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Adventures with Scout

Debunking ACT/SAT Myths

Running Out of Time

It’s a common occurrence when taking the ACT. If you’re like most students, you struggle to finish different sections of the ACT or maybe even struggle to finish every section! You’re not alone.  There are a lot of questions and this is a timed test, so time management is key to finishing each section.

Let’s take a quick look at the breakdown of questions and the allotted amount of time per section.

 
Questions
Time
English
75 60 Minutes
Math
60 60 Minutes
Reading 
40 35 Minutes
Science
40 35 Minutes

English:

We like to say that the English section is one of the easiest sections to pick up points. Think about…within this section you are reviewing idioms, punctuation, pronouns, verbs, rhetoric content, and rhetoric style. Those are all things you’ve most likely learned about in the eighth grade. A solid review of all of those categories will pick up lost time within this section and leave you feeling ready for the math section, where students typically feel rushed.

Math:

The math portion of the ACT can be tricky for some students. There are 60 questions and 60 minutes to complete the section. Within this section, the questions become progressively harder. The second half of the test will generally have the questions that take the longest amount of time to solve and will involve more geometry and trigonometry than algebra. Do you struggle with geometry? Do you need help with trig? Defining what areas you struggle with and spending more time brushing up on those skills will be a huge help with the math section. Try not to rush.  Answer each question to the best of your ability and if you feel pressed for time, bubble in the last questions with the same letter. Read about our Letter of the Day Strategy here.

Reading:

Most students have a hard time completing the reading section since there are four different passages (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, literary fiction) to skim through as well as forty questions to accompany the passages.  You have less than a minute to answer each question! Don’t freak out.  There are different strategies to use within the reading section. Each passage has ten questions. Skim through the passage, then attack the questions. There are different categories within the passage such as line reference  (e.g., “In lines 16-20”). Line reference is literally directing you straight to the lines within the passage!  Other categories include lead word, comparing passages, vocabulary in context, the main point/big picture, and tone.

Science:

Here’s a shocker…there is no physical science in the science section of the ACT! It’s mainly charts and graphs. As you study for this section, make sure you know how to accurately read graphs and charts since the answers for all of the questions are right in front of you. For the questions that you can’t answer with the visuals, you can usually figure them out by reading the passage. Save time by skipping the instructions and head straight to the questions. Then go back to review the passage and the answer will most likely be within the passage.

 

Every student is different, but the common occurrence among all students is time management within the ACT.  One way we like to prepare students is by giving them a Pretest, Midterm, and Final. Then we compare each test to see how far each student has improved. Not only does this get students ready for the test by practicing strategies, but it also helps practice their time management skills.  

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.

Standard ACT Courses

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.

Advanced ACT Courses

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.

Private Tutoring

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:

ACT Extended Time Changes

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! However, 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.

To stay in the know about ACT Extended Time Changes, visit ACT.org.