Today we have a guest post from Ryan Krug over at Mindfish.com. Ryan Krug, a Stanford grad who rocked the SAT when he applied to college, is the co-founder of Mindfish.com, a test prep site that offers expert advice, forums and an SAT Quest game to help students master the SAT and boost their chances for college admissions.
Although the standardized test process is fraught with challenges for many student and parents, it can be a smooth journey if approached in the right way. The following are several of the most common test prep blunders to avoid.
Photo by Robert S. Donovan
If you want to rock the SAT and ACT…
1. Don’t wait until the last minute
The most common mistake students make when prepping for standardized tests is waiting until the last minute. While this approach may have served you well in high school, it won’t work for the SAT and ACT. The concepts and skills tested by these exams are accrued over years of education and a few weeks of preparation is usually not enough to fill in the holes. Make sure you start preparing at least 8 weeks prior to your test date.
2. Don’t practice without reviewing your mistakes
Many students falsely assume that continued practice will automatically improve their scores. While practice is an integral part of the test prep process, repeating your mistakes over and over is only going to make them harder to eliminate. Before taking any practice SAT or ACT section, make sure you review any sections you have already taken. Try to avoid making the same mistakes and spend time learning about the concepts you struggle with before you take a new practice section.
3. Don’t sign up for a test date near a stressful or distracting event
No matter how hard you prepare, you will not be able to maximize your score unless you can focus on and around the test date. Avoid taking the SAT or ACT near finals, proms, big sports events, or vacations. Try to schedule the test during a fairly routine week when you know you won’t be overloaded with school and extracurricular activities.
4. Don’t avoid full, timed practice tests
While taking a practice section or two every few days is a great way to build positive momentum, it isn’t enough. The SAT and ACT are marathon tests and you need to build significant intellectual endurance to be able to think critically for over 4 hours. The only way you can improve your testing endurance is to take a full-length, timed practice test every three to four weeks during your preparation. Ideally, a student should take three full-length practice tests before he or she sits down for the real thing.
5. Don’t underestimate the importance of vocabulary and reading speed
While the math and writing sections of the SAT and ACT can be conquered with a few months of diligent practice, the reading section of the test can only be mastered if you have a great vocabulary and are an excellent reader. These skills cannot be developed overnight. Rather, developing a strong reading habit over several years is the surest way to increase reading scores on both tests. In a shorter time frame, students can improve their reading speed and comprehension skills by reading challenging publications like The Economist and The New Yorker two or three times per week. On the ACT, there are no questions that specifically test vocabulary skills, but vocabulary is a big part of the SAT. Students should start working on their vocabulary and reading skills at least a year before they take the SAT. For every 100 words learned, a student can expect to see his or her SAT verbal score improve between 10 and 20 points.
6. Don’t send scores to schools when you take the SAT
While it may seem tempting to select a few schools to send your scores to on test day, it is not in your best interest. If you select schools to send your scores to, they will receive your scores no matter how well you do. You can take the test as many times as you want, and if your scores go up, you may just want to submit your best scores. Don’t narrow your options by sending your scores on test day. Many schools will allow you to select the scores you want to send during the application process, so sending scores on test day can only hurt your chances of being admitted.