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GSP at Hogan Prep

We’ve been fortunate enough to partner with Hogan Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, MO to provide an ACT Clinic for their juniors. Hogan Prep is a UCM sponsored public charter school and has a total enrollment of 390 students. Approximately 80% of graduates continue on to some type of post-secondary form of education. The high school boasts a 91.43% graduation rate of its students. Hogan Prep has received the National College Board Inspiration Award on numerous occasions. 

Although Hogan Prep has demonstrated excellence in many facets – the ACT is one particular area in which its students struggle. In 2015 the students’ average ACT score was a 16.1. The students have an especially difficult time with the English portion of the exam, scoring noticeably worse in this area than the other sections of the exam. We have a goal that each student that attends the sessions will score a 20 or higher on the English portion! We’re excited to donate our time and expertise to the students that elect to attend our clinic and look forward to seeing their score improvements!

Just like all the other juniors enrolled in public high schools in the state of Missouri, Hogan Prep students will be taking the official ACT on April 19th. We wish these students well as they continue to prepare for the ACT and for college!

Tips for Second Semester of Junior Year

Second semester of junior year is a stressful time for most students. In fact, it might be the most stressful semester of high school. I don’t want to add too many things to your likely-unending to-do list, but here are a few important things to consider including in the whirlwind that is this semester, and (bonus!) a couple of things that can wait until after finals.

This semester, you may want to:

Consider an internship. Not while school is in session. On top of everything else you’re attempting to juggle – test prep, school work, extra-curricular activities, actually sleeping at some point – one more commitment in your schedule is probably not advisable. Now is the time, however, to spend some time researching summer opportunities. Consider your interests, investigate your connections, and make a plan for summer now.

Keep working on that college list. All of the planning and scheming that lurks between now and your admissions deadlines next year will hinge upon your college list. If I had a catchphrase, it would probably be “it depends on the school.” Is your ACT score high enough? Do you have to schedule interviews? Can you take a gap year? The answers to all of these questions depend, at least in part, on specific schools you’re considering. If your list has 30 colleges on it, narrow. If you’ve only got one, more research is in order. Research, go to events, and plan more visits!

Prepare for AP or SAT Subject tests. Depending on your college list, you may be required to take SAT Subject tests. Even if the tests aren’t mandatory for you, some schools recommend that you submit them, and others will consider them if you choose to submit them. If you’re in AP courses now, and plan to take AP exams, consider whether taking the SAT Subject test will benefit you as well. The best way to figure it out is (you guessed it!) to look at the colleges on your list.

Connect with teachers and advisors. Second semester is the time to begin asking for recommendation letters. The best teacher to ask is one who knows you well and who can write about your specific strengths, and the best time to ask them is this semester. The sooner you ask, the more likely it is that you’ll get good letters.  You can generally expect that you’ll need two letters, but depending on your college list, you may need more, or there may be additional requirements placed on which teachers can write them.

Overwhelmed yet? Here’s the good news. You can wait until this summer to:

Write your college essays. College essays can be overwhelming. Working on them too soon, before you even have access to the applications, can be downright maddening. The Common App goes live on August 1st each year. There is not much to be gained by obsessing over drafts before you have a solid college list and the essay prompts for those colleges. Focus on your grades, your test prep, and your college list, and save the essays for this summer.

Plan the entire rest of your life. Actually, this one can probably wait even longer. However, if you’ve got seemingly pressing, urgent questions about your future (my junior year, it was do I want to be an architect?), you don’t have to answer them right now. The key is to avoid limiting yourself too much if you’re unsure. If you think you might want to go into an engineering program, the answer to do I want to take that extra science class? is probably “yes.” Prepare for multiple possibilities. Embrace the creative uncertainty. Explore your options, but don’t feel like you have to be certain right this moment.

For what it’s worth, I had registered for classes in ASU’s architecture program before I changed my mind and enrolled in a tiny liberal arts school on the other side of the country. I don’t really recommend that course of action, but you have time. It’s OK if your college list still looks like a 16- or 17-year-old student who isn’t exactly sure what they want to do for the next fifty years wrote it. I promise.

4 Myths about the ACT and SAT

Periodically we hear myths circulating around the Kansas City area, some related to us by parents, others related to us by our students. We’ve collected a few of them here – some to roast, some to verify as truth, but mostly to inform about disinformation. We hope it is helpful!

1. Isn’t the SAT for East and West Coast schools only?

Ah, one of the most popular and longest-lasting myths. Absolutely not.

One of the first items of research for us was actual verification of the fact that not one of the schools in the top 100 of US News and World Report had a preference for a particular test. My staff has personally called every single one of their admissions offices and the answer remains the same: We have no preference.

2. Don’t they take my best scores from various tests and create a “best score” for me?

Depends on the test and depends on the school. For example:

University of Southern California – takes your best per section on the SAT. So, for example, if I got a 610 Writing, 660 Reading, and 540 Math on one test, and a 550 Writing, 660 Reading, and 700 Math on another, USC would pick your 610 Writing, 660 Reading, and 700 Math to give you a score of 1970. A mythical score based on two different tests, but hey, we’ll take it!

University of California, Los Angeles – only takes your best composite. So, here score choice works well because you can send them your best score after you’re done testing for the last time.

3. Shouldn’t I just take the test over and over and keep trying to do better? I’ve got nothing to lose.

These tests are torture. I can’t begin to imagine the stress of taking them 2-3-4-5 times in the hopes of getting higher scores. Our philosophy is and remains, prep using us or some other prep program, take it once, maybe one more if you want AND need a higher score. Maybe a third time if we are one point away from a scholarship or an athletic spot.

It’s not like students have a bunch of time to study for these tests over and over, or a surfeit of Saturday mornings to spend in a classroom for 3.5 hours testing. Three or fewer. That’s our general rule.

Sign up for a free practice test to find out where you stand!

4. Shouldn’t I just take this at the end of my junior year so I don’t stress about it? Junior year is supposed to be the most important year academically, and I don’t want to get distracted.

Right motivation, wrong strategy. Absolutely junior year is the year. It’s the toughest, most grueling, most relevant for college admissions. Oh, and yes, you have to take an ACT or SAT.

The answer to this question is not cookie cutter. I can rephrase it to read: “When should we take the test for the first time?”

I would answer that by asking: “When are you most available to prep?”

Some people play sports year round and so summer is a great time for them to prep leading into a September or October test date.

Others prefer to prep in Fall or Spring. The answer depends on your child’s time resources to dedicate to prep. And, if you’re like some of my students, there is never any extra time, so the sooner we start, the better.

As far as prep goes, my only recommendation is to prep towards a given test date. It makes sense to go to summer clinics for sports because you might be competing in tournaments throughout the summer or because you want to keep your skills up for when the season restarts. But to do a test prep class and then not take the real test for months? What can be retained for all those months without constant practice? That’s why we never have classes at Get Smarter Prep without a test date that we are working towards.

I hope these “mythbusters” have been helpful for you. Remember, if you ever have any questions about anything regarding standardized testing, feel free to call us at 913-322-3400!

Author Stephen Heiner is a Premier Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.