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Preparing for Pressure

Posted 02/09/2023 by Merry Shukert

Students at TJ begin to devote themselves to studying for the upcoming SAT. photo by Shana Saint-Phard

TJ’s staff begins to coach juniors in order to better prepare them for the SAT on April 12th.

The Earth has made yet another rotation around the sun, and while the Thomas Jefferson 2022-2023 school year is slowly wrapping up, it is also beginning to turn into that end-of-year testing season; a season that is all too familiar for high school students.  As if the AP Exams and finals for every class coming up in May aren’t enough to stress out about, high school juniors across the country have to add the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to their plate. 

High school juniors have a little more to worry about than most students as the school year comes to an end, with arguably the most important standardized test of their high school career. The SAT will take place on April 12th, 2023, and is required for everyone to take their junior year in order to graduate from high school. If that doesn’t explain the extent of its importance enough, the score that 11th graders end up getting on this exam is one of the main factors determining a student’s life after high school, whether or not it be college. However, there is a wide variety of schools which don’t require standardized test scores for admission as possibilities for any students who may not end up getting the score they hoped for on the SAT. 

For the past six years, juniors at TJ have been presented with the opportunity to sign up for an SAT prep class. It is held by a variety of different teachers every Thursday at lunch until the day of the actual test. Organized by TJ administration after students presented them with the idea in 2017, its goal is to give juniors the chance to practice problems using Khan Academy, which are very similar to the questions that will be on the actual SAT. Assistant Principal Jon Poole explained that the prep classes were initially student driven, and the admin just responded to the students’ wants. Poole stated, “When someone asks for help like that, you try to find a way to make it work. We decided that as long as some teachers were willing to do it, we could do it during lunch rather than Saturdays.” Poole went on to explain how much the classes have grown since they began. “It started as a smaller group of like 30 or 40, and now I think we’re almost at 130 kids this year.”

 The prep classes include both English and Math classes, and they are made up of small groups of students based on their past PSAT scores and what they chose to focus their studying on, in hopes of improvement on their SAT score. Poole explains that he has a “spreadsheet with all of the students that signed up, and all of their PSAT scores.” The students are separated into their groups based on their scores and what they need more work on.

After a school and nationwide score decrease during Covid, hopes are that the prep classes will be able to avoid bad scores and get more students into better colleges. Poole explained, “the whole goal of it and the reason we take the time to do it is just to help the kids feel more prepared, and there’s kind of some psychology behind it too. Not only are we trying to help them gain skills, but we are trying to help them feel more confident going in.” 

TJ math teacher Mackenzie Rausch teaches one of the prep classes at lunch. She helps students through troublesome problems, so they are less likely to get confused about similar questions on the actual test. Rausch said, “I try to talk about when you’re given these types of multiple choice questions, here’s some strategies that would help you go through quicker, or help eliminate some, or just have a better chance of getting the questions right.” Rausch has one of the more popular prep classes, with ten or more students coming every week. “I think overall, the SAT is a really difficult test to prepare for, so having these classes is really helpful for students who want to do well on the SAT and having strategies for time management and eliminating, like having a better probability of guessing correctly if that’s what it comes down to, but just having a game plan going in is what is really going to be helpful for students,” commented Rausch.

However, the real question is whether or not students are finding the classes helpful, and if they think it will actually help them improve their scores. TJ junior Hannah Tran explained that she felt she needed more assistance with the math section, which is why she signed up. She went on to say that “while the majority of the lessons are on Khan Academy, the group practices on the big board are a great way to problem solve with my friends.” Junior Colin Walsh added, “With the lessons being on Khan academy, I like how I am able to practice outside of class as well as the lunch period once a week.”

In the end, the real test is the reflection of the classes on this year’s final scores, as they come out early this summer. The SAT is undoubtedly one of the most stressful and overwhelming tests of one’s high school career, but it is easy to relieve some of that stress by preparing for it earlier on, and TJ’s free prep classes make that just a little bit easier.