With summer just around the corner, most students are looking forward to school vacation and to taking a well-earned break. At ArborBridge, we are the last people who want to ruin that vibe! However, now is the time to consider using the summer to prepare for your standardized tests: What are the benefits, what are the drawbacks, and who should consider doing it?
1) No school work!
The SAT and ACT recently added test dates (for U.S. test takers only) in July (ACT) and August (SAT). This change means that students now have the opportunity to take either exam during summer vacation. At first glance, this seems fantastic: now, students can prepare for and take the SAT or ACT without simultaneously dealing with full-time schoolwork. However, students should not view these summer test dates as a one-and-done solution. Remember that the vast majority of students take the SAT or ACT multiple times. While the summer test dates can certainly be one of these times, students will likely still need to take—and prepare for—a standardized test during their junior or senior year.
2) More Time = More Intensive Prep
Summer prep is ideal for students who took the exam in the previous school year, didn’t do as well as they hoped, and now want to try a more intense form of prep. Let’s say that you self-prepped for the SAT or ACT, and your score wasn’t high enough to make you a competitive applicant at your dream school. The summer is an opportunity to use your free time to try an intensive in-person class or online, one-on-one tutoring.
3) Practice Makes Perfect
Perhaps you think your problem was that you weren’t able to take enough practice tests before your official exam. The summer is a great time to take as many practice tests as necessary. All things equal, the more time you can put into your prep, the better your results will be.
1) Summer Slide
The first and most important drawback to summer test prep is “summer slide.” Summer slide is a well-documented phenomenon in which students’ achievement scores decline over the summer. In fact, the average student “loses” the equivalent of one month’s worth of academic knowledge gained in the previous school year over the course of the summer. The decline is more pronounced for math than it is for reading. We suggest that students who decide to take an official exam in the summer begin to prepare after a short break (less than two weeks) after school ends to short circuit the slide. We also suggest that they budget an extra 5–10 hours of prep to review academic math topics and get back on track when they start their prep.
2) Routine? What Routine?
Students need to be realistic about their ability to commit to a study plan over the summer. As overwhelming as school, sports, extracurriculars, and test prep can be, sometimes being busy forces us to be organized. Conversely, having all the time in the world leads us to procrastinate. Be realistic about your ability to hold yourself to a summer test prep plan and consider instituting some sort of artificial criteria to encourage yourself to complete your work.
3) Summertime = Vacation Time!
From years of working closely with students, I can tell you family vacations are terrible times to prepare for exams. Even if students try to build in time for tutoring sessions or homework, they tend to be understandably distracted or have to frequently re-schedule. As crazy as it sounds, if you are serious about preparing for a summer test date, you will need to plan your family vacations very carefully or consider postponing them entirely.
All in all, the summer test dates provide students with real opportunities to increase their scores, but only if students plan carefully and hold themselves to a high standard.