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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.

A Road Map to Success

High school can be confusing for many reasons, but at Get Smarter Prep, we want the road to success to be clear. That’s why we’ve created a Road Map to Success to help students put their best foot forward and easily navigate the college preparation process. From Middle School to the career you’ve always dreamed of, we are here to help you along the way.

Roadmap to SuccessMiddle School

Starting in Middle School, specifically seventh grade, students may be invited to be a part of Duke TIP, which is for a program for students who qualify for the 7th Grade Talent Search by scoring in the top 5th percentile on grade-level state standardized tests. If you are chosen, it will give you opportunity to be recognized for your academic talent and give access to multiple resources to help students connect with contests, scholarships, and other programs.

The eighth grade is when you want to start thinking about High School placement tests. If a student has been in a private school or home schooled and going to a public school for the ninth grade, then you must take a High School placement test. Check with your school and see if they offer the test, chances are they do.

If studying simply overwhelms you and you have no idea how to tackle subject tests or need direction learning how to properly study, then study skills tutoring is a great fit for you and something to consider. Now is the perfect time to obtain the skills it takes to study efficiently and properly.

High School

It’s time to dig into your classes and put your best foot forward. Every grade will count towards your overall Grade Point Average (GPA) and be a big part of what colleges and universities look at when considering applicants. 

Freshmen:

Freshman year is a great time to start putting together your resume. Make a note of all the different clubs, organizations, volunteer groups, and awards you receive throughout your high school career. Starting your resume as a Freshman will give you a clear view of what you’ve accomplished and save you time from trying to remember what you’ve done throughout your entire high school career. 

Sophomores:

If you are taking Pre-Calc or Calculus a good time to take the ACT/SAT is at the end of Sophomore year. Otherwise, plan key activities, take leadership roles within clubs, start thinking about visiting colleges, and make sure you are concentrating on your grades. 

Juniors:

If taking Algebra II take the ACT/SAT anytime your Junior year.  Get Smarter Prep offers multiple options for test prep including our Standard and Advanced ACT Courses, Semi-Private Tutoring, and Private Tutoring.

Do not slack on your grades. We know your Junior year is super busy, but earning good grades throughout the year is so important! By now, you should have great study habits and effective time management, therefore your grades should be steady.

Seniors:

If you haven’t gotten the ACT score you need for the school you want, you have a couple more opportunities to achieve your goal. Once you’ve grabbed the ACT score you’ve been studying for, start the college application process. Don’t forget to maintain your good grades, volunteer, and of course, have fun! 

Sometime between your Sophomore and Senior year, you’ll want to start think about the college application process, from building a college list, to crafting your best essays, to submitting the button on your college applications. Students often find it helping to take a career/major assessment that will gauge your learning style, interests, personality, and career focus. A counselor will go over the results of your assessment and discuss possibilities and paths through your feedback and conversation – discussing careers, as well as possible majors.

Your Road Map to Success doesn’t have to stop after high school nor should it stop after high school! After you get into the college of your dreams, there are other options such as preparing for the LSAT, GRE, MCAT, GMAT or just study skills tutorials. Get Smarter Prep offers classes and private tutoring to help our students succeed through all walks of life.

A Resolution to Read More in 2017

Reading skills are critical to success on standardized tests. While that is hardly the most important or convincing reason to read more, it’s one that is particularly interesting to us at Get Smarter Prep. According to the American Library Association, students who read for fun have higher test scores than those who don’t. Students who discuss what they read at home also perform better on exams.

It makes sense that students who read for pleasure score achieve higher reading scores, but a study in the UK found that students who read for pleasure also score more highly on math exams. Being able to read and understand questions easily can simplify math questions – especially those that are longer or phrased in tricky or unusual ways (something we’re very familiar with on the ACT and SAT!).

Complicating matters is that the students who enjoy these benefits are those who read because they want to, not because of an assignment or a requirement. So how can parents encourage their children to read without pressuring them or making it feel like work?

One of the simplest is for parents to model the behavior. If children see parents engaged in reading, they are more likely to want to read as well. Talk to your children about what you’re reading and why it is enjoyable to you. Demonstrate that it’s an important part of your life, and a worthwhile use of your time.

Many parents read to their young children, but reading to your child can evolve into reading together as your child gets older. Reading aloud to grade school children can open up more advanced content than what they might find accessible on their own. Books like The Wind in the Willows may be interesting to grade school students, but above their reading level. Reading together can facilitate discussion about unfamiliar vocabulary words as well as themes and ideas within the book.

Encourage children to read what appeals to them, even if it’s not to your taste.  You might find dragons boring, but they might be just what your child is interested in at that moment. Obviously, considerations about age appropriateness are relevant. But reading material need not be high literature for a student to reap the benefits. Trips to the library can encourage students to explore different subjects.

Talking about what your student is reading, encouraging them to become engaged in a series, and connecting reading to their other goals and interests can also help support their reading habits.

Increased test scores are only one of the many benefits of reading. Reading can increase empathy, improve social skills, and reduce stress – for adults, too! Let’s all resolve to read more in 2017.

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

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.

 

Tips for a Successful School Year, Part I

Tips for a Successful School Year

Summer vacation has come and gone, and whether you’ve spent the last three months watching Netflix in your bedroom or volunteering in Haiti, now is the time to focus on setting goals for the upcoming school year. Regardless of where you’re at in your high school career, we’ve got a few tips for what to prioritize this year.

For Freshman

1) Start taking challenging courses.

Challenging yourself now sets you up for better test scores and a more impressive transcript. Select courses that cover the core subject areas first. Choose electives that look challenging and/or represent interests you may wish to build on later.

2) Explore activities and interests.

High school may provide an opportunity to explore activities that haven’t been an option previously. Trying out a few different things (while balancing your time with schoolwork, of course!) is a great way to find strengths and passions that you can continue to pursue in the coming years, and also eliminate things that perhaps just don’t interest you as much as you thought they might.

3) Read!

Reading for pleasure has many benefits – higher test scores is just one of them. If you’re already a reader, that’s fantastic! Make time to keep reading. If not, work on cultivating the habit. Take a trip to the library and let yourself explore. Pick anything that interests you! Commit to reading one book a month this year.

For Sophomores

1) Continue taking challenging courses.

Build on your successes from last year. When colleges look at transcripts, one of the things they evaluate is your trajectory. If you took two honors courses last year, take more than two this year. Set a goal for your GPA that is higher than last year’s. Keep taking your core courses and challenging electives. Set challenging, but reasonable, goals.

2) Narrow your extracurricular activities.

You don’t have to do everything. Having some focus is beneficial, not just for your resume, but also for your life. Volunteered at three different, totally unrelated places last year? Pick the one that speaks to you the most and log some serious hours. Didn’t love yearbook? Drop it. Your time is valuable, and your activities should be things that you value.

3) Start generating a college list.

Yes, you’ve got time. But there are thousands of schools in the United States, and beginning your research now – when there’s less pressure – can actually be kind of fun. Don’t feel the need to make specific plans yet, just explore your options and see what sounds interesting.

4) Start your college visits.

Visiting colleges might seem premature if you don’t have a list, but your first visits should be less about meeting with admissions counselors and more about getting a feel for a few different colleges. Walk around a small liberal-arts campus, a big university, a medium-sized Jesuit school. Visiting colleges in your region, or that happen to be nearby on a family vacation, is a great place to start.

Look for “Tips for a Successful School Year, Part II, which focuses on Juniors and Seniors, out next week!

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Changes to the ACT

ACT recently unveiled plans for a 2015 update to their test. Students taking the ACT next year will need to prepare for a more complex essay, as well as some minor alterations to the Reading and Mathematics tests. Relative to the SAT’s extensive changes, the changes to the ACT will be subtle.

Writing:

    • For students taking the optional ACT Writing portion, the writing prompt may become more complex, requiring students to “evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue and generate their own analysis based on reasoning, knowledge, and experience.” Although the prompt may appear to be more challenging, the additional direction in the prompt and hypothetical perspectives provided will allow the student to actively analyze stated ideas, instead of initializing the entire topic.  In addition, the student will be provided with an additional ten minutes to write the essay – for a total of 40 minutes.
    • The scoring of the Writing test will be also updated and will include subscores in four areas: ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use.

Reading:

    • The Reading test will introduce a new passage type. Students will be asked to compare information from paired passages (dual passages), similar to a subset of questions on the SAT. The ACT began rolling out these paired passages during the 2014-2015 school year, but each test will have this dual passage from this point forward.

Mathematics:

    • The Mathematics section will see a very slight increase of emphasis on statistics and probability in the Math test. The change will be minor enough that most students probably won’t notice the difference.

Science:

    • The Science section will have the same number of questions (40), but they will be broken down into 6 themed passages rather than 7.  We perceive this as giving each student a leg up, as now there are only six varied science related topics that must be addressed, rather than seven topics that students may only have limited previous knowledge of beforehand.

The main focus of the upcoming ACT update seems to be on state assessments, rather than on college applications. This is evidenced by the ACT’s new supplemental scores: STEM and Language Arts scores, and Career Readiness and Text Complexity indicators. There will also be new question categories aligned to Common Core standards. Most of these new scores are designed to provide more detailed insight into students’ progress.

The ACT’s traditional 1-36 composite score will not change; these new scores will be provided in addition to the current provided scores. Other changes affecting ACT state assessments include the addition of more optional tests (math, reading, and science) and increased availability of digital tests.

These changes to the ACT are planned to take effect in fall 2015 and in 2016.

Thinking Ahead

Recently, we wrote about what we at GSP consider the Top 10 Test Prep Traps that students and parents can fall into. The first item on that list was “taking the test too early” – before the end of sophomore year. But, understandably, as many parents (and students!) find themselves overwhelmed with the whole junior and senior year process, parents vow to start earlier next time. “You’ll see!”, they think. “Davey will start preparing for the ACT in 7th grade!”

It sounds reasonable, at first. Planning ahead is a responsible thing to do. Taking one’s time with a project or task is generally more enjoyable than saving it until the very last minute, and there’s so much going on during junior year that it might feel like there’s not nearly enough time to do the necessary work.

The main reason we cited in our previous post for not beginning so early is that students generally haven’t had the necessary coursework tested by the ACT and SAT before the end of their sophomore year. But that isn’t the only reason. It’s also important to consider that the tests do change periodically – sometimes in small ways, sometimes via larger overhauls.

Practicing for the SAT years before taking it is akin to attempting to write college essays years in advance – not only is it unlikely that a student has the necessary experience and knowledge to be successful, it’s also nearly certain that the requirements will actually change, meaning that much (if not all) of that effort would be wasted.

We at GSP have had some conversations about this concept of “too early,” and how to answer the question, “but what should we do, then?”. Here are some tips and suggestions we’ve come up with for how younger students – and their parents – can best prepare for the standardized tests of the future.

1. READ!

Every tutor I spoke with listed reading as the number one thing students should focus on. Here’s what some of them said about the importance of developing good reading habits:

“Just read regularly. Can be books, news, magazines, or whatever. […] Most test taking strategies are about time use, but if you can’t understand what they’re saying then there’s little point.” – Logan Terry

“[Students should] read whatever they can get their hands on for reading comprehension, to see how proper punctuation and grammar are used, and to familiarize themselves with vocab words.” Madison Huber-Smith, former tutor

“The best thing a 7th grader can do to prepare for the ACT/SAT/PSAT/LSAT/MCAT/GMAT/LIFE is to read everything and anything. The more varied a kid’s reading experiences, the better prepared they are to do well on standardized tests. Reading is so important for every section of standardized tests — even math and science. […] Test prep works best for students who have a solid grasp of reading comprehension and the ability to make mental leaps from step A to B to C in a multi-step problem. All the test taking strategies in the world won’t help if you can’t understand the words you are reading and can’t problem solve. ” Gina Claypool

2. Encourage “a spirit of curiosity and learning.”

From Gina,: “Read with your kid. Discuss books, magazine and news articles (that way, you know if your kid is comprehending what they are reading), documentaries, etc. If your kid shows an interest in a subject you know nothing about, say “let’s learn about that together”. I’m kind of a nerd, but, in the summers before going to work, my mom would leave a logic puzzle for my sisters and me to solve, and I loved it. I think doing fun logic puzzles was a key factor in my enjoyment of math and science.”

3. Address difficulties with math as they arise.

It’s not unusual that students have forgotten some of the math they’ve learned by the time start preparing for the ACT and SAT – and that’s OK! Reviewing that content is part of what we do. But it’s more time-consuming to address math topics that a student didn’t really understand the first time around. Madison: “I have students complain that they had bad teachers for certain classes, and it affects them when it comes time to review for the ACT. A strong, early grasp of algebra is so key!”

4. Relax!

“Don’t worry about it too much. Do your homework, stay in school, and get involved in things that interest you. The ACT isn’t going to determine how successful you become. It’s just one of the first hoops you have to jump through in life.” – Logan

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

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).

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

Name: Stephen Heiner
College: Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

What first drew you to Thomas More College of Liberal Arts?

The Great Books and the Rome Program.  They had a promotional graphic where they showed the number of books in the University of Chicago and St. John’s College Great Books programs, next to the price of tuition and room and board.  Thomas More’s pile was bigger and the price was less.  I also loved how small the school was and that it was in the middle of the New Hampshire woods.

What other colleges were you considering?

The University of Dallas and Christendom College.

How was the adjustment from high school to college?

I had always been a good student but the workload change was DRAMATIC.  Especially at a small liberal arts school.  My free time WAS reading now. :-)

What was your favorite class?  Why?

So many of them meld together in a Liberal Arts environment but the standout class that I would take again today was Art & Architecture. Doesn’t sound too exotic until you realize I took that class IN ROME.  Every other day we were at a church or a monument examining design and aesthetics.  Rome was our classroom and playground.  I get chills just writing about it!

What clubs or groups were you involved in?

We were a bunch of nerds with no intramurals, but I was one of two freshmen with a car so guess where we were almost every weekend?  ROAD TRIPS!  Montreal, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Boston, you name it, we went, with no money and lots of song singing!

Anything else you want to tell us?

Your undergrad school is your first adult decision.  Don’t take it lightly.  And please don’t go to a school because your girlfriend/boyfriend is going there.

In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

Reading, Rome, and Road Trips.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Six Reading Tips for the Digital Age

Some time ago an article suggested that yes, indeed, the Internet had not just changed the way we read, but the way we remember.  As someone who never saw anything wrong with the “old ways” of reading, I hope to offer some correctives to unfortunate trends in our society, to the benefit of students both young and old.

1.              Read all sorts of things.  Just as it’s important to have a varied diet for our health, it’s important to have varied reading to give you insights into how different parts of our society think.  You’ll have your morning internet articles, but hopefully too your work/school reading, recreational reading, and hobby reading.

2.              Don’t listen to music when doing your serious reading.  Study after study has shown that the brain cannot really pay attention to both the intensive act of reading and the reflective act of music.  The separate exercises are using separate parts of the brain, but there is enough overlap to ensure that you will not really enjoy the music or comprehend the reading.  Pick one.  You’ll enjoy whatever you choose more.

3.              Turn off your inner reader.  We find that part of the reason our students struggle with reading comprehension when they first come to us is their practice of “reading to themselves.”  What I mean by this is that they simply read aloud “in their head.”  What this fails to recognize is the brain moves many times faster than your mouth and if you can turn off that “inner reader” and allow yourself to slide into the slipstream of “brain reading” you will read not just faster, but more deeply.

4.              Keep a dictionary and notebook nearby.  Now, I still happen to be quite analog in my practices so you will see a literal notebook around me 90% of the time.  However, what are acceptable replacements are a dictionary app and a note-taking app.  The dictionary/dictionary app should be obvious: the best readers aren’t content to figure out a word using context but go deeper into a definition of the word with etymological references.  The notebook is less obvious: sometimes we get ideas from reading – sometimes directly related to the text – sometimes not related at all.  We have to be patient enough to write down our ideas, thoughts, and questions. When engaged in this practice we don’t see the notebook as an interruption of our reading but as a continuous part of it.

5.              Always have something to read.  For our parents or our students this is a good practice.  We know well that you have reading you have to do for work or for school.   But take back reading as something you choose to do on your own.  Smartphones and tablets enable us to never be far from a book, and often, you don’t have to even pay for a digital book.  Many classics and some new works are free so even if you have forgotten to bring an “old-fashioned” dead tree book, the wonders of the printed word should never be far from you in the guise of a smartphone reading app.

6.              Keep your reading speeds appropriate.   If you’re reading something and find it interesting but realize it’s going to take you more than a few minutes to read, either copy the link or leave it open in a separate tab where you can come back to it at more leisure.  I usually let those die at the end of a couple days if I haven’t gotten to them so they don’t pile up, but better to not read a good long-form piece at all than to read it quickly and poorly.  Take back your time, on your terms.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.