SAT and ACT Preparation: Two Homework Mistakes

Greetings from Ben at Sexton Test Prep. This month, I want to address homework completion and the test preparation process. Obviously, homework completion is an integral part of test preparation and score improvement. But, two common problems arise that interfere with student progress.
The first is manufacturing score results. This occurs when a student wants to achieve a certain score – let’s say a 30 on the ACT Math section – and then uses the answer key to get just enough questions right to achieve that score. Or, students will give themselves extra time to complete sections. You may think “my son/daughter wouldn’t do that,” but it is actually quite a common problem.
It’s tempting to think of this behavior as a sort of “cheating,” but that is not what it is about. Students are under a lot of pressure – from themselves, their parents, their counselors, and their friends – to get certain scores. They hear everyone talking about the great scores they got, so they want to be able to say they are getting good scores too. No one wants to be the kid in the group citing the lowest scores.
This behavior, though, severely interferes with tutoring. One, the tutor won’t know some of the problems the student got wrong, and so won’t be able to review those problems and topics. Two, if the student is quietly using more time than allowed, the tutor won’t know that the student needs more coaching on time management.
Students should never be embarrassed of their scores with their tutors, counselors, or parents. And frankly, it’s none of the other kids’ business how any student is doing, so a student should simply not tell their peers what their scores are, or even just lie. Tell your friends you got a 30! They’ll never know the difference.
The second problem is game day effort (or lack thereof). Many students will complete their homework, but not devote the same effort that they would to a real test. Some examples include completing a math section without a calculator; completing a section early and not using the extra few minutes to review answers; or, if a student has extended time, not using all of the allotted time on the homework.
I often use the analogy of treating the homework like a pick-up game. In sports, pick-up games involve playing loose, having a good time, and not worrying too much about fundamentals. But, in pick-up games, players often develop bad habits, even without meaning to.
Coming back to the ACT, treating the homework like a pick-up game delivers subpar score results and engenders poor test-taking habits and avoidable errors. When completing homework, students must approach their sections as if they are taking the real test: all conditions should be the same as those for the actual SAT/ACT. There’s an old saying that you should “practice how you play,” and that saying applies very here. It’s better to complete less homework with a strict approach than more homework with a loose approach. Bring a game day effort to your homework.
Completing homework the right way is the backbone of score improvement on both tests. I hope everyone has a great rest of the month and is looking forward to a fun Halloween!