The recent SAT cheating scandal involving Long Island high schoolers and college students has raised alarm bells across higher education. How could students from top notch Long Island schools pay college students to take their SATs for them? How wide spread is this practice, and how long has it been going on for?
For those of us in the field of education, and in particular test prep, the New York incident comes as no surprise – it is the natural evolution of a system which has placed an extremely high value on the results of a single test. It has created an arms race among students who are driven to exploit any means (both legal and illegal) to increase their odds of admission to their college of choice. For better or worse, this is the current environment which students (and their parents) have to deal with – and the reality is that standardized tests are one of the most important factors in college admissions.
While the importance of standardized tests may change over the long term – for now, the idealistic idea pioneered by Harvard University to liberalize the admissions process is the most serious hurdle high school seniors will face.
Given these conditions, what are students to do? What priorities should students set, and how should parents help them get there with their integrity intact? There are three simple rules for navigating the college admissions process and the SAT/ACT – and this applies to the GMAT, LSAT, MCAT and GRE as well. These rules are designed to take the stress out of the college admissions process, and make it possible for anyone to achieve a higher score on the SAT/ACT.
1) Think Long Term
2) Maximize Repetitions
3) Tailor Your Learning
Think Long Term – Begin your formal test prep activities one year before the exam date. Every good test prep process begins with learning the ins and outs of the SAT or ACT. This requires a thorough review of each of the question types, the scoring method, and the format of the exam BEFORE ever doing a practice question. This is a relatively low pressure, low stakes way to prep and feel comfortable with the exam.
Maximize Repetitions – Do as many test prep questions as you can in order to get familiar with the patterns and habits of the question writers. This doesn’t require you to buy a ton of books or download massive databases of questions. As long as you get coverage across all the common question types, doing the same questions over will build the confidence and pattern recognition necessary to succeed.
Tailor Your Learning – You should avoid the cookie cutter approach at all costs. If you are testing at a high level on the math, but struggle with the verbal – attack the low hanging fruit! For you, an hour’s worth of verbal prep will yield more of a score improvement than an hour of math prep – so focus on the right things. Don’t waste your time (and money!) learning skills that will not help you improve your score. Do spend time practicing question types where you don’t feel as comfortable, and always look for new ways to relate to the material.
Above all, stay focused – don’t spend time practicing concepts you already know or which won’t be on the test. Once you’re done studying, relax and be confident that you’ve done your best and that is all you can ask.