Bird just took the ACT for the second time and it reminded me of this article written by veteran homeschool mom Deb Erbach Burger. It’s testing season and a good time for this reminder!
Scantron Optical Scan Exam and Pencil by Natalie Freitas/CC2.0
Copyright by Deb Erbach Burger.
Used with permission.
It has been proven that SAT and ACT prep significantly raises scores.
While most of us, as homeschoolers, have rejected the practice of “teaching to the test”, this is one situation in which we need to do it. The fact is that students with equal grades in the same classes, and equal intelligence will achieve a higher score with preparation than without. There are several different types of SAT and ACT prep, and all of them are effective, some more so for a particular student than others.
The simplest form of preparation is to take the test once “cold,” without having the score reported to any college. That test session itself becomes the “practice” or preparation, and statistically, the same student, with no extra preparation, will achieve a measurably higher score the second time around. The difference in score tends to be measurable, but small. However, real “practice” testing does play an important role in a good preparation program.
Another ACT and SAT test prep strategy is to participate in a course or seminar designed for this purpose. These courses vary in length from a single Saturday morning or afternoon, to an entire semester of classes.
The one-day seminars tend to assume that the student has basic knowledge in each of the test’s academic areas. They focus their limited time on testing strategy. They teach students specific skills for analyzing test questions and for effectively choosing answers, managing time, and managing the answer sheet. Every academic test in every area always tests “test-taking skills” along with testing the actual area. These single-session seminars tend to help students with that part of the process, and it tends to work. Scores are higher for students with a single day or intense preparation. (the timing should range from 1 to 6 weeks prior to the actual test date.)
The longest ACT and SAT prep classes last a whole semester, meeting between every day and once or twice a week. These courses review the actual subject material as well as testing strategies.
How should a parent or student choose the best preparation plan? It’s not as simple as “a little is good, so a lot must be better.”
Students who have successfully completed Algebra 1 and Geometry, for example, have learned all the math needed for either of the College Board tests. However, some students retain what they’ve learned better than others.
If your student has retained the basics in all three tested areas (Math, Verbal Skills, Writing) and has continued beyond the basic levels in classes, then a whole review course may be “overkill” and get in the way of real education for the year. This is especially true for students who are also confident about tests, and have little or no “test anxiety.” For these students, a shorter course would be the best strategy.
If your student has struggled in one or more of the academic areas, or experiences a lot of “test anxiety” over the annual achievement tests, then a longer course will provide both a boost to confidence and a needed review of the information to be tested.
By the way, the statistics show that one SAT or ACT prep course is valuable, but there is no added benefit to taking a preparation course before each “try” at the test. Skills gained through the preparation course tend to stay with the student. So, use your student’s academic skill level and anxiety level as gauges to determine the amount of preparation best suited to his or her needs.
All of the courses include actual practice testing, but an early actual test is often the best practice session in which to use the skills gained through the prep course.
The College board also offers a practice level of college admission testing, the PSAT, which is open to students from 7th grade upward. It is only administered on two dates each year, in October, and costs a fraction of the cost of the regular tests. This test not only provides real practice with the testing situation and material, but is also used (in 11th grade) as the criteria for many scholarships.
I recommend that every student take the PSAT at least in 11th grade, and also an earlier one, if possible.
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