It’s not that easy, but it is that simple. Your students’ test scores will improve if they prioritize their studying. And since we know that most students can’t and won’t prioritize without help, these 5 steps will help any teen prioritize and create an effective SAT or ACT test prep plan. In fact, with a few changes, this 5 step plan will work for any important exam in high school, college, or beyond.
1. Make It a Priority: Take a Full Length Pre-Test.
Start by taking a full length, timed practice test, including the writing section. It’s not easy to give up 4 hours on a weekend, but you need to do it. If you’re still deciding between the ACT and SAT, use this SAT vs. ACT Guide to help you make the best decision.
2. Prioritize Your Goals: Be Realistic.
Score your results and do some honest self-assessment. How much do you think you can bring up your scores from the practice test? How much time can (will) you realistically commit to preparation? You might want to break 30 on the ACT, but do you need a 30 to get into your first choice school? Is it more important to boost your school GPA than your ACT score? There are only so many hours in the day and you’ll need to make trade-offs, i.e. prioritize.
Set two goals, a minimum and a stretch goal. Don’t lower your expectations but be practical. Have an overall score goal, as well as goals for each subject test.
3. Prioritize Your Time: Make a Detailed Study Plan.
Create a test prep plan. Be as specific as possible. Which days will you study? How long? Which subject tests? Work backward from test day—you will need extra prep time in the days before. Put it all in your calendar.
If you don’t stick to the plan, it’s kind of useless. If you stick to the test prep plan you have a significantly better chance of meeting even your stretch goals. Ask parents or a friend to help keep you on track if you need that extra nudge.
4. Prioritize Your Needs: Re-test and Smart Score.
Take a second full length, timed practice test. Score it. Are you on track to meet your minimum, and potentially stretch, goals? If not, time for what we at Mindprint call smart scoring and smart prioritization.
Understand why you aren’t meeting your expectations with a detailed analysis by subject test. This isn’t easy, and you might need help, but if you do this right it will make all the difference.
Here is a sampling of some of the questions we use by ACT subject test to help students figure it out. If you can’t answer these questions yourself, ask a parent, a tutor, or a teacher for help.
- ACT English: Are you having more difficulty with grammar rules (usage mechanics) or sentence structure (rhetorical analysis)? Do you have difficulty understanding the questions? Remembering the rules? Pacing yourself? Making careless errors?
- ACT Math: In which topics do you have the most mistakes? Do you have difficulty remembering formulas? Do you have more errors at the end because you ran out of time or because the questions are more difficult? Are you making careless errors?
- ACT Reading: Do you find all passages equally challenging or is one genre easier than another? Do you have more difficulty on the detail questions or the main idea/purpose? Are you having difficulty finishing all four passages? Do you struggle to maintain focus?
- ACT Science: Does this reflect your best effort, or were you too tired at the end? Did you do better on the data analysis or the research summaries? How does this compare to how you do on lab experiments?
5. Smart Prioritization: Use Your Strengths.
Time to be super smart about your prioritization. Where will you get the biggest bang for your buck? Which subject tests do you have the most potential to improve? Which question types within the subject test? In other words, prioritize your strengths first.
Re-evaluate your original plan and figure out what needs to change. Will your minimum goals go up or down for any subject tests so you can balance out your score? How will you specifically allocate your time by subject and sub-topic to ensure you meet your goals? Will you need to reserve extra time for memorization? Extra full length tests to ensure your stamina?
You can do this. Just remember, prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!