Between volleyball practice, homework, ASB meetings, AND having a social life, I was not particularly interested in spending hours of time each week studying for the SAT, let alone taking the exam altogether. I was a good student, self-motivated, and I didn’t have my eyes set on any Ivy Leagues, so I figured I could handle it on my own; after all, it was just another test (or so I thought). I was not interested in signing up for a test prep class — why would I voluntarily sign myself up for another boring class and subject myself to MORE homework? I didn’t have time for that. And working with a private tutor? No, thank you. In my mind, tutors were for kids who struggled or who needed a lot of help, and I was “above that.” Oh, how I wish I could shake my 16-year old, egotistical self. I think I bought a test prep book, skimmed it, and maybe did some practice problems every now and then. It was a chore. I just wanted to get the test over with and resume doing my high school thing. And even crazier, I didn’t plan on taking the test more than once — so arrogant, and honestly, so uninformed!
So what happened? Well, I didn’t score as high as I thought I would. While I was not accepted into my first choice school, luckily, I got into my second choice. You’ve probably heard the saying that “you’ll end up at the school where you belong,” and for me, that was the case. But had I had that same mentality today, I probably would not be accepted to a four-year university — it’s so much more competitive today! I was shocked to hear that kids apply to DOZENS of schools now…fifteen years ago, I applied to three. And not properly prepping for the SAT or ACT…?! That’s just crazy.
Looking back now, I have realized and learned some valuable things that every high school student considering test prep should know:
- The ACT/SAT is NOT just a curriculum-based test of what you already know
I assumed that these were just going to be like any other test in school. I had no idea that both standardized tests are written by test makers who specifically create formats that word questions in a particular way, incorporate specific pacing, require certain strategies, involve abstract reasoning skills, and, of course, tricks and traps to stump the average test-taker. There is a lot more logic and technique involved than just straight-forward knowledge.
- There is a test better suited for you
When I was a junior, the ACT was new to California…I didn’t know that much about it, so naturally, I just went with the SAT like everyone else in my class. Knowing what I know now about the differences between both tests and the type of test-taker I am, I would have fared so much better on the ACT. Plus, all schools accept it now, and it’s actually more popular than the SAT!
- Properly preparing for the ACT/SAT is necessary
I would NOT recommend trying to prepare for this test on your own. Students need to be held accountable for practicing problems the right way and doing homework regularly (YES, test prep homework is vital); someone who is trained on how the test is structured/designed, paced, and knows the material, will guide you. They will show you what you’re doing incorrectly, give you tips on how to succeed and beat the test. Most importantly, they can give you confidence. Looking for the answers or trying to figure out these things on your own actually takes MORE time, and who’s to say the information you’ve come across is the right information?
- Tutors are important for ALL types of students
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned: EVERY student should welcome the opportunity to work with a tutor. Not all students learn the same way, and in a fast-moving, classroom setting, the information can easily get lost or be overwhelming. Plus, there are so many distractions. Working one-on-one with someone enables you to focus and receive the attention you need at any time. And when you like your tutor, it makes the process more enjoyable, motivates you to work harder, and keeps you accountable!
- You can take the tests more than once
Even after test prep, the first official test might not represent your true capabilities; you might have the jitters, or someone in the testing classroom might be coughing the entire time, distracting you and throwing you off your game. Don’t sweat it if you don’t do as well as you hoped…just take it again. After the first test, you’ll have a better understanding of the exam and what you need to re-focus on.
These tips can open so many more doors and set you up for success. I wish someone had shared these important lessons with me back in high school, so I am passing them along to you. Good luck!