At what point should college-bound students begin preparing for the ACT and SAT?
The simple answer: as early as possible. I know what you are probably thinking–the ACT and SAT are poor measures of students’ abilities, and some colleges are moving away from using standardized test scores in their admissions decisions. I do not disagree with you, but like it or not, ACT and SAT scores are highly predictive of success in college and future careers which is why most colleges continue to require them.
There are many immediate benefits to high standardized test scores–acceptance into top universities, merit-based scholarship opportunities, bargaining power over the price of tuition, and skipping remedial courses. However, the greatest benefit of all is what students gain in the process of maximizing their score. Neither the ACT nor the SAT measures a student’s character or creativity, but the process of preparing for these tests teaches habits that develop character and creativity.
A student’s GPA is a poor predictor of their ACT and SAT scores. Earning perfect grades, taking advanced classes, and participating in numerous extracurricular activities does not automatically mean your child is prepared to score in the 99th percentile. Excellent grades are achieved with a good memory, an ability to focus, and a decent work ethic. These skills are important but not sufficient. Every year, millions of bright students with excellent grades are humbled with a score in the 50th percentile. As a parent, what can you do to ensure your child earns a high score?
We offer some great tips for students of all ages. Scroll to the section that applies to your child or children to see what we recommend.
5th Grade and Younger
MUSIC: If your child is old enough to walk, encourage them to spend at least five minutes per day playing music or dancing to music. The choice of music genre or type of instrument is not important. If they find orchestra practice or piano lessons boring, allow them the freedom to try something different. Playing a harmonica, a flute, a guitar, or a drum set would be great. Their voice also counts as an instrument. Practicing and mastering music will enhance many of your child’s cognitive abilities.
LOGIC GAMES: If your child is old enough to be in school, we recommend they spend time each week playing a logic game. Some classics include Chess, Checkers, Tetris, and Minesweeper. However, you can find lots more with a quick Google search. We suggest they switch games every month or two so they learn to adapt to new challenges. This will develop great reasoning and critical thinking skills.
READ: If your child is old enough to read, we recommend they read at least five minutes per day. School work and social media do not count. Let your child pick the topic. If they read what they enjoy, they will likely stay focused for longer than five minutes. A video game manual, a website about ninjas, a book about outer space, or religious text would all be acceptable. The simple act of daily reading will improve your child’s comprehension, vocabulary, and reading speed.
READ: By middle school, we recommend your child read at least 20 minutes per day not counting their school work or social media. The reading material should be at or above their grade level. Your child should mostly read what they enjoy, but, once per week, we recommend they pick material they dislike and attempt to teach what they have learned to somebody else. At this age, they should also practice the art of skimming passages and scanning for keywords.
STRATEGY GAMES: We recommend middle school students play strategy games on a weekly basis. Your child should take time to master one game and then move on to a new game. Great strategy games are being invented daily and are available in both electronic and physical formats. Ideally, the strategy games should be multiplayer and have a time element.
ACADEMIC EXTRAS: Excellent grades are not enough to score high on the SAT and ACT. Your child will need to develop some additional skills. When your child takes a test in school, they should answer the questions out of order by attempting the easy problems first and the difficult problems last. On multiple choice tests, they should practice using the process of elimination where possible. When your child has a reading assignment, they should underline or highlight important words or phrases, take notes on a separate sheet of paper, and look up any words with which they are unfamiliar. When your child does their math homework, they should show all their work. On word problems, your child should underline the important details, write out the known information, and draw helpful diagrams.
I know middle school students have busy schedules, and some of these activities may do nothing to improve your child’s grades. However, developing good habits will have important long-term benefits such as high ACT and SAT scores, college readiness, and many career opportunities.
CONTINUATION: All of the good habits we recommended for middle school students should continue through high school. Ensure the reading material your child selects is at or above grade level. The logic games should be more elaborate and challenging than before. If your child had difficulty in middle school with the academic extras we recommended, these habits should be more strictly enforced during high school.
PRACTICE TESTS: Starting freshman year, your child should take at least one practice test per semester. For about $20, you can purchase an ACT or SAT workbook containing many practice tests. Publishers we recommend are ACT Inc., Collegeboard, Kaplan, and Princeton Review. Simulate the real testing conditions as closely as possible by adhering to time limits in each section and breaks between sections. To get the full experience, you child should grade and score their test after completion. They should study the questions they answered incorrectly and look for trends or patterns. Worked out answers are provided in most practice books. Your child should speak with a teacher or tutor about problems they do not fully understand.
FIRST ATTEMPT: Register your child to take the ACT or SAT for the first time when they are in 10th or 11th grade. At this point, your child has learned enough math and grammar fundamentals to reason through the majority of the questions. The results of this test will clarify the areas in which your child needs improvement and guide further studying. Your child should plan to take the SAT and ACT at least three times to maximize their score.
TEST PREP COURSE: School does not teach all the skills necessary to master the SAT or ACT. Many professional test prep companies in our community offer programs to help your child, but not all are created equal. Do some research to find the best match for your child. In our experience, the best programs provide a continuous flow of one-on-one instruction, practice, and homework assignments. They adapt to your child’s needs and circumstances, and they keep careful track of progress along the way. Most importantly, they have an excellent track record for improving the scores of other students. You can save money by compromising in one or more of these areas, but if you want to see the best results, you should be willing to pay for a premium service.
At High Performance Tutoring, we work hard to ensure our company’s test prep courses meet these important criteria. Remember, the score itself is not nearly as important as the habits, creativity, and character your child develops along the way. The right habits will lead to success in college and in life.
Your child’s future job probably does not exist today. It may be pointless to learn narrow skills that are not easily transferable. The right habits prepare your child for the uncertain world they will grow up in. It will provide the tools they need to create value in any economy.
We hope you found this information interesting and valuable. Please share this article with any friends or family who may find the content useful. Call our Utah office anytime at (801) 508 – 4080 or our Denver office at (720) 943 – 7304. We look forward to hearing from you!