Standardized testing and college applications weigh heavily on students’ minds as they enter their junior and senior years. Some students seek hours of tutoring and counseling outside of school to prepare so they can perform their best on these tests and write the most engaging essays. However, The Campanile believes that Palo Alto High School needs to take more responsibility in preparing its students for these challenges by altering its curriculum.
Many students start studying for standardized tests, either the SAT or ACT, during their junior year, and feel that they are inadequately prepared, specifically in the areas of grammar and reading comprehension. Many students seek outside help in these areas, though we believe that the required knowledge should be fundamental to the Paly curriculum for underclassmen. Students could greatly benefit from a review of basic grammar skills during their English classes, to help with the Writing section of the SAT and the English section of the ACT. We suggest that students be given timed grammar assignments that reinforce these skills and mimic the difficulty and pressure of standardized tests. Not only are these skills necessary to succeed on the tests, they are important skills for the future as well.
Though English classes do focus on reading comprehension and literary analysis, they do so in a way that is very different from that encountered on standardized tests. English classes do help students analyze the main ideas and literary devices of many works, but students usually do not have to do so in a timed setting. Additionally, standardized tests include styles of passages not covered in the typical English class, such as science passages, which appear on the Science section of the ACT and will appear on the new Reading section of the SAT. These passages merge reading and science, by including content on scientific concepts with charts, tables and infographics. To succeed on these sections, students must learn how to synthesize information not only from words, but from informational graphics as well. Once again, we recommend that students be given timed reading comprehension assignments that mimic the topics, difficulty and pressure of standardized testing.
We acknowledge that the responsibility for preparing for standardized tests does not lie solely with high schools, but that it should not lie completely with the student either. Students should not have to feel that they can only learn the material for these tests outside of school. The current curriculum also puts students who cannot afford outside help at a disadvantage, and takes away from time that students could have to participate in activities they enjoy. After all, these tests gauge how prepared students are for college, and Paly should help its students be as college-ready as possible. Therefore, The Campanile believes that integrating these skills into the curriculum of underclassmen is vital.
This pattern of feeling inadequately prepared for a milestone in the college process continues into senior year, when applications and essays make their appearance. After reading the prompts on the Common Application, or the supplemental prompts for many schools, students often feel stuck and they struggle writing these essays. The reason for this is not that students have not been sufficiently trained to write essays in school, but rather that students have not been taught how to write about themselves. The art of introspection and marketing oneself cannot be immediately developed come the start of senior year. It is a skill that is crucially needed throughout one’s professional life long past the college application process.
The Campanile suggests that English classes incorporate more assignments that challenge students to write about themselves, such as memoirs, journal entries and even practice college essays. Paly could create an English elective dedicated to developing the skills needed to successfully write about oneself. This way, students will be better prepared when it comes to college essays and the process of applying to college will go smoothly and with less stress.
Aside from college applications, many students will apply for internships or jobs during their summers, or even during college. If students are well equipped with the skills needed to write about oneself, they will also be more successful in their efforts in applying for these positions.
Topics covered on standardized tests and college essay prompts change frequently. Therefore, we also recommend that Paly teachers pay attention to what these alterations may be and inform students of such changes. Information regarding alterations to standardized testing can be reviewed during advisory.
The Campanile urges Paly’s teachers and administrators to consider incorporating test-taking skills and personal reflection writing into the curriculum so that students can confidently tackle these important challenges.