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Practice Test FAQ’s

Families often ask whether it’s OK to use a different test as a baseline – something besides the free practice test that we offer. The answer to that question is long and complicated, but the short version is that we offer free practice tests because we think they’re incredibly useful – to us and to students and families! Here are some answers to common questions about different baseline tests.

  • Can I use my PSAT score?

Most students take the PSAT as Juniors, and many take it as Sophomores as well. It’s common to want to use this test as a gauge of strengths and weaknesses on the SAT (after all, it’s supposed to be a practice SAT, right?) or even an ACT.

First, we’re not able to use the PSAT as a predictor for the ACT, because the tests are fundamentally unrelated. Second, the PSAT and the SAT don’t show as much correlation as we’d like to use the PSAT to make tutoring recommendations. The timing and content are both different enough that it’s not a very good measurement.

One more thing to consider, if we’re talking about the sophomore PSAT – if it’s been months or even a year since the exam, it wouldn’t be a very accurate measure, even if the test itself was good predictor.  

 

  • What about my Pre-ACT?

Unfortunately, the Pre-ACT is also not very predictive. The scoring is different, the content is different, and you’re likely to have nearly a full year of academic progress between taking the Pre-ACT and taking the real thing. We see significant variations between the Pre-ACT scores and actual ACT scores, and our goal is to have the most accurate baseline possible.

 

  • I already took a practice test at another prep company. Can you use that?

Most test prep companies offer practice tests. However, most of them use their own exams that they wrote, intending to mimic the official ACT. Some companies might do an OK job of mimicking the ACT; some miss the mark completely. We only use previously administered official ACT exams. All our tests were developed and scored by ACT, which means they are the most accurate predictor of how you’ll score on another official ACT exam.

 

  • I took a practice test at my school. That one should work, right?

Although schools often offer practice tests, we still recommend having students test with us, for a few reasons.

The main reason is that it’s difficult to get confirmation of which test is being used, and whether it is an official ACT/SAT, or not. Schools often use tests that were written by someone else (like a test prep company), and therefore are not as predictive as an official ACT or SAT. We only use official exams that have been previously administered.

 

  • I took a practice test at home. Let’s use those scores.

Practice tests taken at home can suffer from a few problems. The first can be the test itself – which test did you use? Was it an official exam? The second is that we’re often more comfortable at home than we might be in an unfamiliar testing environment surrounded by strangers. This comfort can have an effect on your scores – it might inflate them, because you’re feeling less stressed, or it might lower them, if you weren’t focused, or you were checking your phone, or if your little brother was practicing Tae Kwon Do in the next room and you were worried he was going to break something.

 

  • I already took an official Do I still need to come in to take a practice test?

If you already took an official ACT, then we will (probably) use those scores! We may still recommend a practice test in some instances – if your official test was in 7th grade, for example. Generally, though, we will use your official scores to make our recommendations. The goal is to have an accurate prediction of how you’ll do on a real test – if you’ve already taken a real test, there’s generally no need to duplicate that effort!

If you’ve already taken one or more of the tests listed above, it might seem frustrating to have to spend another 3.5+ hours sitting through a practice ACT. Here are the main reasons why we think it’s worth losing a chunk of your Saturday:

  • It’s a recent previously administered official ACT exam in a proctored environment. This means you’re getting the best, most accurate results possible without taking an official ACT.
  • We’ll score your exam quickly – within 2-3 days.*
  • Our score reports include detailed feedback. This provides great information for the student and the tutor – which categories of questions a student is missing, how did the student handle the time constraints of the test, etc.
  • After the practice test, you’ll have a ScoresBack appointment to review the exam, ask questions, and discuss our customized recommendations.

We probably seem like we’re being unnecessarily picky about this, and we are a little picky! But that pickiness comes from a place of wanting what’s best for students. Our goal is always to make the best, most accurate recommendation possible, because that’s what we believe is in the best interest of the student. The more accurate a starting point we have, the more accurate our recommendations can be, and the more likely you are to reach your goals!

 

*You’ll receive your results during the ScoresBack appointment, which you’ll schedule after you’ve taken your exam.

Making A Great Persuasive Essay

Nerves abound as the teacher walks through the room.  Every student waiting anxiously, stirring in their seats as names are called out one by one. Finally, your name is called; stiffening as your paper lands on your desk, you gasp. One glance at all the red ink and your heart sinks; the essay you spent all night writing barely resembles the original copy. You think to yourself, “But I tried so hard. What did I do wrong?”

This story can be echoed by students across the country. Whether you are answering an ACT or AP test prompt, or submitting a college scholarship essay, persuasive writing is not about trying hard but understanding how to craft an effective argument. There are several common mistakes that are easy to fix.

  1. Planning the Essay

Too often students are given a prompt, brainstorm a few ideas, then begin writing. To really plan an essay you need to figure out more than just your thesis statement. A good plan should include how you are going to defend your thesis, what arguments others might pose and how to counter them, and what evidence you will use to support these claims. With a good plan the essay can almost write itself. All you need to do is link the arguments together.

  1. Supporting a Claim

What is the difference between a claim and evidence? While most people can articulate the difference, these often become muddled in essay writing. A claim is a statement that presents a perspective and a belief on a certain subject. Evidence is a factual statement that provides support for a claim. For example, If I stated that M&Ms are the best candy, few people would accept it. However, if I provide concrete evidence I can give weight to this claim. But evidence can have varying strengths. Good evidence can look like this: “Fox News reported that M&Ms sold the most units and were the highest revenue generating chocolate candy in America for 2017.” This evidence has a strong source, provides a metric for comparison, and covers a large sample size. By leaving any of these out the evidence loses credibility and effectiveness. Let’s see what bad evidence would look like: “Mr. Johnson’s fourth grade class voted M&M’s as their favorite candy”. This extreme has very little credibility, a tiny sample size, and provided no metric for comparison. Just remember, whenever you make a claim it needs good evidence to support it.

  1. Understanding Perspectives

Trying to make an essay stand out can be hard. But one surefire way to catch a grader’s eye is to show understanding of what drives different perspectives. By arguing against the emotions or motivations of counterpoints you can move past just responding to a prompt and start providing real insight. Anyone can rewrite a prompt in their own words, but few are able to dissect that prompt and move past just regurgitating the same old lines.

All these things can bring strength and life to your essay writing that might be missing in your peer’s. This is not about changing your style of writing, merely approaching your essay differently. Focus on writing clearly with sound arguments and you will see a lot less red ink marring your essays.

Which College Majors Have the Best ROI?

Whether or not you choose to go to college and earn a 4 or 5-year degree is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer here. There is, however, a smarter way to look at the college debt you will accrue and how to graduate college with a higher chance of getting hired into the field you studied.

U.S. News and World Report has put together a list of top college majors for finding full time work and the number one college major may be a surprise to everyone. Most anyone you ask will tell you that you can’t go wrong with a business degree. That may be true, but it wasn’t at the top of this list. The number one top bachelor’s degree by demand was an Accounting degree with a 54.4% chance of hire. Coming in as a close second is a Computer Science degree with 53.9% chance of hire and the third sought-after bachelor’s degree is Finance with a 50.6% chance of hire. Business came in at number four with 47.8% plan to hire.

Knowing which college majors are going to be the most sought after will help any high school or college student narrow down their field of study as the goal is to get a job and start a career based on their college major.  Double majoring with in-demand majors will also help you obtain a job within your field of study. Most likely if you graduate with one of these majors, you will get a job more quickly and a higher salary.

Entering college with a more calculated approach as opposed to “figuring it out along the way”, will also help you gauge your ROI. Figuring out what specific colleges cost over four years, the projected hire for a college major, and the probable salary will give you a more precise return on your investment and help keep students focused along the way.

Obviously, not every student will choose a major entering college or maybe not even their freshman year of college. However, the more knowledge you have surrounding college majors, their projected income, and the likeliness to obtain a job straight out of college, the easier it will be to choose a career that makes sense to you.

Standard and Advanced ACT Courses

Most students fall into one of two categories, which is either private tutoring or prep courses. Do you know which type of tutoring you fit into? At Get Smarter Prep, we offer two types of courses to help students achieve their ACT goals.

Our Standard ACT Courses are a good fit for students scoring within the 17-23 range (the 30th-68th percentiles) and their score is consistent among all four categories of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science). If there’s more than a 6-9 point difference in any of the four categories, then private tutoring may be more up your alley since it’s more custom to your needs.

The standard course assists students in achieving a score improvement, alongside a small group of similarly scoring students. Because our Standard ACT Course is taught by the most experienced instructors of any company in town and focused on a smaller, more cohesive group, our students consistently find results through our tried and true curriculum. This course includes 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date.

Another option for students who want to increase their ACT composite score is our Advanced ACT Course. This course is accompanying for students with a slightly higher ACT baseline score between a 24-29 (74th-92nd percentile).

The advanced course offers a small class setting (no more then 8 students) and meets once a week for eight weeks leading right up to the official test date. Built in practice tests are included with our advanced courses. Office Hours are always available to students taking this course.

While both our standard and advanced courses are good options for numerous students, we know all students won’t fit into those two courses, which is why we offer private tutoring. Private tutoring is available for any and all students who want to increase their ACT score anywhere between an average of 2-7 points depending on the amount of hours spent tutoring.

Whether you take one of our standard courses, advanced courses or elect for private tutoring, know that we want you to succeed and our tutors will strive to help you get the score you need for the school you want.  

ACT Extended Time Changes

For the last few years, ACT’s National Extended Time policy has been full of changes. Beginning in 2016, the ACT began providing students with an open, self-paced 5-hour block to complete their test (or a 6-hour block with the optional Writing). In the 2017-2018 school year, ACT moved to separate the 1-hour Writing time from the 5-hour multiple choice block, so that all students had 5 hours for the multiple choice, whether or not they were going to complete the Writing.

Now the ACT is moving away from the self-paced block of time all together. ACT says that “self-pacing on the extended-time test is intended to provide flexibility… [but] it can have the reverse effect, requiring an additional demand beyond what is required of those testing with standard time or other types of accommodations.” Instead, beginning in September 2018, the National Extended Time testing will look much like it did pre-2006, with a specific amount of time being allotted to each section:

 

English

70 minutes

Math

90 minutes

Break

15 minutes

Reading

55 minutes

Science

55 minutes

 

What does this change mean for students?

  • Pacing

The current rules have provided an additional challenge for some students, as maintaining a good pace for the entire exam might be tricky. The new structure will enforce the pacing from section to section, so a student is free to focus on pacing within a section, instead of between them.

  • Flexibility

If you have been practicing your exam using only 45 minutes for English and 120 minutes for Math, you’ll need to adjust your strategy. There was some added flexibility with the previous timing structure that will no longer be available, as each section will have its own firm time boundary.

  • Breaks

There will be one 15 minute break scheduled after the Math section. Under the current rules, students are allowed to take breaks as they choose throughout the 5 hour time period, and we normally suggested a short break after each section. The new structure will have a student taking a break only after their first 2 hours and 40 minutes of testing.

If you’ve been taking the test with the current structure, and you’re taking your last ACT in July, then there will be no changes for you! If you won’t take your first ACT until September, then you’ll just want to make sure you practice with the new timing allotments. If you’ve already been preparing, though, and will need to change your strategy, some additional timed practice might be in order to make sure you’re making the most of the time for each section.

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. We think 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.   

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.

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.

Planning for College in the Summer

Most students look forward to summer simply because there’s no homework, no tests to study for, and it’s sunny and nice out! Whatever your reason is to love summer, there may be a gently nagging in the back of your mind that you have a ton left to do to get ready for college. Summer is the perfect time to capitalize on this and get ahead of the game.

Get Smarter Prep offers several different options to help students prepare for college including a Career/Assessment test, how to build a College List, and Essay Writing Courses.

Start with a Career/Major Assessment test. This test allows you to see what your strengths are, coupled with what you enjoy doing and provides a number of careers to guide you in the right direction. Don’t worry, taking this type of test in the summer isn’t something you have to necessarily prepare for. The test is a comprehensive online assessment that will gauge your learning style, interests, personality, and career focus. Our counselors will go over the results of the assessment and discuss possibilities and paths through your feedback and conversation – discussing careers, as well as possible majors.

If you already have a good idea of what you want study in college and/or what your major will be, but haven’t nailed down a college yet, Get Smarter Prep will help you build a college list that matches your values and goals. If your simply not sure where in the world you would like to college, we will guide you through the process and figure it out together. We can customize ACT/SAT recommendations to ensure the college list is right for you.  

Maybe you already know where you want to attend college, but haven’t even thought about college essays? Not to worry, we offer college essay writing courses in June and July to help you write your best college essays and set you apart from the pack. Our college essay writing experts will help you craft your best essays for your college set. We go above and beyond to ensure you don’t write an essay that prevents you from becoming accepted into your school of choice.

Wherever you are in the college planning process, we can help. It’s not too late or too early to start planning out the process and summer is the perfect time to begin. Contact Get Smarter Prep to get a jump start on your summer plans!  

Is Private Tutoring Right for You?

How do you know if private tutoring is right for you? What about classes or tutoring with a group of friends?  There are a few items we need to look at before deciding which type of tutoring is a perfect fit for you.

Private Tutoring – One-on-One Tutoring is perfect for students with a significant difference in their sub-scores. For example, if Jane scored a 17 in the Reading section of the ACT, but a 24 in the English section, then she would be a prime example of why Private Tutoring would work in her favor as the tutor can target specific portions of the test.  Our tutors will be able to spend different amounts of time in each portion of the test depending on where the student needs the most help.  

Another reason to access Private Tutoring is due to a hectic schedule. We realize how busy your Junior year can be. Maybe a standard class won’t fit into your schedule, but private tutoring can be a lot more flexible and conducive to your calendar. Private Tutorials are usually scheduled for one and a half hour sessions and are typically between 6 & 15 hours in duration (4-10 weeks).   

Semi-Private Tutoring – This type of tutoring is for students scoring within the same range as 1-3 other students. Whether you have a challenging schedule, want to work with your friends, or just want a more customized approach than our courses, Semi-Private Tutoring can be a good fit.  

These tutoring-course hybrids allow for some cost efficiency (like courses) AND customized scheduling & unique curriculum (like private tutoring). The standard time frame for Semi-Private Tutoring is 20 hours, but 12-20 hour schedules are available based upon what each student of the group hopes to achieve.

Courses – We offer both Standard and Advanced ACT Courses depending on your ACT scores. Standard Courses are for students scoring within the 17-23 score range and offers 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date. Advanced Courses are for those students scoring between 24-29 and includes 16 hours of instruction, two practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor.  The classes are designed to have the region’s smallest classes, with a cap of 8 students per class, to really get that small classroom setting.  Each course also follows a curriculum based on which class you attend.

No matter what the situation may be, Get Smarter Prep offers custom tutoring to fit any schedule, classes to accommodate a wide range of students’ scores,  and we work with each student to help achieve the score they need for the school they want.

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!