September 11, 2020
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am beginning my sophomore year in high school and need some pointers on preparing for the requisite college admissions tests. I plan to take the PSAT in the spring of 2021 and the ACT and the SAT in the fall of 2021.
I want to do especially well on these tests because the National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses these scores to determine winners. I also know that top ACT and SAT scores will be critical for my applications to top colleges. What do you suggest?
High School Sophomore
Advice: Preparing For College Admissions Testing
Dear High School Sophomore,
First of all, I applaud you for your forward planning.
I urge you to keep abreast of all of the testing registration schedules as things have become fluid during the COVID-19 crisis.
The key to doing well on these tests is to focus on the critical reading section which tests vocabulary and reasoning comprehension. Math and writing skills are important, but critical reading is often the most difficult section of these tests to master. The ACT is a very different test than the SAT and they do have an official prep book. Some high schools offer prep classes or you might wish to consider a tutor. Do take some practice quizzes and avail yourself of practice tests if possible.
Work on improving your verbal performance. This will help not only on standardized tests but in the classroom as well. You will find that the time you put into mastering reading skills will reap test performance dividends. Truth be told, this skill will also assist you in the math and writing sections of the SAT. One way to improve your verbal performance is to increase your fact retention accuracy and reading speed. This takes a great deal of practice.
I would suggest that you form the habit of reading challenging articles on a variety of subjects on a daily basis. Two easily available publications that provide this challenge are The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. They have top journalists who are specialists in all fields: news, politics, economics, education, book reviews and entertainment. The stories are interesting reading and educational at the same time.
Here is what I call my "eat your spinach" advice: You need to learn to read for 100 percent comprehension. Read with a dictionary. Go as slowly as you need to in order to understand every word. This is not what you will do on standardized tests, but you must train your brain to read with accuracy.
When I tutor students for the SAT, I often spend as long as an hour analyzing three or four test questions. You have to read as though you are a lawyer dissecting a case. You have to understand how the question is written and why the next-to-the-right answer is not the right answer. I also insist that my clients know the correct definition of all of the words in the question — even if they get an answer right. If Dictionary.com were a key on my keyboard, the icon would be rubbed off.
On these tests you have to think about how the prompt sets up the main arguments and the main point of the passage. You need to understand what the solid facts are vs. opinions and vague assumptions? Remind yourself that you have to stay focused if you want to avoid being tricked into choosing the wrong answer. After all, your discernment is what the tests are designed to determine.
You cannot cram for these tests and there are a variety of prep materials on the market. Use only the best of these, start early and prep no more than a couple of hours a day so that you can process all of the information you will assimilate.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
Tags: Colleges SAT Preparation
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