Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

In a year where not much is within our control, it’s good to know what you can control in the test prep and college admissions process.

In this final post, we’re going to talk about a few of things your child can control when working to strengthen their college applications.

3 Ways to Improve Scores

One thing your child can do to strengthen an application is to work to achieve their best possible score on the SAT or ACT. Once your child has mock test or actual scores in hand, there are three ways a tutor can help improve those scores.

1. Review Test-Taking Strategies – Test-taking strategies are things like using the process of elimination or working backward to get to an answer when you aren’t sure right away. These are “best practices” and can vary based on the test and section. 

2. Work on Targeted Content Review – Maybe your child needs to brush up on geometry because it’s been a while. Or perhaps grammar rules weren’t their strength, and they need a refresh of that content. Focusing on those weak spots can help improve scores.

3. Take Full-length Practice Tests – We’re currently offering mock tests virtually so kids can take them safely at home. They mimic the real test so students can practice and improve their pacing and boost their mental stamina before test day. 

In each of these areas, students need to know and work on their weaknesses. It seems counterintuitive since students often hear, “Work on the things you love to do and focus on your strengths!” But when it comes to test prep, focusing on weaker areas helps to improve scores more than a generic approach or focusing on areas where the student is already strong.

Our tutors combine these three methods to tackle students’ weaknesses and improve scores. We’re so confident in our approach that we even offer a test prep guarantee! If a student completes a test prep package program and their scores fail to increase, we will provide three complimentary sessions.

Additional Areas of Focus

Working on weaknesses to improve test scores is one of the key things students can do to improve college admissions applications. Another? Getting help with college application essays—and starting early.

No matter how a school considers test scores, essays have become vitally important. Juniors can take control by working on application essays and test prep during their junior year and over the summer. Then, when senior year arrives, they can focus on their grades. (Fall semester grades are still important for applications!)

Plus, working ahead on these things can enable seniors to get in their applications by the early action deadline of November 1st. This reduces stress in their senior year so they can focus on their grades and enjoy every moment of a very special year—and so can you!

To make this entire process easier for you and your family, we offer The Road to College, a special college admissions program for high school students. The Road to College is our way of making the college admissions process as stress-free as possible. Click here to learn more and schedule a consultation. We’re here for you! 

Thank you for joining us for this special 4-part series on college admissions during COVID! Do you have additional questions about testing or college admissions during COVID? Do you need help identifying the best test or test dates for your child? Are you looking for a virtual test prep tutoring program guaranteed to raise your child’s scores? If so, click here to schedule a free consultation with one of our test prep experts today!

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Once you’ve decided whether or not your child should test and taken the first steps of practice tests and test selection, it’s time to pick your child’s test dates and begin test prep.

Pick Test Dates Strategically

Once a child selects the SAT or ACT, it’s time to pick test dates, and we encourage students to do so strategically. Research shows that most students achieve their best score in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. We suspect it’s because they’re older, they’re more mature, and they have more curriculum under their belt. 

With that in mind, it really is okay to take a fall test, but you want to consider if your child will have the capacity to test again in the late winter or spring. We recommend “pairing test dates,” which means planning for two test dates.  After the first test, the student can identify areas of weakness. Then, they can practice, practice, practice to improve their score in those areas on the second attempt.  

For the ACT, for example, you could pick a December and a February date, or maybe a February and an April date. For the SAT, maybe it’s a December and March date, or perhaps a March and May date.

If you’re not sure which dates are best for your child, we can help! We do this all the time and offer free consultations for exactly this purpose. Click here to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll use your child’s PSAT score or SAT/ACT practice score to determine the best test timing for your child.

Decide How to Prepare

There are essentially three ways a child can prepare for the SAT/ACT.

1. Independent Prep – If you have a very independent, motivated student with strong practice test results, they might be fine buying a book or using an online resource to practice independently. 

2. Group Classes – Your child can take a group class with lots of other kids. Right now, those are all happening virtually. If a student is relatively strong in all areas and just wants to review test-taking strategies and get general practice, this might be a fit. But it doesn’t provide time or space for customization based on a child’s particular needs for improvement.

3. Private Tutoring – The advantage of private tutoring—and the reason it’s the only option we offer—is that it can be customized to each child. Our tutors can work with your child to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. By focusing personalized instruction on the skills a child finds most challenging, the tutor is more likely to help boost their score.

Whichever path you choose, don’t wait until close to test day to begin! The brain works best when you space things out rather than cramming at the last minute. Most students test two or three times, and they generally start test prep about two to five months before their first test, depending on how much they need to work on. We recommend weekly sessions with practice homework in between to best prepare students and build their confidence.

To learn more about our test prep tutoring during COVID-19, click here. You can also click here to schedule a free consultation. Our test prep experts are happy to answer your questions and handpick a tutor for your child’s testing needs!

You can also click through to read our last post in this special series on college admissions: Control What You Can: Test Prep Factors to Consider in COVID-19.

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

For 2020-21 seniors, test scores are, for the first time ever, completely off of the table. Since COVID cancellations made it so difficult for students to test in the spring, schools are not requiring an SAT or ACT result for admissions. 

If your child is a senior this year (2020-21), important admissions factors will include their grades in college prep classes, strength of curriculum, admissions essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and AP/IB test scores. Testing isn’t much of a concern.

But what if your child is a junior, sophomore, or freshman? Read on to learn more about what you need to know. 

Test-Required, Test-Optional, and Test-Blind

After this year, we expect schools to once again fall into three different categories:

  1. Test-Required – These schools will require students to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.
  2. Test-Optional – Students can choose whether or not to submit a test score. While not submitting a test doesn’t hurt, submitting a good test score can help. Most students choose to test. Then, they decide whether to submit the results based on the strength of their application with or without them.
  3. Test-Blind – These schools won’t consider test scores at all, even if they’re terrific. They’ll just focus on other factors. Although no scores are required for this year’s seniors, we don’t expect many schools to be test-blind for future applicants.

The specifics of these policies can vary from school to school, even within one state, so it’s important to look into the guidelines for the schools on your child’s list.

For example, UVA is test-required for any students not in this year’s senior class. As of right now, their website indicates that current juniors will be required to submit a test score with their applications next year. William and Mary, on the other hand, is launching a test-optional pilot. For the next three years, they’re going to test out a test-optional policy, then decide whether or not to revert to their test-required policy. 

James Madison, George Mason, and Christopher Newport are test-optional—so is VCU, although test scores are recommended there. Typically, when you’re applying to a college, you should follow their recommendations!

Reporting Test Scores to Colleges

Unless every school on your child’s list is test-blind (which is unlikely), they’ll want to at least take the test—but they don’t need to automatically report their scores!

Even test-required schools allow for “score choice.” This means the student can pick their best score from all of their attempts to share with schools. You can wait until your child is done with all of their test attempts and report only their best score to colleges.

There’s also something called “super scoring,” where the college will cherry-pick your best sub-scores from each attempt. For example, let’s say your child takes the SAT and gets a 500 on math and a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing. They retake it, and the scores reverse. They get a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing but only a 500 in math. With super scoring, the school will take their 600 in reading and writing from the first attempt and their 600 in math for the second attempt for a final score of 1200, which is better than the 1100 they actually got each time. 

A new change to the ACT is that the ACT will automatically super score. So if you take the ACT twice, colleges will only see your super score. With super scoring, testing multiple times can’t hurt and can only help! This is good to know because a small score increase can make a big difference and open up more options for a student.

With all of this in mind, it’s good to get the ball rolling on practice tests and test prep—just know you don’t need to automatically report scores right away. 

For now, visit our next post in this college admissions series: The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep.

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

Unless your child is a senior in the Class of 2021, it’s fairly safe to assume you should move forward with preparing your child to take the SAT or ACT. So where do you begin? That’s what this blog is all about.

Start with a Practice Test

Our first recommendation to juniors is to figure out which test (SAT or ACT) they’re going to take. They can use practice tests to identify which test they’ll naturally score better on. Since every college in America accepts both tests with no preference for one over the other, we recommend each student start by taking two practice tests, one for the SAT and one for the ACT. 

After a student takes both, we can analyze the results to identify their best direction moving forward. For about ⅓ of students, there’s a clear best choice. The other ⅔ score about the same on both and base their decision on their comfort level with each test. 

If your child hasn’t yet taken practice tests, that’s the first step. To make that first step safe and easy, we offer virtual practice tests most Saturday mornings. You can click here to view our upcoming practice test dates and register for one. We’ve made it very easy to register and test in your home so you can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Compare the SAT and ACT

If your child is one of those who score similarly on both practice tests, it’s helpful to understand the differences so you can make an informed decision about which one to take. Let’s go over how they’re alike and different.

The SAT is considered a power test. There are fewer questions, but they’re wordier. They require critical thinking and lots of analysis. The challenge with this test is in trying to understand what exactly they’re asking you to do. 

The ACT, on the other hand, is considered a speed test. There are more questions, but they’re shorter and a bit more straightforward. Kids often say things like, “The ACT feels more like what I’ve learned in school, but the difficulty with the ACT is actually the pacing and the speed.”

The SAT has two math sections. One allows students to use a calculator and one does not. These sections add up to 800 points. There’s also evidence-based reading and writing for another 800 points, giving students a potential total of 1600 points.

The ACT has four sections: math, reading, writing (which is more like grammar), and science. The science section makes some students anxious, especially if they don’t love science, but the questions are more like reading comprehension questions. Students are presented with graphs and charts, and they’re asked to extrapolate information. It’s very coachable if you have a tutor to help. The total for all four ACT sections is 36 points. 

Both tests are long. The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The ACT is only 15 minutes shorter, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes.

If you’re not sure which test is best for your child, we can help you make an informed decision based on mock test results. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a test prep specialist, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider.

Once your child has completed mock tests and selected a test, it’s time to dive into test prep. Check out the next blog in our college admissions series to learn more: SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19.

What Parents Should Know About College Admissions During COVID

For years, there have been three significant admissions factors for students applying to selective or competitive colleges. Number one: grades in college prep courses. Number two: the strength of curriculum and level of challenge in a student’s course selection. (In other words, did they take AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses?) And number three: admissions test scores on the SAT or ACT.

That’s not to say that the college admissions process was ever stress-free, but the admissions factors were fairly straightforward. This year, of course, COVID has thrown all of that—much like everything else in our lives—for a loop. 

To offer some clarity on what to expect in an unexpected year, we’re doing a special 4-part series on everything parents should know about college admissions during COVID. Read them in order, or click a topic below to jump straight to any post that interests you:

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

We know there’s a lot to consider this year, but remember: You’re not in this alone! If you still have questions about college admissions, test prep, or anything else, just click below to schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. We’re here for you!

Schedule a Consult

Do Juniors Still Need to Take the SAT/ACT as Many Schools Become “Test-Optional”?

For decades, the college application process has begun with high school juniors taking college admissions tests. But with many colleges and universities becoming “test-optional” (meaning that they do not require SAT or ACT scores to be submitted with an application), many students with test anxiety are beginning to wonder if testing at all is really necessary.

While the “test-optional” movement is worth understanding as you apply for college, most students find that taking either the SAT or ACT is still a good idea. Read on to learn why.

Understanding Test-Optional Policies

As mentioned, colleges with test-optional programs still accept SAT/ACT scores but no longer require applicants to submit them. Instead, students are evaluated for admission based on their grades and other factors like letters of recommendation, essays, and extracurricular activities. Some schools even accept creative portfolios, video profiles, business plans, or scientific research projects as alternate evidence of a student’s potential. 

This trend is fairly new but gaining momentum. In fact, over 1,000 schools have some type of test-optional admission policy now. At first glance, this sounds fantastic, at least to kids that may not be great test-takers, but there are caveats.

For example, at George Mason University, you need to have a GPA above 3.5 for test-optional consideration, and not every department is included. The Computer Science and Engineering programs still require test scores. Home-school applicants and those applying as Division I athletes are also required to submit scores. These caveats vary by school, so it’s important for applicants to fully understand each school’s requirements before applying without test scores.

Why Testing Is Still a Good Idea

Even with a growing number of schools offering some sort of test-optional consideration, most schools are still not test-optional. Considering that students apply to between 5 and 8 schools, it’s highly unlikely that all the schools on a student’s list will be test-optional. For that reason, it’s still a good idea to take the SAT or ACT before applying to schools. 

It’s also important to remember that just because you take the test doesn’t mean you have to submit the scores to a test-optional school. If you have a strong application that can stand out from the masses without a test score—and you believe your test score will detract from rather than add to that application—you can always choose to submit an application without your scores to a test-optional school.

 

Test Prep Timeline: February 2019

Here’s what you should be thinking about as your child prepares for the SAT or ACT this year.

Sophomores should be…

Continuing to focus on grades. Although you can be thinking ahead about what your sophomore will need to do to get ready for the SAT/ACT next year, the best thing you can do right now is to focus on supporting them as they learn and earn high marks in their classes.

Juniors should be…

(1) Registered for a paired set of SAT/ACT tests this spring. Because most kids end up taking two tests, we recommend scheduling them one after another.

As a reminder, if you’re interested in taking the March 9th SAT, the late registration deadline is February 27th.

Or if you’re taking the ACT, the April 13th test deadline to register is March 8th.

(2) Taking a mock test. Practice tests tend to be an afterthought for most families, but in our experience it’s the number one way for kids to improve their SAT/ACT scores.

Not only will it help your child identify their weaknesses and learn where they need to improve, it’ll also help them reduce test anxiety on the day of the actual test, because they know what to expect.

We offer these for free in the community. You can register for one of our upcoming Mock Tests here

Register Here

Also, if you haven’t picked whether you’re going to take the SAT or the ACT, now’s also the time to do that. Feel free to contact us or call (703-934-8282) and we can help you determine which one would be best based on your child’s practice test scores.

Test Prep Timeline: January 2019

Here’s what you should be thinking about as your child prepares for the SAT or ACT this year.

Sophomores should be…

(1) Reviewing PSAT scores (if they took it) as well as any practice test scores to determine areas of strength and weakness. Ask questions like:

  • Did they have enough time to finish?
  • Did they score particularly well in any of the four areas (reading, writing, math no calculator, math with calculator)?
  • Did they do poorly in any area?

(2) Thinking ahead about what type of test preparation they’ll need moving into Junior year. Mostly though, just continue to focus on grades.

Juniors should be…

(1) Taking a mock test. We offer these for free in the community. It’s the best way to get prepared to “peak” in the mid-to-late spring, which is historically the best time for students to take either test.

You can register for one of our upcoming Mock Tests here:

Also, if you haven’t picked whether you’re going to take the SAT or the ACT, now’s also the time to do that.

Feel free to contact us or call (703-934-8282) and we can help you determine which one would be best based on your child’s practice test scores.

(2) Registering for a “paired” set of tests in the spring if you haven’t already. Because most kids end up taking two tests, we recommend scheduling them one after another (for example, registering for the March 9th SAT followed by the May 4th SAT).

As a reminder, if you’re interested in taking, for example, the March 9th SAT, make sure you’ve registered by the February 8th deadline.

Or if you’re taking the ACT, the February 9th test deadline to register is this week on Friday, January 11th.

After you’ve knocked those items off the list, if you’re looking for a systematic, one-on-one program to get your child as prepared as possible to maximize their score this spring, our Test Prep Program might be right for you.

Click the link below to reach out and let us know, and we’ll walk you through the process, step-by-step.

Contact Us

New SAT-ACT Concordance Tables Released

New SAT-ACT Concordance Tables Released

In the DC metro area, the SAT is the better known of the two college entrance exams, but nationally, more students now take the ACT than the SAT. With colleges accepting both the SAT and the ACT, a natural question to ask is: “how do SAT and ACT scores compare”?

Back in 2016, the College Board (the makers of the SAT) released a concordance table that allowed students, families, and educators to equate their SAT score with an ACT score and vice versa. Recently, the College Board and ACT jointly released new concordance tables with updated data from recent test takers.

Here are a few key insights related to the update:

A perfect score

Under the old concordance tables, a score of 36 on the ACT was equivalent to a score of 1600 on the SAT. Logically, that made sense because those are the highest possible scores for each test. Under the new tables released in 2018, however, a 36 on the ACT is equivalent to the 1570-1600 range of scores on the SAT, with the “most appropriate” score equivalent listed as 1590.

Upper and lower range shifts

When comparing the 2016 and 2018 concordance tables we find that there is a larger discrepancy on the outer ends of the score spectrum than in the middle portion. To illustrate this point, see the chart I made below which plots an SAT score and the old and new concorded ACT score. Blue points with an orange ring remain unchanged between the two tables.

(Chart made using 2016 and 2018 College Board and ACT concordance table data)

For example, a score of 1180 equated to an ACT score of 24 under the 2016 standards and still equates to a 24 under the 2018 standards, while a score of 1470 equated to an ACT score of 32 under the 2016 standards and now equates to an ACT score of 33 under the 2018 standards. A similar trend is true with the lower end of the score range.

A key note about superscoring

With more and more colleges superscoring, or considering the highest combined score of individual sections across multiple test attempts, the updated document shares a key note about this practice. On page 5 of the linked document, the final bullet under limitations reads: “Institutions should not superscore across the SAT and ACT tests.”

 

These updates were announced June 14, 2018 and both the College Board and ACT have updated their websites with the new tables.

For the full guide on the 2018 concordance update please visit: https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/ACT-SAT-Concordance-Information.pdf

So what does this mean for students? One of the best things you can do is sit for a full-length practice test of each type and use the updated concordance tables to compare your scores. Educational Connections offers free practice tests, register for one here.

If you have any questions or would like to get started with test prep contact us today!

 

Learn the Basics of SAT/ACT Preparation

If your child is in 11th grade or headed into 12th grade soon, it’s time to start thinking about the SAT or the ACT.

But where to start?

Should your child take the SAT, the ACT, or both? When should preparation begin? How many times should the test be taken?

If you’ve got questions like these and are early in the test preparation process, listen to Ann Dolin on WTOP giving an overview of the basics of the test preparation process or read the transcript below.

 

 

These tests are on a lot of kids minds this time of year. When exactly should students be taking the SAT or ACT?

Most juniors will take the test twice, in the spring of their junior year and if they’re not happy with their score, in the fall of their senior year. Usually, they take it the two to three times just to make sure that they can get the best score possible.

We’ve got the SAT is coming up again on May 6th, June 3rd, August 26th. And the ACT dates are April 8th, June 10th and September 9th. Most students give themselves about three months leading up until a test date to prepare.

Should kids take both tests?

No, students should pick one and just study for that test, otherwise, they’re splitting their focus. Every single college in the country that requires testing accepts both tests, so there’s no need for kids to put added stress on themselves studying for two very different exams.

It used to be that most kids took the SAT, but that’s not the case any longer. In 2011 the ACT overtook the SAT for more tests administered. And since the SAT changed their format last year and there was so much uncertainty, we saw even more students elect to take the ACT, and we’ve seen that trend continue.

What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

The ACT is a faster paced test and includes a lot of questions in a shorter amount of time, but the questions are straight-forward. There’s a math, reading, writing, and science section (which mostly reading comprehension and data interpretation). A perfect score is 36.

The SAT is more a test of critical thinking skills. Although there are fewer questions on the SAT, they are longer and a bit wordier and take more time to answer. Like the ACT, there’s reading, writing and math (which includes a section in which kids cannot use a calculator), but there’s no science section. The highest score you can earn is 1600.

What is the best way to prepare for these tests?

There are three ways for kids to prepare: buying a book and prepping on their own, taking a group class or getting one-to-one tutoring.

In addition to practicing the content and strategies, one of the best way to boost your score is to take practice tests. We (and many other organizations in the community) offer these for free on the weekends.

Practice under simulated conditions are beneficial for a number of reasons. When kids are just starting to think about preparing, taking a practice SAT and ACT can help them determine which test is their natural strength. And once they decide, taking a few of these mock tests along the way helps with fatigue issues – because these tests are four hours long — and this type of practice decreases anxiety because kids know what to expect when they go to take the actual test. And when kids are less stressed and more prepared, they score better.

If you are interested in having your child take a free diagnostic ACT and/or SAT, sign up here or call us at 703-934-8282.