Practice tests and prep courses help raise ACT scores

03/11/2014 12:00 AM

03/09/2014 10:15 PM

More than a million high school students take the ACT test each year.

Yet many students don’t think they have control over their scores, said ACT prep coach Lara Schulenberg Cole of Lee’s Summit North High School. “They often do not tie their preparation and performance in classes to their results.”

Cole finds that those who approach the exam with a solid academic background and additional test preparation usually achieve higher scores. ACT prep should be viewed as an athletic practice, she said. “Real advancements are made during practice. It’s also where the majority of time is spent.”

The prep course she teaches focuses not so much on content, but on strategies such as testing practices, nuances of the test and time management strategies.

Practice tests should be viewed as the first game,” she said. “This offers information as to what skills still need to be honed and then back to practice.”

Ideally, students should prepare to take the test just once, possibly twice, Cole said, preferably the spring of their junior year, after almost three years of English, math and science.

Park Hill South senior Joseph Philpot earned a perfect score on his first attempt the spring of his junior year. “There wasn’t much I was unsure about,” said the straight-A student, who prepared primarily with practice tests. “Taking math up to trigonometry will help you get all you can in that section, and I think the reading and grammar sections are a lot easier if you read a lot.”

Senior Heidi Simpson at Lee’s Summit North achieved a perfect 36 on her second attempt. “The first time, I went to the official ACT prep course at my school. The second time, I did a few study sessions with my friends using prep books from the library.”

Benjamin Anderson, a junior at Liberty High School who earned a perfect score last summer, recommends taking practice tests, getting a good night’s sleep, and not getting overly concerned about the results.

“Practice tests are great. You can not only get a good idea of how well you will score, but also work to repair any gaps in your knowledge,” Anderson said. “After taking it a few times, the chance of a significant score change is relatively small, so instead of taking the test 20 times, worry about grades, extracurricular activities and college essays.”

After finishing the test, Sam Dowd, a Lee’s Summit North senior, didn’t think he had done as well as hoped. But a perfect score turned disappointment to elation.

“I didn’t really involve anyone else,” Dowd said. He used practice tests.

Dowd recommends going over why mistakes are made and then repeating the process. “If you keep track of and learn each of those problem ideas, you’ll see improvement.”

Last year he couldn’t finish the test in the time allotted. “So this summer, I sat down and read, read whatever, for two hours every day,” he said. “When I took the test in September, I finished the reading section with 15 minutes left.”

“Read, read, read,” Cole advises students. “The ACT test, honestly, is a reading test, even the math and science tests.”

And she said students should take advanced level courses. Students who are prepared for the ACT, she said, are prepared for more than just the test. “They have the ability to perform the necessary skills in whatever arena they are placed.”

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