ACT Prep and Tutoring in St. Louis

Admission to a highly competitive college has never been more difficult. Inundated with thousands of applications, top universities accept less than one in five applicants and elite universities around one in ten applicants. Given the high academic record of their applicant pool, colleges rely on the ACT to filter out the students most likely to succeed on their campus. Not only is admission an important reason to score well on the ACT, but scholarships and financial aid are also dependent on it as well. The higher a student scores, the more likely the student is to get into a good school, and the more likely it is for that student to get offered a decent amount of money off of tuition. This means that there is an incredibly high amount of performance pressure placed on students. How does someone perform well on something? Preparation, and a lot of it.  It is an “open secret” that students need to prepare for the ACT in order to score high. This should come as little surprise – students spend time studying for chapter tests and finals at school, and the ACT is a big test. The real question is how to prepare.

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Best ACT Test Prep Methods

We find that the least successful method of ACT Test preparation is a short series of large classes. Students learn too differently to design a class that can address the individual testing needs of a diverse group of teenagers. Another method that students sometimes turn to is simply taking practices test alone. While these tests are useful, a student usually cannot fully grasp what it is they are doing wrong. They might learn a bit more about certain science or math concepts, but maybe the root of the issue is that they do not know the best way to read a graph. This is when having someone sitting by their side would be really important because that person can notice and help teach them the tricks of the trade. The best method of ACT test preparation is in one-on-one settings with an instructor who has the ability and experience to identify different learning styles and translate years of test analysis into straightforward lessons customized to the strengths and needs of the individual student. To put it plainly, when it comes to learning everyone is different and individualized attention can make a world of difference.

Students and parents alike mistakenly believe anyone can prepare for the ACT in a short period of time with minimal effort. But real success on the ACT requires sustained commitment to preparation. Students will retain more information, gain more confidence and comfort and deliver higher scores if they work on preparation on a regular basis over an extended stretch of time.

The ACT is a backward-looking test. It is designed to measure how well students have mastered basic skills in reading comprehension, mathematics, grammar, and science. It builds time as a necessary component of the test. Preparing for the SAT requires a different mindset and discipline than the ACT. And yet, we encourage students to take both tests because students tend to favor one test over another, and also colleges prefer to see a student show initiative in sitting for both tests.

Our ACT Test Prep Approach

Here at Mackler Associates, we understand exactly what the ACT entails and have the tools and resources to help students understand it as well. First of all, we want to see your student succeed, and students can tell this, which makes them want to succeed too. Second, we cater the individual to a standardized test, something that is essential to success but can be an incredibly difficult task. We have worked with hundreds of students with vastly different abilities and profiles, and yet at the end of the program, these students see success and real results. Visit the College Prep Case Studies to see how very different types of students worked with us to meet their ACT test goals.

In our performance-based world, we try to measure success objectively, and that means testing. Starting in elementary school and extending to graduate school, students face an alphabet soup of tests – ISEE, SSAT, SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT. Consequently, many students feel a general, continuing and growing sense of unease about testing. Some feel anxious. Some express outright panic. That’s where we come in. Anxiety and feelings of panic can cause test scores to plummet. No matter how much someone prepares for a test if all they can think about is how they have to perform well or else they won’t succeed at their goals, they aren’t going to do well.  So not only will we help students with actual test material, we will help to boost their confidence in the process. This way, with our St. Louis tutoring, these students have the highest chance of success.

The Art of the Multiple Choice Question

Why do so many tests have multiple choice questions?  Is there something magical about that format? And can we use that structure to our advantage? Standardized tests favor multiple choice questions for a variety of reasons.  First, they are quick to grade – using a Scantron sheet, a test administrator can grade every test in just a few minutes! Second, they bolster the idea that the test is objective because there exists a clear correct answer for each question. If the test had more than one plausible answer for a given question, it would have to be discarded.  Third, they have enough flexibility that they can measure a wide variety of skills at varying levels of difficulty.

Why do so many students fear multiple choice tests? The very aspects that make a multiple choice test efficient can lead a student to “overthink” or “underthink” the test.  Some students look at a multiple choice question and immediately think it’s a trick question! They plant the seed of doubt in their own mind, undermining overall confidence in not just the question but the entire test—“Am I sure this is the right choice? That other option does look reasonable, maybe I am wrong.” These doubts can easily lead a student to overthink their answers.  On the flip side, other students might underthink the test the test. They might think the test looks too easy, move too quickly through the questions, and miss keywords that lead to the right answer.

To properly prep for the ACT, it helps to keep some general strategies in mind. First, always use common sense reasoning to your advantage.  Suppose you are working a math problem and you are not sure you used the right formula. You get a certain answer that is not one of the choices but is close to two of them.  You start to panic. Instead of giving up or randomly guessing, look at the measurements involved. Do some answers just seem too far-fetched by size (either too large or too small) to be right?  If so, eliminate those choices. If your answer was close to one of them, you know you did something wrong. In this way, the choices give you feedback as to how to find the correct answer when you are unsure. Second, have a proactive strategy for answering questions; trust your gut. First impressions often are the right answers for a variety of psychological reasons.  Do not linger on questions because the ACT is a tightly-timed test, so the more you linger, the less you complete. Feel free to skip questions you can’t answer immediately to keep a good rhythm and a positive sense of confidence. Know your approach for each section of the test, and notice patterns you may see in question types within a section. Third, you beat a multiple choice test through careful reading, general knowledge and deductive reasoning, or know what you just read, know what you know, logically work through what you don’t know.  Every multiple choice question has clearly wrong answers, “sucker” answers and close or correct answers. Learn how to distinguish between these types. In this way, you begin to take the test on winning terms rather than passively letting the test rule you and lure you into mental wrong turns and traps.

The bottom line is a multiple choice design by nature has to have an inarguably right answer and using that fact to your advantage is the key to ACT prep.  At Mackler Associates, we help students by teaching key strategies and approaches that are proactive and based on the design of the ACT itself. Mastering strategies is at least as important as mastering content, if not more so.

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