When studying for high-stakes standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT, college test prep services can help students improve their scores and reduce their anxiety on test day. Some students study well on their own, but many benefit from outside help.
Such services range from free aids on the College Board website, to study guides and books available at your local library, to classes and one-on-one tutoring. At Biltmore Tutoring, we have found that a dedicated focus on test prep for 6-8 weeks (either through a class or private tutoring) is the most effective option.
Who benefits most from formal college prep services?
“We have found that many of the best classroom students are the most methodical, and therefore tend to be most negatively impacted by the ‘timed’ nature of the ACT and SAT,” explained Stacey Caskey, owner at Biltmore Tutoring. “For those students, test prep is the answer.”
“They know how to do all of the problems, but they simply run out of time. We also see a number of students who have outstanding scores, but are striving to maximize that score. However, any student can do well if they are motivated and focused, and can dedicate some time and effort towards beating these tests. Our system involves small group classes or individualized private tutoring that uses scientific tools, and continually narrows the focus towards areas of opportunity — those are the areas where students can increase their scores the most.”
Can some students do just as well on these timed multiple-choice tests?
“There are students who can improve by working on their own, of course (although the College Board and ACT say this is not possible). There are many test prep books and videos available that students can use to practice; but that implies a level of discipline that can be really tough on students who are already overwhelmed with school and extracurricular activities,” Caskey said. “But I mean, really — is there anything that is more boring, and easier to distract a student from, than sitting in front of a computer and watching a video where someone works out a complex math problem? Our experience is that the video-based test prep content, such as what you will find at Khan Academy, just does not work very well at all.”
Another benefit of having a great tutor rather than ‘practicing at home alone’ is that when you get stuck, there is an expert sitting across the table from you who can explain something in a slightly different way, and help you understand the concepts and especially the strategies showcased in the exams.
What do you mean by strategies?
The SAT is going to test students in Reading, Math, and Writing/Language with an optional essay. The ACT will test in English, Math, Reading and Science along with an optional essay. If you aren’t totally up to speed on the content, are there any tips or tricks to earn a better score? Can you ‘game the test,’ so to speak?
“There are certainly strategies to taking these tests. We don’t necessarily call it ‘gaming,’ but getting tips about time management, being familiar with the type of questions and concepts on the tests, getting insights into what the test is really asking for, will all help a student do well,” Caskey said. “Think about it this way…you’re at the testing center and suddenly you’re in the middle of a math section, and the timer is ticking, and you’re being tested on material that comes from fourth grade, twelfth grade, and everything in between! That’s nerve-wracking and stressful. Sometimes you have to put some thought into that old material like ‘mean, median and mode,’ and that takes time. So, if you can use strategies on some of those questions, you’re going to put yourself in a better place from the standpoint of time management. Just to give one example, we show our students that the answer choices on both Math tests are in ascending order, such as A) 2, B) 4, C) 6, D) 8, E) 10. So we recommend that if you’re going to plug in and try to solve for X, that you start with C. If you plug that number in and it isn’t large enough, then you can eliminate A, B and C. Shazam, so now you’re down to two answer choices! You’re coming up with the correct answer without going through all the steps of solving the problem. It’s all about improving your odds on every single question. Employing strategies about how to pace yourself, and what to do if you don’t know an answer, will help build confidence and relieve stress.
“Taking repeated practice tests, like what you will see some test prep companies offering, or what you see when students practice at home, likely won’t improve your score. Learning time-tested strategies, working with a tutor, and gaining confidence will almost certainly do that.”