It’s a common occurrence when taking the ACT. If you’re like most students, you struggle to finish different sections of the ACT or maybe even struggle to finish every section! You’re not alone. There are a lot of questions and this is a timed test, so time management is key to finishing each section.
Let’s take a quick look at the breakdown of questions and the allotted amount of time per section.
We like to say that the English section is one of the easiest sections to pick up points. Think about…within this section you are reviewing idioms, punctuation, pronouns, verbs, rhetoric content, and rhetoric style. Those are all things you’ve most likely learned about in the eighth grade. A solid review of all of those categories will pick up lost time within this section and leave you feeling ready for the math section, where students typically feel rushed.
The math portion of the ACT can be tricky for some students. There are 60 questions and 60 minutes to complete the section. Within this section, the questions become progressively harder. The second half of the test will generally have the questions that take the longest amount of time to solve and will involve more geometry and trigonometry than algebra. Do you struggle with geometry? Do you need help with trig? Defining what areas you struggle with and spending more time brushing up on those skills will be a huge help with the math section. Try not to rush. Answer each question to the best of your ability and if you feel pressed for time, bubble in the last questions with the same letter. Read about our Letter of the Day Strategy here.
Most students have a hard time completing the reading section since there are four different passages (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, literary fiction) to skim through as well as forty questions to accompany the passages. You have less than a minute to answer each question! Don’t freak out. There are different strategies to use within the reading section. Each passage has ten questions. Skim through the passage, then attack the questions. There are different categories within the passage such as line reference (e.g., “In lines 16-20”). Line reference is literally directing you straight to the lines within the passage! Other categories include lead word, comparing passages, vocabulary in context, the main point/big picture, and tone.
Here’s a shocker…there is no physical science in the science section of the ACT! It’s mainly charts and graphs. As you study for this section, make sure you know how to accurately read graphs and charts since the answers for all of the questions are right in front of you. For the questions that you can’t answer with the visuals, you can usually figure them out by reading the passage. Save time by skipping the instructions and head straight to the questions. Then go back to review the passage and the answer will most likely be within the passage.
Every student is different, but the common occurrence among all students is time management within the ACT. One way we like to prepare students is by giving them a Pretest, Midterm, and Final. Then we compare each test to see how far each student has improved. Not only does this get students ready for the test by practicing strategies, but it also helps practice their time management skills.
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.
With so many different choices, the decision of where to spend the next phase of your life can be a little overwhelming. Create a list of criteria and rank them by importance; use this to guide your search and narrow down the school that is right for you. Don’t know where to start? Here are some things to consider to help whittle down the lists of colleges.
What is Important For YOU
Make a list of “Musts” that a college has to have for you. Consider what you would like a school to offer and what you couldn’t care less about. Maybe you love marching band and continuing that passion is important to you. Your passions are a part of you and they should follow you throughout your college experience.
Identify Major Options
Not everyone enters college knowing exactly what they want their major to be. But before you start, you should always have a good idea of your interests and a few majors that appeal to you. Picking a school that only has one major that interests you limits your possibilities to change your mind if you find that it isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life. Too many people have entered a major thinking they love a subject only to find that it is more of a hobby than a career for them.
Finances can be a huge factor in choosing a college that is right for you, but not all costs are clearly posted. Many schools only post their rates per credit hour; however, sometimes additional equipment fees can be tacked on to your bill unexpectedly. Figure out what you can afford before you make any decisions. Look for scholarship opportunities both within the school and out of school for the best chance to be able to afford your dream school.
All schools are not created equal. Every college has their different strengths and weaknesses. Researching national rankings can give you a better idea if the school’s focus and direction line up with your own.
Class Quality and Size
The size of a school can factor into the quality of education available to you. You have to know what you are comfortable with regarding class size. If you attend a bigger college, classes will also be large. Classes with a student to teacher ratio of 300 to one are common with larger schools. Know your learning style and what will be the best environment for you.
Past and Current Students’ Opinions
Listen to what others have to say. Alumni and current students will give you better insight into the day to day life than any admissions representative. You never know what useful things you can learn.
This cannot be stressed enough. See the campus for yourself: pictures and videos can only show so much. Use the opportunity to talk to students, see different buildings, and get a general feel for the campus. Is the campus small enough to walk between classes? Things like very limited parking or how well the facilities and dorms are maintained can tip the balance between schools.
Most college students will spend 2-6 years at college. Of course, you will need a place to live, and chances are you will be moving multiple times throughout your time there. Don’t just assume you will be living in the dorms your whole stay. Check out the surrounding area. What are the options like? How far are they from campus? Are they affordable?
Everyone can use a little spending money, and others will need some additional income to pay for the cost of tuition. Look at local businesses and see what kind of opportunities are available and how many are open to students. Is there Work Study available on campus?
Trust your instincts. Some places will just give you a bad vibe. Try to identify what these things are, but even if you can’t do that, do not just ignore it. Other times you will step foot on campus and feel like you just came home. Gut feelings can go both ways; give them a voice in your decision.
Whatever school you choose should fit the college experience you are looking for in a school. Don’t let tradition or peer pressure put you somewhere you don’t belong. Trust and know yourself. You are going to college for you, so you should feel great about whatever decision you make.
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.
Most students fall into one of two categories, which is either private tutoring or prep courses. Do you know which type of tutoring you fit into? At Get Smarter Prep, we offer two types of courses to help students achieve their ACT goals.
Our Standard ACT Courses are a good fit for students scoring within the 17-23 range (the 30th-68th percentiles) and their score is consistent among all four categories of the ACT (English, Math, Reading, and Science). If there’s more than a 6-9 point difference in any of the four categories, then private tutoring may be more up your alley since it’s more custom to your needs.
The standard course assists students in achieving a score improvement, alongside a small group of similarly scoring students. Because our Standard ACT Course is taught by the most experienced instructors of any company in town and focused on a smaller, more cohesive group, our 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.
Another option for students who want to increase their ACT composite score is our Advanced ACT Course. This course is accompanying for students with a slightly higher ACT baseline score between a 24-29 (74th-92nd percentile).
The advanced course offers a small class setting (no more then 8 students) and meets once a week for eight weeks leading right up to the official test date. Built in practice tests are included with our advanced courses. Office Hours are always available to students taking this course.
While both our standard and advanced courses are good options for numerous students, we know all students won’t fit into those two courses, which is why we offer private tutoring. Private tutoring is available for any and all students who want to increase their ACT score anywhere between an average of 2-7 points depending on the amount of hours spent tutoring.
Whether you take one of our standard courses, advanced courses or elect for private tutoring, know that we want you to succeed and our tutors will strive to help you get the score you need for the school you want.
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.
“This win is Bella’s future,” said Dawn Heckert, mother of our scholarship winner, Annabelle Heckert. Dawn has won her fair share of giveaways and raffles throughout the years. When she found out the essay piece she wrote for Get Smarter Prep’s scholarship contest was in fact what we selected, she knew she won something special. However, it wasn’t until Annabelle started coming to her sessions with our Premier-Level Tutor, Caleb Pierce, and started seeing a change in Annabelle that she really understood the gravity of what she won.
Originally, Annabelle didn’t think much of taking the ACT. She knew she would eventually have to if she wanted to go to college, but she wasn’t excited about it. Taking the ACT was a step towards college, but she didn’t even know where she wanted to attend or which major she was interested in. Annabelle was grateful she won the scholarship contest and she knew she was going to give it her best effort, but it wasn’t until the very first session with Caleb that she knew this was going to be life changing.
“She came home and was excited to share these different strategies with me,” said Dawn. Annabelle’s excitement continued to increase after each session with Caleb. With each session her confidence also escalated.
“You gave her confidence and unlocked something inside of her that was stifled,” exclaimed Annabelle’s mom, “Confidence is the most important thing you can give a student now days.”
Annabelle took the ACT exam February 10th at her high school, Blue Valley West. When she was taking the test, the ACT proctor noticed she was taking the test differently than other students. Annabelle was going back and forth between questions and passages within each section, which is one of the strategies students learn at Get Smarter Prep. After the test was complete, the same proctor approached Annabelle and asked her what she was doing. “I was using my different strategies!” replied Annabelle.
“We are just so excited for her and proud of the effort she put towards this training by Get Smarter Prep! Caleb told her there were strategies to beat this test and she wanted to see if it was true. And man did she do it!” said Dawn.
Annabelle knows her training was unique. She put in the effort, came to class with a fantastic attitude ready to learn, completed her homework, and confidently walked into the ACT using the strategies and methods she learned during her tutoring sessions.
Annabelle still doesn’t know where she will attend college, or even what she is leaning towards for a major, but she does know she has completed a piece of the puzzle by taking the ACT. She knows for a fact that with the help of Get Smarter Prep she has done better than she ever thought possible, and that different possibilities now exist that weren’t there before.
“Get Smarter Prep has opened an even greater future for her as she explores what’s next! You have changed her story for the good!” exclaimed Dawn.
With a full 15-hr. Premier-Level Tutorial Annabelle’s score jumped up 7 points from a 24 to a 31 in a condensed four and a half week program! Get Smarter Prep couldn’t be more proud of this year’s Scholarship Winner, Annabelle Heckert!
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!
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