Why We Offer Free Practice Tests

At Get Smarter Prep we offer FREE Practice Tests for both the ACT and the SAT almost every Saturday. This isn’t new. We’ve always offered free practice tests. Establishing a baseline score for the ACT and SAT is the best place to start in the process of preparing for an official ACT. Unlike big box test prep companies, which use exams their employees made up, we use actual ACTs or SATs that were given in the last 3 years.   

Establish a baseline score

There are a number of reasons to establish a baseline score. As stated previously, our ACT and SAT practice tests are actual tests that were given within the last few years, so you will know how you would score on a real test.

We want you to establish a baseline score, so we can guide you into either our Standard or Advanced Courses, Semi-Private Classes or Private Classes. Without a score to go off, we are walking in blind. We don’t know what your strengths are in each category and as part of our process, we want to tailor the way we tutor to each student so they can get the most out of each tutoring session.

Reduce Anxiety

Our Free Practice Test is a great opportunity to alleviate some of the fear and loathing of these standardized tests.  It’s also a great time to examine the timing of the test and see how well you did with the timing piece as so many students tend to run out of time in different sections.

All of these, and more, are good reasons to take an absolutely free practice exam with us. That way you’ll get an accurate score, as opposed to a guess. We think it’s such an important piece in learning where you begin for both tests that we want to make it readily available to every high school student who is interested.

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?

Setting realistic expectations

 

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

ACT, SAT, or Both? Deciding which Path is Best

This debate may be familiar to many of you. ACT? SAT? Both? Some students and families enter junior year with a perfectly clear answer to those questions, but the reasons behind those decisions may be less clear. Do any of these sound familiar?

He’ll take the ACT, of course. He wants to attend a school in the Midwest.

We’re an SAT family. Her older brother scored much better on the SAT.

Of course I want to prepare for both exams!

The ACT and SAT originated in different places, for different purposes, and developed different reputations over the years. Despite the many changes to each test, some of those perceptions persist.

The SAT, originally developed by the College Board for use in admissions to elite, northeastern schools, remains more popular on the coasts than in the Midwest. The ACT came later, designed to provide an admissions test for regional and public universities that didn’t use the SAT; it is still more popular in the Midwest than the SAT.

Although these regional patterns persist regarding which test students tend to take, the initial reason for those patterns – which test your college of choice might accept – no longer holds. The final school to accept the ACT finally did so in 2007, meaning that the choice of which test to take is really up to the individual student.

Until the roll-out of the Redesigned SAT in March of this year, our goal as tutors was to encourage each student to take both a practice ACT and a practice SAT before deciding which test to prepare for. There were substantial differences in the structure, with the ACT favoring fewer, longer sections and the SAT preferring more, shorter ones. The ACT had the dreaded Science section to contend with, while the SAT tested those also-dreaded vocabulary words. Many students would score about the same on each test, and choose based on their preference, while some would perform significantly better on one than the other.

The discussion of which test to choose has been complicated somewhat since the SAT redesign. The new SAT features fewer, longer sections, just like the ACT. It has done away with the vocabulary sections. And while the SAT hasn’t added a Science section, the charts and graphs that permeate each part of the test will look somewhat familiar to those who have spent time with the ACT.

There are still differences, though, between the ACT and the SAT, that one should consider when deciding between the two exams, and they don’t have anything to do with the geographical distribution of your college list.

First, how strong are you at math? On the SAT, math counts for half of your score, while on the ACT math makes up only ¼. That’s a significant difference. Consider, also, how well you’ll fare without a calculator, as the SAT has a section that must be completed without one.

How much do you want to improve your score? Because of the changes to the SAT, there is much less practice material available than for the ACT, which means fewer opportunities to practice and improve your score. If you’re looking for a significant boost, you might lean towards the ACT.

How much do you struggle with timing? The timing on the ACT is more difficult for some students. The SAT provides more time per question, which might be an asset. Taking a practice version of each will help you to know if that is the case for you.

A final consideration is that the SAT, during and since the redesign, has been a bit unstable. There have been data breaches, score delays, and debates over how the new scores stack up to the old ones.

If you know you’ll be taking an ACT through school, or (for those who haven’t already taken it) you plan to prepare for the PSAT, those factors might influence your choice as well. The goal is to prepare for only one exam. The ACT (or SAT) is only one part of your college applications, and your college applications are only one part of your life. Preparing for both tests – or choosing the wrong one – is a recipe for doing more work than necessary and taking time away from all of those other activities and classes that make up your high school career.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

A Resolution to Read More

A Resolution to Read More

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.

Make a List

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.

Be Realistic with your Plan

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.

Have Fun

Finally, try to make time for something fun that you might not have time for when school is in session.  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.

 

You Received Your PSAT Scores. Now What?

The PSAT occupies a strange in-between place in the world of standardized testing. In terms of admissions, the PSAT doesn’t “count.” Colleges will only ask for your ACT or SAT scores. For most students (where most equals 97%) the PSAT doesn’t do much anything at all. It’s just practice.

It can help you decide whether you want to take a real SAT, or whether the ACT might be a better fit for you. If you think you will do better on the SAT, consider taking a full-length practice SAT (along with your practice ACT) to be sure. There are some timing differences between the PSAT and the SAT that might affect your performance. If you’ve already decided to focus on the ACT, think carefully about whether you want to change gears now.

However, unlike the PLAN or ACT Aspire, the approximate equivalents of the PSAT in the ACT-universe, for some students, the PSAT can matter. And because of that some (where some equals about 50,000 nationwide), the PSAT is kind of like Schrodinger’s standardized test. It might count. It might not.

Before scores were released, you probably had some idea where your score might fall; now you know. The cat is out of the box. You can properly contextualize your PSAT experience, progress beyond this uncertain, liminal space, and move on with your life.

Or, maybe not.

Based on estimates of this year’s cutoffs (emphasis on estimates), the answer to “does this score matter much?” is either “no” or “possibly.”

If, based on the estimates, your score is significantly below the projected cutoff in your state, (this is true for the most students, even those who study and work hard and are bright and who will have excellent college options down the road) then the PSAT was practice. It gave you a bit of information about how you might do on an SAT.

If you think you might end up a Semifinalist, you should prepare for and take an SAT. You’re likely to do well on the SAT, especially with some additional practice, and having an SAT score that validates your PSAT is one of the requirements of advancing to Finalist status. However, be aware that you won’t know whether you’re a Semifinalist until September. Counting on it probably isn’t helpful, and driving yourself mad speculating likely won’t help either. National Merit is only one source of scholarships; if your test scores are in this range, it’s likely not your only option. Keep researching, and studying, and doing what you’ve been doing all along.

If your PSAT scores are better than you hoped, congratulations! If they are lower than expected, take heart: there’s time yet to prepare for the “real” test, whichever one you choose.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

The Hazards of Anecdotal Advice

Preparing for the ACT or SAT can seem daunting. Often, people instinctively turn to friends or online articles for advice. While some guidance from these sources is helpful, it’s important to examine the limitations of students who could be referencing an outdated version of the test, whose only knowledge of the exam comes from taking it, and who may have needs that are dramatically different from your own.

Our students commonly pass along what they’ve heard from their peers, and while some of it is good, solid information, a lot of it rings completely or, at least, partially false. For instance, some students will swear that “C” is correct the majority of the time when in reality, the answers on the test are evenly distributed throughout the exam – so C is no more likely than any of the other options. Another common tip passed around among high schoolers is to take the test on a particular date – take June, for example – because it’s easier than the others. There are several issues with this. Maybe June felt easier for one particular student, but, as everyone’s strengths are different, that didn’t necessarily hold true for others. Additionally, if the June test in 2015 truly was easier for most students, that doesn’t mean that the 2016 test will follow suit. Most importantly, the curve on the ACT renders any differences in difficulty irrelevant. If the June test truly was less difficult, then the curve would just be harsher.

Additionally, we recently worked with a student who scored higher on the ACT, but was told by a friend at Harvard that she should take the SAT solely because she had already taken the ACT previously. This was amidst the new changes (which made the SAT unstable and a bad choice for the majority of students). Combine that with the fact that every college will accept either exam, and her friend’s direction amounts to some pretty rotten advice. In the end, the student remained focused on her stronger test and exceeded even her expectations.

Looking to current college students for help – particularly those who attend prestigious schools – seems intuitive on the surface. However, students who attend top schools are often scoring in the top 99th percentile of college bound students nationwide, and therefore do not reflect the reality for the majority of other students. Also, these students have a very limited experience. Scoring well on a test does not make you an expert – especially as the tests continue to evolve.

The newly revised SAT gives a perfect example of this. In this article, Business Insider presents the perspective of a “Harvard grad with a perfect score on the SAT.” In the article, Chris Ryan (the aforementioned Harvard alum) offers last minute tips to scoring well on the SAT. There’s a major problem with taking his advice: the test that Ryan took years ago hardly resembles the current SAT.

In another article, titled “College Students Share Their Best SAT, ACT Test Strategies,” students from Washington University in St. Louis and Harvard University are consulted. Their advice includes some valuable tidbits, such as beginning to study well before the test, striving to learn new strategies, realizing that these tests are “not the be-all, end-all,” and the importance of skipping questions that are sucking up all of your time. Alternatively, some of the advice falls flat and illustrates a lack of expertise. When counseling students on time management, the WashU student claims that you should skip passages on the ACT Science section that include charts if you struggle with reading them. This information is not only inaccurate, it’s potentially quite harmful. Of the six ACT Science passages, five of them will reliably have charts, while only one may not. If a student were to try to follow this advice on test day, they’d end up frantic and confused – as they’d potentially be trying to skip over all of the passages.

Overall, it’s vital to use discretion when following advice about college entrance exams that comes from friends or articles. While some of it may be valid, keep the source in mind. Just because your uncle recently had his home remodeled, that doesn’t mean you’d want him creating blueprints for yours. Instead, you’d turn to the experts.

Test-Optional Schools: Just how optional are those test scores?

Since the spring of 2015, 44 colleges have made the decision to drop the requirement of college admission test scores from their application process. According to FairTest, this brings the total number of test-optional colleges and universities to over 850. Unfortunately, it seems this growing trend in higher education holds more benefits for the schools who implement this policy than it does for their potential applicants.

Test-optional universities typically get a boost in the number of total applications received. In turn, this influx of applications results in more rejections which brings down the school’s acceptance rate, creating the illusion that the university has become more exclusive. Additionally, schools expect low scoring students to opt out of reporting test scores, which in turn could raise the average test score of the student population by removing many of the lowest scores from the equation. These statistics favorably impact college rankings for test-optional colleges.

Not all test-optional schools are created equally. The application process varies greatly from institution to institution. In fact, scores may not be optional for homeschooled students or in order to be considered for scholarships or financial aid packages. Many schools also require extra essays or minimum GPA requirements for students to forego the test scores submission process.

It is important to remember that even if you choose not to disclose your ACT/SAT scores when applying to a test-optional university, you will still be competing for admission with applicants who have submitted their scores for review. The general assumption schools make is that applicants who choose not to submit test scores do so out of fear that the score would weaken their application. Therefore, other aspects of the student’s application will be reviewed with a greater level of scrutiny. Test-optional schools are a great option for students who are otherwise well-rounded or who possess a specific skill or talent but perform poorly on test day.* The test-optional application process most certainly is not a simplified procedure but rather an alternative to the traditional path toward college acceptance.

            *It’s important to note that while many students score lower than they anticipated,
             only a very small percentage of students can’t improve their test scores in a meaningful way.

Written by Standard-Level Tutor, Jennifer Murphy