Anxious about your student’s standardized testing? Relax. Breakaway’s got you covered.

1 Oct 2017
Ron Michalak

Nearly every day, the Breakaway team speaks with parents about the ACT, SAT, the challenges of standardized testing and what an appropriate plan of preparation looks like.  Because we have the good fortune to work with students from more than 60 high schools from throughout the Metro Area, northern Iowa and western Wisconsin, Breakaway brings an expertise in both helping put together robust, effective plans of test preparation and generating results.  If you’re anxious about your student’s standardized testing, relax.  Breakaway can help.  Below, please find an article describing a general plan for taking the ACT and SAT during junior year.  The Breakaway team stands ready to help develop a customized plan of preparation for your student.  Feel free to call us anytime to discuss a plan for your student.  Our contact information is below.  Thank you for reading our article.

Plan to take the ACT (or SAT) three times

Generally speaking, Breakaway recommends that students plan to take the ACT (or SAT) three times over the course of junior and senior year. Most students will test 2-3 times during their junior year, and then once in the fall of senior year. Students in the Class of 2019 will have a new July ACT testing option available to them 2018.

While it is true that a handful of universities (Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, Penn, and Yale, to name about half of them), requires students to submit all testing, the vast majority of the 1500+ schools that require standardized testing do NOT require students to submit all of their test scores. As such, if a student really needs another point or two on his or her ACT, Breakaway typically recommends that the student sit for another administration of the test, as “you can’t get the score you want if you DON’T take the test”. Below, we’ll discuss the timing of tests over the course of the school year, beginning with first semester of junior year.

Make sure to prepare for each test

Regardless of when the student takes the ACT (or SAT), Breakaway strongly recommends that students prepare for each administration of the test. We do NOT recommend sending a student in “cold” to take the ACT. (As one college counselor told me, “You wouldn’t send your student in to a Calculus test cold…why would you do that with the ACT?”) Preparation should be thorough, and include a combination of instruction that targets each section of the test, i.e., English, math, reading and science, as well as full-length proctored practice tests about every 3-4 weeks during preparation. During the school year, we believe that 8-10 weeks of prep, which includes one or two lessons each week, a couple of hours of homework in between the lessons, and monthly practice tests, can help drive meaningful improvements in a student’s score and put the student in the best position possible for success on a real ACT.

Good prep must include full-length, proctored practice tests

Breakaway’s approach to prep integrates instruction on key strategies and frequently tested concepts with full-length practice tests to give students critical experience dealing with the pressure and duration of a real ACT. The lessons and homework that a student completes are designed to help students improve their confidence and performance on each section of the test, while the full-length practice exams give students the opportunity to practice “bringing it all together” in a simulated testing environment. While we look for students to drive improvements through the work they complete at home, we believe that the proctored practice exams, which compel the student to complete all sections of the test in one sitting, give the student and his or her instructors the best indication of the progress the student is making. Click here to see a list of upcoming practice test dates and to register your student for a test!

What to do now during first semester

During fall semester of junior year, Breakaway believes that most students should complete both the PSAT and a real or practice ACT. By completing both tests, students can get a good sense of what each test is like and can compare results from the tests to determine if the student has a scoring advantage on one test over the other.

In October, most of the nation’s three million high school juniors take the PSAT. While the PSAT is primarily a test to identify the 16,000 students who will be named National Merit Scholars, for the other 99.8% of students, it a practice test for the SAT. The score your student gets on the PSAT should be a good indication of how he or she will perform on an SAT. Results from the October PSAT are returned in early January.

First semester also presents your student with three opportunities to take an ACT: September 9, October 28 and December 9. The registration deadline for the December 9th ACT is Friday, November 3rd. Results from the ACT are usually returned within 10-14 days after the test.

By taking both tests during first semester, your student would have test results from both the ACT and the PSAT by January. This would give you and your student the opportunity to compare performances on the tests and determine if your student has a scoring advantage on one of the tests and/or a preference for one of the tests. Below, please find a concordance table that allows you to compare ACT, SAT and PSAT scores to determine if a scoring advantage exists. Information on the ACT writing test is also provided, as writing scores from the September ACT have begun to trickle out. My team – John in St. Paul, Lori in Wayzata, and Matt in Eden Prairie – and I would be happy to talk through your student’s results, help you understand what they mean and talk through a plan of prep appropriate for your student.