A well-known truth in college admissions is that standardized tests are among the most important single factors, second only to grades in determining how academically prepared students are for college. Because of this, tests are dreaded by many students, as they feel an intense pressure to study long hours and attain high scores, or else risk their college careers.
To aid them in this, many companies have sprung up which purport to have the secret to higher test scores. We’re here to tell you that there is no secret which guarantees success. Instead, at Ivy Scholars we’ve learned from long experience how the tests function, and how best to prepare students for them. The purpose of this article is to explain our methods; how we guide students through studying and preparing, and why our methods are successful. We believe honesty is the best policy, and to that end we’re laying our cards on the table.
How it Begins
We start all our engagements with a complimentary consultation, so we can get to know the student, their parents, and their situation. Every student is unique, and each has their own goals when it comes to the scores they want to attain and colleges they want to aim for. We need to take these into account, as each tutoring plan is tailored to the individual student it is meant for.
To better ascertain where students stand in terms of preparation, we ask that they take a practice test, one which allows for close analysis of which concepts they have mastered, and they still struggle with. By diagnosing where their scores are now, and comparing them to where they want them to be, we can begin to come up with a plan of attack for their tutoring.
Not every student will have the same plan, because not every student is the same. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach may work in some fields, but test prep isn’t one of them. We believe each student deserves tutoring tailored to their needs. This means not every student will meet with their tutors the same number of times, have the same amount of homework, or meet with their tutors as often.
We take a few meetings to get all of this established, so you know for sure what you are getting into, and what the road ahead for your test preparation means.
So once the individualized plan is created, what does it entail? All studying for standardized tests has some commonalities, but our approach has some factors which set it apart as well. We’ll cover both, so you can see how our approach is set apart.
The universal constant for test preparation is practice tests. While practice problems have a time and place where they are helpful, the best way to get a feel for what a test requires is to practice it in its entirety. This allows you to acclimate to the time constraints, get used to the style of questions, and gain an understanding of which sections of the test you struggle with and excel at.
Taking a practice test alone isn’t enough; you need to know what questions you missed to actually determine what you know and what you struggle with. We partner with an online testing service that lets you know immediately after finishing the test which questions you missed, and shares the results with us as well. This is where most companies end, content to merely go over which questions you missed with you during the paid sessions. We, on the other hand, want to make the best possible use of time during our one-on-one time with students, so we use a mistakes journal.
When a student gets their scores after doing a practice test, they can see which questions they got wrong. They record these in their mistakes journal, along with why they got it wrong, and what steps they can take to rectify it. Specificity is key here. While merely writing “Pay more attention to detail” may be a technically correct answer, it doesn’t allow a student to think through what they’ve done wrong, and consider what they might do differently the next time.
By reading through a student’s mistakes journal ahead of a session, our mentors learn not only what questions the student got wrong, but how they were tripped up, and if they have a mastery of the material, or are still missing a key piece of context needed to fully understand the problem. This way, the mentor is able to focus their time in a session precisely, targeting concepts a student struggles with, or the types of questions that consistently challenge them.
The mentor will give the student tools to approach these problems in a session; like formulas for math, these are tools which students may apply whenever they see a problem of the same kind. Seeing a question on semicolon placement automatically triggers an understanding of how to find the correct response, just as seeing a question asking for the volume of a cylinder brings to mind 𝝅r2h.
Just learning these strategies isn’t enough; they will also be part of the homework assigned, and in the next lesson the tutor will quiz them on these strategies again, to see what the student retained. In this way, we slowly eliminate gaps in a student’s understanding, and strengthen their test-taking abilities.
The other major strategy we employ, as some other services do, is live drills. These are used to understand how and why students struggle to complete a particular question within a given timeframe. Reviewing a student’s mistake journal can tell you their thought process in many cases, but watching a student attack a problem in real time shows you where they’re losing time, and what new strategies to introduce.
There are myriad small strategies which students can use to refine how they approach questions in order to save time. We won’t list them all here, as not every strategy is suited for every student, and trying to apply all of them at once would often produce contradictory results. One student, for instance, may need to spend less time reading a passage, and instead skip right to the questions to parse what information is needed. Another may need to read the passage slightly more closely, as they’re losing time by repeatedly going back and forth between a single question and the passage, unable to find the right piece of hidden information.
Each student is unique in their approach to tests, and by running live drills our mentors can meet them where they are, with the strategies they need to get to where they need to go.
Another key feature of our mentoring strategy is parental check-ins, so that you can track your student’s progress, and understand the challenges they’re facing and small victories they’re achieving. We compile notes of what the mentor and student went over each meeting, and send those to parents as well. Open communication is the best way to make sure everyone’s on the same page, and that preparations stay on track.
Here too, we try to tailor our approach to the needs of the family. While mentors obviously have many demands on their time, we strive to make sure parents have enough information to feel confident in the process. We have no secrets, and nothing to hide.
A question we are often asked is how much students can improve their score, and whether or not we offer guarantees. We don’t like to offer guarantees, and due to our individually tailored approach, the amount a student can improve their score is highly variable. Indeed, how much each student wants their score to improve by is part of how we set the schedules for their tutoring.
As a general rule, the lower the starting score, and the higher the desired final score, the more tutoring is necessary. We won’t guarantee a score increase, as our model is so highly dependent on the work the student puts in. Our guarantee is to uphold our side, and to work as hard as we can to give you every chance of success. That is all we can do, we cannot study for you, nor take the test in your stead.
We don’t trust companies who give guarantees, as there is no such thing as a sure deal; there is only risk and chance, and knowledge of how to manage both. With our strategies and experience, we have become masters of lowering risk and lessening chance, so students have the best possible chance of succeeding on an exam. We won’t claim certainty, for we still value honesty above all, but we will certify that we will give you every tool and chance you need to succeed.
Many students stress about taking the SAT and ACT, for good reason, as these are some of the most impactful tests they will take in their high school careers. While we can’t relieve all of the stress students feel, we know the best way to make them feel confident about the tests is to ensure they have properly prepared, and go in ready for what they will face.
If you would like our help on your test prep journey or have questions about what we can offer you, we encourage you to reach out. Please schedule a free strategy session with our head of test prep, Alex Nelson. Having scored a perfect 1600 himself in high school, and with over 10,000 hours of SAT and ACT teaching under his belt, Alex has the experience necessary to put you on the path to SAT success.