Test Prep With a Difference

As COVID-19 continues to challenge educators everywhere, one thing remains certain: virtually all colleges and universities will still utilize standardized test results in their admissions processes.

As part of their college application, most students send scores from either the SAT or ACT.  While educators have long engaged in a spirited debate over which best determines a student’s knowledge and readiness for college, nearly all will consider either one or the other a relevant index to a student’s college readiness.  

“These two tests cover generally the same information but have a lot of differences as well,” says Carla Pedersen, regional director at Academic Approach. “Each gives a solid metric to help make sense of everything else,” including GPA, extracurriculars, faculty recommendations and the all-important student essay.

How can students prepare to do their best?

Chicago-based Academic Approach provides high-impact, research-based test prep solutions customized to an individual student’s needs. Tutors are available for general or subject-specific learning, and sessions can be conducted after school or during remote learning. While some small in-person classes are being offered, most sessions are conducted one-on-one through Zoom with tutors who are highly skilled at working with students remotely.

“I had my concerns in the beginning, but it’s been remarkable just how well it’s gone,” says Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services at Academic Approach. “We have learned just how flexible students can be, how they are so opened-minded and can just go with the flow. It takes a special kind of tutor to work with remote learning, and we have them. They continue to make the process personal, not only teaching students but reaching them, understanding what drives them and how they need to be taught.”

Like everything else, coronavirus has put a major crimp in students’ ability to actually sit for the SAT or ACT, and neither test is being offered remotely. More test dates have been added this fall, but “I wouldn’t go so far as to say things are back to normal,” says Pedersen. Since some schools went gradeless when the coronavirus quarantine hit in March, standardized test scores may take on even added importance over the next few years, Ferguson adds. We need a check on GPA to assure that students are learning and mastering rigorous material.

Personalized test prep

Academic Approach programs begin with a complimentary full-length diagnostic test — SAT, ACT or both — followed by an in-depth consultation. Together, the student, family, and expert director from Academic Approach explore the student’s individual learning style, discuss test results, and create goals to achieve through a personalized study plan.

Tutoring sessions at Academic Approach usually last 60 to 90 minutes and students typically spend 16 hours prepping with their tutor. Part of the process includes taking four or five practice tests to become familiar and comfortable with the format and material and to benchmark progress.

“First, we do a lot of listening about a student’s strengths and weaknesses,” Ferguson says. “Next, students take a diagnostic test that gives us a baseline, and then we all meet to walk through each section of the test and discuss the scores. We talk to the student to find out why a particular section may have been a struggle or strain, and together we come up with a plan. Maybe they’re a strong reader but need to speed it up, or they need to work on their grammar or geometry. It’s a very nice moment when we come to an agreement on what we need to do and understand that we’re all on the same page, share the same approach, and the same goal.”

Both scores and skills

Tutors work with students to build skills, not just get a great score. “It’s so much more granular than just the test score,” Pedersen adds. “We are parsing out what is happening with each student’s skills, what’s happening within the test, and what they need to work on by specific lesson categories.”

Confident, well-prepared students navigate the college application process knowing they’ll present a score that accurately reflects their academic abilities, capturing the attention of admissions officers at their chosen universities. Academic Approach helps get them there.

“At the end of the day, standardized tests are still part of the college process, and we want to make sure that students are as prepared as possible,” Ferguson says.

About Academic Approach


Academic Approach has offices in Chicago, Winnetka, Highland Park, and Clarendon Hills as well as New York City and Boston. Visit AcademicApproach.com to learn more.






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