Get a Leg Up on Test Prep This Summer
This past Saturday marked the last standardized test (SAT or ACT) for the academic year. The cycle begins afresh September 13th with the ACT and October 11th with the SAT. That gives us a 13+ week stretch; what can you do to make sure you are ready to nail the tests in the first go-around?
- Learn vocabulary. The redesigned SAT in 2016 will, for the most part, eliminate the need to memorize vast vocabulary lists, but as for this fall, bring on the sentence completions! Make it your goal this summer to learn 50 new words a week. Vocabtest.com and Applerouth’s vocabulary app are immensely helpful resources.
- Set a schedule, and stick to it. For rising juniors, your upcoming year’s success depends on your ability to keep several areas of your life on the burner at one time. Schoolwork, sports, the college search, extracurriculars, and standardized tests will all need your attention. Use programs like Google’s reminder or Evernote to create to-do lists and set reminders. You’ll want to put in 30-40 hours of test prep over the course of this summer, and the best way to maximize the effectiveness of those hours is breaking it up into small chunks over a longer period.
- Divide and conquer. It’s intimidating to think you have to prepare for the entire test all at once. Break your prep up into several less-frightening sections. Each day of the week, plan on spending 20-30 minutes on either vocabulary, reading, math, grammar, or your essay. Gaining mastery gradually in each of these sections is preferable to spending several weeks on one topic.
- Assess yourself. Don’t let too much time go by without seeing how you’re progressing. Plan on taking several practice tests, spaced out every 3-4 weeks. That way, you can get an approximate indication of how you will do in September and what areas you’ll want to reinforce more than others.
Here is a suggestion for what you should do on a week-by-week basis (using the College Board’s Guide to the SAT or the Real Guide to the ACT, depending on your test). Of course, your specific areas of struggle, especially math concepts and English grammar rules, will vary, so you’ll want to do some self-assessing as you study to determine what you’ll want to review each week.
Week 1: Take a practice test, grade yourself, and review your wrong answers. See if you can identify patterns for types of problems missed for math (e.g. triangles, slope, percentages, word problems, etc.). Also use vocabtest.com or the Applerouth vocab app to learn 50 words.
Week 2: Complete 1 timed math and reading section of a test, grade yourself, and review answers. If you are worried about timing, use the lap function of your stopwatch to record how long it takes you to read the passage and answer each question. You might find that some types of questions are a time drain and are worth omitting. Learn 50 more vocab words.
Week 3: Complete 1 timed math and writing/English section of a test, grade yourself, and review your answers. For the writing/English section, try to identify the grammar errors in the problems you missed. It might be worth it to revisit your English grammar book and review rules for parallelism, punctuation, verb tense, independent/dependent clauses, and other concepts you might find a struggle. Websites like chompchomp.com give really helpful and entertaining grammar games. Learn 25 words and review the past 2 weeks of vocab.
Week 4: Complete 1 timed reading and math (or Science) section of a test, grade yourself, and review your answers. Learn 50 vocab words.
Week 5: Take a full-length practice test, timed, and review your answers. Compare your score with your week 1 practice test and see what areas you have strengthened and what areas you’ll want to focus more on. Learn 50 vocab words.
Weeks 6-10: Follow the same guidelines as weeks 1-5, taking a practice test afterwards and reviewing your answers. Continue with your vocab learning, making sure to revisit the past weeks you’ve studied, as necessary. Break previous vocabulary words into three piles: got it, getting it, and ain’t got nothin’. As you gradually move your words into the “got it” pile, you won’t need to review them as often.
Weeks 10-13: By now, you should be completing 2 math and 2 reading sections for the SAT, or 2 sections of the ACT, per week. The real test will definitely be a drain on your mental energy, so you’ll want to make sure you can focus for the 3.5 to 4-hours.
You’ve got a lot going on this summer. By breaking your SAT/ACT test prep into bite-sized chunks, you can sharpen your skills while also making time for everything else.