About 10 years ago I started tutoring students to help them prepare for the math section of the ACT. I did so, almost as an experiment, to see if I could or say things differently in my traditional math classroom to help boost students’ scores on the test. I found out quickly that there were most definitely things that I could change in class. If you are the parent or teacher of a high school student, you know the pressure they feel with regards to standardized tests for college admissions. My goal as a teacher/tutor is to alleviate the panic students experience and help them walk into the testing center feeling confident and prepared. If you are reading this, I know you are wanting the same thing for your kiddos. So, here are a few things you can do tomorrow to help boost your students’ confidence and hopefully, their scores:
1. Use A Timer
There are 60 questions on the math section of the ACT for which students have only 60 minutes. Sometimes just the thought of the time ticking away can make students uneasy. Help them become more comfortable working within time constraints by using a visible countdown clock while students work independently. This will help create a sense urgency for completing work in a timely manner, as well as, result in students becoming more aware of the time spent on each question.
2. Align Your Assessments
Align your assessments to authentic ACT practice test questions. One year, I spent every free moment pouring over released tests to find problems that aligned to my content and standards. I taught Algebra 2 and Advanced Math, so by the time students were in my class, they had been exposed to most of the content in the math section of the ACT. If they had not yet covered a specific type of problem, they were most likely to be introduced to it in my class. So, I literally spent time each night cutting apart released test questions, obtained from the official ACT website and from practice books in our school counselor’s office, so that I could group like questions together to create a database of problems to use on formal and informal assessments. By seeing questions formatted in a manner consistent with that of the ACT, students became more familiar with the style and wording used by the test authors.
3. Include Multiple Choice Questions
Include multiple choice questions when assessing understanding. The ACT test is comprised only of multiple choice questions, yet prior to studying the test format, all I ever included when assessing student learning were open response problems. I had to shift in my habits and purposefully plan opportunities for my students to employ a different thinking strategy. As a math teacher, I found that in some instances students really do not know how to solve problems in a step-by-step fashion, but they can be taught to substitute answer choices into the original question so that they can arrive at a correct solution. Since a student’s score is based solely upon the number of questions answered correctly, every question matters. By including multiple choice questions in the classroom regularly and encouraging students to arrive at correct answers in alternate ways, you empower students with test taking strategies that they might not have thought about on their own.
4. Model Your Thinking
Model your thinking out loud. When working an example in class or answer students’ questions, audibly demonstrate the metacognitive process you follow when finding a solution. When I first started teaching, I was guilty of skipping steps, rushing through problems that I thought that students understood, and using generalizations as I tried to clarify misconceptions students had regarding the problem solving process. Now, I show and say how a problem is solved in detail. I love the Card Notes feature in ClassFlow that allow me to type in guiding questions to ask, vocabulary to highlight, and steps to follow when modeling a methodical approach to problem solving for each example the students work. By typing out the words I will use when developing my lesson, it helps me stay focused on what to say when teaching and thus help students recognize that there is a logical progression to follow when seeing an unfamiliar problem.
5. Make Practicing Fun
No matter how motivated students are when they enter a tutoring session or a test prep classroom, the task of preparing for a standardized test often becomes a tedious process over time for both teachers and students. By including opportunities for students to move about the classroom while working or engage in practice through puzzles and games, the experience is viewed more positively. From using dry erase markers to work problems on the classroom windows to quickly creating a crossword puzzle in ClassFlow, there are many ways to make practicing for the ACT fun.
6. Review The Simple Stuff
Often times, it has been years since a high school junior or senior has seen problems about calculating percent or mean, median, and range, yet these questions seem to appear on the ACT regularly. It never hurts to review basic concepts with students who have made it into Advanced Placement or Dual Enrollment math classes. Since the test gets progressively harder in the math section, I keep copies of questions from the beginning of the released practice tests for early finishers to complete. This provides them with the opportunity to review and receive feedback on skills covered in classes from years past.
7. Answer Each Question
Finally, remind students to answer every question. Students are not penalized for incorrect answers on the ACT, so it is critical that they answer every question. I tell students to select one answer (either A, B, C, D, or E) and use it consistently when they do not know the correct solution in the math section. Statistically, students are more likely to get some of the questions correct if they mark the same answer every time they are unsure rather than alternate their answer choices between questions.
My goal in sharing is to provide practical tips, tricks, and strategies that help students gain the scores needed to be admitted into college and secure much needed scholarships, so please feel free to share my AC QuickT Tips for Students, a free resource in the ClassFlow Marketplace, with your students so that together we can help students everywhere get the scores they want. If you are a math tutor or an ACT Prep coach, I would love to learn from you. What are your top tips and strategies? Please share in the comment section below or connect with me on Twitter or Instagram.