At Get Smarter Prep, we’ve received a few questions lately about watches designed specifically for use on the ACT and other standardized tests. At first glance, these devices might seem useful. They’re intended to help you track how many minutes you have left in a section and which question or passage you should be on. They come pre-programmed with the number of minutes and questions for each section. As a bonus, they’re silent, and therefore “ACT-approved.”
As great as they seem on the surface, though, we can’t recommend them, for several reasons.
Accuracy over Speed
Accuracy is more important than speed on the ACT. Getting to your goal score is about much more than rushing to make your way to the end of a particular section within the allotted time. Nearly every student struggles with time on the ACT, and nearly every student can reach their goal without completing every question.
An important part of your preparation for the ACT should be working out which questions deserve your time and attention and which ones do not. There might be one Reading passage that consistently gives you trouble, and perhaps skipping it boosts your Reading score. There might be one type of English question that you find especially tricky or time-consuming, and perhaps skipping those types of questions and saving them for the end is your best approach. Most students benefit from cutting loose the last 10 (or 15, or 20) Math questions in favor of spending more time on the earlier questions.
These watches assume you’re going straight through the section, at a rapid, constant pace, and this simply isn’t the best approach for most students.
Each Question is Different
Some questions are harder than others.
The most obvious example of this is the Math section. Math question #47 will almost certainly take you longer than question #3 – that’s fine, as question #47 will likely be trickier and involve a bit more work.
You are not a robot who can be counted upon to spend exactly one minute per Math question, or exactly 8 minutes and 45 seconds per Reading passage. Some questions and passages will take you more time, and some will take you less. If you’re constantly glancing at your wrist, though, comparing yourself to an inflexible standard, you’ll likely only grow frustrated and distracted from what’s most important – getting points.
Each Student is Different
The ACT is a predictable, standardized exam that behaves in predictable ways. Knowing how the ACT is set up allows students and tutors to plan and strategize. However, even though the test is standardized, students are not! Each student is going to have a slightly different path to their best test performance. It is important to be open to making those adjustments as you prepare, instead of trying to base your strategy on the watch. The ACT is stubborn and inflexible enough for all of us – we need to adjust and adapt in order to be successful.
Technology Sometimes Fails
If your test performance hinges too much on the watch at your wrist, what happens if it fails? If the battery dies, or some other mundane mechanical problem arises? Your best insulation against the timing restrictions of the ACT is practice and strategy. Having a plan, practicing the plan, and following the plan is much more reliable than counting on a piece of technology that may or may not reliably get you through the exam.
Proctors Might Object
All these products advertise that they are allowed on the ACT, but a glance at their Amazon reviews shows that there have been instances where proctors don’t allow the watch into the room. If you practice with it and come to depend on it, and then the proctor doesn’t allow it into the testing room, you may become frustrated, anxious, or discouraged. That’s not a recipe for success on test day!
We want to see you get the best score you can on the ACT, and we don’t think these watches are the best way to accomplish that. Practice and preparation are key, even if they are more work than picking up a new watch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
Sara Goodwin was born and raised in the Kansas City area. She attended Kansas City Christian School where she was involved in varsity tennis, scholars bowl, and speech & debate. She was also a member of National Honor Society, served as Class President, and was a Kansas Honors Scholar. On the tennis court, she was a two-time state singles champion and a nationally ranked competitor.
Sara went on to Princeton University for college where she competed on the varsity tennis team. She helped contribute to three Ivy League Championships and three NCAA berths. At Princeton, she was on the executive team for Princeton Faith and Action, Varsity tennis captain, and involved in Athletes in Action. Sara recently graduated from Princeton in June 2018 with a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outside, playing sports, and spending time with her family.
Sara is currently a Classroom Instructor. Even if you’re not enrolled in a class, you’ll likely see her at Office Hours in Mission.
Cole Jackson grew up in tiny Cedar Point, Kansas (pop. 25) where his family operated a cattle yard for most of his childhood. As a 2011 National Merit Finalist, he received a generous scholarship to attend the University of Oklahoma. There he worked as a tutor for the school’s Multicultural Engineering Program and as a student assistant in the Department of Modern Languages. He graduated from OU with a degree in Computer Science in 2017.
Today, Cole works as a software engineer for Garmin at their headquarters in Olathe. He lives in downtown Kansas City, MO and enjoys the stark contrast to his rural upbringing. Outside work, he enjoys pub trivia, coffee shops, reading nonfiction, and automating literally everything in his apartment.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Whether or not you choose to go to college and earn a 4 or 5-year degree is up to you. There is no right or wrong answer here. There is, however, a smarter way to look at the college debt you will accrue and how to graduate college with a higher chance of getting hired into the field you studied.
U.S. News and World Report has put together a list of top college majors for finding full time work and the number one college major may be a surprise to everyone. Most anyone you ask will tell you that you can’t go wrong with a business degree. That may be true, but it wasn’t at the top of this list. The number one top bachelor’s degree by demand was an Accounting degree with a 54.4% chance of hire. Coming in as a close second is a Computer Science degree with 53.9% chance of hire and the third sought-after bachelor’s degree is Finance with a 50.6% chance of hire. Business came in at number four with 47.8% plan to hire.
Knowing which college majors are going to be the most sought after will help any high school or college student narrow down their field of study as the goal is to get a job and start a career based on their college major. Double majoring with in-demand majors will also help you obtain a job within your field of study. Most likely if you graduate with one of these majors, you will get a job more quickly and a higher salary.
Entering college with a more calculated approach as opposed to “figuring it out along the way”, will also help you gauge your ROI. Figuring out what specific colleges cost over four years, the projected hire for a college major, and the probable salary will give you a more precise return on your investment and help keep students focused along the way.
Obviously, not every student will choose a major entering college or maybe not even their freshman year of college. However, the more knowledge you have surrounding college majors, their projected income, and the likeliness to obtain a job straight out of college, the easier it will be to choose a career that makes sense to you.
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.
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.
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