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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.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?

The International Baccalaureate program has its advocates and its critics.  Some see it as a “more global” version of the Advanced Placement (AP) program.  Some see it as “too global,” thereby undermining a unique American flavor to education in this country.  Beyond these considerations, of course, is the actual IB program itself and whether it may be right for your child.  Since families often ask about this program, we wanted to give a deeper explanation of the answers we give parents when they call or write us.

IB was founded in 1968 in Switzerland to serve as a base of educational curricula for those attending international schools.  If your parents were expats you might not be attending a “local” school but rather an “international” one, and as such, would not necessarily study Swiss history or literature, even though you lived in Switzerland, for example.  IB emphasizes critical and creative thinking and encourages students to choose their own topics and projects while requiring a lot of writing behind those topics and projects.  It also has a community service requirement.  At its core is an ideological agnosticism driven by its alignment with UN’s UNESCO requirements for education: that equal weight and value must be given to each form of government, cultural practice, or social construct.

There are middle school and elementary IB programs, but what we are most concerned with are the high school programs.  Depending on how your school has the program set up, students may be allowed to take a single IB class or may take a full course load of IB classes with an eye to earning the IB diploma.   While IB has no barrier set up to prevent any student from enrolling, sometimes these classes are scheduled in opposition to AP or Honors equivalents so that students have to choose.  Some schools see AP as the past and IB as the future.  Other schools see IB as an upstart whereas AP is the “old reliable.”  What is certain is that passing an AP exam with a score of 4 and above (and 3 in many other cases) will still earn you some level of college credit at many universities, whereas there is often no college credit for an IB.

At this point you may (reasonably) be asking, “So, let me see, colleges don’t give IB any more weight than AP as far as admissions goes, and IB actually carries less weight as far as college credit goes.  So, conversation over, right?”  Yes and no.  As we always try to do at Get Smarter Prep – we want to make sure you have the proper context for the answer.

I’ve taught over 2000 students in the more than 10 years I’ve been in the test prep industry.  More than a few have been in IB classes.  Those students have told me that they enjoyed the different course structure and the challenge.  They were all willing to admit that IB deprived them of a regular social life and even cut back their participation in outside activities, like work, sports, and clubs.   Yet, that overarching unified curriculum and drive for a diploma also creates a sub-group of students within each school who not only can work on things together, but can also commiserate about the tremendous work load.

But my students also lived with the fear that after two hard years invested across multiple subjects that they may not earn the coveted IB diploma.  Any good student loves a challenge – and IB – with its comprehensive curriculum – offers that to them.

Ultimately, the answer to “should my child do IB?” is quite similar to “should my child take the SAT or the ACT?”  That answer is: “It depends, and it’s different from child to child.” For the SAT and ACT, we recommend that your student come in and take practice tests for both, and then we will sit down with you, at no charge, to talk about which one makes more sense for you.  Unfortunately, there’s no “test” for whether you should take IB, but you can use the tried-and-true parent grapevine.  Take parents (and students!) who have been involved in IB out to coffee or dinner.  Ask them difficult questions.  Try to find people on both sides of the argument.  Using that information, you and your student can make an informed decision.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

 

ACT vs. SAT – Is one more accepted?

For many years, I had to assure parents that the school their child was considering actually did accept the ACT.  The parents were working from experience bias. The ACT was almost unknown when they attended college and many colleges didn’t even require an entrance examination.  If one did, it was surely the SAT, which had over a decade’s head start into the blue ocean marketplace of college admissions exams.  I had to send parents to admissions websites where the clear black letters explained that “either ACT or SAT scores are acceptable” and even then, these same parents were cowed by the received wisdom of other parents, who heard from someone’s grandpa’s uncle’s sister who 5 years ago worked in admissions at Dartmouth, you know, that they preferred the SAT.  How much things have changed.

Now some students are hearing from the student grapevine that the ACT is not just a better test, but the preferred one.  Again, we have to step in to intervene.

We understand why there may have been this swing.  ACT has worked hard for years to overtake the SAT, and in 2012, they did.  How did they do it?  The way any smart company does.  Strategic appointments to their Board of Directors.  Legislation which caused the ACT to be required in certain states for the high school graduation process.  Aggressive expansion of their PLAN testing – an early-stages test which is a mini-ACT.  Awareness of the ACT test has crested, and now there isn’t just an acceptance of its equivalency for admissions, but the consumer – parent and student – perceives the ACT as more “fair” as it has 4 subjects tested (English, Math, Reading, and Science) instead of the SAT’s Reading, Math, and Writing.

However, dear parents and students, despite your perception there is still no change.  These tests have fundamental problems, yet, they are still accepted as part of the admissions process.  Our job is to help you beat them, and honestly, we’re very successful in that job.  A lot of our students get into schools they wanted to go to because of their prep here.  Many get into schools or get scholarships they would have never dreamed of before working with us.  Whichever test you end up working on (our advice is to take both free practice tests to see whether the ACT or SAT is better for you), be assured that colleges in America accept both the ACT and SAT as equivalent tests, without preference or prejudice.

On a final note, remember that just as the colleges don’t care which one you take, neither should you.  Don’t just say, “Well all my siblings have taken the SAT, so that means I should too.”  Maybe the SAT was the right test for them.  Maybe they didn’t need prep.  Maybe they didn’t work with experts who advised them to take both as practice tests so that they could get a subjective (how did I feel during the test?) and an objective (what was the score?) measure of this decision.

Unfortunately, although the colleges may have outsourced part of their decision-making process to these exams, it doesn’t mean you should outsource your decision on which one to take.  Your starting point should be taking a practice version of both.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

The Willingness-Strategy-Increase Correlate

It happens quite frequently – parents ask me how students can improve their test scores.  Well, from my observations of thousands of students, there tends to be an integral combination of student effort and the mastery of the methods, as well as the structure, of the tests that provide the best results.  It’s the value of both that will help a student achieve their ACT or SAT goals!  It’s not a matter of one or the other – it’s the two in cooperation that leads to the largest score increases!

We recently helped a student that worked harder than any student I have ever seen!  She was honestly more self-motivated than anyone I’ve ever met.  The trouble was, while she worked very diligently and was dedicated to doing something – she didn’t choose to take the time to learn the right way to approach the ACT. She had taken 6 actual ACTs and probably 20 different Practice ACTs on her own before coming to Get Smarter Prep – yet she wasn’t seeing the result she expected.  The old adage, “perfect practice makes perfect” was not something she had ever adopted.  When she took the time to learn the right strategies, her time spent practicing was much more fruitful.

Conversely, I’ve seen numerous students who are provided with an abundance of opportunities to learn the strategies necessary to do their best, but who are not willing to do the “heavy-lifting” of practicing and committing to them.  Many of the strategies will stretch a student in a way they’ve never experienced – and if they aren’t willing to commit themselves to the strategies, there will be little room for growth.  Because some of the strategies feel uncomfortable for a student at first, they choose to rely on their “school methods,” which are often times counter-productive on these unique tests.

ACT and SAT prep is always the most productive when students are able to commit to the two aforementioned things: adaptation to the strategies that are right for the test and spending time practicing the new concepts.  If students are able to marry these two concepts, they will be well positioned to realize the goal score they set for themselves.

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

Get Smarter Prep Teacher Training

No one who has ever made test prep a big part of his/her life “went to college” for it.  There is no “test prep” major.  Test prep is the art and science of understanding a test inside and out and being able to successfully communicate those ins and outs to students of every level.

The first place we reach out to recruit the best tutors for our company is among our existing tutors.  We’ve found that our teachers (unsurprisingly) know other great people like themselves and refer them to us.  Of course a referral bonus doesn’t hurt!

We also reach out via social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and also via Craigslist, from which we found our first hire in Kansas City, Gina Claypool.

We then have an initial interview.  Part of it is perfectly conventional; part of it is more unique. First, we sit down with each candidate and discuss GSP and answer questions. Next, we have an audition in which the candidates are required to teach us something in which they consider themselves to be experts.  I still remember my first interview at a firm over a decade ago now.  One of my colleagues presented “how to talk like a valley girl” complete with etymology and phonetic guides.  Over the years we’ve been taught how to be a true Wisconsin Cheesehead, how to put up a fence, how to dress for success, and many other varied topics! We do this because we love to have fun but also because we want to see how the candidates teach something in an interesting and engaging way.

After this initial screening, applicants are tested in both the ACT and the SAT. Each of our tutors works on both tests with students at all score levels, so we have high score expectations! We make some allowance for skill lost through lack of practice (we doubt you have used the formula for volume of a right cylinder at work recently), but we do expect a minimum score to start training and a higher score to successfully complete training.

After these and other screening requirements, our teachers complete over 25 hours of training for the ACT, followed by over 15 hours of training for the SAT.  We strongly believe that our teachers must be excellent in every subject and extremely competent in both tests.  No matter what our tutors professions are in “real” life (and we have and have had lawyers, engineers, biophysicists, MBAs, professional teachers, and many more) we only want the best and most talented in teaching these exams in front of our students.  Previous success in other areas is no guarantee for success in test prep, and throughout the training process we use various methods to make sure that we are hiring the best test prep tutors.

During training the candidates are taught all of our methods and are asked to “teach back” in small segments what they have been taught by our tutors.  We normally see some attrition during this stage of training, either through self-selection or through culling based on trainers’ judgments.  We have all of our tutors help with training not just to spread out the work, but also to allow the trainees to see different styles, methods, and indeed, jokes.

After final Teachbacks, in which the candidates are asked to teach back long segments, they are tested again on the SAT and ACT.  Despite near perfect scores in the initial screening, scores often increase on the final test, further driving home the belief in these trainees that our methods work.

Finally, the management team, in consultation with the trainers, makes offers to candidates to start as a Classroom Instructor. These teachers start out teaching classroom courses. As soon as that instructor is requested by name for private tutoring, he/she gets promoted to Standard Tutor.  Standard Tutors continue to teach courses but also teach private tutoring. Promotions to Master Tutor and Premier Tutor come with consistently high score increases and consistent requests from parents.  Our Premier Tutors have made test prep an important part of their lives and quite rightfully are the very best in the city at what they do.

Now you know more about the GSP Teacher Training process and what makes our teachers the best at what they do! If you are interested in applying to work for us, please visit our Jobs page.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Benefits of Test Prep

You’ve spent countless years in school studying for tests and exams, writing papers, and doing group projects. You may be with aplomb that your grades can secure you that spot in your dream university and that you have just enough extracurricular activities on your resume, however there still is that dreaded test standing in your way. Whether you will take the SAT or ACT, the classes you took in school most likely weren’t designed to prepare you for your entrance exam.

Just as you prepared for your work in high school, it’s important to prepare for these exams because we want you to be able to select your undergraduate education, rather than allowing a college or university to select you. SAT and ACT scores are important for securing that acceptance letter, but if you need more detailed reasoning, here are our top benefits of preparing for your entrance exam with test prep courses.

Benefit #1: Test Prep Courses Teach the Exam Format

Test preparation courses teach you about the test and the various sections that are included. Understanding the format of the exam ahead of time will allow you to move quickly through the exam as you better understand what is expected of you. If you don’t need to spend time reading the introduction to each section, you’ll be able to jump right in and have more time to answer those tricky questions!

Benefit #2: Test Prep Courses Provide You with Timed Practice Exams and Evaluate Performance

Practice exams can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses, so you know what areas you need to focus your preparation. You’ll develop time management skills for the test as each section is strictly timed and rushing through questions can hurt your score.

After your practice test is scored, you’ll be able to examine what questions you guessed incorrectly or weren’t able to answer. Reviewing your work will allow you and your course coach to find a trend in the types of questions that gave you trouble, so you can focus on those areas as you prepare. If you nailed the math section, focus your efforts on writing and critical reading!

Timing is extremely important for these exams. If you discover you rushed through everything and finished early, but answered some of the easy questions wrong, take your time and read questions more thoroughly next time. If you didn’t finish in time, the course coaches will be able to provide proven test-taking tips and study guides to help you answer efficiently and accurately.

Benefit #3: Test Prep Courses Provide you with the Tools to Improve Your Score!

The points above prepared you for this outcome! Test prep courses can help you improve your score as you learn proven techniques for succeeding on the test. You’ll learn the format of the test and ways to manage your time while answering the questions correctly. You’ll learn how to craft responses that include each of the required sections and review some of those difficult Latin roots. By discovering your weaknesses, tutors are able to tailor their lessons to help you improve your score by tens or hundreds of points!

If you rocked your standardized exam, congratulations! If you need some more help preparing for your entrance exam, we’re always here to help and can provide you with a solution that works for your schedule. We want you to prepare effectively to overcome this hurdle!

The New SAT

On Wednesday March 5, 2014, the College Board made announcements that will change the SAT test for those students in your family who will the test in 2016 and beyond which will, among other things, change the scoring back to what it was before March 2005.  It was not that long ago that we mentioned a few thoughts in reaction to a study pronouncing the SAT as “not correlated to college success.”  We had a lot to say by way of agreement, and today we will try to address those points again in the storm of discussion – and in some quarters, panic – about these changes.

Let’s repeat our fundamental beliefs here at Get Smarter, which are backed by numerous high school teachers and counselors as well as college admissions professionals and officials: GPA is the single best indicator of how you will perform in college.  It measures multiple things – not just your ability to do well on a given test, but also your ability to complete projects, do homework, and participate in class, among other things.  A single 3-hour test on a number of different subjects can only measure how well you do against metrics determined by a particular authority.  In this case – College Board (and the ACT) for that matter, have neither a government mandate nor any form of regulation.  They are allegedly nonprofits but they act as free market businesses that have lobbyists and VERY well paid board members.  They, not we, for decades have determined “what matters” on these tests.  Some major shortcomings?  Let’s talk about three areas of the current SAT (let’s leave the ACT aside for now, perhaps for a day when they too announce changes).

Reading

Prior to March 2005, the SAT was all about “difficult” vocabulary and easy to medium difficulty reading passages.  People may whine that these words were “irrelevant” but for any serious student, these words were from a “known” list and could be studied and learned.  As for the reading comprehension – students had been doing that for most of their lives, so not too difficult there.

“Today, when we say that someone has used an SAT word, it often means a word you have not heard before and are not likely to soon hear again. The redesigned SAT will instead focus on words students will use over and over again, that open up worlds to them.”

                        -David Coleman, President of the College Board

This is somewhat puzzling.  Part of the challenge of question design in this section of the test is having a sentence that clearly indicates context and then having a number of challenging words in position.  Part of learning any language is not just using words over and over again, but using new words as bridges to expression.  We’ll see more of what they mean in one month when they release some practice questions.

Math

Prior to March 2005, the SAT was not particularly challenging mathematically.  While there was an element of trickery in the questions, the questions themselves were not terribly difficult.  As for the new test, the College Board says it will be based around “problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math.”  Yet, this still repeats the same problem we saw on the old test and the current test: many students who will excel in college are LONG past algebra in their junior year of high school.  In all likelihood they are in Calculus, a math level that is actually used in college, unlike Algebra.

Writing

It is unclear whether the grammar part of the writing section will remain, as the traditional scoring has left 800 points for Math, 800 points for Reading, and over the last 9 years, 800 points for Writing, of which the essay is a little over ⅓ of the weight.  As it stands the grammar portion is the “least bad” portion of the test, as it tests frequent mistakes in grammar that manifest themselves in the emails of Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis, to take just one comparison.  The essay seems to be a new, discursive type of essay, and it is now “optional.”

As we said, we’ll have more to say on this issue in the months and weeks ahead.  As always, as long as there is an unfair testing regime in place in academia, we are going to be here to help our students overcome that regime.

Whatever College Board or pundits tell you, there is no way to “level the playing field” for a standardized test, even if it is a good one (e.g. the AP Exam) or a poor one (the SAT or ACT).  You will always have students who bring more motivation, more study skills, more intelligence, or more prep.  The future will always belong to those who deal with a challenging situation, as our students here at Get Smarter Prep always have.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

FairTest vs College Board: Why Neither is Totally Right

I’ve been teaching students how to beat standardized tests like the SAT and ACT for over a decade now. Invariably, I start tutoring with those students by pointing out what should be obvious: these exams measure how well you take exams, not your aptitude or your ability to do college work.  In some cases there may be a direct correspondence: students who have excellent grades have correspondingly excellent scores.  And yet, there is a not-insignificant group of students with outstanding grades and poor scores.  Does this mean standardized testing is unreliable?  Or that it fails to consistently predict student success?  Not exactly, and yes, respectively.

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about the single best input for determining college success: the high school GPA.  Time and time again a high correlation has been shown between success and engagement in academics in high school (as represented by an unweighted GPA) and performance in college.  That’s because the GPA is a many-faceted thing.  It samples various different types of classes according to how often you took them.  Classes that meet every day are weighted more than classes that meet once a week, and yet should you take French 5 times a week and Physics 5 times a week, the GPA agnostically weights them equally.  The grades for these classes themselves are multi-faceted.  Those grades represent tests, homework, class participation, quizzes, and possibly group work and projects.  Hardly one-dimensional, the GPA is an accurate and balanced reflection of a student’s aptitude and work ethic.

A three-hour test on a given Saturday morning, on the other hand, is very much a one-dimensional thing.  Neither the SAT nor the ACT tests math levels above Trigonometry, meaning that juniors in Precalculus and beyond will need to pull out old notes to prep for the Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2 which are heavily featured in the math section of both of these tests.

There’s also the alleged “Science” section on the ACT, which is nothing but a glorified “interpreting charts and graphs” section which features tricky questions and purposely distorted graphics much more than legitimate science questions.

There are some useful sections to these tests.  Reading comprehension is a lifelong skill – and a skill in even greater refinement in our age of information overload.  Most students take comfort in the familiarity of the question type, even if they are cowed or bewildered by the wording of the questions or the time constraints (students are typically not given adequate time to answer the questions).

I could go on, but at this point you might (rightly) ask how I can in good conscience uphold such flawed testing by doing test prep?  Fair enough.

These exams are accepted by the overwhelming majority of universities, for better or worse, as an additional – sometimes coequal – criteria for admission.  My mission has always been to help my students get into the school they want to get into.  If the hurdle is this or that specific test, I want to help them beat that test.  I have no power to change a system deep within the bowels of an institution (academia) which is defined by inertia.  So I do what’s possible: help my students beat the obstacles in place.  For those who can’t afford test prep or who simply struggle with testing, FairTest has compiled a list of schools that don’t use testing as a deciding factor in admissions.

In the challenging world of college admissions, FairTest can rightly claim that standardized testing isn’t holistic, while College Board (the writer of the SAT) can claim that while not holistic, standardized testing still has correlations with college success, while we at Get Smarter Prep can claim that we are among your best options to improve on these tests, should you choose to apply to a school that uses them.  We hope you take this article as an encouragement to be proactive instead of letting this overwhelming process “happen” to you.  As always, we are here to help anytime.

Standardized Tests: A Conversation Between Two Tutors

Zach: So, standardized tests.  Scary stuff, right?

Joe: They’re always a scary proposition, walking into some random classroom, sitting for 4 to 5 hours as you stare at a test booklet, and trying to solve problem after problem. On the math section especially, it always seems like there are so many intense problems that you have no idea how to even begin.

Zach: But Joe… that’s what they want you to think.  That’s how they’re designed.  And yes, I know that you’re playing along with my prompt for this blog post, but this is one thing about the ACT and SAT that really bugs me.  Students get so wound up on these problems that they psyche themselves out before they even take a shot on the problem.

Joe: That’s the truth. Students skip over a problem because it looks like a wall of words or a really difficult-looking equation attached to it. Test takers assume that this means it must be way over their head, they won’t be able to solve it, and they miss out on those points. So what’s a student to do?

Zach: Joe, I’m so darn glad you asked that question.  So darn glad.  Have you ever heard the quote, “You miss all of the shots that you don’t take?”

Joe: I’m familiar with that one.

Zach: Fantastic.  I have no idea who said that, nor do I have inclination to find out, but I do think that it’s an especially pertinent adage in this case.  Why just give up so easily?  I tell students that if they’re ever staring at one of those dinosaurs of a question, just try the first thing you see to do.  Oh, you see a square root sign?  Square that bad boy.  You see two x plus something terms in parentheses?  Foil that sucker.

Joe: It could even be as simple as flipping the equation, distributing a number, or factoring out a number. Then, all of a sudden, inspiration strikes! You get a flash of brilliance, and you know how to solve the problem!

Zach: A good time to test this strategy is on a free practice test! We offer them every Saturday at 8:45 at our office.

Joe: Good idea! I’ll look at my Saturday schedule. Once you have a baseline score, you can decide which tutoring option is best for you!

 
Zach Buckner and Joe Roh are Tutors at Get Smarter Prep.