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When is the best time to take the ACT?

When is the best time to take the ACT?

 

When is the best time to take the ACT? That depends. What do you have going on? The answer is going to be different for everyone. However, we are going to break down every ACT test date to see which one best suits students’ schedules.   

 

Test Dates

Honestly, most of our tutors at Get Smarter Prep like the July test date best. Test prep generally begins towards the end of May, which means school is out.  Students don’t have to worry about finals, graduation parties for their friends, or the chaos that comes with the end of the school year. However, if your family tends to vacation before the middle of July, then we have problem. It’s best to take a look at your schedule and plan accordingly. If you don’t take a vacation or plan for a holiday later in the summer, then the July ACT is a great fit!

 

Maybe you’re traveling all summer and the June or July ACT isn’t a fit for you. Now we are getting into the September ACT, which begins test prep at the end of July. The next available test date is October. This test date is great for several reasons.  Students are already back into the swing of school, which means they are getting used to a schedule and back to studying.  Adding on test prep for the ACT would be like adding in extra class. However, depending on which sports and extra-curricular activities students are involved in could be too much for a number of students. Keep in mind, our courses are 8-10 weeks long. Private tutoring is anywhere between 3-15 hours depending on the students’ goals and availability.

 

What about the December test? Another great option for students who want to complete the ACT before finals begin. Also, it’s cold outside. What else is there to do? Plus, students can go into Winter Break knowing they’ve completed the ACT. It’s a win win situation.

 

If not the December test, then perhaps the February ACT? Prep for the February test generally begins at the end of December. Why not get a jump start on studying while still on Winter Break? This test date is a great test for Juniors to take! By this point in your high school career you’ve most likely taken Algebra, Geometry, Biology, and Chemistry, which is the bulk of the Math section. Plus, there is still time to prep and take an additional test if need be.  

 

April showers bring May flowers…so they say. But, it’s a test date worth looking into. Test prep for the April test begins at the end of February. If you want to be completely finished with ACT test prep before thinking about finals, then this is the test date for you! Also, if you take the test in April and do well, then you don’t have to think about it while on summer vacation or while completing college applications.

 

June promises summer and test prep? At least at the beginning of June. The June ACT is great for students who don’t mind doubling down on finals as well as ACT prep. Test prep begins mid-April right up to the week leading up to the test.  Students will have about 2-3 weeks after school is out to prep for the June test.  If students can manage finals with the promise of summer vacation surrounding this test date, then it’s a date worth considering.

 

Regardless of which test date you choose, Get Smarter Prep will help you every step of the way. From July to June, we will help you pick the best test date for you and help you prepare for the score you need for the school you want.

ACT Specific Watches

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.

 

Does a High ACT Score = Freshman Year Success?

Standardized testing, such as the ACT, is a major factor in the college planning process. Most colleges require either an ACT or SAT before considering admission to their schools. Does a higher ACT score mean you’ll have more success your first year in college?

 

A higher ACT score may equal a more selective school, however there are more items to put into this basket such as your Grade Point Average (GPA), extracurricular activities, how stellar your college essay is, if you chose to volunteer throughout the past four years, if you took AP classes and how well you did in those classes, etc. A fantastic score on the ACT could make you a more impressive candidate for scholarships, especially those based on merit and academic achievements, but your score is one out of a number of items that colleges look at.

 

If you are scoring a composite score of 30 or higher, you’re already in the top 2% of high school graduates. The chances of getting selected into a top-tier school will be higher with greater ACT scores. Is a 4.0 GPA better or 35 composite ACT score better? Colleges look at both. Your GPA is more reflective on how hard you’ve worked over your high school career. Your ACT score can be a good indicator of how much you’ve studied for the ACT in general. Some students spend months studying for the ACT. Other students totally wing it (which we don’t recommend).

How does a high ACT score affect my freshman year of college?

Once you’ve selected your school and been accepted, what role does the ACT play in your first year of college? Most likely, if you received a high ACT score, you’ve taken challenging, higher-level courses in high school which is associated with increases in students’ chances of success in first-year courses. You’re ready to tackle college courses because you’ve taken tough classes in high school. If you have a high GPA, that means you’ve had success in the AP and higher level classes.

 

One of the biggest challenges that lies ahead of you is translating those stellar grades from high school to college. It’s easy to lose focus in college, since you’ve already been accepted, however, if you’ve received an academic scholarship there is far more to lose than you may imagine. Now is the time to focus on the same good habits you’ve created in high school such as attending class, completing your homework on time, attending study hall or office hours, and asking for help when you need help.

Conclusion:

Yes, a higher ACT score can be an indicator into how ready you are for college courses. However, just as colleges factor in more than your ACT score, freshman year success is more than just attending classes (there can be a lot of distractions). One surefire way to have success your first year of college is to stay focused on your schoolwork, which will ultimately translate into good grades and securing your academic scholarship for your second year in college.

 

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:

ACT Extended Time Changes

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! However, 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.

To stay in the know about ACT Extended Time Changes, visit ACT.org.

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. 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.   

Establish a baseline score

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.

Reduce Anxiety

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 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?

Setting realistic expectations

 

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. 

Overcoming Testing Anxiety

It’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous before a test. Actually, a small amount of stress can be beneficial to you, as it drives you to prepare well and can help you maintain your focus. But for some students, the stress associated with testing becomes overwhelming and hinders their ability to concentrate and perform well on an exam. These students often blank out on all of the answers they had committed to memory before the exam began or feel so nervous about completing the exam that they waste time and energy anxiously checking the clock every few seconds. The latter is especially a problem for students dealing with timed tests (like the ACT!), but it can affect students in environments without strict time limits as well, particularly if a student feels they are a slow reader or slow test taker.

So if testing anxiety is so debilitating, how can you overcome it? If you’re bogged down by an inordinate amount of worry and self-doubt with regard to your testing ability, you have to take steps to replace your doubt with confidence. If stress and uncertainty are the root of testing anxiety, then surely confidence is the solution!

Developing good study skills and preparing adequately for a test are essential for building confidence. If you systematically study and practice the material, then you will feel considerably more comfortable taking the exam. Your preparation shouldn’t start the night before the test, because this will only lead to more stress! If you try to cram in too much information at once, you’re liable to feel extremely overwhelmed and underprepared. Instead, start preparing weeks in advance and examine the material slowly and thoroughly. This also gives you the opportunity to ask your teachers and peers for clarification on concepts you don’t understand along the way. If you wait to look at the material the night before only to find that you don’t understand it, it’s too late!

Studying should also involve ensuring that you know as much about the test as possible. You need to explore questions about the exam’s makeup. Will there be multiple choice questions? What about essays? How many questions total will you need to complete? Is there a time limit to the test? If so, about how much time will you have for each question? If there is a time limit and that stresses you out, begin working with practice problems under timed environments so that you become used it.

You also need to prepare yourself mentally. If you find yourself stuck in a negative thought pattern, work on developing a positive one instead. When you find yourself thinking about how you can’t succeed, combat this negativity with a new thought: I will succeed. I will ace that test. I’ve been studying for weeks and I know the material. Once you get in the habit of thinking this way, it will become your default.

Additionally, develop relaxation techniques. Different things work for different people, but some examples include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and visualization. Explore different options and find one that works for you, and then use it to help you cope when you start to feel anxious.

Finally, if you take all of these steps and still feel that anxiety is impeding your performance on exams, don’t be afraid to talk about it and ask for help! Sometimes, in addition to stress about exams, students feel ashamed of their anxiety, which only leads to even lower self-confidence, which leads to worse performance, becoming a self-feeding cycle. Testing anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of! If you need help, talk to your parents, teachers, and friends, and don’t be afraid to see a counselor.

Claire Engel 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.