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ACT Standard Course – What You Can Expect

Our Standard ACT Preparation Course is taught by the most qualified instructors of any company in the region and focused on a smaller, more cohesive group. Get Smarter Prep 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. We will provide all of the materials necessary.

Standard Prep Course

Classes are capped at 8 students, but in general, we like to hold a class with 4-6 students to make sure we have more of a small classroom feel. That way our students have more access to their tutor and feel more comfortable asking questions as well as speaking up in class. All the students in the class are scoring within the same ACT range of 17-23 (the 33rd-69th percentiles) and will be learning at the same pace. 

Schedule

Each week the students will be meeting at the same location (either our Mission or Leawood location) at the same time. Schedules are posted on our website and both students and their parents will get an email confirming their schedule.

For each course, there will be 20 hours of instruction split up by ten, 2-hour sessions. Students will also be given three practice tests. Starting with a Pretest to establish a baseline score, a Midterm to determine how far they’ve come with five sessions under their belt, and a Final to see what the students needs to focus on with one session remaining before the official ACT.  The Pretest, Midterm, and Final are all proctored at one of our locations on Saturday mornings.

Materials for the class, which are all provided by Get Smarter Prep, consist of the ACT book and the ACT student manual which contain the students’ homework. Students can plan on average, 1 ½ to 2 hours of homework per session. Tutors will expect all homework to be complete by the student by the next study session.

Office Hours

Office Hours are always available to our students. We offer Office Hours at our Leawood location every Tuesday evening from 7-8:30pm as well as our Mission location every Saturday from 11am-12:30pm. Office Hours are a FREE opportunity for currently enrolled students to ask additional questions, catch-up in sections where they need extra help, work through assigned homework, focus on the timing component, and/or work through additional test questions. 

How Many Points Can A Student Expect to Increase?

Our Standard Course is a perfect fit for those students who are scoring similarly within each section of the ACT. Students who have a six-point difference between their sub scores are a better fit for Private Tutoring as they need more specific help in one area over the other.

On average, students can expect to see a 2-4 point increase in their ACT score within a 10-week window! Keep in mind, students who are present, finish their homework on time, come to Office Hours, and have a good attitude generally score higher than those who don’t.

ACT & New SAT Compared

Section breakdown of the ACT and SAT (including breaks):

ACT

Revised SAT

English – 75 questions, 45 minutes

Reading – 52 questions, 65 minutes

Math – 60 questions, 60 minutes

Break – 10 minutes

Break – 10 minutes

Writing and Language – 44 questions, 35 minutes

Reading – 40 questions, 35 minutes

Math (no calculator) – 20 questions, 25 minutes

Science – 40 questions, 35 minutes

Break – 5 minutes

Break – 10 minutes (with writing)

Math (calculator) – 38 questions, 55 minutes

Writing – 40 minutes (optional)

 

Break – 2 minutes, can’t leave room (with writing)

Test is finished

Writing – 50 minutes (optional)

Total time (without writing): 3 hours, 5 minutes

Total time (ACT + writing): 3 hours, 55 minutes

Total time (without writing): 3 hours, 15 minutes

Total time (SAT + writing): 4 hours, 7 minutes

Many of the changes to the SAT bring it closer to the ACT: the longer sections, the switch to an optional essay, the content of the math test (pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and trig), the graph questions sprinkled throughout the test (resembling ACT Science questions), the elimination of short essay passages in the reading, the removal of archaic, obscure vocabulary questions, and the transition to four answer choices instead of five.

But while the tests look more alike than they have in the past, there are also differences between the revised SAT and the ACT. In the Reading section of the SAT, students can expect five passages instead of four. There are also questions that evaluate a student’s ability to interpret the emotions of characters within a passage, which is something that is largely absent from the ACT. There are also new, evidence-based questions that require students to answer questions that give support for previous questions they’ve answered. If they miss the first question, it will be difficult to get the second one correct.

On the Writing and Language test, the question types are almost identical to those found on the ACT English section, but on the SAT, students will have 36% more time to answer those questions. On the surface, that extra time seems advantageous. Timing on the ACT English section is not, however, usually a problem for students. With so much extra time on the SAT, they might find themselves second guessing and changing correct answers in the remaining time.

The SAT math test now focuses less on geometry and more on algebra – another point of differentiation between the two exams. The questions are generally more difficult, but students have more time to solve them. There’s also an emphasis placed on solving systems of equations. The no calculator section of the test could pose a new challenge for students who typically rely on them heavily. Student produced response questions (often referred to as “grid-in” questions by students), where students must supply their own answer to instead of choose from provided multiple choice options, are still present on the SAT and not on the ACT.

Overall, students can expect trickier wording on the SAT. The longer sections will make it difficult for some students to concentrate. The advantage of timing, however, likely still rests with the SAT: students have more time per question in each section of the exam than they do on the ACT. Some students, however, may find this more hurtful than helpful. There’s still a stronger emphasis on vocabulary than there is on the ACT, but the words being testing are not as difficult. At the end of the day, which test is “better” or “easier” is extremely subjective; different students will prefer and perform better on different things. That’s why it’s important, as always, for students to take both an ACT and a SAT practice test to see where their strengths lie.

 

ACT College Readiness

Fifty-seven percent of the class of 2014 took the ACT, nationwide. That’s 1,845,787 students, which adds up to a lot of data for the ACT. The ACT recently released its annual Condition of College and Career Readiness report for 2014, which uses that data to draw conclusions about the graduates of the class of 2014, how ready (or not) they seem to be for college, and what educators can do to improve those numbers.

Kansas vs. Missouri

The numbers for Kansas and Missouri were comparable – 75% of Kansas students took the ACT, with an average composite score of 22, while 76% of Missouri’s class of 2014 took the test, with an average composite of 21.8. Nationwide, average scores varied from 18.9 in North Carolina (one of 12 states in which all 11th grade students are required to take the test) to 2.3 in Massachusetts, where only 23% of students took the test.

The major purpose of the report, though, is not just average composite scores; the report is centered around college readiness. The ACT has adopted benchmarks in each of the four subject areas – English, Math, Reading, and Science – which predict students’ “likelihood of experiencing success in first-year college courses.” According to the ACT, a student who meets the benchmark in a subject has a 50% chance of earning at least a B, and a 75% chance of earning at least a C, in a first-year course in that subject.

For 2014, those benchmarks are 18 for English, 22 for Math and Reading, and 23 for Science. In the class of 2014, only 26% of students met all four benchmarks, while 31% met none. These numbers obviously present a challenge for educators – what can be done to ensure that students are ready for college when they graduate? The ACT has a few answers.

Prepare for College

First, students should take more rigorous classes – starting in eighth grade. In addition, high school classes should include a recommended core of classes, including four years of English, three years of math, three years of science, and three years of social studies. The difference in college readiness benchmarks between students who do take the recommended core classes and those who don’t is significant. For example, 46% percent of students taking the recommended number and type of math classes met the Math readiness benchmark of a 22, but only 8% percent of students taking fewer math classes did. The ACT report actually suggests making those core classes mandatory for high school graduation.

In addition, students with a self-reported interest in STEM fields are more likely to meet readiness benchmarks in all areas, not just Math and Science. Thirty-four percent of students with an interest in STEM meet all four benchmarks, compared to 26% for the whole class of 2014. The ACT suggests increased support for STEM-related courses, and active encouragement of students to pursue those fields. The report correctly points out that demand for STEM-related jobs is expected to increase significantly (8.6 million jobs by 2018).

Fun Facts about Gina Claypool

Fun Facts About Gina Claypool

1. I have an adorable daughter named Jemma.  She’s the cutest baby in the world. I’m not biased: she really is the cutest baby in the world.  As far as I know, she already knows how to ace the ACT and SAT, too, because I told her to listen while I was still pregnant.  Since she can’t tell me otherwise, I assume her baby babble is all grammatically correct.

2. While I do love chocolate, if given a choice between a chocolate and a fruity dessert, I will usually choose the fruity one.  No question if it’s lemon.  Yes, I’m the weird kid who likes the lemon Starbursts.  Chocolate might earn you brownie points with me (har har — get it? Brownie? Like chocolate?), but fresh fruit or lemon desserts are even better.

3. I love puns! The stupider the better! For example, after I explained the volume of any right prism is equal to the area of the base times the height, a student asked me “even juvenile prisms?” I laughed.  As a child, I used to make up my own jokes, and they rarely made sense, so I have a soft spot for dumb jokes.  Don’t be surprised if I crack myself up in class.  You aren’t obligated to laugh.  Really.

4. I used to be a camp counselor at Camp Chief Ouray.  I love hiking and camping (and doing arts and crafts like tie-dye and shrinky-dinks).  As a camp counselor (and as a new mom), you get exposed to some gross stuff.  I’m not sure which direction the cause and effect goes, but I find poop humor hilarious.  Especially poop puns.

5. I love to watch sports! I’m a big fan of college basketball (go Jayhawks!), but I enjoy watching football (college or pro) and baseball, too.  As a kid, I played basketball, soccer, and softball, but I never played volleyball or field hockey.

6. I don’t have a favorite color.  I really like red, and I really like green, but I don’t really like red and green together unless it’s Christmas-time. 

7. I like to sing, and when I can, I like to participate in community theatre.  The Kansas City metro has a great theatre community, and there is always a great show to see.  Go support the companies at Theatre in the Park (Guys and Dolls is this weekend), The Barn Players, and The White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center (Spamalot in July!).

8. My first job out of college was as a Project Engineer for RTS Water Solutions.  I got to travel the country to do water audits.  In other words, I got to count a lot of toilets and sinks.  I used to do a quick audit of ever public restroom I used out of habit.  If you ever have a question about sink flow, toilet valves, or waterless urinals, I’m the gal to ask.

9. I am blessed to have a father who passed on his love of math, logic, and numbers.  Nearly every day (except on the day I did), my dad would ask if I had learned binary at school.  When I turned nine, my dad made a birthday banner that read “It’s your birthday, oh what fun! Today you’re the square root of 81!”  It’s no wonder that I love to teach math so much!

10. I’m equally blessed to have a mother who instilled in me a love of reading and words.  My mom not only proofread my papers for school, but she explained to me why I should make the changes she suggested.  I credit her for my good grammar and spelling.  My mom would also read aloud to my sisters and me long after we needed her to (and she’d do all the voices – the best!).  To this day, I read nearly every day.  Much to her chagrin, I do not enjoy her favorite author.  If you’re into accurate historical fiction, though, check out Dorothy Dunnett!

Now you know a little more (than you ever wanted to know) about me.

Gina Claypool is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

The New SAT

On Wednesday March 5, 2014, the College Board made announcements that will change the SAT test for those students in your family who will the test in 2016 and beyond which will, among other things, change the scoring back to what it was before March 2005.  It was not that long ago that we mentioned a few thoughts in reaction to a study pronouncing the SAT as “not correlated to college success.”  We had a lot to say by way of agreement, and today we will try to address those points again in the storm of discussion – and in some quarters, panic – about these changes.

Let’s repeat our fundamental beliefs here at Get Smarter, which are backed by numerous high school teachers and counselors as well as college admissions professionals and officials: GPA is the single best indicator of how you will perform in college.  It measures multiple things – not just your ability to do well on a given test, but also your ability to complete projects, do homework, and participate in class, among other things.  A single 3-hour test on a number of different subjects can only measure how well you do against metrics determined by a particular authority.  In this case – College Board (and the ACT) for that matter, have neither a government mandate nor any form of regulation.  They are allegedly nonprofits but they act as free market businesses that have lobbyists and VERY well paid board members.  They, not we, for decades have determined “what matters” on these tests.  Some major shortcomings?  Let’s talk about three areas of the current SAT (let’s leave the ACT aside for now, perhaps for a day when they too announce changes).

Reading

Prior to March 2005, the SAT was all about “difficult” vocabulary and easy to medium difficulty reading passages.  People may whine that these words were “irrelevant” but for any serious student, these words were from a “known” list and could be studied and learned.  As for the reading comprehension – students had been doing that for most of their lives, so not too difficult there.

“Today, when we say that someone has used an SAT word, it often means a word you have not heard before and are not likely to soon hear again. The redesigned SAT will instead focus on words students will use over and over again, that open up worlds to them.”

                        -David Coleman, President of the College Board

This is somewhat puzzling.  Part of the challenge of question design in this section of the test is having a sentence that clearly indicates context and then having a number of challenging words in position.  Part of learning any language is not just using words over and over again, but using new words as bridges to expression.  We’ll see more of what they mean in one month when they release some practice questions.

Math

Prior to March 2005, the SAT was not particularly challenging mathematically.  While there was an element of trickery in the questions, the questions themselves were not terribly difficult.  As for the new test, the College Board says it will be based around “problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math.”  Yet, this still repeats the same problem we saw on the old test and the current test: many students who will excel in college are LONG past algebra in their junior year of high school.  In all likelihood they are in Calculus, a math level that is actually used in college, unlike Algebra.

Writing

It is unclear whether the grammar part of the writing section will remain, as the traditional scoring has left 800 points for Math, 800 points for Reading, and over the last 9 years, 800 points for Writing, of which the essay is a little over ⅓ of the weight.  As it stands the grammar portion is the “least bad” portion of the test, as it tests frequent mistakes in grammar that manifest themselves in the emails of Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis, to take just one comparison.  The essay seems to be a new, discursive type of essay, and it is now “optional.”

As we said, we’ll have more to say on this issue in the months and weeks ahead.  As always, as long as there is an unfair testing regime in place in academia, we are going to be here to help our students overcome that regime.

Whatever College Board or pundits tell you, there is no way to “level the playing field” for a standardized test, even if it is a good one (e.g. the AP Exam) or a poor one (the SAT or ACT).  You will always have students who bring more motivation, more study skills, more intelligence, or more prep.  The future will always belong to those who deal with a challenging situation, as our students here at Get Smarter Prep always have.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Standardized Tests: A Conversation Between Two Tutors

Zach: So, standardized tests.  Scary stuff, right?

Joe: They’re always a scary proposition, walking into some random classroom, sitting for 4 to 5 hours as you stare at a test booklet, and trying to solve problem after problem. On the math section especially, it always seems like there are so many intense problems that you have no idea how to even begin.

Zach: But Joe… that’s what they want you to think.  That’s how they’re designed.  And yes, I know that you’re playing along with my prompt for this blog post, but this is one thing about the ACT and SAT that really bugs me.  Students get so wound up on these problems that they psyche themselves out before they even take a shot on the problem.

Joe: That’s the truth. Students skip over a problem because it looks like a wall of words or a really difficult-looking equation attached to it. Test takers assume that this means it must be way over their head, they won’t be able to solve it, and they miss out on those points. So what’s a student to do?

Zach: Joe, I’m so darn glad you asked that question.  So darn glad.  Have you ever heard the quote, “You miss all of the shots that you don’t take?”

Joe: I’m familiar with that one.

Zach: Fantastic.  I have no idea who said that, nor do I have inclination to find out, but I do think that it’s an especially pertinent adage in this case.  Why just give up so easily?  I tell students that if they’re ever staring at one of those dinosaurs of a question, just try the first thing you see to do.  Oh, you see a square root sign?  Square that bad boy.  You see two x plus something terms in parentheses?  Foil that sucker.

Joe: It could even be as simple as flipping the equation, distributing a number, or factoring out a number. Then, all of a sudden, inspiration strikes! You get a flash of brilliance, and you know how to solve the problem!

Zach: A good time to test this strategy is on a free practice test! We offer them every Saturday at 8:45 at our office.

Joe: Good idea! I’ll look at my Saturday schedule. Once you have a baseline score, you can decide which tutoring option is best for you!

 
Zach Buckner and Joe Roh are Tutors at Get Smarter Prep.