Adventures with Scout

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!

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.

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

Fun Facts about Caleb Pierce

Fun Facts about Caleb Pierce

1. In fifth grade, I was the lead in A Christmas Carol.  Apparently, as a ten year old, I made a pretty good old man!

2. I have been on two “Baseball Trips” with my brothers and dad.  Including those trips – I’ve been to 19 of the 30 Major League ball parks.  My favorite is definitely Fenway, although I could be a little biased!

3. On January 11th, 2006, I shattered all the bones on the right side of my face playing basketball.  Just one surgery later… humpty dumpty was put together again!

4. While I enjoy exploring new cities and cultures, I definitely prefer beach vacations!  I love the opportunity to escape and deny the real world for a span!

5. As a sophomore in high school, I performed for the Summit of the Eight as a part of the Denver Citywide Marching Band.  Dignitaries included: Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Boris Yeltsen, Jacques Chirac – as well as others.  Also performing that evening were artists such as Michael Bolton (whom I briefly said hello to), Amy Grant (who I swear winked at me), and Aretha Franklin.

6. I rang in 2006 on Times Square in New York City.  Definitely a lot of fun to do once, but an adventure I don’t plan on ever doing again!

7. I’ve been in a fantasy baseball league since 2005.  I’ve been in this particular league longer than I’ve ever lived in one place (not just house… but city). 

8. I have one of the most “unique” degrees out there… a Master’s in Enrollment Management. 

9. I love sweet potatoes!  Conversely, I hate zucchini & cucumbers.

10. While I don’t know much about the culture… yet… I would love to visit Malta someday.

 Caleb Pierce is the President and a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep. Thanks for taking the time to read about Fun Facts about Caleb Pierce. 

MidAmerica Nazarene University

Name: Caleb Pierce
College: MidAmerica Nazarene University
Major: Chemistry

1. What first drew you to MidAmerica Nazarene University?

I was focused on smaller schools with solid results in helping students get into Medical School (obviously my plans changed). As a serious added bonus, I was recruited for both football and baseball – and the coaches were great!

2. What other colleges were you considering? 

Colorado College was on my short-list, as was University of Denver, K-State, University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Northwest Nazarene University.

3. How was the adjustment from high school to college?

My transition socially was fantastic! I enjoyed high school – but thoroughly loved college! My biggest challenge was blowing out a shoulder and not being able to compete in either of the two inter-collegiate sports I had been recruited for.

4. What was your favorite class? Why?

I loved my Analytical Chemistry course. I took the course my Junior year, with three other students and we frequently had to complete presentations on various topics! I still remember some of my handouts – one had a coversheet with photos of great scientific minds, plus a photo of me – completely absurd, yet informative!

5. What clubs or groups were you involved in? 

I was certainly one of those students that was over-involved in college. I certainly could have spent a bit more time studying! I was a Resident Assistant for three years, worked in Admissions, an active member of the Pre-Med club, helped with on-campus events (three year champ of Mock-Rock), hosted my own KMNU TV show (what were they thinking?), was an avid sports enthusiast (I only missed one football game – home or away – in my four years, and didn’t miss a single home basketball game), and shadowed several physicians.

6. Anything else you want to tell us?

College is whatever you make of it. Take full advantage of the resources available – both socially and academically. Be prepared to work hard – and don’t take anything for granted.

7. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

I love that it’s a place where a student is encouraged to focus on their studies, grow in their personal lives, and serve others in word and deed.

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

College Entrance Exams: How colleges know what you scored

If I were to ask 10 different families about the submission process of their student’s ACT or SAT results, I would almost certainly get an equal number of different answers.  How do you know what will be seen by admission professionals and what won’t!?  My philosophy, always assume the college(s) will receive your official scores!  Here are a few key points in which all other assumptions can be effectively null:

  1. Transcripts – For the 89% of students that attend Public schools, expect your high school to submit your scores to colleges on your official transcripts.  There are even a few Private schools that include this info on your transcripts.  In fact, some colleges even accept these as official test scores – as they’re coming from an official source, ie.  not the student, nor the family.
  2. Application – You’ll quickly find out that when submitting College Applications – whether the Common App or to a particular school – it will ask about the student’s academic background and test scores.  At the end of almost every application, the student signs it, declaring the information provided was complete and accurate.  I have known students to have their acceptances remitted because a school found out the information from the application painted a different picture than what truly exists.
  3. Collected – Often times, when students attempt to only send the highest scores, all of their scores are disclosed to a college – again because the college expects a complete and accurate portrayal of the student’s achievements and scores.
  4. Purchased Lists – It seems to be a little known fact, but one of the primary ways in which colleges get a student’s information is from the ACT, SAT, PSAT, and EXPLORE.  Colleges often times purchase student’s information based upon a score range – so even if they don’t know your actual score – they will most likely know a narrow score range in which you fall within.


So, how should a student go about sending their scores?  First off – I would recommend taking a FREE Practice Test for both the ACT and SAT – so you can determine a baseline and develop a strategy that is right for the student.  These scores are not recorded in the student record, but provide an accurate measure of the student’s ability with these particular tests. 

Secondly, I would never recommend that a student take an official test unless they felt prepared and confident in their ability.  While an abnormally low score won’t necessarily affect admission at most universities – why provide any university with a reason to doubt their admission decision?