Gaining acceptance into selective colleges seems harder today than ever before, leading an increasing number of students to turn to test prep for high-stakes standardised tests.
Anthony-James Green, a New York City-based SAT and ACT tutor, experiences firsthand the lengths to which families will go to improve their students’ scores. His $US1,500-an-hour price tag may seem hefty, but to the families who want to see significant improvement in test scores, it’s worth the cost.
“My average ACT students usually goes up by around seven points, and on the old SAT they were going up around 420, 430 points,” Green told Business Insider. On the new SAT, Green said, his students average 310- to 320-point increases.
But for families who cannot afford such test prep costs — and he says he will work only with families for whom his rate doesn’t cause a financial burden — Green offers his advice on how to prepare to succeed on the exam.
1. Start early
Starting early, taking it slow and steady, and focusing on weaknesses are the cornerstones of Green’s philosophy.
“The trick is beginning really early, and I recommend freshman year,” Green told Business Insider. “But then keep it to 20 minutes a day — that’s really all it takes,” he said. “You can even split it up: 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon.”
2. Focus on weaknesses
The content areas students focus on is also highly important, according to Green.
He suggests students obsess over their weak points, rather than spending time on problems they feel comfortable answering. “There’s a tendency among everyone to continue [studying] what you enjoy and what you like,” he said.
3. Take practice tests
Most people probably know that studying old SAT questions is an essential part of studying for the exam. But Green says you must go a step further and take realistic practice tests to really ensure you will perform well on the real day of the exam. “The more realistic practice tests you take, the better,” he said.
That doesn’t mean that you must go to a testing center and take the exam multiple times. Instead, wake up early after a full night’s sleep and take the exam exactly as you will have to on the day of the real test. “Taking plenty of practice tests improves your familiarity with the exam, enhances your confidence, allows you to calibrate your prep activities, and tells you exactly when you should take the real thing,” he said.
4. Take it one concept at a time
When students come to a test question they don’t know how, they must drill on this area until they master it.
“If you get something wrong, whether it be a reading comprehension trick, a maths problem, or a grammar issue, make a flashcard out of it, study your errors, and review it until it’s second nature,” Green said.
That even means that they shouldn’t continue on to attempting to learn other new concepts until they have the old concept down first. “I’d much rather have a student review and master a single ACT than take ten ACT practice tests without reviewing them,” he said.
5. Get some sleep
The last tip may sound obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s not extremely important. “Most high-school students are ludicrously sleep deprived,” Green said. And while that may not seem like cause for concern, Green said sleep deprivation has a dramatic impact on standardised test scores.
“If most students just added one hour to their sleep schedule each night, they’d see their scores rise ~5-10% almost automatically, even without studying,” he explained.