SIKESTON -- Long gone can be sweaty palms, knotted stomachs and most importantly, low test scores, when high school students prepare for the ACT exam.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the average composite score on the college-entry exam increased again this year, rising by one-tenth of a point to 21.5, state education officials said last week. As a group, Missouri students remain well above the national average, which dropped by two-tenths of a point to 20.8. The maximum possible score on the exam is 36.
Sikeston High School Senior Counselor Debbie Hampton credits college prep courses, ACT prep courses and most of all, teachers for students' success with the ACT.
"Individual teachers in the core courses, like English and math, hold after school learning sessions for students a week or so before the test," Hampton said. "They've been a big blessing."
Rather than receive a broad view of the four subjects tested in the ACT, which are math, science, English and reading, students can receive tips on one particular area, Hampton explained. Teachers also discuss test taking strategies and other useful tips.
Sikeston High School's current ACT average composite score is 20.8, the same as the national average, according to Sikeston Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Kathy Boldrey. Approximately 60 percent of Sikeston students take the exam each year, she added.
In addition to test preparation from teachers, Sikeston students are given the opportunity to practice the test before it's given by participating in Sikeston's Super Saturday, a mock ACT exam held twice a year at the school.
During a Super Saturday, students are administered a practice test, and afterward, they score their tests to see how they did. Then students are provided lunch, usually pizza, Sikeston Sophomore Counselor Bonnie Stewart said. The whole process takes about four hours.
Approximately 30 to 40 students attend Super Saturday, Stewart estimated. While other local schools may offer ACT prep courses or materials, Sikeston is the only school in the area known to have a mock test so students from other schools are welcome to attend Super Saturday, Stewart said.
Students also study at home or from ACT prep books and computer software available through the school library, she added.
College prepatory courses are also a main ingredient to overcoming the ACT, too. "College prepatory classes mirror college courses enough to prepare students adequately for the ACT," Hampton assured.
An addition to Sikeston's test preparation this year is The Princeton Review, a private course available through ITV, Boldrey said. Since this is the first year the school is using the course, Boldrey said she can't really comment on the prep strategy, other than she's very excited it will be available to students.
Boldrey said it's never too early for students to begin preparing for the ACT. Sophomores, juniors and seniors are allowed to take the exam.
"It's a good motivator for sophomores who take the test," Boldrey said. "Students are able to see their weak areas and learn what they need to work on."
Most sophomores who take the ACT do so at the end of the school year before their junior year. Juniors and seniors make up the majority of those who take the ACT. On average, a junior may take the test once or twice, and then again their senior year if they want a higher score, Hampton said.
High ACT scores not only help students get into college, but also can help financially. "A lot of parents ask me, 'How can my child get a scholarship?,'" Hampton said. "Some parents may not realize many universities offer scholarships based on high ACT scores."
Hampton thinks kids and their parents are becoming more involved in their education. They're seeking information about the curriculum and developing an understanding of it to succeed, she said.
Students who have questions concerning the ACT should meet with their high school counselor, Hampton advised -- or they can visit the ACT Web site at www.act.org.