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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.

To The Class of 2020

Your Sophomore Year is most likely going to be awesome!  You may start to think about college in the aspect that it’s not too far away and you have to start to prepare soon, but nothing really has to be done right now…right?!?  Actually, now is the perfect time to start taking action steps towards college.  Here are five tangible goals to achieve your sophomore year: Continue to do well in school, take as many AP classes as possible, join clubs and sports teams that interest you (don’t sign-up for everything!), develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend, and lastly, take a practice ACT or SAT test. Let’s further break down those steps.

 

Step One: Continue to do well in school. This one seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, some high school sophomores seem to fall into a slump often pegged, “the sophomore slump”.  Students find their stride as sophomores and are content with their classes, schedule, and homework levels.  Some students tend to hit cruise control and coast through the year. After all, everyone knows you take the ACT/SAT next year and get “really serious” about looking at colleges as a Junior. Not true. Now is the time to focus on your grades to build the foundation you’ve already set as a freshman. Sophomores need to at least maintain, if not improve their grades to set the standard for the rest of their high school career.

 

Step Two: Take as many AP classes as possible. Taking AP classes is a great way to beef up your high school resume and challenge you throughout your high school career. These college-level classes are a great way to gain experience that colleges will recognize on your high school transcript. If you can maintain a good grade in these rigorous classes they are worth it.  However, if you find they are bringing down your grades, which will lead to a lower grade point average, then it may not be worth your time.  Know your limits and decide if it’s right for you.

 

Step Three: Join clubs and sports teams that interest you.  Let me preface, I didn’t say sign up for every club and sports team imaginable.  Only sign up for ones that you are genuinely interested in and you will enjoy. If you sign up for everything, you will get burned out, especially if you are keeping your grades up and challenging yourself with AP classes.  Start an activity resume you can use in a college interview and applications process. Activities are an intricate part of athletic recruiting and fine arts opportunities. Don’t be afraid to join a club that isn’t well-known or popular. If that’s what piques your interest, go ahead and join! Colleges will find a lesser-known club perhaps more interesting than a well-known club half of the college applicants are a part of. Stay interesting!

 

Step Four: Develop a list of potential colleges you would like to attend.  Start with local colleges, state colleges, ivy-league colleges, or just a college based on location! The point is to start looking to see which schools you may be interested in. Many factors play into deciding on a college that’s right for you, such as a college major, size of college, location of college, religious beliefs, your own ACT/SAT score and/or GPA. Create a list that is both realistic and challenging for you.  Resist the urge to settle for a school that’s so-so.  As a sophomore, you have time to increase your GPA, study for the ACT/SAT, take AP classes, and join clubs, but if you don’t have a list of potential colleges, what’s the point of working so diligently?

 

Step Five: Take a practice ACT or SAT test.  Get Smarter Prep offers Free Practice Tests every Saturday morning. There is no excuse not to take a practice test.  The purpose of a practice test is to offer a baseline score of where you stand with either the ACT or the SAT. Are you much stronger in the math section than the reading section?  Or do you score evenly in English, Math, Reading, and Science? How do you feel about the timing piece of the test? Did you feel rushed on the ACT, but not the SAT? Are you comfortable with the score you received on the practice test or do you need tutoring? These are all questions we can give you answers to after you take a practice test. Plus, it’s always a bonus to take a practice test before the real deal to become more comfortable and acquainted with the type of questions the test makers are looking for. Sign up for a practice test today. 

 

Is your sophomore year going to be the best year for you in high school?  Of course we can’t answer that question, but we want you to be aware of the potential your sophomore year has on your college process. Now is the time to start planning for your future. Good luck!

Guessing on Standardized Tests – LotD-R

I apologize if this is a little more “dense” than most of our wonderful blogs – just bear with me & I think we’ll learn a little something new together!

Guessing on Standardized Tests – Letter of the Day Strategy

Many tutors use various strategies when it comes to guessing on the ACT – one of the most common strategies is the Letter of the Day Strategy. With this approach, if a student comes across a question that they don’t know the answer to (and can’t do any eliminating of other answer choices) or if they are running out of time and need to fill in bubbles – they use the same letter every time throughout the entire test. Guessing is a very important and easy concept for a lot of tests – particularly the ACT and LSAT, as many if not most students have trouble with the timing of these tests.

Using the LotD Strategy is considered to be the gold standard of guessing methods – as it gives you the best shot at getting one out of four questions correct on average (or one out of five in the Math portion of the ACT). Randomly guessing is much riskier: you may have a chance to get more of the questions correct, but you also have a chance of getting all of the questions incorrect. **(You still technically have a 25% chance – 20% in Math – of getting the question correct – but the odds are now positioned in a much riskier manner, statistically speaking).

While the LotD Strategy is certainly a good, risk-aversion approach to guessing on standardized tests, particularly multiple-choice test, I think for many students it is found lacking based upon a given student’s performance leading up to the guessing. What if we can increase the odds of getting questions correct from 25%, on a four answer choice test, to 30-40%?

Regression Toward the Mean 

In statistics, there’s a phenomenon call Regression Toward the Mean – which basically says that even when things are randomized, there’s a tendency for the average to be achieved over a larger sample size. For instance, if you are looking at just four Reading ACT questions, the odds that one of the answers will be A/F is ¼, but in such a small sample, it could be that it will be two correct answers or more. Or conversely, none of the answers could be A/F.

When looking at the Reading test as a whole, the sample is larger (40 questions total), so the odds that ¼ of the questions’ correct answers are A/F becomes more reliable, as the random variance has been reduced (not eliminated – as there can still be statistical anomalies).

What does this Mean?

What does this mean for a student on test day?! Particular students who are accurate with the questions that they’ve answered, but still have timing issues with particular sections (very common on many entrance exams), can improve their odds of guessing correctly by applying the aforementioned statistical concept.

For example, if a student has ten questions remaining in a set of 40 questions, they can quickly take inventory of the answer choices they’ve selected on the first 30 questions and guess the letter that has been used the least. If done correctly, the student should have a good opportunity to increase their accuracy in their guessing – which in the end will lead to a higher score.

The LotD-R strategy isn’t for everyone – and learning to quickly assess previous answers is a new skill that many haven’t previously practiced – but for some students, the strategy will allow for an improved score with minimal effort.

– Caleb Pierce

Tips for Surviving College Essays

Tips for Surviving College Essays

Brace yourselves, kids! The Common Application went live on August 1. Of course, you already knew that. You’ve been chomping at the bit to get a peek at this year’s supplements for your top choice schools. Right? Right.

Of course, the Common App prompts have been posted on their blog since March, and many of them are the same as last year:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

These prompts are specific enough to help you brainstorm, but open-ended enough to allow for some creativity in how you answer. However, for many students, that essay is just one of many. Depending on your list of colleges (I’m looking at you, Stanford), you may be facing a seemingly endless list of writing tasks.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed. How does one even begin? What is this madness? You know “what outrages me,” Wake Forest? The fact that I need to write forty-seven essays.

Here are Ten Tips for surviving college essays to make your college essay writing experience less terrible. Trust me, it is possible.

  1. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes, inhale deeply. Exhale. Repeat. We’ll wait.
  2. Seriously, breathe. You skipped that because you didn’t think it was important, however it is. I promise. Your brain needs oxygen to come up with the words that make essays.
  3. Put this in perspective. These essays might seem like the most important thing ever, but they’re not even the most important part of your applications.
  4. Get organized. If you don’t have a solid college list, start there. If your college list contains 38 colleges, consider narrowing. Take stock of the essays you need to write. Make a list, or even a spreadsheet. (I know. I know. Trust me.) Include what school the essay is for, word count, and the prompt. Don’t forget essays for special majors, programs, or scholarships.
  5. Think about your experiences. The best essays are stories that only you can tell. Be specific. Your experiences don’t have to be huge, impressive accomplishments. They do have to be authentic and important to you.
  6. Are you still breathing?
  7. Connect ideas to prompts. Go back to your list. If you’ve decided you want to write an essay about how reading a certain book influenced your attitude towards life, where might that fit? Devise a plan that allows you to write less than 47 essays.
  8. Just write. You can’t revise a blank page. Set a timer for five minutes and don’t stop typing. Don’t hit backspace. Just write. It’s OK if you hate it. It’s OK if it’s terrible. Just write.
  9. Revise. Be ruthless. Cut superfluous words. You’ve got to get down to 650, or 500, or 250, or 50. You’ve got no room for anything that doesn’t have a purpose. Delete. Save your drafts. They might be useful later. Don’t get too attached to sentences. They might be beautiful. They might also be unnecessary. Go back to the prompt(s). Are you answering the question(s)? Get specific. Go deeper. Read it aloud to yourself. Does it sound like something you’d say? Record yourself. Play it back.
  10. Ask for help. It’s important that your essay be your story, in your words, but feedback is critical to any writing process. You might ask your teachers, friends, or family to read your essay and provide their thoughts. Get Smarter Prep is here to help, too. Our College Essay Writing course is designed to help you develop your ideas and write your best essays! Contact us for more information or to get started!

The Willingness-Strategy-Increase Correlate

It happens quite frequently – parents ask me how students can improve their test scores.  Well, from my observations of thousands of students, there tends to be an integral combination of student effort and the mastery of the methods, as well as the structure, of the tests that provide the best results.  It’s the value of both that will help a student achieve their ACT or SAT goals!  It’s not a matter of one or the other – it’s the two in cooperation that leads to the largest score increases!

We recently helped a student that worked harder than any student I have ever seen!  She was honestly more self-motivated than anyone I’ve ever met.  The trouble was, while she worked very diligently and was dedicated to doing something – she didn’t choose to take the time to learn the right way to approach the ACT. She had taken 6 actual ACTs and probably 20 different Practice ACTs on her own before coming to Get Smarter Prep – yet she wasn’t seeing the result she expected.  The old adage, “perfect practice makes perfect” was not something she had ever adopted.  When she took the time to learn the right strategies, her time spent practicing was much more fruitful.

Conversely, I’ve seen numerous students who are provided with an abundance of opportunities to learn the strategies necessary to do their best, but who are not willing to do the “heavy-lifting” of practicing and committing to them.  Many of the strategies will stretch a student in a way they’ve never experienced – and if they aren’t willing to commit themselves to the strategies, there will be little room for growth.  Because some of the strategies feel uncomfortable for a student at first, they choose to rely on their “school methods,” which are often times counter-productive on these unique tests.

ACT and SAT prep is always the most productive when students are able to commit to the two aforementioned things: adaptation to the strategies that are right for the test and spending time practicing the new concepts.  If students are able to marry these two concepts, they will be well positioned to realize the goal score they set for themselves.

Caleb Pierce is a Tutor and the President at Get Smarter Prep

Preparation is the Key to Success

Whether you’re taking your ACT, SAT, AP tests or your History final, when it comes to education and testing, preparation is the key to success.  Here are some ways to be prepared for any class or test:

1)      Get organized.

Have a dedicated binder or folder for each class you are taking.  File each class’ notes followed by the assignments related to that material.  By keeping your school work organized, you will be able to refer back to your class notes and materials to review the concepts.  When you finish your assignment, put it in the appropriate binder to avoid forgetting to take it with you.

It’s also a good idea to keep a calendar at the front of your binder with all your assignment due dates written down.  For long term assignments, set a reminder to go off on your smart phone 2 weeks, 1 week and 3 days before the assignment is due to avoid procrastinating on the project.

2)      Put pencil to paper.

While you’re in class, take notes.  When you do your assignments, take notes and show your work.  There’s no point in taking notes if you can’t understand them later.

3)      Prepare your materials.

When you do your homework, find an uncluttered work surface, and organize your materials before you begin.  Have a pencil (or two) and an eraser handy.  Make sure your calculator batteries are working.  Get some scratch paper.

4)      Give yourself some time and some quiet.

I know you’re busy.  Volunteer hours and extracurricular activities don’t leave as much time for homework as you might like.  Write a homework appointment in your schedule, and don’t stand yourself up!  By setting aside time for homework each day, you won’t overbook yourself.  (Share your calendar with your parents, so they know not to schedule activities over your homework time)

When it’s time to do your assignments, turn off the TV.  Turn off the ipod.  Silence your phone.  Focusing on one thing at a time is a lost art in our multi-tasking, over-stimulated culture, but focusing on one task at a time and eliminating distractions makes you more efficient.  Because we aren’t used to focusing on one thing for an extended period of time, this might be hard for you at first.  Try this: set a timer for 15 minutes, and work diligently during that time.  When the timer goes off, set another timer for 5 minutes, and take a break.  Repeat.  When focusing for 15 minutes gets easier, gradually increase the work time by five minute increments.

Since everyone has a different learning style, your best method of preparation might look a little different than this.  You can learn what your learning style is and learn how to best apply that style to all your classes throughout high school (and on into college) with Get Smarter Prep’s Study Skills class.  Study skills like time management, organization, and homework planning will serve you throughout high school and college, and will even be great skills when you enter the work force.  Study skills also cover speed reading, reading comprehension, and writing skills.

Do you want mad study skills?  Check out our Study Skills class!

Gina Claypool is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

College Entrance Exams: How colleges know what you scored

If I were to ask 10 different families about the submission process of their student’s ACT or SAT results, I would almost certainly get an equal number of different answers.  How do you know what will be seen by admission professionals and what won’t!?  My philosophy, always assume the college(s) will receive your official scores!  Here are a few key points in which all other assumptions can be effectively null:

  1. Transcripts – For the 89% of students that attend Public schools, expect your high school to submit your scores to colleges on your official transcripts.  There are even a few Private schools that include this info on your transcripts.  In fact, some colleges even accept these as official test scores – as they’re coming from an official source, ie.  not the student, nor the family.
  2. Application – You’ll quickly find out that when submitting College Applications – whether the Common App or to a particular school – it will ask about the student’s academic background and test scores.  At the end of almost every application, the student signs it, declaring the information provided was complete and accurate.  I have known students to have their acceptances remitted because a school found out the information from the application painted a different picture than what truly exists.
  3. Collected – Often times, when students attempt to only send the highest scores, all of their scores are disclosed to a college – again because the college expects a complete and accurate portrayal of the student’s achievements and scores.
  4. Purchased Lists – It seems to be a little known fact, but one of the primary ways in which colleges get a student’s information is from the ACT, SAT, PSAT, and EXPLORE.  Colleges often times purchase student’s information based upon a score range – so even if they don’t know your actual score – they will most likely know a narrow score range in which you fall within.

 

So, how should a student go about sending their scores?  First off – I would recommend taking a FREE Practice Test for both the ACT and SAT – so you can determine a baseline and develop a strategy that is right for the student.  These scores are not recorded in the student record, but provide an accurate measure of the student’s ability with these particular tests. 

Secondly, I would never recommend that a student take an official test unless they felt prepared and confident in their ability.  While an abnormally low score won’t necessarily affect admission at most universities – why provide any university with a reason to doubt their admission decision?

Author:
CALEB PIERCE