I have long been of the mindset that summers should be about lazy afternoons, spontaneous beach trips and good books. While summer decompression is absolutely crucial for school-year success, I’ve also seen how students’ school time commitments – homework, extracurricular activities, athletic obligations, social opportunities and family events – have escalated over the past decade.
Students with intense school commitments, including traveling club sports teams, or those who struggle with learning differences/disabilities can benefit from focusing on standardized test preparation over the summer. Doing so allows them to focus on their individual challenges free of other academic obligations, and, hopefully, to build skills that can benefit them once school begins in the fall.
Students thinking of applying to private high schools may want to prepare for the HSPT, SSAT or ISEE, depending on where they plan to apply. High school students may want to prepare for the SAT or the ACT, depending on their personal strengths and challenges. I generally recommend that they focus energy on preparing for one test rather than splitting efforts.
Following are some key ideas to consider when looking for a good match for standardized test preparation.
• Focus on skill building. Look at standardized test preparation as one piece of a greater puzzle. Perhaps your child needs help with grammar or is still struggling with some fundamental geometry concepts. Consider this an opportunity to address the holes in understanding to achieve a meaningful, long-term impact.
• Understand the importance of mindfulness and stress-relief techniques. All the preparation in the world won’t help if testing anxiety precludes a student from concentrating on test day. It is crucial that students develop key techniques to remain calm and focused, and to learn to regroup when a passage or section seems overly challenging.
• Classroom instruction may not be the most effective use of money or time. Although classroom instruction may be the most affordable way to go, most students have a difficult time staying on task for hours on end (especially in prep classes two to three hours long) and often don’t see a substantial gain in scores.
In classes of 15-20 students, individual strengths and weaknesses may be overlooked, and instructors often teach to the median student. Instructors frequently are unable to discuss all test problems when reviewing the practice tests, so students can easily continue to make the same mistakes.
One-on-one individual preparation, combined with full-length practice tests, would likely provide the best return on investment.
• Make sure that the instructor is a good personality match. An excellent instructor is not just someone who has personally mastered the material, he or she also must be empathetic, patient, approachable and able to explain concepts in multiple ways. Your child should feel comfortable asking questions and be calm and relaxed after sessions.
• Create opportunities for fun. Standardized test prep does not have to be stressful. Make it a family affair – choose an article to read collectively from The New York Times or a weekly magazine and discuss it over dinner. Certain online apps feature short quizzes that test skills and teach ways to improve techniques.
Ana Homayoun is founder of the Los Altos-based Green Ivy Educational Consulting and author of “The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success in School and Life.” For more information, visit www.greenivyed.com.