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!

July 27th, 2014

Worth a BIG Effort – the College Application Essay

You’ve racked up great scores on the ACT and SAT tests, you’ve worked hard to get good grades and your recommendations are stellar. Yet you find yourself on your preferred school’s waiting list. A casual effort on the college application essay may be the reason.

Over the past 10 years the college application essay has become an increasingly important metric for getting into college. The reason? Colleges get multiple looks at you as a student through test scores, grades and teacher recommendations, but little sense of you as a person. The college application essay is often the only means that admissions officers get to know the person behind the scores. And this is often the difference between getting into the college you’ve dreamed of  versus settling for your “safe” school.


The essay is also the best way to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Have solid SAT and ACT scores? Great GPA? Active in athletics and a number of clubs? Studied abroad in France? So have thousands of other students across the country, many of whom share a resume that looks exactly like your own. The essay is the only part of the application where students present themselves as real people who hold sincere values and vulnerabilities, with distinct personalities and problems to overcome.

At Test Preps, Inc., we tutor hundreds of students each year who put many hours into studying SAT vocabulary and pacing themselves on ACT tests only to dash off an essay with little guidance. Parents and students need to know that an essay alone cannot make up for a poor academic record, but admissions officers admit that you can write yourself into a school. To do so, however, students need to know the essentials of a successful college application essay and the pitfalls to avoid, which will be the topic of our next blog.

January 23rd, 2012

The Boot Camp Model

Drop and give me 20 sentence completion questions!

The boot-camp format for SAT and ACT prep is booming not just in Western New York, but across the country.  There are a few good reasons.

First, teenagers’ schedules make President Obama’s look lackadaisical.  In early for a club meeting, after- school practice, tournaments on weekends, room for another commitment simply doesn’t exist.  And even when a few hours can be carved out of the schedule, there is no regularity to them, so a weekly prep class isn’t feasible.  Test Preps’ Boot Camps are held over school breaks.  We target the calm spot in the school schedule so kids can focus on improving their scores, getting into the colleges of their choice and earning more scholarship money.  What’s more, boot camp attendees are taught the same tactics and strategies that they’d learn if they signed up for our traditional SAT or ACT class, they receive the same interactive instruction, the same personalized attention.  

Another benefit of boot camps is their intensity.  No lectures, no tedious note taking. Teens are active right from the get go internalizing strategies, perfecting pacing, and taking tests.  Much like the no-nonsense test day itself, our boot camps are single minded about improving teens SAT and ACT scores.

July 29th, 2011

Essay Workshop for the College Application

Colleges have many ways to evaluate your teen academically: transcripts, college application, recommendations, test scores.  They only get to see the person behind the scores in the college application essay.  And with so many academically strong students to choose from in Western New York alone, schools want to know who will adjust smoothly to college life and how prospective students will contribute to the campus community.  As the head admissions counselor at the University of North Carolina expressed, schools do not want well-rounded students, they want students with a passion who will help create a well-rounded campus.  The college application essay is the only place where the character of the applicant is revealed, and thus the essay has become the single best way to distinguish oneself in the application process.

Help your teen stand out frGet your pencils sharpened!om the college application crowd! Sign them up for TestPreps’ Essay Workshop for the College Application, now offered for a second successful year.    Upon completion of our course, your teens will have written a polished essay that reveals their character, communicates how they will positively contribute to the campus community, and gives them the edge in an increasingly competitive admissions process.

June 8th, 2011

Free College Planning Workshop!

College application headaches and college financing nightmares in your near future?

Enjoy a full night’s rest again, attend the college planning workshop presented by the non-profit group American College Planners and the Amherst Youth Foundation with guest speaker, Bruce E. Supernault on Saturday, June 18, 2011, from 10:00am-12:00pm.

The workshop will cover maximizing aid through grants and scholarships, learning the 5 biggest mistakes families make in the application process, understanding your expected family contribution and what it means to you financially, deciphering Financial Aid Forms, and learning the 10 steps to ensure your child’s college success.

Having attended a previous workshop, I highly recommend it.  I’m in the business and still learned a great deal.  And besides, Test Preps will be represented with our own table in the back.  Stop by!

The workshop will be held at the Amherst Youth Foundation Youth Building at 5005 Sheridan Drive in Williamsville.  You must register online or by phone: Click on the “Free Seminars” link on the left or call and leave a message at (716) 276-1165.

Hope to see you there!


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April 14th, 2011


You know EVERY college will accept an ACT score in lieu of an SAT, you know there’s no vocabulary component,  you know that scores are averaged, and you have a basic idea of what each section looks like.  Still hesitant to register?

There’s no substitute for experience.

Have your teens take the ACT for a test run and see for themselves why it may be the test to get them the scores they’re hoping for.  Test Preps is sponsoring an ACT PREVIEW DAY, Saturday, April 30th from 8:00 – 12:00 noon at the Boys and Girls Club of Orchard Park.

The cost is only $20 and includes test-taking tips from experienced instructors and results emailed to you within 3 days!  Register online or call Ray Mangione at 474-8053 for additional information.

Find out if the ACT is the test to get your teen into the college of her choice.

April 14th, 2011

Meet the ACT, Part II

Test Preps is on a mission to spread the ACT news across Western New York and beyond: The ACT is a great test, well worth taking.  To help convince you, our last “Meet the ACT” covered the ABCs of the ACT, today’s entry will each section in depth, and a last entry will compare the ACT with the SAT.

While the SAT boasts its well known 1600 perfect score, the ACT tempts test-takers with hopes of scoring a perfect 36.  The average ACT score is 21, but those seeking Ivy League admission need a score in the top 90th percentile which most years translates to a score of 28 or higher.

Scoring the ACT is straight forward. The scores of all four tested categories (English, math, reading, science) are averaged.   All of the categories are scored on a scale of 1 – 36, and in the event the average score is not a whole number, the ACT rounds the average score to the nearest whole number.

Of the four sections, English is first and easiest to manage time-wise despite the 75 questions.  This section makes one the editor requiring grammatical and rhetorical fixes to five passages.  The grammatical knowledge required is fairly simple and can be easily reviewed if a refresher is needed.  There are fewer rhetorical questions, but they are more complex and require a bit more time to answer. They often involve shifting sentences and paragraphs around a passage or deciding whether sentences should be added to the passage.

Most of the math on the ACT resembles what students see everyday in high school: straight forward calculations and word problems.  The bulk of the 60 problems requires knowledge of algebra and geometry with just four problems covering trigonometry.

The reading section consists of four passages, each with ten questions.  When students struggle on this part it’s because the pacing is very quick, not because the questions are extremely difficult or inferential.  Finding answers quickly is a key to scoring well on this section.

And those who fear science need not tremble before the ACT science section.  No background knowledge is required to answer any of the 40 questions.  The section tests how quickly and accurately one can read graphs and charts.  Like the reading, many mistakes on the science section are due to the quick pace and not to the difficulty level of the questions.

An optional writing section closes out the test.  Note, however, that many schools will not accept an ACT score unless a student has sat for the essay though it is not counted for admission purposes.  Schools seem to think students are taking the easy route if they don’t opt for the essay.  If registering for the ACT, make sure to register for the “ACT Plus Writing!”

Convinced yet?  Stay tuned.

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