Blog
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.

September 11th, 2014

Tips for the College Essay Application, Take II

 

There are more tips for writing a winning college application essay than there is space to cover them in a few blog posts. Test Preps offers a three-session class for a reason! My last post covered the BIG picture: tell a story about yourself that reveals your values and character. This post will cover some smaller picture items which can sink an essay if missing or handled poorly.

 

First, let’s discuss the words you use. The vocabulary should be stellar but not stilted (like this sentence!). In other words, yes, you studied vocabulary for two months for the SAT, get some of that in your essay. Be sure you are using the words in the correct context though. And try to smoothly add that vocabulary into a more casual style of writing that matches your natural voice. Avoid sounding too formal which will have the admissions officer dozing before reaching the conclusion. On the other hand, avoid a number of words because they are essentially meaningless: always, never, interesting, meaningful, really, very, special, unique, 110%. Avoid others because they are better explained than simply stated: passion, diversity, adversity, hard working, leadership.

 
Second, try to be honest in your essay. Admissions officers can sniff out fakes. Trust me, it comes across in your writing. This doesn’t mean you should be above exaggerating a detail or two to accentuate your thesis. We all do this routinely when sharing stories with friends and family. However, the bulk of your essay should be true. Besides, when you are writing about a topic that you enjoy or are passionate about, the words come more easily and the story is more interesting to read. Again, it comes across in your writing.

Our last three blog articles have attempted to demonstrate the importance of the college application essay and give you some tips to follow as you begin writing. There is no substitute, however, for quality prep by an experienced tutor whether in a classroom setting or privately. Test Preps’ Essay Workshop for the College Application guides students in picking topics that highlight their growth and values, helps students develop quality leads and endings, and ensures that the structure, grammar and vocabulary of their essays are flawless. The end result of our three-session workshop is a complete, winning essay ready to be delivered to college admissions officers’ hands. Browse our website and give us a call. We’re happy to answer any questions.

 

 

September 1st, 2014

The MUSTS of College Application Essays

 

Our last two blog posts discussed the importance of college application essays and the pitfalls to avoid when writing them. Indisputable is their importance in setting students apart from the record number of applicants applying to college in the era of the Common Application. Also indisputable is that they can go horribly horribly wrong. Our next two blog posts will deal with what you should do when writing your common application essay.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that YOU must be the star of your essay. That’s right, whether the prompt is the University of Chicago’s “What’s so odd about odd numbers?”, Tufts’ “Why Tufts?” or the Common Application’s “Recount a time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?”, colleges want to know about you, your values and character. Your task, regardless of the exact prompt, is to tell a story about yourself that reveals who you are.

Your story or transformgrowth-aheadative event does not have to be Earth-shaking. You need not have sung at the Metropolitan Opera or performed relief work in Nicaragua by the age of ten. We all have our unique stories to tell and most of them are small and personal. How about that time you challenged your coach? Or let down your parents? Or let your friend copy your homework? Or refused to let him copy your homework? The smallest moments often make the best essays. And keep in mind that we often learn the most from our mistakes. Failures make great essay topics as long as they end positively with you having learned your lesson and grown from the experience. A few winning essays from Test Preps‘ former students deal with egging houses, learning to make brownies, getting kicked off of the soccer team for poor grades and realizing the importance of ironing clothes.

A good exercise is to read over the Common Application prompts and brainstorm possible essay topics for each. Think about events in your life that taught you a lesson, that helped you grow as a person. Whatever experience you decide to write about, you should be able to list 2-3 values and character traits that the experience reveals about you. In essence, try to recount a story about yourself that proved transformative and highlights your growth as a person.

 

August 12th, 2014

Big No No’s – College Application Essay

keep-calm-and-don-t-do-it-2I’m usually a positive person, but I’d like to focus on some negatives right now: the things one should avoid doing when writing a college application essay. Keeping these in mind when writing your essay just may make the difference in getting you into that top-choice school.

1. Don’t brag, whether about your heroism or how you won the game. Sure you’re proud, but was the moment honestly transformative?
2. Don’t write about pop culture icons or about predictable people: MLK, Einstein, even mom, dad & siblings. The former make you look shallow, and none of them have met you personally save mom, dad and your siblings, whom every student claims is their hero. You need to find a story unique to you.
3. Don’t write about your drug use, sex life, time in jail, or make any deep confessions. Yes, they’ve all been done, and yes, they are all too risky.
4. Don’t repeat information that is already on your application. The college already has lots of information about you the student.
5. Don’t lecture or preach whether about social, political, or religious beliefs. These topics are not taboo, however, you need to be careful how you write about them. You never know who your audience will be.
6. Don’t write using clichés, use too many quotes, or overly rely on the thesaurus. Quality writing matters!
7. Don’t try to flatter the school you’re applying to. The school wants to know about you. They’re confident in their ability to educate you.
8. Don’t fake it. Don’t make yourself out to be someone you’re not. Admissions officers can sniff out a fraud, and when you write about a story that’s sincerely impacted your life, your writing reflects this.

Test Preps’ Essay Workshop for the College Application covers these and many more “don’ts”, but this list will get you started in avoiding some of the most common pitfalls when writing those application essays. And now that you know what not to do, how about those things you should be doing? Sign up for a class and wait for our next blog post!

©2021 Test Preps, Inc. All Rights Reserved. SAT® is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this product. ACT® is the registered trademark of ACT, Inc. Test Preps has no affiliation with ACT, Inc., which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this product. Test names and other trademarks are the property of the respective trademark holders. None of the trademark holders are affiliated with Test Preps or this website.