Test Preparation Case Studies
“Acing” a standardized test varies from student to student. Some students seek that magical perfect score that will vault them into an elite college. Some students hope to do well enough to qualify for a scholarship or broaden their college options. Some students want just a small increase to gain acceptance to their chosen school. We define success simply as a student achieving his or her goals. And even though many students define their goals in terms of a score, every student finds so much more that they carry with them the rest of their lives, qualitative changes in confidence, self-esteem, diligence and perseverance. We imagine you might find some of yourself in the following stories.
The Ivy League Aspirant
Tom attended a large public high school. When he began working with us, he ranked very high in his class and had become accustomed to success. For the most part, academic achievement came easily to Tom, much to the envy of his peers. Tom very much wanted to attend an elite university, yet we could see his immense potential needed polish and direction. Tom knew he needed help because his PSAT scores as a sophomore failed to meet his high expectations. Normally a “math guy,” Tom realized he would need his verbal skills to match his math talents if he wanted to be competitive in his bid for a ticket to the Ivy League. Tom worked with us over the stretch of fifteen months; in that time, he managed to pull his verbal scores from 560 to 710, and his math from 720 to 800. He became a National Merit Scholar and got into his dream school. Tom learned an important lesson in life – that sometimes the greatest of our achievements come with difficulty, and that no matter how gifted we are, we all face challenges that require us to put our ego in check and raise our work ethic to reach a lofty goal.
Kevin came to us in his senior year. A standout athlete at a parochial school, and a generally good student, he found himself struggling with the ACT. His college choice, which promised him a full athletic scholarship, required he reach certain minimums on the ACT to comply with NCAA regulations. We had a very short window to try and raise his ACT scores those few precious points. While Kevin had a marked weakness in math, we saw that area as one of great potential growth. We analyzed his testing difficulties and devised a strategy to attack certain sections where he had the greatest chance to raise his score in the shortest period of time. We focused in on the grammar foundations of English, the math fundamentals he forgot, and the keys to maneuvering through the science reasoning. Kevin brought the same dedication to his test prep that he showed on the field, even though he lacked the confidence he had as an athlete. Kevin would later admit he was very worried about losing his chance to play in college. But as we continued our preparation, he realized he could get more and more questions right and remember more of the concepts covered on the test. By the time he sat again for the ACT, Kevin felt a bit anxious but also believed if he followed our attack plan he could bring home the winning score. Kevin exceeded his goal, received his scholarship and proved to be a star college athlete. As with many sports, the greatest step forward usually comes off the field, a lesson Kevin never forgets to this day.
Kathleen had an enormous sense of pride, and questioned the need to seek help with testing. Yes, she had a diagnosed learning disability and received some accommodations at her parochial school, like extended time on tests. But she did not like to take the extra time unless absolutely necessary. She steadfastly wanted to prove she could succeed on the same playing field as her peers. She had a very solid A- grade point average but always struggled with standardized tests. Because she wanted to attend a highly competitive college and have real choices, she began working with us in her junior year. Kathleen learned how the SAT and ACT are designed and we analyzed where her processing issues caused her problems and devised strategies to eliminate those problems. Kathleen found success gradually until we hit her “tipping point” where confidence and ability fell into sync and Kathleen scored 1450 on the SAT and cracked 30 on the ACT! Kathleen became more comfortable with coaching and limited accommodations, and left with a lifetime boost in self-esteem. Oh, yes – she was accepted to her dream college!
The Unassuming Class Leader
Paul loved math and computers, but as a junior in high school, he lacked confidence in his ability to be a “complete” student and to compete with the brightest in his class at his large public high school. He hoped that working on the SAT and ACT would give him the confidence that he did belong with the “brains” in his peer group. A kind, gentle and diligent young man, Paul worked as diligently at preparation as any student, if not harder. He regularly asked questions and charted his progress. He loved having the ability to get personal feedback and detailed explanations about the subject matter, not just simple test strategies or tricks. Though quiet, Paul commanded a lot of respect from his peers and they cheered with him when he scored a 33 on his ACT and cracked 1400 on his SAT. Because of his high scores, Paul earned both a National Merit Scholarship and an additional merit scholarship to the college of his choice. We would not be surprised to find Paul on the cutting edge of computer technology in the years to come, and to this day, his parents continue to credit us with giving him the motivation to find his inner ambition and belief in his capabilities.
The Future Doctor
Abby absolutely wanted to be a doctor, and made that clear the first day we met. Abby had very high aspirations, but realized she had difficulty retaining information and staying organized, which seemed to hurt her on big tests, both in her public high school classes and also on standardized tests. Also, she suffered from real test anxiety. We explained to Abby that even high performing students like her get nervous over exams, particularly ones on which your college dreams depend. We helped with organization and familiarity with test structures and psychology – the why behind a particular style of question. Abby soon had a real command of the material. She learned to set her own test agenda rather than letting the test impose itself on her, which considerably eased her anxiety and increased her confidence. Abby realized she underperformed on tests because of carelessness produced by anxiety – she rushed to get finished, rather than to get the best score. Over time, Abby became more self-assured and more deliberate, and the results matched her growing domination – she scored a 32 on the ACT and now attends her desired six-year B.S./M.D. program.
The All-American Girl
Renee seemed very shy and reserved when we first began working, but she had great inner determination. A popular student at her private high school, Renee often seemed to be her own worst enemy, “psyching” herself out on any type of test. Much of our work with Renee focused on internal motivation, visualizing herself as a champion competitor rather than a passive fan. In her own quiet way, Renee began believing in herself and she jumped to commended Merit in her junior year. As she began thinking about colleges, big name, highly competitive schools started to appear on her list and in our discussions, including one in particular, the dream school. We continued pushing harder on the tests, working on strategies to master the hardest questions on the SAT. Renee delivered when it mattered most, cracking 1400 on the SAT and posting a 30 on the ACT. After eighteen months of hard work, Renee had her acceptance to her dream school (and a handsome boyfriend she met in our office!).