The transition from the end of the Summer to the beginning of Fall is perhaps the most stressful time in rising high-school juniors’ and seniors’ lives. For juniors, the college admissions process suddenly seems real in a way it has not before, and the timing, scheduling, and logistics of everything from college visits to ACT or SAT test prep can feel overwhelming -- the next year needs to be carefully planned, and it can feel scary to not know how to get all necessary pieces properly in order. For seniors, already deep into the process, the first day of school can already feel like the last minute. The final college application deadlines loom, and it can seem like everyone else already has met them and met them more efficiently (of course that’s never true—as a veteran of application consulting and SAT tutoring in New York, I can assure you that every student or family feels this way).
I’ve been writing a series of blogs here comparing the SAT to the ACT, explaining section-by-section the differences between these two tests. While understanding the minute ways in which these tests vary from one to the other can be important in choosing which is best for a student, in each blog I’ve stressed that far more important than which test the student chooses to take is that they work closely with a dedicated one-on-one tutor to hone their approach to the material and their confidence in that approach. Today I want to talk about why that is, and why one-on-one tutoring should be the linchpin of any and all standardized test preparation.
Standardized tests are often viewed as a game of chance: Even with preparation and an understanding of the material and the system, students and parents often still feel that its only the students natural, untrainable test-taking abilities that will determine their score. To great degree, the worry over whether the SAT or ACT is the best choice stems from this widely propagated myth. A student is naturally suited to the SAT or naturally suited the ACT, and supposedly 90% of the game is accurately assessing that disposition and matching them to the test.
This is patently untrue. After ten years of being an SAT tutor in NYC, and six years as an ACT tutor, as well teaching numerous other standardized tests, I can state with complete confidence that all abilities and tendencies described as “natural test-taking ability” are repeatable, methodical approaches that can be taught, learned, and memorized. The difference between the SAT and ACT is not what kind of brain a student has, but which methods they have to practice and learn. Some students are more naturally inclined to do well on standardized tests, but there is nothing about the way such a student approaches material that can’t be taught quite easily, nor would those students not also benefit greatly from one-on-one tutoring to help make their results consistent and repeatable.
Fall can be a scary time for students and parents considering standardized tests, but it shouldn’t have to be! Minimizing the deliberation over test choice, testing dates, and strategy, and instead just jumping into hard, dedicated work with one-on-one tutoring will immediately bring results and ease stress of college applications for both parents and students. A good tutor can quickly assess a student’s learning style, and tailor an approach to either test (or both) that will work best for them, and will minimize the stress that these tests often bring along with them. It’s easy to agonize over a million different decisions during this process, but just jumping into the work goes far to maximize the time left, however closely those application deadlines are approaching.