The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

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Keeping up with the changes to your student’s education right now isn’t easy. As I’m writing this and as you’re reading this, school districts and states are extending school cancellations, the College Board and the ACT are delaying more tests, and colleges are announcing temporary test-optional policies. It’s a fast-moving train that’s set my head spinning, and I’ve been doing this a long time.

Instead of focusing on the moving targets, I wanted to instead write about what’s not changing so that you can keep some perspective on your student’s schooling, standardized testing and college admissions prospects.

Students will have multiple opportunities to take more SAT and ACT tests, should they choose to.

This one’s in everyone’s best interests – schools, testing agencies, and colleges and students alike. Everyone wants it to happen, so it’ll happen. No one can tell you exactly when extra dates will be added yet, but it’s an inevitability that they will be added. If your student doesn’t yet have the score of their dreams, it’s ok – they’ll have another swing at this. Should you decide not to swing at another SAT or ACT pitch, that’s ok, too: more schools will be test-optional next year than ever before.

The tests they will take have already been written. They remain tests of acquired skills.

Those canceled tests didn’t go anywhere. Students will see them when they next test, whenever they may be. As we like to say, these tests don’t really measure anything, so, in some sense, they are bad tests, but at least they’re consistently bad. And, thus, they are – like many aspects of life – tests of acquired skills and thus preppable. And now students have even more time to prepare.

The best way to acquire and maintain skills is through focused practice.

Practice is good, but focused practice is better. I often see students frustrated when their SAT or ACT homework or practice tests aren’t up to their standards, and it’s often because they’re doing them way too late at night after all their more pressing homework is done. And even if they are trying to make the right time to prepare, they’re often hobbled by anxiety about all the other work they need to be doing. In a perfect world, students would “practice like they play,” with their full and focused attention on the matter at hand.

AP Exams will be given this year.

SATs and ACTs may be postponed, but the APs are going to happen, albeit in an abbreviated online form. Students taking those classes should plan to be ready to show their stuff in May – or maybe even June. AP-level work is still the best preparation for college level work that most students have, so they should keep doing it. And, honestly, having to do a bit more self-teaching of the material is also pretty good preparation for college!

Colleges – even test-optional ones – like high test scores.

Some colleges may push back application deadlines and some may go test-optional. But they’ll all accept scores and they all like high scores.

So what does that all mean for your student during this time of uncertainty? I’m certainly not arguing for everyone to overdo it on SAT and ACT prep, but it shouldn’t be neglected either. One good thing to potentially come from this extended “vacation” from school is that kids are getting a break from the grind. I’d love for my students to pick out books and read them – just because they can. I’d love for them to pick up that dusty guitar in their room. I’d love for them to learn to become better cooks.

But I’d also love for them to be able to use the time to give themselves every advantage possible on their upcoming tests. For many students, their grades for the year are already in the books and thus immutable. Their AP, SAT and ACT scores? Those are still a blank slate, waiting to be written. Those blank slates don’t come along too often, and it’s even more rare to have the time to truly take advantage of them.

Aaron Golumbfskie

Senior Tutor & Education Director

Aaron is the Education Director at PrepMatters and has logged more than 10,000 hours of one-on-one tutoring, helping teens change their self-images and achieve success, whether on standardized tests or in academic classes. He continues to tutor every day, but, realizing that individual efforts don’t scale very well, he hopes to serve even more students by spending much of his time creating pe...

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