With standardized tests and applications poised to ramp up as soon as the Labor Day cookouts are over, summer is no time to go academically soft. Just as athletes might lose ground without regular practice, students can forget math facts and vocabulary words, or begin to slip in writing skills, if they aren’t challenged throughout the summer months.
There are three specific areas in which students can get substantially ahead during the school break: standardized test preparation, academic (math and writing) skills, and summer reading.
Prepping for Standardized Tests
Junior year of high school, in particular, is all about tough classes and standardized testing. Every high school junior will be taking the PSAT in October, along with SATs, SAT Subject tests, and/or ACTs. The “old-school thinking” about the PSAT is that it’s a diagnostic tool only; that you don’t need to prepare for it as it only sets a baseline for the SATs to come. But think about it: If this score will be your low point, don’t you want to set this as high as possible?
Professional baseball players who take spring training seriously will have a better season than those who don’t. So rather than a cold litmus test, why not consider the PSAT as a sort of spring training for the real deal? It’s not only a chance to practice taking an SAT, but an opportunity to practice preparing for it. And the summer and early fall presents a lower-stress opportunity to do that.
As all good coaches tell their team members, regular practice gets and keeps you ahead. In the test-taking world, any regular regimen will keep you strong. Whether you are a junior or senior, the daily checklists, progress charts, and strategies available to CPE clients on www.CollegePrepExpress.com can help you execute a plan to excel on the SAT and ACT. The checklists, for example, outline steps to take each day, such as alternating practice exams with days of focused study.
Regarding practice tests: There are dozens of practice test books on the market. The CollegePrepExpress web site (“Links tab”) lists my favorite picks, but anything from the College Board and the ACT is a good choice, since they write and administer the two college entrance exams.
Practice tests alone do not a better test-taker make. A soccer coach will use a scrimmage to see what the players are doing well, and where they are performing poorly. The key is then doing drills where the skills are lacking. To improve your scores, doing the drills you hate to do; strengthen your areas of weakness.
Sharpening Academic Skills
Even if standardized tests don’t loom large for the fall, they aren’t far off, and kids in any grade tend to slide during the weeks of sun and fun — particularly in writing and math.
To keep writing skills sharp, pay attention to what you read, even if it’s a light novel on the beach. Don’t just read for the story line; read with critical intelligence. Notice the grammatical structure, pay attention to how it is written. What makes it good? Sentence structure, metaphor, imagery? This attention to details naturally works its way into your own writing.
And practice that skill, whether that means penning a letter home from camp or keeping notes in a journal. If you set a goal to write one letter a week, that’s 12 pieces you’ll finish, and you’ll be a better writer at the end of the summer. (By the way, texting doesn’t count.)
Keeping up your math skills depends on the school work you just finished. If you were struggling during the academic year, the break is a great time to go back and revisit the material you were supposed to learn. Math is a cumulative course throughout the high school curriculum. If you are struggling with one topic, it will come back to haunt you. If your foundation is solid, you can forward your skills by looking ahead. Get a copy of your upcoming textbook, if possible.
Killing Two Birds With One Book
Most schools have summer reading requirements, and many kids start thinking about those sometime during Labor Day weekend. By jumping on these early in the season, you can kill several mockingbirds, or whatever your assignment may be, with one stone. Remember, if you read a book while being mindful of the writing, you will improve your reading comprehension and become a better writer. A saxophone player may listen to John Coltrane for the pure enjoyment, but it also makes him a better musician.
And if you know you’ll have a paper about the book when you return to school, begin a draft — even just an outline — in August, and you’ll ease up your September that much more.
For many teens, particularly juniors and younger, the pressure of college testing and the onslaught of college applications may be concepts still too abstract to get them motivated. A year seems a long time when you are in high school.
Hiring a tutor or joining a study group or class gives students added incentive and can make summer study time fun. A one-on-one session is an effective way to make sure your child’s unique needs and learning style is met; however, there are also proven benefits to small-group sessions. For instance, in a group, one participant may ask a question that other students didn’t even realize they needed to know as well. Or one may bring up a point that another was not comfortable addressing. There’s a kind of camaraderie and a friendly competition that lifts everybody’s game.
For information about in-person classes and online tutoring options, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.