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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.

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.

October 9th, 2014

Up Up & Away! Superscoring the SAT & ACT Tests

Can’t quite get your best critical reading and math scores on the same SAT? Does the difficulty level of the ACT’s four sections seemingly change at random from test to test? Most universities offer a fix for these problems through superscoring. When you submit all of your test scores for the SAT or ACT, most schools will take your top score from each section to create a “superscore”. For example, say you sat for the SAT this past May and June earning CR scores of 550 and 580 and math scores of 600 and 550 respectively. Schools would superscore your test by combining your June CR score of 580 with your May math score of 600 for a total combined score of 1180.

While superscoring certainly benefits students, colleges have a stake in the game too. By creating superscores for every student, they boost the overall average scores of thunnamed (1)eir incoming freshman, and thus they climb in college rankings.

Some students worry that taking lots of tests is a black mark on their applications, but most schools utilize computer programs that compile scores and spit out ranked lists of applicants making admissions officers’ jobs a little easier. In other words, most admissions officers never see how many tests you take save at a few select colleges. This may sound like an invitation to take as many tests as you can, but there are good reasons to limit the number of tests you sit for which we covered in our last blog article.

College Board helpfully keeps an up-to-date list of schools that superscore the SAT at SAT Score-Use Practices by Participating Institution. A brief list of colleges that DO NOT superscore the SAT can be found here. The list of schools that superscore the ACT is a bit more elusive. I always encourage students to get in touch with the institutions that they’re considering applying to. The most up-to-date ACT list I found is at Schools that Superscore.

So take a deep breath. When taking your seat on test day remember that your performance on that one test may not solely decide the score a college will use to admit you.

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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