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College Test Prep for Sophomores?

 In ACT, PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, Test Prep

Our Advice, and One Parent’s Experiences as a First Timer.

Do you have a sophomore in high school? If you’re wondering what you need to know about the standardized tests for college admissions, well right here is a good place to start.

While it’s too early for sophomores to start test prep for college, it’s not too early to start getting a sense of the landscape and to spend some time formulating your future “plan of attack”. Be mindful though that students’ grades in school remain the most important performance measurement for college admission decisions.

The following are Summit’s recommendations for what parents and students can do during sophomore year to anticipate and plan for the college entrance exams.

As you read this, you will also see my anecdotes as a parent experiencing this process for the first time with my sophomore last year.

Tip #1: Get Educated.

Throughout sophomore year, we recommend acquiring a basic understanding about the standardized tests for college and what it takes to get ready for them. Whether it’s through Summit’s blog and parent info sessions, or books, friends, and the web, there are a lot of great resources out there.

Keep in mind that you are seeking information, not hearsay, since there is, unfortunately, a lot of misinformation circulating like, “you need perfect scores to get accepted into college”, “you need to take the test a lot of times”, and “you need to prep for 1.5 to 2 years to do it right”.

Summit cautions families against giving these tests more weight than they deserve – and to take a sane and sensible approach to test preparation.

[parent anecdote]
Since this was our family’s first time through the process, our ‘get smart’ approach included all of the above, although I found that Summit’s free parent info session, which was held at my student’s school in the spring of sophomore year, was the perfect capstone to our research.

Tip #2: Take the PSAT

If it’s offered by your school, have your student take the PSAT in sophomore year, but do not stress about the score. Your student does not need to study for it. Its main purpose is to give them an early test drive of the experience.

However, not all schools offer the PSAT so if yours doesn’t, instead, take a look at your summer calendar and build in an opportunity for your student to sit for a practice SAT and practice ACT. Your Summit Program Director will be able to help you analyze the results and map out a plan for test prep that’s tailored to your student. Having those summertime practice test scores will also serve as a baseline for test preparation.

[parent anecdote]
Our high school offered the PSAT to sophomores and juniors on a Saturday in October. It was the PSAT/NMSQT and our sophomore took the test to see what it was like. Of course, as a parent, the side benefit of taking the PSAT during sophomore year is that it helped us gauge where our student was starting from (i.e. how they performed and how they felt about the test). This can be a great point of reference as you–and they–think ahead to next year.

For example, what did your sophomore think about the PSAT experience? Did they struggle with test anxiety? While it’s too early to use the PSAT score as a baseline, just having your student get that experience in a timed, structured setting can be telling.

For students with documented disabilities, you’ll also want to apply/get approved for accommodations with both testing companies, the College Board and ACT, because starting the process early is helpful.

What if your sophomore’s PSAT score report indicates they need to “keep building skills” in a particular area? This is expected. The makers of these tests know that student performance correlates with age, maturity, and time spent in school. The tests are designed to be administered in the spring of their junior year.

However, it’s good to be aware earlier rather than later the areas where your student will need some additional support before starting to prep for the college entrance exams. This underscores the value of advanced planning in the event you need to schedule time for academic tutoring sessions or summer enrichment programs such as Foundations of SAT/ACT.

Tip #3: Make a Commitment to Test Prep.

Presumably, if you are reading this, you’re concerned about what you and your sophomore need to know and do to get ready for college testing.

Once your test plan is created, it’s going to take the commitment of your student to spend the time and do the work necessary to get ready for test days.

[parent anecdote]
By the spring of sophomore year, we had witnessed nearly two full school years’ worth of the peaks and valleys of our student’s schedule and stress level. So many kids have a full plate of academics, athletics, extra-curricular activities, and part-time jobs that it’s a daunting task to weave in time for test prep.

This is why advanced planning is critical. In our case, we saw that from mid-December through the end of March our student was going to be maxed out with school commitments and not able to do test prep. And, armed with the knowledge that the test is geared toward the maturity level and academic content acquired by the spring of junior year, we realized we were going to have to do some juggling.

Final thoughts:
What your student can do, instead of test prep, during sophomore year.

Read as much as possible and across a variety of genres. The standardized tests have an abundance of reading passages that require students to be efficient readers and critical thinkers. Just as lots of practice makes for very good athletes, lots of reading practice makes for very good test-takers.

Focus on academics and extra-curriculars.  As stated early on in this post, performance in these areas is the most important decision factor for admission officers.

Plan out AP courses for junior year, if they are available and appropriate for your student. Students can earn college credit for AP courses taken and can demonstrate college readiness to admission officers.

Consider taking a Subject Test at the end of sophomore year. Subject Tests should be on your radar screen during sophomore year in a few circumstances. If your student is a strong performer in a particular subject, or perhaps taking an honors level course that they enjoy and are good at but don’t plan to continue at the AP level or at all, or if they already know they want to apply to a selective school’s STEM program, you and they should consider the corresponding SAT Subject Test at the end of sophomore year while the content is still fresh in their mind.

Subject Tests are 1-hour long and typically held on the same day as the SATs are, but you need to check the schedule to be sure the subject they want to test for is being offered on that date. (Read more about Subject Tests)

Take a “practice” college tour. As with standardized testing, taking a test drive when the stakes are low will build confidence and reduce anxiety about the process.

[parent anecdote]
Focusing on this during sophomore year gave us plenty of lead time to develop a test plan that worked for our student without causing undue stress. One thing I learned very well from Summit is that no two students are alike. Summit emphasizes that test plans need to be tailored to the workload, personality, and learning style of the individual student.

In the end, here is what the test plan looked like for our student, but please keep in mind that your student’s plan might look different (as evidenced by our experience with our second child, coming up right behind the first!):

  1. Take one SAT and one ACT practice test in July/August.
  2. Review results with our Program Director  and map out a test plan (specifies which test to take, when to take it, and how to prep for it).
  3. Select a test date for the first ACT (December, before our student’s busy season).

Typically, students test 2 to 3 times, so we loosely planned for a 2d ACT in either April or June, depending on our student’s school workload. Test prep began at the end of September with once per week 90-minute tutoring sessions and 2 hours of homework weekly for 10 weeks (plus another free, proctored practice test administered by Summit).

Summit has been doing this for more than 30 years, and we try our best to keep families informed and feeling confident about the process. Feel free to leave your questions or comments below and, of course, reach out directly if you’d like to get help with your student’s individualized test plan.

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