With the number of standardized tests students take, a study plan can make a difference.

Though spring testing season is months away, Margaret Appenheimer, director of college counseling at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights; Renee Wruck Bischoff, director of college counseling at Hawken School in Chester Township; and Kim Walter, center director at Huntington Learning Center in Mayfield Heights and Mentor, said it’s best to plan ahead.

“Students and parents should familiarize themselves with test dates and registration deadlines if you know they need to register for a particular test,” Walter said. “There have been so many changes in the testing schedule because of COVID-19 so it’s important to at least know that they have a confirmed test date and they have registered properly. If a student has already taken a test and they’re planning on retaking an exam, they should also revisit their scores and strategies and make a plan to improve their results.”

With the pandemic likely continuing through the testing season, it has affected some areas of the testing process. This has led to many schools going test-optional for applicants, Appenheimer said.

“Some of these schools have indicated they will remain test-optional indefinitely, while others have said it is a three-year trial or it is for one year only for this graduating class of 2021,” she explained. “However, as we are watching COVID cases continue to surge across the country, we expect that opportunities to take the SAT and/or ACT will continue to be difficult looking ahead. And, given colleges’ commitment to equity and access, they will likely be faced with the decision about whether or not they will require tests for the class of 2022.”

Going into the fall, Bischoff said only about 30% of the class of 2021 had a test score on file. This can be attributed to the pandemic forcing test centers to close throughout the spring and summer, making it difficult for students to test safely.

“Given the new rise in COVID cases, we anticipate that many test centers will close or limit their seats,” she said. “We encourage students to register early to secure a seat and to make a plan that stretches over several months.”

When students have determined their exam date or if they’ll need an exam, the professionals had advice on how to best prepare.

“Test prep should be started at least eight weeks before the test date,” Bischoff noted. “In some cases, a tutor or test prep company may recommend a longer (12 weeks) time frame. The best preparation for standardized testing is doing well in school, reading outside of class (particularly news or academic articles from the newspaper) and following through on a focused test prep plan. Taking full practice tests several times before the test date is important.”

Walter said, “Oftentimes, taking any kind of standardized test takes better preparation to feel confident. Working on increasing your skills takes time and practice so academic skills are built and improved upon. When academic skills are built and improved upon, they significantly increase the student’s confidence. That can go a long way to avoid test day jitters.”

Students should also space out their studying and test prep.

“It’s never a good idea to do long test prep sessions close to the test,” Bischoff said. “Shorter, more focused practice is better. It’s like a marathon: nobody shows up and runs 26 miles fast. It takes time to strengthen and get used to the long distance. It’s the same with test prep.”

Appenheimer said, “It makes sense for students to prepare in the several months leading up to the test. Test prep shouldn’t come at the expense of a student’s classwork or the opportunity to engage in experiences that are interesting and meaningful.”

Families should also consider what kind of test prep works best for their students. Appenheimer explained all students have different needs when it comes to studying, so their test prep should reflect that.

“Some students are independent and disciplined, so do well with a test prep book,” she said. “Others like the structure of a weekly class while some benefit from one-on-one attention. But, without a doubt, preparation positively impacts a student’s score.”

Walter said, “Standardized testing protocols are not something that you can cram for. It’s an assessment over several months and sometimes several years of academics, so you need to allow yourself enough time to prepare to do your very best.”

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