What’s the best way to conduct ACT prep? “Four-I’s” reminds us of best practices that are essential to success:
Test prep all too easily tends toward “drill and kill.” Nothing is dryer and less engaging than practice questions followed by practice questions followed by practice questions. Every unit should have an interactive activity, engaging hook, discussion, group work, contest, or game. A successful prep class is lively, not a snooze fest.
If students don’t know how to correctly answer a certain type of question on the ACT, then they need plenty of practice with this question in isolation to have the chance to master it. The questions need to be varied (since the ACT almost never asks the exact same question twice), but the question category needs to remain constant. Without working a question type in isolation, students lose the opportunity to adequately learn content; as soon as they start to understand, they’re torn away to focus on a different subject. Interactivity and isolation are easily combined; if your class is deficient in a skill, provide an interactive lesson end-capped with ACT practice of that skill in isolation. (This is the same way we format our ACT Mastery curriculum.)
Even if you work hard to limit your focus to the most essential ACT content, it can be a challenge for students to retain everything before the test. Use intervals (spacing or time gaps) to increase the likelihood that your students will remember what you covered with them. Introduce a topic and coach students to mastery. A week later, do more work on the topic and return to it again a month later. These intervals force the brain to push your lessons into long-term memory.
Interleaving, in which students answer questions from multiple content categories, is the default in the world of test prep. It occurs every time you give your students mini-tests. Since the ACT requires students to answer a wide variety of questions, sorted randomly in terms of both content and difficulty, you have to strengthen your students’ ability to differentiate between questions and know when to apply particular rules or strategies. Use interleaving to make this happen. Interleaving is the opposite of isolation. One way to incorporate both is to provide inquiry-based activities with practice in isolation, then, at later intervals, provide interleaved practice. (Again, this is the way we format the ACT Mastery program and a large part of why it works.)
This chalk talk was adapted from Decoding the ACT: The Unofficial Teacher’s Guide.
You can learn more about Decoding the ACT here.