By Kathryn Azevedo
Vice President, Director of English
Sullivan Tutoring, Inc.
The cliché “practice makes perfect” is universal. And while some clichés may be obsolete, vague expressions, most clichés draw their endurance from truth. And when it comes to the SAT, practice does make (almost) perfect.
To become a better runner we practice running longer and faster. To become more fluent in a foreign language we practice reading, speaking and writing in that language as much as possible. The same goes for the SAT: one of the best ways for a student to become a stronger test-taker is to practice taking the SAT multiple times before the real test. This is where our assigned homework comes in.
Part of our Sullivan Method involves assigning students real, previous SAT exams – both in the center and at home. While we primarily work on skill-building, develop personalized testing strategies and go over homework in the center, we typically give students a full SAT practice test to complete at home before their next session. (A full SAT homework assignment consists of three critical reading sections, three math sections, two grammar sections, and the SAT essay.)
Consistent practice is so effective in part because of the repetitive format of the SAT. While questions of course vary from one SAT to another, the essential content is the same from test to test. The more a student practices taking the SAT, the more he or she will be able to recognize question-types, patterns and common trap answers. Additionally, whereas the SAT is a timed test, students will be able to perfect their pace on the homework so it’s where it needs to be for the real test. Furthermore, completing multiple practice SATs affords students multiple opportunities to pin-point and improve upon areas of weakness.
We know students are occupied with school homework, sports and other activities. The idea of completing another three to four hours a week of SAT homework might therefore seem insane or at best impossible. But we can’t emphasize enough just how vital these homework assignments are to a student’s progress – and thus we can’t underscore enough the importance of making time to do the homework.
There are just as many ways to find time to complete the homework as there are types of students. Therefore, students need to figure out what works best for them and their schedules.
Some students are “morning people” and are most alert before the school day begins. These students could wake up 25 minutes earlier than usual to complete a timed section of the homework before the launch of their official school day.
Other students are night owls. These students could spend at least 25 minutes a night on the SAT homework after completing their other assignments. Some students even find it helpful to “break up” their school homework time with a little SAT homework in the middle. Whereas SAT practice sections are so different from school assignments, it can almost (almost!) feel like a little break.
Other students are truly booked straight all week, but have some pockets of free time during the weekend. For these students, Sunday mornings or Saturday afternoons can be the time to crank out the homework in one sitting. (In fact, we definitely encourage students to complete at least one full homework assignment in one uninterrupted sitting, to get the feel of the longevity of the real SAT.)
Other students claim they have no time at all to do any SAT homework. We challenge you. If you add up the five minutes you spend on Facebook – each of the 20 times you check it in a day – that’s a lot of minutes you could be studying the SAT. Of course there are extenuating circumstances, but we view students who chronically do not complete the homework — saying they didn’t have time — as not wanting to do the homework. And that is a whole different topic.
Ultimately, the students who earnestly want to improve their SAT scores will find the time to complete the homework – whether in smaller increments throughout the week, or all at once. To use another cliché: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Runners can practice putting one foot in front of the other all day, but will never improve without actual practice runs. Students can memorize all the Spanish verbs in the dictionary, but will never become fluent without practicing actual conversation. A student can learn the Pythagorean theorem, rules of punctuation and million-dollar vocabulary words, but will never improve his or her test scores without practicing the SAT.
While practice doesn’t always make perfect, it sure does lead to improvement. And that’s perfect.