$ave Big on ACT/SAT Prep

You Can Save Dollars and Improve Your Teens’ Test Scores

The stakes are high for many high school students prepping for the ACT and SAT tests who hope to gain entrance into ivy league universities or who aspire to maximize their scholarship opportunities. And competition can be daunting given the dollars ($500-$800!) many families fork out to secure their child’s position on those ivied ladders of academic placement. But you can save hundreds and your high schoolers can still gain all the advantages of expensive, one-on-one instruction by taking on the role of tutor yourself or sharing the role with a professional tutor or by encouraging your child toward self-directed learning.

Read further for some fool-proof tips to get you started.


Get a Good Test Prep Guide and Mark the Separate Passages

Begin by purchasing a copy of quality prep material, like The Official ACT Prep Guide 2018-2019 and the latest edition of The Official SAT Study Guide (2018). These guides contain 4 (ACT) and 8 (SAT) prep tests. The more your high schoolers practice, the more prepared they will be, so plan ahead (3-9 months before the test date) and buy the books in advance to allow plenty of time to complete as many passages as possible.

Once you have a copy of the prep guide, mark the separate test passages by placing adhesive dividers at the beginning of each new test and each test section:

The ACT includes English, Math, Reading, and Science.

The SAT includes Critical Reading, Writing (English) and Math.

Both tests include the optional essay section.

Be sure to mark the answer and explanations portions of each test, as well. Marking sections will save time as you and your teens return to the prep guides, which are fairly massive with extra (though, at times, helpful) content.

Keep in mind, passages from these test guides are also available online, but printing them can be cost prohibitive, so consider purchasing the guides. They are usually easy to find at Half-Price Books stores, so don’t forget to look there if you want to save a few dollars.


Determine Which Test Your High Schooler Should Take

Colleges and universities accept both ACT and SAT results, so it’s a good idea to have your teens try a test from each to determine if they perform better on one format than another. However, many students skip this step, preferring to focus on maximizing their performance on one or the other test option.

The biggest difference between the ACT and SAT tests that I’ve noticed as an instructor is in the reading sections of each test. The SAT allows more time for the reading passages, but often includes passages that emphasize the historical development of western perspectives of individual freedom and collective responsibility. These can appear in excerpts from Jefferson, Wollstonecraft, Lincoln, and many others, and tend to require advanced interpretive and analytic skills.

The SAT also incorporates science content into the reading passages, so if your student tends to excel in science but struggle in reading, this format could improve reading scores but prevent your student from showcasing his or her strengths in science.

Another key difference is that the SAT includes a list of the applicable math formulas.

And it’s important to note that neither of the tests penalize for incorrect answers, so students won’t lose points for guessing after selectively eliminating the more obvious wrong answers.


Know Where to Locate Content-Focused Instructional Material and/or Consider Purchasing Support Material

As your teen begins to process the prep guide practice tests, you’ll notice consistent mistakes, and you will want to find resources to address each area of weakness. If you find it difficult to identify the skill your child needs to hone, this might be a good time to reach out to a professional for some limited one-on-one consultations, but you can also find clues in the answer explanations that follow each test. These explanations often explicitly indicate which concept is being tested.

Once you’ve identified areas of weakness, look for quality resources on the internet, but avoid blind searches that can lead to overwhelming results. Instead, go to established educational sites like Kahn Academy or the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue and search for specific content such as “review of exponent rules” or “meiosis” or “comma rules.”

In addition, here is a list of quality resources that I have used in my instruction:

The Complete Guide to ACT English, 2nd Edition Second Edition, Erica Meltzer

For the Love of ACT Science: An innovative approach to mastering the science section of the ACT standardized exam, Michael Cerro

ACT Math Workbook & Practice Tests for the ACT Exam

The Complete Guide to ACT Reading, 2nd Edition, Erica Meltzer




Improving Your ACT Science Score (and SAT Reading Score on the Passages with Science Content)

I was happy last week when one of my students—I’ll call her “Emma”—contacted me to report she had improved her ACT science score by 4 points, from 26 on a previous test to 30 on the recent July test.  As I worked with Emma prior to the test, I initiated a new approach to my science instruction. The resulting 4-point boost to her score is the first indication that my new approach could help other students improve their science scores, too.

New ACT Science Format

Because the new ACT science format tends to focus more on prior knowledge than previous tests have, I’ve begun to encourage students to focus on strengthening the basic science foundation they’ve already accumulated in their high school classwork. I did this by giving students an OGT study guide  (click here to access a copy or contact me if you have any problems accessing), and instructing them to study a portion of the guide each week.

Emma and I worked together for 4 weeks, so she studied about 15 pages of the 60-page guide each week. (The content is illustrated and written in a large font, so it’s not difficult for students to cover 10-15 pages a week).

I encouraged Emma to note, as she reviewed the study guide, any topics that she felt she needed to brush up on, research those topics on the Kahn Academy web site, and then study the content and take the quizzes on the Kahn site.

For instance, say Emma didn’t feel confident about the meiosis content on the OGT science handout as she was preparing for the ACT. She would have googled “meiosis” and “Kahn Academy,” and then chosen from the many links that populated from her search about cell division, meiosis, and mitosis (click here for sample content and here for quiz work).

Or, say another student is struggling with the concept of independent variables. He could google “independent variables” and “Kahn Academy” to find helpful content (click here) reviewing this important concept.

More ACT Science Tips

The Kaplan site offers some helpful general guidance for taking the science test (click here), and if you tend to finish the science portion of the test within the 35-minute time constraints, you can’t go wrong following these tips. However, if you tend to run out of time, you might need a more effective strategy streamlined to your needs. Watch for a future blog post about different strategies that have helped my students finish the science portion of the ACT on time, or contact me at  jhampel@justwritecopy.com to lean more.


Ten Tips: Effective Email Strategies

Everybody has to write to succeed!

And few of us can get through the day without writing or reviewing email. But typos, poor punctuation, and long, confusing messages are time-consuming and ineffective.

Enhance your professional communication skills by following these quick email tips:

  1. Frontload—Place your most important content at the beginning of your message.
  2. Be concise—Time is limited; email is legion. Professional courtesy requires concise content.
  3. Consider unintended audiences. If you can’t post it on a public bulletin board, then don’t send it.
  4. Deliver your content with your audience’s needs in mind.
  5. Stick to the facts as they relate to your purpose: who, what, where, and when. Consider discussing the why face-to-face.
  6. Edit. Edit. Edit.
  7. Give drafted email a resting period before sending (2 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or even 24 hours when possible).
  8. Avoid informal abbreviations (LOL, BTW, etc.).
  9. Check your “To” and “Subject” fields and understand the Cc and Bcc electronic email options.
  10. Keep it brief. Chunk content into short, topic-specific paragraphs. Send longer content as attached memos, letters, or reports.

Acing The Reading Section of the ACT Test

Many of my students ask me if they can skip reading the content in the ACT reading tests. These students have already completed 4-6 reading passages using the Short Summary Exercise strategy I taught them, but they’re still struggling to finish the reading passages within the 35-minute time limit. They’re ready to try anything.

It sounds counterintuitive, right? How can students answer questions about content they haven’t read? But I always focus on helping students find the strategies that work for them, so I had  students try a variation of the questions-first approach, and guess what:

The Questions-First Approach can work!

When  completing the ACT Social Science and Natural Science passages, some students did impprove their time and accuracy using the questions-first approach.

Here’s the step-by-step map for the strategy that worked for some students who were taking the Social Science and Natural Science passages of ACT Sample Reading Tests:

  • Quickly skim the preface (the short introduction that precedes each passage) and introductory paragraph for some quick clues about content.
  • Now scan the questions, looking for the querries that refer to specific paragraphs. Try to answer these questions by reading the referenced paragraph.
  • Next, go to the questions that refer to specific line numbers and attempt to answer these questions.
  • Address any remaining questions in sequence, skimming the unread content as needed to address each.

Try this approach on 2-4 Social Science and Natural Science reading passages (this strategy hasn’t been as effective on the Prose and Humanities passages). Be sure to time yourself for each passage (you have about 8 minutes and 45 seconds for each passage, 35 minutes total) so that you can compare your speed and accuracy with results from passages that you processed before applying this approach.  If your speed and accuracy have improved, then consider using this strategy on the Social Science and Natural Science passaages as you take the official test. Good Luck!

Let me know how this approach works for you, and contact me at jhampel@justwritecopy.com if you have any questions.