Besides the obvious ways to maximize SAT and ACT prep (such as doing consistent prep, doing the homework so a tutor can target areas of weakness, etc), there are two important steps to making the best use of this specialized tutoring.
Take Mock Tests
We offer mock tests for free (both in-person and virtually). Doing these mock tests is “optional” in the sense that we can’t force students to do them. But they are not optional if students want to reach their potential on the SAT or ACT. They are crucial for reaching one’s potential for a few reasons:
- Students need practice not just on content but on test-taking stamina. Students don’t get 3+ hour long tests in school, and it’s hard for anyone to stay focused for so long if they don’t regularly practice doing so. If students don’t take mock tests, their scores typically drop after every subsequent section on the test. So, even if they are scoring a 30 on the Science section on their homework, students will often score around a 24 on the Science section (since it’s the last section on the ACT) if they were not taking mock tests. Scoring six-points lower in a section is a massive — and unnecessary — score difference simply because they have not built up their test-taking stamina.
- Taking mock tests helps students get over test taking nervousness. (Because ACT scores can be deleted at any point in the future, students can/should also take the real ACT just as practice since the real tests are, of course, the best practice for the real test.) I want students annoyed — not nervous — that they have to take an SAT or ACT test, and taking mock tests helps them get over test day nervousness.
- Without practice, students take homework tests and the real tests differently. When students take tests or sections of tests for homework, they typically get an answer, put the answer down, and move on. Seems pretty obvious, right? But, on the real test, if students have not practiced how they’ll take the test on test-day, then they take the real test differently: they get an answer, double-check themselves, put the answer down, and move on. That even 5-10 seconds of double-checking themselves (because they know that this score is for real) is always detrimental to their score. They need to take the real test the same way that they take practice tests, because that is how they have been practicing to increase their scores. To change things on game-day is never a good strategy, and doing so hurts their pacing on the real test, which typically leads to students then getting anxious, rushing, and performing below their potential.
But all of the above are largely avoidable if students just take mock tests. It’s annoying to do, but it’s encouraged, free, and necessary to do in order to hit your potential.
Study Before the Test
If you’re not studying before an exam, then you’re probably not going to hit your potential on that exam. Given that the SAT and ACT are exams that test content (particularly Math and Grammar), the same rule applies.
- The SAT and ACT Math sections are essentially cumulative tests of the most important Math topics from Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and Trigonometry. Although a tutor can teach all 160 topics tested on the ACT Math section, there is no possible way that the tutor can review all of those topics with a student in the week leading up to an exam. So, just like for tests in school and every other exam, students need to be reviewing and studying all of their notes leading up to exam day — if not, then it’s almost inevitable that they will have forgotten some of Math formulas or Grammar topics and neither they nor their tutor could know which topics they had forgotten.
- “Don’t study the night before the SAT and ACT.” Please don’t feel any need to follow the latter (usually bad) advice. When else do we tell students “don’t study the night before”? That advice just reinforces the falsehoods about the tests: that students can’t study for the SAT and ACT and that these tests are somehow different from other tests (they aren’t different — they’re just long and cover a lot of content). These falsehoods decrease how much students study for the tests (why study if you believe it won’t increase your score?) and increase students’ anxiety about the tests (because they feel the tests are different). Although long and covering a lot of content, the SAT and ACT can be prepared for and conquered.
So, in the months leading up to your SAT or ACT, please take at least one mock test per month. The week leading up to every SAT or ACT, please review and memorize the topics that you have covered with a tutor. If you take these steps, you will significantly increase your chances of performing well on test day, remembering the topics you learned, scoring higher, and reaching your potential.