During the fall, it seems every week we encounter a new ISEE, SAT or ACT registration deadline or administration date. Most of the major standardized tests fall into certain periods of concentration. This is true for state and independent school exams, like the ISEE, SSAT, and the SHSAT, to college admissions exams like the SAT and ACT, as well as graduate school entrance exams like the GRE, GMAT and LSAT. We are about to enter a period of such clustering from mid-October through mid-December. There is also a concentration in the spring from mid-April through mid-June.
It is important to realize that test preparation cannot merely begin at the registration deadline, which is usually less than a month prior to the test date. To ensure a confident, level-headed approach on test day, the material must be examined and taken seriously well in advance. Standardized tests are not measures of any innate intelligence or ability; in a sense, performance on these exams is just an indicator of how well you perform on these exams. This is why our schools and universities rarely make test scores their first criteria in decision-making. Meaningful preparation that results in actual mastery of the material usually raises a student's score substantially.
As you look ahead to your child's exam schedule in the upcoming year, don't miss your registration deadlines, but be sure you don't forget to accommodate the learning process that comes far prior to registration, either. Make a study plan a year in advance that includes understanding how the test works. Take a practice test each month in real test conditions to develop ease with test-taking itself. Break down the test into discrete concepts and commit to learning one each week, e.g., triangles this week, probability next. Learn a new word or two each day. There are hundreds of resources for each standardized test at your disposal: books, word lists, worksheets, computer programs, etc. This kind of preparation will leave many students well-prepared for test day.
If you know your child faces a struggle with a standardized test, professional test prep is always an option. We all know this is a huge industry, with thousands of classes and private tutors in New York City alone. One piece of advice: Research your options and know how much you are willing to spend in total. It can get very expensive. Another piece of advice: If you know you are going to have a few sessions with a tutor, do the majority of them months in advance.That way, you'll know where you stand and have the time to address areas of weakness. Then you can have the last couple of sessions right before the test date for lingering questions and final preparations. For self-disciplined learners, a good tutor will be able to identify gaps in knowledge and create a plan of action that the student can follow independently. For those students who need more attention, there are rigorous programs that provide step-by-step instruction over the course of months.
The bottom line: Make a plan! Get familiar with the test as well as the dates that serve you. If you don't feel confident with some of the content, target those areas for extra attention. Seek outside resources. (You might as well start by checking out free or low-cost options before jumping right in with tutors who charge hundreds of dollars an hour.) Practice, practice, practice! Then, the night before the big day, relax a little. If you've done a thorough preparation, the confidence will be there, and the results will come.