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Practice Test FAQ’s

Families often ask whether it’s OK to use a different test as a baseline – something besides the free practice test that we offer. The answer to that question is long and complicated, but the short version is that we offer free practice tests because we think they’re incredibly useful – to us and to students and families! Here are some answers to common questions about different baseline tests.

  • Can I use my PSAT score?

Most students take the PSAT as Juniors, and many take it as Sophomores as well. It’s common to want to use this test as a gauge of strengths and weaknesses on the SAT (after all, it’s supposed to be a practice SAT, right?) or even an ACT.

First, we’re not able to use the PSAT as a predictor for the ACT, because the tests are fundamentally unrelated. Second, the PSAT and the SAT don’t show as much correlation as we’d like to use the PSAT to make tutoring recommendations. The timing and content are both different enough that it’s not a very good measurement.

One more thing to consider, if we’re talking about the sophomore PSAT – if it’s been months or even a year since the exam, it wouldn’t be a very accurate measure, even if the test itself was good predictor.  

 

  • What about my Pre-ACT?

Unfortunately, the Pre-ACT is also not very predictive. The scoring is different, the content is different, and you’re likely to have nearly a full year of academic progress between taking the Pre-ACT and taking the real thing. We see significant variations between the Pre-ACT scores and actual ACT scores, and our goal is to have the most accurate baseline possible.

 

  • I already took a practice test at another prep company. Can you use that?

Most test prep companies offer practice tests. However, most of them use their own exams that they wrote, intending to mimic the official ACT. Some companies might do an OK job of mimicking the ACT; some miss the mark completely. We only use previously administered official ACT exams. All our tests were developed and scored by ACT, which means they are the most accurate predictor of how you’ll score on another official ACT exam.

 

  • I took a practice test at my school. That one should work, right?

Although schools often offer practice tests, we still recommend having students test with us, for a few reasons.

The main reason is that it’s difficult to get confirmation of which test is being used, and whether it is an official ACT/SAT, or not. Schools often use tests that were written by someone else (like a test prep company), and therefore are not as predictive as an official ACT or SAT. We only use official exams that have been previously administered.

 

  • I took a practice test at home. Let’s use those scores.

Practice tests taken at home can suffer from a few problems. The first can be the test itself – which test did you use? Was it an official exam? The second is that we’re often more comfortable at home than we might be in an unfamiliar testing environment surrounded by strangers. This comfort can have an effect on your scores – it might inflate them, because you’re feeling less stressed, or it might lower them, if you weren’t focused, or you were checking your phone, or if your little brother was practicing Tae Kwon Do in the next room and you were worried he was going to break something.

 

  • I already took an official Do I still need to come in to take a practice test?

If you already took an official ACT, then we will (probably) use those scores! We may still recommend a practice test in some instances – if your official test was in 7th grade, for example. Generally, though, we will use your official scores to make our recommendations. The goal is to have an accurate prediction of how you’ll do on a real test – if you’ve already taken a real test, there’s generally no need to duplicate that effort!

If you’ve already taken one or more of the tests listed above, it might seem frustrating to have to spend another 3.5+ hours sitting through a practice ACT. Here are the main reasons why we think it’s worth losing a chunk of your Saturday:

  • It’s a recent previously administered official ACT exam in a proctored environment. This means you’re getting the best, most accurate results possible without taking an official ACT.
  • We’ll score your exam quickly – within 2-3 days.*
  • Our score reports include detailed feedback. This provides great information for the student and the tutor – which categories of questions a student is missing, how did the student handle the time constraints of the test, etc.
  • After the practice test, you’ll have a ScoresBack appointment to review the exam, ask questions, and discuss our customized recommendations.

We probably seem like we’re being unnecessarily picky about this, and we are a little picky! But that pickiness comes from a place of wanting what’s best for students. Our goal is always to make the best, most accurate recommendation possible, because that’s what we believe is in the best interest of the student. The more accurate a starting point we have, the more accurate our recommendations can be, and the more likely you are to reach your goals!

 

*You’ll receive your results during the ScoresBack appointment, which you’ll schedule after you’ve taken your exam.

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.

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:

 

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! 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.

Why We Offer Free Practice Tests

At Get Smarter Prep we offer FREE Practice Tests for both the ACT and the SAT almost every Saturday. This isn’t new. We’ve always offered free practice tests. We think establishing a baseline score for the ACT and SAT is the best place to start in the process of preparing for an official ACT. Unlike big box test prep companies, which use exams their employees made up, we use actual ACTs or SATs that were given in the last 3 years.   

There are a number of reasons to establish a baseline score. As stated previously, our ACT and SAT practice tests are actual tests that were given within the last few years, so you will know how you would score on a real test.

We want you to establish a baseline score, so we can guide you into either our Standard or Advanced Courses, Semi-Private Classes or Private Classes. Without a score to go off, we are walking in blind. We don’t know what your strengths are in each category and as part of our process, we want to tailor the way we tutor to each student so they can get the most out of each tutoring session.

Our Free Practice Test is a great opportunity to alleviate some of the fear and loathing of these standardized tests.  It’s also a great time to examine the timing of the test and see how well you did with the timing piece as so many students tend to run out of time in different sections.

All of these, and more, are good reasons to take an absolutely free practice exam with us. That way you’ll get an accurate score, as opposed to a guess. We think it’s such an important piece in learning where you begin for both tests that we want to make it readily available to every high school student who is interested.

Is One Point Really One Point?

 

“The most important investment you can make is in yourself.” – Warren Buffet

Most high school students taking the ACT test have a certain goal in mind for their composite score. Of course, each student has different variables for their specific situation such as, automatic college admittance, scholarships, reach schools, etc.  However, when it comes down to it, is every point achieved on the ACT the same?

There are benefits to increasing your ACT composite score no matter where you fall on the ACT score spectrum.

At Get Smarter Prep, we have had some students who only went up on point on their ACT. Sometimes all a student needs is a one-point improvement, other times they were looking for a four-point jump. What many don’t understand is that one point can mean the difference between a $1,000 yearly scholarship ($4,000 over the span of 4 years) and no scholarship at all. That one point difference is still an advantage!

Let’s say on this last ACT you achieved a composite score of 24. Roughly 100,000 other college bound students with that score, as well as entered the range in which most colleges begin offering scholarships. Also, some colleges are offering automatic admission with a 24 (most of these schools also have minimum GPA standards and curriculum requirements).

Every point earned on the ACT is a step in the right direction. Don’t lose heart if you only bump up one point, there are still benefits to that one point.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

No matter if that one point is all it took to get automatically accepted into college, be offered a scholarship, or get into an Ivy League school, that one point helped shape the direction of your future.

 

 

Planning for College in the Summer

Most students look forward to summer simply because there’s no homework, no tests to study for, and it’s sunny and nice out! Whatever your reason is to love summer, there may be a gently nagging in the back of your mind that you have a ton left to do to get ready for college. Summer is the perfect time to capitalize on this and get ahead of the game.

Get Smarter Prep offers several different options to help students prepare for college including a Career/Assessment test, how to build a College List, and Essay Writing Courses.

Start with a Career/Major Assessment test. This test allows you to see what your strengths are, coupled with what you enjoy doing and provides a number of careers to guide you in the right direction. Don’t worry, taking this type of test in the summer isn’t something you have to necessarily prepare for. The test is a comprehensive online assessment that will gauge your learning style, interests, personality, and career focus. Our counselors will go over the results of the assessment and discuss possibilities and paths through your feedback and conversation – discussing careers, as well as possible majors.

If you already have a good idea of what you want study in college and/or what your major will be, but haven’t nailed down a college yet, Get Smarter Prep will help you build a college list that matches your values and goals. If your simply not sure where in the world you would like to college, we will guide you through the process and figure it out together. We can customize ACT/SAT recommendations to ensure the college list is right for you.  

Maybe you already know where you want to attend college, but haven’t even thought about college essays? Not to worry, we offer college essay writing courses in June and July to help you write your best college essays and set you apart from the pack. Our college essay writing experts will help you craft your best essays for your college set. We go above and beyond to ensure you don’t write an essay that prevents you from becoming accepted into your school of choice.

Wherever you are in the college planning process, we can help. It’s not too late or too early to start planning out the process and summer is the perfect time to begin. Contact Get Smarter Prep to get a jump start on your summer plans!  

Is Private Tutoring Right for You?

How do you know if private tutoring is right for you? What about classes or tutoring with a group of friends?  There are a few items we need to look at before deciding which type of tutoring is a perfect fit for you.

Private Tutoring – One-on-One Tutoring is perfect for students with a significant difference in their sub-scores. For example, if Jane scored a 17 in the Reading section of the ACT, but a 24 in the English section, then she would be a prime example of why Private Tutoring would work in her favor as the tutor can target specific portions of the test.  Our tutors will be able to spend different amounts of time in each portion of the test depending on where the student needs the most help.  

Another reason to access Private Tutoring is due to a hectic schedule. We realize how busy your Junior year can be. Maybe a standard class won’t fit into your schedule, but private tutoring can be a lot more flexible and conducive to your calendar. Private Tutorials are usually scheduled for one and a half hour sessions and are typically between 6 & 15 hours in duration (4-10 weeks).   

Semi-Private Tutoring – This type of tutoring is for students scoring within the same range as 1-3 other students. Whether you have a challenging schedule, want to work with your friends, or just want a more customized approach than our courses, Semi-Private Tutoring can be a good fit.  

These tutoring-course hybrids allow for some cost efficiency (like courses) AND customized scheduling & unique curriculum (like private tutoring). The standard time frame for Semi-Private Tutoring is 20 hours, but 12-20 hour schedules are available based upon what each student of the group hopes to achieve.

Courses – We offer both Standard and Advanced ACT Courses depending on your ACT scores. Standard Courses are for students scoring within the 17-23 score range and offers 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date. Advanced Courses are for those students scoring between 24-29 and includes 16 hours of instruction, two practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor.  The classes are designed to have the region’s smallest classes, with a cap of 8 students per class, to really get that small classroom setting.  Each course also follows a curriculum based on which class you attend.

No matter what the situation may be, Get Smarter Prep offers custom tutoring to fit any schedule, classes to accommodate a wide range of students’ scores,  and we work with each student to help achieve the score they need for the school they want.

Realistic Expectations

When you think about the ACT, what do you imagine? Do you picture a calm setting, pencil in hand, calculator charged, and the feel of confidence rushing over you? Or, do you picture standing in line, calculator out of batteries, rumbling stomach, and the weariness of an impending test? Both scenarios could turn out to be real life for many students.  The question is, how do you prepare for both scenarios or a combination of both scenarios? Do you have realistic expectations for your ACT test?

 

Each school district has a number of Test Center Locations that offer ACT testing throughout the year, but not all test centers are created equal. You may get a proctor who is running late, or has gotten sick. There may be a student who tries to enter the test location after the test has begun or a student whose watch starts beeping in the middle of the Math section.  There may be a dog barking down the street or the classroom may be too hot.  Regardless of the circumstance, how prepared are you for any of these situations?

 

To prepare yourself, eliminate what you can control.  Get a good night’s rest, eat a healthy breakfast, charge your calculator the night before, make sure you have your ACT ticket with you, and last but definitely not least, be prepared for the test. Walk into the test with confidence!

 

Get Smarter Prep has a number of different courses ranging from One-On-One Private Tutoring, to Semi-Private Tutoring, to Group classes depending on the students’ scoring range.  Each class or tutorial will equip you with more knowledge, insight, and confidence to walk into the ACT knowing what kind of questions will be on each section of the test, strategies to approach each section, and time management skills to get through each section of the ACT.

 

Study hard, prepare the best you can, and be confident in the skills you’ve learned for this test.  The more you prepare for the test, the more confident you will be.  However, at the end of the day, the ACT is one test.  I guarantee no one will remember their ACT score in 5 years, so don’t put added pressure on yourself! Take a deep breath, walk into the test with your head held high, and dominate the ACT!

The Infamous 30 ACT Composite Score

The infamous 30 ACT composite score. Why does every student desire a 30 on their ACT?  Just to say they have a 30? What does a 30 composite score actually get you?  More scholarships? Entry into a highly selective school? The ability to say you scored a 30?  Maybe.  Maybe a 30 composite score will get you all of those things, but let’s take a closer look to see if that score is the right score for you.

Did you know that the National average ACT score for college bound students is a 21? The average for the state of Kansas is 21.7 and the average score for the state of Missouri is a 20.4. The average for Blue Valley District is 25.4., the average for Shawnee Mission District is 22.7, and the average for the Olathe District is 23.8, the three largest districts in JOCO.

National Average

Kansas Average

Blue Valley District

Shawnee Mission District

Olathe District

Notre Dame de Sion

Rockhurst High School

St. Theresa’s Academy

The Barstow School

21

21.7

25.4

22.7

23.8

27.1

26.5

27

28

Overall, Johnson County is performing well above the state and national averages.

So why does a 30 ACT score haunt high school students?  For most students, scholarship money is what drives a student to achieve the very best score they can. For example, The University of Kansas gives a break down of scholarships related to ACT/SAT scores, plus their GPA score.  The funny thing is, the break down doesn’t provide any more money for a 30.  The additional scholarship money is awarded when a student goes from a 28 to a 31. If a student already has a 28 on their ACT, the infamous 30 shouldn’t factor into the discussion.

Make sure you at least have an outline of the types of colleges you would like to attend and then take those schools’ scholarship requirements into consideration. Most students would be shocked to realize the break usual isn’t at 30, but closer to 31, if not a 32 or higher.

The same principal applies to college entry.  Highly selective schools typically don’t look for a standard of a 30 ACT (or it’s SAT equivalent). They look for higher scores starting at a 31 or 32, plus a fantastic GPA of around 3.75 or higher. For example, Vanderbilt University in Nashville typical accepts students scoring in the 32-35 range. The middle 50% of scorers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois is 31-34, similar to that of Duke University in Durham, NC. The bottom line is, do your research on the schools with which you’re truly interested and figure out if a 30 is sufficient or if you need to score even higher.

It’s so important to set proper goals based on what you are interested in, your ability, and what is tangible for you. If you take a pretest and score a 17 composite score, a 30 is big stretch – to say the least! Do you have endless amounts of time to study? What about your class schedule in high school? You don’t want to fall behind on your regular classes to study hours and hours for the ACT.

Another factor to consider is all of your extracurricular activities. Studying for and taking the October ACT while you are in football or volleyball will be totally overwhelming. How full is your schedule this semester? Do you even have the time and energy to spend on achieving a 30? The ACT has several test dates from which to choose throughout the year; choose one that makes sense for you and your schedule. Get Smarter Prep has different prep options for any type of student: from small group courses to semi-private and private tutoring. Select an option and test date that will set you up for success, not overwhelm you.  Setting a tangible goal score will the best way to assure success, whether it’s the infamous 30, a solid 26, or a Kansas average of 21.7.