WHAT ARE ACT and SAT TESTS?
The ACT and SAT tests are two of the most-utilized tests for the determination of college preparedness. They are generally administered during a student’s junior year in high school, but may be taken additional times according to a national schedule. Most college admissions and scholarship determinations depend upon adequate scores on these tests.
Contrary to popular belief, the primary goal is not achieving high scores, but determining areas of weakness prior to matriculation so that they may be addressed and strengthened. The extremely high college freshman dropout rate is mainly ascribed to lack of preparedness. Additionally, many students are limited in their potential areas of study because of their lack of skills in one or more of the fundamental areas. Mathematics, reading comprehension and writing skills are unequivocally necessary to college success.
The tests do not merely test procedures and memory. Most questions and problems deal with critical thinking to various degrees. For most students, it is not possible to do well on these tests without a good understanding of concepts and requisite preparation.
An important secondary goal of these tests is to gain acceptance for admission or scholarship by demonstrating proficiency in the basic academic skill areas. Since tens of thousands of students apply annually for admission as freshmen to most major universities, competition requires obtaining at least a good score on these tests. Every school has minimum score guidelines which must be met before admission is considered. On the most part, these scores are given greater weight than GPA or any other factor because of their standardization and objectivity. Bad scores = bad news.
It is not possible for most students to start preparation a month or two before these tests and hope for success. It is necessary for them to start their preparation as early as possible depending on their scholarship. Many students start basic preparation early in their high school sophomore year, but the most successful start in middle school. This is primarily due to the fact that concepts, in general, are not taught in schools; therefore, students are forced to rely upon memorization of procedures in order to pass their courses. This does not enhance retention. Additionally, most students do not read sufficiently, which factor prevents success in the comprehension and writing sections of the tests.
Preliminary development can be assessed using simple questions and problems. If, for example, a student has difficulty with fractions operations, mathematics word problems or basic algebraic concepts and definitions, clearly concepts are lacking. If a student has tendencies to skim or not read at all without assignment, clearly verbal skills are lacking. Critical thinking skills are ascertained by the depth of thinking accomplished by asking simple questions such as “What is your opinion on whether the summer break should be maintained or eliminated?” or “What is your opinion of the idea that the end justifies the means?” If the answer uses only surface arguments, then there is no critical thinking.
Although ACT and SAT prep books
can be somewhat helpful, they are of little use unless used with guidance. Merely reading them and doing the practice
tests will not help significantly.
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David K. Yoshinaga, Ph.D., Ph.D., Sc.D.