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Preparation key to college entrance exams

Whether your teen is planning to take the SAT, the ACT or both, students feel enormous pressure to score well on college entrance exams. But even a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT is not a ticket into a top school.  An expert offers tips for how to get into a good school.

Whether your teen is planning to take the SAT, the ACT or both, students feel enormous pressure to score well on college entrance exams. But even a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT is not a ticket into a top school.

Did you know that Stanford University, for example, rejects more than 80% of students who scored 800 (perfect score) in any given section on the SAT?

Preparation is the key to performing well on the college entrance exams. Here some things that every student can do to help them maximize their test results:

Plan Ahead — Make sure there is ample time to take the test before college applications are due. Generally, a student’s initial test date should be in the spring of junior year.

Prep Early — Students can take a test prep course or prep themselves from books and websites. The SAT is heavy on reading, so parents should engage their children in reading from an early age

Practice — Take at least eight practice tests under timed conditions. I recommend one per week for two months before the exam. Why so many? Eight tests are sufficient for a student to get a good feel for what’s expected on the exam, how to work through the questions, pacing and which areas they need to work on more. Again, make sure to time the practice tests just like the real exam.

Create a Test Environment — Replicate the conditions under which the test is administered. Take practice tests early on a Saturday morning in an area with noise and distractions, such as a library. Do homework under similar distracting conditions for long periods of time. Students need to practice concentrating, sitting in one place and getting comfortable thinking and working in noisy or group environments.

Compare Scores and Grades — Compare practice test scores to actual grades. This is something I do with students to indicate whether test performance is on par with their actual capabilities or whether there are areas in which they to work harder. For example, “A” students should be scoring 700 or above on the SAT.

Chew —  Yes, chew. Chew a favorite flavor of gum while practicing and while taking the actual exam. This creates a positive experience for the brain.

Limit Guessing — Students taking the SAT should only guess on multiple choice questions if they can use a process of elimination to narrow the options to two possible answers. Test takers are penalized for incorrect answers but not for omitted answers on multiple choice questions.

Let the Fun Wait —  Don’t make big plans for after the test. Thinking about the fun coming up later in the day is a distraction while taking the test. Students should wait until after the test is over to make plans.

Create a Balance —  Students should not spend all their time practicing for the entrance exams. Even a perfect SAT score of 2400 does not guarantee admission to top picks. Admissions officers look for students who will make a positive contribution to their campus community. Students should have a balance of good grades, meaningful participation in extra-curricular or community service activities, strong essays and good test scores.

Retake, But Know When to Stop – Students who are unhappy with initial test scores, may take the tests again. But we have learned that after taking the test three times, scores generally do not improve.

Choose the Best Test —  Consider which test is right for your student. By taking practice SAT and ACT tests, students often find they score better on one than the other. Though the SAT has traditionally been the most widely-used test, students are no longer required to take it. As of 2007, every school that accepts the SAT Reasoning Test now also accepts the ACT. Descriptions and comparisons of the ACT and SAT can be found on the IvyWise web site.

Keep in mind that neither test will “look” better on an application, and students don’t have to take both tests. Above all, the most important part of the standardized testing process for students to remember is that hard work and preparation pay off, regardless of whether the student takes the SAT or the ACT.