My heart was pounding as I saw the vocabulary terms and reading passages when I took the ACT for the first time. My mind was clueless. I felt anxiety building up while I hesitated on whether my first answer choice was correct. Then, the proctor announced there was five minutes left for the section and I became frustrated sitting during a test without knowledge of the material. When I received my score, I was disappointed. After a couple of months of practice and studying, I retook the ACT with more confidence and knowledge than before. Fortunately, my score improved with the hard work and effort. As a first generation student, it felt like a difficult challenge to be prepared for standardized tests. Below are the struggles that first generation students may encounter and tips to combat them:
Typically, first generation students cannot afford standardized testing resources such as private tutoring, study aids, and books. Due to their financial situations, first generation students cannot invest in study materials which results in being unprepared for the SATs and ACTs, and unsatisfactory scores that may not accurately measure college-readiness.
Tip: There are many inexpensive resources available in schools and local libraries. Borrow some test prep books from your school and library instead of spending $40 on a brand-new book. Also, check out used standardized test books in Amazon.com or other online sites. Buying used books online is a great alternative way to not spend so much money while obtaining test-taking strategies and learning material.
Lack of Sense of Urgency
In my high school consisted of first-generation students, I did not hear about the SATs and ACTs until towards the end of my sophomore year while other students from different high schools may have prepared since the beginning of high school. My teachers, peers, and friends did not stressed about the importance of ACTs enough to push others in taking them seriously. In junior year, I found myself and my classmates putting off ACT prep because we had homework to complete and sports and club commitments. It was difficult to make time for the SATs and ACTs while being involved in school.
Tip: When you are conversing with your teachers and friends, mention the SAT or ACT. Ask your peers what they have been doing to study for the standardized tests and for help on geometry and vocabulary terms. Also, while studying with your friends, see what test-taking strategies have worked for them and utilize them if they work for you too. When you interact with the people around you with standardized tests, it will remind you to prioritize test prep. It would be efficient to create a study plan and commit to it, but be realistic in the amount of time you put into studying (such as 30 minutes per day in reviewing grammar and vocabulary or a couple of hours per week practicing trigonometry problems).
For the English section of the ACT, it seems almost impossible to answer all 75 questions and read passages in 45 minutes. Some first generation students feel constant time pressure that they work too fast in order to finish the section, and as a result, they lose accuracy. Others may not finish the section that they guess on answers during the last five minutes of the section. On the SAT, each answer that is marked wrong deducts ¼ of a point off from the total score of that section whereas on the ACT, there is no penalty for guesses or wrong answers. Students are unable to get more points because it is tough to be accustomed to time limits.
Tip: For the ACT, it is better to guess on answers when you do not have time to complete the section since you only gain points, but for the SAT, consider leaving answers blank if you did not get to the questions. To reduce time pressure, practice taking these exams a couple of times in a similar environment as your testing location such as a classroom. This way you can adapt to time limits and develop test taking strategies (such as reading the questions first before the passages and doing the easy problems first) to achieve the score you desire. Another useful tip is to wear a watch while taking the test. Some testing rooms do not have clocks so a watch would help with your pacing.
Content and Material
Some first generation students may be unfamiliar with the content of the tests since they have not learned the material in their high schools. For the science section of the ACT, it would be beneficial if students knew how to interpret graphs and data, and some basic science topics. Topics such as grammar conventions, vocabulary, geometry, sentence structure, and pre-calculus may appear on standardized tests, but students may not have covered them in their classes.
Tip: When scoring your practice tests, mark the questions you did not know and take note of topics you need to study or review. This way you can correct your mistakes and know what you need to look over before taking the actual standardized tests. Also, while taking the tests, do the easy questions first and skip the hard ones so you can get the most points possible.
Now that you have read about the struggles, it is time to prepare for the SATs and ACTs! Use these tips to help you get started or to practice for these tests and show colleges your true potential. Good luck first generation students! We can do it!