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Why We Offer Free Practice Tests

At Get Smarter Prep we offer FREE Practice Tests for both the ACT and the SAT almost every Saturday. This isn’t new. We’ve always offered free practice tests. Establishing a baseline score for the ACT and SAT is the best place to start in the process of preparing for an official ACT. Unlike big box test prep companies, which use exams their employees made up, we use actual ACTs or SATs that were given in the last 3 years.   

Establish a baseline score

There are a number of reasons to establish a baseline score. As stated previously, our ACT and SAT practice tests are actual tests that were given within the last few years, so you will know how you would score on a real test.

We want you to establish a baseline score, so we can guide you into either our Standard or Advanced Courses, Semi-Private Classes or Private Classes. Without a score to go off, we are walking in blind. We don’t know what your strengths are in each category and as part of our process, we want to tailor the way we tutor to each student so they can get the most out of each tutoring session.

Reduce Anxiety

Our Free Practice Test is a great opportunity to alleviate some of the fear and loathing of these standardized tests.  It’s also a great time to examine the timing of the test and see how well you did with the timing piece as so many students tend to run out of time in different sections.

All of these, and more, are good reasons to take an absolutely free practice exam with us. That way you’ll get an accurate score, as opposed to a guess. We think it’s such an important piece in learning where you begin for both tests that we want to make it readily available to every high school student who is interested.

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!  

To The Class of 2020

Your Sophomore Year is most likely going to be awesome!  You may start to think about college in the aspect that it’s not too far away and you have to start to prepare soon, but nothing really has to be done right now…right?!?  Actually, now is the perfect time to start taking action steps towards college.  Here are five tangible goals to achieve your sophomore year: Continue to do well in school, take as many AP classes as possible, join clubs and sports teams that interest you (don’t sign-up for everything!), develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend, and lastly, take a practice ACT or SAT test. Let’s further break down those steps.

 

Step One: Continue to do well in school. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, some high school sophomores seem to fall into a slump often pegged, “the sophomore slump”.  Students find their stride as sophomores and are content with their classes, schedule, and homework levels.  Some students tend to hit cruise control and coast through the year. After all, everyone knows you take the ACT/SAT next year and get “really serious” about looking at colleges as a Junior. Not true. Now is the time to focus on your grades to build the foundation you’ve already set as a freshman. Sophomores need to at least maintain, if not improve their grades to set the standard for the rest of their high school career.

 

Step Two: Take as many AP classes as possible. Taking AP classes is a great way to beef up your high school resume and challenge you throughout your high school career. These college-level classes are a great way to gain experience that colleges will recognize on your high school transcript. If you can maintain a good grade in these rigorous classes they are worth it.  However, if you find they are bringing down your grades, which will lead to a lower grade point average, then it may not be worth your time.  Know your limits and decide if it’s right for you.

 

Step Three: Join clubs and sports teams that interest you.  Let me preface, I didn’t say sign up for every club and sports team imaginable.  Only sign up for ones that you are genuinely interested in and you will enjoy. If you sign up for everything, you will get burned out, especially if you are keeping your grades up and challenging yourself with AP classes.  Start an activity resume you can use in a college interview and applications process. Activities are an intricate part of athletic recruiting and fine arts opportunities. Don’t be afraid to join a club that isn’t well-known or popular. If that’s what piques your interest, go ahead and join! Colleges will find a lesser-known club perhaps more interesting than a well-known club half of the college applicants are a part of. Stay interesting!

 

Step Four: Develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend.  Start with local colleges, state colleges, ivy-league colleges, or just a college based on location! The point is to start looking to see which schools you may be interested in. Many factors play into deciding on a college that’s right for you, such as a college major, size of college, location of college, religious beliefs, your own ACT/SAT score and/or GPA. Create a list that is both realistic and challenging for you.  Resist the urge to settle for a school that’s so-so.  As a sophomore, you have time to increase your GPA, study for the ACT/SAT, take AP classes, and join clubs, but if you don’t have a list of potential colleges, what’s the point of working so diligently?

 

Step Five: Take a practice ACT or SAT test.  Get Smarter Prep offers Free Practice Tests every Saturday morning. There is no excuse not to take a practice test.  The purpose of a practice test is to offer a baseline score of where you stand with either the ACT or the SAT. Are you much stronger in the math section than the reading section?  Or do you score evenly in English, Math, Reading, and Science? How do you feel about the timing piece of the test? Did you feel rushed on the ACT, but not the SAT? Are you comfortable with the score you received on the practice test or do you need tutoring? These are all questions we can give you answers to after you take a practice test. Plus, it’s always a bonus to take a practice test before the real deal to become more comfortable and acquainted with the type of questions the test makers are looking for. Sign up for a practice test today. 

 

Is your sophomore year going to be the best year for you in high school?  Of course we can’t answer that question, but we want you to be aware of the potential your sophomore year has on your college process. Now is the time to start planning for your future. Good luck!

The Infamous 30 ACT Composite Score

The infamous 30 ACT composite score. Why does every student desire a 30 on their ACT?  Just to say they have a 30? What does a 30 composite score actually get you?  More scholarships? Entry into a highly selective school? The ability to say you scored a 30?  Maybe.  Maybe a 30 composite score will get you all of those things, but let’s take a closer look to see if that score is the right score for you.

Did you know that the National average ACT score for college bound students is a 21? The average for the state of Kansas is 21.7 and the average score for the state of Missouri is a 20.4. The average for Blue Valley District is 25.4., the average for Shawnee Mission District is 22.7, and the average for the Olathe District is 23.8, the three largest districts in JOCO.

National Average

Kansas Average

Blue Valley District

Shawnee Mission District

Olathe District

Notre Dame de Sion

Rockhurst High School

St. Theresa’s Academy

The Barstow School

21

21.7

25.4

22.7

23.8

27.1

26.5

27

28

Overall, Johnson County is performing well above the state and national averages.

So why does a 30 ACT score haunt high school students?  For most students, scholarship money is what drives a student to achieve the very best score they can. For example, The University of Kansas gives a break down of scholarships related to ACT/SAT scores, plus their GPA score.  The funny thing is, the break down doesn’t provide any more money for a 30.  The additional scholarship money is awarded when a student goes from a 28 to a 31. If a student already has a 28 on their ACT, the infamous 30 shouldn’t factor into the discussion.

Make sure you at least have an outline of the types of colleges you would like to attend and then take those schools’ scholarship requirements into consideration. Most students would be shocked to realize the break usual isn’t at 30, but closer to 31, if not a 32 or higher.

The same principal applies to college entry.  Highly selective schools typically don’t look for a standard of a 30 ACT (or it’s SAT equivalent). They look for higher scores starting at a 31 or 32, plus a fantastic GPA of around 3.75 or higher. For example, Vanderbilt University in Nashville typical accepts students scoring in the 32-35 range. The middle 50% of scorers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois is 31-34, similar to that of Duke University in Durham, NC. The bottom line is, do your research on the schools with which you’re truly interested and figure out if a 30 is sufficient or if you need to score even higher.

It’s so important to set proper goals based on what you are interested in, your ability, and what is tangible for you. If you take a pretest and score a 17 composite score, a 30 is big stretch – to say the least! Do you have endless amounts of time to study? What about your class schedule in high school? You don’t want to fall behind on your regular classes to study hours and hours for the ACT.

Another factor to consider is all of your extracurricular activities. Studying for and taking the October ACT while you are in football or volleyball will be totally overwhelming. How full is your schedule this semester? Do you even have the time and energy to spend on achieving a 30? The ACT has several test dates from which to choose throughout the year; choose one that makes sense for you and your schedule. Get Smarter Prep has different prep options for any type of student: from small group courses to semi-private and private tutoring. Select an option and test date that will set you up for success, not overwhelm you.  Setting a tangible goal score will the best way to assure success, whether it’s the infamous 30, a solid 26, or a Kansas average of 21.7. 

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!

College Interview Tips

College Interview Tips

Most students will not be required to complete an interview as part of their college application process. However, many schools offer interviews, some going so far as to “strongly encourage” applicants to complete one – online, on campus, or in person with an alumni representative. Some scholarships applications also require interviews, even if the college or university itself does not. Here are some college interview tips for navigating the process.

  • Do your research. What is the interview policy for the schools on your list?

Some schools offer only informational interviews, which are a great opportunity to ask questions about a college, but don’t become part of your application. Preparing for an informational interview will quite different than preparing for an evaluative interview, which is the kind that does impact your application. Some schools offer interviews to all students, while some have a limited number. Some colleges and universities require interviews from only specific applicants, and some will invite a number of students to interview. Knowing how the colleges on your list approach interviewing will ensure that you’re prepared!

  • Practice, but don’t rehearse.

Get help with this part. Practice with a friend or family member. Give your helper a variety of questions, and let them choose the order, so that you’re not simply memorizing a script. Similarly, don’t try to prepare verbatim answers. It will be helpful, for example, to choose a book to discuss, but you’re better off being familiar with the book than memorizing paragraphs of analysis. Select some stories to tell about your life, your academic career, and your goals for the future. Feel comfortable with those stories, the way you might feel if you were telling a new friend about the time your dad tried to drive you to school and help you review for a calculus exam – at the same time. (Bye-bye, hubcap.)

  • Be friendly but professional.

The interview is a great opportunity for the school to get to know you – even more than the essay, this is your opportunity to bring life to the numbers and lists of activities that make up the rest of your application. Actually being a real person is an important part of that process. Be yourself. Try to enjoy the conversation and engage with your interviewer(s). At the same time, be professional. Dress neatly, give the interviewer your full attention, and keep your language appropriate to the setting.

  • Do your research.  Be knowledgeable about the school and city.

Presumably, you’re going to an interview because you actually want to go to this college or university. Think about why you want to go, and if your answers don’t sound like interview material, come up with something a little deeper. Spend some time connecting with the school and its current students, if possible, and figure out how to explain what makes this particular place special. When the interviewer gives you an opportunity to ask a question of your own, be ready. Showing your interest and curiosity about the college is important, but it’s also a good chance for you to learn more about the school!

 

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.