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how to ace ACT

By July 12, 2019 No Comments

How much do you charge?
I charge $150 per 1.5 hour session. I’ve found throughout the years that 1.5 hours is the ideal amount of time for a tutoring session. One hour generally is not enough time to cover all the material I want to go over, and students are just not paying attention anymore when 2 hours rolls around. For a pre-purchase of 8 1.5 hour sessions, the cost is $1080, which works out to $90 per hour. Not a bad deal if I say so myself, considering how much experienced tutoring can cost.

How many sessions do students usually get?
It depends. Most students I advise start prepping for any particular exam two months in advance. One session per week is plenty, which means on average I will meet with a student for 8 sessions. I assign about 2 hours of homework for each session. However, some students are scoring higher than others or need help only on one particular section of the test. Of course, those students wouldn’t need as many sessions. This is one of the many advantages of individual tutoring over a class: we can see what each particular student needs and adjust accordingly.

When do students start taking the ACT or SAT?
Most students will have some exposure to the ACT sometime in middle school. Many districts have students take the ACT in 8th grade as a no-consequence exposure to the exam. Additionally, many high schools also do the same for students during their sophomore year as “The Plan”, a truncated version of the test. However, students generally start taking/prepping for the exam in earnest the second semester of their junior year. This is the best time to start. By taking the exam in February during their junior year, students can establish a baseline exam score that they are either satisfied with or can serve to show how much they need to improve. This allows for almost a full year, and plenty of opportunities, to reach their goal by that winter, by the time college applications become do. The summer between junior and senior year is an excellent time to focus on standardized testing.

Can you tell me more about the process of getting started?
Of course. The most important thing prior to starting test prep is having a baseline exam. As long as I know how a student is doing, I can tell what subject areas need improvement. If a student has not taken the exam recently, I will generally assign a practice exam to be completed before our first meeting. During the first session, I will take a student’s impressions of the exam: what they found easy or challenging and if they have any specific types of questions they needed to learn about. I only use previously administered exams. I highly discourage students from using prep materials published by anyone other than the College Board (SAT) or ACT Inc. (ACT).

What if I only have a short time to prepare?
First, relax! Though prepping for under a month’s time isn’t ideal, it’s hardly the end of the world. I’ve had plenty of students achieve their goals with just a few weeks of preparation time. Some students, for instance, have worked with me on only one or two sections of the exam with only a few days to go and seen dramatic increases. Furthermore, because of the flexibility of individualized instruction, we can meet several times during a week so long as a student has the time outside of tutoring sessions to complete the homework assignments.

What materials do I need to begin studying?
For the SAT, a student needs The Official Guide to the SAT (the blue book). For the ACT, The Real ACT Prep Guide (the red book). Other than that, a student needs a pen or pencil, a notebook, and a calculator. I’ll provide the rest. A quick note: even though a graphic calculator is not required I HIGHLY RECOMMEND USING ONE. Some VERY useful math strategies are MUCH easier to implement with a graphing calculator. Students are allowed to use TI-83s, TI-84s, and TI-85s.
Here is a link to The Real ACT
Here is the link to The Blue Book (SAT)

How important are the ACT and SAT to college admissions?
Pretty important unfortunately. Colleges do not look at test scores as one small component of a student’s application. Instead, they look at your school, grades, and test scores, and if they don’t meet their criteria, they might not even read your application at all. Thus high scores won’t get you into a school, but low scores will certainly keep you out.

How do I sign up for these tests?
Though at some schools you can sign up for these exams at the college counselor’s offie, the best and easiest way to sign up is through their respective websites. Sign up for the ACT here and for the SAT here.

Should I take both the ACT and the SAT?
I think at the very least you should take a practice test of each. Some students will perform much better on one exam than the other and should focus their attention on that exam in particular. The reality is that the vast majority of schools, regardless of location and prestige, don’t have much preference for one exam over the other. I generally advise students to focus on one exam and if they are to take both, at least prepare for only one at a time. This is against my financial best interests, but I do believe that it is not necessary to take both.

How do I compare ACT and SAT Scores?
It’s pretty easy to do.
Here’s a link that shows you how to do it.

What’s on the exam?
The ACT is composed of four sections in this order: English, Math, Reading, and Science. You have 45 minutes for the 75-question English section, 60 minutes for the 60-question Math section, 35 minutes each for the 40-question Reading and Science sections. You get a 10 minute break between the Math and Reading section.

How is the ACT Scored?
It’s actually quite easy to calculate your score. The ACT is scored from 1 to 36, as is each individual section of the exam. To calculate your composite score, you just average your four section scores. You round up at .5 and down at .25. Thus if your scores average to a 24.5, you get a 25. If you average to a 30.25, you get a 30.
Here is a table that shows you how many questions you need on each section to get a certain score.

What do I need to know on the English/Math/Reading/Science section?
Check out the page covering the ACT in depth. You’ll get a good overview of the topics you need for each section as well as the scope of each topic covered.
You can find it here.

What’s a good score?
A “good” score is almost entirely subjective. I would say that a good score is whatever score you need to fulfill your goal, whether it be to get into a certain school or to get lots of scholarship money at a school you can already get into. Typically students are looking to do one of those two with a great score. There are objective ways to look at scores of course. A 21 is perfectly average and a 33 puts you in the top 1% of all test takers.
Check out this link to see the ACT score percentiles.

When is the ACT offered?
The ACT is offered each year on Saturdays in February, April, June, September, October, and December. There are accomodations made for Sabbath observers and those who are not able-bodied.
Check out this link to see ACT test and registration dates through 2016.

What is this writing section all about and is it optional?
Yes indeed the Writing section is optional for a price. You do not have to take it but many colleges require it for admissions purposes, so it might be in your best interest to take it. The writing section is a 35-minute essay about some topic pertaining to high school (should they have dress codes? should community service be required?). Given a good outline structure to use and a few other easily learnable tips, anyone can improve their writing score. Keep in mind that the writing section will not affect your 1-36 ACT score. Instead, you’ll receive your ACT score alongside a 1-12 Writing score and 1-36 combined Writing and English score.

What are the best books to use to prepare for the exam?
I strongly discourage using any ACT material aside from those published by ACT Inc. The only book that has actual, previously administered exams is The Real ACT. I have a bank of actual ACTs that I use for teaching/homework in addition to The Real ACT. You can also find some online practice material on the ACT website.
Click here for the Amazon link to The Real ACT.
Click here for some online ACT practice material created by ACT Inc.

How can I take a practice test?
There are a few different places that offer a free proctored ACT. You can contact me directly for a free practice test that you can take at your convenience along with the answer key and scoring table. You can of course contact me with any questions and I will be happy to explain the results and give any recommendations. 913.261.9100

What vocabulary should I be studying for the ACT?
Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not test vocabulary. If you are planning to take both then I highly recommend learning vocubulary as soon as possible. Conveniently, I have an excellent list of words that will totally prepare anyone for the SAT. However, the ACT does not test vocabulary aside from the occasional word meaning in context question. They do not test your knowledge of a word’s meaning, but rather if you can tell how an author uses it in context.

What kind of science knowledge do I need for the science section?
Virtually none. The science section tests nothing more than your ability to look at tables and charts and spot patterns. They might show you that the acidity levels in a lake have been increasing and then explain that high acidity kills tadpoles. They might then ask what would happen to the tadpole population if the acidity started decreasing. Mostly just common sense if you can analyze the info they give you. Occasionally you’ll need to know a one-off science fact to get an answer correct (the meaning of the word “viscosity” or which planet in our solar system is the largest). Once per section or less.

What’s on the exam?
The SAT consists of three separate categories: Writing, Critical Reading and Math. Each category is broken into three timed sections. The Writing section has an Essay, and two multiple choice sections. The Math has two multiple choice sections and one section that is split between multiple choice and self-response. The Reading Section is three multiple choice sections. Thus, you are scored on 9 separate sections.

How is the SAT Scored?
It’s just a bit complicated. First, your score out of 2400 is calculated by adding up each of the three individual section scores (each out of 800). To get those section scores you have to calculate your raw score. To do that, you get 1 point for each right answer, 0 points for each skipped answer, and -.25 points for each wrong answer, and add them up. Then use the table to translate that to your section score. For the writing section you do the same process, but also use the 1-12 essay score to adjust your score.
Pages four and five of this document has the scoring table you need.

What do I need to know on the Writing/Math/Reading Section?
Check out the page covering the SAT in depth. You’ll get a good overview of the topics covered and the scope of those topics.
You can find it here.

What’s a good score?
Well again, a good score is a score that either makes you competitive at the schools you want to attend or gets you scholarship money at a school you know you can already get into. That is essentially it. Of course, there are objective ways of looking at the exam. A 1500 is a perfectly average score (500 on each of the sections) and 2200 and above is in the 99th percentile.

When is the SAT offered?
The SAT is offered seven times per year, in January, March, May, June, October, November, and December.
Click here to see full tests offered and their exact dates and registration deadlines.

What are the best books to use to prepare for the exam?
Well, I highly recommend that students only prepare for the exam using actual, previously-administered SATs published by the College Board. This means no books from Kaplan, Princeton Review, Bartons, etc. You can find practice SAT materials on the College Board website and you can purchase many actual SATs in the book The Official SAT Study Guide. Additionally, I have a bank of a few actual SATs that I use for lessons and homework with my students.
Here is a link to SAT materials on the College Board.
Here is a link to The Official SAT Study Guide.

What vocabulary should I be studying for the SAT?
Vocabulary study is an extremely important aspect of performing well on the SAT. However, it is very important to study a list of words that appear frequently on the SAT, as the SAT does tend to repeat many of the words in its exams. Simply studying a lot of “fancy” complicated words can be a huge waste of time and effort. I have a specialized list of words I use with my students. One other resource I recommend is “Word Smart” by Princeton Review.

My Philosophy
Recogize these are exams are extremely repetitive and therefore LEARNABLE. There are only so many different types of questions, and I teach students to learn to recognize thema nd the simple steps to answer each one. I meet one-on-one with each student, track their progress, and focus on their needs at their pace.


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