Game plan. Practice. Win.
More than just a catchy phrase, this is how we structure test prep. These three steps provide a road map to success on the SAT and ACT. Our goal is to prepare students for academic success in ways that resonate with them. For many of our students, classroom lectures are not the most effective method of learning. Instead, we treat SAT and ACT Prep like preseason practice. Students will prepare for their test like they prepare for an upcoming opponent on their schedule.
The SAT and ACT are unique tests, unlike most other tests students take throughout their high school careers. Students who go in blindly, unaware of the types of questions and strategies the tests employ to trip them up, are less likely to proceed confidently and more likely to second guess their own abilities. Much like coaches use film study and game plans unique to each new opponent, we start by introducing students to the opponent they will be facing. What are its tendencies? Does it like to ask some of the same questions each time? Are there certain advantages we can gain by studying past tests? How does the scoring work?
These are some of the questions we explore first, whether during a class or individual test prep session. We must know our opponent. None of our preparation matters if we prepare in the wrong way. If a football team spends all week preparing to stop the run and the opponent comes out throwing, the defense will be unprepared, regardless of how much work they put in during the week. A basketball team that spends all its time working on plays to prevent three-pointers will not succeed against teams that score most of their points inside.
Before we jump into practicing, we need to know how to practice.
Once we know what we're facing though, it's time to practice. Winning against the SAT or ACT is more than playing solid defense. We have to find ways to score. While some students might be more naturally inclined to do well than others, all students can find some sort of place to succeed. Once students know the types of questions the tests will ask, we will begin to introduce practice problems and examples from the test.
This step is key to finding success on standardized tests. Often, students will only practice questions in their areas of weakness, leaving themselves discouraged even before they go take the test. If we think about it, we'd never do this in our sport! Would a power-hitting first baseman only practice his bunting? Would a 3-point specialist only practice her mid-range shot? Of course not! We must spend time working on our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Our teaching methods are designed to help students identify their own strengths so they can more quickly find and answer those questions on the test. Confidence is key. Confident test-takers earn better scores than timid test-takers and we only become confident when we know there are ways we can succeed.
In this step, we dive deeper into some of the major topics of the tests. We spend time teaching a few of the major math topics, answering grammar questions that show up on nearly every test and getting a better understanding of the material on the test. We're finding areas to attack—questions students know they can successfully answer, strategies that may give them s a leg up, and ways to earn an extra few points (even when they might not be 100% sure about the answer). Here, we're focused on improvement; students will become more comfortable, confident and prepared. They should feel ready to perform.
A coach's first job is to prepare his team. On game day, it's time to perform.
It's our job to prepare students, not just for the X's and O's of the SAT, but for the entire day. We stress healthy habits like getting enough sleep and eating breakfast and also provide tips and tricks for staying focused and positive during the test. We know test day is stressful, so everything we do is designed to boost students' confidence.
The last step is all about winning test day. We do everything we can to prepare students for success. From there, they get to go out and perform on test day. It's can be stressful but we do everything we can to make it winnable. Obviously, we don't guarantee results, but we do guarantee that students will be prepared to take the tests. Just like game day, test day is where all the preparation pays off.
I'm particular with the way I test prep for a reason. The goal is to teach in a way that makes sense and in a way that actually leads to score increases. Hopefully, this post shows that there's a method behind all the madness.