Recently, a father called in to us for ACT prep for his daughter, warning us in advance that her case was very curious and difficult. Apparently the man’s daughter had originally done a full practice test in both the SAT and ACT, and then chose to prepare for the ACT on the basis of the comparative test results. The student completed practice test after practice test, reviewing her errors after each one, and in the next few months, she did indeed bring up her score substantially –- from a 23 to 29. But at that level, she stalled. Analyzing her results, the student discovered that she was making silly errors in easier questions, perhaps due to rushing, and then running out of time in the harder questions, anyway. Her instinct was to work harder on the more difficult questions, but it wasn’t making a consistent difference in her scores. What was she doing wrong?
This is where the self-guided student — however capable and motivated — misses out. The instinct to just try harder and take more tests is natural, but misguided. Of course, taking practice tests is a key component of successful test prep. Students should be sure to use real ACTs from recent years, especially, as real tests are the best predictors of what they can expect on test day. But students can overdose on official practice tests — taking all of the nearly one hundred previously given tests by the ACT — and just as predictably stall. Like any recipe, the recipe for success contains multiple ingredients, and missing one or two of the key ones will doom an otherwise noble effort. One of the two ingredients missing from this student’s study was a strong ACT prep textbook.
The ACT publishes their own guide, The Real ACT Test Prep Guide, which just includes a few of their (not so recent) real tests along with answer explanations. Not useless, but not a true test prep guide either. They have recently added individual test section guidebooks, as they are rolling out individual section retesting in September 2020, but those books, too, basically repurpose old test material. These guides do not teach overall concepts, individual math topics, or, most importantly, how to get to the answers more efficiently and avoiding traps. That’s where a great textbook makes a huge difference. Studying in a chapter textbook, students do drills in individual grammar and usage points for the English test, learn how to approach reading passages without squandering precious time, master math concepts in an organized and comprehensive format, and discover how to crack the science section. A practice test is just that: a test. Tests are to be taken after one has mastered the material base for them. Although the ACT purports to be a test of skills and knowledge that students have already gained in school, it turns out that the test itself is a subject of study, so better get a textbook to do so!
Finally, there was one other key ingredient missing from this student’s ACT test prep: a good tutor. Self-guided study is admirable and valuable, but gets super-charged when combined with experienced, professional guidance. A good ACT tutor not only serves as a student’s coach, pacing them and encouraging them in their study, but can diagnose problems that the student might not even recognize. For this student, since she understood the easier math problems, she never realized she had a problem with them. But by learning shortcuts in the easier math problems, she was able to free up time to tackle the harder ones — and make fewer sloppy mistakes earlier in the section, too. Learning and then practicing advanced reading test techniques (something you don’t get by doing practice tests alone, or reading through a textbook on your own), the student was able to pick up points in reading, too. Similarly pinpointed focus on the student’s weaker areas in each section of the test were addressed through relevant textbook chapters, supplemented with additional study materials. You just can’t do that by yourself, even if you use the textbook.
Throughout the test, the best tutors can guide students to get the most from test prep resources — including a strong textbook and real practice tests — and thus raise their scores to the heights that their efforts deserve. And, yes, we have the very best tutors at Ivy Coach. So if you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s ACT or SAT test prep, fill out our free consult form, indicate SAT / ACT test prep, and we’ll put you in touch with our tutor, Linda, to answer questions about Ivy Coach’s tutoring services. And, no, we don’t have tons and tons of SAT and ACT tutors. We have one. Why? Because we’ve never found anyone as effective as Linda. It’s that simple.
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