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 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.



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.

July 11th, 2012

Start Spreading the News!

Western New York’s premier test prep company, Test Preps, has garnered national attention!   Yes, national!  Our Twitter feed has been included on a “best of” list by Testive, a funky company that aims to improve test and test preparation through technology.  They’ve been featured in articles by the Boston Globe and U.S. News, and now they’re featuring us!  See for yourself at

For those of you who already subscribe to our Twitter feed, how does it feel to be informed, ahead of the curve and hip?  For those who haven’t subscribed yet, what are you waiting for?  Go to right now and join the Test Preps on Twitter bandwagon to receive news, tips and info about SAT & ACT testing, college admissions information, and, in season, our SAT Word of the Day.

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.

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