JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

Beyond the Grades

Getting into college takes more than good grades. Many colleges are interested in students' involvement in and outside of school, along with what they like to do in their spare time. These experiences are not only important to colleges, but to students' personal development. This section is designed to help get students thinking about the important things outside the report card—the things that not only make a better candidate for college, but also help create a unique individual.


High school is a great place to learn and practice interests and skills. With a variety of sports, clubs, organizations, student government, music and art opportunities, and more, this is a great time for students to take advantage of their resources. Getting involved can not only help them get into college, but can be a big factor in learning who they are—developing leadership skills, organizational skills and people skills.

Also, they should be encouraged to think outside of high school. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities within the community in which they may be interested in participating. They will experience the invaluable rewards of helping out at a church, soup kitchen or local charity group. Chances are these experiences may help them get into college. Better yet, they may even help in choosing a career.

Test-Prep and Test-Taking Tips

Tests are a very important part of the high school years, and will continue to be in college. Though understanding the material on a test is most important, there are a few extra things that can help improve scores. Share these test-taking tips with your students.

  • Be consistently prepared. Attend all your classes. Take good notes. And do the homework.
  • Study smartly. Review your papers, notes, quizzes and books. Ask your teachers for help in areas that are difficult to understand.
  • When you’re taking a test, simply take the test. Don’t worry about what you’re doing after the test or what’s next on your planner.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before your test. You’ll want your mind to be ready for your test in the morning.
  • Eat a balanced breakfast the morning of the test. This will give you energy and will help you focus on your test.
  • Take the proper materials: two #2 (HB) pencils, eraser and calculator (if necessary). Plus, take any additional materials your teacher gave you permission to use (textbook, study sheet, extra paper, etc.).
  • Get there a few minutes early to become familiar with the surroundings and find a seat in which you feel comfortable. Sit and relax. If you’re nervous, you’ll have a hard time concentrating on the test.
  • When the test is handed out, wait for the teacher’s approval to begin. Before you start, skim over the test to see how long it is, what kind of questions to expect, and to make sure that you’re not missing any pages.
  • Read/follow directions carefully. Start by writing your name on the test.
  • Read each question carefully. Make sure you really understand what each question is asking.
  • Answer the easy questions first. If you stumble on a question, skip it and go back to it later.
  • If you complete your test early, use the extra time to double check your work.
  • If you’re taking a standardized test, familiarize yourself with it beforehand by doing practice tests. You can find samples on kaptest.com, or in each standardized test’s respective books found at the library.

Time Management

Planning for college can be a lot of work, especially when added to an already busy life in high school. That’s why managing time wisely is so important. Students need to start learning to take responsibility for managing their time, rather than relying on their parents. Suggest they take a daily planner with them to all classes and home. Counsel them to keep track of every deadline, due date, meeting and event. Also, suggest making a to-do list for each day and/or each week. Seeing a list will help visualize what needs to get done, helping to manage time better.