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Spring Standardized Testing: Advice for Sophomores and Juniors

For many high school students, spring semester means standardized test season. Like it or not, these tests are a big component of college applications, and while a perfect score alone won’t get you into your dream college, it is important to do well on these tests in order to have the greatest chance of admission.

With changes coming to both the SAT and ACT within the next year, it’s crucial for current sophomores and juniors to know what to expect and how to prepare.

IvyWise offers comprehensive tutoring and test-prep for college bound students, and here are a few tips and tricks for students to implement before, during, and after the test.

Before the Test
Preparation is critical. After all, we wouldn’t expect a student to sit for any other test without studying beforehand would we? Though originally created to be aptitude tests, it is now common knowledge that students can increase scores dramatically on both the ACT and SAT with dedicated preparation. Therefore it’s crucial for parents and students to know what’s necessary in order to prepare.

Make sure to prepare for the right test.
The SAT and ACT are very different, and it’s important for students to take the exam that best fits their abilities. Taking a diagnostic practice test before beginning test-prep is a good way to determine which test is a better fit

TIP: Depending on where they are in the process, current sophomores might want to consider taking the SAT earlier than normal in order to avoid taking the new version of the test – or instead prepare for and take the ACT. Because the SAT is undergoing a major overhaul in Spring 2016, when most sophomores would first take the SAT, there are few materials available to the first students who will be taking this test – making it harder to prepare for.

Utilize test-prep resources.
Some of the best test-prep guides and resources come straight from those who develop the actual exams. The College Board Official SAT Study Guide offers 10 practice exams, targeted practice questions, and free online score reports. The Real ACT Prep Guide offers five practice tests, in-depth answer explanations, and specific test-taking strategies. There’s also an online version that offers real-time scoring.

TIP: There are a number of free resources on the SAT and ACT websites as well. Also be sure to follow both on social media, as they frequently post free practice questions and answers.

Practice, practice, practice!
It’s true: when it comes to standardized tests practice makes (almost) perfect. Students should take multiple practice tests under timed conditions in order to become accustomed to the time restraints and practice reading and question-answering strategies. Practice tests can also help students identify problem-areas in their content knowledge so they know what sections to spend more time preparing for.

TIP: At IvyWise, we recommend our students take at least four practice tests before sitting for the actual exam.

During the Test
When taking the SAT or ACT, knowing how to take the test can be just as important as mastering the content within the exam. Learning and implementing test-taking strategies can help students better answer questions and utilize their time efficiently.

Utilize process of elimination.
One of the most effective test-taking strategies is process of elimination. Many times, students will come across a question for which they do not know the answer right away. Instead of looking for the right answer, the key is to look for the wrong answers and consider the probability of getting an answer right once options are eliminated.

TIP: If a student is able to eliminate three wrong answers out of five choices, that leaves two options and a 50% chance of choosing the correct one. Those odds give students a much better chance of selecting the right answer and gaining points, rather than no points for being left blank or a ¼ point deduction for a wrong answer. (Note: Deductions for incorrect answers are only on the SAT, not the ACT.)

Know when to answer and when to skip.
This is a key time-management skill that students should really practice when preparing for the ACT or SAT. Until the new changes go in effect in the spring of 2016, students will still be penalized on the SAT for incorrect answers (except on the math-grid section where there is currently no penalty.) If a student isn’t able to take advantage of process of elimination on an SAT question, skip it and come back if time allows. If he or she still can’t eliminate an answer choice, don’t answer at all.

TIP: On the ACT, there is no penalty for guessing, so if students come across a difficult question, they should still skip it and come back to it at the end, but guess if they’re still not able to come to a conclusive answer.

Pay attention to the format and question difficulty.
Students need to know the format of the test as much as the content, so it’s important for students to be familiar with the sections and how they might progress. On the SAT, the increase in question difficulty varies for each section. For example, the math sections are presented in order of increasing difficulty enabling students to gauge their timing on each question accordingly – but when it comes to the writing section only the sentence completion questions follow that same logic while all other questions are random.

TIP: Students working on the critical reading section of the SAT or ACT should, instead of reading the whole passage and then the questions that pertain to it, work backwards by reading the questions first and use those to guide them to selectively read only the pertinent sections of the passage.

After the Test
Congratulations! Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT are mentally exhausting, so students should be sure to get plenty of rest so they’re refreshed for the next school day. Also remember to relax. Waiting for scores can be stressful, but students need to remember to focus on their current schoolwork.

Once score reports come in, students can assess whether their scores are where they want them to be, and make a plan of action to take the test again if they’re not within their goal score range. Most students increase their scores the second time they sit for the test, so don’t get discouraged! Students should continue to work on the sections that they find most challenging, and remember to seek help from a professional tutor if they’re not making progress.

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