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Top 10 Test Prep Traps, Part II

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part II

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?

Nope.

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.

Benefits of Test Prep

You’ve spent countless years in school studying for tests and exams, writing papers, and doing group projects. You may be with aplomb that your grades can secure you that spot in your dream university and that you have just enough extracurricular activities on your resume, however there still is that dreaded test standing in your way. Whether you will take the SAT or ACT, the classes you took in school most likely weren’t designed to prepare you for your entrance exam.

Just as you prepared for your work in high school, it’s important to prepare for these exams because we want you to be able to select your undergraduate education, rather than allowing a college or university to select you. SAT and ACT scores are important for securing that acceptance letter, but if you need more detailed reasoning, here are our top benefits of preparing for your entrance exam with test prep courses.

Benefit #1: Test Prep Courses Teach the Exam Format

Test preparation courses teach you about the test and the various sections that are included. Understanding the format of the exam ahead of time will allow you to move quickly through the exam as you better understand what is expected of you. If you don’t need to spend time reading the introduction to each section, you’ll be able to jump right in and have more time to answer those tricky questions!

Benefit #2: Test Prep Courses Provide You with Timed Practice Exams and Evaluate Performance

Practice exams can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses, so you know what areas you need to focus your preparation. You’ll develop time management skills for the test as each section is strictly timed and rushing through questions can hurt your score.

After your practice test is scored, you’ll be able to examine what questions you guessed incorrectly or weren’t able to answer. Reviewing your work will allow you and your course coach to find a trend in the types of questions that gave you trouble, so you can focus on those areas as you prepare. If you nailed the math section, focus your efforts on writing and critical reading!

Timing is extremely important for these exams. If you discover you rushed through everything and finished early, but answered some of the easy questions wrong, take your time and read questions more thoroughly next time. If you didn’t finish in time, the course coaches will be able to provide proven test-taking tips and study guides to help you answer efficiently and accurately.

Benefit #3: Test Prep Courses Provide you with the Tools to Improve Your Score!

The points above prepared you for this outcome! Test prep courses can help you improve your score as you learn proven techniques for succeeding on the test. You’ll learn the format of the test and ways to manage your time while answering the questions correctly. You’ll learn how to craft responses that include each of the required sections and review some of those difficult Latin roots. By discovering your weaknesses, tutors are able to tailor their lessons to help you improve your score by tens or hundreds of points!

If you rocked your standardized exam, congratulations! If you need some more help preparing for your entrance exam, we’re always here to help and can provide you with a solution that works for your schedule. We want you to prepare effectively to overcome this hurdle!

Springtime for Sophomores

Seniors have heard back from their schools and are finalizing their college choice in preparation for the May 1 deadline. Juniors are taking the ACT or SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams. Those two grades have clearly defined paths to college, but what about Sophomores? While spring of sophomore year seems far away from applying to college, there are three things you can do to strengthen your future college applications.

1. Take an ACT and SAT practice test and determine which test is a better test for you.

We recommend that the students take both an ACT and an SAT practice test near the end or just after their sophomore year. That way, you go into fall of junior year with a plan. Are you in range to be a National Merit scholar? If so, you can sign up for one of our summer classes in preparation for the PSAT. Do you play a winter sport and a spring sport? Another great reason to prepare in the summer and take one of the fall tests! Every student is different. Taking a practice test at the beginning of the summer ensures your student has time to decide which test and test date is best!

2. Finish the year with your highest possible grades.

Yes, this seems like an obvious one, but it really is important! If you have a bad test day, you can retake your SAT or ACT or driver’s license test, but once sophomore year is over, you are locked into those grades. Grades are a key piece of college admissions puzzle, so it is crucial to do your best.

3. Take advantage of the summer.

While it is tempting to spend the summer relaxing before the stress of junior year, you post-sophomore year summer is a great time to get a jump start on college. You are interested in botany but your high school doesn’t offer it? Take a course at a local college or community college. Not only will it look great on your resume, but it will be really interesting! Want to start saving money for college? Get a job! Jobs look great on your resume and give you a great opportunity to make business connections. An anecdotal example: my grandfather worked as a delivery runner for a law firm one summer; after graduating law school, he was hired by that same law firm! Too busy to have the set schedule of a job or class? You can always volunteer, write a paper to submit to your favorite magazine, research colleges, or take test prep!

Most sophomores have no idea where they might want to attend college, and that is perfectly okay! Following these three steps will ensure that when they do choose where to apply, they will have the highest amount of possibilities.

Linden Schult is a Master Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

The Super Bowl and Test Prep

The Huffington Post Blog had an interesting post by Nancy Berk, Ph. D., titled “College Admission Tips to Learn From the Super Bowl.” It is a terrific, and timely, read, and we hope everyone gets a chance to check it out.  While all ten of her lessons apply to college admissions, a two of them apply to test prep as well.

Lesson 4: Have a strategic game plan.

Should you take the ACT or the SAT? The GRE or the GMAT? Is a standardized test required for entrance at the school(s) you are interested in? We strongly recommend you take a practice test before starting so that you can see which test fits your strengths. We offer free ACT and SAT practice tests every Saturday at our office – sign up here! For other testing, give us a call!

Lesson 2: Know the rules of the game. Do your research. Ask questions. Talk to those who’ve been there including college students, their parents, teachers and coaches.

Is there a guessing penalty on your test? How much time do you have for each section? Familiarizing yourself with the structure, timing, and scoring of your standardized test will help you feel more comfortable and confident.

Do your research, take a practice test, and learn the rules of the game!

One more important lesson: don’t wait until the last minute!

Author Linden Schult is a Master Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.