To The Class of 2020

Your Sophomore Year is most likely going to be awesome!  You may start to think about college in the aspect that it’s not too far away and you have to start to prepare soon, but nothing really has to be done right now…right?!?  Actually, now is the perfect time to start taking action steps towards college.  Here are five tangible goals to achieve your sophomore year: 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!), develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend, and lastly, take a practice ACT or SAT test. Let’s further break down those steps.

 

Step One: Continue to do well in school. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, some high school sophomores seem to fall into a slump often pegged, “the sophomore slump”.  Students find their stride as sophomores and are content with their classes, schedule, and homework levels.  Some students tend to hit cruise control and coast through the year. After all, everyone knows you take the ACT/SAT next year and get “really serious” about looking at colleges as a Junior. Not true. Now is the time to focus on your grades to build the foundation you’ve already set as a freshman. Sophomores need to at least maintain, if not improve their grades to set the standard for the rest of their high school career.

 

Step Two: Take as many AP classes as possible. Taking AP classes is a great way to beef up your high school resume and challenge you throughout your high school career. These college-level classes are a great way to gain experience that colleges will recognize on your high school transcript. If you can maintain a good grade in these rigorous classes they are worth it.  However, if you find they are bringing down your grades, which will lead to a lower grade point average, then it may not be worth your time.  Know your limits and decide if it’s right for you.

 

Step Three: Join clubs and sports teams that interest you.  Let me preface, I didn’t say sign up for every club and sports team imaginable.  Only sign up for ones that you are genuinely interested in and you will enjoy. If you sign up for everything, you will get burned out, especially if you are keeping your grades up and challenging yourself with AP classes.  Start an activity resume you can use in a college interview and applications process. Activities are an intricate part of athletic recruiting and fine arts opportunities. Don’t be afraid to join a club that isn’t well-known or popular. If that’s what piques your interest, go ahead and join! Colleges will find a lesser-known club perhaps more interesting than a well-known club half of the college applicants are a part of. Stay interesting!

 

Step Four: Develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend.  Start with local colleges, state colleges, ivy-league colleges, or just a college based on location! The point is to start looking to see which schools you may be interested in. Many factors play into deciding on a college that’s right for you, such as a college major, size of college, location of college, religious beliefs, your own ACT/SAT score and/or GPA. Create a list that is both realistic and challenging for you.  Resist the urge to settle for a school that’s so-so.  As a sophomore, you have time to increase your GPA, study for the ACT/SAT, take AP classes, and join clubs, but if you don’t have a list of potential colleges, what’s the point of working so diligently?

 

Step Five: Take a practice ACT or SAT test.  Get Smarter Prep offers Free Practice Tests every Saturday morning. There is no excuse not to take a practice test.  The purpose of a practice test is to offer a baseline score of where you stand with either the ACT or the SAT. Are you much stronger in the math section than the reading section?  Or do you score evenly in English, Math, Reading, and Science? How do you feel about the timing piece of the test? Did you feel rushed on the ACT, but not the SAT? Are you comfortable with the score you received on the practice test or do you need tutoring? These are all questions we can give you answers to after you take a practice test. Plus, it’s always a bonus to take a practice test before the real deal to become more comfortable and acquainted with the type of questions the test makers are looking for. Sign up for a practice test today. 

 

Is your sophomore year going to be the best year for you in high school?  Of course we can’t answer that question, but we want you to be aware of the potential your sophomore year has on your college process. Now is the time to start planning for your future. Good luck!

Realistic Expectations

When you think about the ACT, what do you imagine? Do you picture a calm setting, pencil in hand, calculator charged, and the feel of confidence rushing over you? Or, do you picture standing in line, calculator out of batteries, rumbling stomach, and the weariness of an impending test? Both scenarios could turn out to be real life for many students.  The question is, how do you prepare for both scenarios or a combination of both scenarios? Do you have realistic expectations for your ACT test?

 

Each school district has a number of Test Center Locations that offer ACT testing throughout the year, but not all test centers are created equal. You may get a proctor who is running late, or has gotten sick. There may be a student who tries to enter the test location after the test has begun or a student whose watch starts beeping in the middle of the Math section.  There may be a dog barking down the street or the classroom may be too hot.  Regardless of the circumstance, how prepared are you for any of these situations?

 

To prepare yourself, eliminate what you can control.  Get a good night’s rest, eat a healthy breakfast, charge your calculator the night before, make sure you have your ACT ticket with you, and last but definitely not least, be prepared for the test. Walk into the test with confidence!

 

Get Smarter Prep has a number of different courses ranging from One-On-One Private Tutoring, to Semi-Private Tutoring, to Group classes depending on the students’ scoring range.  Each class or tutorial will equip you with more knowledge, insight, and confidence to walk into the ACT knowing what kind of questions will be on each section of the test, strategies to approach each section, and time management skills to get through each section of the ACT.

 

Study hard, prepare the best you can, and be confident in the skills you’ve learned for this test.  The more you prepare for the test, the more confident you will be.  However, at the end of the day, the ACT is one test.  I guarantee no one will remember their ACT score in 5 years, so don’t put added pressure on yourself! Take a deep breath, walk into the test with your head held high, and dominate the ACT!

Debunking Common Testing Myths – Part 1/3

We’ve all been exposed to a variety of folklore at one point or another. Whether we were exploring the Scottish roots of the Loch Ness Monster, sitting around a campfire telling stories about how Big Foot uses logs for toothpicks, or dreading the day we lost a tooth and we would be visited by the portly Tooth Fairy, who was known to accidentally fall on children in their sleep and smother them. We’ve all heard them! Wait – your older brother didn’t tell you that one about the tooth fairy? Maybe that was just me.  

Well, guess what? There are many myths out there about the ACT and SAT as well! We, at GSP, are here to help you navigate the testing process a little more smoothly and put you in a better position to make the best decision for you or your child. The challenge with college entrance myths is that many of them are rooted in some truth. If someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, you’re probably right. A good rule of thumb is to remain skeptical, and confirm with an authority on the topic!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll provide insight into some of the most common myths. Here are the first three (in no particular order):

  • Myth 1: Since the ACT & SAT are college entrance exams, doing well in my classes as a Junior or Senior are the best/only way to prepare.

 

Ironically, most of the content that is necessary to do well on the ACT is learned by the end of sophomore year. For instance, much of the content found in the English section of the ACT or Writing & Language section of the SAT is taught in elementary school and in middle school. Very little of a student’s high school curriculum is focused on basic grammar rules. And, believe it or not, your science classes will help you very little on the Science section of the ACT! We have seen students who have never taken traditional Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Earth Science courses perform VERY well on the Science section of the ACT. Even the Math section – which mirrors “high school” curriculum better than the other sections – still has components that most students learned years ago, won’t learn for another year, or, in some cases, may never learn.

  • Myth 2: The best and easiest way to improve on the ACT or SAT is to take the test over and over again.

 

While practice is certainly one component of getting better at something, think about the last game or concert you prepared for… did you just run around the field or push random valves or keys when you were practicing? Did you have anyone in charge, like a coach or conductor, helping you learn the best way to swing a bat or play a particular scale? If you learn poor mechanics in sports or begin your singing career with terrible pitch, the more you do that task incorrectly, the more ingrained that bad habit can become, making it more and more difficult to improve in the long run! 

Learning how to do something correctly the first time, and then practicing it the right way, whether it be a sport, music, or the ACT, will almost always lead to the best results.

“Perfect practice makes perfect.” – Cal Ripken, Sr.

  • Myth 3: I only have to send my best scores to colleges when I apply.

 

When you apply to colleges, they will expect to receive all pertinent data in order to help them make the best admission decision possible. This is why almost every college will ask you all of your scores on the application, just as they’ll ask for all of your high school grades! It’s not that they won’t also receive your transcripts with your grades, they just want to make sure they have all your information and that you’re being forthright. In fact, almost all college applications will ask you to sign the application (electronically in most cases) to confirm that you are providing fully accurate and complete information!

There are several other ways in which colleges can/will get your complete testing history, so not disclosing all your scores can also work as a disadvantage if/when colleges find out you didn’t provide them with the full story.

Next week, I’ll debunk three more common myths, like, my scores are too low to get into college, all the “jocks” take the test on a certain date – so I should too, &  everyone I know seems to be scoring a 30!

-By Caleb Pierce, President, Premier-Level Tutor

A Resolution to Read More in 2017

Reading skills are critical to success on standardized tests. While that is hardly the most important or convincing reason to read more, it’s one that is particularly interesting to us at Get Smarter Prep. According to the American Library Association, students who read for fun have higher test scores than those who don’t. Students who discuss what they read at home also perform better on exams.

It makes sense that students who read for pleasure score achieve higher reading scores, but a study in the UK found that students who read for pleasure also score more highly on math exams. Being able to read and understand questions easily can simplify math questions – especially those that are longer or phrased in tricky or unusual ways (something we’re very familiar with on the ACT and SAT!).

Complicating matters is that the students who enjoy these benefits are those who read because they want to, not because of an assignment or a requirement. So how can parents encourage their children to read without pressuring them or making it feel like work?

One of the simplest is for parents to model the behavior. If children see parents engaged in reading, they are more likely to want to read as well. Talk to your children about what you’re reading and why it is enjoyable to you. Demonstrate that it’s an important part of your life, and a worthwhile use of your time.

Many parents read to their young children, but reading to your child can evolve into reading together as your child gets older. Reading aloud to grade school children can open up more advanced content than what they might find accessible on their own. Books like The Wind in the Willows may be interesting to grade school students, but above their reading level. Reading together can facilitate discussion about unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as themes and ideas within the book.

Encourage children to read what appeals to them, even if it’s not to your taste.  You might find dragons boring, but they might be just what your child is interested in at that moment. Obviously, considerations about age appropriateness are relevant. But reading material need not be high literature for a student to reap the benefits. Trips to the library can encourage students to explore different subjects.

Talking about what your student is reading, encouraging them to become engaged in a series, and connecting reading to their other goals and interests can also help support their reading habits.

Increased test scores are only one of the many benefits of reading. Reading can increase empathy, improve social skills, and reduce stress – for adults, too! Let’s all resolve to read more in 2017.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

Making the Most of Winter Break

Finally, winter break has arrived! There is time to breathe, to sleep, and to think.

Also to study, spend time with friends and family, travel… a Winter Break To-Do List can become rather unwieldy, especially if you don’t have a clear plan. But managed carefully, winter break can provide the extra time you need to get caught up on everything from sleep to college applications. Here are some tips for making your winter break as enjoyable, and productive, as possible.

First, make a list or plan of what you want to accomplish. You may not be much of a list person, and that’s OK! Your list could be as simple as “sleep 9 hours per night. Finish college applications.” (January 1 is just around the corner!) Time can seem to evaporate when you don’t have a plan, so having a sense of your goals is important. Break up each goal into small, manageable sections, so that you’re not panicking the last night of break about how much work remains.

Try to be realistic when making your plans.  If you plan to catch up on your reading, visit two colleges, and travel to visit out-of-town family, this may not be the time to learn oil painting or start your own podcast. Similarly, if you plan to work on applications for an hour a day, keep in mind that you may not get that time on, say, Christmas day.

At the same time, keep a “no thanks” in your pocket for events or invitations that might not fit into your schedule. While we all have obligations that are pretty mandatory this time of year, if you’re feeling swamped, take a good look at everything on your calendar and ask yourself if you might politely extricate yourself from something in order to facilitate the rest of your agenda, even if that’s just getting enough sleep.

Some things you might consider including in your list of goals: catching up on (or even getting ahead on) school work in a challenging course, working on your college list (for juniors) or finishing up last-minute applications (for seniors).

You could spend some time researching and applying for scholarships, summer programs or internships. If you’re a Junior who hasn’t yet begun to prepare for the ACT or SAT, now is a great time to start with a practice test.

Getting caught up on sleep should be a priority, especially if you’ve been skimping to get through exams. Sleep can help you focus, be more efficient, and even affect how well your flu shot works.

Finally, try to make time for something fun that you might not have time for when school is in session. Check out a museum exhibit, like Pompeii at Union Station, Amazing Species at PrairieFire, or the Senior Art Exhibit at Park University. Go ice skating, drink some hot cocoa, or visit the penguins at the zoo. Whatever you choose, aim for a balance of rest, fun, and productivity to make sure you’re refreshed and ready for 2017.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

An Opportunity You Haven’t Considered: Studying in the UK

The arrival of Fall means football, cool weather, and pumpkin spice lattes.  It also means it is time for seniors to start applying to colleges, and for juniors to realize that they will need to know where they want to apply.  For many people, that will mean taking I-70 west to either Lawrence or Manhattan or east to Columbia. 

But what about those who want to get a bit farther away?

Sure, you could go to St. Louis or Chicago, or even San Francisco or Boston.  By the time you’ve gone that far from home, you might as well go to a different country, right?

Exactly!

For many students, getting a degree in the United Kingdom, or elsewhere in Europe, makes perfect sense.  While it may sound like a bit of a pipe dream, there are a number of great reasons to do so:

  • With a few exceptions, you won’t have to take any tests that you weren’t already preparing for. AP and SAT subject exams are the basis of many UK admissions decisions, and the team at Get Smarter Prep is happy to help make sure you do your best!
  • Most obviously, a bachelor’s degree in Europe takes three years to earn. That is not with any AP or dual-enrollment credit, or with spending your summers on campus.  Three years is the standard length to earn a BA.  Some degrees take a bit longer, but they are the exception.
  • There is no concept of general education, or pre-law or pre-medicine for that matter. If you want to be a doctor, you start studying medicine right out of high school!  The degree transfers back to allow you to do your residency in the United States.  Meanwhile, while states have different requirements on permitting foreign-educated lawyers to practice, most of the major legal markets do permit foreign-trained lawyers (for example, Kansas does not, but Missouri, Illinois, California, New York, and Washington, DC all do).
  • British universities are among the best in the world. While there are typically more US universities on the list, Oxford and Cambridge are almost always near the very top.  Plenty of other great universities, like the London School of Economics and St. Andrews, make up the British educational system.  Also, if you are competitive, you stand a good shot of getting in based on the fact that few Americans study for an undergraduate degree abroad – 15% of Americans who apply to Cambridge are admitted, compared to 5.2% of Harvard applicants and only 4.7% of applicants to Stanford.
  • It is difficult to beat the international experience of earning a degree abroad. Unlike a one semester study abroad, you will become immersed in a completely different culture, with plenty of opportunities to travel further. While a weekend away in Omaha can be nice, a weekend in Paris sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it?
  • Finally, the overall net cost of attending a university abroad is lower, in no small part because it is a three year degree. In fact, the overall savings over four years is approximately $14,000.  Here’s the math:  The total cost of attendance for a public university in Kansas for an in-state student is $26,000 a year.  That includes tuition, fees, room, and board.  Meanwhile, it is around $44,000 a year for a student at LSE, including two flights back to the United States and money for travel throughout Europe, as well as tuition and living expenses.  That comes out to a cost of $104,000 for a bachelor’s degree in the United States, compared to $132,000 for the same degree in the UK.  However, because you will be working a year sooner, you can subtract your salary to get the net cost over four years.  Using an average salary of $42,000 (admittedly low for an LSE grad), your net cost for four years in the UK is $90,000.  That’s a savings of $14,000!

 

While studying in Europe is a great opportunity, it’s not for everyone.  If you think college is just as much about pledging a fraternity/sorority or tailgating at the big game as it is about class, then you will find social life in the UK and the rest of Europe to be very different.  Still, that is not to say student life isn’t vibrant – there will be plenty of opportunities to meet people and build relationships.

Also, because you are applying to a specific course of study, you have to know what you want to do and be committed to it.  Otherwise, you’ll find it very difficult to change direction without starting all over.

That said, if you know what you want to study, are up for an adventure, and like the idea of finishing your higher education faster than you could in the States, studying in the UK could be for you!  If you’re ready to learn more, ask the Get Smarter Prep Staff (or your tutor) for information on how to get in touch with GSP’s partner for European education consulting, An Education Abroad.

-Written by: Kevin Newton, Founder of An Education Abroad

ACT & SAT Concordance Controversy

Concordance, noun.

According to Oxford Dictionaries,

1 An alphabetical list of the words (especially the important ones) present in a text, usually with citations of the passages concerned: a concordance to the Bible

2 formal Agreement: the concordance between the teams’ research results [emphasis added]

The second definition is the one we’re concerned with here. “Agreement.” See also: harmony, consensus, and basically not being embroiled in debate.


On May 9th, the SAT released its promised concordance tables for the redesigned SAT, spelling out its suggested equivalencies between the new SAT, the old SAT, and the ACT. The stated goal of the concordance tables is “to help college admission officers and others compare scores” across different tests.

Seems reasonable enough, right? Similar tables existed for the old SAT and ACT, produced in collaboration between ACT and the College Board. They worked together, analyzed a year’s worth of data, and produced concordance tables considered “the gold standard in concordance.”

This time is different. The SAT produced these tables unilaterally, based on data from only one administration of their new test, using a method that the ACT finds suspicious and unreliable. The ACT is “not having it.” Really. That’s a quote from their statement, released on May 11th , making clear their objections to the tables released by the SAT:

“ACT cannot support or defend the use of any concordance produced by the College Board without our collaboration or the involvement of independent groups, and we strongly recommend against basing significant decisions—in admissions, course placement, accountability, and scholarships—on such an interim table.”

So, the College Board says the tables are intended for use in admissions, while the ACT says they are unreliable and shouldn’t be used for anything “significant.” ACT points out that a sample size of one administration is insufficient to draw statistically significant data, especially given that “students willing to take the first iteration of a test that has undergone a major overhaul are likely quite different from the typical student.”

The tables do seem quite different from what we saw with the previous concordance, with similar-looking SAT scores comparing to lower ACT scores than before. So, for example, a 25 on the ACT concorded with an 1150 (Critical Reading and Math) on the “old” SAT, but that same 25 lines up with a 1220 on the new College Board tables. To put it another way, if you got a 1200 on the old SAT (CR+M), you’d find that equivalent to about a 26-27 on the ACT. A 1200 now lines up with a 25. This may lead to confusion among students who took the old version or are familiar with the older scores, although the tests are quite different, so there’s no reason at all to compare the old and new scores – except for the fact that they’re on the same scale.

Confusion has been standard throughout the roll-out of the redesigned SAT. Attempting to draw concordance between the ACT and the new SAT without consulting ACT was an interesting choice on the part of the College Board. The ACT is firm in denouncing the new concordance tables, stating that the data falls short of “the standard you should expect from a standardized testing agency.” One can’t help but wonder why the previous, more rigorous and collaborative, approach to concordance was abandoned in this case.

GSP at Hogan Prep

We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, MO to provide an ACT Clinic for their juniors. Hogan Prep is a UCM sponsored public charter school and has a total enrollment of 390 students. Approximately 80% of graduates continue on to some type of post-secondary form of education. The high school boasts a 91.43% graduation rate of its students. Hogan Prep has received the National College Board Inspiration Award on numerous occasions. 

Although Hogan Prep has demonstrated excellence in many facets – the ACT is one particular area in which its students struggle. In 2015 the students’ average ACT score was a 16.1. The students have an especially difficult time with the English portion of the exam, scoring noticeably worse in this area than the other sections of the exam. We have a goal that each student that attends the sessions will score a 20 or higher on the English portion! We’re excited to donate our time and expertise to the students that elect to attend our clinic and look forward to seeing their score improvements!

Just like all the other juniors enrolled in public high schools in the state of Missouri, Hogan Prep students will be taking the official ACT on April 19th. We wish these students well as they continue to prepare for the ACT and for college!

Class of 2018 Game Plan

As the 2016-2017 school year winds to a close, it’s time to consider a test prep plan for students in the Class of 2018. Most students do not complete the required coursework to begin successfully preparing for the ACT or SAT before the end of sophomore year. To that end, we suggest not taking your first practice test until the May or June after sophomore year. (Please note that we have suspended SAT pretesting until June.)

We offer free practice testing nearly every Saturday at both our Mission and Leawood offices. The practice test is an important first step – please don’t skip it! The earliest we suggest taking the practice test is May or June, but for the deadline-oriented people wondering how long they can wait, here’s a handy guide.

ACT deadlines

SAT deadlines

In order to use this tool, you’ll have to pick an official test date (or two – it’s not a bad idea to have a backup available) that will work well for you. Consider sports schedules, exam schedules, family or religious obligations, travel plans, etc. when deciding which test date will work best for you. Preparation schedules are targeted at a specific date; preparing for a test date you end up being unable to take can be a big setback.

The key is to take your practice test at least three full months before your selected official test date. You may or may not need three months to prep, but the sooner you (and we!) have a practice test score on file, the sooner we can work together to come up with a plan and a schedule that works for you.

If you haven’t begun visiting colleges or thinking at all about what kinds of colleges you might want to attend, this summer isn’t a bad time to start. It’s important to have a target score to work towards as you begin prep, and that target score is largely determined by the colleges and universities to which you’re applying. A college list will also help you determine whether to take the optional ACT or SAT essay portion, and whether you’ll need to take any SAT subject tests.

Here’s a suggested timeline to get your planning started.

Suggested Schedule for the Class of 2018

May 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the September ACT.
  • Plan summer college visits and begin a college list. Take notes as you research and visit!
  • Begin preliminary scholarship searches.

June 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the October ACT or SAT.
  • The October SAT may be a good date for students who also want to prepare for the PSAT. The content of the PSAT and SAT, while not identical, is similar enough that preparing once for both tests makes sense!

July 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the November SAT.
  • Think about courses and extra-curriculars for Junior year. Plan to take the most challenging courses you can be successful in, and look for opportunities to take leadership roles in activities.

August 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the December ACT or SAT.
  • If you haven’t already, make a solid timeline for Junior year with deadlines, goals, college visits, test dates, etc.

September 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the January SAT.
  • Make a good impression on your teachers. You’ll be asking them for recommendations in a few months.
  • ACT – September 10th.

October 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the February ACT.
  • SAT – October 1st.
  • PSAT – October 15th and 19th
  • ACT – October 22nd.

November 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the March SAT.
  • Plan college visits for winter break.
  • SAT – November 5th.

December 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the April ACT. All public school students in Missouri take a statewide administration of the ACT on April 19th, so begin preparing for that exam now if you attend public school in Missouri.
  • SAT – December 3rd.
  • ACT – December 10th.

January 2017

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the May SAT.
  • (Consider whether you’ll need to use the May SAT administration for Subject tests.)
  • Begin thinking about which teachers you want to ask for recommendation letters.
  • Begin thinking about summer plans, like projects, jobs or internships.
  • SAT – January 28th.

February 2017

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the June ACT or SAT or if you haven’t done so yet. If you haven’t begun preparing for the ACT or SAT yet, now is the time! You’ll have a chance to retake in the fall if necessary, but that shouldn’t be your first test.
  • Plan spring break college visits.
  • ACT – February 11th.

March 2017

  • Keep refining your college list.
  • Once you have a good idea of which teachers you need to ask (based on your college list) begin asking for recommendation letters.
  • SAT – March 11th.

April 2017

  • Missouri public school students take the ACT April 19th.
  • Review for AP Exams and SAT Subject tests if you’re taking them.
  • ACT – April 8th.

May 2017

  • AP Exams
  • SAT – May 6th. (This is a good date for Subject tests!)