When students come to my tutoring center, they have one very specific goal: to improve their score on the SAT or ACT. I’m happy to help them achieve that goal, but as a professional educator, I have my own motivation. I want to help my students with a lot more than just one or two tests. Yeah, you a great test score to get into your top choice college, but I also want you to be ready to succeed once you get there. When you look at the SAT and ACT as just one part of an educational process, you’ll see that the benefits of prepping for these tests go way beyond your official Test Day.
1.) Reading Comprehension
Imagine yourself as a college freshman on the first day of class. You’re sitting in Psychology 101 with your pencil sharpened and notebook open – or maybe your iPad fully charged. The professor spends the whole class going over the syllabus and telling you what a famous psychologist he is. In the last minute of class, he tells you “read chapters 1 through 3, and we’ll discuss them tomorrow.”
College professors don’t spoon feed information or go over every detail during class time. They tell you what you’re expected to learn and use class time to discuss their favorite aspects. It’s up to you to learn everything else by reading the text. I spend a lot of time teaching my students active reading strategies to help improve their SAT and ACT reading comprehension scores. Those strategies don’t become obsolete once you get into college. Use them to make sure the time you spend reading your college textbooks results in the maximum comprehension and retention.
2.) Math Skills
Once again, imagine yourself as a college freshman, but now you’re sitting in Intro to Calculus. The teacher puts an equation on the board and carefully explains how to take the derivative. However, she wastes no time explaining the steps from Algebra 1 and 2 that are needed to complete the problem. If you’re like most of my students, you might still struggle with factoring, imaginary numbers, and the quadratic formula, even after completing all your algebra classes. Fortunately, SAT prep is one more chance to identify the topics you haven’t mastered yet and practice them until you do. This will set you up for success in your college level math classes.
3.) Writing Skills
When I teach my SAT/ACT combo class, the topic I look forward to the most is English 2: Punctuation. This might seem like a boring subject, but I swear it changes people’s lives! One by one, I go through the six most important comma rules, then show my students how to correctly use semicolons, colons, dashes, and apostrophes. Knowing these rules makes them more skillful and confident writers; they’re more willing to risk writing complex sentences and less likely to embarrass themselves when posting on Twitter or emailing a professor. Using SAT and ACT prep classes to master these technical details of writing helps my students to focus on the information and ideas in their college papers rather than struggling with the grammar.
The most recent revision of the SAT has diminished the importance of vocabulary to the overall score, and as a result I don’t spend as much time teaching it as I used to. I think this is unfortunate because when you learn a new vocabulary word, you have it for the rest of your life. You get to use it in conversations, emails, blogs, and, of course, college papers. A strong vocabulary makes one sound “educated,” and that could make the difference in a job interview. If you’d like to invest some time in building your vocabulary, try studying from my vocabulary quizlets.
5.) Learning the Value of Studying
One aspect of the SAT and ACT that sets them apart from school tests is that you can take the SAT and ACT as many times as you like until you are satisfied with your score. This means you can take the test, study, then take it again to see the effect of your hard work. This process helps you really appreciate the difference studying can make, which will motivate you to study your hardest for your college midterms and finals.
6.) Gauging the Amount of Time You Need to Study
A week or two before each administration of the SAT and ACT, I get a call from a parent asking if I will tutor their son or daughter. My standard reply is “I wish you had called me two months ago!” One week of studying, while it’s better than nothing, is not enough for a test as comprehensive as the SAT or ACT. You should ideally start an SAT or ACT prep program six months before your official test, as I outline in this blog. The SAT or ACT will probably be the most significant test you take as a high school student, and the process of preparing for it will convince you that all-nighters are not the best plan for success in college either.
7.) Strategies for Multiple Choice Questions
College is full of multiple choice tests, and test prep classes are full of strategies for approaching these specific types of questions. From backtracking and number picking in the math section to prediction versus elimination strategies for reading and writing, the advice your test prep teacher shares will come in handy throughout your time in college.
8.) Knowing When to Guess and Move On
Often, a test isn’t about what you know, but about what you can show in a limited amount of time. People criticize the SAT and ACT because this isn’t how things work in “the real world,” but it’s exactly how things will work on your college midterms and finals. One thing I go over with all my test prep students is how to avoid getting caught up on one question, and instead invest the most time where they will get the most points. Once they get this trick, they can apply it to all their college tests.
9.) Building Stamina for Taking a long test
When I was a student at Lehigh University, our final exams were always three hours long. This grueling enough, but sometimes we got scheduled for two finals on the same day! After college, the exams you need to take for any kind of professional license can be even worse. Chances are the SAT or ACT is the first time you’ll be expected to put forth your best mental effort for a sustained three hours, but it probably won’t be the last. What I’ve noticed over my years as a test prep teacher is that students who struggle with maintaining their focus for their first full length practice test show marked improvement as they gain more experience. The graphic below does a great job of showing you exactly what I’ve observed.
10.) Prep for the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, and Others
Getting your bachelor’s degree might not be the end of your college story. If you want to go on to medical school, law school, or even want a master’s degree, there will most likely be another standardized test as a part of the application process. Building your test taking skills while you’re still in high school will lead to more success in this part of your career, too.