Congratulations Class of 2018!

Congratulations to the class of 2018!

In the last two years, More Than A Teacher worked with over 2,000 students from this year’s senior class.

We are so proud of each of them and excited to hear what they are going on to do next. A special congratulations and thank you to the graduates who shared their success stories and let us know about their plans!

Aaron R. – University of Texas Arlington, Scholarship Recipient
Abby S. – Tufts University
Alan J. – Austin College, $100,000 Scholarship
Alex S. – Texas A&M
Cheryl C. – Texas A&M, Visualization
Christopher L. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas Dallas, Scholarship Recipient
Cole T. – Ole Miss
Cooper B. – University of AK, Honors School of Business
Corinne S. – Evergreen State College, Awarded Five Scholarships
David J. – Texas A&M, Biochemistry
Drew B. – Texas A&M, Computer Science
Ellie N. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas at Austin
Emhely G. – St. Edward’s University, Biomedical Engineering
Grace D. – University of Texas at Austin
Isabel K. – San Diego State University
Jack M. – Texas Tech, Honors Program
Kai F. – Samford University
Kaylee K. – Texas A&M
Lauren H. – Presidential Scholar, George Washington University, Elliot School of Public Affairs
Libby M. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas at Austin, Economics
Matthew Z. – Austin College
Nathan H. – Willamette University
Nisha K. – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Electrical Engineering
Rylan D. – University of Texas in Austin, Arts and Entertainment Technology
Sharika M. – University of Texas at Austin, Business and Plan II

Meredith S. – Texas A&M, Mays Business School

Corbin S.  – National Merit Scholar, Stanford

Tara W. – Commended Scholar, Trinity University

Joseph S. – University of Texas Dallas, Scholarship Recipient

Trenton N. – University of Texas Dallas, Computer Science

Alyssa R. – Chapman University, Honors Program, Provost Scholarship Recipient

Spencer S. – University of Chicago, Economics and Cancer Biology

 

Want to share your admission or scholarship story with us? Email [email protected]

 

ACT Academy is LIVE… and I would give it 0 stars if I could

Some of you may have heard about ACT Academy, the new, free, targeted online preparation for the ACT. I got a very excited-sounding email from ACT, Inc. a few weeks ago announcing that this feature was available for use. Since students (and parents) frequently ask me where to find additional practice for the ACT, I decided to check the site out for myself.

Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with what I found. My biggest complaint is that the quiz questions all appear to come from a released practice test (the 2012 test, in case you were wondering). Granted, I’ve only completed about a fifth of the quizzes so far, but all of the questions that I saw were disturbingly familiar. The practice test that is offered on the site is also reused—it is the 2015 test, the most recent practice test available. Not only is this problematic in that some students will have seen the questions before, but it also means that there are two fewer full-length practice tests available to students who have used ACT Academy.

Another concern that I have is the small number of quizzes available—for about a quarter of the topics, there is only one quiz available, making it difficult to assess learning. For almost half of the topics, there are only two. When you miss a question on a quiz, by the way, the only explanation currently available is “Rationale: incorrect”. Not very helpful!

The content on the Resources page is inadequate, to say the least. Nearly all of the content on the Resources page is videos, despite advertising about games and rap songs. (Actually, the lack of rap songs might be a good thing.) More concerning, though, is the fact that the videos don’t seem to be ACT-specific. In fact, I found a video in the resources for the Reading Test that was designed for an AP English class. Additionally, the Science Test resources include a video entitled “AP Biology Practice 5”. In it, the narrator describes what “the College Board will ask.” The College Board, maker of the SAT, is ACT, Inc.’s biggest competitor!

Many of the resources seem designed to teach students the content that they should have learned in the classes that are supposed to prepare them for the ACT (their Algebra, Geometry, other math, and English classes, in particular), rather than teaching students about concepts that the ACT considers to be particularly important (and therefore is likely to ask questions about). For instance, I found videos about ellipses and parabolas, but none about circles—the one type of conic that is often included in the test. I also found videos about how to use a ruler, how to write a summary, and how to create a dot plot—none of which are relevant for the ACT. Additionally, while videos demonstrating a skill or explaining a concept can be helpful, they offer no way for students to practice the skill or test their understanding.

Interestingly, I have found no mention whatsoever of the Writing Test on this website. However, many of the resources for the English Test (which covers revising and editing) are more likely to be helpful for the Writing Test (the essay).

The Tips & Strategies page is helpful, but all of the information is included in the free “Preparing for the ACT” guide, which also includes the most recently released practice test.

One feature that could be useful, but that I am unable to test, is the option to enter results from an ACT or Pre-ACT (my scores are too old!). If this feature is actually used to guide a student’s practice, it has the potential to be useful. If it just means that the student doesn’t have to take the quizzes to have a starting point, it’s probably not going to be very helpful.

Overall, I would not recommend ACT Academy at this point. My recommendation (to get more benefit out of the same free materials) would be to come take a free, proctored practice ACT (or, if you’re not in the Austin area, download the test here [you’ll need pages 11-51, 57-60, and 64] and print it out—take it with a pencil, like you will the real test!). When you score your test, DON’T mark the correct answers! Just mark the questions you got wrong, and keep moving. Afterwards (and after you’ve taken a break), review the questions that you missed. Actually re-attempt each question, and see if you can figure out where you went wrong. For any concepts you’re really stumped on (maybe you don’t remember how to use a semicolon, or have forgotten the formula for area of a trapezoid), look them up online. Generally, you’ll be able to find an explanation from a quick Google (or YouTube) search. Once you’ve reviewed the concepts, take the second practice test by signing up for another free practice ACT, or downloading it here.

At this point, you will have used the same materials available on ACT Academy, but in a more focused and productive manner. And, as a bonus, you’ll have scores available from both of these practice tests, rather than just the first one (since you will have taken the 2012 test as a full-length test instead of as a series of untimed, unscored quizzes).

If you’re looking for even more preparation, you can explore our ACT class and private tutoring options, or call our office at (512) 453-7272 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation designed to help you plan your test preparation.

If the site improves (which I hope it will), I will post an updated review and suggestions for best use. But, for now, I would just avoid it.

Is It Ever Too Soon To Start Test Prep?

 

https://flic.kr/p/zVam1A

Image from: https://flic.kr/p/zVam1A

As the country’s most selective schools become ever more selective, some parents are trying to get a leg up on the competition by starting their kids prepping as early as middle school. But is that a good idea? When it comes to test prep, is there such a thing as “too soon”?

It’s definitely never too early to inspire a love of reading. Many expectant mothers even read to their unborn children! That’s great! As a test prep instructor, the scariest words I ever hear are “I hate reading!” When a student says that, I know it’s going to be an uphill battle–and not just on the Reading section. Those same students are likely to tell me, “I skipped that math problem because there were too many words.” No kidding; I’ve heard it a thousand times. Students who grow up reading tend to love reading, which means they tend to be good at it.

Similarly with math: If you start learning about fractions in Kindergarten, like I did, then you’re less likely to freeze up when the SAT asks you to add 3 1/2 and 4 2/3. Again, I’m not kidding: many high school students have no clue how to add mixed numbers.

The main skills tested on both the SAT and ACT are reading and math, so a good foundation in those areas is crucial. The sooner you start building that foundation, the better.

But buying your child the Official SAT Guide for her 12th birthday may do more harm than good.

Even highly motivated students can suffer from burnout. Good students tend to be curious. But tests don’t teach you anything; they just give you an opportunity to show off what you’ve already learned. While some students will relish the challenge at first, after a certain number of practice tests, it starts getting old.

Another potential problem with super-early prep is that most 8th graders and high school freshmen haven’t learned all of the math that’s tested on the SAT and ACT. Even if you’re the top student in your freshman algebra class, you probably haven’t learned about radians or imaginary numbers. Students used to getting almost every question right on every test in school may feel frustrated and disheartened when they miss ten questions on their first SAT practice test. They may start to question their abilities, and in the worst-case scenario, they may just give up.

Even if your child has the attitude, tenacity, and math chops for four years of test prep, there is one unavoidable problem: the finite amount of official test material. Right now there are only four official SATs and one official PSAT. Third-party guides exist, but their content doesn’t always match the test. For example, Kaplan’s “Eight Practice Tests for the New SAT 2016” is pretty good, but the math is about twice as hard as it needs to be. And the Princeton Review ACT guide dwells on concepts that the ACT seldom or never tests. Official materials are clearly the best, but even if you only take one practice test every two months, you’ll run out of SATs in less than a year. With the ACT you’ve got a bit more to work with–five tests in the official guide plus several others available online–but since the ACT has gradually evolved over the years, only a couple of those are fully up-to-date.

Re-taking tests is actually a very smart way to prep. But after you’ve done a test twice–maybe three times–you’re going to see diminishing returns. So it makes sense to save a few official practice tests for the month before the test. That’s going to be hard to do if you’re starting in 8th grade!

So what’s the bottom line? At MTAT, we recommend the following grade-appropriate plans:

8th grade (or younger): Read every day, take challenging courses, and don’t fall behind in your math classes!

Summer before 9th grade: Same advice, but if you’re dying to get your feet wet, take one practice test to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Summer before 10th grade: Take a practice test if you haven’t already. Consider doing some moderate prep work to become familiar with the test format and basic strategies. Purchase the official SAT or ACT guide, or enroll in a short-term grade-appropriate program like our PSAT 10 Early Start Program.

Summer before 11th grade: This is the best time to take a full-length prep course and as many practice tests as possible, saving one or two for the month leading up to the official test. Students who did well on their 10th grade PSATs should definitely start preparing over the summer for the junior-year October PSAT. National Merit scholarships are at stake, and summer PSAT preparation will also set students up for success on the SAT.

We’re always happy to answer questions about grade-appropriate prep or anything else! Give us a call at 512-453-7272, or shoot us an email at [email protected] today!

Anyone Can Learn Math!

anyonecanlearnmath

Students tell me all the time: “I suck at math.”

I can sympathize. I sucked at math in high school. I hated it. And now I’m a math teacher! I love math! Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me back in high school:

If you suck at math, the main thing you need to understand is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Unless you have an injury in the part of your brain that deals with numbers, you are fully capable of doing math. You are also capable of teaching yourself math.

Your real problem is lack of motivation. You don’t need to feel guilty about that. You just need to recognize that it’s holding you back and decide you want to change. There are a lot of good reasons to want to become competent at math.

First of all, adults who never become competent in math can’t do basic things like figure out a tip or a discount in their heads (it’s pretty easy). They also can’t understand a lot of the information they read. They don’t really know how much more a billion dollars is than a million. They don’t know what it means when the weatherman says there’s a 60% chance of rain. And so on.

Adults who don’t understand math are also more likely to make bad financial decisions because they don’t understand interest rates and can’t accurately estimate their monthly expenses.

An even more fundamental reason you should want to develop your mathematical skills is that, along with language, math is one of the main things that separates humans from animals. The human brain is the most complex, sophisticated object in the known universe. Use it! Any time you actively teach yourself something, you are making yourself smarter, more disciplined, and more independent.

How to Teach Yourself Math

For the most part, mathematical competence is a result of “how-to” knowledge. To learn how to factor a quadratic equation the first time, you have to read about it. But to learn how to do it well, you just have to do it over and over again. It’s the same with music, sports, drawing, and so on.

Mathematical concepts build upon themselves. By the time you’re learning how to factor quadratic equations, simpler operations like adding and multiplying shoud already be second nature. If you have trouble adding or multiplying without a calculator, you probably need to practice some simpler problems. However, there’s nothing wrong with using a calculator, especially for subtraction and division. Just try not to rely on it too much. You shouldn’t need a calculator to take 14% of 100 (or 200, for that matter).

Anytime you’re struggling with an SAT or ACT math problem and you realize you don’t really know how to deal with, say, ratios or percents or functions or whatever, just look it up! There are tons of math websites out there. (Two good ones are Math Forum and AAA Math.) You can also just Google the concept you need help with and look at the top results. Just be sure you do enough practice problems to get each concept down cold.

You can also get an algebra textbook (any one will do), and work through it, skipping anything you already understand. When a concept gives you trouble, work through as many practice problems as necessary to get it down cold. (Of course, this approach requires some discipline, but so does learning any worthwhile skill.)

Remember to always show your work and use proper mathematical notation. For example, if a problem says, “the sum of a, b, and c is equal to 10,” don’t write this:

a, b, c = 10

or this:

abc = 10

The word “sum” means add, so you should write:

a+b+c = 10

No one ever got good at math by using their own personal notation system. Pay attention to details, and you’re much less likely to make mistakes.

Try to set aside thirty minutes to an hour each day to practice math. You will get better at it in no time, and you’ll be glad you did. Not only will your test scores improve, but when you see the results, and see that you were capable of doing it all along, you’ll realize how many more things you can do if you just put your mind to them!

Show Your Work!

show work

Whether you’re taking the SAT, the ACT, or Algebra II, it’s a good idea to always show your work.

Writing things down helps you think! Some students seem to think the proper way to do a math problem is to devise a multi-step plan and then follow it through step by step. If they can’t think of Step 3, they won’t even bother writing down Step 1. People who are good at math don’t do it that way. They write down Step 1 and then start thinking about Step 2. Sometimes I don’t even know what Step 1 is, but I write down something. I’ll even copy down equations given in the problem. It might seem like a waste of time, but it gets the wheels turning.

When you think about it, algebra is pretty simple. There are two basic rules:

  • Combine like terms.
  • If you do something to one side of an equation, you have to do it to the other side.

That’s the gist of it. So if you don’t know where to begin on an algebra problem, start by combining like terms. You’ll probably get somewhere.

Geometry is pretty simple too—at least on the SAT and ACT. The basic rules are:

  • A line has 180°.
  • A triangle has 180°
  • Vertical angles are equal:

equal angles

Most angle problems on the SAT and ACT can be solved with these three rules. So if you’re stuck on a geometry problem, start labeling angles.

Another reason to show your work is that doing so will help you identify your mistakes. Think about it: if you miss a math problem because you forgot to distribute a minus sign, but you didn’t bother to write anything down, you’ll never know what went wrong. The best way to study for any standardized test is to practice frequently and review any problems you miss. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t know what they are, so it’s important to have a record of your thought process.

Keep your work neat and organized. Try to make it look like the demonstration problems in an algebra textbook. Anyone else ought to be able to look at your work and know what you were thinking. Showing each step may seem tedious, but it’s the fastest way to become better at math. After a while, you’ll see results. Your skills and confidence will improve. Then you can start doing some of the steps in your head, but in the beginning, it’s important to write down everything!

The Secret to Acing the Reading Section

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Parents often ask for “tips and tricks” to help their students ace the Reading portion of the SAT or ACT. I think they’re looking for something like “The answer to every other problem is C.” Instead, I answer with a question: “How much does your child read?”

A typical response: “Oh, Johnny hates reading!”

Now, imagine if I approached a basketball coach and asked him for “tips and tricks” to dominate on the court. Imagine I also told him that I hated actually playing basketball. “I don’t want to practice. That’s boring. I just want to win games!”

See the problem?

Here is the one surefire “trick” to dominating the Reading section of any standardized test: READ EVERY DAY!

That’s it. Thirty minutes or, better yet, an hour of reading every day will make a difference in a matter of weeks, and a world of difference in a matter of months. Students should choose books (or magazine articles or blogs) that interest them. Everyone is interested in something. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles on almost every conceivable subject, so finding stimulating reading material is just a Google search away. (And if you can think of one book you ever read and liked, you can always look it up on Amazon and check out the recommendations.)

Students should choose material that’s challenging (Harry Potter may be fun, but it will not “stretch” your brain) but not too challenging (Shakespeare will probably just hurt your brain).

I highly recommend National Geographic magazine. Subscriptions are inexpensive, and the pictures are amazing. Flip through a National Geographic and read the captions under the pictures. If anything looks cool, read the whole article.

What are you into? Sports fan? Check out Grantland. Like music? Read Pitchfork or Stereogum. Science Fiction fans will love io9. If you’re a geek, check out Gizmodo. If you’re obsessed with video games, put down the controller for an hour and read Kotaku. And if you want a variety of news, culture, style, and more, check out Slate, The Guardian, or The Atlantic.

If you’re reading on an iPad, Kindle, or other tablet device, you can also quickly look up unfamiliar words. Now you’re building a vocabulary, becoming a better reader, and learning about something you care about. Believe me, there are worse ways to spend an hour of your time!

The Key to Test Prep Success

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
–Vince Lombardi

The only way to excel at sports is to practice. The same is true of music. The same is true of standardized tests.

Practice has to be done right to be effective. Running in circles holding a football does not count as football practice. Pounding random keys with your fists is not piano practice. But this is exactly the approach most students take when studying for the SAT and ACT.

If you want to succeed on a standardized test, you have to practice, and you have to practice the right way. Here is the right way:

1. Take practice sections from the Official SAT or Official ACT study Guide.

2. Check your answers. Put an “X” by the questions you missed; do not indicate the correct answer next to the problem.

3. Re-attempt every problem that you missed.

Simple as these rules are, most students don’t follow them and therefore don’t get the scores they are capable of. Let’s look at each rule individually and see why these students fail.

1. Take practice sections from the Official SAT or ACT Guide.

The easiest way to fail is simply not to practice. Imagine if the quarterback of your high school football team told the coach that he no longer wanted to practice, didn’t like practicing, found it boring and too hard. Well, he’d change his mind or get off the team, simple as that.

Shoot for one section a day. If you can’t make that but are genuinely trying, you should get five sections done a week, which is close enough. You should start practicing at least two months before the test. There are 80 practice sections in the Official SAT Guide (not counting essay sections), so you’ve got plenty to work with. The ACT Guide has only 20 sections, but they are a lot longer, so if you’ve got more than a month, shoot for one section every other day or break the sections up. (For example, every English section has five passages, so you could do three one day and two the next.)

Also: you should always time yourself according to the instructions at the beginning of each section. If you don’t time your practice, you might be surprised at how much harder the test is when it counts. If you run out of time, go ahead and finish so you get the practice, but make a note of how many problems were left when you ran out of time.

2. Check your answers. Put an “X” by the questions you missed; do not indicate the correct answer next to the problem.

For whatever reason, most students are reluctant to follow this rule. They tend to erase their wrong answers and circle the correct ones, which is pointless.

The point of marking incorrect answers with an “X” only is so that when you look at a missed question the second time, you don’t know the right answer. Which brings us to . . .

3. Re-attempt every problem that you missed.

By attempting the question a second time, you improve some small amount. The more questions you do over, the more you improve. This is the key to improvement.

If you want to play a piece on the piano, you play it over and over again, trying to make fewer mistakes each time. You think about where you messed up, and try not to do it again. This is also why football coaches watch recordings of the games with their players: to identify mistakes and prevent them from happening in the future.

When you attempt a problem the second time, you will often get it right. If you don’t, then look up the answer explanation. The Official ACT Guide comes with explanations. If you’re using the Official SAT Guide, you’ll have to look them up on the College Board website.

You could also get help from a friend or teacher. If you live in the Austin area, you can attend one of our free tutorials.

Don’t look at missed question as a failure, but rather as a learning opportunity. Both the SAT and the ACT test the same concepts over and over. If you encounter something that gives you trouble, chances are good you’ll see it again. So prepare yourself!

SAT vs. ACT

Note: the SAT referred to in this article is the current version. For information on the 2016 relaunch, click here.

One of the most common questions we get at MTAT is what is the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

The short answer is that the SAT is trickier and involves more abstract thinking, while the ACT is more practical and down to earth. On the other hand, you have less time per question on the ACT. Neither test is necessarily easier than the other, though some students may perform better on one test than the other.

Several key differences:

  • On the SAT, you lose a quarter point for every missed question. The ACT has no penalty for missed questions.
  • The ACT has a science section; there’s nothing like it on the SAT.
  • SAT math is basic—algebra and geometry—but the questions are tricky. ACT math includes higher level concepts from trig and precalculus, but the questions are more straightforward.
  • Every SAT Critical Reading section has five to eight fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, the last two or three of which are very difficult. The ACT Reading section may have one or two vocabulary-in-context questions, and they are usually very easy.


How do you know which test is right for you? Simple: take one of each and see which you you do better on. You can download a free copy of each test with grading instructions here and here.

If you live in the area, you can also sign up for a free practice test at one of our Austin locations. Taking a practice test in a realistic setting is ideal, but if you have to take it at home, just be sure to work in a quiet, distraction-free environment. (Turn off the phone!) And if you qualify for accommodations (like extra time), be sure to use them when you practice!

PLEASE NOTE: Many students will bomb the ACT Science section the first time they take it. With practice, it gets much easier.

Don’t just compare the scores; ask yourself which test would be easier to master with practice. Hardly anyone is going to get a good score without doing quite a bit of studying, so ask yourself which test you would rather spend time with. If you did better on the SAT but thought the ACT was more fun (or less intolerable), then you’ll probably be better off with the ACT in the long run.

I STRONGLY ADVISE AGAINST studying for both tests simultaneously. The strategies are different. For example, there’s no guessing penalty on the ACT, so you should fill in every single bubble. But that strategy could be disastrous on the SAT. So if you’re going to take both tests, you should get one out of the way before you start studying for the other one.

Just about any college will accept either test, but you should always check. This information should be in any college website’s FAQ, but if not, just email or call the admissions office.

Once you’ve decided on a test, get the official guide. The SAT Guide comes with 10 practice tests. The ACT Guide has only five practice tests, but it also has answer explanations. (Explanations for the problems in the SAT Guide can be found on the College Board website). Of course, if you’re lucky enough to live in the Austin area, you can sign up for one of our classes, and we’ll throw in the guide for free.

Whichever test you choose, practice is key. So take as many practice tests as possible. If you use up all the tests in your guide and need more, we’ve got you covered. Just contact us.

Welcome to The Score!

Welcome to The Score, your one-stop source for information about the SAT, ACT, college admissions, and more!

At More Than A Teacher, we understand how overwhelming the college application process can be.
For over 20 years, we’ve been guiding parents and students through the maze of SATs, ACTs, PSATs, Subject Tests, and college applications. And with the new SAT debuting in 2016, things are more confusing than ever.

Relax. We’ve got this.

Our team of test prep and college admissions experts will be posting regularly on topics like:

The New SAT
SAT vs. ACT
Test-taking Strategies
National Merit Scholarships
College Applications

We’ll also include posts on SAT topics like:

Common Vocabulary Words
Writing Skills Grammar Rules
Funky Functions

And ACT topics like:

English Section Guessing Strategies
Trig Basics
Reading Section Time Management
Demystifying the Science Section

So, whether you’re a proud parent or a college-bound teen, you will find the most in-depth, reliable, and up-to-date information on all things test prep and college admissions right here. Don’t miss a thing! Subscribe to The Score today.