Thinking About Test Prep: It’s Never Too Early

July 19, 2017 by Michelle Reynard

Although, many of us are only a few weeks into summer vacation, for others the countdown to the new school year has already begun. Anticipation and anxiety often intermingle as thoughts turn to the year ahead and coming milestones. For many returning high school students, college admissions tests are the main cause of apprehension.

We frequently hear from parents who are looking one or more years ahead at testing goals and seeking strategies or interventions that will provide their children with the best chance for success. Brain training software and other programs can help improve student stamina, processing, reading and math skills before these important assessments, but there are also a number of other test prep things you can do at home to prepare.

Do Your Research

Much anxiety comes from fear of the unknown. Fortunately, there is an abundance of information available about college entrance exams (SAT and ACT) that details exactly what to expect. Comprehensive format breakdowns are available online and in hard copy. Talk to your teenager about the different sections of the test. Discuss time allotted for each and the types of questions to expect. Understanding that the ACT includes a science section may impact the decision about which entrance exam to take. Knowing that the reading portion of the SAT will contain 5 passages, with 10-11 questions each, can help students pace themselves during the exam and make the content feel less overwhelming.

The same can be said for understanding that the SAT has two math sections, and a calculator cannot be used on the shorter portion or that both parts are predominantly multiple choice, but also contain questions without answers, where students will have to solve problems and enter answers on a grid instead. Since writing is optional for both, it’s also helpful to look into potential colleges or universities in advance to see whether or not they require the essay. The more students understand about what to expect from the assessments, the more comfortable they will ultimately be when the time comes.

Purchase a Test Prep Manual

Standardized test taking is a skill that requires preparation and practice. While there are many online alternatives and daily test prep question apps, having a resource that looks as close as possible to the actual assessment style can be beneficial. Popular options include the SAT Blue Book (The Official SAT Study Guide), Kaplan SAT Premier, Princeton Review’s Cracking the SAT, The Official ACT Pre Guide, Barron’s New SAT, and Barron’s ACT 36. Most contain full length practice tests, answers, and tutorials in addition to practical strategies. Some even suggest a schedule or timeline for covering all relevant material before the exam date.

Take Practice Tests

There are many benefits to taking timed practice tests before a college entrance exam. In addition to helping build stamina and pacing, this type of preparation can identify individual strengths and areas of concern. Knowledge about each can be used to develop strategies for how to approach material. At times, learning what doesn’t work during these sessions can be as valuable as recognizing what does. For example, if anxiety over a challenging question prevented a student from moving on and finishing all questions, a goal for the next attempt might be to answer anything that individual feels confident about first, then revisit problems that will likely require more time. Ultimately, practice exams can create a familiarity with test format and content which relieves harmful anxiety.

Set a Schedule

Taking the necessary time to prepare can make a dramatic difference in achievement. Start your routine months before the actual exam. Designate time during the week to study and review challenges along with a practice test schedule. This will be harder once the school year starts, but consistency is recommended. Morning or early afternoon are times when students are usually the most focused. There’s a lot to cover. Allow time for practice tests during the weekend and studying or skill review on weekdays.  Material learned gradually and thoroughly is far more likely to be recalled during the exam.

Don’t Leave Anything to Chance

Try to consider all the variables before exam day. This means taking a test drive to the exam location to review the time needed and parking options. Plan what time to go to bed the night before, what to eat for breakfast, and a backup option in case the normal morning alarm fails. Pack the required materials the night before: student admission ticket, photo idea, several sharp No. 2 pencils with erasers, an approved calculator, and a snack for the break. And dress in layers to account for unpredictable building temperatures. The College Board provides a test day checklist as well as comprehensive overview of what to expect at all test centers on the day of.

Talk to your child about goals and expectations and develop a realistic plan together that everyone can get behind. It may seem early, but deciding on how to prepare for college entrance exams now can make all the difference later. The earlier your child begins his/her test/prep for college entrance exams, the quicker his/her needs list can be established. For some, traditional test prep will set them on a path to success. For others, additional programs and support may help to pave the way. Whatever the course of action, being proactive will make for a less stressful and hopefully more productive process.

Copyright: diego_cervo / 123RF Stock Photo

Michelle Reynard

About Michelle Reynard

Michelle is a former classroom teacher with a specialization in reading. She joined Gemm Learning in 2008 and has enjoyed the opportunity to apply her education and experience in new ways.

  • Melissa Agosin

    Great suggestions and guidelines to put our students on the path to achieving success on these important exams!