Jun 25, 2009

Summer Test Prep

It’s amazing to me how thoroughly the test prep industry has saturated its market. Outside of obvious admissions process questions, test prep is the single most frequently voiced concern among parents of high school students starting down the road to college. When to begin? What company to use? What tests should be prepped? Are tutors worth the investment? The list goes on and on.

For background on standardized tests, I would refer back to comments I made in April. More recently published research indicates that most students experience only minimal gains as a result of formal test preparation classes. I would argue (with support from other researchers in the field) that even minimal improvements in scores are worth some effort. Fortunately, this effort doesn’t necessarily mean going out and purchasing the most expensive package from the most prestigious company in the area. There are other options, many of which can be explored during the summer months. While I don’t want to ruin vacation plans, I suggest looking at some of these ideas and trying to see where they might fit into time at the shore or evenings during which you’d either be Facebooking or watching fireflies do their thing in the backyard:

SAT Question of the Day: Since I know you’re on the computer, why not take advantage of this free service and register. You can “passively” prep for the SAT by simply answering the question that sweetly pops up on your screen every day. Check your answer and compare how you did versus the thousands of other high school students and college admissions counselors (like me) who take the quiz like vitamins every morning.

Free Online Prep: Keeping in mind that even though the SAT and ACT are paper-and-pencil tests, you can benefit from working with online test prep programs. Number2.com and 4Tests.com offer sample tests and loads of test-taking tips (as do the College Board and the ACT). While I prefer you take sample tests that simulate the real thing (see below), I know my audience and have a feeling you might be more likely to try computerized versions.

SAT and ACT Preparation Booklets: Remember those little paperback booklets your guidance counselor tried to hand you every time you walked in the office? I’ve got a secret for you: they each contain a full-length sample test complete with answer grids. Admissions junkies, such as myself, collect them over the years so as to amass several free full-length tests to administer as practice exams. Go back over to school (or ask me) and get a booklet or two. Get up early one Saturday morning, assign a designated timer from among household members, and take a complete test. The truly dedicated among you will actually score the thing and go over your results.

Official SAT Study Guide: As much as I hate promoting the College Board and their publications, this is really the only study guide to use. It contains 10 official practice tests (saving you the trouble of collecting old booklets) and lots of advice. Buy it on Amazon and save about $7.00. Again, because these tests involve sitting at a desk and working with a No. 2 pencil, I might not be bothered with all the software promoted by the College Board. It’s expensive and you’ll never use it. Instead, make an effort to take several of the 10 published practice tests over the course of the summer. Try to simulate test-taking conditions to the extent possible (see above).

Read: If you don’t do anything else to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, please make time to read over the summer. By this, I don’t mean Teen Cosmo or Sports Illustrated. Try to get reading lists for the fall in key classes like AP history, literature, or language. If you’re not taking AP classes, still try to find out what you’ll be expected to read next year. You can ask friends who’ve already taken the classes or maybe even contact the school. Regardless, reading ahead can really help. If you don’t want to be seen lugging around great works of literature, try magazines. But be sure your reading material is written at a level commensurate with the tests you will be taking. Look for source documents in geography or scientific journals or read popular culture articles in The New Yorker. Remember that magazines as well as books are available at your neighborhood library.

Write: I don’t care what you write, but write. And I mean write in complete sentences. Paragraphs are good too. Just don’t limit your written communications to texting or IM-speak. These habits are actually harmful insofar as you begin to lose your “ear” for correct grammar and syntax. Start a blog, write grandma, bother your Congressperson, or begin drafting your college essays—it really doesn’t matter. If you’re reading some good books, enroll in an online literary group like Ning or Shelfari. Not only will you be able to share ideas, but you may find the writing experience very useful particularly if you succumb to intellectual peer pressure and actually clean-up your sentences or check your spelling.

Find a Buddy: Lots of your friends are going through the same test prep anxiety. Gather a few together and form a support group to take practice tests or otherwise kvetch about college admission. The wise high school student learns about the value of study groups early. They work as long as you don’t spend the entire time socializing. Even then, you might be surprised how much you learn simply by getting together united in a common cause. You could even treat yourself to a showing of the Scarsdale High movie on college admissions. It’s best seen with a group of your peers.

So the good news is that there are ways to prepare for standardized tests without ruining the summer. It may take a little self-discipline, but whatever.

1 comment:

  1. Great suggestions and a thorough variety of them - thanks, Ms. G!