Nameer Baker remembers walking in to see his mother, with his ACT result sheet in his hand.
"My mom had been harassing me for not studying, so I wanted to do well enough she couldn't say too much," Baker says. "When the results came back, when I read it I was completely surprised. I went in to her and looked like I got a terrible score, and then I gave her the paper."
The result: He got a perfect 36 on the test.
Now a freshman at Kansas University, Baker admits he doesn't have the perfect formula for scoring well on the ACT or SAT, the standardized tests that can determine a high-schooler's college future, which in turn, can have implications for graduate work and career path down the road.
But Baker, who aced the test in October 2004 during his junior year of high school, says there are some keys to learning the exams.
"I took it early," he says, "because I figured I'd probably take it two or three times."
It turned out that wasn't necessary.
Obviously, the ACT and SAT don't come as naturally to everyone.
The ACT still is the more popular of the two in Kansas because it's required for in-state schools governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. For both tests, October is a peak month for seniors to take it.
That means the preparations will begin soon, if they haven't already.
"I would recommend they not start two days before with practice questions," says Joel Frederick, a counselor at Free State High School. "Some of them sit down on a Friday night after the football game (and before a Saturday test), and think, 'Maybe I should look at that.'"
He says some of the best resources come from the test-administering bodies themselves. Both the ACT and SAT offer free practice tests for students to take, including "questions of the day" to spread out the preparation.
"All this is free," he says. "It's just a matter of them taking the initiative to go do it."
Baker, who is from Manhattan, makes these recommendations about the ACT:
¢ Realize the "science and reasoning" portion of the test is more about reasoning and less about science. If you understand how to read charts and graphs, he says, the science behind them isn't that important.
¢ Be well-read. A good vocabulary works wonders.
¢ Learn how to look for major plot developments in the reading section to save yourself time when it comes to answering questions.
Matter of timing
Another KU freshman, Zach Robinson from Garnett, scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT last October.
"I had a sense I had done well, but not that well," Robinson says. "I think it wouldn't be too wise to expect it."
He did take several practice tests from an SAT prep book, with a stopwatch going.
"One of the important things," he says, "is to get a feel for how fast the time is. I've always had a pretty good ability for the whole standardized test thing. I wasn't too worried about it, but I can understand why people are stressed out about it."
Linda Allen, a counselor at Lawrence High School, agrees that the timing factor is among the most important keys to a successful standardized test.
"It's important in establishing that pace, so you don't end up with unanswered questions at the end," she says.
But Allen says there are other common trouble spots.
One, she says, is for advanced math students who have forgotten basic math concepts.
"We traditionally find kids in higher-level math classes have forgotten their pre-algebra or algebra," Allen says. "The longer you've been away from it, the more likely you are to lose those particular skills."
She also says a well-read student is most likely to do well on the tests.
"An extensive vocabulary is helpful," she says. Sometimes having had exposure to a foreign language is helpful, by knowing the root word you can get a cleaning of what the word means."
The stereotypical advice for test day - which always begins before most high-school students are usually awake - is to get a good night's rest and to eat a healthy breakfast.
Ji Liu, a senior at Lawrence High School who took the SAT over the summer, can attest to that.
"I didn't eat," he says, "and I was starving during the whole test."
Frederick, the Free State counselor, says there is something to the test-day-preparation mantra.
"I do think, and this sounds so elementary, but I wish kids would come a little better prepared - eating breakfast, being up a little longer," Frederick says. "So often, they come in munching granola bars and drinking sodas, and their hair is disheveled. I wonder how long they've been up."
But Liu doesn't attribute all of his less-than-expected score to poor preparation the day of the test. He says he felt a lot off pressure in taking the SAT.
"You think, 'Crap. This will affect the school I go to, and that shapes my future,'" he says. "Crap."
Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145.