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GSP at Hogan Prep

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

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

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

Class of 2018 Game Plan

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

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

ACT deadlines

SAT deadlines

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

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

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

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

Suggested Schedule for the Class of 2018

May 2016

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

June 2016

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

July 2016

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

August 2016

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

September 2016

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

October 2016

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

November 2016

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

December 2016

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

January 2017

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

February 2017

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

March 2017

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

April 2017

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

May 2017

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

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!

 

ACT Essay Score Issues

Have you noticed a discrepancy between your ACT multiple-choice scores and your Writing score? You’re not alone. Since the new essay debuted in September, students have been frustrated and alarmed by low essay scores. The concordance between the old and new essay scores equates an old 8/12 with a new 23/36, but an old 9/12 with a 30/36 – a huge gap. Many students who are scoring in the 30s on their multiple choice sections are seeing essay scores in the low to mid 20s, and they are understandably concerned.

The Washington Post spoke to the parents of a student who took the ACT in September. He received “a 19 on the writing section and 30s on the rest of the test.” When the student requested a rescore of his essay, the score increased – to a 31. Based on the new essay scoring, that jump – from a 19 to a 31 – represents a change from the 63rd percentile to the 98th.

Wait, you’re thinking, a 19 is the 63rd percentile? Yes, on the Writing, it is. For comparison, a 19 on English is the 45th percentile. On the Science section, a 19 is in the 40th.

Top Tier Admissions wrote of the new ACT essay scoring, “Imagine a teacher giving a test where a 70% was the highest score out of a thousand students, but then deciding not to curve the test. That is what is happening right now on this new writing section.”

Criticism of the new ACT essay has been widespread, so if you’re feeling concern or even shock about your essay score, know that you’re not alone. Resist the temptation to compare your 1-36 essay scores with the 1-36 scores in the other sections: look at the percentiles, instead. If you’re considering retaking the ACT just to boost your essay, check in with your admissions reps at your top-choice colleges first. More colleges, including Tufts, Penn, Brown, and Swarthmore, are opting not to require the essay portion of the exam at all.

Even if your college does require it, it may not be worth retaking the whole exam if you’re pleased with the rest of your scores. Talking with your admissions representative may help you determine how important that score is – or isn’t.

Tufts University – College Profile

Tufts University

Quick Facts:

Institution type: private university
Founded: 1852
Location: Medford, MA
Undergraduate students: 5131
Mascot: Jumbo (elephant)
Acceptance rate: 16%
Testing requirements: ACT or SAT (if SAT, two subject tests also required)
Middle 50% ACT score range: 30-33
Middle 50% SAT score range: CR 680-750, M 690-770
Superscore: Yes
Website: www.tufts.edu

One student’s perspective:

Name: Sally Williams

Grad year: 2019

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were in the process of applying and selecting your college or university? What surprised you?

I wish I had listened to people when they told me to look at schools without bias. I went into the college application process with an idea of the outcome I wanted and the schools I thought were a perfect fit. In the end, Tufts turned out to be the best school for me and I would never have even applied without my mother’s advice to do so. It’s the schools you least expect that end up being the perfect place.

What’s your favorite thing about your school?

I love that it’s an Ivy League education without the title. There’s no cut-throat competition here, unlike Harvard (that’s only a T-stop away and throws some great parties ;)). People are genuine and diverse. You can create the experience you want, be it with Greek life, mathletes, or a cappella groups. Everyone here is a genius, but they don’t have an ego.

What else would you like people to know about Tufts?

It is a melting pot. There are people from all around who are all talented and intelligent in their own right, but are also incredibly different. Tufts allows everyone to find their niche. I have yet to meet a person here who isn’t genuinely happy with their decision to enroll here. You’re never bored. Tufts is surrounded by (and happens to be on par with) some of the top schools in the world. You can always meet new people.

Also, the city of Boston is only 20 minutes away and such an incredible escape sometimes. Here, at Tufts, you can truly become your own person, without judgment by others. It is an inclusive and incredible atmosphere filled with thriving, ambitious people.

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.

ACT Scores Released

December ACT Scores (for most students) have been released! Whether your scores are higher than expected or lower than you’d hoped, we have some tips for coming up with your next steps.

  • Don’t freak out.

If you prepared for the December ACT and didn’t get the score you were expecting, you might be understandably disappointed! Spend some time while the test is fresh in your mind and try to figure out what went wrong (and what went right!). Did you encounter material you didn’t expect? Were you well-rested? Did you follow the strategies you had worked out, or did you make last-minute changes?

If you didn’t spend time preparing, your test score might be a total shock. You may not have had any idea what to expect! If you were aiming higher, though, you can use these scores to inform your goals on your next test.

If you’re a senior, though, December was probably your last chance. Not getting the score you wanted is understandably upsetting. Remember that, in the end, the ACT is only a test, and it’s only part of your application. You’ve got a lot else going for you besides your scores!

  • (Try not to) compare scores.

If you scored lower than you wanted, dwelling on your friend/sister/friend’s sister’s roommate who got a higher score than you did is ultimately unproductive. Similarly, if your friend is disappointed in their score, try not to gloat. It’s OK to be proud of yourself, but be supportive of those around you who might be struggling.

  • Be realistic about what score you actually

So your friend, sister, or friend’s sister’s roommate got a 30, or a 32, or even a 36. Do you actually need that score? Look at your schools and your transcript and be realistic about your goal. You may have hit your goal and decided you might as well keep going, aim higher, and try to boost it even further. But if you’ve got the score you were aiming for, taking it again “just to see” is probably a waste of time.

Make sure your goal makes sense. The ACT is a just a test. Its purpose is to help you get into college. If you’ve got the score you need for the schools you’re interested in attending, there’s no reason to take it again.

  • Be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to prep in the future.

If you’re not fully satisfied, be honest with yourself about how much time and energy you have to dedicate to preparing for the next test date. Improving scores takes work. Signing up for the February test might feel like the obvious choice, but if you are not able to commit to logging some serious hours practicing, the chances that your score will improve at all are incredibly slim.

If you do need to take the test again, look at your schedule and pick a date that will allow you to spend some time preparing. Make a plan, and stick to it!

  • Ask for help.

We’re here to help with each step of the process, from helping set a goal score to picking the best test date to decoding the Science section! Let us know how we can help.

Dealing with Deferrals

If you submitted any Early Decision or Early Action applications this fall, you have probably received the college’s response: yes, no, or “maybe.” Deferrals are very common, and at many schools they outweigh both the “yes” and “no” groups. (That is, when a school even has a “no” pile for EA-applying students. Georgetown, for example, defers everyone not accepted EA.)

This post is for the “maybes” – those whose early applications were deferred by their first choice schools. What are your next steps?

First, and absolutely the most important, is to finish the rest of your applications. If you were procrastinating in the hopes of not having to complete them, you may not have much time to wrap up essays, get your scores sent, etc. You may even need to consider rounding up a school or two with rolling admissions if you haven’t already been accepted to one, depending on how much time you have left and how much work you have to do.

The second thing is to not panic. (Normally I’d put that first, but those deadlines are looming!) Being deferred is obviously maddening. It’s hard to formulate a plan with so much lingering uncertainty. However, you still have options, and remembering that can help dull the panic. Consider how much you still want to attend the school that deferred you. Consider, also, what your plan of action would be if the answer had been “no” instead of “maybe.”

If you’re still certain you’d like to attend the school, write a “deferral letter.” Explain that you’re still interested in the school, and include any new, relevant information that might bolster your case for admission. In addition to the letter, if possible, you may want to consider another visit. This helps demonstrate your continued interest, and might also provide new information to you about whether or not your number one school is still, in fact, your number one.

Test again. If you have test scores you haven’t sent, send them. If you have time to retake the SAT or ACT, do so. Depending on the school in question, you may consider taking/retaking SAT Subject tests in January.

Finally, keep your grades up. One of the main things admissions officers look for in deferred applicants are mid-year grades. A challenging senior year course load with stellar grades can only help your case!

Being deferred can feel like a disaster, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. You still have steps you can take, you still have options, and you can still end up at an amazing school. Good luck!

Guessing on Standardized Tests – LotD-R

I apologize if this is a little more “dense” than most of our wonderful blogs – just bear with me & I think we’ll learn a little something new together!

Guessing on Standardized Tests – Letter of the Day Strategy

Many tutors use various strategies when it comes to guessing on the ACT – one of the most common strategies is the Letter of the Day Strategy. With this approach, if a student comes across a question that they don’t know the answer to (and can’t do any eliminating of other answer choices) or if they are running out of time and need to fill in bubbles – they use the same letter every time throughout the entire test. Guessing is a very important and easy concept for a lot of tests – particularly the ACT and LSAT, as many if not most students have trouble with the timing of these tests.

Using the LotD Strategy is considered to be the gold standard of guessing methods – as it gives you the best shot at getting one out of four questions correct on average (or one out of five in the Math portion of the ACT). Randomly guessing is much riskier: you may have a chance to get more of the questions correct, but you also have a chance of getting all of the questions incorrect. **(You still technically have a 25% chance – 20% in Math – of getting the question correct – but the odds are now positioned in a much riskier manner, statistically speaking).

While the LotD Strategy is certainly a good, risk-aversion approach to guessing on standardized tests, particularly multiple-choice test, I think for many students it is found lacking based upon a given student’s performance leading up to the guessing. What if we can increase the odds of getting questions correct from 25%, on a four answer choice test, to 30-40%?

Regression Toward the Mean 

In statistics, there’s a phenomenon call Regression Toward the Mean – which basically says that even when things are randomized, there’s a tendency for the average to be achieved over a larger sample size. For instance, if you are looking at just four Reading ACT questions, the odds that one of the answers will be A/F is ¼, but in such a small sample, it could be that it will be two correct answers or more. Or conversely, none of the answers could be A/F.

When looking at the Reading test as a whole, the sample is larger (40 questions total), so the odds that ¼ of the questions’ correct answers are A/F becomes more reliable, as the random variance has been reduced (not eliminated – as there can still be statistical anomalies).

What does this Mean?

What does this mean for a student on test day?! Particular students who are accurate with the questions that they’ve answered, but still have timing issues with particular sections (very common on many entrance exams), can improve their odds of guessing correctly by applying the aforementioned statistical concept.

For example, if a student has ten questions remaining in a set of 40 questions, they can quickly take inventory of the answer choices they’ve selected on the first 30 questions and guess the letter that has been used the least. If done correctly, the student should have a good opportunity to increase their accuracy in their guessing – which in the end will lead to a higher score.

The LotD-R strategy isn’t for everyone – and learning to quickly assess previous answers is a new skill that many haven’t previously practiced – but for some students, the strategy will allow for an improved score with minimal effort.

– Caleb Pierce

ACT Essay Changes

ACT Essay Changes

Planning to take the September 12 ACT? If you’re signed up for the Writing portion, be prepared for some ACT essay changes! If you’ve taken the ACT Writing portion before, you’ve probably seen essays that looked something like this:

ACT Essay - old essay image
The old ACT Writing prompts were usually open-ended questions. The topics were usually related in some way to the experiences of high school students, and provided opportunities for you to state, and support, your opinion. Should students have access to cellular phones during class? Do you support school uniforms? The trick was to take a clear position on the question, support it with specific examples, and manage your time well enough to complete the essay in the time allotted – 30 minutes.

The new ACT writing prompts are a bit different. Instead of leaving the question open-ended, the prompt provides you with some options, or perspectives, on the question. The new task is to analyze the perspectives and provide your own point of view based on the three presented to you.

ACT Essay - new essay image

Based on the sample prompt provided by the ACT, the topics may have shifted away from things that are directly related to your high school experience and more towards broader social issues. The new writing portion is 40 minutes long, giving you more time to read, analyze, and incorporate the perspectives into your essay plan.

If you’re signed up to take the Writing portion, take a look at these sample essay responses and think through a strategy to prepare for test day. You will still need to develop a position, include appropriate examples, organize your points, and manage your time carefully. Critical issues like indenting your paragraphs, keeping your writing neat, and minimizing your spelling and grammatical errors will remain important. The major change is that you’ll be incorporating some specific perspectives into your essay, and analyzing the quality of their arguments. Good luck!