, if you use the word, “holistic,” write a sentence like, “The teacher promised to grade the tests in a holistic manner, taking not just style and grammar, but content, into account.”  Now, the sentence doesn’t need to be as nerdy as that – it just needs to convey its idea.  For example, “gregarious” means lively and outgoing.  What if you have an “Uncle Greg” who is gregarious?  That sentence would be a perfect fit for you as a memory device.  Be creative – the more you invest in creating the right type of sentence, the more likely you are to remember the word!

That being said – if you have a tried and true study method that works for you, that’s great! I continue to speak about these apps as supplements to what you are already doing, so if you are creating flashcards in the method that I recommend, you can use some apps to acquire new words which you can then jot down and create your own flashcards for.

One of them is, unsurprisingly called, SAT Flashcards.  Nothing flash-y about this app (couldn’t help myself!) but it’s quite effective.  You can go through the whole deck, starring ones you don’t know well.  When you’re ready to step up your game SAT Up has more flashcards as well as a “synonyms game” with over 1000 words. Of course, another wonderful option is Get Smarter Prep’s Twitter (@getsmarterprep) which Tweets a Vocabulary Word of the Day, as well as additional study tips and information!

Stephen Heiner is a former Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

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