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September 5th, 2019

Top Five SAT/ACT Questions Parents Ask Me…

Are you the parent of a high school sophomore or junior? Are you starting to think about college? One important component for most schools is the SAT and ACT score, and you aren’t alone if you have questions. I receive constant calls from parents asking:

  1. Which is better, the SAT or the ACT?

Since 2008, all U.S. colleges accept both tests! As a parent who survived getting three kids into college, my goal is to minimize the amount of time spent prepping. I always suggest students try both practice tests, and see which test is a better fit. Test Preps offers courses for both the SAT and the ACT, but most busy high school students don’t have time in their schedules to prepare for both. Let’s target the best test for your child, and maybe they can avoid taking one test entirely.

  1. When should my high school student take the test?

For many students, a great time to take either test is the fall of junior year. Every student is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to test prep. That said, it’s often a good idea to get started sooner rather than later. Do your test prep before school and extra-curricular schedules get too intense and leave plenty of time for a re-take. Most kids need that second chance after they’ve experienced their first official SAT or ACT.

  1. What results can we expect from taking a Test Preps course?

Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee results. It would be awesome if we could! Testing results depend on how much work is put into learning test-taking tactics and PRACTICING them under timed conditions. We only see your teen for one-and-a-half to two hours a week. The effort they put in on the other six days is what will impact their scores the most. After taking a Test Preps course, students feel more confident and know what to expect from the test. That alone makes a big difference!

  1. I’ve signed up for a test. When should I start prepping?

Time your test prep so that it leads up to the date your teen will take the test. You don’t want him or her to forget any precious test-taking tactics and strategies. Most students begin six to eight weeks before the test. There is no cramming for an SAT or ACT. Plan ahead!

  1. What’s a “good” score?

A “good” score depends on your teen and his or her college aspirations. Sometimes kids prepare for the tests simply because they want to get into a college. Others strive to attain a certain score goal in order to get into an honors program or win merit scholarships. A “good” score is whatever helps your child succeed.

 

Does preparing for the SAT and/or ACT sound intimidating? It isn’t, I promise. Most projects seem difficult until you break the work down into manageable chunks, and that is exactly what we help students do at Test Preps.

Do you have other questions for me? If you haven’t already done so, check out our website at TestPrepsBuffalo.com and then call me today at 716-574-7349. Let’s talk about YOUR child and our upcoming sessions.

Melissa Cook 
Owner/Director of Test Preps

 

April 4th, 2019

PSAT Primer for Accelerated Students

Everyone knows that high SAT or ACT scores can be rewarded with scholarships, tuition assistance and other great benefits. But the PSAT can also be worth money if you test exceptionally well. Standardized testing is a part of every high school student’s path to college. For strong students who are accelerated in their coursework, preparing for an SAT or ACT before taking the PSAT can be a savvy option. Besides getting an early start on test preparation before junior year becomes busy with AP work and extracurricular activities, early test prep can also ready a student for the PSAT and possible National Merit recognition and money.

About 1.6 million U.S. students take the PSAT each year. However, only scores achieved during junior year are eligible for National Merit rewards. If you score in the top 3 to 4% of PSAT test takers in your state, you move on to the Commended Scholar level. Every state’s required score is different and changes each year, depending on what scores are produced that given year. “Commended Scholar” is a nice line on your college application resume and your PSAT journey is over.

But let’s say you score really well and are in the top 1% of your state’s test takers – congratulations! You are then considered one of about 16,000 National Merit Semifinalists. That’s an even better line to put on your application, just from scoring exceptionally well on the PSAT.

Here is the tricky part. Those 16,000 National Merit Scholars are asked to take either the SAT or ACT and score high enough to validate that their PSAT score wasn’t a fluke. (ACT option just added for the class of 2020!) Also, there is an application package to complete which includes an essay.

About 8,000 (or half) of these National Merit Scholars will be given money. Some will earn $2,500 as a one time payment, straight from the National Merit organization. Some will get money right from their intended college. Others can earn money from corporate sponsors – typically $10,000 divided into four payments. Colleges may even reward National Merit Finalists in addition to the student getting a corporate scholarship. Click here for more information about the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Here’s where early test preparation can help a serious student excel not only on the SAT/ACT, but also with the PSAT. In my personal experience, my son took an ACT preparation course at the end of his sophomore year and got a great first score on the June ACT. With additional preparation and practice, he achieved a perfect score on the ACT in the fall of his junior year. When he tried the PSAT, it was easier because he already knew how to attack a standardized test. He seriously prepared for these tests and was rewarded for his efforts. First, a presidential scholarship from University at Buffalo, then as a National Merit Scholar, and finally, with an additional $1500 award by the college when the National Merit money was applied during his freshman year. It certainly added up!  Additionally, prepping early in junior year avoids a heavy load in the spring during AP exam testing and finals.

The PSAT can be more than a warm-up for the SAT, it can be an avenue to additional accolades and money for college. If your teen is accelerated in their high school coursework and ready to diligently prepare for college testing, Test Preps can help! Contact us well before their junior year to talk about how they can benefit from early preparation for the SAT or ACT.

*Thank you to my colleague D. Cicero for sharing her wealth of knowledge and her son’s PSAT experience in this guest post!
April 18th, 2018

How to Navigate the ACT Essay

With so much emphasis on the multiple-choice portion of the ACT, many students are quick to dismiss the test’s essay requirement and think they can simply wing it. However, the ACT essay is unlike most of the essays you’ll write in your English class. With only 40 minutes on the clock, you’ll need to have a strategy in mind for writing a clear and comprehensive essay that addresses all elements of the prompt.

Here’s a breakdown for how to effectively navigate the ACT essay:

Make your case. The ACT essay prompt requires that you take a stance regarding three perspectives outlined in front of you. You’ll be expected to analyze all three perspectives; state and define your own perspective about the issue; and explain the relationship between your perspective and the insights provided. You can choose an existing prompt to support either fully or partially – or offer an entirely different perspective to make your case. As you state your case, you should support your ideas with logic and reasoning by providing specific and detailed examples.

Be organized. It’s important that you organize your ACT essay in a structured and coherent format. Typically, an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion are needed for a comprehensive essay that fully addresses the prompt and allows you to convey your message. At the beginning of your body paragraphs, it’s best to use transitional phrases so your ideas flow naturally and make sense. Throughout the body of the essay, you’ll also want to incorporate examples that support your opinion and add value to your perspective.

Proofread if time allows. When you’re writing on the clock, sometimes proofreading can seem like the last priority. However, glaring errors can take away from the quality of your essay and leave the reader struggling to decipher what you’re trying to say, potentially having a detrimental effect on your grade. Taking even just five minutes (if time allows) to read through your essay and correct any spelling or grammatical errors can be the difference between an average essay and an exceptional one.

Our test prep experts can help you prepare for the ACT! Learn more about Test Preps’ ACT small group and tutoring options and get in touch with Melissa Cook at contact@testprepsbuffalo.com or (716) 574-7349.

March 8th, 2018

Think It’s Too Early To Make Summer Plans? Think Again!

Summer may seem far away, but the school year will be over in the blink of an eye and June will be here before you know it. How you spend your summer can make a difference during the college admissions process. Will you seek out a job or internship? Will you volunteer in your community? Or will you just lounge by the pool with your friends every day? Taking some time to plan ahead will ensure you spend your summer productively, while still having fun and enjoying your time off from school.

Now is the time to consider these college and career-building opportunities when making your summer plans:

Internships and academic programs.  Many companies and colleges offer formal internship and academic programs specifically designed for high school students. Depending on your interests or passion, you may find it valuable to pursue a structured program during the summer. There are many options to consider such as hospital internships, STEM programs at a college, writing workshops, theater/music camps and so much more. These can be in your hometown, or even abroad! It’s important to note these programs often have early application deadlines. Therefore, you must begin the research and application process in the late winter or early spring.

Volunteering.  You don’t have to be enrolled in a formal program to acquire new skills and learn more about yourself. Volunteering is one of the most underrated (and cheapest) ways to get exposure to potential academic majors and career paths. The best part is that the opportunities are endless. Whether it’s working with animals at a local SPCA or lending a helping hand at a nearby hospital or nursing home, volunteering allows you to take on new responsibilities and gain experience in a real-life work environment. Be sure to track your volunteer hours and have a supervisor document them.

Employment.  Never underestimate the power of a summer job in building your resume and college admission profile. Any type of employment – from babysitting or mowing lawns to working at the local ice cream shop or mall – can be a valuable way to spend your summer. In addition to earning money, summer employment promotes independence, team building skills and time management, helping to prepare you for college life. Some large employers (like Wegmans) offer scholarships for students who work there throughout their high school tenure.

Do your summer plans also include preparing for the ACT or SAT? Summer is a great time to prep as the ACT is now offered in July and the SAT is held in August! Learn how Test Preps’ small group classes and/or private tutoring can help you prepare for your upcoming test. Contact Melissa Cook today at contact@testprepsbuffalo.com or (716) 574-7349.

November 13th, 2017

Test Prep 101: Evaluating Your Test Preparation Options

So, you’ve signed up for the next SAT or ACT. That’s a great first step! But how are you going to prepare for test day? With many options available, it can be difficult to decide how to use your limited study time most effectively. One important step is to determine the best method of test preparation for your personal learning style.

As you consider your study plans, here are three test prep options to consider:

  1. Small Group Classes: Group sessions are a great option for most students because they cover all the essentials including test format, types of questions, and timing, while teaching specific strategies for each test section. With Test Preps’ SAT/ACT courses, students are placed in small groups by ability, so the pacing of the class can be adjusted to meet the needs of the group’s learning level. Every class reinforces the test strategies taught, utilizing guided practice and interactive drills to cover each section of the test. Homework is assigned weekly and then checked at the following class because targeted practice and self-assessment are critical pieces of the process.  Small groups foster a “we’re all in this together” mentality and encourage peer collaboration and engagement. Most importantly, ability-based small groups create a dynamic setting in which students feel comfortable asking questions or for help with a problem.
  2. Private Tutoring: For students who struggle with staying focused or simply don’t want to ask questions in a group setting, private tutoring can be an excellent option. One-on-one tutoring sessions allow students to have specific content areas addressed and receive immediate feedback to capitalize on testing strengths and address weaker areas. This option is especially valuable for students with learning challenges, or those who cannot attend a scheduled course. Additionally, private tutoring can be beneficial for students who, after completing a course, need further tutoring in one specific testing section.There are other advantages to working privately with a tutor. Some students greatly benefit from the accountability of meeting with a tutor who ensures they complete the required work each week and helps the student assess where mistakes are being made. Extra work in content areas can also be addressed, as needed. Private tutoring is a helpful option for students with busy sports schedules who require a flexible study schedule on a week-to-week basis.
  3. Self-study: Studying on your own requires a significant amount of diligence and self-motivation! This may be a good option for students who are inclined to use online testing tools and take timed practice tests on their own. However, it is a less than ideal option for procrastinators. To make self-study effective, students must be committed to a weekly study routine, dedicating a set amount of time each week to completing sections. Self-assessment is key! Students must be proactive in determining where they are making mistakes and focus on improving their weak areas. In general, most students find that other test prep methods, like small group classes or private tutoring, hold them more accountable to their study schedule.

It’s important to figure out which SAT/ACT preparation method works for you, well in advance of your official test day. You’ll want to consider how you prefer to learn and study, as well as which program fits best within your busy school and activity schedule. Regardless of which method you choose, it’s critical that you take your test preparation seriously and put in the time and effort required to perform your best

Here in Buffalo, NY, Test Preps offers many options to accommodate all types of learners. Want to learn more about our programs? Get in touch with Test Preps’ owner, Melissa Cook, at contact@testprepsbuffalo.com or (716) 574-7349.

September 19th, 2017

Looking For Scholarship Money? High Test Scores Can Help!

Almost every parent or student going through the college admissions process is interested in scholarships. The reality is that earning scholarships is a competitive process – even if you’re a straight A student. When it comes to scholarships awarded by colleges, as well as public and private institutions, applicants must possess a strong academic record and high standardized test scores to be considered. So, what does this mean exactly? It means that the better you perform on your SAT or ACT, the more scholarship money you can potentially receive.

Here are three of the top reasons why achieving high SAT or ACT test scores can make you more competitive in the scholarship applicant pool:

 

  1. You’ll be eligible for “automatic” merit scholarships. There are some colleges that automatically award merit scholarships based strictly on numerical criteria, including SAT or ACT scores, and qualifiers like GPA or class rank. With automatic merit scholarships, you do not have to submit any extra application information. However, some colleges require that you apply for admission by a certain deadline to be guaranteed a scholarship. To get an idea of how much merit aid you may be awarded at a given school, you’ll want to check out each college’s net price calculator. Net price calculators allow students to enter their GPA and test scores for an estimate of how much scholarship money they may receive if admitted to the college. Every college website is required to have a net price calculator, so it’s helpful to take advantage of inputting your information as you apply to schools. Check out this list by U.S. News & World Report to access links to the net price calculators of about 300 top national colleges and universities.

 

  1. You’ll be a competitive candidate for many private scholarships. There are thousands of private scholarships available to students through various companies, employers and organizations. And, with endless scholarship opportunities available online, it’s never been more important for students to make sure their academic credentials stand out. Though private scholarships are based on many factors, a high SAT or ACT score can increase your odds of being considered – simply because your test scores will outshine those of many other candidates vying for the same opportunities.

 

  1. You’ll enhance your admissions profile for program-specific scholarships. In addition to becoming eligible for colleges’ standard merit scholarships, an impressive score will open doors to many other scholarship opportunities. For example, most colleges require students to meet a specified testing threshold to earn scholarships pertaining to certain academic programs (i.e., a STEM scholarship). Or, if you are hoping to earn a scholarship through admittance to a college’s honors program, a high test score will be favorable in your admission to the program.

As you can see, performing well on your SAT or ACT is important not just for admission, but for your wallet. Taking test preparation seriously will help you get into the college of your dreams AND earn you free money to attend it. It’s a win-win!

Is scholarship money a priority for you? Achieving a high SAT or ACT score requires dedication to the test prep process. Enroll in one of Test Preps’ programs today by contacting Melissa Cook at contact@testprepsbuffalo.com or (716) 574-7349.

August 12th, 2017

Getting The Most Out Of Your College Visits: 3 Great Questions To Ask Your Tour Guide

It’s that time of year again when many families make room in their late summer schedules to visit colleges, even incorporating them in family vacations and weekend getaways. However, what most people forget is that asking the right types of questions is critical for getting the most out of college visits and making informed decisions about college choices. There are many basic inquiries you’ll want to have addressed regarding academics, cost and dorming – but there are also some questions you may not have thought to ask.

Whether you’re a parent or a student, here are three of the best questions to ask your tour guide during your college visits:

1. What types of internship programs are available to students? With the workforce now more competitive than ever, it’s imperative to inquire with each college about internship placements. Students should know what types of internship programs are available, as well as what percentage of the college’s students get internships during and after their degree programs. Because internships have become a key component to securing full-time employment, having this information is essential in making the best college decision for future career opportunities.

2. Do many students go home on the weekends? Just because dorming exists at most colleges does not mean there’s an active residence life on every campus. There are many colleges often referred to as “commuter schools” where students who dorm on campus tend go home frequently on the weekends. If you’re visiting a college far from home, you’ll likely want to pick a school in which students are regularly engaged in campus activities during the weekends. Get a sense of the residence life culture during your visit by asking your tour guide and students on the campus for their thoughts.

3. What is your graduation track record? The whole point of going to college is to earn a degree you can use for your future, right? Well, you’d be surprised as to how many people fail to ask about graduation rates! Be sure to ask each college about their respective four-year and five-year graduation records. This is important, as it will give you an idea about the quality of each college’s academic advisement and how equipped the students are in completing their degree programs on time. Remember, the longer it takes to graduate, the more money and time you’ll spend in college!

These are just a few of the many important questions to keep in mind during college visits. By planning your questions ahead of time, you can make the most out of your visits and ensure you have all the information you need to effectively evaluate the colleges on your list.

In addition to college visits, is SAT or ACT prep part of your plans? Enroll in one of Test Preps’ programs today by contacting Melissa Cook at contact@testprepsbuffalo.com or (716) 574-7349.

June 2nd, 2015

Thorough Test Prep Tends To Your Body & Mind

As the SAT/ACT 2014-2015 testing season hurtles towards completion, time to take stock of your preparation. Attended every session of prep class? Check. Practice tests diligently completed? Check. But much more should be done to ensure you get the best possible score on test day. You need to attend to your body and mind by sleeping well, keeping hydrated and eating healthy. Each is supported by copious research and each will improve your score.

We all know teenagers are chronically sleep deprived. They go to bed late, get up early for school, and binge sleep on weekends. Not a healthy pattern, especially heading into a SAT or ACT. One site on sleep puts it bluntly, Well-rested brains do a bunch of tasks better than sleepy brains.  In tests of response time to stimuli, agility, ability to remember new material and to perform things like mental arithmetic, the superiority of the rested brain has been shown again and again.”1 Don’t believe the research? Every year we have students sign up for SATs and ACTs not realizing their prom is the night before. Regardless of how they practiced, their scores range from abominable to abysmal. A week or two before the test, shift your sleeping patterns. Go to bed at a more reasonable hour and wake up at least ninety minutes before the scheduled time of the test. You’ll find your mental abilities sharpest right when it counts, when the proctor says “Go!”

Though the exhortation to drink eight glasses of water a day turned out to be baseless, keeping hydrated is important. When I went to high school in Western New York in the 1980s, carrying a water bottle around the halls was unheard of. Research in the 1990s changed this, and now water bottles are ubiquitous sights in classrooms. Why? Adequate hydration has been proven to help us better handle stress and “a drop of just 2% in body water causes short term memory problems and significant difficulties with concentration.”2 Make a habit of bringing a water bottle to school, drink water the morning of the test and bring a bottle of water to the test so you can hydrate on breaks.

And speaking of morning, do not skip breakfast. It’s almost cliché to say that breakfast is the most important mCulture-Eats-Strategy-For-Breakfasteal of the day, but research has shown this to be true many times over. The statistics are eye opening. Students who eat breakfast regularly perform better academically, have increased attendance and less often visit the nurse’s office. Students who eat breakfast regularly also, on average, score more than 17% higher on math tests and are 20% more likely to graduate. 3 Common sense tells us that eating healthier foods leads to better physical and mental health. Eat better in the weeks leading up to the test and do not skip breakfast. Since you’re already getting up earlier, you’re sure to have the time.

Practice tests and tactics should only make up on part of your prep. Sleep, hydrate and eat well to make sure you’re at you very best on test day. Better yet, make them life-long habits.

1. “Sleep and Learning.” The Relationship Between. Web. 2 June 2015.

2.Roberts, Roger. “Benefits of Adequate Hydration Are Mind Boggling.” Streetdirectory.com. 2015. Web. 2 June 2015.

3. Bakies, Karen. “The Breakfast Benefit: Why Schools Should Make Morning Meals a Priority.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 2 June 2015.

May 8th, 2015

Higher ACT/SAT Scores Can Earn You Big Bucks & Other Benefits!

We all know your ACT/SAT scores help you get into college, but your score can reward you in many other ways. A few points gained on an ACT, forty or fifty on an SAT may earn you big scholarship money and admittance to honors programs in colleges throughout the northeast and across the nation. When parents balk at the hundreds of dollars required for test prep, they may be leaving thousands of dollars on the table.

College-money-630x551Most schools grant more money for better test scores. The best part is most of these scholarships are granted automatically with no further application materials needed. A peek around Western New York offers many examples. A jump from a 21 to a 24 on the ACT (1000 to 1100 on the SAT) at D’Youville earns students $3,000 more per year. The difference between a 20 and 24 on the ACT at Niagara University? $7,000 in free money per year. And a 27 on the ACT (1210 on the SAT) at Niagara earns you $17,000 a year. Rank in the top 20% of your class? Then a 28 on the ACT will earn you $9,000-$15,000 in scholarship money per year at RIT. A 28 on the ACT at SUNY Alfred gets you a free ride including room and board. Satisfied with a 32 on the ACT? One more point and you can go to UB for free, including room & board and books. Once you’ve narrowed down your list of college possibilities, spend time visiting their websites or give them a call to learn if a few more points on the ACT or SAT may earn you big bucks.

And while we all like to be shown the money, your ACT/SAT scores can earn you lots of other under-the-radar perks. A 28 on the ACT (1260 on the SAT) can get you admitted to the All-College Honors Program at Canisius College. What are the benefits? Special living accommodations, unique field trips, research grants and internships, and individualized mentoring. At Niagara University, a 27 on the ACT can get you into their Honors Program which allows you to attend special classes, enjoy lunch with campus lecturers and visiting notables, and gets you invited to exclusive mixers. Benefits of the University Honors College at UB include special interest housing, scholarship and teaching assistant opportunities, preferential class scheduling and specialized academic advising.

Do your research! Another test, a few more points on an ACT or SAT, the cost of test prep may well be worth your time, effort and money. And when researching, keep in mind that the requirements for in-state and out-of-state students may vary. Also note that many of the above opportunities have deadlines that differ from the normal application. Your ACT/SAT scores may not just get you into college, but may help you get the most out college as well.

April 20th, 2015

Are My ACT Scores Good Enough?

Students and parents ask me this all the time. My quick answer is “It depends”. Your test scores are an important piece for getting into college and should not be underestimated. Think of the chore college admissions officers have in comparing grades from high schools all across the country or weighing the merits of one student’s participation in band versus another student’s spot on the football team. And let’s not forget that colleges are getting thousands more applications per year due to the ease of the Common Application. The test scores alone compare students from all over the country by the same yardstick and provide an easy means for admissions officers to reduce potential applicants.

ACT-AM-I-READYThe quality of your score depends on which universities you are applying to. The more selective a university, the higher the score required to be admitted. Once you’ve begun to make a list of schools you’re interested in, visit their websites or give them a call and ask what scores they require on the ACT. You can also check websites like College Simply. Just plug in your score and a list is generated of the colleges in every state for which you qualify.

Two other points to keep in mind. First, many colleges superscore the ACT, meaning if you take multiple ACTs, they will combine your top scores on each of the four ACT sections to make a “superscore”, (See Up Up and Away, Superscoring the SAT and ACT Tests, 10/9/14). Yes, you should be taking more than one ACT, especially when research shows that students score best on a second test after prep.

A final point to keep in mind is that higher ACT scores can earn you more merit scholarship money, and with no ceiling to college costs in sight, every point you earn means less debt down the road. Besides merit money, higher ACT scores can gain you admittance into honors programs with preferential scheduling or honors dorms as perks.  Our next blog entry will explore these last points in detail.  Stay tuned.

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