Test Cancellation Updates and Advice for Class of ’21

The SAT and ACT are typically offered a combined number of fourteen times during a given school year. This year, however, COVID cancellations and postponements eliminated at least half of those opportunities for the class of 2021.  Many test sites have announced that they are cancelling or postponing the August SAT. What does this mean for high school seniors? Well, it depends. Seniors who tested as juniors in the fall of 2019 or early spring of 2020 may not even notice the cancellations or changes in admission policies. They are the fortunate ones. Seniors who don’t have an SAT or ACT score yet aren’t so lucky. They have two options: 1) forget about it and apply to score-optional colleges/programs (more on this later) or 2) prepare and test this fall. But when will a test actually take place? No one can guarantee anything right now, especially when it comes to college admissions, but here’s our two cents for seniors who are either done testing, thinking about score-optional admission, or still hoping to take an SAT or ACT this fall.

Done testing:

Good for you! Seriously, good job. Your hard work and advance planning paid off. Finish up your college essays and plan to apply just like this was any other year. We recommend submitting everything by the end of October for this group of students.

Wondering about score-optional admission:

Many schools are going score-optional or test-flexible for class of 2021. This is great news for students who do not have scores yet or who are not satisfied with the pre-pandemic scores they have on record. Our advice to this group of students is to do your research and make sure your application is beautiful! Read what your top-choice schools are doing for your graduation class. If they have waived the score requirements, and you do not have the time or energy to take an SAT or ACT, you can put your energy into your application, resume, and essays. Will they be looking at these items more closely if you do not submit scores? You bet! Double check new deadlines and read every word of the admission requirements for class of 2021. Make sure you understand the new policy on testing before getting too excited! Will you need scores for merit-based aid or admission to a particular program (i.e. engineering or business)? If so, you might need to read the advice below.

Hoping to test this fall:

Don’t test cold! You may only have one shot at the test this year. Prepare by taking practice tests, attending a prep class, and/or working with a friend or private tutor one-on-one. If you are signed up for the August SAT, keep checking your College Board account and confirm with your school to see whether or not the test will be taking place. If you are faced with a cancellation, shift your focus to the September or October SAT instead. The adjusted deadlines might give you time to test this winter or early spring of 2021. Find out whether your high school is offering a school-day SAT for seniors this fall. If it is, sign up ASAP! Many schools are offering a school-day SAT for seniors on the same day that juniors are taking the PSAT.

We are here to help! Attend a free webinar or contact us to book a complimentary, thirty-minute consultation. One of our experts can help you create a custom plan for preparing, testing, and completing your college essays. Good luck, seniors. Take a breath and relax. You’ve got this.

Understanding the National Merit Scholarship Process

Do you have questions about National Merit and the PSAT? Read on to learn more about what National Merit is and how students can qualify for scholarships. At the end of this post you will find a list of colleges that have a reputation for offering generous scholarships to students who have earned National Merit recognition. Please note, colleges adjust scholarship awards every year, so it is always important to verify any information with the college directly.

WHAT IS NATIONAL MERIT?

National Merit is the largest private scholarship corporation in the country. The first qualifier for earning National Merit recognition is earning the qualifying score on the junior-year PSAT/NMSQT. Qualifying scores vary from year to year and state to state. High scores can also be linked to other scholarship opportunities. Read our blog post The PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index Demystified to learn more about scoring.

 

NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP MYTHS

MYTH: ALL NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARS ARE GUARANTEED HUGE SCHOLARSHIPS FOR THE COLLEGE OF THEIR CHOICE.

TRUTH: Students must select their top-choice schools from the schools that offer NM scholarships. And even then, they are competing with other NM scholars for those awards.

 

MYTH: THE ONLY WAY TO GET MERIT AID FROM IVIES AND ELITE COLLEGES IS THROUGH THE NM SCHOLARSHIP.

TRUTH: Most elite universities offer very little merit aid. If they offer merit aid, it is generally privately endowed, offered by the university (not NM), and competitive. There are ZERO ivy-league schools that offer NM scholarships.

 

MYTH: NM SCHOLARS DON’T NEED TO HAVE AN EXCELLENT SAT/ACT SCORE IN ORDER TO BE AWARDED SCHOLARSHIPS.

TRUTH: Many universities offer merit-based aid for SAT/ACT scores. And when compiling a financial package for students, universities will consider both a student’s NM Scholar status and their SAT/ACT scores to see what the best fit for the university and the family is. Need-based aid can also factor into how much NM scholarship money a student may be offered. It’s important for students to apply for multiple scholarships as NM aid is never a guarantee.

 

HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF EARNING NATIONAL MERIT?

  • Plan to do Summer and Fall Prep of some kind.
  • Take ALL the practice tests.
  • Take an official SAT in August, September, or October
  • Prep! (Choose from any combination of MTAT Courses, Boot Camps, Tutoring, Study Groups, or free online prep.)

NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP TIMELINE

FALL SOPHOMORE YEAR: Indicator PSAT

  • Scores of 200+ on Selection Index show potential for NM achievement. Score of 180+ shows potential for very high PSAT scores (1300/1400+).

SUMMER BEFORE JUNIOR YEAR: Prep begins

  • Students should plan for a minimum of 20-30 hours for a 100-point improvement.
  • Students should plan to take ALL of the College Board released practice PSAT and SAT tests.
  • Students should plan to take the official August SAT. Order QAS report for $12; it will show every missed question for review.

FALL JUNIOR YEAR: PSAT NMSQT Test administered in October

  • Students must continue ongoing prep.
  • Students will test in either mid- or late-October.
  • Scores are released in December (digital) and early January (paper).
  • Take the SAT (or ACT). Students should test in the fall and only retest in the spring if needed to increase admissions qualifiers or scholarships.

FALL SENIOR YEAR: PSAT Finalists/Semi-finalists announced

  • Students must complete the NM application, essay, and short answers and submit everything on time (the deadline changes each year). Official SAT/ACT scores must be submitted to NMSC by Dec 31st. “Comparable” score will be calculated using the selection-index score model, even for ACT (when converted to SAT using concordance).
  • Submit high school paperwork: endorsement and transcript.
  • Submit college coursework if applicable.
  • College Choice: students will need to select their top-choice school for NM consideration but may declare “undecided” and then notify the NMSC as soon as possible.
  • Sponsor College as First Choice: students should research schools with National Merit scholarships to ensure that they make a wise choice. These schools are often considered target or safety choices for a student.
  • College-sponsored NM awards are NOT transferable if a student later decides to transfer schools, so they need to feel confident in their choice.
  • All Finalists will be awarded the NM Finalist $2500 scholarship. Additional corporate-sponsored scholarships and stipends are awarded based on the NM finalist application.

 

WINTER SENIOR YEAR: NM Scholarships Awarded

  • February: students will be chosen as finalists and will receive a Certificate of Merit from their high school. Students should submit NM sponsor college as first choice college by March 1st in order to be considered for the first round of applicants.
  • March and May: scholarship winners notified.

 

SPONSOR COLLEGE AWARDS BASED ON REGION (subject to change!)

The following information is current as of January 2020. Colleges make changes to their National Merit Scholarships each year. Check the university webpage for the most up-to-date NM scholarship info!

TEXAS

ACU: National Achievement (full tuition), National Hispanic Recognition (up to $6000/yr), Semi-Finalists and Finalists guaranteed full tuition + $1500 stipend, Commended $2000

BAYLOR: Invitation to Excellence (competition for full tuition scholarships)

A&M: Finalist, must name A&M first choice ($42,000 + $1000 study abroad stipend + $3000 NMRA supplement for 5th year)

TEXAS TECH: Finalist, must name Tech as first choice for full tuition, fees, room/board, transportation and personal stipend

UTDALLAS: Automatic admission into Honors College, full tuition, $4000 semester cash stipend, $3000 NMSC scholarship, up to $6000 for study abroad, $1500 semester on-campus housing stipend

UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON: Finalist, full tuition and required fees, one-time $1000 undergrad research stipend, one-time $2000 study abroad stipend; must select as first choice

OUT OF STATE

ALABAMA: Full tuition up to 5 years, four years of on-campus housing, $14,000 stipend, $2,000 allowance for research or study abroad, $1,000 technology enrichment allowance

BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Finalist first-choice, $80,000 (over 4 years)

BYU: Full tuition, limited availability

FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Cost of attendance, regardless of residency

FLORIDA STATE: Cost of attendance ($80,000+), guaranteed admission to University Honors Program

FORDHAM: Full tuition with A/A- average and top 2-3% of admitted students, competitive

ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: Up to three scholarships up to $160,000; $16,000 otherwise

IOWA STATE: Full tuition for residents, varies for non-residents

LOYOLA: Full tuition for one student, $8,000 if not selected

NORTHEASTERN: Competitive merit-based award

OKLAHOMA STATE: Finalists who select OSU as their first choice, up to five-year full tuition waiver

OLE MISS: Full tuition + room ($54,776 for residents, $118,592 for non-residents)

OU: Semi-finalists with 3.5 GPA earn $4000/yr; Finalists who name OU as first choice gain $68,500

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: $72,000 (full tuition plus) + $1,500 for study abroad for residents, varies for non-residents + $1,500 for study abroad depending on GPA and test scores

UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS: Finalists, first choice, $40.000

UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI: Full in-state tuition, guaranteed admission to honors program and $1,500 one-time allocation towards purchase of computer, research or study abroad. 60 available, first-come, first-served

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Finalist, cost of attendance (full ride)

UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO: Basic cost of attendance ($66,976 for residents, $137,520 for non-residents)

UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS: $40,000 for residents

UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY: Full in-state or out-of-state tuition and housing stipend

UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE: Full in-state tuition + $32,000 allowance for room, board and books or $80,000 for out-of-state students

UNIVERSITY OF MAINE: Full tuition and most fees

UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: Cost of attendance (for Florida residents only)

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Up to $40,000

UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: Full tuition + $8,000

UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO: $75,212 for residents, $137,792 for non-residents + iPad

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA: Full tuition/fee waiver for ND and MN residents

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: $40,000 for residents, up to $104,000 with tuition reduction for non-residents

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: Full cost of attendance, guaranteed admittance to honors college and on-campus housing

UNIVERSITY OF TULSA: Full tuition and basic room and board

USC: Finalist, half tuition (limited)

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH: Cost of tuition/fees + room and board

WASHINGTON STATE: Finalist, full tuition

WHEATON COLLEGE: Finalist, merit-based coupled with need-based aid, $68,000-$72,000

Education and money relation concept. Isolated on white. High quality 3D render.

 

Applying to Score Optional Schools – Updated!

With the unprecedented cancellations of SAT and ACT tests this spring, many rising seniors are wondering how the situation will affect their college applications, particularly for schools that now do not require test scores as part of a student’s admissions profile.

“Score-optional” or “test-optional” schools do not require students to submit test scores from the SAT or ACT. But these schools do allow students to submit those scores if the student feels that their score reflects academic strength and contributes positively to their overall admissions profile. This is different from “test blind” colleges, which will not review test scores at all, even if they are submitted. The number of test-blind colleges is relatively small compared to the increasing number (over 1000) of schools that have gone score-optional (either permanently or just for the class of 2021 admissions cycle). Many news reports unwittingly imply that score-optional schools are test-blind, which can cause confusion. It’s important to understand the implications of score-optional status to successfully navigate the fall 2020 application process.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

IF I APPLY TO A SCORE-OPTIONAL SCHOOL, DOES THAT MEAN THAT MY TEST SCORES DON’T MATTER?

 

If you choose not to submit scores, then your test scores will have no bearing on your acceptance (the school won’t see them). But if you choose not to submit scores, and other students do submit their scores, you may be at a disadvantage. A student who submits high test scores will have a stronger application than a student who doesn’t submit scores at all. That is why when you look at the average scores for students attending a test-optional school like the University of Chicago (consistently ranked among the top twenty national universities, with an acceptance rate under ten percent), you see very high average scores for admitted students. Those students weren’t required to submit scores, but they did, and their high scores complemented the academic strengths indicated by their transcript.

 

If you have strong test scores, you should always send them, even to test-optional schools. Scores in the 75th percentile (1200 on SAT or 24/25 on ACT) and above are strong scores.

 

IF I APPLY TO A SCORE-OPTIONAL SCHOOL, THEN WILL MY EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES AND ESSAYS WEIGH MORE HEAVILY IN MY APPLICATION?

 

Yes. Not requiring test scores will ultimately mean that a university will take a more holistic approach to reviewing applicants. For a student with a strong academic record, a broad array of extracurricular activities, and many hours of service or volunteer work, applying to a score-optional school is an excellent way to ensure that you get noticed for all of the awesome work that you do outside of the classroom. However, grades and GPA are the primary factors determining college admissions.

 

WILL I LOSE OUT ON SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES IF I DON’T SUBMIT TEST SCORES, EVEN TO SCORE-OPTIONAL SCHOOLS?

 

Potentially, yes. Many schools might not require test scores for admissions, but they do use test scores in combination with grades/GPA to evaluate applications for merit-based scholarships. In fact, for some “score-optional” schools, test scores are only optional if a student meets a certain GPA requirement. These same schools will typically award merit scholarships based on GPA and test scores submitted with the admissions application. Keep in mind that the situation is evolving. Some schools who have recently made the decision to go test-optional may not yet have made a decision on how they will award merit scholarships for fall 2020 applicants. For the best information, you should always check the financial aid information available on individual colleges’ websites.

 

IF I DON’T SUBMIT SAT OR ACT SCORES, SHOULD I SUBMIT OTHER SCORES LIKE SAT SUBJECT TESTS or AP TESTS?

 

Absolutely! Especially if those tests show exceptional strength in certain academic areas. In fact, if you struggle with SAT or ACT tests, but excel at subject-specific tests, it is a good idea to think about taking some of those tests in the fall in order to boost your admissions profile. AP tests are administered only once per year, but SAT Subject tests and CLEP exams happen throughout the year. Both are part of the College Board array of tests. You can view schedules and pricing at collegeboard.org and determine if one or more might help improve your admissions profile.

 

ARE UT AND A&M SCORE-OPTIONAL?

 

Yes, but only for Class of ’21 applicants. UT and A&M have both recently announced that they are not requiring SAT or ACT scores for Class of ’21 admissions.  Both universities are still going to offer assured admissions for students with certain grades/class ranks. High test scores may still be useful for placement in specific programs (for example the School of Engineering or School of Business at either campus). “Students may continue to submit standardized scores from their SAT and/or ACT tests for consideration for admission. Submission of tests scores will not create any unfair advantage or disadvantage for those students who provide them.” Chris Reed, executive director of admissions, TAMU.

 

CONCLUSION

 

The option to not submit scores can be very helpful for a student who struggles with standardized tests or for a student who wasn’t able to test in the spring due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but there are still advantages to submitting scores and working to improve existing scores. If a student can prep and test in late summer and early fall, it is advantageous to that student to do so. Especially if they are applying to the big public universities in our state, as both UT and A&M are still requiring students to submit test scores for SAT or ACT. If a student applies to score-optional or test-flexible schools, impressive scores will only add to their strengths. At More Than A Teacher, we are fond of saying that schools are looking for reasons to let you in, not reasons to keep you out. Knowing how a college or university will view test scores is the key to making an informed decision.

 

SCORE OPTIONAL SCHOOLS BY GEOGRAPHIC AREA (schools waiving testing requirements for 2020 admissions ONLY) https://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/ACT-SATWaiversfor2020Admissions.pdf

 

TEXAS

Baylor University

St. Mary’s University, San Antonio

Schreiner University (applicants with GPA of 3.25+)

Texas Tech

University of Texas

Texas A&M

 

SCORE OPTIONAL SCHOOLS BY GEOGRAPHIC AREA (schools that have chosen to de-emphasize SAT/ACT testing as a qualifier for admissions)

*indicates a top 50 nationally ranked university

**indicates a nationally ranked small liberal arts college (Colleges that Change Lives)

 

TEXAS

Baylor University

Austin College**

Concordia University

SMU

Southwestern**

St. Edward’s

TCU

Texas Lutheran

Trinity**

UT-Arlington

 

SOUTH

Eckerd College**

Florida State

University of Miami

Loyola University New Orleans (test blind)

Tulane*

Davidson College**

Elon University**

Wake Forest*

Rhodes**

College of William and Mary*

University of Richmond**

Virginia Tech

 

WEST

Arizona State – min GPA requirements

University of Arizona

CAL TECH

All Cal State Universities*

Claremont McKenna (check for other schools in Claremont Consortium)**

Loyola Marymount

All UC schools (test-blind for California residents only)

Colorado College**

University of Denver

Lewis and Clark College**

Oregon State

University of Oregon

Evergreen State**

Gonzaga

University of Puget Sound**

University of Washington (UW – Udub)

Whitman College**

USC*

 

NORTHEAST

University of Connecticut

American University*

George Washington*

Amherst

Boston University*

Northeastern University*

Brandeis*

Cambridge College

Tufts University*

UMASS

Smith**

Goucher**

Bates**

Bowdoin**

Colby**

Bard**

Barnard**

Colgate**

Cornell*

Wesleyan**

Fordham

Davis**

Hamilton**

Marist

NYU (score flexible – choose which standardized tests to send, including APs)*

University of Rochester*

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute*

Sarah Lawrence

Skidmore**

Vassar

Allegheny College

Bryn Mawr**

Bucknell**

Haverford**

Swarthmore**

Temple University

Villanova*

Middlebury**

 

 

MIDWEST

Columbia College

DePaul University

University of Chicago*

Ball State

Indiana University – Purdue

KState (meet min GPA)

Michigan State

Carleton College**

Case Western*

Oberlin College**

Navigating College Admissions Amid COVID-19

College Admission Test Cancellations

It may seem difficult to plan for college when everything keeps changing. While important admission test dates have been cancelled or postponed, we want to encourage students to keep their goals in sight and focus on a strong finish!

Here is a review of some of the recent changes affecting students and the college admissions process, and ways students can stay on track and achieve their goals.

Spring SATs Cancelled

The College Board has cancelled all remaining test dates for the current school year, which means that the next anticipated testing opportunity is not until August 29th. What does this mean for students? Use the time you have now to prepare for the August SAT! With fewer testing opportunities and a smaller window to submit test scores, why wait? Gain essential test-taking strategies now and use this time to refine your skills to ensure your August test score counts! All MTAT prep classes have moved online until we can safely meet in person. You can view all SAT course offerings HERE. Remember,  previous MTAT students have unlimited, FREE return privileges to future SAT classes. Prepare now, and review later. This will alleviate the stress of cramming for a test while preparing to submit college applications, writing college essays, visiting campuses, etc.

Is the ACT a good option for you? Take this time to find out. Take a practice ACT so you can make an informed decision about which test to target! Download a practice ACT from ACT.org or email [email protected] to get a printable version you can take from home.

 

Spring ACT Options

ACT cancelled the April test date due to COVID-19; however, unlike College Board,  ACT plans to follow through with June and July testing. As we are all aware, plans are continually changing. Like the SAT classes, all of our ACT classes are also moving online until we are able to meet in person. A complete list of ACT class schedules is available HERE. Students currently enrolled in an ACT class should plan to continue their preparation so they can gain a strong foundation in the strategies they’ll need to conquer the test, and plan to take advantage of our free return policy should they need to test again, or should their test date be postponed.

 

What about Test Optional Schools?

Some schools have adopted a Test Optional policy for Class of 2021 applicants. What does this mean for you? Colleges understand the situation that juniors are in right now. They know that at least four major testing opportunities have been cancelled. For this reason, some schools are dropping the SAT/ACT requirement for Class of 2021. Some schools are going test optional permanently! Keep in mind, even though SAT/ACT scores are not required, you may still benefit from submitting your scores. Do your research to make sure that you understand the requirements for the schools you will be applying to. Check to see what their average SAT/ACT scores typically are. If your SAT/ACT is close to the average (or better yet, higher than the average), go ahead and send your scores. SAT/ACT scores might still be necessary for your desired major or ensure your eligibility for certain scholarships.

If you are struggling with your online coursework or if you find yourself overwhelmed because of the test cancellations, a test optional or test blind college might be a great choice. Your mental health is your top priority. Just make sure to do your research.

 

College Research, Applications, and Essays

Students have a unique opportunity to overcome the challenges of this season and to show colleges their grit and tenacity during challenging times. One of the ways you can keep moving forward is to spend time researching colleges and make a plan for completing your applications and essays. Become an admission expert when it comes to the colleges you want to apply to. Our college advisor prepared a great resource you can view for free to help you get started (College Admission Prezi by Kim Lewis).

Want to get started on your essays now? Year after year, our college essay coaches see students struggle with what to write about and how to make their essays unique when everyone is answering the same, broad essay prompt. Taking this time to get a head start on your essays may allow for more time later to focus on summer testing, postponed college visits, and completing applications! We are offering our College Essay Workshop package in a one-on-one, virtual platform so students can get ahead . Click HERE or contact our office for more information.

While essay prompts can vary slightly from year to year, our experts will focus on crafting essays that will be widely applicable. If there happens to be a dramatic shift to the application process, we will adjust accordingly to ensure students needs are met and essays meet the necessary requirements.

 

Need help staying informed when it comes to College Admission Testing? Sign up for our blog or follow us on FaceBook!

How will COVID-19 affect the SAT and ACT?

With spring tests cancelled, and students unsure when (or if) they’ll be returning to school this semester, many students and parents are wondering . . . What now?

The May 2nd SAT has been canceled (the June 6th date is pending), and the April 4th ACT has been rescheduled for June 13th. While these changes may throw a wrench in the plans of busy students, the good news is that they have extra time to prepare! Many students are getting an extra week of spring break, and while it can be tempting to spend that time by the pool (or in front of the screen), the best advice we can give you is, “Don’t get rusty!”

If you’ve already invested time preparing for the SAT or ACT, you’ve got to protect those hard-earned skills. Use them or lose them! And if you haven’t started preparing, an unexpected break in your school work load is a great time to start!

More Than A Teacher is offering online tutoring at a discounted rate through April. All you need is an internet connection. We’ll set up the rest. Call or email us to schedule a virtual appointment today!

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 info[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.