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What Type of SAT or ACT Preparation is Best for Your Teenager?

Steve Schecter
October 1, 2020

What type of test preparation will work best for your teenager? The answer actually depends upon how you answer this next question:

What does your teenager really need from SAT or ACT preparation?   

Whether your teenager should rely primarily on self-study, a class, a small group workshop, or private coaching will depend on what they are looking to accomplish and what kind of help they need. 

Let's start with the need and work backwards to see what kind of training you might seek.

Consider which of these descriptions fits your teenager’s situation most closely:

1) My teenager needs a review of what's on the SAT and ACT and some practice so they can be comfortable on test day

2) My teenager wants to be very well rehearsed for the SAT or ACT in order to do as well as they can

3) My teenager has always struggled with standardized tests and wants to do better than in the past

These three levels of need point to different levels and types of preparation.

My teenager needs a review of what's on the SAT and ACT and some practice so they can be comfortable on test day

Let's say your teenager is a highly confident student with a very strong history on standardized tests.  It may be that a bit of review over a short period of time is all they need for a stellar SAT or ACT score.  In this case -- a class or self-study could do the trick.   (One caution, though:  have your teenager take a practice test at some point well before their junior year to confirm that their past history of excellence on standardized tests will continue to hold).  

This kind of preparation also might make sense if you consider it highly unlikely that your teenager will make much use of standardized testing at all.   If your teenager plans to apply to schools where their SAT or ACT will not matter much, then short-term review via a class could be enough to get them comfortable with taking the SAT or ACT once or twice.  

My teenager wants to be very well rehearsed for the SAT or ACT in order to do as well as they can

We've found that even highly confident students and strong test takers often need extensive preparation to do their best on the SAT or ACT.   Among high-achieving students, some need as little as a week or two to get their SAT or ACT where they want; others need a semester or a year to prepare very well.   The difference does not, we've found, reflect on the quality of the student; it's simply the way different students respond to an SAT or ACT game that's different from the game of doing well in class. 

If the student can benefit, and would like to prepare well over an extended period of time, then it's good to consider a mix of self-study, class (virtual or live), small group workshop, and private coaching.   A mixed approach like this can keep your teenager "in the game" long enough to make a real difference, and do so in a way that's economical. 

My teenager has always struggled with standardized tests and wants to do better than in the past

This need must be met in a different way than the first two we've discussed. 

If your teenager has struggled with standardized tests in the past, it is not likely that a typical SAT or ACT class -- or even typical SAT or ACT tutoring -- will help much.  It is wishful thinking to repeat what did not work in the past and expect it to work this time. 

In tutoring hundreds of students over the years, we've found four groups of students who benefit very little from typical SAT or ACT training:  

  • strong students who are weak test takers, 
  • students who are chronically weak in math (or reading), 
  • students who have test anxiety, and 
  • students who have not yet learned to excel

If any of these descriptions fit your student, then consider two things -- 

1) Practice over an extended period of time with a mix of training -- class, self-study, group workshop and private coaching.

2) Practice that squarely addresses the specific training needs of your teenager.  

So, to decide what kind of preparation your teenager will need for the SAT or ACT, first look at what you would like the training to accomplish, and then seek training that is the best match for your resources and your teenager's needs.  

Stay tuned for other articles in this series that demonstrate how game-based training addresses the specific needs of students who struggle with standardized tests, and feel free to reach out if you or someone you know needs some coaching.

Best,

Steve


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