Time to Prepare for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT
I’ve decided to register for a couple 5K races this fall which means I need to start running if I plan to cross the finish line. After my shoulder surgery, this is truly a couch to 5K training plan. I know I can’t wait until a couple weeks before the race, so I’ve started preparing. As many of us enjoy the last few weeks of summer vacation it is hard to imaging that if students want to prepare for the fall SAT, ACT, or PSAT, they need to begin now. Waiting until weeks before the exam then trying to cram won’t work. Students have six weeks before the September ACT. The October SAT is eight weeks away and the PSAT is ten.
Mistakes of the Typical StudentCollege admissions tests like the SAT and ACT take many students (and their parents) by surprise. They know in the back of their minds that these tests are out there and they have good intentions of preparing, but then life seems to get in the way. They don’t want to give up the fun of summer, so they resolve to think about it when school starts. But then the first two weeks of school are hectic as everyone adjusts to new routines. Add in homework, fall activities such as marching band, football, volleyball, or the first debate tournament, and the excitement of a new school year and pretty soon the exam is right around the corner and there is little time to prepare.
Allow Plenty of TimeWhen I work with students to study for the ACT, SAT, or PSAT, I allow 6-10 weeks to learn, practice, and perfect the material needed for the exam. Yes, high scoring students who only need to work on a few things can review in less time, just like experienced runners can train for a race in a shorter time frame because they already have the endurance needed. I am not in favor of test preparation programs that are longer than ten weeks because in my years of working with students I’ve found longer programs result in burn out, loss of momentum, or reduced commitment on part of the student. I’d rather focus for a relatively short period of time, commit to learning the material, then take the test when skills and interest levels are at their peak.
Develop a Study PlanSetting aside the time is the first step, but students need a plan. I haven’t trained for a 5K before, so I found an app that tells me exactly what to do. Some students, like the experienced runners, know what to do and can allocate adequate time to study. Others need a study plan developed for them and accountability system to make sure they stick to the plan.
Find a Program That Works for YouIf you are not one of the few who has the ability to approach the ACT, SAT, or PSAT as as do-it-yourself project, you can find a variety of programs to help. I took some time to research the 5K training programs before I selected one. At first it seemed like all the couch to 5K plans were the same, but I found some differences in philosophy and approach that made a difference for me. I’ve decided to use the Galloway run-walk-run method and the training app that goes with it. There are plenty of options when it comes to test preparation. At first they may all look alike, but take time to review your options. In my business I offer local prep classes, online classes, and private or small group tutoring. Not every option is right for every student, so find the one that works for you. Consider a variety of factors:
- Is this the only chance to earn a top score? You don’t want to risk lower scores if there is no chance to retake the test. (Often the case for juniors trying to earn National Merit Scholarships from the PSAT and seniors taking the SAT or ACT for the last time.)
- What is the time commitment? Some students can’t attend a prep class because of time conflicts; these students may consider online programs or private tutoring. No program works if students don’t attend and make time to complete the homework.
- What’s your best learning environment? Will you be motivated by friends or distracted? Do you like the boot camp approach or a calmer, more supportive environment? Can you learn from online videos or do you need someone there to answer your questions in person?
- What makes each program unique? One unique part of my local SAT / PSAT prep program is the way each class is structured. In each two-hour session we change topics multiple times and cover reading, math, writing, and overall strategy. This is different from many programs that will devote an entire class to one subject. The reason I’ve chosen this approach is because it helps condition students for the actual test where they have to switch from one subject to another every 25 minutes. So a unique factor to my program is that it mirrors the way students have to think on test day. Look for the specific characteristics of any program before you invest.