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!
In Part 1 of this post, we discussed when and how many times to take the test. Next, we’ll review some important considerations in choosing which test (ACT? SAT?) and setting a good goal score. Here are some common mistakes:
5. Not Having a Clear Goal Score
“I want a good score.”
“I just want to do better.”
“I want it to be as high as possible.”
If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, setting up a study plan, either by yourself or with a tutor, is nearly impossible. There’s a lot of strategy involved in determining what components of a score can be improved, and by how much, and in how much time, for each student. Your practice test score, the amount of time you have, and the colleges you’re considering can all help you (and us) come up with a clear target for your preparation efforts. Having that target really shapes what your preparation process will look like.
What to do instead: Do your research, take a practice test, research the score ranges for the colleges you’re considering.
6. Not Having a Realistic Goal Score
Setting a goal is important, but setting a realistic goal is also critical. A lot of students know (of) someone who got a 35 or a 36 (2350-2400 for the SAT folks) and think, “If they can do it, so can I!”
They think if they just work hard enough they can turn an 18 in to a 36. No problem! Right?
How many students from the class of 2013 got a 36? 0.06%.
So you think, OK, I don’t need a 36. How about a 32? Only 2% of students get a 32 or above.
It’s important to realize that most people don’t break 30 on the ACT. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t work hard, or that they’re not intelligent, or that they won’t get into a great college, or do well once they get to college.
The ACT is intended to be difficult. Studying, practicing, and working with a great tutor can all boost your score, but it’s also important to weigh that studying and practicing against all of the other things that will help you get into college and just generally have a decent life.
You know, like homework. And activities. And sleep.
What to do instead: Look at the colleges on your list, your practice test scores, and talk with a tutor or someone else who can help you come up with a good plan. The amount your score can increase depends a lot on your starting point, which aspects of the test are easier or harder for you, and the amount of time and energy you’re willing or able to dedicate to preparing.
7. Dividing Your Energy
Let’s pretend Jane has decided to focus on the SAT. She’s working towards a specific test date, and everything is on track. Look out, though! Here comes an ACT test date right in the middle of her weeks-long SAT prep schedule. Maybe, think Jane and her parents, it might be a good idea to take some time out of the SAT prep schedule and do some ACT work?
The ACT and SAT are actually pretty different tests, and colleges accept either one. With very rare exception, there’s nothing to be gained from switching midstream from one test to the other. If anything, Jane will end up more confused and using the wrong strategy on the wrong test – hurting either or both of her scores.
What to do instead: Take a practice version of each test (SAT and ACT) at the beginning of the preparation process so that you can make an educated choice about which test works better for you, then make a study plan and stick with it!
8. Committing to One Test too Soon
Here’s another scenario: Jane hasn’t taken any practice tests, but she knows she wants to focus on the ACT because she heard the SAT is really hard and has too many sections. Also her older brother John took the SAT and didn’t do very well.
Jane begins preparing for the ACT, but struggles with a couple of the sections. On a whim, finally, she takes a practice SAT, and although she’s been practicing the ACT for months, her SAT score is considerably higher.
What to do instead: Take a practice version of each test at the beginning of the preparation process! Many students will have comparable scores on the two tests, but feel more comfortable with one or the other. Other students will do somewhat better on one or the other right away, so it makes sense to stick with the one that is working! Either way, by taking both practice tests, you don’t have to wonder what you’re missing.
Watch for Part 3 of this post, where we talk about Super-Scoring and scholarships!
Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.