Concepts, Methods, Techniques, Skills, and Strategies
By Paul Lim | Kaplan SAT & ACT Trainer
Frequently, I meet with parents and students to discuss their progress and they often provide feedback on their SAT/ACT lessons: focus more on concepts; teach more problem solving techniques; teach them skills to answer the questions; emphasize more on testing strategies etc. Whenever I hear these feedback, I wonder whether they know what exactly they were talking about when the use these terms very casually. We really don’t have a standard set of definitions on these terms, much less a good understanding of what they are. So, in this article, I will try to define these terms as I know them and apply them to SAT/ACT test-prep just to clear the air.
First, let’s start with concepts. Concepts are the knowledge on the subject matter. Do you understand the concepts of the subject matter? Have you learned these concepts in school? Knowledge encompasses not only concepts, but also principles, formulas, methods, and techniques. Do you understand the principles? Have you memorized the formulas? Do you know the methods or techniques to solve the problem? Most of these apply more to the math sections than the verbal sections. I expect students to be familiar with these because most should have learned these in school. If not, I will still teach them, though in summary form, in the test-prep classes so that they can catch up. But they have to do more work on their own, i.e. homework.
Once students understand the concepts and memorized the formulas, they have to learn certain methods or techniques in order to solve the test problems. In most schools, if there are 3 ways to solve a problem, the teacher will teach all the 3 ways to the students, without telling them which method is the most efficient with which type of problem. This is a major flaw in school teaching these days, and the result is that some students just pick up one method and from that point onwards, they got stuck to this single method, which could be very inefficient and prone to errors. In view of this, in my lessons, I would always teach students the most efficient way to solve each type of problem and then let them practise the method. It is at this stage that practice would be most effective because “practice makes perfect.” A lot of students practise on problems BEFORE they have a clear understanding of concepts and an efficient method or technique, resulting in very limited progress.
With more practice comes skill. Skill is not something that can be taught directly; it has to come through practice. When students practise with clear concepts and appropriate techniques, they hone their skills so that they get better and faster. This is the outcome that we look for in students, and at this point, they can do more practice on their own i.e. more homework.
Once skills are acquired, the final step is to prepare them for the real test. This is the time when we have to talk about testing strategies, i.e. how to approach the test and each section of the test. Testing strategies involve the following: timing, sequencing, and guessing. At this stage, they need to learn how to manage their pace so that they can finish on time, how to go through the questions (sequentially or otherwise), how many times to go through the questions, and how to guess as and when they need to. All these are covered in my Exam Drill lessons in which students simulate a real test environment so that they can perform accordingly in the real test.
The above discussion illustrates a process that students have to go through to prepare for the SAT/ACT. As you can see, each step is built on the previous step and there is no benefit in skipping any of the steps. I hope this clarifies our thoughts so that the next time we meet and discuss about students’ progress, all of us can be on the same page, talking about the same thing.
Mr. Paul Lim
Kaplan SAT and ACT Trainer
MBA, National University of Singapore
B.Sc., Harvey Mudd College
- Over 15+ years of experience in teaching SAT and ACT
- Graduated from a prestigious U.S. college
- Proven record in helping students achieve a perfect subject section score of 800
- Author of a book on effective learning strategies for mastering vocabulary
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