Sunday, November 25, 2012

How early is too early?

Preparing for the College Entrance Exams:  How Early is Too Early?

A couple of years ago there appeared a brief  “ad” in the neighborhood newsletter. Parents were looking for someone to coach their daughter for the SAT. As I am a test prep professional, I naturally responded. There followed a short exchange of e-mails in which they shared that their daughter was in the sixth grade and had not yet taken algebra. I suggested they wait a few years. How early is too early to begin preparing for college entrance exams? 

The first thing to realize is that you are already preparing and have been since birth. And certainly since you began school you have been getting advice from teachers and parents about your study habits, etc. For example, I'm sure you have been told to READ. Read for pleasure, read for information, read things that challenge you. Build your vocabulary by reading and engaging interesting people in conversation.  Take the most challenging math classes you can and keep up with your assignments. It's never too early to start these things.

Once you are about six months from your first test– and I suppose this could be as early as sixth grade if you are a prodigy – you might want to approach test preparation in a more intentional manner. Get a practice book – your school or local library should have one - and time yourself in a practice test. See how that goes. If you do brilliantly, well and good. If not, you have plenty of time to address any issues. It is at this point that you can consider whether or not you want to find some outside help to prepare. For help with that decision see this previous post:  Do you need help preparing...

I frequently hear stories of students who spend YEARS making weekly trips to the test prep tutor in hopes of earning a top score on the SAT. First, I’m not sure this is efficacious. (That’s an SAT word. Look it up.) But even if it is, think of all the other things a student might do with that time.  If I were a college admissions officer, I would rather accept a student who has done an extra hour of community service every week than one who scored 50 points higher on the SAT. Unless you really need some serious remediation, you shouldn’t need outside tutoring until a month or two before the test.

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