Margaret Raymond Driscoll is a nine-year Melrose School Committee member who is passionate about excellent teaching and learning for all public school students, and considers it a privilege to collaborate with others who share that passion. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MargaretDrisc. Just to be clear - opinions expressed here do not represent those of the Melrose Public Schools, the Melrose School Committee, or the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials - they are hers alone.

Monday, May 26, 2014

College Entrance Exams and Test Preparation

On February 24th, I wrote a post on whether college entrance exams predict college success, citing evidence that they do not. However, they still remain a fact of life for many aspiring college students since a significant number of colleges still use them as one criterion for admittance. (The list of colleges that don’t require them is here: http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.)

Although written in 2009, an excellent article on testing and prep was published in Westchester Magazine and can be found here: http://www.westchestermagazine.com/Westchester-Magazine/November-2009/To-Prep-or-Not-to-Prep/. This section is pretty interesting: “Prep can include learning (or re-learning) actual material, but what many in the test-prep industry mean when they talk about prep is a “method”—or, some might say, tricks. These include taking practice tests to become comfortable with the format (and save time by dispensing with name-writing and rule-reading quickly), concentrating on early questions (which are easier but have the same point values), eliminating answers that are clear “traps” (for instance, math questions requiring multiplication to solve often have false answers that seem correct and which you could get from simple addition), and guessing rather than leaving answers blank (after omitting just one answer choice, a student is statistically better off guessing than leaving a question blank). “There’s no doubt that familiarity with the peculiarities of the test and how they can be handled can make a big difference,” says Lee Hart, a private math tutor in Purchase.”

As parents, what can we do to help our children perform as well as possible? First, work with your child’s guidance counselor to plan out a reasonable testing schedule so that it takes into account when students have the most content knowledge and when it accommodates the many other important activities in which the child is involved. For example, if the student might be looking at quite rigorous schools, taking SAT II’s at the end of sophomore and junior years when content knowledge is still fresh may be helpful. In the fall of junior year, thinking about a schedule for SAT’s and ACT’s can allow for planning of desired test prep and lessen the stress of taking all of the tests in a short time-frame.

Second, think about the type of test prep that works for your family. It could be a local test prep company, entering the lottery for MIT’s reduced-price test prep (ati.mit.edu), or self-studying (check out http://ineedapencil.ck12.org/ and others).

Finally, help your child with the registration process (watching those deadlines so you’re not paying late registration fees or being closed out of local seating, requiring searching for geographically distant test locations). Encourage them to be ready the night before with their ticket, ID, pencils, etc. – and talk about the no-electronics policy and how the child will survive for four hours without sending/receiving a text :).  A good night’s rest, a solid breakfast and a couple laps around the block wouldn’t hurt to be ready either. (I know, I know – they are teenagers – but we do the best we can!)

Now is a great time to check in with MHS guidance counselors to start thinking about next year’s plan – especially since school staff are working to help your child finalize their schedules. They are ready and willing to partner with you on behalf of your child!