Bringing the ACT & SAT to Your Classroom

More students are applying to four-year colleges than ever before. Preparation is known to improve performance on college entrance exams, and thus students' college options. Many schools are searching for ways to deliver prep to their students.

03/28/2019  | 
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The Need for Test Prep

Standardized college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT have exploded in popularity in recent years. The class of 2018 saw over 2 million students take the SAT, with nearly as many taking the ACT, a 30% increase over the previous 10 years. To date, some states have also been requiring the ACT or SAT to meet graduation requirements or use them as a replacement for  statewide tests. States vary in their usage of college admissions tests. For example, Mississippi requires the ACT specifically, while Tennessee requires one of either the ACT or SAT. The heightened importance of the tests has led to schools having increased interest in test preparation. 

“MRA’s graduating class ACT composite average eclipsed the 24-point threshold following the first year of implement ing the ACT prep program offered by A-List. Since then our graduating class average has been above 24. We had not attained this level of success once in the previous 10 years.” -Greg Self, Principal Madison Ridgeland Academy (MS).

The Need for Test Prep

The College Board, creator of the SAT, had long claimed that schoolwork was all that was needed to do well on the test. More recently, however, a College Board study showed that students who took practice tests showed 100 + point improvements on their scores. With the test makers themselves now stressing the importance of preparation, schools are searching for ways to deliver prep to their students. Schools have a variety of options for how they can address the increasing importance of college entrance exams.

In-School Preparation
The best way to get serious about test prep is to have dedicated study time for it. Whether it is an in-school class, afterschool elective, or tutoring, direct experience with the tests is the best way to raise scores. Offering ACT/SAT classes as part of the school day allows a school to create a course that best suits its schedule and curriculum. This approach allows for schools to run a long-term program over the semester or a short term program that last a few weeks, or maybe even just over a weekend. Of
course, any successful program requires that schools have access to test-specific materials, such as books, drills, and quizzes.

Integrated Curriculum

A dedicated course for preparation can be difficult for many schools to implement. The school day is packed as it is, and there often isn’t room to add new courses. Some schools instead opt to integrate test prep into the school’s existing class day. Both the SAT and ACT are strongly grounded in standard high-school curriculum, and both align to the Common Core State Standards as well as most other state standards. One of the main differences between these tests and a normal math and English class is format. Adjusting to the question types and the timing of college admissions tests can be difficult for students—even those who are otherwise comfortable with the content itself. That’s why direct experience with real test material is crucial to improving performance.

SAT and ACT reading questions, for example, ask students to read a given text for main ideas and details. Teachers can write questions in test format about the texts they’re discussing in class.

SAT and ACT math questions notoriously can contain some tricky math concepts, but such concepts make up a small percentage of the overall test. Most questions deal with fundamental concepts such as basic algebraic manipulation or modeling based on word problems. Virtually any mathematical topic covered can be connected to test material.

Practice Tests & Data Analysis

The cornerstone of any preparation is  practice. Practice can take many forms—drills, homework , quizzes—but any serious test prep must include full-length practice tests. A school-wide practice test can tell administrators what score ranges students are currently getting. A closer analysis can break down the results by question type, state standard, or any demographic category a school is interested in tracking. SAT and ACT math questions notoriously can contain some tricky math concepts, but such concepts make up a small percentage of the overall test . Most questions deal with fundamental concepts such as basic algebraic manipulation or modeling based on word problems. Virtually any mathematical topic covered can be connected to test material.

Takeaway — What Can Be Done

Schools can help students with test prep by using a variety of resources to effectively integrate content and strategies into existing curricula, running a standalone prep course, and/or administering practice tests. By bringing SAT/ACT prep into the classroom, schools can significantly help students increase college options

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