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One Point Improvement?

 

“The most important investment you can make is in yourself.” – Warren Buffet

Most high school students taking the ACT test have a certain goal in mind for their composite score. Of course, each student has different variables for their specific situation such as, automatic college admittance, scholarships, reach schools, etc.  However, when it comes down to it, is every point achieved on the ACT the same?

There are benefits to increasing your ACT composite score no matter where you fall on the ACT score spectrum.

One Point Improvement

At Get Smarter Prep, we have had some students who only went up on point on their ACT. Sometimes all a student needs is a one-point improvement, other times they were looking for a four-point jump. What many don’t understand is that one point can mean the difference between a $1,000 yearly scholarship ($4,000 over the span of 4 years) and no scholarship at all. That one point difference is still an advantage!

Let’s say on this last ACT you achieved a composite score of 24. Roughly 100,000 other college bound students with that score, as well as entered the range in which most colleges begin offering scholarships. Also, some colleges are offering automatic admission with a 24 (most of these schools also have minimum GPA standards and curriculum requirements).

Every point earned on the ACT is a step in the right direction. Don’t lose heart if you only bump up one point, there are still benefits to that one point.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

No matter if that one point is all it took to get automatically accepted into college, be offered a scholarship, or get into an Ivy League school, that one point improvement helped shape the direction of your future.

 

 

Planning for College in the Summer

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

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

Career/Major Assessment Test

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

Build a College List

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

College Essay Writing Course

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

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

Scholarship Winner Jumps 7 points on the ACT

“This win is Bella’s future,” said Dawn Heckert, mother of our scholarship winner, Annabelle Heckert. Dawn has won her fair share of giveaways and raffles throughout the years. When she found out the essay piece she wrote for Get Smarter Prep’s scholarship contest was in fact what we selected, she knew she won something special.  However, it wasn’t until Annabelle started coming to her sessions with our Premier-Level Tutor, Caleb Pierce, and started seeing a change in Annabelle that she really understood the gravity of what she won.

Originally, Annabelle didn’t think much of taking the ACT. She knew she would eventually have to if she wanted to go to college, but she wasn’t excited about it. Taking the ACT was a step towards college, but she didn’t even know where she wanted to attend or which major she was interested in.  Annabelle was grateful she won the scholarship contest and she knew she was going to give it her best effort, but it wasn’t until the very first session with Caleb that she knew this was going to be life changing.

“She came home and was excited to share these different strategies with me,” said Dawn.  Annabelle’s excitement continued to increase after each session with Caleb. With each session her confidence also escalated. 

“You gave her confidence and unlocked something inside of her that was stifled,” exclaimed Annabelle’s mom, “Confidence is the most important thing you can give a student now days.”

Annabelle took the ACT exam February 10th at her high school, Blue Valley West. When she was taking the test,  the ACT proctor noticed she was taking the test differently than other students. Annabelle was going back and forth between questions and passages within each section, which is one of the strategies students learn at Get Smarter Prep.  After the test was complete, the same proctor approached Annabelle and asked her what she was doing. “I was using my different strategies!” replied Annabelle.

“We are just so excited for her and proud of the effort she put towards this training by Get Smarter Prep!  Caleb told her there were strategies to beat this test and she wanted to see if it was true. And man did she do it!” said Dawn.

Annabelle knows her training was unique.  She put in the effort, came to class with a fantastic attitude ready to learn, completed her homework, and confidently walked into the ACT using the strategies and methods she learned during her tutoring sessions.  

Annabelle still doesn’t know where she will attend college, or even what she is leaning towards for a major, but she does know she has completed a piece of the puzzle by taking the ACT.  She knows for a fact that with the help of Get Smarter Prep she has done better than she ever thought possible, and that different possibilities now exist that weren’t there before.

“Get Smarter Prep has opened an even greater future for her as she explores what’s next!  You have changed her story for the good!” exclaimed Dawn.

With a full 15-hr. Premier-Level Tutorial Annabelle’s score jumped up 7 points from a 24 to a 31 in a condensed four and a half week program! Get Smarter Prep couldn’t be more proud of this year’s Scholarship Winner, Annabelle Heckert!

Realistic Expectations

When you think about the ACT, what do you imagine? Do you picture a calm setting, pencil in hand, calculator charged, and the feel of confidence rushing over you? Or, do you picture standing in line, calculator out of batteries, rumbling stomach, and the weariness of an impending test? Both scenarios could turn out to be real life for many students.  The question is, how do you prepare for both scenarios or a combination of both scenarios? Do you have realistic expectations for your ACT test?

 

Each school district has a number of Test Center Locations that offer ACT testing throughout the year, but not all test centers are created equal. You may get a proctor who is running late, or has gotten sick. There may be a student who tries to enter the test location after the test has begun or a student whose watch starts beeping in the middle of the Math section.  There may be a dog barking down the street or the classroom may be too hot.  Regardless of the circumstance, how prepared are you for any of these situations?

Setting realistic expectations

 

To prepare yourself, eliminate what you can control.  Get a good night’s rest, eat a healthy breakfast, charge your calculator the night before, make sure you have your ACT ticket with you, and last but definitely not least, be prepared for the test. Walk into the test with confidence!

 

Get Smarter Prep has a number of different courses ranging from One-On-One Private Tutoring, to Semi-Private Tutoring, to Group classes depending on the students’ scoring range.  Each class or tutorial will equip you with more knowledge, insight, and confidence to walk into the ACT knowing what kind of questions will be on each section of the test, strategies to approach each section, and time management skills to get through each section of the ACT.

 

Study hard, prepare the best you can, and be confident in the skills you’ve learned for this test.  The more you prepare for the test, the more confident you will be.  However, at the end of the day, the ACT is one test.  I guarantee no one will remember their ACT score in 5 years, so don’t put added pressure on yourself! Take a deep breath, walk into the test with your head held high, and dominate the ACT!

Debunking Common Testing Myths – Part 1/3

We’ve all been exposed to a variety of folklore at one point or another. Whether we were exploring the Scottish roots of the Loch Ness Monster, sitting around a campfire telling stories about how Big Foot uses logs for toothpicks, or dreading the day we lost a tooth and we would be visited by the portly Tooth Fairy, who was known to accidentally fall on children in their sleep and smother them. We’ve all heard them! Wait – your older brother didn’t tell you that one about the tooth fairy? Maybe that was just me.  

Well, guess what? There are many myths out there about the ACT and SAT as well! We, at GSP, are here to help you navigate the testing process a little more smoothly and put you in a better position to make the best decision for you or your child. The challenge with college entrance myths is that many of them are rooted in some truth. If someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, you’re probably right. A good rule of thumb is to remain skeptical, and confirm with an authority on the topic!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll provide insight into some of the most common myths. Here are the first three (in no particular order):

  • Myth 1: Since the ACT & SAT are college entrance exams, doing well in my classes as a Junior or Senior are the best/only way to prepare.

 

Ironically, most of the content that is necessary to do well on the ACT is learned by the end of sophomore year. For instance, much of the content found in the English section of the ACT or Writing & Language section of the SAT is taught in elementary school and in middle school. Very little of a student’s high school curriculum is focused on basic grammar rules. And, believe it or not, your science classes will help you very little on the Science section of the ACT! We have seen students who have never taken traditional Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Earth Science courses perform VERY well on the Science section of the ACT. Even the Math section – which mirrors “high school” curriculum better than the other sections – still has components that most students learned years ago, won’t learn for another year, or, in some cases, may never learn.

  • Myth 2: The best and easiest way to improve on the ACT or SAT is to take the test over and over again.

 

While practice is certainly one component of getting better at something, think about the last game or concert you prepared for… did you just run around the field or push random valves or keys when you were practicing? Did you have anyone in charge, like a coach or conductor, helping you learn the best way to swing a bat or play a particular scale? If you learn poor mechanics in sports or begin your singing career with terrible pitch, the more you do that task incorrectly, the more ingrained that bad habit can become, making it more and more difficult to improve in the long run! 

Learning how to do something correctly the first time, and then practicing it the right way, whether it be a sport, music, or the ACT, will almost always lead to the best results.

“Perfect practice makes perfect.” – Cal Ripken, Sr.

  • Myth 3: I only have to send my best scores to colleges when I apply.

 

When you apply to colleges, they will expect to receive all pertinent data in order to help them make the best admission decision possible. This is why almost every college will ask you all of your scores on the application, just as they’ll ask for all of your high school grades! It’s not that they won’t also receive your transcripts with your grades, they just want to make sure they have all your information and that you’re being forthright. In fact, almost all college applications will ask you to sign the application (electronically in most cases) to confirm that you are providing fully accurate and complete information!

There are several other ways in which colleges can/will get your complete testing history, so not disclosing all your scores can also work as a disadvantage if/when colleges find out you didn’t provide them with the full story.

Next week, I’ll debunk three more common myths, like, my scores are too low to get into college, all the “jocks” take the test on a certain date – so I should too, &  everyone I know seems to be scoring a 30!

-By Caleb Pierce, President, Premier-Level Tutor

The ‘Perfect’ College Essay

You’ve probably heard or read about Delaware high school senior Brittany Stinson’s much-lauded Costco-themed college admissions essay. Stinson was admitted to Yale, Columbia, Penn, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Stanford, among other schools. That impressive list of acceptances and her unique and clever essay have combined to form some tantalizing headlines:

This Essay Got a High School Senior into 5 Ivy League Schools and Stanford

Essay about Love for Costco Wins Student Admission to Five Ivies

An Essay about Costco Hot Dogs Got This Girl into 5 Ivy League Schools

Poetic Costco College Admissions Essay Gets Student into Stanford, Yale, Columbia and Cornell

With little mention of Stinson’s other qualifications, at first glance it seems the essay was her golden ticket. The magical essay that gets you into any school you choose? It’s a tempting vision. It’s also unrealistic.

In a Business Insider article titled “Ex-Ivy League admissions officers dissect an essay that got a girl into 5 Ivies and Stanford,” the author notes that the ex-admissions officers in question “prefaced their remarks by clarifying that an admissions essay on its own cannot achieve an acceptance into an elite school, and that stellar academics and other extracurriculars must accompany an essay.” [emphasis added] That clarification, however, doesn’t stand out next to the plethora of headlines claiming the essay’s singular power in winning acceptances.

The mythic power of the Ideal Essay is compelling and terrifying at once. It entices applicants with possibilities and frightens them with the dark specter of the fate of students whose less-than-Nobel-winning essays ruined everything, forever.

William K. Poirot writes about this phenomenon in his introduction to 100 Successful College Application Essays:

“I know of college studies in which 3 percent of the essays helped the applicant, 2 percent hurt the applicant, and the other 95%, while perfectly respectable, had no effect whatever on the admissions decision. Yet I have seen even good writers crippled by the pressure they put on themselves to write a great essay, one that will get them admitted…. Don’t set out to write the perfect essay, the one with a huge impact, the one that will blow the doors to the college open to you. It just doesn’t happen very often. It is largely a fantasy….”

Writing can be powerful, and the shimmering vision of the Ideal Essay is understandably appealing. An essay on its own won’t get you admitted to your top choice school. The purpose of an essay is to provide some personality to illustrate otherwise lifeless lists of accomplishments – grades, scores, awards, service hours. Stinson did a lot of things right in her essay. She used strong verbs and clear descriptions. She began with a compelling first sentence. She links her story about Costco to the story she’s telling about herself and the kind of person she is. These are all important elements.

But even her essay isn’t perfect. No one’s is. (One of those ex-admissions officers said of Stinson’s essay, “I don’t think this is one of the best essays I’ve seen… [T]here was an opportunity missed here to tell us much more about herself…I can only assume that the rest of her application is truly stellar….”) The evaluation of the essay is subjective, so what seems outstanding to one admissions officer may seem less stellar to another. That’s all the more reason to tailor the essay to the person it should reflect – you.

Stinson shared one piece of advice that is a good takeaway for anyone thinking about college essays. “Before I even started writing an essay, I read a quote from an admissions officer that said if your essay is on the ground and there is no name on it and one of your friends picks it up, they should know that you wrote it.” Does that mean you’ll get into Stanford? No, but it does help ensure that your essay will do its job, which is to give the admissions reps a peek at the person behind the application.

Interested in developing your ‘perfect’ College Essay? Find out more about the GSP College Essay Writing Course HERE and learn how you can more effectively tell your story!

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!

Social Media in Admissions

Will that post come back to haunt you? According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Certain violations on social media have the potential to completely end an applicant’s case for admission.” Depending on where you apply, the chances that your online presence will be scrutinized vary significantly. Some schools just don’t have the time, and some actually prohibit the practice.

The NY Times reports that, at Oberlin, “admissions officers may review only the material submitted by students as part of their application.” That means they’re prohibited from considering other information in making their decision. Washington College in Chestertown, Md., takes a more moderate approach. “Admissions officials do not proactively seek out candidates on social media. But while monitoring the college’s brand online, admissions officers often happen upon applicants who have publicly commented on the college, and they immediately forward those posts to Satyajit Dattagupta, the vice president for enrollment management.”

Do those posts affect admission chances? You bet. Dattagupta “looked favorably” on applicants who kept things positive, but was “troubled” by students who spoke negatively about any college online.

What Colleges Are Looking For

According to Kaplan, 35% of admissions officers look for information about students on social media, and 16% report that they have found things that negatively affected a student’s chances. Protecting online reputations has become big business – Forbes reports that companies may charge as little as $100/year for a simple service to alert them to problematic material, or as much as $1300/month to bury troublesome information on the third page of Google search results.

OK, you’re thinking, I know all of this. None of this is new. You’ve changed your privacy settings or even deleted your accounts. You’ve gone underground, and you’d challenge an admissions officer to even find any trace of you online, at all. You’re all set, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. You might be missing an opportunity. US News suggests using social media in your favor to support your application, demonstrate interest, and create a positive presence. Monitoring your privacy settings and removing photos of you holding a red Solo cup? That’s 101-level stuff. Let’s talk about the advanced version.

How To Use Social Media to Your Advantage

Is your application an ode to your service work? Post pictures of that work on Facebook. Passionate about sports or music? Upload videos of your performances. Are you proud of your writing or design skills? There are plenty of ways to create an online presence that reflects those things and will support your application, should your admissions rep go digging.

Social media can also facilitate networking with schools and demonstrating your interest and interacting with them in ways beyond the traditional campus visit. Consider seeking out programs that catch your interest, and even specific professors you’d like to work with, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It won’t take much time, but it can make a difference to your admission chances.

Changes to the SAT

College Board has released four practice versions of the new, redesigned SAT. The revised test will be rolled out beginning with the 2015 PSAT this fall; the new SAT will begin in March of 2016. More information will continue to become available as we move closer to those dates (for example, the SAT score concordances won’t be released until May of 2016), but here are some of the changes to the SAT we know so far:

1) Scoring is changing.

The SAT will return to a 1600 point scale, with a 200-800 range for Math and a 200-800 range for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The Essay will be reported separately.

The PSAT will be on a new scale, too, with scores ranging from 320–1520. These will be divided between two sections, like the SAT, with each score between 160 and 760.

The College Board website indicates that scoring is still “subject to research,” which may mean changes are possible. See item #2.

2) Expect some delays in interpreting scores for the first test date(s).

College Board has been upfront about this. The first administration of the redesigned SAT will be in March of 2016, and College Board plans to release concordance tables in May of 2016. Concordance tables are important. They help establish what the new scores mean by comparing them to the previous scores. Students who take the test in March will not have much useful information to help them decide whether or not to retake at the next test date in May.

3) That looks familiar!

Many of the content and formatting changes to the redesigned SAT look a lot like things we’ve been working with on the ACT for years:

  • The essay is now optional, and reported as a separate score.
  • There will be fewer, longer sections. One major difference between the ACT and the SAT has been that the ACT had 4 sections, which lasted, on average, about 45 minutes each, while the SAT had 10 sections which lasted 20-25 minutes. The new SAT has 4 sections, which last an average of 45 minutes, while the new PSAT is down to 3 sections, which average 55 minutes each. With the longer sections, pacing may be more challenging.
  • The ACT has long included a handful of trigonometry questions, while the SAT has avoided them. The redesigned SAT includes trig questions.
  • While there is no Science section on the new SAT, there are plenty of opportunities to read charts and graphs. Both the Math and the Reading sections will include graph questions.
  • Students taking the current SAT have often been enervated by the onerous, even noxious, practice of learning a plethora of vocabulary words for the Sentence Completion questions. The dearth of such questions on the redesigned SAT might strike you as serendipitous.  Like the ACT, the redesigned SAT Reading test will focus on passages, and any vocabulary questions will involve a student’s ability to understand a word’s meaning in the context of the passage.
  • The redesigned SAT, like the ACT, will now include several different subscores.
  • Like the ACT, the new SAT will no longer deduct points for incorrect answers. (In other words, no more “guessing penalty.”)
 

4) There’s a new type of math section.

There are two Math sections on the redesigned SAT. One does not allow calculators. It’s the shorter of the two Math sections, and it includes 20 questions to be completed in 25 minutes. Some of those questions are “grid-in” or student-produced response questions.

5) The essay is a longer, and has new requirements.

The new, optional Essay section will be 50 minutes, and will involve analyzing source material in order to answer the prompt. This is a departure from the broad, open-ended type of question that appears on the current SAT.

We’re here to help! Navigating the new SAT will be an adventure for everyone – students, educators, and college admissions teams alike. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around the new tests, and we will be researching and providing the best information to help guide you through the process.