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.

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!)

New Office in Mission

Get Smarter Prep is excited to announce a brand new office located at 5920 Nall Avenue, right in the heart of Mission, KS!

The Mission Office is replacing our Overland Park Office on 87th street. We opened our doors to the new location on March 16th, 2016. Alongside our Leawood Office, Mission is now offering all of our tutoring services.

We’re happy to be part of such a vibrant neighborhood that’s full of other local businesses and attractions. While in the area, you can grab a coffee or pastry at Dips & Sips or pick up a new novel at Rainy Day Books. We are adjacent to Pearl Harbor Park and a historic site of a watering hole along the Sante Fe Trail. We’re also only 8 minutes from the Plaza!

Also, we’re excited to be in a better position for our families. We’re now just 5 minutes from both Pembroke Hill and Bishop Miege, 7 minutes from Kansas City Christian, 8 minutes from Shawnee Mission East, 10 minutes from St. Teresa’s Academy, less than 15 from Maranatha, and 15 minutes from Park Hill South.

Check out more photos on our Facebook page!


PSAT Results

PSAT results are finally released, about a month after they were initially expected. While some students are still having difficulty accessing their scores, those who have been able to get in have been confronted with scores that look quite different from previous PSATs.

Total PSAT scores are between 320 and 1520. The total score is a combination of the Math and “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing,” each of which is scored between 160 and 760. While these score ranges are not the same as the SAT – the upper and lower limits are shifted down by 40 points – College Board maintains that they are basically predictive of a student’s performance on the SAT.

The Selection Index will appear lower this year due to the new scoring ranges. For the class of 2016 (the last class to take the “old” PSAT), the highest possible score was a 240, and state-by-state NMSQT/PSAT cutoffs for semifinalists varied from 202 to 225. This year’s maximum Selection Index is a 228. Estimates of this year’s cutoffs vary considerably, and it might be easy to obsess over all of the possibilities if you believe your score is in the range for National Merit consideration.

Percentiles have also become more complicated on this year’s reports. Online score reports will include both percentiles – a “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile” and the “User Percentile.” The Nationally Representative sample will generally be higher, and provides the score as a percentile of a “nationally representative” group of 11th grade students. This measurement demonstrates how a student’s score compares to all high school juniors in the United States, including students who “don’t typically take the test.” The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile is the one that will appear on a students’ hard-copy report. The User Percentile is the percentile rank we’re more familiar with, comparing the scores of students who actually took the test. The User Percentile is only available online.

With so much uncertainty remaining, what useful information can we gain from the PSAT? If you’re still debating which test to focus on – the ACT or SAT – your PSAT results/score can help you decide. If you do decide to move forward with the SAT, a more thorough review of your PSAT can help. When your hard copy score report is released, take the time to review your test booklet for additional insights and make a study plan for the SAT.

Tips for Second Semester of Junior Year

Second semester of junior year is a stressful time for most students. In fact, it might be the most stressful semester of high school. I don’t want to add too many things to your likely-unending to-do list, but here are a few important things to consider including in the whirlwind that is this semester, and (bonus!) a couple of things that can wait until after finals.

This semester, you may want to:

Consider an internship. Not while school is in session. On top of everything else you’re attempting to juggle – test prep, school work, extra-curricular activities, actually sleeping at some point – one more commitment in your schedule is probably not advisable. Now is the time, however, to spend some time researching summer opportunities. Consider your interests, investigate your connections, and make a plan for summer now.

Keep working on that college list. All of the planning and scheming that lurks between now and your admissions deadlines next year will hinge upon your college list. If I had a catchphrase, it would probably be “it depends on the school.” Is your ACT score high enough? Do you have to schedule interviews? Can you take a gap year? The answers to all of these questions depend, at least in part, on specific schools you’re considering. If your list has 30 colleges on it, narrow. If you’ve only got one, more research is in order. Research, go to events, and plan more visits!

Prepare for AP or SAT Subject tests. Depending on your college list, you may be required to take SAT Subject tests. Even if the tests aren’t mandatory for you, some schools recommend that you submit them, and others will consider them if you choose to submit them. If you’re in AP courses now, and plan to take AP exams, consider whether taking the SAT Subject test will benefit you as well. The best way to figure it out is (you guessed it!) to look at the colleges on your list.

Connect with teachers and advisors. Second semester is the time to begin asking for recommendation letters. The best teacher to ask is one who knows you well and who can write about your specific strengths, and the best time to ask them is this semester. The sooner you ask, the more likely it is that you’ll get good letters.  You can generally expect that you’ll need two letters, but depending on your college list, you may need more, or there may be additional requirements placed on which teachers can write them.

Overwhelmed yet? Here’s the good news. You can wait until this summer to:

Write your college essays. College essays can be overwhelming. Working on them too soon, before you even have access to the applications, can be downright maddening. The Common App goes live on August 1st each year. There is not much to be gained by obsessing over drafts before you have a solid college list and the essay prompts for those colleges. Focus on your grades, your test prep, and your college list, and save the essays for this summer.

Plan the entire rest of your life. Actually, this one can probably wait even longer. However, if you’ve got seemingly pressing, urgent questions about your future (my junior year, it was do I want to be an architect?), you don’t have to answer them right now. The key is to avoid limiting yourself too much if you’re unsure. If you think you might want to go into an engineering program, the answer to do I want to take that extra science class? is probably “yes.” Prepare for multiple possibilities. Embrace the creative uncertainty. Explore your options, but don’t feel like you have to be certain right this moment.

For what it’s worth, I had registered for classes in ASU’s architecture program before I changed my mind and enrolled in a tiny liberal arts school on the other side of the country. I don’t really recommend that course of action, but you have time. It’s OK if your college list still looks like a 16- or 17-year-old student who isn’t exactly sure what they want to do for the next fifty years wrote it. I promise.

Changes to the SAT

College Board has released four practice versions of the new, redesigned SAT. The revised test will be rolled out beginning with the 2015 PSAT this fall; the new SAT will begin in March of 2016. More information will continue to become available as we move closer to those dates (for example, the SAT score concordances won’t be released until May of 2016), but here are some of the changes to the SAT we know so far:

1) Scoring is changing.

The SAT will return to a 1600 point scale, with a 200-800 range for Math and a 200-800 range for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The Essay will be reported separately.

The PSAT will be on a new scale, too, with scores ranging from 320–1520. These will be divided between two sections, like the SAT, with each score between 160 and 760.

The College Board website indicates that scoring is still “subject to research,” which may mean changes are possible. See item #2.

2) Expect some delays in interpreting scores for the first test date(s).

College Board has been upfront about this. The first administration of the redesigned SAT will be in March of 2016, and College Board plans to release concordance tables in May of 2016. Concordance tables are important. They help establish what the new scores mean by comparing them to the previous scores. Students who take the test in March will not have much useful information to help them decide whether or not to retake at the next test date in May.

3) That looks familiar!

Many of the content and formatting changes to the redesigned SAT look a lot like things we’ve been working with on the ACT for years:

  • The essay is now optional, and reported as a separate score.
  • There will be fewer, longer sections. One major difference between the ACT and the SAT has been that the ACT had 4 sections, which lasted, on average, about 45 minutes each, while the SAT had 10 sections which lasted 20-25 minutes. The new SAT has 4 sections, which last an average of 45 minutes, while the new PSAT is down to 3 sections, which average 55 minutes each. With the longer sections, pacing may be more challenging.
  • The ACT has long included a handful of trigonometry questions, while the SAT has avoided them. The redesigned SAT includes trig questions.
  • While there is no Science section on the new SAT, there are plenty of opportunities to read charts and graphs. Both the Math and the Reading sections will include graph questions.
  • Students taking the current SAT have often been enervated by the onerous, even noxious, practice of learning a plethora of vocabulary words for the Sentence Completion questions. The dearth of such questions on the redesigned SAT might strike you as serendipitous.  Like the ACT, the redesigned SAT Reading test will focus on passages, and any vocabulary questions will involve a student’s ability to understand a word’s meaning in the context of the passage.
  • The redesigned SAT, like the ACT, will now include several different subscores.
  • Like the ACT, the new SAT will no longer deduct points for incorrect answers. (In other words, no more “guessing penalty.”)

4) There’s a new type of math section.

There are two Math sections on the redesigned SAT. One does not allow calculators. It’s the shorter of the two Math sections, and it includes 20 questions to be completed in 25 minutes. Some of those questions are “grid-in” or student-produced response questions.

5) The essay is a longer, and has new requirements.

The new, optional Essay section will be 50 minutes, and will involve analyzing source material in order to answer the prompt. This is a departure from the broad, open-ended type of question that appears on the current SAT.

We’re here to help! Navigating the new SAT will be an adventure for everyone – students, educators, and college admissions teams alike. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around the new tests, and we will be researching and providing the best information to help guide you through the process.


Tips for a Successful School Year, Part II

Tips for a successful school year

Summer vacation has come and gone, and whether you’ve spent the last three months watching Netflix in your bedroom or volunteering in Haiti, now is the time to focus on setting goals for the upcoming school year. Regardless of where you’re at in your high school career, we’ve got a few tips for what to prioritize this year. For Part I of this series, which focuses on Freshmen and Sophomores, please click here!

For Juniors

1) Breathe.

For many students, Junior year is the most stressful of their high school career. Remember to balance self-care with all of your other goals. “Challenge yourself” is not the same thing as “destroy yourself at the altar of academic and extracurricular perfection.” Part of time-management is knowing when to take a break.

2) Continue taking challenging courses.

For many Juniors, Junior year means AP courses. Be realistic, but challenge yourself. Talk with your counselor about the right number of AP courses based on the classes you’ve taken so far and your future goals.

3) Pursue leadership roles within extra-curricular activities.

Stick with the activities you’re most passionate about, and consider becoming more active within those environments. Look for opportunities to pursue leadership roles and responsibilities

4) Create (or Narrow) Your College List.

If you don’t have a college list, now is the time to start. If your list currently includes every mid-sized private school with a decent psychology program, it’s time to start narrowing. Keep researching, evaluating what’s important to you, and work towards creating a list of schools that you’re truly excited about.

5) Visit More Colleges.

Take tours, meet professors, and sit in on classes. Visiting will help eliminate some colleges from your list and solidify the position of others, and it’s also a great way to demonstrate interest.

6) Get your test scores in order.

If you haven’t taken a Practice ACT, do so. If you have, and you’re happy with your score, take a real test, get an official score, and move on with your life! If you’ve taken a practice test and want to boost your score, work with a tutor to get the score you need.

7) Start thinking about recommendation letters.

Think about which teachers you might want to ask, and plan to do so in the second half of Junior year. Participate in class and make connections with your teachers.

For Seniors

1) Keep up your strong academic performance!

Senior course selection and grades are important! Remember, colleges are interested in your trajectory. Keep challenging yourself with difficult courses, including AP/IB classes, and keep your GPA up.  How you perform in difficult classes your senior year will give admissions officers insight into how well you will do in challenging college courses.

2) If you need to, take the ACT or SAT one more time.

Do you need one more point to get into the middle 50 for your top school? Go for it. Take one more ACT. Don’t take one more ACT if you’re “just wondering” if your score might go up, and you haven’t spent/don’t have any time to spend on prep.

3) Ask for recommendations.

If you didn’t do so at the end of Junior year, ask for letters as soon as possible. Your favorite English teacher is going to be asked to write recs for a lot of students. Writing good recommendations takes time, and bad recommendations are not going to help you.

4) Get organized.

Know your deadlines – applications, scholarships, everything. Make a plan and stay on task. Filling out applications can be overwhelming unless you break the process down into manageable steps. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help.

5) Keep visiting colleges.

Even after applications are submitted, you may want to keep visiting colleges. If you apply to 6, 8, or 10 schools you’re really excited about (and hopefully you ARE excited about all of your schools), you may need more information to make your final decision.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Overcoming Testing Anxiety

It’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous before a test. Actually, a small amount of stress can be beneficial to you, as it drives you to prepare well and can help you maintain your focus. But for some students, the stress associated with testing becomes overwhelming and hinders their ability to concentrate and perform well on an exam. These students often blank out on all of the answers they had committed to memory before the exam began or feel so nervous about completing the exam that they waste time and energy anxiously checking the clock every few seconds. The latter is especially a problem for students dealing with timed tests (like the ACT!), but it can affect students in environments without strict time limits as well, particularly if a student feels they are a slow reader or slow test taker.

So if testing anxiety is so debilitating, how can you overcome it? If you’re bogged down by an inordinate amount of worry and self-doubt with regard to your testing ability, you have to take steps to replace your doubt with confidence. If stress and uncertainty are the root of testing anxiety, then surely confidence is the solution!

Developing good study skills and preparing adequately for a test are essential for building confidence. If you systematically study and practice the material, then you will feel considerably more comfortable taking the exam. Your preparation shouldn’t start the night before the test, because this will only lead to more stress! If you try to cram in too much information at once, you’re liable to feel extremely overwhelmed and underprepared. Instead, start preparing weeks in advance and examine the material slowly and thoroughly. This also gives you the opportunity to ask your teachers and peers for clarification on concepts you don’t understand along the way. If you wait to look at the material the night before only to find that you don’t understand it, it’s too late!

Studying should also involve ensuring that you know as much about the test as possible. You need to explore questions about the exam’s makeup. Will there be multiple choice questions? What about essays? How many questions total will you need to complete? Is there a time limit to the test? If so, about how much time will you have for each question? If there is a time limit and that stresses you out, begin working with practice problems under timed environments so that you become used it.

You also need to prepare yourself mentally. If you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern, work on developing a positive one instead. When you find yourself thinking about how you can’t succeed, combat this negativity with a new thought: I will succeed. I will ace that test. I’ve been studying for weeks and I know the material. Once you get in the habit of thinking this way, it will become your default.

Additionally, develop relaxation techniques. Different things work for different people, but some examples include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and visualization. Explore different options and find one that works for you, and then use it to help you cope when you start to feel anxious.

Finally, if you take all of these steps and still feel that anxiety is impeding your performance on exams, don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for help! Sometimes, in addition to stress about exams, students feel ashamed of their anxiety, which only leads to even lower self-confidence, which leads to worse performance, becoming a self-feeding cycle. Testing anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of! If you need help, talk to your parents, teachers, and friends, and don’t be afraid to see a counselor.

Claire Engel is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part III

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part III 

At GSP, we understand that the amount of information floating around in the world about how to prepare to take your test(s), which test(s) to prepare for, etc., can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, some of it is also terrible advice! Here are some of the most common test prep traps we see students and parents fall into. From wasting time and money to actually making your college applications less effective, these missteps can be easy to make. Fortunately, we’re here to answer your questions and point out some potential pitfalls!

In Part 1, we talked about the basics – when to take the test, and how many times. In Part 2, we discussed setting goals and committing to one test. Finally, we’ll talk about a couple of more advanced topics – Super-Scoring and scholarships.

9. Assuming the Colleges on Your List Do (or Don’t) Super-Score

Super-Scoring is taking the highest score from each section of a test (either ACT or SAT) to provide a higher composite score than a student would have had otherwise. For example, pretend I took the ACT twice. My first test I got a 24 in English, a 19 in Math, a 25 in Reading, and a 22 in Science for a Composite score of 23. My second test was a 22 in English, a 23 in Math, a 26 in reading, and an 18 in Science, for a Composite score of 22.

However, if a college Super-Scores, they’ll take the highest of each section, so that gives me a 24 in English, a 23 in Math, a 26 in Reading, and a 22 in Science, like this:

So the Super-Score that I actually end up with – a 24 – is higher than either of Composite scores, which is pretty cool (for both me, and the college, as my higher score boosts their student profile).

Some schools Super-Score for both ACT and SAT and some schools don’t Super-Score at all. Some do for one test, but not the other. Further complicating the Super-Score situation are changes in policies from year to year.

What to do instead: Do your research, and make sure your info is up to date! Knowing whether a college or university will Super-Score your results can be key to focusing your test prep efforts!

10. Comparing Yourself (and Your Scores) to Everyone Else

It’s almost impossible not to do. Everyone’s ranked! Everyone’s given their percentile, and it’s easy to be tempted to look to those with higher scores with envy, admiration, or even the suspicion that they’re in on some special secret that we don’t have access to. It can be tough to chat with a friend whose first test score is higher than your goal score without feeling discouraged.

Standardized testing is a skill, and, just like any other skill, it comes more easily to some people than others. Your ACT or SAT score isn’t an indication of much more than your skill in taking the ACT or SAT. The amount of time and energy you want to devote to improving that score has everything to do with the specifics of what you want to accomplish.

There are all kinds of reasons that people might have target scores in different areas. Your score might be just fine for admission to your top school, but maybe one more point will get you a great scholarship! Or maybe a specific program requires two more points in your ACT math score. It may make sense to put in some more time and energy to further boost your score! However, feeling bad about your score, or deciding you need to take it again just because your brother/cousin/friend Bob is going to take it again? That makes less sense.

What to do instead:

Do your research! If you really need a certain score for a school or program or scholarship that’s important to you, let that influence your goal. But be aware that (hopefully!) others are doing their own research, and will have their own reasons for targeting a certain result. Let your brother/cousin/friend Bob stress about those two extra points for that Indiana State scholarship, if that’s where he really wants to go. If you don’t even want to go to Indiana State, much less get a scholarship there, it probably shouldn’t impact your goal score.

We know that preparing for the ACT or SAT can be an overwhelming process. With the right information, it can be less overwhelming. At Get Smarter Prep, we can help students and families navigate the world of test prep by providing advice and guidance tailored to each student’s goals.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.