Planning for college? Raise your hand if you knew how much you were going to have to pay…before you ever got accepted! Testing fees, summer program costs, tutors, postage…ka-ching! By the time junior year rolls around, you’re facing down those standardized tests…but are those actual commas on the price tag for test prep classes? If you cannot swing the cost of the many excellent but expensive test prep courses on the market, here are seven FREE steps to preparing for a standardized test:
- Choose your test. The ACT and the SAT are not made equal, but they ARE accepted fairly universally. MYTH BUSTER: If your school counselor has advised you that “ACTs are for in-state colleges and SATs are for out-of-state,” that is not true (why do I keep hearing this?). If a college still requires a standardized test, most accept either. So which should you take? Very broadly speaking, the ACT measures what you know and the SAT measures how you think (it calls itself a “reasoning test”). So if you kind of stink at taking tests but are doing all right in most of your classes, the ACT may be a strong fit. But if you are quick on your mental feet, you might do great on the SATs, as well.
- Get a practice book with full tests. Skip the books with the shortened sample tests. You want full practice tests with multiple exams in it. Make sure the book has the answers AND the explanations for those answers included. You can buy test books in a bookstore, order them online or just check them out of a library. If you check them out, be sure to photocopy enough sets of answer sheets for your practice days.
- Schedule at least three Saturday mornings before your test to practice. Does each have to be on a Saturday? YES. At 8:00 a.m.? Thanks for asking – YES. For five hours? NOW YOU GET IT. And you have to be dressed, fed and seated at a table at 8:00 a.m. Not only does it simulate the real test day, but it also will let you gauge how much time you really need to get physically set and mentally maximized before the test. It’s best to do this over at least three months if you can.
- Team up with at least two other friends. First, it will encourage you to keep on schedule, since at least one friend will probably be available for each session. Second, it’s way more fun to geek out with buddies. Third, you’re not going to take the test alone on the official date, so you want to get used to doing it in a distracting crowd now. And stick to the rules – no talking during test time! Ideally, each of you will host a Saturday, so you’ll all have to get dressed and TRAVEL TO A TEST. Which is what you will have to do on the official date unless you plan to sleep in the local high school cafeteria.
- Gather necessary materials in advance. That includes #2 pencils (not mechanical ones), copies of the answer sheets (especially if you checked the books out from the library), water and a basic calculator (you won’t need an advanced calculator for any part of either test).
- Time each section and stick to the time limits. Your cell phone probably has a timer on it, but if not, use your oven, microwave or a family member to alert you to “put your pencils down.”
- Score the test – and study the explanations to the questions you got wrong. It’s not enough to know how many answers you got wrong – you want to understand WHY you got them wrong so you won’t get them wrong again. Right? If the book’s explanations soar right over your head, it’s time to talk to your teachers or a tutor. Bring in the practice book and sit with them for assistance with understanding exactly why the eastbound train arrived 43.6 minutes after departure. You’re not bugging them – I was a public school teacher myself, and most of us would be thrilled by your initiative!
Finally, here are some bigger picture pointers to help you stay on track with your tests:
What about online tests? You’re welcome to do even more practice tests online (what are your thoughts on Number2.com?), but remember, you are going to take the real test at a desk ON PAPER. So that’s what you need to practice doing, at least three times.
What if you need more help? Believe it or not, there may already be free test prep programs near you. If you hear about one, and you don’t see it listed on The CLIC, please ask them to join The CLIC Network so more kids from your area can find them! If you can’t find anything near you, remember what I said about your teachers liking your initiative? Offer to organize weekend test practices at your school – or at your library – if the teachers will come afterwards and work through the answer book with kids (or commit after school time the following week).
Still not sure if you’re taking the SAT or the ACT? May I recommend that the first two weekends you practice, you take one of each and see how you do? That might help you decide – OR it might confirm that you’re going to do about the same no matter which test you take. And that’s one less thing to stress about as you plan for college!
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As always, share your own recommendations and experiences below!
DMA is the CEO of The CLIC, the revolutionary new site where students can powerfully plan for college and institutions can effortlessly recruit students from a single home page in our FREE interactive network. CLIC students can connect to college matches, scholarship searches, college access programs and the nation’s first master calendar of all college-related deadlines and events, with streaming video tips and much more, at www.theclic.net.