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Top 5 reasons to take the December ACT Test

Many high school students debate which ACT test date is the “right” test date for them. And although there may be not be a “right or wrong” answer, Get Smarter Prep has a five strong reasons why we like the December ACT better than others.

Reason #1: We do this for a living. That’s why when we suggest the December ACT as our favorite ACT and have proof to back that up, we want students to heed our advice so they can achieve their highest possible score on the ACT.

Based on an in-house study from June 2014 to June 2017, we’ve seen the largest average improvement on the December ACT. With nearly an entire point difference over the yearly mean, why wouldn’t you try to target the December test? One extra point could get you in-state tuition at a college out of state. One extra point could get you that scholarship you’ve been needing. One extra point could make the difference in getting into the university you’ve been dreaming about attending.  Don’t get us wrong, there are pros to other test dates, but based on our students’ results over the years, we continuously see higher scores on the December ACT. We don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Reason #2: The December ACT is before high school finals. This year the ACT is on December 9th, which means it’s the week (or two) before finals. Why not take the ACT before you have to worry about high school finals, projects, and presentations?  Course Prep for the December ACT begins in the middle of October, so you will have been studying for this test for 8-10 weeks prior to the test date. Our Standard ACT Course includes 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date.  You’ll be well-positioned to be able to dominate the December ACT, all before your first semester finals begin! We hate to see students “pile on” with ACT prep during some of their busiest times of the academic year, and the December ACT allows for students to finish one thing and move on to the next fairly seamlessly.

Reason #3: Hello Winter Break!  I don’t know about you, but I like to make a list and check off the items on my list.  Presents bought and wrapped…check.  Winter break movie list made…check. December ACT taken…check.  It’s a good feeling to check everything off your list and truly be able to relax over Winter Break.  Who wants to go into Winter Break with a big, looming test to study for instead of drinking hot cocoa around the fireplace with your family? Besides, Winter Breaks won’t last forever. There are only a few more years to enjoy these extended breaks away from school.  Take advantage of them!

Reason #4: Baby, it’s cold outside! With temperatures in the 30’s and with the potential of a lovely snow, why take the chance of having to stay indoors to study when you could be putting your snow pants on and building Olaf or Frosty? Take advantage of the extra time you have, since you already took your ACT, and take a walk in the crisp, cool air. Build a snow fort. Have a snowball fight with your friends and family. Or just stay inside and cuddle on the couch watching your favorite holiday movie like Elf or Home Alone. Either way, you’ll be able to participate in activities you want to do since you have more free time.

Reason #5: Students are already in the swing of school when course prep starts in October for the December ACT, so part of your academic skills that seeped out of your brain over summer have been shaped up, and you’re back at the peak of your ability.  Students should be used to homework, study sessions, and tests by the time October rolls around.  With two months of studying for school under your belt, 2-3 extra hours of homework each week in preparation for the ACT should be an easy transition.

Hopefully, these five reasons are enough to push you over the edge if you’re considering taking the December ACT.  At Get Smarter Prep, we believe the December ACT is usually a great option for our students, helping them see significantly higher score improvements. We want you to reach your desired results as well, and if taking the ACT in December will help you reach those goals, then go for it!

Class of 2018 Game Plan

As the 2016-2017 school year winds to a close, it’s time to consider a test prep plan for students in the Class of 2018. Most students do not complete the required coursework to begin successfully preparing for the ACT or SAT before the end of sophomore year. To that end, we suggest not taking your first practice test until the May or June after sophomore year. (Please note that we have suspended SAT pretesting until June.)

We offer free practice testing nearly every Saturday at both our Mission and Leawood offices. The practice test is an important first step – please don’t skip it! The earliest we suggest taking the practice test is May or June, but for the deadline-oriented people wondering how long they can wait, here’s a handy guide.

ACT deadlines

SAT deadlines

In order to use this tool, you’ll have to pick an official test date (or two – it’s not a bad idea to have a backup available) that will work well for you. Consider sports schedules, exam schedules, family or religious obligations, travel plans, etc. when deciding which test date will work best for you. Preparation schedules are targeted at a specific date; preparing for a test date you end up being unable to take can be a big setback.

The key is to take your practice test at least three full months before your selected official test date. You may or may not need three months to prep, but the sooner you (and we!) have a practice test score on file, the sooner we can work together to come up with a plan and a schedule that works for you.

If you haven’t begun visiting colleges or thinking at all about what kinds of colleges you might want to attend, this summer isn’t a bad time to start. It’s important to have a target score to work towards as you begin prep, and that target score is largely determined by the colleges and universities to which you’re applying. A college list will also help you determine whether to take the optional ACT or SAT essay portion, and whether you’ll need to take any SAT subject tests.

Here’s a suggested timeline to get your planning started.

Suggested Schedule for the Class of 2018

May 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the September ACT.
  • Plan summer college visits and begin a college list. Take notes as you research and visit!
  • Begin preliminary scholarship searches.

June 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the October ACT or SAT.
  • The October SAT may be a good date for students who also want to prepare for the PSAT. The content of the PSAT and SAT, while not identical, is similar enough that preparing once for both tests makes sense!

July 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the November SAT.
  • Think about courses and extra-curriculars for Junior year. Plan to take the most challenging courses you can be successful in, and look for opportunities to take leadership roles in activities.

August 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the December ACT or SAT.
  • If you haven’t already, make a solid timeline for Junior year with deadlines, goals, college visits, test dates, etc.

September 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the January SAT.
  • Make a good impression on your teachers. You’ll be asking them for recommendations in a few months.
  • ACT – September 10th.

October 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the February ACT.
  • SAT – October 1st.
  • PSAT – October 15th and 19th
  • ACT – October 22nd.

November 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the March SAT.
  • Plan college visits for winter break.
  • SAT – November 5th.

December 2016

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the April ACT. All public school students in Missouri take a statewide administration of the ACT on April 19th, so begin preparing for that exam now if you attend public school in Missouri.
  • SAT – December 3rd.
  • ACT – December 10th.

January 2017

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the May SAT.
  • (Consider whether you’ll need to use the May SAT administration for Subject tests.)
  • Begin thinking about which teachers you want to ask for recommendation letters.
  • Begin thinking about summer plans, like projects, jobs or internships.
  • SAT – January 28th.

February 2017

  • Take a practice test, especially if you’re targeting the June ACT or SAT or if you haven’t done so yet. If you haven’t begun preparing for the ACT or SAT yet, now is the time! You’ll have a chance to retake in the fall if necessary, but that shouldn’t be your first test.
  • Plan spring break college visits.
  • ACT – February 11th.

March 2017

  • Keep refining your college list.
  • Once you have a good idea of which teachers you need to ask (based on your college list) begin asking for recommendation letters.
  • SAT – March 11th.

April 2017

  • Missouri public school students take the ACT April 19th.
  • Review for AP Exams and SAT Subject tests if you’re taking them.
  • ACT – April 8th.

May 2017

  • AP Exams
  • SAT – May 6th. (This is a good date for Subject tests!)

Classes or Private Tutoring?

Not only do we help students decide whether they should take the ACT or SAT, we also help them decide the best tutoring option for them. Should a student be in a private tutorial or a class? After the question about which test to take, which is by far the most important question to answer, this is a crucial one.

The first consideration is price.  We work within your framework.  After that discussion, we use two major determinants to guide your decision: score desired and time available.

Score Desired

How much of an increase do you need?  If it’s simply a matter of a point or two, private tutoring might be the best bet.  It will allow your instructor to be surgical and purposeful and work only on the areas you need.

Our classes follow a set curriculum, covering each subject equally, but there is still time for some individualized discussion. First, we have a maximum teacher-to-student ratio of 1:6.  Very often our classes only have 3-4 students in each section because we group our students based on their Pretest scores. A student with an 18 on the ACT, for example, would not be in the same class as a student with a 23 or a student with a 28. So, your student will not get “lost” in our classes.  

Secondly, after each exam (we take a Midterm and a Final) we meet with each student privately to talk about the takeaways from that test and to adjust strategies and goals for the next test. Finally, Standard and Custom Courses have Office Hours.  This benefit, not offered by many of our competitors, is an extra hour each week outside of class in which your student might come in for extra work.  It’s an open format, so multiple students can be there working with the instructor, but only our most motivated students utilize this great included benefit and often they have the instructor to themselves.

Time Available

We believe that generally, the more time you have to work on test prep and the more prep you do, within reason, the more your score will increase.  But not all our students have that time (they’ve built extremely scheduled lives!) or come to us with a lot of time (sometimes we don’t see students until Fall of their Senior year with one test on the calendar that will make their application deadline).  For those students, if their scores fall within certain ranges, the Express Course for either the SAT or ACT makes a lot of sense.

If you have more time and you have some predictable space in your weekly schedule, our classic Standard Courses offer 22 hours of focused classroom preparation and come with the Office Hours mentioned above.

Answer: None of the Above?

You might say at this point that you want to be in a class, but your schedule is simply too unpredictable or unusual or strange for our standard schedules.  We have a hybrid model for you: our Custom Courses.  Sometimes we are able to match students who have very similar score profiles and who want a custom course.  Other times a group of 2 or more friends who play the same sport or who have a similar schedule come to us.

Now it’s important to note that with the Custom Course, as with all our tutorials and courses at GSP, we let the score do the talking.  If it turns out that two students who came to us dead-set on working in a course together shouldn’t even be taking the same test (one student may show really well as an SAT tester and the other may show more potential for the ACT), we’re going to tell them.  We’re always going to focus on a student’s goals and the best environment for each student.

Whatever path you decide to take, we are confident that you will join thousands of satisfied GSP alums and families in getting the score you need for the school you want.  We hope to see you soon.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

ACT vs. SAT – Is one more accepted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.