Top 10 Test Prep Traps – Part 1 of 3
At GSP, we understand that the amount of information floating around in the world about how to prepare to take your test(s), which test(s) to prepare for, etc., can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, some of it is also terrible advice! Here are some of the most common test prep traps we see students and parents fall into. From wasting time and money to actually making your college applications less effective, these missteps can be easy to make. Fortunately, we’re here to answer your questions and point out some potential pitfalls!
1. Taking the Test Too Early
Both the SAT and the ACT are designed to be taken in your junior or senior year. Taking a test – even a practice test – too soon can add unnecessary anxiety to a process that is, for many students and parents, already a stress-fest. We suggest taking your first practice test no sooner than May or June of your sophomore year. Before that point, you probably won’t have completed the course work that the SAT or ACT test, so your scores won’t really tell you much that’s useful.
What to do instead: Take challenging classes, read a lot, and pursue activities that interest you. You’ll be more prepared when it is time to take the test, and you’ll have more to put on your applications than just test scores.
2. Taking the “Real” Test Before You’ve Taken a Practice Test
No, the PLAN and/or PSAT don’t count. You should have taken *at least* one full-length practice test before you sign up for the official test. Yes, there’s a chance that you’ll take it once, get a score that makes you happy, and move on with your life – but wouldn’t that chance be increased if you took a practice test and spent some time preparing before the official test? It’s more likely that you’ll get a score that you feel needs improving, and the only thing you gain from taking (and paying for) that first test is the realization that you need to study. Guess what else could have told you that – for free? A practice test.
What to do instead: Take a practice test. Preferably, one of each – an SAT and an ACT – to see which one suits you best.
3. Taking the “Real” Test When You Know You’re Not Ready
Let’s pretend I’m signed up for the ACT this Saturday. And I bought some prep books a few months ago and I meant to study but my sports/work/whatever schedule has been, you know, and I haven’t even opened them. And I’m getting over the flu, and I have a lock-in the night before, so I know I won’t sleep, and also I may have sprained my thumb so I can’t really hold a pencil. What do I do?
Spoiler alert: Skip it. Please please please skip it.
“I just want to have an official score!” Why? Is this your absolute last chance before your applications are due? If not, what’s the point of having a score if it’s not one that will help you?
“But I can always take it again!” That’s mostly true. But why take it now, when you know you’re not prepared? Also, just because you can take it again, that doesn’t mean you should. (See #5)
What to do instead: Take a nap. Seriously, it sounds like you could use it. Then make a study plan for the next test date, and stick to it.
4. Taking the “Real” Test Over, and Over, and Over Again
So you’ve got a study plan and/or a tutor and you’re working hard towards a test date a several weeks or months in the future. But there’s a test before then! Shouldn’t you just take it anyway, just to see?
Taking the ACT/SAT is not actually that fun. There is, actually, a maximum number of times you can take the test, but most students hit their own personal limit before they reach that maximum. Students have a lot of competing priorities to juggle, and spending a Saturday taking one more ACT just to see if something magical happens is probably not the best use of your time.
Also, while different colleges have different policies, some schools do ask that you supply all of your scores to them. Additionally, even if the school doesn’t require all of your scores, sometimes the scores are sent anyway. It’s a pretty common error. We at GSP suggest that you assume your colleges will see all of your scores.
What to do instead: You’ve got a plan! Stick with your plan! Or, if you don’t have a plan, you know, make a plan. Take the test again only if you’re ready and pretty confident it’s a good use of time.
If you really want to practice, take a practice test.
Watch for Part 2 of this post, where we discuss the importance of setting clear, realistic goals, and picking the right test for you!
Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.