The importance of practice tests

Hello AJ Tutoring clients and friends! We hope you all had a great Thanksgiving and you’re ready for the busy December season of finals, concerts, and family gatherings.

One thing on the minds of many juniors these days is getting ready for the March SAT. At this point, I’ve already completed a couple tutoring sessions with many of my juniors and they’re getting ready to take their first full practice tests.

Completing full practice tests is a great way for students to get the feel of the test and track their progress. Sometimes, though, a student will come to our next tutoring session with the test partially completed, or not done under ideal circumstances. This ends up partly wasting the student’s time, since we can’t get an accurate idea of where he’s at with the test. Which begs the question: what should it look like when students do practice tests for homework?

If possible, we always encourage students to take proctored tests offered some Saturday mornings at AJ Tutoring’s Palo Alto office. We’ll tell students what to do and when, just like the day of the test. This takes guesswork out of the equation and gives accurate results. Plus, students get their tutoring homework done in one morning. Win-win!

But if it’s not possible to come in for a proctored test, students should do the test at home, in an environment that resembles the testing environment as closely as possible (minus all the other stressed-out students). What should this look like?

1. NO DISTRACTIONS! This is so important. Most high schoolers treat their phones like extra appendages. You can’t have phones during the SAT, so don’t have them out while you’re taking a practice test. You can use the phone as a timer, but put it across the room. No talking, no texting, no Facebook.
2. Do the whole test in one sitting. Yes, this is hard, and yes, it will take about four hours. Yes, we know you have sports and theater and hours of homework to do. But test day is a marathon, not a sprint. Lots of students could get great scores, if only they could split up the test over three days. Don’t be one of those people! The SAT is partly testing your ability to focus and think for several hours straight, so you need to practice that. No shortcuts here!
3. Time it like the actual test. Follow the timing directions at the top of each section, and set a timer to go off when time’s up. Stop writing when you hear the timer, and don’t fill in more answers.
4. Go in order. Don’t do all the math sections at once, or all the reading and writing sections together. Complete sections in the order they’re presented in the test.
5. Take the test when you’re feeling rested. Weekend mornings are a great time to take practice tests because the test itself is given on a Saturday morning. Regardless of what day you choose to complete the practice test, don’t start it at 9 pm on a Thursday night after you finished all your other homework. Practice tests completed at 1 am never end well, trust me.
6. Parents, help create a good environment. Make sure your son or daughter has a cleaned-off place to sit and complete the test without distractions. Don’t interrupt them to talk or ask questions. Encourage them to do the test in one sitting, and provide positive reinforcement when they get it done. Put the test up on the fridge after they get the score back (okay, you don’t have to do the last part).

Completing several practice tests under testing conditions is one of the best predictors we at AJ Tutoring have found for a student’s eventual score improvement. Implementing the advice above is sure to help you have a great test day when March finally rolls around.

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