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.

Choosing & Preparing for the ACT or SAT

Our Test Prep Tutors evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses during their first session. Each session targets areas where improvement will have the greatest impact on test scores. But what happens if you’re unsure of which test your child to take? When do you start preparing for these exams? What even is the difference between the two!?

Our Test Prep Coordinator, Payton Marshall, let’s us in on everything you and your child needs to know when preparing for college entrance exams.


What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

The ACT and the SAT are two very different tests.

The ACT is a much faster paced test and includes a lot of questions in a shorter amount of time. It is formatted similarly to tests your child takes in school right now. The content is information they have learned throughout their high school career.

The SAT is more of a strength test and tests your child’s critical thinking skills. She has to use the analytical side of her brain. Although there are fewer questions on the SAT, they are longer and wordier and take more time to answer.


Should my kid take both tests? How do I know which one is better for them?

There is no need for your child to take both the ACT and the SAT. All colleges across the country take either the SAT or the ACT, and one is not looked at as better than the other when determining your child’s acceptance.

Some parents will ask, “Does it matter what my son wants to major in? If they’re going to be an engineer, should they take this test over that test?” It makes no difference. Both tests are looked at equally, so your child should pick the test that is better suited for him or her.

To find out which test is better suited for your child, it’s best to look at a practice ACT or SAT score, his PSAT result, or other practice tests he may have. Our Test Prep Coordinator works to compare scores from different tests to determine which test has a higher score. Some kids also know which test they would like to take because they have a preference for one over the other.

Once the preferred test is selected, your student can begin preparing and channel all of their focus on that one test, which is must more advisable than dividing attention and energy over preparing for both tests.


When is the best time to take the test? How many times should my kid take the test?

Most Juniors will take the real test for the first time in the spring of their Junior year. Usually, Juniors will take it anywhere from two to three times later that spring and early summer. Sometimes they’ll take it one more time in the fall of their Senior year. Typically, if you can get all two or three tests out in the spring of their Junior year, it’s best, because most kids aren’t extremely diligent about preparing over the summer for a fall test. Usually, they take it the two to three times just to make sure that they can get the best score possible. Maybe one day the testing room was too cold, or they had a bad headache or something like that. By taking it two to three times, they can maximize their score. By the spring of their Junior year, they have learned all the academic content that they need to be prepared for the test.


What is the best way to prepare for these tests? When should you start if you want to take a test in March or May?

The first step is to determine where your child is in the process and where he wants to be. Take note of which schools he wants to apply to and what kind of exam requirements they have. Have a conversation with him about what his score goals are and where they are regarding completing that goal. If he is planning to take the test in March, for example, then January – after the holidays – is the best time to start preparing. Our test prep tutors would encourage him to take the test in March, then again in June to compare scores. Since slow and steady preparation is the best approach, doing one session per week leading up to the test is one of the best options. He can sleep on it overnight, practice throughout the week and then meet with the tutor the next week to review.

Obviously, there’s more than one way to prepare for tests. You can, of course, prepare on your own. If your kid is good at self-study, she can pick up a book and prepare herself. There are plenty of free online sources out there that help with this kind of test preparation. While most high school Juniors are not that self-driven, some are indeed able to do this.

You could also sign up for a group class. There are plenty of group classes available. However, group classes are at the mercy of the group. Everyone gets the same curriculum, and the instructor goes through the class at the group’s pace, not the individual student’s pace. There is also the one-to-one approach, where the tutor focuses directly on your student to find his or her strengths and weaknesses and work on their weaknesses to try and increase scores.


If your student needs guidance on which test to take, contact us at 703.934.8282 to speak to our Test Prep Coordinator.

Our January Tutor of the Month is…

When it comes to helping students with college entrance exams, organizing homework folders and binders, or studying for Algebra II, Nana Abrefah can do it all. Since October 2016, Nana has worked with students prepare for their upcoming ACT and SAT exams, improve grades in Algebra II and Pre-Calculus, and helped younger students straighten up backpacks and binders. With all his success, Nana is our January Tutor of the Month!

We spoke with Nana to see how he manages his time with students and helps motivate them to complete difficult homework tasks and problems.

What’s the #1 way you engage your students?

The best way I have found to engage students is incorporating their interests—both immediate and long-term—into our sessions. To me, an immediate interest is something like a favorite sport or favorite band. Long-term interests can be goals, like matriculating at a very selective college. For instance, one of my students likes hockey. Thus, to work on English skills (reading comprehension, argument building and analysis, diction and structure), I have him work with newspaper articles on hockey that should be at or above his reading level. He practices active reading and must effectively explain the content and structure of these articles. I have found this method keeps him engaged even on days when he does not have much schoolwork for us to work on together.

This approach can apply to any student; even the most motivated students sometimes benefit from remembering that what they are learning does not exist in a vacuum and probably relates to many things they already like or would like to achieve for themselves. For test prep students who put so much time into studying for one test, it cannot hurt to remind them of all the doors they are opening for themselves!


What is one thing you tell students who are preparing for the SAT or ACT?

As cliché as it may sound, be confident! These tests are not measures of how smart or worthy you are. They examine specific skills that colleges believe are central to successfully taking on a college curriculum. Even better, these are skills you have been exercising throughout your academic career! You have all the tools to do well; excelling is not an impossible task.  Especially working together with a tutor, you can improve content areas and timing issues if you take the time. It is only natural to feel nervous about the ACT or SAT (top test takers feel this way, too). However, never forget that you are capable and that you have put in the work to succeed! Less time spent worrying also means more time to check your work.


What’s the number one study strategy you use in your sessions?

I think my favorite study strategy is the “Tolerable 10” because it is so broadly applicable. The Tolerable 10 is ten undisturbed minutes of work followed by a short break or debrief. For students who have a harder time focusing, it provides a sustained work period and time to decompress. It gives the lesson a little more rhythm. For test prep students, it also works very naturally to improve timing on different sections, and afterward, we can open a dialogue about the work they just completed.


How do you inspire confidence in your students, especially if one of them is feeling deflated?

To keep my students confident, I try to remind them of precisely why I am there—to help them understand the material regardless of how many methods it takes! Schools obviously must operate on some timeline; I think a common source of failing confidence among students is a feeling of being behind. But when we as tutors are working with students, they have no reason to feel this way! I try to establish this with each of my students. There is nothing wrong with being confused and there is no need to stay quiet or apologize for not understanding something. We are working together to learn and apply that knowledge.

To work with a great tutor like Nana, give us a call today at 703-934-8282!

Is The New SAT Harder Than the Old One?

ScantronThere are major changes to the SAT and it is important to know some key differences about this test to best help your child. It seems that some changes are beneficial while other factors make the test much more difficult.

One major change is that there are no longer point deductions for incorrect answers, which was the case with the old test and made it tricky to know when to guess and when to skip questions.

Another change is that now there are only 4 answer choices compared to 5, which increases the chances of guessing correctly. With the new test, students should always guess on questions they are unsure about to maximize their score.


But do more substantial changes to the content make the test harder? Let’s look and see…

More time, but also wordier questions…

Though students are given more time per question compared to the old test, the questions are also much wordier. The New SAT focuses on giving background information and putting problems into context. For example, in the Writing and Language portion, instead of focusing on specific sentences to correct, students must now read a passage and figure out the best correction.  Gone are the days where students only needed to interpret grammatical errors.

With the Writing and Language problems now embedded within a passage, this means that students will need to read around the question for context to understand what to change in each question. Additionally, there are also more rhetorical questions that require students to understand passages and determine sentence placements.

Math & the new SAT

Significant changes to the Math Section in the New SAT include:

  • Content covers through trigonometry
  • Wordy problems mean more reading is involved
  • 1/3 of the questions test students’ ability to interpret and use data

On the old SAT, students who were strong in math were able to excel because the test was designed to test a student’s ability in math. Now, even though the Math section constitutes half of the overall points possible, this may not be an advantage for students who are strong in math but weak in reading since there is quite a lot of reading involved in the Math portion of the test.

The no-calculator portion

As you may know, many students now overly rely on calculators to solve math problems. Because many math classes in school allow calculators, kids may have forgotten how to solve some fundamental algebra problems without a calculator. Knowing that there will be a portion that does not allow calculators, the Math test can now seem a lot more intimidating to kids.

Adding to the difficulty, the new test now includes concepts through trigonometry, which is more than the Algebra 2 that was required on the old test. This means that students who have not taken trigonometry by the time of taking the test will have a harder time with the more advanced math content.

The essay: better or worse?

Looking at the completely redesigned essay on the New SAT, it is much more formulaic than before and tailored towards what students use in English class. Students are given a passage and asked to write an essay about how well the author conveys his or her ideas. Examining a passage and writing about how well the author persuades an audience is really just a typical “passage analysis” essay taught in high school English class.

Although more time is required to read and understand the prompt and passage with this new test, students also get double the time they had before to write their essays. With much more time to plan and write, this new Essay may be easier for students who tend to do well in high school English class and are strong at writing.

The all-important question: should my child take the new SAT?

In many ways the content on the New SAT is now more difficult than the old SAT. For this reasons, we are seeing a huge trend towards taking the ACT for current juniors.

If your child is deciding between taking the New SAT and the ACT, one thing we would recommend is taking a diagnostic test under testing conditions. Taking a mock test gives the best representation of how your child will do on the actual test. Comparing your child’s New SAT and ACT scores will help determine where your child’s strengths lie and how to best tackle the exam.

At Educational Connections we offer free mock tests each month in Fairfax. Click here for a list of our upcoming test dates.


Jeff D’Onofrio is our March Tutor of the Month!

Jeff D'OnofrioW
e are happy to announce Jeff D’Onofrio as the Tutor-of-the-Month for March!  Jeff has made a great impression on his students, the families he works with, and the staff at Educational Connections.   
In addition to being a tutor, Jeff is a history teacher and department chair at an Arlington middle school. He has an M.Ed. in Secondary Education from The George Washington University. In the last two years, Jeff has tutored students in everything from third grade math through AP history. In particular, he loves helping test prep students build their confidence and relieve stress during the college application process.  
Jeff’s Strategies & Tips for the ACT Reading Section 
When it comes to the ACT reading section, never start with the prose! This fiction passage is the most time-consuming because it requires students to make more inferences to catch all the nuances of the author’s intent as well as decode the characters’ actions and dialogue. Since you are likely to score lowest on the fiction text anyway, it is better to read it last (when you’re short on time) after you’ve methodically used other strategies to maximize your score on the three non-fiction passages.  


How to Study for the ACT Science Section

ACT scienceThe biggest myth about the ACT science section is that you have to be a science whiz.

Guess what? You don’t!!!

You just have to know science enough to not get intimidated and bogged down with science graphs and tables, even if they are of concepts you are totally unfamiliar with.

After you realize that you don’t have to be a science superstar to do well on the ACT, but that really it’s more about being a strong reader, it’s important to understand what to expect on the Science section and how to study for each of the 3 main types of passages.

Also, the Science Section is 35 minutes long and has 7 passages in total.  This means you only have about 5 minutes per passage. Knowing what to expect beforehand and how to divide your time will result in multiple minutes saved and less stress on test day.

These passages are broken down as follows:

  • Data Representation
  • Research Summary
  • Conflicting Viewpoints

Data Representation Passages

Data representation passages are often full of big charts and graphs that take up almost a whole page in the test booklet.  Topics covered range from meteorology, astronomy, ecology, and biology to physics.

You might see:

  • A graph of the different layers of the atmosphere, the earth, or outer space
  • A chart of the life cycle of different types of insects
  • A diagram of how fast cars accelerate under varying driving conditions

What should you do?

Jump right to the questions!

Data representation passages are designed to throw you off your game, but they are where you can save time. They are meant to test your ability to navigate charts and graphs.

Jumping directly to the questions as opposed to studying the passage is the best way to see which part of the chart or graph you need to understand.  As you read the question, treat it like a map and literally move your finger to the axis, unit, or object in the chart or graph that is referenced in the question.  This will guide you to the information you need to find the correct answer.

Doing this will save you about 2 minutes per passage, dropping your time needed for Data Representation passages to a mere 3 minutes or so.

If you are starting your ACT preparation months before an exam, then you have the choice of skimming data representation passages before delving into the questions so that you become familiar with the kinds of topics that will be covered.  This is a good approach in the early stages of studying and helps prevent you from getting overwhelmed by unknown science concepts.

Research Summary Passages

Research summary passages present a short description and a few accompanying diagrams illustrating a specific experiment or two.

The general approach is very similar to that of Data Representation passages—jump to the questions.

However, many students benefit from:

  • Skimming the introductory passage that describes the experiments or research to become familiar with what is going on
  • Perusing the charts and diagrams to help navigate back to them from questions
  • Determining what the experiment is measuring—is it the speed of meteors, the strength of visible wavelengths as seen through a microscope, or how a substance’s properties change when exposed to different temperatures?

Since you have about 5-6 minutes per passage (after shaving off valuable time from Data Representation passages), only spend about a minute or so skimming the introduction and trying to understand the specifics of the experiments and how they are set up.

Conflicting Viewpoints Passages

These can be zingers. They are passages that look like they belong in the Reading Section more so than the Science Section.

Conflicting viewpoints passages have a description summarizing one scientist’s view on a science-related topic and then another description summarizing another scientist’s view on the same topic.

These passages are designed to drain your time, since you do have to read them like you would a passage on the Reading Section. So don’t let them! Since there is only one of these passages in the entire section, save it for the end so that you can use only the time you have remaining to work on it.

The key things to look for while reading are:

  • In what ways the scientists agree
  • In what ways the scientists disagree

The goal is to spend enough time reading so that you have some mental (or written) notes on the differences and similarities between the two passages. If the first scientist claims that substance X melts at a higher temperature under certain conditions, that should be a red flag for you to note what the second scientist thinks about the melting behavior of the same substance.

When you’re done reading, start with questions that refer only to passage one, then move on to questions that just refer just to passage two, and end with the questions that refer to both passages, which are the hardest ones.

If you are short of time, then just read the first passage and find all the questions that pertain to it before doing the same for the second passage.  Then make your best guess on questions pertaining to both passages.

General Tips for the ACT Science Section

  1. Watch axes—sometimes units of measurement decrease the higher on the axis they are.
  2. Check units—this is an age-old trap but it works, so check that the units in the question match the units you found on the chart/graph.
  3. Double check paired answer choices—paired answer choices are ones that offer two sets of answers that are the same, aside from one change like “increasing” or “more than.” It’s all too easy to narrow your answer choices to two of the wrong choices, so read slowly and double check your work.
  4. Guess—this tip pertains to all sections on the ACT so even if you’re short on time, intimidated, or totally lost, always pencil in an answer for every question.

Remember: You can become an ACT Science Section whiz without being a master of science!

Understanding the types of passages, how to approach each, keeping in mind the general tips listed above, and practicing again and again and again before the actual exam is how you can ace the ACT Science Section.


What’s a Good ACT Score & How to Achieve It

Girl studyingA common question we get from students and parents is what is a good score on the ACT. Here in the DC area, average ACT scores are a lot higher than the national average, which is around 21 (the maximum score is 36).

Here  is a detailed breakdown for the national distributions for ACT Test Scores.

Scores from standardized tests are often talked about in terms of percentiles.  Here’s what that means: A 24 composite score on the ACT is in the 75th percentile, which means that the student did better than 75% of his peers.

While it is good to know one’s standing on a national level compared to peers taking the test, when figuring out what a good score is, the key is to know where the student wants to go to college; after all, the ACT is a tool to help students get into college, so it makes sense that the target score should really be set based on which schools the student wants to attend.

Step 1: Setting a Goal

Even before setting a goal, the very first step a student should do is to take an ACT diagnostic. Diagnostic tests will indicate to students where they are starting from and help in forming an achievable goal score.

Next, it is a good idea to write a list of colleges students want to apply to and figure out the average scores of students who are accepted at each college. A good way to do this is to use a reliable source such as College Data or the College Board. Then search each school on the list and write down both the average GPA and test scores for matriculating students.

When making the list of schools, it may be a good idea to consult with high school counselors. Oftentimes, high schools will have a list of average GPA and test scores of students who get into different colleges each year. This information can be very useful since it suggests a more accurate goal score for which students should aim to get into specific colleges.

At the end of this process, by looking at both the ACT diagnostic score and the average test scores of each school, students should have a better idea of what they need to do to increase their chances of acceptance into their goal schools.

Step 2: Achieving Your Goals

After setting goals, students should make a plan to reach these goals. Kids often get overwhelmed and do not feel motivated when there is a singular, overarching goal. Setting small goals is often helpful in approaching the bigger goal.

A good way to start is by breaking down ACT test prep into manageable tasks (i.e. 30 minutes of reading on Monday, 30 minutes of math on Tuesday, etc). Then make sure to write these mini-goals down on a calendar and put the calendar somewhere visible to more than just the student. Sometimes just saying “Wow, I see you put in a lot of time on this and finished all the work planned for this week” can really help motivate kids.

And if your student is still having trouble starting the preparation? Set the most micro-goals you can imagine.  Successfully completing just a few problems or a few minutes of work often gives the student a boost, which propels her to move forward.