Springtime for Sophomores

Seniors have heard back from their schools and are finalizing their college choice in preparation for the May 1 deadline. Juniors are taking the ACT or SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams. Those two grades have clearly defined paths to college, but what about Sophomores? While spring of sophomore year seems far away from applying to college, there are three things you can do to strengthen your future college applications.

1. Take an ACT and SAT practice test and determine which test is a better test for you.

We recommend that the students take both an ACT and an SAT practice test near the end or just after their sophomore year. That way, you go into fall of junior year with a plan. Are you in range to be a National Merit scholar? If so, you can sign up for one of our summer classes in preparation for the PSAT. Do you play a winter sport and a spring sport? Another great reason to prepare in the summer and take one of the fall tests! Every student is different. Taking a practice test at the beginning of the summer ensures your student has time to decide which test and test date is best!

2. Finish the year with your highest possible grades.

Yes, this seems like an obvious one, but it really is important! If you have a bad test day, you can retake your SAT or ACT or driver’s license test, but once sophomore year is over, you are locked into those grades. Grades are a key piece of college admissions puzzle, so it is crucial to do your best.

3. Take advantage of the summer.

While it is tempting to spend the summer relaxing before the stress of junior year, you post-sophomore year summer is a great time to get a jump start on college. You are interested in botany but your high school doesn’t offer it? Take a course at a local college or community college. Not only will it look great on your resume, but it will be really interesting! Want to start saving money for college? Get a job! Jobs look great on your resume and give you a great opportunity to make business connections. An anecdotal example: my grandfather worked as a delivery runner for a law firm one summer; after graduating law school, he was hired by that same law firm! Too busy to have the set schedule of a job or class? You can always volunteer, write a paper to submit to your favorite magazine, research colleges, or take test prep!

Most sophomores have no idea where they might want to attend college, and that is perfectly okay! Following these three steps will ensure that when they do choose where to apply, they will have the highest amount of possibilities.

Linden Schult is a Master Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

The Super Bowl and Test Prep

The Huffington Post Blog had an interesting post by Nancy Berk, Ph. D., titled “College Admission Tips to Learn From the Super Bowl.” It is a terrific, and timely, read, and we hope everyone gets a chance to check it out.  While all ten of her lessons apply to college admissions, a two of them apply to test prep as well.

Lesson 4: Have a strategic game plan.

Should you take the ACT or the SAT? The GRE or the GMAT? Is a standardized test required for entrance at the school(s) you are interested in? We strongly recommend you take a practice test before starting so that you can see which test fits your strengths. We offer free ACT and SAT practice tests every Saturday at our office – sign up here! For other testing, give us a call!

Lesson 2: Know the rules of the game. Do your research. Ask questions. Talk to those who’ve been there including college students, their parents, teachers and coaches.

Is there a guessing penalty on your test? How much time do you have for each section? Familiarizing yourself with the structure, timing, and scoring of your standardized test will help you feel more comfortable and confident.

Do your research, take a practice test, and learn the rules of the game!

One more important lesson: don’t wait until the last minute!

Author Linden Schult is a Master Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

A Timeline for High School

Roadmap To Success:

Freshman year: Pick challenging classes and look for internships and summer programs that will make you stand out.

Sophomore year: Take the PSAT for the first time.  Continue to do well in school, take as many AP classes as possible, join clubs and sports teams that interest you (don’t sign-up for everything!). Take ACT and SAT practice test sometime in Spring of sophomore year or the summer after.

Junior year: The tough one.  Take National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) in Fall, take practice ACT and SAT (if you haven’t already taken them!).  Prep for and then take an ACT or SAT. Take AP/SAT Subject Tests.  Start seriously talking about college with a college counselor.

Senior year: Fight senioritis, get the applications done in August, September, and October so that by November you can enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas and not spend it with boring and inane essay prompts.  Enjoy your second semester but don’t slack off so much that your admission is revoked (it’s happened).


This is the time of year that parents come back from vacation to the reality of standardized tests.  Many have just received their child’s PSAT scores.  Here’s one Rockhurst parent’s email to us: “My son, a junior, just got his PSAT scores and is pretty heartbroken about his 210.  Great score, but most likely a point or two below what the cut-off will be.”  Cut-off?  Heartbroken?  I know, it takes some explanation.

Some parents start dealing with these tests as early 7th grade.  Participation in the Duke TIP program (in which students are asked to take an SAT before ever having covered the subjects that it touches on, furthering the myth that it is some version of an IQ test) seems to be a high water mark among some competitive parents, but I’ve always maintained that the advantage in participation is not in getting into a great college (I had students go to Dartmouth and Princeton last year who never even knew about the program) but in the really innovative and interesting programs that you can participate in (and subsequently add to your resume) as a result of being in TIP.

Wait a minute, the SAT isn’t a test of how smart you are?

As heartbreaking as this may be for those who did well on their entrance exams years ago, and carved out a life of success for themselves based on these scores, these exams have nothing to do with academics.  It doesn’t even have anything to do with test taking.  It has everything to do with understanding how this particular test is constructed and attacking it accordingly.  Sure, there are plenty of “A” students who do well on this test, but there are also plenty of “A” students who test fine in school who don’t do so well on this test.  What does this mean?  Well, either it means that they’ve fooled teachers and parents for years, and are really not intelligent, or that this test is not about intelligence.  All the SAT (or the ACT) provides is another method colleges can use to eliminate candidates in an ever-competitive pool of high school students.

When do I get started?

For 98% of the country, the race really starts junior year.  No matter how high a student scores as a sophomore on a PSAT, he/she cannot qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition until junior Year.  During the Fall of junior year, students compete against every single other junior in the country to earn a “selection index”.  This selection index is simply the sum of all three of your 2 digit scores (example, a student scores a 62 Reading, 60 Math, and 71 Writing, that’s a 193 index).  This not only tilts towards a student’s verbal skills, is not an entirely accurate predictor of SAT performance.  The conventional wisdom is simply to “add a zero” to the 2 digit PSAT scores, but while this helps give a general idea of scores, it is far from accurate for two reasons:  1) The PSAT is 1 hour and 15 minutes shorter than the real exam, has easier questions than the real SAT, and brings none of the real life actual pressures that that test brings, 2) The scores are set as curved against every single other Junior in the country taking the test that day, making an enormous curve that never occurs on any one of the individual 6 SAT national dates.  This explains how a student can miss one question on a PSAT and lose as much as 5 points – the curve is very steep.

While being a National Merit Scholar brings some cachet to any college application, it also (more importantly) brings cash – be it as far away as USC (a half-tuition scholarship for any Finalist who designates USC as their first choice school) or as close as KU ($10,000/year for the same conditions).  Will prepping for the PSAT help?  If you are a serious contender for a top-tier school, yes.  The reason is that the test is not the only determinant of Semi-Finalist or Finalist status.  If the grades and resume aren’t there (and believe me, they are there for the tens of thousands of other students vying for the title) your time is better spent improving the resume you do have and doing well in the classes you are taking.