Dear Dr. Fournier:
The ACT is getting closer for my son. It seems that the “exam” is all other parents or teachers can talk about. I know his future depends on how well he does, but he has not done any additional review or practice tests. He should have prepared for it before now, but he hasn’t. He finally went through the book to go over it, and now he feels more behind than ever. He’s a B student, but when he looks at the practice tests, he says he feels stupid. Please advise!
San Francisco, CA
Most college-bound students were brought up to believe that the door to college would magically open one day. “When you are in college…” their parents say, as if college requirements were a given.
But as students draw closer to the reality of college applications, many emotions can take over – some good, some destructive. The destructive ones result from the lack of understanding how to view potential hurdles like the college-entrance exams in proper perspective.
Exams such as the ACT and the SAT are one key that might unlock the door to your future. But remember that there is no master key that fits all doors; everyone must find the key that suits his or her own needs. Some students assume that once they have their score from these tests, they will be informed in searching out what colleges they are candidates for. This is reactive, and gives no goal to achieve. Do not allow your son to be this student.
While parents and teachers are saying, “you must do well,” you are the only one who can define what this word means. Be proactive! Until you and your son understand and then target your own realistic ambitions, taking the exam will be an experience in panic. Instead, once you have identified the keys to your future you are ready to prepare constructively, efficiently, and effectively for the test.
WHAT TO DO
The first thing that needs to be done is to discover what score range you will need to meet in order to get into your universities of choice. These ranges differ wildly. A student who is interested in an art school, for example, may discover that only the English score on the test is relevant to the school’s admission requirements. In this instance, it would not do the student well to put all of his efforts into raising his math score. For other schools, the opposite may be true, or both scores are weighed equally and only the total is important.
Write down the names of the colleges you are interested in attending, and develop questions to ask the admissions counselor to determine what you need to be a viable candidate. Make sure your questions cover all information you need in order to know how much attention and weight each school gives to the college-entrance exam.
A list of questions might include:
at range of grade-point averages do you accept for entrance? What range of ACT (or SAT) scores do you accept? Do you have a sliding scale entrance formula in which those students with higher GPAs are admitted with lower ACT scores, and vice versa? Do you re-average the grades using core subjects only, or are electives given equal weight? What other factors do you consider important to help a person who does not have an average ACT acceptance score? Do you have any special considerations for minority students in the admissions process? Is there anything else I should know about how you review applications that would help me understand what I need to do to be admitted to your school?
After you have developed your questions, call or e-mail the schools and use the information you gather to “guesstimate” the score that will give you the key to those schools. Be realistic! If you do not need a 30 on the ACT or 1300 on the SAT, then do not put that pressure on yourself. It makes a difference knowing that a lower score is enough.
Once you have put the entrance-exam score in perspective, you can calmly prepare for the test that might help you to find the key to your future.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER