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Top 5 reasons to take the December ACT Test

Many high school students debate which ACT test date is the “right” test date for them. And although there may be not be a “right or wrong” answer, Get Smarter Prep has a five strong reasons why we like the December ACT better than others.

Reason #1:

We do this for a living. That’s why when we suggest the December ACT as our favorite ACT and have proof to back that up, we want students to heed our advice so they can achieve their highest possible score on the ACT.

Based on an in-house study from June 2014 to June 2017, we’ve seen the largest average improvement on the December ACT. With nearly an entire point difference over the yearly mean, why wouldn’t you try to target the December test? One extra point could get you in-state tuition at a college out of state. One extra point could get you that scholarship you’ve been needing. One extra point could make the difference in getting into the university you’ve been dreaming about attending.  Don’t get us wrong, there are pros to other test dates, but based on our students’ results over the years, we continuously see higher scores on the December ACT. We don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Reason #2:

The December ACT is before high school finals. This year the ACT is on December 9th, which means it’s the week (or two) before finals. Why not take the ACT before you have to worry about high school finals, projects, and presentations?  Course Prep for the December ACT begins in the middle of October, so you will have been studying for this test for 8-10 weeks prior to the test date. Our Standard ACT Course includes 20 hours of instruction, 3 practice tests, and Office Hours with an instructor, leading right up to the actual test date.  You’ll be well-positioned to be able to dominate the December ACT, all before your first semester finals begin! We hate to see students “pile on” with ACT prep during some of their busiest times of the academic year, and the December ACT allows for students to finish one thing and move on to the next fairly seamlessly.

Reason #3:

Hello Winter Break!  I don’t know about you, but I like to make a list and check off the items on my list.  Presents bought and wrapped…check.  Winter break movie list made…check. December ACT taken…check.  It’s a good feeling to check everything off your list and truly be able to relax over Winter Break.  Who wants to go into Winter Break with a big, looming test to study for instead of drinking hot cocoa around the fireplace with your family? Besides, Winter Breaks won’t last forever. There are only a few more years to enjoy these extended breaks away from school.  Take advantage of them!

Reason #4:

Baby, it’s cold outside! With temperatures in the 30’s and with the potential of a lovely snow, why take the chance of having to stay indoors to study when you could be putting your snow pants on and building Olaf or Frosty? Take advantage of the extra time you have, since you already took your ACT, and take a walk in the crisp, cool air. Build a snow fort. Have a snowball fight with your friends and family. Or just stay inside and cuddle on the couch watching your favorite holiday movie like Elf or Home Alone. Either way, you’ll be able to participate in activities you want to do since you have more free time.

Reason #5:

Students are already in the swing of school when course prep starts in October for the December ACT, so part of your academic skills that seeped out of your brain over summer have been shaped up, and you’re back at the peak of your ability.  Students should be used to homework, study sessions, and tests by the time October rolls around.  With two months of studying for school under your belt, 2-3 extra hours of homework each week in preparation for the ACT should be an easy transition.

Hopefully, these five reasons are enough to push you over the edge if you’re considering taking the December ACT.  At Get Smarter Prep, we believe the December ACT is usually a great option for our students, helping them see significantly higher score improvements. We want you to reach your desired results as well, and if taking the ACT in December will help you reach those goals, then go for it!

Last Minute Tips for AP Exams

Spring semester is rushing by, and AP exams are just around the corner. How prepared do you feel? While there isn’t a ton of time remaining, here are some tips for earning your best score!

First, make sure you’re familiar with the structure of each test. Some teachers spend more time than others on this piece. If you feel secure in the content but not as comfortable with the actual exam, the College Board provides a lot of information about the each exam. You should be familiar with each test you take before test day, as you don’t want to waste valuable time decoding complex instructions that you could have reviewed in advance.

If at all possible, if you haven’t done so, take a practice version of each exam before test day. You may not have time to take a whole practice exam in one sitting, so break it up. Take a Calculus AP multiple choice section today and a European History AP Free Response section tomorrow. Focus on the sections you’re most nervous about – AP Comp Synthesis Essay, anyone? – and make sure to leave some time to review what’s working for you and what isn’t.

It’s impossible to review every topic, but select a few key topics for review. Your practice may help inform what to focus on, but looking over your course notes can help as well. Don’t plan to make 15,000 flash cards in a week. Zone in on what is going to deliver the most impact in terms of points, and be realistic about how much time you have.

Practice is important, but so is rest. Heading into your exams in a state of exhaustion or overwhelm is not the best approach. Know when to put the books and flashcards down. Eat regular meals and get enough sleep. Especially if you’re taking several exams, the next couple of weeks can be a test of endurance. Take care of yourself, and good luck!

By Audrey Hazzard, Premier-Level Tutor

The Hazards of Anecdotal Advice

Preparing for the ACT or SAT can seem daunting. Often, people instinctively turn to friends or online articles for advice. While some guidance from these sources is helpful, it’s important to examine the limitations of students who could be referencing an outdated version of the test, whose only knowledge of the exam comes from taking it, and who may have needs that are dramatically different from your own.

Our students commonly pass along what they’ve heard from their peers, and while some of it is good, solid information, a lot of it rings completely or, at least, partially false. For instance, some students will swear that “C” is correct the majority of the time when in reality, the answers on the test are evenly distributed throughout the exam – so C is no more likely than any of the other options. Another common tip passed around among high schoolers is to take the test on a particular date – take June, for example – because it’s easier than the others. There are several issues with this. Maybe June felt easier for one particular student, but, as everyone’s strengths are different, that didn’t necessarily hold true for others. Additionally, if the June test in 2015 truly was easier for most students, that doesn’t mean that the 2016 test will follow suit. Most importantly, the curve on the ACT renders any differences in difficulty irrelevant. If the June test truly was less difficult, then the curve would just be harsher.

Additionally, we recently worked with a student who scored higher on the ACT, but was told by a friend at Harvard that she should take the SAT solely because she had already taken the ACT previously. This was amidst the new changes (which made the SAT unstable and a bad choice for the majority of students). Combine that with the fact that every college will accept either exam, and her friend’s direction amounts to some pretty rotten advice. In the end, the student remained focused on her stronger test and exceeded even her expectations.

Looking to current college students for help – particularly those who attend prestigious schools – seems intuitive on the surface. However, students who attend top schools are often scoring in the top 99th percentile of college bound students nationwide, and therefore do not reflect the reality for the majority of other students. Also, these students have a very limited experience. Scoring well on a test does not make you an expert – especially as the tests continue to evolve.

The newly revised SAT gives a perfect example of this. In this article, Business Insider presents the perspective of a “Harvard grad with a perfect score on the SAT.” In the article, Chris Ryan (the aforementioned Harvard alum) offers last minute tips to scoring well on the SAT. There’s a major problem with taking his advice: the test that Ryan took years ago hardly resembles the current SAT.

In another article, titled “College Students Share Their Best SAT, ACT Test Strategies,” students from Washington University in St. Louis and Harvard University are consulted. Their advice includes some valuable tidbits, such as beginning to study well before the test, striving to learn new strategies, realizing that these tests are “not the be-all, end-all,” and the importance of skipping questions that are sucking up all of your time. Alternatively, some of the advice falls flat and illustrates a lack of expertise. When counseling students on time management, the WashU student claims that you should skip passages on the ACT Science section that include charts if you struggle with reading them. This information is not only inaccurate, it’s potentially quite harmful. Of the six ACT Science passages, five of them will reliably have charts, while only one may not. If a student were to try to follow this advice on test day, they’d end up frantic and confused – as they’d potentially be trying to skip over all of the passages.

Overall, it’s vital to use discretion when following advice about college entrance exams that comes from friends or articles. While some of it may be valid, keep the source in mind. Just because your uncle recently had his home remodeled, that doesn’t mean you’d want him creating blueprints for yours. Instead, you’d turn to the experts.

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.

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part III

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part III 

At GSP, we understand that the amount of information floating around in the world about how to prepare to take your test(s), which test(s) to prepare for, etc., can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, some of it is also terrible advice! Here are some of the most common test prep traps we see students and parents fall into. From wasting time and money to actually making your college applications less effective, these missteps can be easy to make. Fortunately, we’re here to answer your questions and point out some potential pitfalls!

In Part 1, we talked about the basics – when to take the test, and how many times. In Part 2, we discussed setting goals and committing to one test. Finally, we’ll talk about a couple of more advanced topics – Super-Scoring and scholarships.

9. Assuming the Colleges on Your List Do (or Don’t) Super-Score

Super-Scoring is taking the highest score from each section of a test (either ACT or SAT) to provide a higher composite score than a student would have had otherwise. For example, pretend I took the ACT twice. My first test I got a 24 in English, a 19 in Math, a 25 in Reading, and a 22 in Science for a Composite score of 23. My second test was a 22 in English, a 23 in Math, a 26 in reading, and an 18 in Science, for a Composite score of 22.

However, if a college Super-Scores, they’ll take the highest of each section, so that gives me a 24 in English, a 23 in Math, a 26 in Reading, and a 22 in Science, like this:

So the Super-Score that I actually end up with – a 24 – is higher than either of Composite scores, which is pretty cool (for both me, and the college, as my higher score boosts their student profile).

Some schools Super-Score for both ACT and SAT and some schools don’t Super-Score at all. Some do for one test, but not the other. Further complicating the Super-Score situation are changes in policies from year to year.

What to do instead: Do your research, and make sure your info is up to date! Knowing whether a college or university will Super-Score your results can be key to focusing your test prep efforts!

10. Comparing Yourself (and Your Scores) to Everyone Else

It’s almost impossible not to do. Everyone’s ranked! Everyone’s given their percentile, and it’s easy to be tempted to look to those with higher scores with envy, admiration, or even the suspicion that they’re in on some special secret that we don’t have access to. It can be tough to chat with a friend whose first test score is higher than your goal score without feeling discouraged.

Standardized testing is a skill, and, just like any other skill, it comes more easily to some people than others. Your ACT or SAT score isn’t an indication of much more than your skill in taking the ACT or SAT. The amount of time and energy you want to devote to improving that score has everything to do with the specifics of what you want to accomplish.

There are all kinds of reasons that people might have target scores in different areas. Your score might be just fine for admission to your top school, but maybe one more point will get you a great scholarship! Or maybe a specific program requires two more points in your ACT math score. It may make sense to put in some more time and energy to further boost your score! However, feeling bad about your score, or deciding you need to take it again just because your brother/cousin/friend Bob is going to take it again? That makes less sense.

What to do instead:

Do your research! If you really need a certain score for a school or program or scholarship that’s important to you, let that influence your goal. But be aware that (hopefully!) others are doing their own research, and will have their own reasons for targeting a certain result. Let your brother/cousin/friend Bob stress about those two extra points for that Indiana State scholarship, if that’s where he really wants to go. If you don’t even want to go to Indiana State, much less get a scholarship there, it probably shouldn’t impact your goal score.

We know that preparing for the ACT or SAT can be an overwhelming process. With the right information, it can be less overwhelming. At Get Smarter Prep, we can help students and families navigate the world of test prep by providing advice and guidance tailored to each student’s goals.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

 

Top 10 Test Prep Traps, Part II

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part II

At GSP, we understand that the amount of information floating around in the world about how to prepare to take your test(s), which test(s) to prepare for, etc., can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, some of it is also terrible advice! Here are some of the most common test prep traps we see students and parents fall into. From wasting time and money to actually making your college applications less effective, these missteps can be easy to make. Fortunately, we’re here to answer your questions and point out some potential pitfalls!

In Part 1 of this post, we discussed when and how many times to take the test. Next, we’ll review some important considerations in choosing which test (ACT? SAT?) and setting a good goal score. Here are some common mistakes:

5. Not Having a Clear Goal Score

“I want a good score.”

“I just want to do better.”

“I want it to be as high as possible.”

If you don’t have a clear goal in mind, setting up a study plan, either by yourself or with a tutor, is nearly impossible. There’s a lot of strategy involved in determining what components of a score can be improved, and by how much, and in how much time, for each student. Your practice test score, the amount of time you have, and the colleges you’re considering can all help you (and us) come up with a clear target for your preparation efforts. Having that target really shapes what your preparation process will look like.

What to do instead: Do your research, take a practice test, research the score ranges for the colleges you’re considering.

6. Not Having a Realistic Goal Score

Setting a goal is important, but setting a realistic goal is also critical. A lot of students know (of) someone who got a 35 or a 36 (2350-2400 for the SAT folks) and think, “If they can do it, so can I!”

They think if they just work hard enough they can turn an 18 in to a 36. No problem! Right?

How many students from the class of 2013 got a 36? 0.06%.

So you think, OK, I don’t need a 36. How about a 32? Only 2% of students get a 32 or above.

It’s important to realize that most people don’t break 30 on the ACT. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t work hard, or that they’re not intelligent, or that they won’t get into a great college, or do well once they get to college.

The ACT is intended to be difficult. Studying, practicing, and working with a great tutor can all boost your score, but it’s also important to weigh that studying and practicing against all of the other things that will help you get into college and just generally have a decent life.

You know, like homework. And activities. And sleep.

What to do instead: Look at the colleges on your list, your practice test scores, and talk with a tutor or someone else who can help you come up with a good plan. The amount your score can increase depends a lot on your starting point, which aspects of the test are easier or harder for you, and the amount of time and energy you’re willing or able to dedicate to preparing.

7. Dividing Your Energy

Let’s pretend Jane has decided to focus on the SAT. She’s working towards a specific test date, and everything is on track. Look out, though! Here comes an ACT test date right in the middle of her weeks-long SAT prep schedule. Maybe, think Jane and her parents, it might be a good idea to take some time out of the SAT prep schedule and do some ACT work?

Nope.

The ACT and SAT are actually pretty different tests, and colleges accept either one. With very rare exception, there’s nothing to be gained from switching midstream from one test to the other. If anything, Jane will end up more confused and using the wrong strategy on the wrong test – hurting either or both of her scores.

What to do instead: Take a practice version of each test (SAT and ACT) at the beginning of the preparation process so that you can make an educated choice about which test works better for you, then make a study plan and stick with it!

8. Committing to One Test too Soon

Here’s another scenario: Jane hasn’t taken any practice tests, but she knows she wants to focus on the ACT because she heard the SAT is really hard and has too many sections. Also her older brother John took the SAT and didn’t do very well.

Jane begins preparing for the ACT, but struggles with a couple of the sections. On a whim, finally, she takes a practice SAT, and although she’s been practicing the ACT for months, her SAT score is considerably higher.

What to do instead: Take a practice version of each test at the beginning of the preparation process! Many students will have comparable scores on the two tests, but feel more comfortable with one or the other. Other students will do somewhat better on one or the other right away, so it makes sense to stick with the one that is working! Either way, by taking both practice tests, you don’t have to wonder what you’re missing.

Watch for Part 3 of this post, where we talk about Super-Scoring and scholarships!

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Benefits of Test Prep

You’ve spent countless years in school studying for tests and exams, writing papers, and doing group projects. You may be with aplomb that your grades can secure you that spot in your dream university and that you have just enough extracurricular activities on your resume, however there still is that dreaded test standing in your way. Whether you will take the SAT or ACT, the classes you took in school most likely weren’t designed to prepare you for your entrance exam.

Just as you prepared for your work in high school, it’s important to prepare for these exams because we want you to be able to select your undergraduate education, rather than allowing a college or university to select you. SAT and ACT scores are important for securing that acceptance letter, but if you need more detailed reasoning, here are our top benefits of preparing for your entrance exam with test prep courses.

Benefit #1: Test Prep Courses Teach the Exam Format

Test preparation courses teach you about the test and the various sections that are included. Understanding the format of the exam ahead of time will allow you to move quickly through the exam as you better understand what is expected of you. If you don’t need to spend time reading the introduction to each section, you’ll be able to jump right in and have more time to answer those tricky questions!

Benefit #2: Test Prep Courses Provide You with Timed Practice Exams and Evaluate Performance

Practice exams can help you discover your strengths and weaknesses, so you know what areas you need to focus your preparation. You’ll develop time management skills for the test as each section is strictly timed and rushing through questions can hurt your score.

After your practice test is scored, you’ll be able to examine what questions you guessed incorrectly or weren’t able to answer. Reviewing your work will allow you and your course coach to find a trend in the types of questions that gave you trouble, so you can focus on those areas as you prepare. If you nailed the math section, focus your efforts on writing and critical reading!

Timing is extremely important for these exams. If you discover you rushed through everything and finished early, but answered some of the easy questions wrong, take your time and read questions more thoroughly next time. If you didn’t finish in time, the course coaches will be able to provide proven test-taking tips and study guides to help you answer efficiently and accurately.

Benefit #3: Test Prep Courses Provide you with the Tools to Improve Your Score!

The points above prepared you for this outcome! Test prep courses can help you improve your score as you learn proven techniques for succeeding on the test. You’ll learn the format of the test and ways to manage your time while answering the questions correctly. You’ll learn how to craft responses that include each of the required sections and review some of those difficult Latin roots. By discovering your weaknesses, tutors are able to tailor their lessons to help you improve your score by tens or hundreds of points!

If you rocked your standardized exam, congratulations! If you need some more help preparing for your entrance exam, we’re always here to help and can provide you with a solution that works for your schedule. We want you to prepare effectively to overcome this hurdle!

Springtime for Sophomores

Seniors have heard back from their schools and are finalizing their college choice in preparation for the May 1 deadline. Juniors are taking the ACT or SAT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams. Those two grades have clearly defined paths to college, but what about Sophomores? While spring of sophomore year seems far away from applying to college, there are three things you can do to strengthen your future college applications.

1. Take an ACT and SAT practice test and determine which test is a better test for you.

We recommend that the students take both an ACT and an SAT practice test near the end or just after their sophomore year. That way, you go into fall of junior year with a plan. Are you in range to be a National Merit scholar? If so, you can sign up for one of our summer classes in preparation for the PSAT. Do you play a winter sport and a spring sport? Another great reason to prepare in the summer and take one of the fall tests! Every student is different. Taking a practice test at the beginning of the summer ensures your student has time to decide which test and test date is best!

2. Finish the year with your highest possible grades.

Yes, this seems like an obvious one, but it really is important! If you have a bad test day, you can retake your SAT or ACT or driver’s license test, but once sophomore year is over, you are locked into those grades. Grades are a key piece of college admissions puzzle, so it is crucial to do your best.

3. Take advantage of the summer.

While it is tempting to spend the summer relaxing before the stress of junior year, you post-sophomore year summer is a great time to get a jump start on college. You are interested in botany but your high school doesn’t offer it? Take a course at a local college or community college. Not only will it look great on your resume, but it will be really interesting! Want to start saving money for college? Get a job! Jobs look great on your resume and give you a great opportunity to make business connections. An anecdotal example: my grandfather worked as a delivery runner for a law firm one summer; after graduating law school, he was hired by that same law firm! Too busy to have the set schedule of a job or class? You can always volunteer, write a paper to submit to your favorite magazine, research colleges, or take test prep!

Most sophomores have no idea where they might want to attend college, and that is perfectly okay! Following these three steps will ensure that when they do choose where to apply, they will have the highest amount of possibilities.

Linden Schult is a Master Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

The Super Bowl and Test Prep

The Huffington Post Blog had an interesting post by Nancy Berk, Ph. D., titled “College Admission Tips to Learn From the Super Bowl.” It is a terrific, and timely, read, and we hope everyone gets a chance to check it out.  While all ten of her lessons apply to college admissions, a two of them apply to test prep as well.

Lesson 4: Have a strategic game plan.

Should you take the ACT or the SAT? The GRE or the GMAT? Is a standardized test required for entrance at the school(s) you are interested in? We strongly recommend you take a practice test before starting so that you can see which test fits your strengths. We offer free ACT and SAT practice tests every Saturday at our office – sign up here! For other testing, give us a call!

Lesson 2: Know the rules of the game. Do your research. Ask questions. Talk to those who’ve been there including college students, their parents, teachers and coaches.

Is there a guessing penalty on your test? How much time do you have for each section? Familiarizing yourself with the structure, timing, and scoring of your standardized test will help you feel more comfortable and confident.

Do your research, take a practice test, and learn the rules of the game!

One more important lesson: don’t wait until the last minute!

Author Linden Schult is a Master Level Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.