With SAT and ACT spring test dates coming right up, students are naturally thinking about how to prepare for these high-stakes entrance exams. Recent announcements about changes on the horizon for the SAT test format might also be raising awareness and anxiety levels among college-bound high school students. Many are looking to teachers, tutors and parents to advise them on how best to prepare.

What advice can you confidently give that will enable students to maximize their success? Every student”s situation is different, of course: from which test they plan to take to what kinds of test prep they can afford to how they prefer to study to how much time they can devote to study and practice. And there are so many test prep options, from private, in-person tutoring to group classes to online programs to free practice tests.

Mary Ann Dorsher of ACT Ready makes a great point: it”s not all about figuring out what”s going to be on the test – it”s about getting the support needed to approach the exam with confidence. Feeling “in control” and knowing what to expect and how to deal with the challenges (time limits, guessing, etc.) can have a big impact on performance.

For those who have sufficient discipline and confidence to prepare on their own, free online study aids might be all that is needed. These enable students to become familiar with the test layout and the content of each section, as well as the nature of the questions themselves – and this basic level of familiarity, combined with taking practice exams, covers the essentials.

Many high schools also offer a few free classes before or after school, near test dates, to provide this basic level of prep. Other schools provide more intensive test prep classes that run for several weeks and are designed to be affordable and effective (usually under $250).

Most teachers and tutors also know that the testing organizations themselves offer free test prep support online, including “official” practice tests. There”s also a relatively new program that the US Army has introduced to help recruits with test prep, which is free and available to everyone regardless of whether they plan to join the Army: it”s called March 2 Success and it offers practice tests, an e-learning curriculum, financial aid information and more.

For those who have the time and money, test prep companies offer a huge variety of test prep packages in addition to one-on-one tutoring at hourly rates (typically $50/hour and up). For example, Sylvan Learning Center offers six four-hour classroom sessions (plus online access) for $995. Kaplan Test Prep offers six three-hour sessions (online or face-to-face) for $599.

Another resource that is practical and affordable is . Socrato augments the support of teachers, tutors and self-directed learning by offering online practice testing combined with fine-grained analysis of the results that help test-takers pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses – enabling them to “learn from their mistakes.”

This data can help students develop more confidence as well as improve performance and make the most of their precious study time. Learning analytics software analyzes students” performance from literally hundreds of perspectives, offering multiple views on the data, from performance by section to breakdowns of where and how points were lost within each section. While students can interpret results themselves, it”s most beneficial for a tutor or teacher to interpret the output of Socrato”s learning analytics engine and break the correlations down into straightforward study suggestions that address a student”s specific needs.

In short: if your role as a tutor or teacher is to help students prepare for the SAT, ACT, PSAT or several other high-stakes tests, Socrato is there to help. Unlike some other online test prep services, the goal of Socrato is to support the “human connection” in the test prep process. It can help you make an approaching test seem less intimidating, giving students more of the confidence and experience they need to succeed.

Featured image courtesy of tjook.

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