Late Spring-Early Fall ACT and SAT Testing

The end of the school year and early fall can be a great time to take or retake college admission tests to try for higher scores. When scheduled at these times there are fewer competing commitments and distractions that might interfere with solid preparation. Neither the ACT nor the SAT is administered over the summer months. The last opportunity to take the ACT at this point is June 8. The initial registration date has passed, but you may register on a late basis until May 17 and pay an additional fee. The last opportunity to take the SAT prior to the summer hiatus is June 1. Late registration for this test is by May 22, also with a late fee. The basic charge for the ACT without the optional essay is $35; with the essay the cost is $50.50. I recommend taking the test at least once with the essay, as some colleges require it. The basic SAT cost is $50. Low-income families can request to have fees waived by both companies.

The earliest fall administrations of each test are as follows: ACT September 21 (with a registration deadline of Aug. 23), and SAT October 5 (with a September 6 deadline).  Remember that you may take tests numerous times and most schools will utilize your best outcomes in their admissions decision. While it is the case that more than 850 schools are now test optional (meaning that you needn’t submit test scores), many schools still rely on testing as an aspect of admissions decisions, and especially, for awarding merit scholarships. Therefore you don’t need to overly stress about ACT and SAT testing, but you should give the tests your very best effort, including plenty of advance preparation.

The official test books from the two test companies feature actual retired ACT and SAT tests along with in-depth information about skills and strategies for each test segment. Titles and ordering information for each are:

The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd edition. ISBN-13: 978-0-7689-3432-8

The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition. ISBN-10: 0874478529

Also both companies feature a full test with answers and preparation suggestions on their websites:

http://www.actstudent.org/sampletest/

http://sat.collegeboard.org/home

The above methods of self-preparation work well for students who are highly disciplined and self-directed. For those who work better with someone leading the way and explaining questions and answers in detail, Pinnacle Education will be offering both individual and small group test prep in advance of the June and September/October dates. Call or email for additional information:

LRansdell@comcast.net   303-635-6620

ACT Review Series for Colorado statewide test

Dr. Lisa Ransdell of Pinnacle Education Consulting is offering a low-cost, intensive review series in preparation for the statewide administration of the ACT on April 24, 2012 to Colorado high school juniors.

When: Saturdays beginning March 10 at 2 p.m. on the downtown Denver Auraria campus (building and room to be announced). With the exception of April 13, most meetings will last 90 minutes.

Cost: $25 for textbook (ordering information will be supplied).  Each session costs $20; the full six-session series may be paid for in advance for $100.

ACT Review Session Dates/Topics:

March 10:

  • overview of the ACT, ACT test sections, and test-taking strategy; self-study plan for maximum readiness

March 17:

  • full English section administration and review

March 24:

  • No meeting; Auraria campus is closed for Spring Break

March 31:

  • full Math section administration and review

April 6:

  • full Reading and Science section administration and review

April 13:

  • full ACT test administration (3 hours)

April 20:

  • review of full test outcomes; overview of ACT essay writing section

Dr. Ransdell is a former academic services Dean and Assistant Provost at schools like The University of Denver and Denison University (OH), and a continuing faculty member at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She established her education consulting practice in 2007, and has since then helped many Colorado families with all aspects of college planning.

Like Lisa Ransdell on FaceBook or Twitter to receive Pinnacle Education News You Can Use, regular updates on trends in college admissions in Colorado and nationwide:  http://pinnaclecollegeplanning.com

ACT vs SAT: Which is Best?

Most students perform better on one exam versus the other given the slightly different orientations of the tests.  I typically advise my student-clients to try both after reviewing test strategies and questions from each. Then if one proves to be the stronger choice we emphasize that test in our work together.

These days most colleges will accept either test, since there is a widely used concordance chart that permits direct comparison of outcomes. The tests are more alike than not, but here are some of the key differences that may suggest a stronger performance on one of the exams:

Generally speaking, the SAT plays to students who read a lot (including reading for pleasure), and consequently have larger vocabularies. In my opinion, this is the most critical difference between the tests. The SAT automatically includes an essay-writing component, although with the ACT this is something that must be added to the test registration if desired. The majority of more highly selective colleges request the essay component, although many colleges are okay with the ACT without essay.

While the SAT is the longer test (at 200 minutes) when compared with the ACT w/out essay (175 minutes), the ACT has longer test sections, so students with attention-span issues may not do as well. The SAT rotates students through nine alternating test sections lasting 25, 20, and 10 minutes, while the ACT offers four sections lasting 45, 60, 35 and 35 minutes. Among the ACT segments is a science segment that requires students to interpret data charts and illustrations, so students who are into science this may do well in this area.

The ACT covers more advanced math problems with the inclusion of some trigonometry, although it is generally considered the broader test, relating more directly to courses taken in high school. The SAT is more esoteric, requiring more complex, critical thinking to answer many of the questions. This is seen in the essay components as well, with the ACT questions appearing to be more straightforward.

A lot of good info is available on the test websites, including local administration dates and sample tests and questions:

www.act.org

www.collegeboard.org

Pinnacle just concluded a 3-week ACT series and is about to launch a four to six-week SAT series for students in the Denver area testing on Nov 5 or Dec 3  For more information see the website: http://pinnaclecollegeplanning.com/tutoring/

 

College Preparation, Year By Month

Dr. Lisa Ransdell is an independent educational consultant and college counselor who helps students and their families stay on top of college planning. Lisa’s practice is grounded in 28 years of college teaching and 20 years in higher education administration. She constantly tours, reads, and does professional development in order to give clients the most up-to-date info.

Bodleian Library, Oxford

I have blogged about this important topic before, but just came upon a great series of guidelines for high school students on how to best plan for college: year by year and month by month. The guidelines are published by NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  Here is a nugget for each year of high school from the piece:

Freshmen: Investigate what high school courses are required by colleges and plan your enrollment accordingly.

Sophomores: Prepare for and take the PSAT in October. This test prepares you for the SAT next year, and can be repeated next fall to try for National Merit Scholarships, a significant source of scholarship money.

Juniors: Begin a preliminary list of colleges of interest, and make contact with them, either by visiting or by requesting literature.

Seniors: Keep grades strong and attend to college application deadlines. Don’t take rolling admission policies for granted at colleges that don’t specify a specific date. These schools will close down admissions once their incoming class is full.

For the full set of suggestions for each year and month, see NACAC site: http://www.nacacnet.org/studentinfo/CollegePrep/Pages/default.aspx

I also see they have a Preparing for College newsletter for high school students and families, which is also likely a good source of info.

 

Early Fall College Planning

What should high school students and their families be doing in the late summer/early fall to be ahead of the college planning game? Here is what I would suggest:

Seniors: Do as much as you can before senior year starts. You will be distracted, you will be busy, and besides applying to colleges your main job will be keeping your grades up. Start your college essays; you can have them well underway if not finished before your classmates — one less stress during crunch time come November-December, which is prime application-time. Check the essay prompts for the Common Application, which are pretty typical.  Even if you are asked to write a different kind of essay by a particular school, cutting and pasting sections is often possible.

Also, do some initial scholarship research to see what you might qualify for (also a time-saver later), and visit any schools you have a clear interest in that you haven’t visited. Many colleges regard an official visit as an indication of sincere interest, so don’t miss out on communicating this.

Juniors: Do some serious prep for the ACT/SAT (see my blog of Feb 21, ‘11) and take each exam.  If your results aren’t stellar determine which was your strongest test, do more prep and re-take it.  Schools will only consider your highest scores, so there is no downside to repeating these tests.

Make this a standout academic year, as junior year grades are what you will be showcasing in the majority of your applications come fall of senior year. Maintain one or two of your past extracurriculars, as these will be scrutinized as well.

Begin building a college list and touring colleges in earnest to identify what kinds of schools match you, and to establish your interest.  Participate in some of the college fairs that happen locally in the fall. This is a great chance to learn more about all kinds of colleges, collect information, and meet admissions reps.

By all means, consider working with an independent educational consultant!:)

I made additional recommendations for high school sophomores and freshmen in my past blog of Sept 28, ‘09; check it out!

 

One Size Doesn’t Fit All In SAT/ACT Prep

Generally, there are five broad types of preparation for the SAT/ACT college entrance tests. #1: Some high schools provide workshops led by teachers or outside consultants, with content ranging from brief overviews of test formats and sample questions to comprehensive coverage. In my opinion these are definitely worth checking out, since convenient, low-cost (or free) test prep is always a good thing. Provided they are offered sufficiently in advance of your testing dates, you should have time to pursue other strategies should that prove necessary.

#2: Another inexpensive route is to prepare on your own with the help of a guidebook. There are several out there in the $20 – $40 price range and each will help prepare you in relatively similar ways. These include official guides produced by the testing companies, such as The Official SAT Study Guide from the College Board, and The Real ACT Prep Guide. I tend to like the Barron guidebooks (How to Prepare for the SAT) for their breadth of coverage, user-friendly formats and CD-Rom inserts. Most guidebooks provide full diagnostic tests, in-depth section reviews, and plenty of sample questions, math problems and vocabulary words. They also cover test-taking strategies, which are quite different between the SAT and ACT.

I would only recommend guidebook preparation for students with solid across-the-board academic strengths, for those who scored reasonably well on the PSAT, and as an initial strategy when there is plenty of time left should more in-depth preparation prove to be necessary. Guidebooks also work best for those with the self-discipline necessary to diligently and regularly prepare in the weeks leading up to the exam date. Self-motivation would similarly be necessary for those who are attracted to the idea of using one of the national on-line test prep programs (#3), such as Kaplan Online, Princeton Review Online, and one of the newest, Encyclopedia Britannica Online. These programs are more expensive, ranging from $500 – $800.

The national companies were previously best known for comprehensive classroom-based workshop review programs (#4), and these are still popular. The workshop setting may work best for those who are more motivated by having a time and place mapped out for their review sessions. They can be pricey, however, often costing upwards of $1000. These days the range of offerings from the national companies are extensive, and make full use of learning and communication technologies.

Finally, there are local private tutors (#5), some of whom exclusively do tutoring, and others who combine tutoring with other educational consulting services, such as help with the college search and admission process. As a professional, I fall in the latter category. I am up-front with clients that I am a good test-taking strategist, and strong in the critical reading and writing categories, but far less so in mathematics. I would refer a student needing deep assistance in the math area to another tutor, and feel it would be unethical of me to do otherwise.

There are two great advantages to private tutors, once you find the right one (always check credentials and references). First, the personalized attention simply can’t be beat. Second, determining in advance the number of hours can control costs, as most tutors charge on an hourly basis. Many private tutors also utilize a guidebook and /or online materials as they work with students, so there may be positive triangulation from going this route.

Some final notes: while the college application process has become more competitive and stressful in recent years, several changes in college policies have mitigated the effects somewhat. Increasing numbers of schools have diminished the weight of standardized tests in their admission decision process, and there are now several hundred test-optional colleges, including many that are highly selective. These schools place more weight on GPAs and letters of recommendation, and may request samples of graded work from the applicant. For some time students have been able to test multiple times with the assurance that colleges will only consider their highest sets of scores, and some schools practice “superscoring,” meaning they allow students to mix the highest sub-scores from different testing sessions. Students with documented learning differences have the option of requesting testing accommodations, such as extended time, and are well advised to work with a tutor who understands their issues.

Lisa Ransdell, Ph. D., is an independent educational consultant based in Denver, CO. She is a college faculty member, former higher education administrator, and president of Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC: http://www.pinnacle-educ.com.

Top 10 Traits Colleges Seek in Students

From IECA, the Independent Educational Consultants Association, based on a survey of members:

1. A rigorous high school curriculum that challenges the student and may include AP or IB classes.

2. Grades that represent strong effort and an upward trend. However, slightly lower grades in a rigorous program are preferred to all As in less challenging coursework.

3. Solid scores on standardized tests (SAT, ACT). These should be consistent with high school performance.

4. Passionate involvement in a few activities, demonstrating leadership and initiative. Depth, not breadth, of experience is most important.

5. Letters of recommendation from teachers and guidance counselor that give evidence of integrity, special skills, positive character traits, and an interest in learning.

6. A well-written essay that provides insight into the student’s unique personality, values, and goals. The application essay should be thoughtful and highly personal. It should demonstrate careful and well-constructed writing.

7. Special talents or experiences that will contribute to an interesting and well-rounded student body.

8. Demonstrated leadership in activities. Colleges want people who will arrive prepared and willing to take leadership of student activities and events.

9. Demonstrated intellectual curiosity through reading, school, leisure pursuits, and more.

10. Demonstrated enthusiasm to attend, often exhibited by campus visits and an interview, showing an interest toward attending the college.

College Entrance Exam Preparation Strategies

One of my services to clients is help in preparing for the SAT and ACT examinations. It’s been some time since I was on the college testing scene as a test taker, but at the moment I am right in there with high school juniors, studying for the SAT myself at the age of 50 with a looming October 4, 2008 test date. I decided that prepping for and taking the test myself would be an interesting, alternative sort of professional development at this point in my career.

What does an educational consultant and former higher ed administrator recommend as the best means of preparing for college entrance exams? As with nearly every consequential thing one plans for, “one size doesn’t fit all,” and “it depends.” For myself, given that I have nothing riding on my exam scores, I am going low level. My preparation consists solely of spending time working my way through the Barron’s guidebook, “How to Prepare for the SAT,” and also receipt and completion of the SAT question of the day from the College Board (and its Educational Testing Service), the folks who created and maintain the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Generally, there are four broad types of preparation. One is to do what I’m doing, and prepare on your own with the help of a guidebook. There are several out there roughly in the $30 price range and each will help prepare you in relatively similar ways. I chose Barron’s because it is highly regarded by other tutors who are my colleagues and friends. I like it for its breadth of coverage of key test areas (critical reading, writing and mathematics), the fact that it includes a diagnostic test to help identify strengths and weaknesses, and the fact that it includes no fewer than six practice tests. It also comes packaged with a CD-Rom that I haven’t checked out yet.

I would only recommend guidebook preparation for students with solid across-the-board academic strengths, for those who scored quite well on the PSAT, and as an initial strategy when there is plenty of time left to re-test should more in-depth preparation prove to be necessary. Guidebooks also work best for those with the self-discipline and motivation necessary to devote multiple hours per week to study and review for several weeks leading up to the exam date.

Self-motivation would similarly be necessary for those who are attracted to the idea of using one of the on-line test prep programs, such as Kaplan online, Princeton Review online, and one of the newest, Encyclopedia Britannica online. These programs are more expensive, ranging in price from approximately $399 to $535. I am especially intrigued by the Encyclopedia Britannica online program given their publicized average score improvement of 300 points, and the fact that their program has multiple personalized features that are part of their basic $499 fee.

Next are the classroom based review services, including Kaplan, Princeton Review, and others. These programs offer comprehensive coverage and may work best for those who are more motivated by having a time and place all mapped out for their review sessions. They can be pricey, however, often costing upwards of $1000. I recently affirmed the choice of the Sylvan Learning program to a client in another state who had a positive experience with their services earlier in her high school career as it seemed comforting to her to return to them. If I were a parent, I would make inquiries about the background and experience of session presenters before committing to any of these programs.

Finally, there are private tutors, some of whom exclusively do tutoring, and others who combine tutoring with other educational consulting services, such as help with the college search and admission process. As a professional, I fall in the latter category. As with the classroom-based programs, parents would be wise to inquire equally about the background of private tutors. I am up-front with clients that I am a good test-taking strategist, and strong in the critical reading and writing categories, but far less so in mathematics. I would refer a student needing deep assistance in the math area to another tutor, and feel it would be dishonest of me to do otherwise.

There are two great advantages to private tutors, once you find the right one (and I note that the major test prep companies now also offer their own private tutors). First, the personalized attention simply can’t be beat. Second, the cost can be completely controlled by pre-determining the number of hours of review, as most tutors work on an hourly basis. Many private tutors also utilize a guidebook as they work with students, so there may be a positive triangulation effect from going this route.

One final observation: provided the student launches the process early enough, test-taking can be relatively non-stressful, as the test can be repeated multiple times with no need for anxiety about outcomes, as schools have long pledged to only consider one’s highest scores. Also SAT scores can be cancelled if done within published deadlines, and increasing numbers of schools have recently diminished the weight of standardized tests in their admission decision process. Happy studying, my fellow test-takers!

Lisa Ransdell is a college faculty member, former high ed administrator, and head of a Denver-based college-search consulting firm, Pinnacle Education Consulting, LLC, www.pinnacle-educ.com.