Many of you have asked about tutoring students for success on high stakes exams like the SAT and ACT. I have listed a brief outline of the approach I take with students below:
1. Know the Test
It is not enough to just know the content covered by the exam. Time constraints, scoring rules, and question types can all affect a student’s score. For example, students are penalized for incorrect answers but not for blank answers on the SAT. In this case, I don’t recommend guessing answers unless you are able to eliminate answer choices. However, on the ACT, students are not penalized for incorrect answers, so it is important they answer every question.
2. Know Your Tools
Are calculators permitted? What kind of calculator? Is a formula sheet provided? Which formulas? Once you identify all tools available for use during the test, you will want to incorporate these tools into your strategy and student practice sessions. It is important for the student to have in depth knowledge of each tool prior to test day. This will prevent wasted time during the test for things like trying to figure out where that button is on the calculator.
3. Develop a Test Taking Strategy
The test taking strategy should be created early on and practiced. It is not enough to create a “To Do List” to follow while taking the test. You want to make it automatic for the student. Practice should look like the test and the strategy should be used regularly prior to the exam.
An example test taking strategy for the SAT might include the following:
- Read each question.
- Strike through any answer choices you are able to eliminate.
- Skip any question during the first round that you do not know how to answer (mark with an X) or will require a large amount of time to answer (mark with a circle).
- Answer all quick and easy questions.
- If time remains, go back to the beginning of the test and begin the second round.
- Answer all questions you marked with a circle.
- If time remains, go back to the beginning of the test and begin the third round.
- Attempt to answer any questions you marked with an X.
- Leave a question blank if you are unable to eliminate any answer choices.
- If you are able to eliminate answer choices, make an educated guess from the remaining answer choices.
4. Take a Practice Test
Use the test taking strategy you have developed to take an actual practice test with all of the necessary tools and time constraints. This will be your baseline data and will give you information about content that needs studied, tools that need instruction or practice, question types requiring practice, and timing goals you will want to set.
5. Develop a Preparation Plan
You know the test and the tools, you have a test taking strategy, and you have a practice test under your belt. Now it is time to develop a plan to practice and prepare. The plan needs to be realistic and based on the student’s time constraints, schedule, and instructional needs. A preparation plan will look different for each student.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Follow your preparation plan and practice. Resources are available for purchase and free that provide practice tests and questions. My recommendation is to always begin by using the resources provided by the testing company. For example, the College Board creates the SAT. I use their practice tests and questions. Why? They create the test. Their resources should best mimic the actual test.
I hope this answers your questions, but feel free to ask any additional questions you might have in the comments and I will do my best to respond. I look forward to hearing from you!