Author Topic: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?  (Read 9411 times)

Dee18

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ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« on: January 23, 2014, 02:27:25 PM »
My daughter is a junior and will soon be taking the ACT and SAT.  Some of her friends are enrolling in $500 online prep courses.  Others are getting private tutoring for even more money.  I'm so old that I'm from the era where we just walked in and took the test cold.  Those of you who know about such things, what do you recommend for preparation?  Are these courses worth the money?  My daughter is a good student (all A's until she hit AP chem, history and English at the same time--now high B's in those and A's in pre-calc, Spanish, and Mandarin) at a tough school.  Her strength is math; she also does well on the grammar section. Her weakness is reading comprehension.  My thought is to have her take the ACT once with just practicing from the official book on her own and see how she does.  Any advice is welcome.

tpozywio

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2014, 02:32:09 PM »
KhanAcademy.org has all the help you could ever want for math.   I'd plan on taking it multiple time.   Takes some pressure off and gives good practice for future tries.   Sorry i don't have good advice for the language portions.

Elaine

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2014, 02:34:04 PM »
I went to the kind of high school where everyone did these prep classes too. For what it's worth I didn't do any- I got a test book and studied, eh, maybe about half the time that I told my parents I studied :). I got a 1480 (which means I did better than 99.1% of test takers) and got into every school I applied to (I should note that this was when the test was out of 1600 points). My only question (you said she has good grades) is how she has done on standardized tests in the past. I've always excelled at standardized tests, don't have test anxiety issues, etc. For some people who have lots of anxiety surrounding test taking maybe just the secure feeling they get from a prep class helps them.

Daniel

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2014, 02:34:49 PM »
In my case, the first time I went in I took both tests cold, and did fine, but didn't get a high enough score on reading comprehension for my liking. So I found a practice book in the library, and spent a few hours studying it, learning about the patterns of questions that appeared on the writing and reading comprehension sections. That boosted my scores on reading and writing around 40 points, which was enough for a sweet scholarship! I'm not sure how much more you could get out of a course than just studying a book on your own, but then again I don't think I know anyone who took a course. I do recommend taking the test early so you can take it again if need be. The second time through is much less stressful, which definitely helped me.

Also I remember hearing that the end of junior year was a good time to take the SAT 2s, since you are still fresh from the classes you just finished, rather then fall of senior year when you've just had a summer to forget everything.

Elaine

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2014, 02:41:49 PM »
Also, just to add-
It sounds like you're in a similar area to where I lived in high school (priorities/resources wise). You're going to go crazy if you listen to all the things you "have to do" for college prep stuff. Almost all my peers also hired essay consultants for their application essays. Some had coaches for interviewing and even hired people to look over each part of the application/resume. I even know some who had consultants early in their high school years to make sure they took the "right" combination of extra-curricular activities- including the most marketable charity work. I was told there was just no way that I'd get into any decent school without doing all this. Everything worked out fine. I got into 10 schools, two on full scholarship. Your daughter is smart- that's all that matters.

mollyjade

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2014, 02:46:59 PM »
Does your school offer PSAT or practice tests? I think that's the best way to practice. It's really more about learning test taking strategies than cramming in vocabulary and equations. It will also give her a pretty good idea of what score she'll receive, and she can decide if she's happy with that score or if she wants to put in a lot more prep to raise it.

If she can't do practice tests proctored like the real thing, the next best bet is to try to recreate that scenario at home. Start early in the morning, with timing and no getting up for breaks, and so on.

clarkm04

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2014, 03:19:04 PM »
OP, I agree with your initial inclination.  Purchase or check out a prep book or two.

A lot depends on what colleges your daughter is looking at.  Given her course load, she should score well enough with minimal preparation to get admitted to the vast majority of universities out there.

I teach at a high school where most kids take prep classes (and the test numerous times since I get paid to proctor the ACT) and I think test prep classes are a waste of money.  Having her familiar with the test structure and question types will allow her to perform well based on her course load.

Most of the test prep classes (from talking to students who take them) teach kids strategies for tackling the test and provide timed practice tests.  The same education can easily be achieved from a solid test prep book and a structured at home timeline where perhaps she takes the test at a kitchen table and you mock proctor.

For 95% of kids, I honestly think this is the best advice.

For the other 5%, it's kids who are scoring in the high 20s or low 30s but have aspirations for elite schools where high ACT scores are a most or kids who are struggling to meet minimal standards for collegiate admissions.  Then taking the ACT a second/third time OR a class might be helpful.

Russ

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2014, 03:24:15 PM »
I took each just once without any practice or anything (seemed like BS, just wanted to get it over with) and did well enough, but anecdotally from my friends who did practice: If she's self-motivated, she'll do equally as well with a book. The hard part is doing the work.

As far as actual advice is concerned, I'm convinced the standard mom-advice of get enough sleep (for a WEEK, not just the night before), eat a good breakfast, and don't stress does better for anybody than a class/book if they're already reasonably good at test-taking.

galliver

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2014, 03:57:58 PM »
I believe SAT still does a "question of the day" by email or on their site. They also have a free test. I suggest start there and see if you even need to track down a book.

Heart of Tin

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2014, 05:20:44 PM »
She should take it on her own once as soon as possible to get a baseline for how well she can do. Not everyone who gets good grades can do well on standardized tests, but she may do very well on her own and need no further help. She should gage what score she needs to get the scholarships and entrance to the college she wants. If she's planning on attending a state school, then she won't need the same scores necessary to get into a private school with scholarships. No sense in chasing a perfect score when she only needs an decent score.

When I took the ACT I received a 29 out of 36 initially. I attended a ZAPS (http://www.zaps.com/) seminar after school and improved my score to a 34. It looks like their webinars run about $100 for a 5 hour session. YMMV by instructor though. My instructor gave some good strategies that I ended up using on the actual test unlike all of the other seminars I attended.

One word of caution, most seminars that I attended were geared towards students that were scoring well below where I was scoring, making them not worth my time. That's part of why I suggest she take it on her own once. Then she can gage what kind of help she needs. Much different strategies are required to improve from a 15 to a 21 than from a 30 to a 36. Alternatively, she may be perfect on the Math section but need help with English.

livetogive

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2014, 05:44:05 PM »
I actually recommend the high dollar princeton review courses, especially for the PSAT.  My scores improved so much I ended up making ~ 10x in return with scholarships vs. the cost of the course.

IMO college offers the unique opportunity to outperform the stock market by learning how to take 1 dumb test better.  I have no idea what my studying effective hourly wage came out to with scholarships, but I'm sure it's more than what I make now with a graduate degree.

Milspecstache

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2014, 06:18:47 PM »
ACT - I bought a huge book and did all of the practice problems and tests.  Then I took the thing 7 times I believe because my score kept going up each time.  At the time I needed a certain score to qualify for a scholarship hence the motivation to keep trying.  I can tell you that every counselor/entrance committee has always positively commented on my motivation to keep trying.

SAT - Took it last minute and only needed a passing score to get accepted into a particular program.

FE - Was offered a class for free but I didn't take the class and didn't study much either and yet got the same passing grade as everyone who took the course, proving the course wasn't that useful.

GRE - Found an online website that charged me $20 - $30 to run practice questions and tests for a few hours/night for a couple of weeks.  Really helped me on the math portion which is where I needed to do well.  Yes, this amounts to cramming but I got a 2week notice that I needed a certain score to get accepted into a particular program.

PE - Was really worried about this test so I used notes from a friend to work practice problems for several months prior to the test.  Here, once again, working similar problems really, really helped me.

I guess it depends on your motivation and learning style.  I learn by reading and 'sweat' the test enough to study so I don't waste the money it costs to take the test.  If, however, your learning style is by hearing and if you feel the course would force you to focus and study apropriately, then perhaps it is worth it.  Regardless I think most here will agree that the key isn't a course but rather working example test questions under test conditions.

ragstoroths

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2014, 07:13:29 PM »
She is fortunate to excel at a math as that is statistically the most difficult section to improve on. I agree with others that have said she should take a practice test or two as a sort of self assessment before you decide to buy any prep materials or enroll her in any classes. If reading comprehension is her weakest section, then doing practice questions is probably the best way to improve/be more comfortable with that type of question. I would only enroll in a course if she is not able to manage her time well enough to do an equal amount of prep  on her own.

After she's done a significant amount of self-study, she will be able to identify her weakest points and you can always hire a tutor to help her with those specific things. It will probably be cheaper than the classes and all of the time spent will be useful to her.

AndrewJackson

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2014, 08:46:27 PM »
I raised my score from a 27 to 34. I suffered from quite a bit of test anxiety and this was a real struggle to overcome. What I did? I took about 12 practice tests timed. I usually split the process up into two parts (english/math) and (reading/science). Go online and try to find as many cheap sources of Real ACT tests. ACT releases a free booklet every year of a complete test. Your high school registrar probably has the most latest year available. I am sure ebay or some other online resource has the past couple years available. There is also this book for $20 that has 3 real ACT tests. Anyway, get as many real tests as you can as they are the most comparable to the actual thing. If you can't find enough real tests, get a Princeton review book for the remainder.

Dee18

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2014, 08:53:56 PM »
Thanks for all the great suggestions!

Psychstache

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #15 on: January 25, 2014, 04:52:49 PM »
Thought I could provide some good information on this, seeing as I teach math at one of these fancy SAT places in Dallas.

Today, I had a class with 5 students on a math lesson.

One student didn't really ask any questions, appeared to copy down what i wrote, but was generally kind of disengaged. When it came time to take the 25 min quiz at the end, he burned through all of the problems he knew very quickly, looked at the ones he didn't for a few seconds, and then closed his quiz with 11 minutes left waiting until time was up. He was very uninterested in what was going on and didn't show any interest in trying to improve his math strategies. He is wasting his parents money.

I had another student who very clearly understood everything i was talking about, eased his way through the questions during the lesson, including moving beyond the lesson to work on his own, and then dominated the test with a perfect score with plenty of time to spare. He has all the strategies to be successful, and could probably pick up anything other skills he needed by reading on his own. He is also wasting his money.

The other 3 kids were asking questions along the way, and appeared to learn from any mistakes they made and picked up some skills. If they keep up with the classes and keep on, they will probably learn a few tricks here and there and get a handful of questions they would've missed if they hadn't taken the class. They are getting some legitimate benefit from the class.

So I would say overall it depends on the person and what the goals are for the SAT/ACT as to whether or not it is worth it.

MrsPete

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #16 on: January 25, 2014, 06:15:38 PM »
As a high school teacher, I would not recommend those expensive prep courses.  Recognize what the ACT/SAT are:  They are one component of the college admissions process.  Yes, they are important, but they are less important than the 4-year grade point average, which measures not only test-taking ability but also motivation and other academic skills.  Colleges know this. 

I do not recommend that you try to "push the envelope" and get her into a school that's an academic stretch.  You want her to attend a college where she'll be in the middle of the pack.  You don't want her to be the kid who was "last admitted", the one who has to sprint all day, every day to catch up.  No heroic measures.  Let her attend the college she can comfortably attend.

Math teachers say she should take the SAT as soon as possible after she completes Algebra 2.  That's the highest math tested on the SAT, so it's better to take it while that information is still strongest in her memory. 

English teachers say that the best way to prepare is to read, read, read, read, read, read, read.  The more a person reads, the better his or her vocabulary, speed -- and, yes, comprehension.  Google "free SAT reading comprehension practice".  You'll find specifically the things you say she finds most difficult. 

A $20 workbook is a worthwhile investment, and it's a whole lot cheaper than a course.  If she'll use the workbook. The course is a little more of a sure-thing (because you can be sure she's attending), but -- as another poster said -- attending doesn't mean engaging

The most valuable thing she may garner from an SAT workbook is test taking skills.  She will do better if she knows exactly how long the test will be, what type of questions will be asked, etc.  Because things do change, I did buy a new SAT book for my youngest (even though we probably could've dug up a 3-year old review book that my oldest had).  Be sure you're using the  newest and most correct information. 

Register her to take the SAT during one of the more popular months.  I know that October and January are popular months; I'm not sure about the others.  Why?  Because in those months -- and this is not well-known -- the SAT people offer a service not available in the "small test months".  For an extra $15 (or was it $18?) you can have your daughter's ACTUAL questions and ACTUAL answers mailed to you along with her test scores.  You sign up for this service /pay when you're registering her for the SAT.  If you don't sign up when you register, I don't think you can add it on later.  We did this with our oldest, and we used it as prep material for her second SAT date:  We highlighted the questions she missed, and we found a pattern.  She didn't need to review math at all, and her vocab and other grammar-type questions were top-notch.  Like your daughter, she missed more reading comprehension than anything else -- she wasn't necessarily weak in it, she just wasn't as strong as she was in the other categories.  So we found her practice in JUST those items, and when she took the test again her score went up something like 200 points. 

People say that math-kids do better on the SAT, while English-history kids score better on the ACT.  I don't know whether that's actually true, but my mathy-oldest knocked the top off of the SAT, and we didn't have her take the ACT.  My English-history youngest just took the SAT today, so I can't comment on her score yet, but she is also taking the ACT later, just to have her bases covered. 

Regardless, don't sweat it.  A good student will be admitted to college, even if it's not the school of her dreams -- and not going to THE SCHOOL isn't that big a deal in the long run.  At this point, I'd say it's more important to put effort into visiting schools and preparing for those applications that'll be in front of her on September 1st. 


jpap

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #17 on: January 25, 2014, 06:46:44 PM »
I'm a high school math teacher and I teach ACT preparation classes (all 4 subject areas) in the evening, and I recently researched five for-profit online ACT preparation products for a company I work for.  I hope this helps:
1.  Practice using released ACT/SAT items.  The SAT website offers them for very little money, and released ACT exams can be found for free via a google search.  This is vital; nothing comes close to using authentic items.
2.  Math and English are the areas that can be improved on the most by content reviews AND practice.
3.  For the reading section, the most helpful advice I can give is to pretend to CARE DEEPLY about the topic contained in each passage.  If the passage is about clarinet players, tell yourself that you are fascinated by clarinet players and want to know everything about clarinet players.
4.  See number 1.
5. I would not pay for my children to enroll in any of the test preparation courses.  Too expensive, and not NEARLY as good as practicing with released test items.

TomTX

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #18 on: January 25, 2014, 08:36:46 PM »
I actually recommend the high dollar princeton review courses, especially for the PSAT.  My scores improved so much I ended up making ~ 10x in return with scholarships vs. the cost of the course.

The Princeton Review book was great, and a lot cheaper ;)

goatmom

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #19 on: January 26, 2014, 02:07:51 PM »
Well, this my first dip into this forum so take what I say with that in mind.  First thing you need to figure out is where your daughter stands.  Have her take some practice tests and see how she scores.  If she is already scoring above 700, those courses are not to be of much help. I t would be best to focus on the few questions she is getting wrong and work on those type of questions.  DS1 did not take any prep because he fell into that category.

Now, DS2 really wanted to go to a specific top college but his scores on each section were below what was needed.  i can't remember exactly, but probably around 630-650.  We signed him up to take the class the summer between Jr. and Sr. year.  His scores went up to mid 700s and he is at the school of his choice.  I am not sure it was the class, or just more self confidence, or just kids can do amazing things when they put their minds to it.

Now, DD1 was going to apply to different nursing schools.  Her scored were in the high 600s.  No need to spend money here as she was above the needed scores for entrance and scholarship at the schools she wanted.  This money was best saved for other expenses.

So, I guess you need to find out what her scores are based on some practice tests.  Look at schools she wants to apply to.  Also check out if there are scholarships at the schools directly tied to SAT scores.  If so, it might be worth money/effort to prep to increase score.

Good luck!


rubybeth

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #20 on: January 27, 2014, 09:53:29 AM »
I'm going to add: check with your local public library to see if they have any resources that might be helpful. In addition to test prep books, the library where I work offers a free online service where you can take sample ACT and SAT tests online, totally free. She could take a few of these and see how she's doing before seeing if she really needs to spend a lot of time studying.

livetogive

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #21 on: January 27, 2014, 10:20:02 AM »
I actually recommend the high dollar princeton review courses, especially for the PSAT.  My scores improved so much I ended up making ~ 10x in return with scholarships vs. the cost of the course.

The Princeton Review book was great, and a lot cheaper ;)

True but I often wonder if I would've had as much success.  You can't ask a book questions and there's no guilt from not doing your work for the week.  On the other hand this was before the explosion of internet forums.  I used a book only to study for the CFA passed (level 1 at least, didn't move on after that because it wouldn't have helped my career any.)

MgoSam

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Re: ACT & SAT prep suggestions?
« Reply #22 on: January 27, 2014, 02:35:01 PM »
Hey,

I don't know how much things have changed. My high school didn't have that many people using prep classes (that I know about). All my friends studied from a book they bought or didn't study and took it cold and did well. I studied from an independent book and did ok, not as well as I would have liked. This worked out for me though as I got into the school I wanted with my grades, essays, recommendations, and outside activities. My friends were happy with their scores, though I should add that my friends are largely geniuses that make me look like a moron :-).