15 July 2008 09:07 AM

Surviving the SATs/ACTs

by Dr. Rick
Have a college-bound teenager in the house? If so, this is the time of year to start thinking about the SAT/ACT ritual. Most colleges and universities require one or the other (or either) as a part of their admissions process. The tests are nothing to stress over – if everyone’s done his or her part.

Here are some things to think over before the tests.

For students:

Times have changed since your parents have gone to school, and just about everything else has changed, too. But here’s something that hasn’t changed: The best way to do well in school is to go to class every day, take good notes, study to do well on tests, and, if you need it, get help early and not wait until it’s too late.

The old fable about the grasshopper and the ant still holds up. The grasshopper, ignoring the future, doesn’t survive the winter. The ant, on the other hand, works to prepare for the hard times ahead and lives to tell about it.

Neither of these tests compares to a cold, dark winter, of course, but if you want to eliminate a lot of needless stress, keep yourself on a disciplined routine of study, balanced with fun, friends, extracurriculars, and you’ll do well.

1. Have a “study buddy.” A study buddy is someone you like and admire whom you can rely on daily to keep you on schedule. It’s a reciprocal relationship; you help her, she’ll help you. If you’re a “word” person, good in English but not so confident in math, find a study buddy who’s a “numbers” person who could use your help with English. Everyone wins. Make sure you understand homework assignments, projects, and responsibilities for special events. Know what’s required of you. Know when it’s due. Iron out dicey skills that you’re not confident about. Talk, email, IM, or phone each evening (ten minutes tops) and go over what’s due tomorrow. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Then, get to work.

2. Know the difference between the SAT and the ACT. Generally, the SAT is an assessment of your reasoning skills, how logically you think. The ACT is more content specific, following a typical high school curriculum. It used to be that colleges and universities required one or the other. Not anymore. Most schools will accept one or the other. So, choose the one that’s better for you.

3. Prepare. You can do this on your own if you’re very brave. Or you can prepare with your study buddy or even a group of study buddies. That’s what I recommend. There’s strength in numbers, after all. Share your strengths with the others. Make it a team effort. Encourage and support each other. A third way to prepare is to enroll in a test-prep class. Again, you can do this alone or with your friends.

4. Practice. The advantage of test-prep classes is that you’ll take actual SATs or ACTs in your preparations. This is excellent practice. Practice is what athletes, performers, and student drivers do to build their self-assurance. Practice, as they say, makes perfect, and it certainly builds confidence. When you take the actual test, you’ll be familiar with the format, you’ll have reviewed skills, and you’ll know practical strategies – like when you should guess at answers, how to budget your time, or how to eliminate those pesky “sort-of-right” multiple choice answers in favor the “exactly-right” ones.

5. Start early. Don’t wait until a few weeks before the test. Or worse, days, even hours. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen. Lots of your classmates will do this. They’re dumb. You can’t prepare for these tests by cramming. Just as with any long-term project, do a little bit at a time, master skills and content slowly so they’ll stay with you. If you need help, you’ll have started early enough to get it.

Up next, I’ll review tips for parents on the rest of my SAT/ACT survival guide…




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