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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!
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.

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.

February 17th, 2015

Make the Most of Your Prep at Home

shutterstock_114474988Your parents have plunked down the money for prep, you’ve dutifully attended the sessions, now that first practice test is waiting to be tackled. Keep in mind that your score on the actual ACT or SAT will largely be determined by the work you do at home. Beyond conscientiously working to internalize the taught strategies and tactics and adhering strictly to time limits, what else can you do at home to maximize your prep? Try paying attention to your environment.

Study locations: If you usually complete your homework in your room, stick with it. If not, beware because no room contains more distractions. Then again, if you typically complete your homework in front of the tv, better find a different location. Ideally, you want to approximate the test location as closely as possible. This means finding a location with minimal distractions. Avoid spots where people will talk to you, where there is a lot of movement, or even locations that are too quiet. The test room will be quiet, but not silent.

Background noise: Research demonstrates that doing any kind of homework with headphones on decreases retention. Yet, background noise has been found to increase students’ focus. Some studies even suggest that certain types of music – Bach, Beethoven, or flowing instrumentals – may even increase intelligence and retention of material.

Lighting: The test rooms will be well lit. Turn those lights on if knocking those tests off in your room, or if in a library or cafe, sit where the lighting is good.

You want a great score, then give every effort. Find blocks of time that will allow you to complete entire sections, review the tactics and strategies right before practicing, time yourself strictly and avoid doing work on the bus or in front of the tv. Environment matters!

January 28th, 2015

Opportunity Knocking? – SAT Changes

“What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities.”

                                             – David Coleman, President, College Board

With these words a new era was launched at College Board, an era that will have a big impact on your child. So why the radical redesign of this venerable, 90-year old test? Lots of reasons, actually.

One well-researched criticism of the SAT is that it favors students from affluent families who can afford expensive prep. College Board, maker of the SAT, hopes to level the playing field by first offering income-eligible students four free college application fee waivers. They have also announced an “all in” campaign, the goal of which is to encourage Latino, African American and Native American students to take at least one AP course.

Another impetus for the wholesale change is one you might not expect. Through the influenceAllNew2016SAT of the SAT, College Board is trying to promote excellent classroom work and accelerate students who are behind. To this end, the company has aligned the new SAT with with the Common Core curriculum. In fact, the new president of College Board, David Coleman, was a key player in creating the Common Core standards. More concretely, College Board will support best practice in classrooms by working with teachers and college faculty to design course frameworks and modules for use in grades 6–12.

A cynic might claim that the changes are because the SAT’s growth has slowed. This is due in part to the above critiques which led a group of universities to adopt a tests-optional admission policy. Then in 2012, for the first time ever, more students took the ACT than the SAT. Many reasons contributed to the ACT’s ascendancy, but students discovered they scored better on this upstart with less prep because it is more direct and better reflects what students do in high school.

Will the redesigned SAT truly open up more opportunities for all? Parents, educators, and students will begin finding out in the spring of 2016.

October 28th, 2014

The ACT is Changing Too

(This article ACT-test-changes-graphicmarks the first in a series documenting the imminent changes in the ACT and SAT tests and an analysis of what this means for you and your freshman, sophomore or junior.)

The radical transformation of the SAT has been detailed in print and digital media for the past six months so we save this for a later article. What is less known is that the ACT is changing as well, though not as dramatically. Let’s take a closer look at the two primary modifications being made to the ACT.

First, the content of the test itself is changing, though the changes will be subtle. In fact, ACT officials claim that students taking the test both this year and next probably won’t notice any difference. The Reading section will include more author comparisons, testing whether students can integrate and compare knowledge across multiple texts. The Mathematics section will include a small bump in the number of problems dealing with statistics and probability. Finally, the essay will require more analysis, increasing its difficulty level to better match the challenge presented by the SAT essay. An overall writing score will still be reported, but students will receive subscores in the areas of ideas & analysis, development & support, organization, and language use. ACT administrators say the changes are evidence-based and better reflect classroom instruction.

The change with the largest possible future impact is the option of computer-based administration of the test. This past April, 4,000 students at 80 test sites tapped away on keyboards taking the computer-based test on a trial run. 2015 will see a broader release of computer-based testing while 2016 is targeted for a nation-wide roll out. And while there is currently no plan to abolish the paper and pencil test, from a preparation perspective, which test a student takes will matter greatly. The number of questions, the content, and even the timeline for reporting scores will be the same as if one was taking the paper and pencil test. However, the ACT has proposed some timing changes for the computer-based version and pricing for computer-based testing has not yet been finalized.

Seniors and juniors are safely ensconced in the “old-world” of testing. The landscape for sophomores and freshman is about to change dramatically, however. Hopefully, these changes will benefit these students when it’s their time to turn their attention to college preparation.

September 19th, 2014

How Many Tests Should I Take?

Open season for SAT and ACT testing typically runs from the beginning of junior year through mid-December of students’ senior year. Over that span, ten SATs and nine ACTs are offered. So how many should you take? While there is no definitive answer, there are many considerations to help you decide.

First, look at the research. Statistics from SAT and ACT indicate that scores plateau after a second test. The numbers from the 2013 ACT, for example, show that 57% of the students taking the test a second time increased their composite score. Research also shows that re-testing too many times can negatively impact your scores. You’ve heard it before – moderation! So is two times the best plGet prepped!an?

Two important caveats to consider before you walk away after only two tests. The first is that you need to be prepped before taking a test. Test prep companies have proliferated for a reason: prep works. Again, research proves that gains are made on the second attempt AFTER preparation. So, if I meet a student who’s taken one ACT, but hasn’t been prepped, there’s a good chance I’ll recommend he take it twice more after prep to maximize his score potential.

Why else would students take the SAT or ACT more than twice?

a) If a college they are applying to “superscores” the tests, students may want to chance a third to earn the best combined score among the three. (See our next blog for more on superscoring).
b) If you are trying to reach a particular score because of athletics or scholarship opportunities, then test away. When accepting athletes, colleges often require a specific score be earned to attend. In this instance, take the respective test as many times as needed to get that score. Similarly, every time you hurdle a milestone score on the SAT or ACT, say 1200 or 29, schools typically kick in more scholarship money. The cost of additional prep and test registration may be peanuts compared to the THOUSANDS students may potentially earn with better test scores.

Also keep in mind that both the SAT and ACT tests are accepted by every four year college. ACT prep is much less time consuming so it’s cost effective. Therefore consider an early ACT test before committing to the SAT. In fact, I usually suggest students take one of each and then focus on the one which they like better and scored better on. Finally, simply taking more tests does not guarantee improvement. Students must take practice tests, utilize strategies and tactics and be conscientious in their preparation.

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