Test prep is definitely on the minds of college-bound students and their parents. When to begin? What company to use? Are tutors worth the investment?
Although research suggests that most students experience only minimal gains from test prep, even small improvements in scores can be worth the effort.
And the work put into test prep can pay off unexpected dividends in terms of school-year academics.
Fortunately, this project doesn’t necessarily mean purchasing the most expensive package from the most prestigious company in town. There are other options, many of which can easily be explored during the summer months.
Consider some of these ideas and see where they might fit into your time at the shore:
Sign-up for the ACT or SAT Question of the Day
Since we know you’re always “connected,” why not take advantage of these free services and register? You “passively” prep by simply answering questions that sweetly pop up on your computer screen or mobile device every day. Check answers and compare how you did versus the thousands of other high school students who take these quizes like vitamins every morning. Hint: Get mom and dad to do it too.
Work the Free Online Prep
Even though the SAT and ACT are paper-and-pencil tests, you can still benefit from working with online test prep programs. Number2.com, INeedaPencil.com, and 4Tests.com offer sample tests and loads of test-taking tips (as do the College Board and the ACT). Hint: There are apps for this.
Explore Free Practice Tests
Have you ever noticed the stacks of little newsprint booklets collecting dust on a shelf in your guidance office? Here’s a secret: each one contains a full-length sample test complete with answer grids. Stop by your local high school and get a booklet or two (if they haven’t thrown them away yet). And then, get up early on Saturday morning, assign a designated timer from among household members, and take a complete test. The truly dedicated will actually do the scoring and go over results. Hint: Get an extra booklet and try competing against mom or dad—they may find the calculus a bit challenging.
Use Published Study Guides
Go straight to the source and invest in the Official SAT Study Guide and/or The Real ACT Prep Guide. All of these books contain practice tests and lots of advice. Again, because college entrance exams involve sitting at a desk and working with a No. 2 pencil, you don’t need to buy the computer software. Instead, take several published practice tests over the summer (see above). Hint: For the ACT, there’s a strong argument for looking into other resources including The Fabulous Guide to the ACT, simply because the official guide hasn’t been updated to reflect subtle changes in recent tests.
The good news is that you can work on vocabulary without looking too nerdy by downloading a few interactive “apps” for your mobile device. The flashcard vocabulary builders, especially those that allow you to enter new words like gFlash-Pro, are really effective. Or join StudyBlue nation, which added an iPad app to its arsenal of weapons. Hint: The device may set you back a little, but the software tends to be very inexpensive.
Work Puzzles and Play Board Games
While you’re sunning by the pool, grab a pencil and work some puzzles—crossword, “hangman” with a friend, or Sudoku for example. And after the sun goes down, join the family for a competitive game of Scrabble. You’d be surprised how quickly you’ll sharpen your vocabulary skills by simply using words in puzzles and word games. And Sudoku might help with the part of your mind that specializes in critical thinking and reasoning—skills tested by the SAT. Hint: There are apps for these too.
If you don’t do anything else to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, make time to read over the summer. NOT Teen Cosmo or Sports Illustrated. Try getting lists from reading-intensive history or literature classes. But if great works of literature don’t work for the beach, try magazines. Look for scientific journals or read popular culture articles in The New Yorker. Remember that magazines as well as books are available at your local library. Hint: If you prefer to take your Kindle along on vacation, use the dictionary function to look up words you don’t recognize.
It doesn’t matter what you write, but write. And write in complete sentences. Paragraphs are good too. Don’t limit your written communications to texting or IM-speak. These habits are harmful if you lose your “ear” for correct grammar and syntax. Start a blog, write grandma, bother your Congressperson, or begin drafting college essays—it really doesn’t matter. If you’re reading good books, enroll in an online literary group like the Big Read or Shelfari. Not only can you share ideas but your writing will improve, especially if you are susceptible to peer pressure and actually clean-up sentences or check spelling.
Check out iTunes University or National Public Radio for downloads and apps—basic or educational programming. You’d be surprised how much vocabulary and language usage you can absorb on the way to the beach, especially if you take the time to note and look up words you hear and don’t understand. And do something totally radical like watch the History Channel and other learning or public broadcasting programs. It’s all grist for the mill!
Use the summer months to get ready for next year, especially if you’re taking a load of Honors, AP, or IB classes. Borrow or purchase textbooks and get reading assignments—from your teacher or friends who’ve already completed the class. In addition to reading, do problem sets. Working on math skills over the summer will get you in shape for the big tests. And if you know you’re struggling in some areas, schedule quality time with a tutor. You don’t need a pricey SAT specialist to work on SAT- or ACT-related math skills. With a little dedication to task, you can kill two annoying birds with one stone.
Find a Buddy
Most of your friends are experiencing test prep anxiety. Gather a few together and form a support group to take practice tests and discuss test-taking strategies. The wise high school student learns the value of study groups early.
So the good news is that there are ways to prepare for standardized tests and still have fun. You can even get a little ahead for the next school year.
It may take self-discipline, but whatever.