I recently attended a training session in Arlington, Virginia to become an ACT Certified Educator in English. This program required me to complete a 16-hour course and pass two tests. The credential indicates I know the content underpinning the test—the grammar, punctuation, idiomatic language, etc.—as well as appropriate test-taking strategies and methods for remediating gaps in knowledge.
The best part of the class was that it confirmed many of my pedagogical instincts. For instance, it’s very important for students to understand why they got a question wrong, but it’s equally essential for me to be able to recognize the “gaps” in their knowledge when they choose a wrong answer. That presents a powerful opportunity for learning—a teachable moment.
I always tell students it’s helpful to have an editor mindset when taking the ACT English. So, when our instructor spoke about this test in terms of a perfect piece of writing being “broken,” I gave a mental fist pump. It is the job of the test-taker to recognize and make the corrections. When a student knows basic grammar skills, she is either able to choose the correct version immediately or eliminate those that are incorrect. That’s how it works in an ideal situation. But we know that applying a rule can sometimes be tricky. That’s why, as tutors, we work so much with practice items. It’s a form of learning known as “rehearsal.” As students practice the cognitive, active process of applying rules and deducing answers, they become adept at it.
When I was teaching in public schools, most of my colleagues hated test preparation. Of course, I could feel their pain. They objected to poorly designed test questions, time lost from their own curriculum, or the misery the tests seemed to inflict upon students. Yet, there was always a part of me that liked the challenge of it, the let’s-figure-this-out of it. In a subject that is often very nuanced, it was fun to deal with more cut and dried examples.
When you deal with a new standardized test (and I had to deal with plenty of them over the years) there is always a learning curve—for the teachers and the students. The ACT is no different. Once you know what is being tested and what to look for, it becomes much easier. That’s why test prep works.
Note: Before a candidate can complete any ACT subject area certification, he or she must complete an 8-hour Basics course and test. This credential covers areas including test fundamentals, administration and professionalism.