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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.

Changes to the ACT

ACT recently unveiled plans for a 2015 update to their test. Students taking the ACT next year will need to prepare for a more complex essay, as well as some minor alterations to the Reading and Mathematics tests. Relative to the SAT’s extensive changes, the changes to the ACT will be subtle.

Writing:

    • For students taking the optional ACT Writing portion, the writing prompt may become more complex, requiring students to “evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue and generate their own analysis based on reasoning, knowledge, and experience.” Although the prompt may appear to be more challenging, the additional direction in the prompt and hypothetical perspectives provided will allow the student to actively analyze stated ideas, instead of initializing the entire topic.  In addition, the student will be provided with an additional ten minutes to write the essay – for a total of 40 minutes.
    • The scoring of the Writing test will be also updated and will include subscores in four areas: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use.

Reading:

    • The Reading test will introduce a new passage type. Students will be asked to compare information from paired passages (dual passages), similar to a subset of questions on the SAT. The ACT began rolling out these paired passages during the 2014-2015 school year, but each test will have this dual passage from this point forward.

Mathematics:

    • The Mathematics section will see a very slight increase of emphasis on statistics and probability in the Math test. The change will be minor enough that most students probably won’t notice the difference.

Science:

    • The Science section will have the same number of questions (40), but they will be broken down into 6 themed passages rather than 7.  We perceive this as giving each student a leg up, as now there are only six varied science related topics that must be addressed, rather than seven topics that students may only have limited previous knowledge of beforehand.

The main focus of the upcoming ACT update seems to be on state assessments, rather than on college applications. This is evidenced by the ACT’s new supplemental scores: STEM and Language Arts scores, and Career Readiness and Text Complexity indicators. There will also be new question categories aligned to Common Core standards. Most of these new scores are designed to provide more detailed insight into students’ progress.

The ACT’s traditional 1-36 composite score will not change; these new scores will be provided in addition to the current provided scores. Other changes affecting ACT state assessments include the addition of more optional tests (math, reading, and science) and increased availability of digital tests.

These changes to the ACT are planned to take effect in fall 2015 and in 2016.

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.

 

Top 10 Test Prep Traps, Part II

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part II

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 of this post, we discussed when and how many times to take the test. Next, we’ll review some important considerations in choosing which test (ACT? SAT?) and setting a good goal score. Here are some common mistakes:

5. Not Having a Clear Goal Score

“I want a good score.”

“I just want to do better.”

“I want it to be as high as possible.”

If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, setting up a study plan, either by yourself or with a tutor, is nearly impossible. There’s a lot of strategy involved in determining what components of a score can be improved, and by how much, and in how much time, for each student. Your practice test score, the amount of time you have, and the colleges you’re considering can all help you (and us) come up with a clear target for your preparation efforts. Having that target really shapes what your preparation process will look like.

What to do instead: Do your research, take a practice test, research the score ranges for the colleges you’re considering.

6. Not Having a Realistic Goal Score

Setting a goal is important, but setting a realistic goal is also critical. A lot of students know (of) someone who got a 35 or a 36 (2350-2400 for the SAT folks) and think, “If they can do it, so can I!”

They think if they just work hard enough they can turn an 18 in to a 36. No problem! Right?

How many students from the class of 2013 got a 36? 0.06%.

So you think, OK, I don’t need a 36. How about a 32? Only 2% of students get a 32 or above.

It’s important to realize that most people don’t break 30 on the ACT. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t work hard, or that they’re not intelligent, or that they won’t get into a great college, or do well once they get to college.

The ACT is intended to be difficult. Studying, practicing, and working with a great tutor can all boost your score, but it’s also important to weigh that studying and practicing against all of the other things that will help you get into college and just generally have a decent life.

You know, like homework. And activities. And sleep.

What to do instead: Look at the colleges on your list, your practice test scores, and talk with a tutor or someone else who can help you come up with a good plan. The amount your score can increase depends a lot on your starting point, which aspects of the test are easier or harder for you, and the amount of time and energy you’re willing or able to dedicate to preparing.

7. Dividing Your Energy

Let’s pretend Jane has decided to focus on the SAT. She’s working towards a specific test date, and everything is on track. Look out, though! Here comes an ACT test date right in the middle of her weeks-long SAT prep schedule. Maybe, think Jane and her parents, it might be a good idea to take some time out of the SAT prep schedule and do some ACT work?

Nope.

The ACT and SAT are actually pretty different tests, and colleges accept either one. With very rare exception, there’s nothing to be gained from switching midstream from one test to the other. If anything, Jane will end up more confused and using the wrong strategy on the wrong test – hurting either or both of her scores.

What to do instead: Take a practice version of each test (SAT and ACT) at the beginning of the preparation process so that you can make an educated choice about which test works better for you, then make a study plan and stick with it!

8. Committing to One Test too Soon

Here’s another scenario: Jane hasn’t taken any practice tests, but she knows she wants to focus on the ACT because she heard the SAT is really hard and has too many sections. Also her older brother John took the SAT and didn’t do very well.

Jane begins preparing for the ACT, but struggles with a couple of the sections. On a whim, finally, she takes a practice SAT, and although she’s been practicing the ACT for months, her SAT score is considerably higher.

What to do instead: Take a practice version of each test at the beginning of the preparation process! Many students will have comparable scores on the two tests, but feel more comfortable with one or the other. Other students will do somewhat better on one or the other right away, so it makes sense to stick with the one that is working! Either way, by taking both practice tests, you don’t have to wonder what you’re missing.

Watch for Part 3 of this post, where we talk about Super-Scoring and scholarships!

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

ACT College Readiness

Fifty-seven percent of the class of 2014 took the ACT, nationwide. That’s 1,845,787 students, which adds up to a lot of data for the ACT. The ACT recently released its annual Condition of College and Career Readiness report for 2014, which uses that data to draw conclusions about the graduates of the class of 2014, how ready (or not) they seem to be for college, and what educators can do to improve those numbers.

Kansas vs. Missouri

The numbers for Kansas and Missouri were comparable – 75% of Kansas students took the ACT, with an average composite score of 22, while 76% of Missouri’s class of 2014 took the test, with an average composite of 21.8. Nationwide, average scores varied from 18.9 in North Carolina (one of 12 states in which all 11th grade students are required to take the test) to 2.3 in Massachusetts, where only 23% of students took the test.

The major purpose of the report, though, is not just average composite scores; the report is centered around college readiness. The ACT has adopted benchmarks in each of the four subject areas – English, Math, Reading, and Science – which predict students’ “likelihood of experiencing success in first-year college courses.” According to the ACT, a student who meets the benchmark in a subject has a 50% chance of earning at least a B, and a 75% chance of earning at least a C, in a first-year course in that subject.

For 2014, those benchmarks are 18 for English, 22 for Math and Reading, and 23 for Science. In the class of 2014, only 26% of students met all four benchmarks, while 31% met none. These numbers obviously present a challenge for educators – what can be done to ensure that students are ready for college when they graduate? The ACT has a few answers.

Prepare for College

First, students should take more rigorous classes – starting in eighth grade. In addition, high school classes should include a recommended core of classes, including four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The difference in college readiness benchmarks between students who do take the recommended core classes and those who don’t is significant. For example, 46% percent of students taking the recommended number and type of math classes met the Math readiness benchmark of a 22, but only 8% percent of students taking fewer math classes did. The ACT report actually suggests making those core classes mandatory for high school graduation.

In addition, students with a self-reported interest in STEM fields are more likely to meet readiness benchmarks in all areas, not just Math and Science. Thirty-four percent of students with an interest in STEM meet all four benchmarks, compared to 26% for the whole class of 2014. The ACT suggests increased support for STEM-related courses, and active encouragement of students to pursue those fields. The report correctly points out that demand for STEM-related jobs is expected to increase significantly (8.6 million jobs by 2018).

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part I

Top 10 Test Prep Traps – Part 1 of 3

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!

1. Taking the Test Too Early

Both the SAT and the ACT are designed to be taken in your junior or senior year. Taking a test – even a practice test – too soon can add unnecessary anxiety to a process that is, for many students and parents, already a stress-fest. We suggest taking your first practice test no sooner than May or June of your sophomore year. Before that point, you probably won’t have completed the course work that the SAT or ACT test, so your scores won’t really tell you much that’s useful.

What to do instead: Take challenging classes, read a lot, and pursue activities that interest you. You’ll be more prepared when it is time to take the test, and you’ll have more to put on your applications than just test scores.

2. Taking the “Real” Test Before You’ve Taken a Practice Test

No, the PLAN and/or PSAT don’t count. You should have taken *at least* one full-length practice test before you sign up for the official test. Yes, there’s a chance that you’ll take it once, get a score that makes you happy, and move on with your life – but wouldn’t that chance be increased if you took a practice test and spent some time preparing before the official test? It’s more likely that you’ll get a score that you feel needs improving, and the only thing you gain from taking (and paying for) that first test is the realization that you need to study. Guess what else could have told you that – for free? A practice test.

What to do instead: Take a practice test. Preferably, one of each – an SAT and an ACT – to see which one suits you best.

3. Taking the “Real” Test When You Know You’re Not Ready

Let’s pretend I’m signed up for the ACT this Saturday. And I bought some prep books a few months ago and I meant to study but my sports/work/whatever schedule has been, you know, and I haven’t even opened them. And I’m getting over the flu, and I have a lock-in the night before, so I know I won’t sleep, and also I may have sprained my thumb so I can’t really hold a pencil. What do I do?

Spoiler alert: Skip it. Please please please skip it.

“I just want to have an official score!” Why? Is this your absolute last chance before your applications are due? If not, what’s the point of having a score if it’s not one that will help you?

“But I can always take it again!” That’s mostly true. But why take it now, when you know you’re not prepared? Also, just because you can take it again, that doesn’t mean you should. (See #5)

What to do instead: Take a nap. Seriously, it sounds like you could use it. Then make a study plan for the next test date, and stick to it.

4. Taking the “Real” Test Over, and Over, and Over Again

So you’ve got a study plan and/or a tutor and you’re working hard towards a test date a several weeks or months in the future. But there’s a test before then! Shouldn’t you just take it anyway, just to see?

Um, no.

Taking the ACT/SAT is not actually that fun. There is, actually, a maximum number of times you can take the test, but most students hit their own personal limit before they reach that maximum. Students have a lot of competing priorities to juggle, and spending a Saturday taking one more ACT just to see if something magical happens is probably not the best use of your time.

Also, while different colleges have different policies, some schools do ask that you supply all of your scores to them. Additionally, even if the school doesn’t require all of your scores, sometimes the scores are sent anyway. It’s a pretty common error. We at GSP suggest that you assume your colleges will see all of your scores.

What to do instead: You’ve got a plan! Stick with your plan! Or, if you don’t have a plan, you know, make a plan. Take the test again only if you’re ready and pretty confident it’s a good use of time.

If you really want to practice, take a practice test.

Watch for Part 2 of this post, where we discuss the importance of setting clear, realistic goals, and picking the right test for you!

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Fun Facts about Gina Claypool

Fun Facts About Gina Claypool

1. I have an adorable daughter named Jemma.  She’s the cutest baby in the world. I’m not biased: she really is the cutest baby in the world.  As far as I know, she already knows how to ace the ACT and SAT, too, because I told her to listen while I was still pregnant.  Since she can’t tell me otherwise, I assume her baby babble is all grammatically correct.

2. While I do love chocolate, if given a choice between a chocolate and a fruity dessert, I will usually choose the fruity one.  No question if it’s lemon.  Yes, I’m the weird kid who likes the lemon Starbursts.  Chocolate might earn you brownie points with me (har har — get it? Brownie? Like chocolate?), but fresh fruit or lemon desserts are even better.

3. I love puns! The stupider the better! For example, after I explained the volume of any right prism is equal to the area of the base times the height, a student asked me “even juvenile prisms?” I laughed.  As a child, I used to make up my own jokes, and they rarely made sense, so I have a soft spot for dumb jokes.  Don’t be surprised if I crack myself up in class.  You aren’t obligated to laugh.  Really.

4. I used to be a camp counselor at Camp Chief Ouray.  I love hiking and camping (and doing arts and crafts like tie-dye and shrinky-dinks).  As a camp counselor (and as a new mom), you get exposed to some gross stuff.  I’m not sure which direction the cause and effect goes, but I find poop humor hilarious.  Especially poop puns.

5. I love to watch sports! I’m a big fan of college basketball (go Jayhawks!), but I enjoy watching football (college or pro) and baseball, too.  As a kid, I played basketball, soccer, and softball, but I never played volleyball or field hockey.

6. I don’t have a favorite color.  I really like red, and I really like green, but I don’t really like red and green together unless it’s Christmas-time. 

7. I like to sing, and when I can, I like to participate in community theatre.  The Kansas City metro has a great theatre community, and there is always a great show to see.  Go support the companies at Theatre in the Park (Guys and Dolls is this weekend), The Barn Players, and The White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center (Spamalot in July!).

8. My first job out of college was as a Project Engineer for RTS Water Solutions.  I got to travel the country to do water audits.  In other words, I got to count a lot of toilets and sinks.  I used to do a quick audit of ever public restroom I used out of habit.  If you ever have a question about sink flow, toilet valves, or waterless urinals, I’m the gal to ask.

9. I am blessed to have a father who passed on his love of math, logic, and numbers.  Nearly every day (except on the day I did), my dad would ask if I had learned binary at school.  When I turned nine, my dad made a birthday banner that read “It’s your birthday, oh what fun! Today you’re the square root of 81!”  It’s no wonder that I love to teach math so much!

10. I’m equally blessed to have a mother who instilled in me a love of reading and words.  My mom not only proofread my papers for school, but she explained to me why I should make the changes she suggested.  I credit her for my good grammar and spelling.  My mom would also read aloud to my sisters and me long after we needed her to (and she’d do all the voices – the best!).  To this day, I read nearly every day.  Much to her chagrin, I do not enjoy her favorite author.  If you’re into accurate historical fiction, though, check out Dorothy Dunnett!

Now you know a little more (than you ever wanted to know) about me.

Gina Claypool is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Classes or Private Tutoring?

Not only do we help students decide whether they should take the ACT or SAT, we also help them decide the best tutoring option for them. Should a student be in a private tutorial or a class? After the question about which test to take, which is by far the most important question to answer, this is a crucial one.

The first consideration is price.  We work within your framework.  After that discussion, we use two major determinants to guide your decision: score desired and time available.

Score Desired

How much of an increase do you need?  If it’s simply a matter of a point or two, private tutoring might be the best bet.  It will allow your instructor to be surgical and purposeful and work only on the areas you need.

Our classes follow a set curriculum, covering each subject equally, but there is still time for some individualized discussion. First, we have a maximum teacher-to-student ratio of 1:6.  Very often our classes only have 3-4 students in each section because we group our students based on their Pretest scores. A student with an 18 on the ACT, for example, would not be in the same class as a student with a 23 or a student with a 28. So, your student will not get “lost” in our classes.  

Secondly, after each exam (we take a Midterm and a Final) we meet with each student privately to talk about the takeaways from that test and to adjust strategies and goals for the next test. Finally, Standard and Custom Courses have Office Hours.  This benefit, not offered by many of our competitors, is an extra hour each week outside of class in which your student might come in for extra work.  It’s an open format, so multiple students can be there working with the instructor, but only our most motivated students utilize this great included benefit and often they have the instructor to themselves.

Time Available

We believe that generally, the more time you have to work on test prep and the more prep you do, within reason, the more your score will increase.  But not all our students have that time (they’ve built extremely scheduled lives!) or come to us with a lot of time (sometimes we don’t see students until Fall of their Senior year with one test on the calendar that will make their application deadline).  For those students, if their scores fall within certain ranges, the Express Course for either the SAT or ACT makes a lot of sense.

If you have more time and you have some predictable space in your weekly schedule, our classic Standard Courses offer 22 hours of focused classroom preparation and come with the Office Hours mentioned above.

Answer: None of the Above?

You might say at this point that you want to be in a class, but your schedule is simply too unpredictable or unusual or strange for our standard schedules.  We have a hybrid model for you: our Custom Courses.  Sometimes we are able to match students who have very similar score profiles and who want a custom course.  Other times a group of 2 or more friends who play the same sport or who have a similar schedule come to us.

Now it’s important to note that with the Custom Course, as with all our tutorials and courses at GSP, we let the score do the talking.  If it turns out that two students who came to us dead-set on working in a course together shouldn’t even be taking the same test (one student may show really well as an SAT tester and the other may show more potential for the ACT), we’re going to tell them.  We’re always going to focus on a student’s goals and the best environment for each student.

Whatever path you decide to take, we are confident that you will join thousands of satisfied GSP alums and families in getting the score you need for the school you want.  We hope to see you soon.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Un-learning Our Learning Process

One of the trickiest parts of working with the ACT and SAT is not only helping students improve, but also helping their families deconstruct their preconceptions about the exams.  These exams have become ubiquitous with college admissions – yet all too often, we are not approaching them in the most collegiate way!

The tests – at face value – appear to be a metric to measure what a student has learned in high school, in preparation for college.  Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly what they are!  The ACT and SAT both test material learned at one point or another during the middle school or high school curriculum, but they test it in a way that may not be familiar.  This is where a student must take their first steps toward thinking more like a college student.  They must discover for themselves the distinct differences between the two tests and the tests as compared to their school work.

As mentioned before, for most students there will not be any totally new content on the exams – yet for many students, information recall is not enough to do well on these standardized tests.  As both exams are different versions of psychometric exams, the manner in which a question is asked is often more important than the content associated.  A student therefore must be willing to “play the test maker’s game,” learning new methods to properly take the exam.  The test makers are notorious for asking questions with the words “least,” “not,” and “except” in them.  Before we even get to the content piece, we must realize the question is more about a “logic game” than anything else.

It is easy to get stuck in our learning rut, and for the most part it is beneficial in our schooling systems.  But in order to succeed on these exams we must realign our method of thinking to that of the test makers.  This alteration will lead us toward our ultimate goals: achieving a higher score in order to earn admission to the school of our choice and to become eligible for additional scholarship money to help fund our education

Caleb Pierce is a Tutor and President at Get Smarter Prep.

Make the Most of Your High School Summers: 4.5 Tips

We are in that magical final month of the school year.  APs start next week, Finals not long after.  And then, some rest.  Or not.  Summer is something so many families and students get wrong and we want to help our readers get it right.  Here are 4.5 guidelines to help you make the most of your summer.

1.  Get A Job

We all know that SAT/ACT scores and GPA are massively important as part of your college application.  But did you know that jobs matter too?  Jobs indicate to colleges that you have taken on an additional level of responsibility and that you have had some experience in the working world before plunging into university-level studies.

For you, the rewards are significant: a chance to earn some money (never a bad thing to start saving for college), an opportunity to make new friends, a chance to learn a new skill, and finally, a look into what real-life-work is like.

Would it be nice if your job had some relationship to what you want to study in college or do with your life?  Sure!  But if not, any job is still a good experience (even if you don’t like it, you still learn about what you don’t like!).

Our recommendation –  20 hours per week

2.  Take a Class

There are lots of reasons to take at least one class during the summer.  The two most important are the opportunity to skip ahead in high school and the option of knocking a college class out of the way now.

Let’s say you want to take Calculus in the Fall but you were in Algebra II this last year.  That means you need Pre-calculus.  What if you took it during the summer?  Most community colleges will offer a class that covers the material.  Make sure that your school allows you to skip ahead, however.  Some schools have policies in place that prevent students from using this strategy. Better to check with your high school counselor and learn the requirements before you pay for the class.

Another situation: let’s say you’ve just taken Biology and you’re due up for Chemistry.  Maybe you want to take Chemistry over the summer and go right into Physics.  Or maybe you want to take AP Chem and want to have your first year of Chem done before taking that class (a must, really).  Either way, if your school approves, you can take a community college class, not a high school class.  For the simple reason that, as long as the college you take the class at is accredited, many colleges will take the credits you earn – if not as part of your core requirements, at least as an elective.  You’re going to save money, save time, and open up more options for yourself for your high school (and college) course load.

Also, remember that if you are in “school mode” just by taking one class over the summer, getting back into the groove in the Fall semester will be easier.

Our recommendation – 1 class maximum.  Remember that summer classes cover an entire semester in either a 4 or 8 week period, so each class session os longer and there is more material to learn in a shorter time span.

3.  Do Something Different

This is really up to you.  You could volunteer or go away on some adventure for the entire summer.  And remember, you have 4 summers in high school so you don’t have to do the same thing every year, but realize that if you pick an out-of-town option you necessarily have to rule out numbers 1 and 2 on our list.  And believe me, adventures are worth the sacrifice.  By the same token, if you were to go on adventures every summer and were to neglect work or class opportunities that would be shortsighted.

4.  Schedule Some Downtime

This is the most neglected item on this list.  Parents and students try to pack summer schedules and forget that recovery time – in athletics, in school, and in life – is the only way to make the “regular time” more productive.  For every 4 weeks in the summer, make sure that you have at least 4-5 days where you can relax.  No homework, no special things.  Just time off.

Our recommendation – Take at least one real day off every week.  We mean it!

4.5  Don’t Sweat Your Summer Reading

So I bring my personal experience with stacks of AP assigned reading when I was a high schooler (back before the dinosaurs had gone extinct) as well as observance of my very best students over the last decade to this point.  I don’t think you should worry about this until 10 days before school starts.  Now, this isn’t going to endear me to all the high school teachers who tell you “not to put this off.”  I just find that after a full year of pushing hard at school that there is ZERO appetite or desire – even among my best students – to pretend like the school year doesn’t end over the summer and “dig into” summer reading even a month after school ends. So rather than be unrealistic, I choose to be pragmatic.

Our recommendation – Start your summer reading – seriously and earnestly – no later than 10 days before school starts.

We hope these tips help and we hope it presents the right balance of work, study, and fun for your well-deserved block of time off!

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.