Get Smart About SATs

By Cammie McKenzie, M.Ed., MBA

Community Contributor

Students attain their best standardized test results when they’re well prepared.”

Image credit by:  nrjfalcon1

Image credit by: nrjfalcon1

Students who are naturally good test takers may find self-prep for standardized tests effective, while those who may need re-teaching of certain skills may benefit from review classes.”

It is common knowledge that students who wish to go on college must take the ACT or SAT entrance exam. Parents and students alike are usually aware of this step in the college application process and make plans accordingly. Many assume this step is an easy one. For some students, it is. For most students, it is not.

The fact is that many students who expect to do well on these exams, are shocked to discover how unprepared they really are for the SAT and ACT. Students with high GPAs are perplexed to receive scores that are, at best, mediocre. Students who consider themselves to be strong in reading and writing cannot understand why their essay does not score a 12 or why the English section on the ACT seems so difficult. Others cannot begin to accept that they would run out of time during the exam. Parents are equally as shocked when the scores do not seem to reflect the “caliber” of student their child has proven to be in school.

Technically, these students have learned usage and mechanics in grammar, and ,generally, most do know what a rhetorical question is. But few understand how these are presented on the English section of the ACT exam. Similarly, most students know how to read material are able to answer critical reading questions, but few understand that both the SAT and the ACT have unique “style” and “expectation.” In other words, when preparing for the SAT, students must think the SAT way. And the same can be said when preparing for the ACT.

The dilemma might be best summed up this way. Imagine being fully capable of finding your way around town, completing tasks and accomplishing goals. In other words, you are as your child has good ownership of his or her school material. Then, without warning, you are lifted into air and dropped in a foreign land where, despite your many skills, you are at a loss. As to how to proceed given the expectations, rules, and language of this new world. Your failure to do well has little to do with your skill level but much to do with your understanding of “how things get down” in this new place.

IMAGE CREDIT BY:  komsomolec

IMAGE CREDIT BY: komsomolec

Preparation tips for students and parents

 Plan to begin reviews-whether at home or with a class- at least four to six weeks prior to the scheduled test.

 Consider time management as a critical component of the review process, especially when preparing for the ACT.

 Be sure to understand the difference between the critical reading and English components.

Critical reading is designed to test a student’s ability to read and understand information. The English component focuses on a student’s mastery of usage and mechanics. In other words, the English section presents what students know as grammar. Most students will benefit from in depth review of the basic rules of grammar.

 ACT/SAT self-prep can be effective for the student who is disciplined and already has a good command of the math verbal skills required on these standardized exams. Students who are also, by nature, good test takers can generally find working through practice tests on their own very productive.

 Classes or tutorial sessions will benefit those students who are not good test takers and those who may need reteaching of basic reading comprehension, grammar or math skills.

 The ACT contains a science component which tends to intimidate many students. Contrary to what most think, this section requires more skill int eh area of reading comprehension than it does in the area of science.

 Some students may choose to take their first SAT/ACT exam without preparation to establish a benchmark of sorts. Others choose to attend Learning in Motion for reviews prior to the first exam with the intention of using their initial scores as a guide for additional tutoring to increase scores where needed.

 Learning in Motion suggests students complete at least three verbal and two math sessions in preparation for their exam.

Cammie McKenzie is an education specialist and the owner of Learning in Motion Tutoring, which offers private, one-on- one SAT/ ACT review session throughout the year. She can be reached at 239- 415-0029 or at