Posts

Adventures with Scout

Debunking ACT/SAT Myths

Should I Take the Writing Portion?

Should I take the Writing portion of the ACT?

In short, the answer is yes. The idea of adding another 40 minutes to an already lengthy test isn’t ideal, but we have a few reasons why you should always take the Writing portion of the ACT.

Let’s go over what the Writing portion covers. The Writing prompt provides you with some options, or perspectives on a question. The task is to analyze the perspectives and provide your own point of view based on the three presented to you. The prompts are geared more towards broader social issues, such as taxing or not taxing unhealthy foods, or the usage of intelligent machines replacing a human’s job or not.

Writing Portion

The Writing portion is 40 minutes long, giving you time to read, analyze, and incorporate the perspectives into your essay plan. This portion is based out of 12 points that is not rolled into your overall composite score.

Now that we understand what the Writing portion entails and what is expected, next we will give you a few reasons why it’s important to always take the Writing portion.

Reason #1

Many colleges and universities require this section of the ACT. This section is optional, but a student can’t go back and only take the Writing portion of the test, they would have to retake the entire test and include this portion as well. So, an extra 40 minutes tacked on to the end of the test is much more appealing than retaking the entire test! Take a look at your college list and see if they require this section or not.

Reason #2

Every essay is unique. Everyone has a different point of view and a different take on the essay. Voice your opinion! Keep in mind, you will still need to develop a position, include appropriate examples, organize points, and manage your time carefully. Make sure to indent your paragraphs, keep your writing neat, and minimize your spelling and grammatical errors.

Reason #3

It’s just another essay. Don’t work yourself up too much about it. Think through a strategy to prepare for test day. You’ll want to incorporate some specific perspectives and analyze the quality of the argument. When you are prepared and ready, you will most likely feel more confident and that will reflect in your essay.

If you simply don’t feel prepared and ready to take this section of the ACT, we can help. Our Standard and Advanced Courses as well as Private Tutoring cover the Writing Portion of the test. Our tutors are invested in each student and want you to get the score you need for the school you want.

When is the best time to take the ACT?

When is the best time to take the ACT?

 

When is the best time to take the ACT? That depends. What do you have going on? The answer is going to be different for everyone. However, we are going to break down every ACT test date to see which one best suits students’ schedules.   

 

Test Dates

Honestly, most of our tutors at Get Smarter Prep like the July test date best. Test prep generally begins towards the end of May, which means school is out.  Students don’t have to worry about finals, graduation parties for their friends, or the chaos that comes with the end of the school year. However, if your family tends to vacation before the middle of July, then we have problem. It’s best to take a look at your schedule and plan accordingly. If you don’t take a vacation or plan for a holiday later in the summer, then the July ACT is a great fit!

 

Maybe you’re traveling all summer and the June or July ACT isn’t a fit for you. Now we are getting into the September ACT, which begins test prep at the end of July. The next available test date is October. This test date is great for several reasons.  Students are already back into the swing of school, which means they are getting used to a schedule and back to studying.  Adding on test prep for the ACT would be like adding in extra class. However, depending on which sports and extra-curricular activities students are involved in could be too much for a number of students. Keep in mind, our courses are 8-10 weeks long. Private tutoring is anywhere between 3-15 hours depending on the students’ goals and availability.

 

What about the December test? Another great option for students who want to complete the ACT before finals begin. Also, it’s cold outside. What else is there to do? Plus, students can go into Winter Break knowing they’ve completed the ACT. It’s a win win situation.

 

If not the December test, then perhaps the February ACT? Prep for the February test generally begins at the end of December. Why not get a jump start on studying while still on Winter Break? This test date is a great test for Juniors to take! By this point in your high school career you’ve most likely taken Algebra, Geometry, Biology, and Chemistry, which is the bulk of the Math section. Plus, there is still time to prep and take an additional test if need be.  

 

April showers bring May flowers…so they say. But, it’s a test date worth looking into. Test prep for the April test begins at the end of February. If you want to be completely finished with ACT test prep before thinking about finals, then this is the test date for you! Also, if you take the test in April and do well, then you don’t have to think about it while on summer vacation or while completing college applications.

 

June promises summer and test prep? At least at the beginning of June. The June ACT is great for students who don’t mind doubling down on finals as well as ACT prep. Test prep begins mid-April right up to the week leading up to the test.  Students will have about 2-3 weeks after school is out to prep for the June test.  If students can manage finals with the promise of summer vacation surrounding this test date, then it’s a date worth considering.

 

Regardless of which test date you choose, Get Smarter Prep will help you every step of the way. From July to June, we will help you pick the best test date for you and help you prepare for the score you need for the school you want.

Choosing the Right College for You

With so many different choices, the decision of where to spend the next phase of your life can be a little overwhelming. Create a list of criteria and rank them by importance; use this to guide your search and narrow down the school that is right for you. Don’t know where to start? Here are some things to consider to help whittle down the lists of colleges.

 

  1. What is Important For YOU

Make a list of “Musts” that a college has to have for you. Consider what you would like a school to offer and what you couldn’t care less about. Maybe you love marching band and continuing that passion is important to you. Your passions are a part of you and they should follow you throughout your college experience.

  1. Identify Major Options

Not everyone enters college knowing exactly what they want their major to be. But before you start, you should always have a good idea of your interests and a few majors that appeal to you. Picking a school that only has one major that interests you limits your possibilities to change your mind if you find that it isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life. Too many people have entered a major thinking they love a subject only to find that it is more of a hobby than a career for them.

  1. Costs

Finances can be a huge factor in choosing a college that is right for you, but not all costs are clearly posted. Many schools only post their rates per credit hour; however, sometimes additional equipment fees can be tacked on to your bill unexpectedly. Figure out what you can afford before you make any decisions. Look for scholarship opportunities both within the school and out of school for the best chance to be able to afford your dream school.

  1. School Rankings

All schools are not created equal. Every college has their different strengths and weaknesses. Researching national rankings can give you a better idea if the school’s focus and direction line up with your own.

  1. Class Quality and Size

The size of a school can factor into the quality of education available to you. You have to know what you are comfortable with regarding class size.  If you attend a bigger college, classes will also be large.  Classes with a student to teacher ratio of 300 to one are common with larger schools. Know your learning style and what will be the best environment for you.

  1. Past and Current Students’ Opinions

Listen to what others have to say. Alumni and current students will give you better insight into the day to day life than any admissions representative. You never know what useful things you can learn.

  1. Campus Visit

This cannot be stressed enough. See the campus for yourself: pictures and videos can only show so much. Use the opportunity to talk to students, see different buildings, and get a general feel for the campus. Is the campus small enough to walk between classes? Things like very limited parking or how well the facilities and dorms are maintained can tip the balance between schools.

  1. Housing Options

Most college students will spend 2-6 years at college. Of course, you will need a place to live, and chances are you will be moving multiple times throughout your time there. Don’t just assume you will be living in the dorms your whole stay. Check out the surrounding area. What are the options like? How far are they from campus? Are they affordable?

  1. Work Options

Everyone can use a little spending money, and others will need some additional income to pay for the cost of tuition. Look at local businesses and see what kind of opportunities are available and how many are open to students. Is there Work Study available on campus?

  1. Gut Feeling

Trust your instincts. Some places will just give you a bad vibe. Try to identify what these things are, but even if you can’t do that, do not just ignore it. Other times you will step foot on campus and feel like you just came home. Gut feelings can go both ways; give them a voice in your decision.

 

Whatever school you choose should fit the college experience you are looking for in a school. Don’t let tradition or peer pressure put you somewhere you don’t belong. Trust and know yourself. You are going to college for you, so you should feel great about whatever decision you make.

Making A Great Persuasive Essay

Nerves abound as the teacher walks through the room.  Every student waiting anxiously, stirring in their seats as names are called out one by one. Finally, your name is called; stiffening as your paper lands on your desk, you gasp. One glance at all the red ink and your heart sinks; the essay you spent all night writing barely resembles the original copy. You think to yourself, “But I tried so hard. What did I do wrong?”

This story can be echoed by students across the country. Whether you are answering an ACT or AP test prompt, or submitting a college scholarship essay, persuasive writing is not about trying hard but understanding how to craft an effective argument. There are several common mistakes that are easy to fix.

  1. Planning the Essay

Too often students are given a prompt, brainstorm a few ideas, then begin writing. To really plan an essay you need to figure out more than just your thesis statement. A good plan should include how you are going to defend your thesis, what arguments others might pose and how to counter them, and what evidence you will use to support these claims. With a good plan the essay can almost write itself. All you need to do is link the arguments together.

  1. Supporting a Claim

What is the difference between a claim and evidence? While most people can articulate the difference, these often become muddled in essay writing. A claim is a statement that presents a perspective and a belief on a certain subject. Evidence is a factual statement that provides support for a claim. For example, If I stated that M&Ms are the best candy, few people would accept it. However, if I provide concrete evidence I can give weight to this claim. But evidence can have varying strengths. Good evidence can look like this: “Fox News reported that M&Ms sold the most units and were the highest revenue generating chocolate candy in America for 2017.” This evidence has a strong source, provides a metric for comparison, and covers a large sample size. By leaving any of these out the evidence loses credibility and effectiveness. Let’s see what bad evidence would look like: “Mr. Johnson’s fourth grade class voted M&M’s as their favorite candy”. This extreme has very little credibility, a tiny sample size, and provided no metric for comparison. Just remember, whenever you make a claim it needs good evidence to support it.

  1. Understanding Perspectives

Trying to make an essay stand out can be hard. But one surefire way to catch a grader’s eye is to show understanding of what drives different perspectives. By arguing against the emotions or motivations of counterpoints you can move past just responding to a prompt and start providing real insight. Anyone can rewrite a prompt in their own words, but few are able to dissect that prompt and move past just regurgitating the same old lines.

All these things can bring strength and life to your essay writing that might be missing in your peer’s. This is not about changing your style of writing, merely approaching your essay differently. Focus on writing clearly with sound arguments and you will see a lot less red ink marring your essays.

Andi Oursler – Standard Level Tutor

Andi Oursler moved to the Kansas City area halfway through her sophomore year of high school. She attended Spring Hill High School where she participated in cross country, track, theater performances, and choir. She also was a NSHSS member, Kansas Honors Scholar, Senior Class Treasurer, and salutatorian.

Currently, Andi is attending Mid-America Nazarene University. She is studying as a Mid-Level Science and Math Education Major. At MNU, she has been a part of choir and science club. She also has helped as a cross country and track manager, chemistry teaching assistant, and freshman mentor. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering with her church’s youth, reading, running, and solving puzzles.

Andi is currently a Classroom Instructor. Even if you’re not enrolled in a class, you’ll likely see her at Office Hours in Leawood.

Standard and Advanced ACT Courses

Most students fall into one of two categories, which is either private tutoring or prep courses. Do you know which type of tutoring you fit into? At Get Smarter Prep, we offer two types of courses to help students achieve their ACT goals.

Standard ACT Courses

Our Standard ACT Courses are a good fit for students scoring within the 17-23 range (the 30th-68th percentiles) and their score is consistent among all four categories of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science). If there’s more than a 6-9 point difference in any of the four categories, then private tutoring may be more up your alley since it’s more custom to your needs.

The standard course assists students in achieving a score improvement, alongside a small group of similarly scoring students. Because our Standard ACT Course is taught by the most experienced instructors of any company in town and focused on a smaller, more cohesive group, our students consistently find results through our tried and true curriculum. This course includes 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date.

Advanced ACT Courses

Another option for students who want to increase their ACT composite score is our Advanced ACT Course. This course is accompanying for students with a slightly higher ACT baseline score between a 24-29 (74th-92nd percentile).

The advanced course offers a small class setting (no more then 8 students) and meets once a week for eight weeks leading right up to the official test date. Built in practice tests are included with our advanced courses. Office Hours are always available to students taking this course.

Private Tutoring

While both our standard and advanced courses are good options for numerous students, we know all students won’t fit into those two courses, which is why we offer private tutoring. Private tutoring is available for any and all students who want to increase their ACT score anywhere between an average of 2-7 points depending on the amount of hours spent tutoring.

Whether you take one of our standard courses, advanced courses or elect for private tutoring, know that we want you to succeed and our tutors will strive to help you get the score you need for the school you want.  

ACT Extended Time Changes

For the last few years, ACT’s National Extended Time policy has been full of changes. Beginning in 2016, the ACT began providing students with an open, self-paced 5-hour block to complete their test (or a 6-hour block with the optional Writing). In the 2017-2018 school year, ACT moved to separate the 1-hour Writing time from the 5-hour multiple choice block, so that all students had 5 hours for the multiple choice, whether or not they were going to complete the Writing.

Now the ACT is moving away from the self-paced block of time all together. ACT says that “self-pacing on the extended-time test is intended to provide flexibility… [but] it can have the reverse effect, requiring an additional demand beyond what is required of those testing with standard time or other types of accommodations.” Instead, beginning in September 2018, the National Extended Time testing will look much like it did pre-2006, with a specific amount of time being allotted to each section:

ACT Extended Time Changes

English

70 minutes

Math

90 minutes

Break

15 minutes

Reading

55 minutes

Science

55 minutes

 

What does this change mean for students?

  • Pacing

The current rules have provided an additional challenge for some students, as maintaining a good pace for the entire exam might be tricky. The new structure will enforce the pacing from section to section, so a student is free to focus on pacing within a section, instead of between them.

  • Flexibility

If you have been practicing your exam using only 45 minutes for English and 120 minutes for Math, you’ll need to adjust your strategy. There was some added flexibility with the previous timing structure that will no longer be available, as each section will have its own firm time boundary.

  • Breaks

There will be one 15 minute break scheduled after the Math section. Under the current rules, students are allowed to take breaks as they choose throughout the 5 hour time period, and we normally suggested a short break after each section. The new structure will have a student taking a break only after their first 2 hours and 40 minutes of testing.

If you’ve been taking the test with the current structure, and you’re taking your last ACT in July, then there will be no changes for you! However, if you won’t take your first ACT until September, then you’ll just want to make sure you practice with the new timing allotments. If you’ve already been preparing, though, and will need to change your strategy, some additional timed practice might be in order to make sure you’re making the most of the time for each section.

To stay in the know about ACT Extended Time Changes, visit ACT.org.