Quicksand and the SAT (or ACT)

Last Updated: Feb 21, 2014 2:11:00 PM

Quicksand lurks on what seems like solid ground across which we absolutely must travel to get where we want to go. That’s the background scene that defines the landscape for many students who face the SAT or ACT. They struggle with so many aspects of the test, and the more they struggle, the quicker and deeper they sink. All avoidable.
There was a time many decades ago when TV Westerns had the obligatory quicksand pit. Some good guy would save another good guy – or even save a bad guy – from getting sucked into oblivion. Why get sunk by the SAT? With the right attitude, preparation, and poise, you can leverage the SAT or ACT into an experience that serves you in more ways than you think.

So many parents pass judgment on their children this way: “Oh, she’s a bad test taker.” And students pick up on that super fast. It’s common parlance; it seems every parent carries this notion like another key on a keychain of rationalizations. We hear it more from parents than we do from kids. We want to suggest a change in attitude and behavior.

Let’s look at a few ways to proceed.

First and foremost, do you know what the SAT and ACT test numbers really mean for your future? Talking about national or regional averages is meaningless in the face of a university’s specific requirements for admission. Go to the college website of an institution to which you want to apply to find out what the current freshman class stats look like (it’s typically called the “freshman profile.”)

Set you mark. Be realistic – but also pursue your dreams. Know the test scores required for schools you’ll apply to so that you can dig in and plan your prep. Make your preparations one step at a time. Let test results from one test guide the focus of your preparation for the next test. Never take the test blindly!

Every week I get the opportunity to use the same analogy: if you were preparing for an important concert, recital, or sport competition, would you put off practice completely? Would you wait until the day before to tune up your mind’s strings? The question is humbling to many, because with all the pressures of school, and with all the running around to participate in after-school activities, comprehensive test prep falls by the wayside. Think about this for a second: one of the most critical, quantitative pieces of college application data is the test score! In fact, it’s the second most important factor in college admissions – second only to your academic record. Yet many families appear to wait for the last minute. With little or no advice, students relegate the test to the level of scary afterthought. Do you want to reduce the stress? Start now to inform yourself about all the in’s and out’s of this test. Relax. Get to know the SAT and the ACT.

And how do you get to know your “adversary”? I have mentioned practice. Many avenues exist by which to familiarize yourself with the SAT and ACT. Take practice tests, time yourself, learn where you have to speed up – or slow down. Observe how the format of the test repeats itself every time. Yes, the words and numbers will differ from one test to the next, but the structure of the exam – down to the very structure of the questions – hardly changes. Build your confidence by recognizing with confidence the nature of the test questions. While practice may not get you a perfect score, it can certainly raise your score above your anxieties!

There are no shortcuts. If you’re reading this, you’ll stop right now and back-plan from one of the seven national test dates to this very moment: how are you going to adjust your weekly schedule to introduce test prep that is meaningful, rigorous, and supportive of your college dreams? You can certainly call us to help you plan your test prep!

Topics: Test-Prep Private-School Educational Consulting

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