This story comes to us from NBC Latino.
High school students might dread them, but standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT are required in order to apply to most American college and universities. Many students take them in the spring, in their junior year of high school. But the worst thing you can do, says Chicago-based educational consultant Ana María Soto, is to go into the test blind, without any preparation.
“The SAT and ACT tests tell colleges how prepared you are,” says Soto, adding that “colleges do not want to accept students who are not able to keep up with their level of rigor.” The SAT, which stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test, measures a student’s math, reading and writing skills and his or her ability to apply this knowledge.
The ACT, which stands for American College Testing, measures a student’s achievement in school; it tests how well a student has learned the curriculum offered in U.S. high schools. This includes math, social studies, English and the sciences. Students tend to take one of the two tests, and counselors can help decide which one to take based on the individual student’s strengths.
The best thing you can do is start planning well ahead of when your teen has to take them. And there is a reason to get motivated - experts say good scores increase a student’s chances of acceptance into better universities, and just as importantly, increase their chances of qualifying for merit-based scholarships and aid.
So here are some tips to get your teen ready:
Do practice tests regularly
“Waiting for a few weeks before the test to ‘get ready’ is not the way to go,” explains Angela García, SAT executive director. There are no tricks or shortcuts, says García, adding that the best way to prepare for standardized tests is to practice regularly. ”We have free sample tests you can download or print out,” says García, and we have a “Question of the Day” you can do to get used to the types of questions. The ACT also has free online sample tests and a daily question. Students should be practicing for months to get used to the format and the kinds of questions.
Read, read, read
“Reading constantly will increase a student’s vocabulary as well as help them with comprehension, which is critical not only in standardized tests, but in college,” says Lourdes Pérez-Ramírez, senior communications associate for the ACT. She advises parents to urge their children and teens to make reading a regular habit.
Use community resources
Some high schools and school districts offer test prep classes for students either free or for a low cost, since test prep courses can be very expensive. In fact, SAT’s García says “we do not endorse the use of expensive test prep.” Ana María Soto advises that families look into community-based organizations which sometimes offer testing preparation and college prep advice.
Take tougher courses in high school
“The best preparation is to take four years of English, and at least three years of math, science and social studies,” says Lourdes Pérez-Ramírez, senior communications associate for the ACT. In fact, testing experts such as Pérez-Ramírez and García say families should chart their children’s courses before they enter high school, and encourage teens to take the more rigorous courses, especially if they have an interest in the sciences. “It’s not like you can prepare for a year of Algebra by doing a few sample questions,” says Pérez-Ramírez. Angela García says parents can help by “raising the bar and requiring students work hard, and persevere.”
On test day - be rested!
One last piece of advice for the actual test day, from ACT’s Pérez-Ramírez? ”Don’t forget to sleep the night before.”
Sandra Lilley is a reporter at NBC Latino.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.