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Helping My Daughters Prepare for the ACT Exams

Posted by on March 8, 2018

A few months ago, I got an email from Jane Sandwood sent me a nice note. She’s a a freelance writer, editor and former tutor, homeschooler, and mother of two teenage daughters. She’d read my articles about preparing for SAT/ACTs and had a story of her own detailing how she helped her children prepare for their ACT. I think you’ll enjoy her experiences! 

As spring approaches, my eldest daughter Katherine, now in her junior year, is bracing herself for the upcoming ACT exams, while my youngest, Elizabeth, a sophomore, is getting ready for next year. I am a former tutor and for almost 10 years, I helped students prepare for both SATs and ACTs, relying heavily on tech tools and games to keep them motivated. Somehow, even students who needed the most help weren’t quite as challenging as my own daughters, and the lines between tutor and mom were often blurred, as is to be expected.

Different Learning Styles

Katherine and Elizabeth are just about as different as two people can be when it comes to their attitudes about school and their interests. Katherine, who wishes to be an actor, always took to her studies almost instinctively, since she was a child. She took great pride in handing in her homework neatly, took great pains to finish all her tasks, and was more of a rote learner than Elizabeth, who is more into writing, and who always took a more critical, analytical approach to her studies.

Elizabeth is naturally bright and quick, and has an enviable memory. She has always loved reading and has amassed quite a collection on her Kindle, yet is reticent to complete homework and has always had a strong aversion to maths. Because things tend to come easier to her, she is easily bored and far less disciplined than Kathy when it comes to homework and creating a study strategy. She also struggles with time management, often getting lost in a book or musical album and arriving to school without having completed home tasks.

Practice Makes Perfect

Because Elizabeth will be doing her ACTs next year, I try to include her as much as possible in Katherine’s study sessions. As soon as they come home and have a snack, we do one section of the ACT exams, tackling Math, Reading, Science, or English, depending on the day.

I chose to download free ACT exams and focus on them for two reasons: first of all, regardless of how studious Kathy is, she needs to grow comfortable with using her watch to answer all sections of the exam in time. Because the exams effectively test the same general areas, she knows that some parts, say of the math exam, will involve longer calculations that need checking; this revision also needs to be factored in when she is calculating the amount of time she has.

As for Elizabeth, the exams tap into her love of competition. She likes to use an alarm to divide the test into sections, delighting on the occasion that she scores higher than her sister.

Their scores have improved significantly since they started, and the results are interesting to me, considering that Kathy still hasn’t covered many of the subject matter covered by the tests.

In essence, both daughters have said that they see a kind of ‘formula’ they can identify; that although the questions themselves change, the area of knowledge being testing doesn’t.

They almost know how many questions will cover punctuation, how many conditionals, how many reported speech, and the like. Funnily enough, Elizabeth nearly always outscores Kathy in English, clear testimony to the basic truth that doing well at English boils down to the vocabulary and punctuation rules you passively pick up by spending a great deal of time reading.

Of course, Kathy always does better at Math. To some extent, this is because she is a year ahead in terms of key mathematical concepts, However, the mistakes Elizabeth makes help me greatly as her tutor, since I see which areas she lacks a solid foundation for. I can then hone in on plane geometry or trigonometry, and the result is that she is beginning to find the material covered in class easy.

Getting Kathy Ready for the ACTs

I try not to pressure either of my daughters, being especially careful with Elizabeth, who does not take kindly to being told what to do or study. We try to keep it fun for now, and I admit to ‘bribing’ her with treats for ‘helping her sister study’.  These treats involve time – doing something they both love, such as going to the movies, ice skating, or enjoying dinner at their favorite restaurant.

Because Kathy is getting ready for exams, I have also encouraged her to use time management to lighten her load. That is, by tackling a chunk of work every week and reviewing on weekends, by the time exam time rolls around, she won’t find that she has inordinate amounts of information to process and retain.

Tools and Games

When we have time or when the girls encounter a stumbling block, we use resources such as Khan Academy, which has short videos we find particularly useful for explaining math concepts, or tech tools such as Kahoot, which uses a highly addictive format that enlightens them on how much fun math can actually be.

I try to keep their motivation in English and Science high by researching and suggesting books that cover core subject matter in an entertaining format, often with online tools and games that aid in memory retention.

If you are a tech teacher or tutor, you may find that teaching your own kids is a whole new challenge. In my case, it has paid to ‘put the cart before the horse’ by starting with practice exams and identifying any knowledge gaps I can help out with. Time management is important from the world go, and not just when a child is actually preparing for exams.

More on SAT/ACT Prep

How to Prepare for the SAT

SAT Prep

SAT Exams

UWorld’s Unique SAT Prep Site

How to Prepare for the SAT Essay

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 25 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days

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