99th Percentile, Take Two! Siblings Competition Makes Test News with the PSAT and ACT

Prepping for the ACT is a lot of fun when we can get students of similar ability level.
Tutoring Siblings is usually a lot of fun. Their skills usually complement one another when they start prepping on the SAT and ACT.

It’s always very interesting when two siblings of similar ability level have a little friendly competiton going between them. I recently experienced this situation in Loveland , where two sisters, one year apart, were getting ready for their college entrance exams.  It started out innocently enough:  I warned them that I could see through the glass-topped table we were sitting at if they were trying to kick each other between questions! Actually, it was clear (no pun intended) that they were both pretty intelligent and well-mannered and I need not worry about any rough housing near the fine china.   That being said, like many intelligent, hard-working students, their scores were around the 60th-70th percentile, more indicative of  pranksters than  chemical engineers (their career goal), in my opinion. It became evident only after a short while, though, that their quick answers were going to give us a good chance at the treasured 90th percentile score on all of their exams.

We actually started with “shared tutoring” or one-on-two tutoring, as I thought it the most efficient means to get us getting started.   In the beginning, we were hoping that we could synchronize their tutelage so that we could finish PSAT, SAT, and ACT tutoring for both of them at the same time.

Lo and behold, their schedules began to diverge and I was forced to focus on the older one (we will call her Tony), who within a three of four months had a very nice 34 on her ACT.  On and off, I began to mentor the younger sibling, whom I began to meet separately so we could  make the best of her PSAT.  After doing a good amount of tutoring, we finally took the test. She met with her guidance counselor before getting the final results and was met with a cryptic, “Sonya, are you excited about receiving your PSAT results?” Only about a week later, the school released the scores.  Though her two other scores were a little bit lower, dear Sonya had received a perfect score on her PSAT Writing section, allowing her to quality for National Merit Scholar. Yay!

student studying for SAT and ACT
A hard working student usually gives both the SAT and ACT maximum prep before deciding on which one to focus on.

Truly, during that year and a half, it was quite funny seeing these two siblings motivate each other.  This really manifested itself in an episode when the older (Tony) criticized the younger.  Sonya had just arrived at home from a stellar test performance on her SAT. She knew she had done well but had second thoughts about a last question whose answer she had changed at the last second.  Tony, naturally a positive supportive person in her own right, popped the question: “Hey Sonya, how did you do on the test?”

Sonya, somewhat timidly replied, “Oh, I think I did really well…There was just that one question at the end:  I wasn’t sure if I put the right answer or not, so I changed my choice.”

“What!” Tony was beside herself.  “Don’t you remember that Michael told you to never change your answer unless you know you’re wrong???!!!”

I wasn’t there for the confrontation, but it very much sounded like a real hoot when the girls’ mother related the incident.

My time with these two sisters was rich indeed.  It’s not often I run into students and parents so courteous and thoughtful, not to mention so hard working and docile. I think part of these girls success was that they did have similar abilities, had similar ages, and even similar interests. They are now together at UND as we speak. I really hope they are still friends. :  )

I think the conclusion for students out there is that “shared tutoring” can work, especially if an initial diagnostic test is given to both to see if they work together well and have similar abilities.  The best tutoring situation for siblings actually might be meeting separately one-on-one:  interestingly enough, Tony and Sonya were actually referrals from a brother and sister who saw me separately who achieved very similar results.

These other siblings’  schedules had their own interruptions and we had done some very modest expectations for both of them, but despite competitive sports and a challenging school-work load, their attentiveness turned into a 34 for the son on his ACT and a 33 for the daughter on hers.

Honestly, I get really excited when my clients dominate their tests and refer me to their friends who end up winners on test day. It is rare to find students who follow my system so closely. To be fair, though, tutoring isn’t for everyone, and few students are capable of perfect of even 99th-percentile scores. And even on the personal level, some young people truly shy away (I was one of the sort) from one-on-one interactions. Their best situation could be the group tutoring, or even a class.  So my advice is to try a couple of different situations to see what works best for your children.  Otherwise, you won’t know if the sibling rivalry is a blessing or a curse!

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