Q&A with Lisa Rattray: College Prep @Ross

Lisa Rattray 2 Lisa Rattray has been helping students at Ross prepare for college testing and the postsecondary application process since 1999, and has been a testing specialist for more than 25 years. In her role as College Prep teacher, she works with both Ross juniors and Summer Term @Ross students to ready them for SAT and ACT tests. School News recently talked with Lisa about how she is helping students open doors to top-tier colleges and universities.

How is College Prep @Ross helping students excel? Eleventh graders at Ross take the College Prep class twice per week, and we also offer intensive study for rising juniors and seniors during Summer Term @Ross (the 2016 term begins July 5). The main goal is to prepare students to take either the SAT or ACT; these test scores are still very important to colleges and universities when evaluating potential students.

How does the College Prep course proceed? Students can choose to take the SAT or the ACT. Individuals exhibit different strengths on different tests, so it’s important to assess which instrument will be most beneficial for a student’s college application process. We then work to improve their test-taking skills to give them an edge as they embark on their educational career. Ultimately, we want the best results to help get the students into their schools of choice.

We focus on mathematics, grammar, reading, and writing mechanics, and students take weekly diagnostic exams—real SAT or ACT tests—to put their skills to the test and chart their progress throughout the course. I also teach them specific test-taking techniques, such as pacing and where they should focus their time.

The methods work. For example, on average, my Summer Term students improve their SAT scores by 300 points and ACT scores by 5 or 6 points over four weeks.

How do the students respond to the class? During both the academic year and Summer Term, I see marked improvement within the first weeks. In addition to building the appropriate skill set, the course also builds their confidence. There is a psychological aspect to these tests. It can be scary, because there is a lot riding on the results. One of the benefits to monitoring the students’ improvement with the weekly practice exams is that it fuels that confidence. They see their scores going up, and they get a boost.

My way of teaching is to make it fun, and I’m really good with anxious test takers. I start out by telling the students that this is not about their intelligence level, it’s about learning how to take the test and apply their skills. Through our interaction and practice exams, the test itself becomes so familiar. It helps demystify the process, and they are ready to succeed when the big day arrives.

How does the Summer Term course differ from the academic-year classes? Ultimately, we cover the same content to help the students succeed. The beauty of Summer Term is that they have more time to focus on mastering the tests and can gain a competitive edge going into their junior and senior years.

Summer Term is organized into two sessions. The first runs from July 5 through July 29, and students attend five days per week. In the second, August 1 through 26, students study with me three days per week.

I’m always impressed with the dedication the students bring to the classroom, especially when their friends are enjoying the time off from school. They come with an understanding that this course is important to their future, and again, the results they achieve remain a motivating factor.

But there is also a fun aspect to Summer Term College Prep. I have students from all over the world, both day and boarding, and the intensive time in the classroom carries over after school. They typically form deep and lasting connections.

You mentioned the results. How to do you track this progress? The improved test scores on both the practice and actual exams is hard proof that the course works. There are very few people who have been doing this as long as I have, and it’s rare, if ever, that a student does not see a significant improvement in scores and confidence. I have many repeat families who have sent several children to me over the years based on those results.

There are some that say colleges and universities are deemphasizing the importance of the SAT and ACT. What’s your take? The college application process is extremely competitive, and the tests matter more than ever. In general, colleges and universities have specific scores that students must achieve to even be considered. So, if a school requires the SAT or ACT, students really need that high score. It may not be the score that ultimately gets them in, but it can certainly keep them out.

Rankings, such as position in the annual report from US News & World Report, are very important to colleges, and a student population with high test scores helps boost their profile.

What’s next for College Prep @Ross? I’ll continue to work with the juniors through the end of the year. Both the SAT and ACT will be given several times before Summer Term begins, so we are focusing on preparing for the actual exams; that includes the new SAT that will debut in March. Educators say that the new test better reflects the kind of reading and math students will encounter in college and their future work lives.

Also, we are currently enrolling students in the Summer Term @Ross College Prep course. For more information and to apply, visit www.ross.org/summerterm.