“Always Guess C!” I learned the hard way the reality of offering such advice. Some years ago, I was tutoring a young lady for the ACT. I advised her to guess on quite a few questions because she had difficulty with time management. On her math practice test, she guessed “C” on the last 20 questions. Much to my surprise, she only got one of them correct!
After discovering this, I looked at every publicly available ACT test to see if there was a pattern on the last few questions of the Math test. On every single one, I found that “C” or “H” (the middle choice of the 5 since the ACT alternates between ABCDE and FGHJK on the Math Questions) was used less frequently than the other choices.
I thought about it, and it made sense to me why this would be true. 1. Most students don’t finish the ACT Math section. 2. Most students guess “C” when they run out of time.
So, I figured that ACT realized that people guessing “C” quite a bit at the end must be blindly guessing rather than actually knowing the material. I guessed that they were trying to punish these guessers by turning conventional wisdom on its head and penalizing those who followed the “Guess C!” rule of thumb.
I thought I was on to something – I advised my students prior to the next ACT to not guess C on the last 10-20 math questions. I was really excited that I had discovered a hidden strategy that I hadn’t found stated elsewhere.
Then, I took the ACT in December and ordered the question/answer service so I could review my answers. And guess what: THEY USED “C” A LOT ON THE LAST FEW QUESTIONS OF THE MATH! I had given my students terrible advice for that test date. Fortunately, the rest of my advice was much more sound.
Lesson learned – one letter is as good as any other on major tests like the ACT or SAT. If it were as easy as picking a particular letter, why on earth would colleges put any stock in these tests?
Online Textbook Resources. Virtually every major textbook has a companion website, complete with practice quizzes, chapter summaries, and multimedia learning tools. Strangely, most teachers never have their students use these resources. Use them yourself! Try to find the exact companion website for your textbook through Google. If that fails, try to find a textbook that covers the same topic as your class but which actually has a good companion website that you can use. Here are a couple of great examples:
Khan Academy. Khan is a wonderful website that has inspired much of what I have created and written. Especially with Math and Science, Khan can give you in-depth instruction on topics that are giving you difficulty:
Youtube. You will find tutorials on virtually any subject – when I taught high school, some of the “philosophy in 30 seconds” videos were remarkable in helping students quickly grasp a difficult concept. Search for yourself:
School Resources. Your library may have access to fantastic subscription databases and study tools that you can use. They probably paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for these, so put them to use! If your school library doesn’t have them, check with your public library. For an article detailing some of the changes that school libraries have made, please see here:
Past Tests. Talk to your teacher about using past tests for practice, or try to borrow them from other students (without cheating of course!). Using these will help you see how the teacher generally asks questions so that you will know how to focus your studying.
Course-notes.org. They have a great collection of subject notes, particularly for AP exams. Great to use as a supplement to your textbook:
Powerpoint Search. There is no need for you to learn from a terrible powerpoint in class – there are PLENTY of powerpoints out there that you can use free of charge. Simply go to google, type in the term for which you want a powerpoint, and then type in “ filetype:ppt ”. When I taught high school, I often used this to save time in making lecture notes for my classes.
College Help Sites for their students, (especially with writing). Many top-notch colleges have compiled outstanding resources for their struggling students, and you can access them for yourself! Here are two of my favorites:
Ask students in same class at other schools to share what their teacher has done. If you are in an Advanced Placement or Honors Course, reach out to your friends in other schools. Those schools may have teachers of the same course you are in is doing a much better job than your teacher. See what resources, notes, and old tests you can check out from them.
Purchase the teacher editions and AP resources yourself. As long as you are not cheating by looking at a test bank that you know a teacher is using to generate test questions, I see nothing wrong with supplementing your learning by acquiring the textbook teacher editions and resources for yourself. If several of your peers are in a similar situation, pool your money and purchase the book together. You can find the teacher editions for most textbooks on amazon.com. If you would like access to teacher resources for AP courses, here is where you can find them:
Over the years, I have recommended that many of my students consider applying to the University of Toronto. After all, it is one of the most highly ranked universities worldwide, and is closer to Ohio than many schools on the East Coast of the United States. I had the opportunity to visit the city of Toronto and its university for the first time this past week, and I was greatly impressed with everything I saw. Toronto is a highly educated, cosmopolitan, thriving metropolis. If you are a resident of the greater Toronto area and you are interested in having us teach a class in ACT or SAT test preparation, please email our company at email@example.com and we will do our best to come to an arrangement. If we are not able to come to Toronto in person, we can conduct online classes or tutoring via Skype.