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The Importance of Test Prep Planning


The Importance of Test Prep Planning
SAT or ACT?  Summit can help you make the right choice.

At Summit, every season seems to have its own rhythm. Most juniors are well into their tutoring by winter, with the inevitable winding down of programs in time for spring testing. Summer is a great time for seniors and “early starter” juniors to get going on their prep.

But fall is a season like no other. Everything seems to come to a head in the fall, from last-minute prep for seniors to the condensed SSAT prep season for elementary and middle school students. It kind of reminds me of the movie The Perfect Storm, although, instead of multiple raging storm systems converging at once, we’re dealing multiple raging testing cycles. It’s a busy time, and it can be a stressful time!

This can be particularly true for rising juniors, who are faced with the prospect of trying to figure out what they’ll be doing for test prep during the year while at the same time dealing with the beginning of an all-important school year. To help juniors and their parents navigate the stressful and often confusing world of standardized test prep and to come up with a plan for the year, we’ve devised a straightforward process which we call “Test Prep Planning.” Test Prep Planning involves coming up with the answers to three simple but powerful questions: “Which Test Should You Take – SAT or ACT?”, “When Should You Take It?”, and “How Should You Prep for It?”

Side Note: For many students, a Test Prep Plan involves more than just choosing between the SAT and ACT. We can help with much more – including Subject Test Planning, which we’ve posted about many times in the past (including here, here, and here) – but for the purpose of this post we’ll focus on SAT and ACT planning since that tends to be the most popular.

Which Test Should You Take – SAT or ACT?

It is very true that the standardized testing landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years. The ACT, once an afterthought for students in the Northeast, now is very much on equal footing with the SAT (colleges accept the SAT and ACT interchangeably). For its part, the SAT recently underwent a rather dramatic overhaul, to the point where it now bears little resemblance to the test students took just a few years ago. Given all the changes, the last thing we want is for students to exhaust themselves by ping-ponging back and forth between the two tests (I’ve written about the dangers of this phenomenon, which I call “swinging at every pitch,” in the past). It’s now more important than ever for students to choose just one test – SAT or ACT – and focus their prep exclusively on that test.

So how to choose between the SAT and ACT? The very best – and most reliable – way is to simply have the student take one full-length practice test of each type. This helps to establish data that is not only quantitative (which test the student performs better on) but also qualitative (which test the student prefers). Armed with this information, we can help families determine which test will be the better fit.

Side Note: Yes, the idea of giving up time during the summer or early in the school year to sit for two 4-hour tests is onerous, but it is quite simply the only way to determine which test will play to a student’s strengths (as it happens, I’ve written about the importance of taking full-length, real tests in the past, also). We always tell families, “Spend a little more time up front so you can save a lot of time down the road.” And it’s true: taking a full-length practice SAT and ACT with Summit up front will allow students to choose which test to prep for with 100% confidence, and will prevent them from switching back and forth between tests later on. Luckily, Summit makes taking practice tests extremely easy by offering free testing opportunities throughout the year!

When Should You Take It?

Once we determine whether a student should focus on the SAT or ACT, the next thing we want to look at is when the least bad time will be to actually sit for that test during the year. I say “least bad” because let’s face it: students are SUPER busy. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “good” time to take the SAT or ACT anymore! We look at everything a student has going on during the year – sports, clubs, jobs, trips, finals, you name it – to find out when that student will have the best opportunity to take the test. Test Prep Planning is about coming up with the very best plan possible for each student, and with that goal in mind, we can almost always find the right time of year when a student can reasonably fit the test into his/her schedule. While most students will end up testing between February and June of their junior year, keep in mind that Test Prep Planning is a highly individualized process. One student’s preferred testing schedule may not work at all for another!

Another Side Note: In general, my advice to families is to plan on taking the test 2-3 times between junior and senior year. I believe this will give students the best chance of hitting their goal on the test before “test fatigue” sets in.

How Should You Prep for It?

OK, so we’ve chosen the test – SAT or ACT. We’ve chosen the least bad times during the year to take the test. Now we’ve got to figure out just how much prep the student will need. This is where I think Summit Program Directors – the folks here who do Test Prep Planning with families (many of whom are Summit tutors themselves) – can provide the most value.

Working in consultation with families, we’ll be able to recommend a Test Prep Plan that will be right for each student. On average, most students will do around 15 sessions of prep before it’s all said and done. Some will do a little less, some a little more. But one thing is ALWAYS true: the number of tutoring sessions we recommend takes into account everything we’ve learned about the student so far. What emerges is a transparent Test Prep Plan that everyone can get onboard with and feel good about.

So, What’s the Catch?

(Spoiler: there is no catch.)

As I write this, it occurs to me that I haven’t even really talked about what’s probably the best reason of all to engage in the Test Prep Planning process with Summit: it’s completely no-risk. It’s free. And by that, I mean free-free.

Sometimes parents will ask me how much it costs to have their student take a practice test. And when I say that students can take an SAT and ACT diagnostic for free, they’ll ask how much it costs to have a Test Prep Planning consultation with a Summit Program Director. And when I say that’s free too, they’ll sometimes dig even further: “OK, so maybe the test itself is free, but is there a test setup fee, or maybe there’s a phone consultation setup fee or something like that?”

No, and no again.

At Summit, you pay only if you decide to sign up for tutoring. Everything leading up to the tutoring – diagnostic testing, the follow-up Test Prep Planning consultation, etc. – is free. We do it this way because we understand that standardized testing can be stressful, we want to help ease that stress in any way we can, and we believe very much in our Test Prep Planning process.

If you’re about to embark on the standardized testing process, and the prospect of the coming fall makes you feel a little bit like Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney staring at that giant wall of water in The Perfect Storm, give Summit a call and see how we can help!

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