How to navigate the obstacle course of academic tests
Positioning yourself best for what’s next
That is the typical time when students and parents start feeling overwhelmed with end-of-year projects, tests, college preparations, concerts, games, dances, summer preparations—the list goes on.
If parents and students do not deliberately plan now these three months leading to the end of the school year, they will find themselves hurried, stressed, and left with limited options in some very important areas.
We want to help you better plan these months so that you can: finish the school year strong; put yourself in a good position this summer; and be well-prepared for the next school year. Preparing in advance, starting backward from your goals, is a wise roadmap to make when you feel overwhelmed with day-to-day busyness, deadlines, and tasks.
We will divide this article into three parts, each pertaining to different grade levels of students:
- End-of-school-year preparation for current Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors wanting to take SAT Subject tests or AP exams and finals: Part 1
- Summer preparation for current Sophomores (incoming Juniors) in preparation for college: Part 2
- Summer preparation for current middle school students (incoming 7th or 8th graders) in preparation for high school: Part 3
PART 1: Preparation for Current Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors
How to prepare for SAT Subject tests and/or AP exams along with your final exams
Students taking higher level courses or AP (Advanced Placement) courses should consider taking the SAT Subject Tests and/or AP exams. Both SAT Subject Tests and AP Exams are given by the makers of the SAT Test, The College Board.
The SAT Subject Tests are 1-hour multiple-choice standardized tests across 20 individual subjects. They can be taken by any high school student to show one’s strengths in a subject. They are usually taken to improve a student’s credentials for admission to colleges in the United States. Some selective colleges require a certain number of SAT Subject Tests be taken as part of the admissions criteria, while some colleges may use them as placement tests. The SAT Subject Tests are given on the same day as SAT Tests, and a student can take up to three subjects on the same day. The next ones are offered on May 6th, June 3rd, and August 26th.
AP Exams are offered to students who take AP-level courses in the corresponding subjects, and they are encouraged by colleges. More than earning college credits for doing well on AP Exams, students taking AP courses in areas of their academic interests indicate that they have challenged themselves and made the most out of opportunities that were available in high school. Some schools deliberately finish covering subject content by mid-April to allow guided review of AP Exams given in the first two weeks of May (May 1-5 and May 8-12 for the 2016-17 school year). Some schools allow students to use their AP tests in place of their final exams.
The best way to prepare for these exams is to do so right along with schoolwork throughout the school year. For example, while focusing on a specific unit in class, students should also be reviewing with AP and/or SAT Subject Test materials as a regular part of their study routine. However, if this has not been their habit throughout the first semester, then the next best thing is to start preparing for AP Exams and/or SAT Subject Tests right now, even while preparing for final exams. Doing this will allow for maximizing study time and effort by focusing on final exams, AP Tests, and SAT Subject Tests all at the same time. This will save a lot of study and review time, and the different ways questions are asked about the subjects and principles will reinforce learning across different tests.
Here are some tips for students to get started right away:
- Gather all your notes and study materials and get a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you have been keeping up with your schoolwork and you’re well prepared, or you may be falling behind in a few areas. Either way, knowing your starting point is essential.
- Take a diagnostic SAT Subject Test or AP Test to verify and determine your study plan and focus. Your teacher should have copies of past AP Exams to give you (otherwise, you can contact us and we will send you a diagnostic test) for practice. You can also purchase a retired copy of the SAT Subject Test for the diagnostic test; there are subject-specific “official” books as well. Such tests will give you a good idea of the areas where you will need to focus your review.
- Work backward from your test dates and the available time you can commit to studying for these tests. Fill in your committed schedule with plans of specific topics you will review each day. For example, if you set aside 4 hours each weekend, try to plan out how you will spend the 4 hours x 10-16 weeks of study until the test date. Though your specific timelines may vary depending on your preparedness and final exam schedule, we typically advise students to take the SAT Subject Tests in June after the AP Exams and finals.
Lastly, another important thing you can do for yourself is to be brutally honest about the support you will need. For some students, they might need support on the academic content. If so, where will you get it? Books? Friends? Teachers, tutors? For other students, the support they need most might be someone to plan with them, keep them accountable, and be available for questions or feedback — an Academic Coach.
Start preparing now. It’s much better than cramming at the end of the school year, or not doing as well as you could have done on the test.