Why the SAT needs to stay

Or, Debunking the arguments of the standardized testing haters.

When COVID-19 essentially derailed the 2020 school year, one of the casualties was SAT and ACT testing. Both tests were forced to cancel several exams, leaving students scrambling. Many colleges and universities reacted by making temporary changes to their admissions process: “test optional” became a buzzword across higher education.

As the country moves forward and schools return to some semblance of normalcy, many of those colleges and universities are keeping their admissions “test optional.” Critics of the SAT and ACT–and there are many, including a group that recently asked U.S. News to drop test scores from their college ranking profiles–have pounced on this opportunity, calling for the dismissal of the tests for college admissions completely. They argue that the SAT favors wealthy white students over disadvantaged groups. They say that success on the SAT has no correlation to a student’s eventual success in college. In our age of social media echo chambers and cursory interest in facts and reasoning, these arguments would seem to ring true. However, there are a number of flaws with the arguments against the SAT and ACT.

Does the SAT work against disadvantaged students?

One of the longest and most tired arguments against the SAT is that the test is racially biased and that using the test as a college admission tool favors white students.

When you see arguments attempting to prove that the test itself is somehow racially biased, the detractors often use specific question examples from SAT tests from decades past. College Board, for all their actual faults, have worked diligently to remove any potential biases from the test questions. The Great Global Conversation reading passage, for example, highlights a meaningful speech or other primary document from history, and most of the examples offered involve civil rights or gender equality. The analogy questions (car is to road as train is to rails, for example), long the target of critics, are long gone, taken away in the 2015-2016 redesign. The math questions specifically target mathematical principles, with word problems carefully constructed as to be as neutral as possible. While there may have been a valid argument at one time about the biases of the tests, those have been made moot by College Board’s efforts to combat them.

And while test itself is often the target of critics, its use by college and universities is often decried as racially biased. The argument states that, because wealthy students have the wherewithal to purchase expensive exam prep, those wealthy, primarily white students see a disproportionate number of high scores. This has been the mantra for SAT critics for many years now, and it’s been echoed by think tanks, politicians, and college admissions boards without much vetting as to the validity of the argument. In fact, there are several problems with this premise.

First, there is more free assistance to improve on the SAT or ACT than there ever has been. College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy has helped countless students prepare for and improve on the SAT. The ACT has also introduced free online help for those taking that test, and they’ve also partnered with Kaplan to help students find other potential resources. Determination and the desire to improve are not racially dependent qualities, and these free resources help to level the playing field for prep.

Next, critics don’t offer any sort of alternative to the SAT, other than for colleges to rely more on a student’s grade point average and personal essays. Unfortunately, GPAs can be subjective. If one student attends an academically rigorous high school and achieves a 3.8, while another student goes to a less intense program and earns a 4.0, should the 4.0 student be given preference? Even when it comes to Advanced Placement exams or other higher level classes, not all of them are taught the same. One teacher may run their class like a college program, requiring students to do college-level work. Another may run their AP course the way they’d run a normal class in that subject, making it less about the discipline and more about a mark on a report card. Across the country, states don’t have any sort of standardization of method or educational requirements. This means that, out of the thousands of applicants who report 4.0 GPAs to their colleges of choice, the students’ actual abilities and development are very likely vastly different.

So use the personal essay and the extracurriculars to evaluate a student, say the naysayers. Sadly, thousands of wealthy students–the same ones who would potentially have the resources to get expensive exam prep–pay essay coaches to either help them write or, more nefariously, to actually write their application essays. Because there are no established security measures to ensure that a student’s work is their own, relying on the personal essay can (and very likely would) favor advantaged students to a much larger degree than standardized tests do. In fact, in a Newsweek opinion piece on July 13, Helen Raleigh argues for the validity of standardized tests and how they actually help disadvantaged students by allowing them to compensate for other students’ family connections or intergenerational wealth. She addresses the idea that essays are a better tool for admissions departments by both citing a study that calls that premise into question and by making the claim that personal essays and similar tools favor privileged students to a much larger degree than any standardized test would.

Raleigh, as an immigrant herself, makes a compelling case for how standardized tests actually help disadvantaged students by levelling the playing field considerably. Responding to claims by the head of the American Federation of Teachers that standardized testing, like the SAT, has no educational value and encourages teachers to teach to the test, Raleigh makes a systematic and effective defense. She makes a compelling case for the value of a standardized measuring stick that can allow underrepresented groups to overcome a lack of family wealth or legacy.

Does the SAT give any indication of college success?

The short answer is that it seems to.

Raleigh addresses this in her piece, citing studies from Science and other journals to show how success on the SAT can be an indicator of future success. Why would this be true? One answer to this might be that, because success on the SAT can take hard work and dedication, success on the test might also be a good indicator of a student’s willingness to pursue that success.

Correlating with these findings was a survey conducted by the faculty of the University of California system. While critics railed against the supposed evils of the test, the university faculty urged the system to continue using the SAT, as the test gave one of the best indicators as to whether a student was ready for success in college, especially for underrepresented groups.

In fact, the report insists that test results actually help identify many talented Latino, black and low-income students who otherwise might be rejected because their high school grades alone were not high enough.

Gordon and Burke, EdSource (Feb. 4, 2020)

While there will always be those who naysay the SAT, the facts indicate that it has real value for both students and institutions of higher learning. Rather than eliminating such a valuable tool, more effort should directed at making this tool as useful as possible for as many students as possible.


Strategies for Paired Passages

When it comes to the SAT or ACT Reading section, one of the biggest challenges for students is the paired passage. Some students call it the dual passage. Others call it the side-by-side. The vast majority of students call it trouble! But using some good, simple strategies can make it much easier to navigate.

What is a “paired passage”?

If you’ve not yet encountered a paired passage, they’re essentially what you might expect. Two short essays, speeches, or stories are featured next to one another, and they have some sort of connection. They may be agreeing on a topic. They could feature pro and con positions on a topic. Or they could be only tangentially connected by a subject addressed in both passages. In any case, one of our jobs is to figure out this connection. But more on that later…

A paired passage on the SAT typically looks something like this.

This particular set of passages comes from a recent test, and it features speeches from Paul Robeson and Jackie Robinson. Paired passages don’t always feature historical documents, but when they do, the subject is almost always civil rights or women’s rights issues.

How do I attack a paired passage?

When most students are confronted with a dual passage, they make the mistake of plunging right in and trying to decipher it. As with any reading passage, you must have a plan! And Step 1 of that plan should be to read the “blurb” at the beginning. SAT and ACT reading passages generally give you a bit of information about the passage you’re about to tackle. Always take the time to read what they give you.

In our passage here, the blurb gives us huge (and immensely helpful!) context clues for what we’re about to read. We learn that the author of Passage 1, Paul Robeson, was an actor/singer commenting on remarks he made previously. The blurb also fills us in on the global situation at the time–namely, that the U.S. and then-communist Russia were at odds. Finally, the blurb lets us know that Jackie Robinson, the speaker in Passage 2, was called by the House of Representatives’ Un-American Activities Committee to address Robeson’s remarks.

We haven’t even read the first word of the actual passages, and we already know what to expect! We should expect that Passage 1 (Robeson) will be speaking about the Soviet Union and the United States, and that Passage 2 (Robinson) will likely be presenting a different opinion. Any historical context you know from your own studying of the Cold War will likely make this blurb even more poignant and helpful.

Step 2: Divide and Conquer

Ok, so we’ve gotten the blurb down. Now, we’re going to divide the paired passages in half. First, we’ll read Passage 1 as we would any reading passage. Read and annotate, looking for the main idea of the paragraphs, as well as the passage as a whole.

After going through Passage 1, we’ve discovered that Robeson (probably controversially) said that he loved the Soviet Union. In 1949, that was pretty incendiary! He then put the statement in a racial/political context: he loved the Soviets because they fought for freedom for all, including for black men and women. He wanted to love America, but the racial policies and attitudes of America kept him from having the same loyalty to the United States as he felt for Russia.

Now that we’ve gotten that down, our next step will be to answer the questions related to Passage 1.

Questions 11-14 deal with Passage 1 directly, so we’ll hit those first. Once we answer those, we’ll go back and read Passage 2, looking for the main idea, but also looking for how it relates to Passage 1.

We’ll then answer the questions directly related to Passage 2. Our final step will be to answer the last few questions (17-20), since they will compare or contrast the ideas in the two passages.

Let’s Review

So to review the overall plan:

Step 1: Read the “blurb”

Step 2: Read and annotate Passage 1

Step 3: Answer the questions related to Passage 1

Step 4: Read and annotate Passage 2

Step 5: Answer the questions related to Passage 2

Final Step: Finish the questions that relate to both passages

Paired passages can be daunting. But with a little strategy and planning, you can have success!


Post-COVID Effects of Online Learning

How has the year of online learning and interrupted academic work impacted our students?

It seems like another lifetime ago. COVID-19 started to get coverage in the news in late 2019, but most people didn’t give it much thought. After all, we’d had swine flu and bird flu scares that didn’t impact us much, so why worry about one more? Then, in the early spring of 2020, everything changed. Schools closed their doors with teachers and administrators scrambling to react. And everyone became far more acquainted with online learning than ever before.

Photo by DICSON on Unsplash

“She just didn’t do well with online learning.”

But what has been the impact of the seismic shift in learning that ran its course over the past year? Anecdotally, the biggest effect we’ve seen is that many students now have significant gaps in their skill base. While some students (and school systems) adapted well to the new normal, many did not. The most common complaint we’ve heard from parents over the last school year and into the summer has been, “My student didn’t like doing classes online.” The online format–whether over Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or another platform–can be a real asset when used effectively, but many students focus and achieve more when their learning is in person.

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Math has been the most significant skill gap

Of all the students’ subjects that have been affected by the months of COVID protocols, math stands out. At the end of the 2019-2020 school year, districts were scrambling to create an online curriculum–much of which ended up being a glorified year-in-review. With the ongoing COVID absences, contact tracing, and instability many students experienced, the overall math competency suffered most. Most of the parents seeking academic support for their students throughout this school year were focused squarely on math.

Math is often the area of most concern for students and parents in a normal year, but students’ reactions to online learning only exacerbated the usual issues.

Tutoring can be a solution

Fortunately, students can get the help they need to maintain and excel. Working with a tutor can help a student work through the concepts they may not have understood in the classroom, complete their assignments, and prepare for exams.


What is the SAT QAS?

(And is it something you need?)

Some of the questions I often get during or after the exam prep process are “What is the SAT QAS? And should I order it?” So let’s spend a moment to talk about what the QAS is and why it can be incredibly useful for exam prep students.

A QAS (Question and Answer Service) from the SAT is a fancy term for a copy of the test a student has taken. College Board, the makers of the SAT, release copies of the actual test from March, May, and October every year. (The ACT also releases three copies of the test each year in April, June, and December.)

The QAS, which currently costs an additional $18 to order, gives a student all of the questions and answers from a particular exam. This is different from the SAS (Student Answer Service). The SAS can be obtained for any SAT, but only gives the correct answers, not the questions that go along with them.

The QAS itself is a printed copy of the exam, just as it appeared on test day. Students are able to access both their selected answers and the correct answers online through their College Board account. From there, they can choose individual question numbers to see both the question and their response. Past QAS copies can often be obtained with a quick Google search.

The QAS can be exceptionally useful for students who are planning to take the test again in the future. Debriefing from practice tests is always a good exercise for a student training to take the SAT. Debriefing from an official test can be just as useful. Even if a student is well versed in the tactics of the SAT, seeing differences from one test to another can be enlightening.

If you plan to take the SAT this fall, be sure to sign up for the QAS as well. Going over your results could make the difference when you take the test a second or third time!


ACT Begins Superscoring

Superscoring! Doesn’t that sound incredibly epic?! You can almost hear a bold-voiced announcer telling you that the ACT is new and improved, “Now with SUPERSCORING!”

But what is superscoring?

In short, superscoring is a way for students to take advantage of multiple ACT efforts by combining their best English, math, reading, and science scores. For example, let’s say a student took the ACT three separate times and received the following scores:

Test #1: English 25, Math 32, Reading 22, Science 28 –> Composite: 27

Test #2: English 30, Math 31, Reading 23, Science 24 –> Composite: 27

Test # 3: English 28, Math 28, Reading 28, Science 25 –> Composite: 27

Not bad, eh? A 27 is a good score, for sure.

But… if we take the superscore of those tests, we’d use the English from Test 2 (30), the Math from Test 1 (32), the Reading from Test 3 (28), and the Science from Test 1 (28). When we add those up and average them, the superscore for the three tests is a 30! That’s a three-point increase! And it can make a huge difference when it comes to the admission process and merit-based scholarships.

So what’s the big deal?

Many colleges have already used superscores themselves. But the ACT’s announcement this week was significant because it means that the ACT will be releasing official superscores for students who have taken more than one test, going back to 2016.

Not only is the addition of superscores a big plus for students, but it also makes the ACT an even more attractive option as students weigh whether to take an ACT or SAT for their college admission process. No less important is the fact that superscores might be an even better predictor of first-year college success than any individual test scores.

auditorium benches chairs class
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So as you wrap up the school year and enter the summer break, use this time to turn your attention to the ACT, and plan to take it at least twice (and maybe even three times!) in the fall. If you do, the next things that will be new and improved will be your chance for admission at the school of your choice and scholarship money to pay for it!


Summer of Exam Prep

It’s Spring! The sun is beginning to peek out more often. Flowers are out. COVID cases are finally decreasing, and vaccinations are continuing to rise. Before long, the new normal will hopefully start looking a whole lot like actual normal. And for soon-to-be juniors, it’s time to begin thinking about preparing for the fall SAT or ACT. Our strong recommendation is that they make this summer the Summer of Exam Prep.

Many schools and school counselors advise students to plan to take the SAT/ACT during the spring of their junior year. This can work, but there are distinct advantages to prepping over the summer for one of the fall tests.

Summer = Fewer Obligations

First, students generally have more flexible schedules during the summer. Though some families will have vacation outings and other trips, students can usually devote more time to exam prep during the summer. Students who prep during the school year often have to work around sports schedules and other extracurriculars. Students who prep during the summer usually don’t have those sorts of constraints. This makes it easier for students to schedule sessions and even pack an exam prep program into a shorter time period, while still getting the maximum benefit.

Summer = Less Academic Stress

Another benefit of summer prep is that students don’t have to juggle their time and attention between their exam prep and difficult academic work. Junior year is one of the toughest years for students. They generally take some of their toughest AP/dual-credit courses during their junior years. This can make it especially stressful to squeeze in exam prep for one of the spring tests.

Summer = Less Mental Slide

Finally, a great fringe benefit to doing summer exam prep is the prevention of the “summer slide.” One complaint that educators (and some students!) have about summer break is that much of the progress students gained during the school year is lost during the summer. Students usually don’t devote much of the summer to intellectual pursuits, so they are rusty and out of form when they go back to school in the fall. Working through an exam prep program during the summer allows a student to continue flexing their intellectual muscles, which makes the transition back to school that much easier.

Admittedly, working through the finer points of an SAT or ACT might not sound like a thrilling way to spend the summer. But with a team of excellent prep coaches to provide support, summer exam prep can be rewarding in myriad ways!


College Board Ends SAT Essay

This week, the College Board announced that they will be ending the use of the optional essay portion of the SAT, as well as the SAT Subject Tests.

Up until now, the essay was used by a number of schools to evaluate a student’s writing competency. The essay involved reading a news piece and then dissecting the author’s persuasive techniques. According to College Board, they are removing the essay from the test, at least in part, because of the difficulties students have had in securing test dates and locations during the COVID crisis in 2020. Streamlining the SAT’s format should make it easier for test locations to plan and make more room available for students.

The Subject Tests were used by universities, as well as departments within those schools, to evaluate readiness for specific disciplines. Students were able to take subject tests in math, U.S. history, world history, biology, physics, chemistry, literature, and foreign languages. Departments would use those scores to further differentiate applicants to their programs. The announcement this week explained that the Advanced Placement (AP) program, also run by College Board, fills the need for subject assessment.

As part of the announcement, College Board stated that they are still working toward an online version of the SAT. A trial run of online testing for AP exams last spring showed some problems with the online format. The streamlining of the SAT should allow College Board to focus on optimizing the digital form of the exam.


“So I got my PSAT score. Now what?”

This week, students across the country will receive their PSAT scores. But both students and parents are often unclear about what those scores mean, the importance (or lack of it!) of those scores, and what the next steps should be. So let’s delve in a bit to the PSAT and those results.

What makes for a good PSAT score?

If you’re a sophomore, then the PSAT can be a good indicator of your starting point on the SAT. Did you score a 920 or better? Then your chances of scoring at or above the national average on the SAT, especially with some preparation, are good. If you’re a junior, then a PSAT score of 1010 or above is considered a “good” score, a 1160 or above would be “great,” and a score of 1290 or above is considered “excellent.” But none of those scores guarantees success on the SAT.

The percentile conundrum

As I talk with students looking to start preparation for the SAT, I find that many of them look more at the percentile score they received on the PSAT than their actual scaled score. Percentile score indicates a student’s ranking among their peers. A student in the 90th percentile, for example, means that the student has scored higher than 90% of the other test takers in the sample. So when I ask a parent how their student did on the PSAT, I often hear, “She was in the 85th percentile,” rather than a score.

The biggest issue with this is that percentiles on the PSAT are not good apples-to-apples predictors of what a student might get on the SAT. Because students across the country–many of whom have no interest in doing well on the test–are taking the PSAT every year, the percentile scores are skewed, especially for those students getting average to high scores. So while it’s great that you scored in the 90th percentile or above, it doesn’t mean as much as it would on an actual SAT.

Does the PSAT matter?

The least complicated answer is “It might.” One of the reasons for the PSAT, other than to give students a chance to practice an SAT, is to give juniors the chance to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. The NMS isn’t a large scholarship; it pays around $2000 to winners. But the bigger payoff of being a NMS semi-finalist, finalist, or winner is the opportunity for scholarship money from colleges.

Schools generally like to tout how many NMS semi-finalists, finalists, and winners they have in their incoming freshman classes, and they are willing to give financial incentives to bring those students to their schools. Some schools, including the University of Alabama, offer full-ride scholarships simply by qualifying as a semi-finalist. You don’t even need to win! So for sophomores, your PSAT score this year can give you an idea of how much work you need to do to put yourself in that category.

The qualifying score for becoming a semi-finalist for the NMS varies state to state. In Idaho, students usually need to score in the low- to mid-1400s (out of 1520) to hit the cutoff score. This is a far easier standard than states such as California, where students need to get a nearly perfect score to qualify.

And if you don’t qualify for the NMS, don’t despair! I’ve had students in the past miss the PSAT cutoff by a hair, only to later get an elite score on the SAT or ACT. So while the PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship can be important, the ultimate goal should be to hit a great score on the actual SAT or ACT.

But my PSAT wasn’t close to my goal! What do I do?

The good news is that, regardless of how you scored on the PSAT, you can absolutely improve! With help from an expert on the exam, you can learn how to master the SAT and put yourself in a position to be accepted at your goal schools. While you may not have gotten a score you’re happy with on the PSAT, just remember that it’s just a dry run! You can do better, and we can help!

So your next step should be to think about your goals for the SAT or ACT. The next official ACT is in February, and the next SAT is in March. The holiday break is a great time to begin preparing for your official test and to take the next steps in achieving your goals!


ACT Averages Dropped (Again)

2020 continues to be the year of chaos. From COVID-19 to the politicizing of masks to a hotly contested election, upheaval continues to be the norm. It’s no surprise then that the ACT national average has also experienced negativity. For the third year in a row, the national ACT averages dropped. It now stands at 20.6 (out of 36), the lowest national average in 10 years. The ACT’s national average generally hovers around 21, so the downward trend, while concerning, isn’t precipitous. So what does this mean for you and your student?

The more disturbing trend

The larger issue with the declining averages is what that decline truly indicates. The ACT averages have dropped; what does that actually mean? The ACT is, at its core, a college readiness test. The English section tests on the basics of editing, including punctuation, grammar, and structure, all handy skills for term paper and essay writing in high school and college. The math section ensures that a student has gotten the basic skills s/he needs to be successful, and it also tests–as does the rest of the test–a student’s critical thinking skills.

The reading section tests a student’s ability to read through unfamiliar information and quickly process through what’s important. And the science section evaluates a student’s ability to analyze graphical information quickly and find patterns.

Which leads to the bigger problem with the declining ACT scores–they represent a decline in students’ core skills. Students in today’s high schools have more opportunity to specialize and diversify their educations than ever. They can take dual credit courses at local colleges, dig deeper into specific areas of broader fields, and individualize their educational experiences. This is a good thing. But with that diversification has come an erosion of core skills.

GPA vs. ACT score

Many students who are looking to improve their ACT scores are high GPA students. “Why did my son/daughter get a 21? They get straight As!” is a comment I hear often. The answer is pretty simple: the student can have simple conversations in Mandarin or parrot back information from a study guide on the Gilded Age, but they haven’t mastered the core skills–including critical thinking–that success on the test demands.

Critics of the ACT and other standardized tests point blame at the test. It is demographically biased, they say. Or it tests on irrelevant information. These criticisms, however, come from a position of ignorance about the test. It’s not designed to test on everything a student knows. It’s goal is to test a student’s ability to do something with given information.

What do you need to succeed?

Many students’ reaction to the test after taking their first one is, “I didn’t understand the questions.” This is natural, given that students aren’t taught to think through and pay attention to questions in school. NOT and EXCEPT questions are good examples of this. The ACT will often ask ‘Which of the following is NOT…” or “All of the following are acceptable EXCEPT…” Students often struggle with these types of questions because they miss the NOT or EXCEPT–even though the test capitalizes those words!

On the English section of the test, students very often struggle with basic punctuation and grammar skills. This comes directly from the trend of English classes to only grade the content of a student’s work and to ignore the syntax. If you read most students’ essays or papers, you’ll find run-on sentences, fragments, and punctuation errors that tests (and college professors) expect students to know. Even using digital add-ons, like Grammarly, don’t ensure that a paper is correctly constructed. Over my years as an exam prep tutor, I’ve seen students ACT English scores increase 10 points or more once they learn the basics of grammar and punctuation.

How does exam prep fill the gap?

In sum, the fact that ACT averages dropped is troubling. But the concern should be directed less against the test and more about students’ need to build a foundational skill set. This puts the spotlight directly on exam prep and what it does to fill the gap in a student’s educational experience. While our short term goal is for a student to be successful on the ACT, the additional benefits of critical thinking expertise and a solidification of basic skills will stay with that student through college and beyond.


Educational Benefits of ACT/SAT

In ten years teaching in the classroom and another nine helping students with exam preparation, I feel like I understand both worlds. Criticism of the tests abounds, particularly this year with the additional stress of COVID cancellations and online school. One complaint is that the ACT and SAT don’t test what a student has learned in school. This is at least partially correct, but it ignores a major premise of the exams. They aren’t designed to test what a student knows. But because this is an oft-argued point, I wanted to delve into the educational benefits of the ACT and SAT.

One of the biggest misconceptions of the ACT and SAT is that they’re designed to test knowledge. They are not. Does it help to have knowledge of punctuation and grammar, algebra, and the like? Of course. But the tests generally test on what students can do with their knowledge, not just the knowledge itself.

Why doesn’t 4.0 mean 1600?

In our grade-inflated academic world, many students take their first SAT or ACT thinking that their high GPA will translate into a high score. In a sliver of cases, this is true. But the vast majority of 4.0+ GPA students struggle on these tests. Why? In my experience, the reason is simple. While a straight-A student has learned to play the school game–they’ve turned in their work, used their teacher-provided study guides, participated in class, and, in some cases, taken advantage of second chance tests to improve their scores–they haven’t developed critical thinking skills centered around those concepts. A student may know how to factor a quadratic equation, for example. But s/he may not be comfortable enough with that process to recognize that it’s needed.

A critical thinking example

An example of this appeared on the March 2020 SAT.

In this problem, the student is presented with a fairly complex question, or so it appears. But the crux of the question really comes in the last sentence: put speed in terms of the other quantities. What the questions is actually asking is to use algebra to isolate the v (speed).

Many students who’ve gone through Algebra II have the skills needed to solve this correctly. But many of them are distracted by the details of the question and don’t break down what it actually wants. So, while the SAT is testing on the student’s algebra knowledge, it’s also requiring her/him to understand the question. And, sadly, critical thinking isn’t universally taught in schools, leaving students underprepared to deal with this sort of questioning.

Educational value of the SAT and ACT

And this brings me to why the ACT and SAT are educationally valuable, across the socioeconomic scale. In a recent article on the Fordham Institute website, Travis Koutsoubos-Miles dove into the reasons for the value of the tests to education. In his experience as an English teacher, Koutsoubos-Miles found that the ACT pushed his urban-centered students to improve their overall writing skills.

Both the ACT and SAT test explicitly on grammar and punctuation principles, but most students stop learning those basic skills by the 6th or 7th grade. So for high school students, comma usage, for example, is a forgotten ghost. Preparing to take the ACT or SAT gives students a refresher on those essential rules and how to use them, which can be an invaluable skill for college. The same applies to reading unfamiliar material, inferencing, and other college-necessary skills.

Realigning the focus

What’s the solution? While a few schools are publicly distancing themselves from the ACT and SAT and pushing the idea of “test optional,” Koutsoubos-Miles contends that schools should be even more focused on the tests, using the study of reading, writing, and math on the tests to drive students’ overall understanding and critical thinking skills.

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Pragmatically, standardized tests are a convenient tool colleges and universities can use to award scholarships and admit students, but the process of preparation for the ACT and SAT is educationally valuable even above this. By training students to use what they’ve learned and apply it more practically, the tests can help to fill in the gaps left by school systems across the country. Instead of shying away from the ACT and SAT and decrying them as unfair or inaccurate, schools, parents, and students should be more interested than ever in prepping and succeeding at the exams.

As Koutsoubos-Miles says in his piece,

…instead of eliminating high-quality tests, we could develop programs that incentivize teachers to embed their standards into curricula that are written to engage students’ real-life concerns. Blaming tests won’t help. The ACT and SAT reveal competency gaps we cannot afford to ignore. My students and I contend that smart application of these tests plays a key role in closing them.


The “Death of the SAT”? Hardly.

In an Alameda Superior Court ruling this week, a judge ruled that the University of California system must immediately stop using the SAT and ACT for admissions during the pandemic. Lawyers who brought the suit against the UC system applauded the ruling against the “racist” SAT. Many headlines have questioned if this has finally signaled the death knell for the exams. But the death of the SAT is hardly nigh.

Even though the ruling against standardized tests made the news across the country, it’s really a blip on the screen in the year of COVID. And there are several reasons for this.

The fight isn’t over

First, one superior court judge likely won’t be the last word on this issue. The UC system has intimated that they will appeal the ruling. So the case will continue to work its way through the justice system for the time being, regardless of the temporary victory by those who oppose the test. The fact that the university system will go to the trouble and expense to fight to keep the tests–even when they’ve decided themselves to switch to a state-produced exam by 2025–speaks volumes about the value of such tests. As the UC faculty indicated in a recent survey, the SAT and ACT are consistently better indicators of a student’s potential success than high school GPA is. It makes sense to maintain that objective standard.

It’s 2020

One of the reasons cited by the judge to ban the SAT and ACT was that students from disadvantaged neighborhoods and students with disabilities had diminished chances to take the tests due to cancellations during the COVID-19 outbreak. These cancellations affected all students during the crisis, not just those indicated in the suit. So the conditions that led to the judge’s decision are unique to 2020, and the argument ceases to be valid once the testing centers begin administering normally.

The tired argument against the SAT

For all the blustering by opponents of the SAT and ACT, claiming that the test unfairly discriminates against certain groups of students, this is as inaccurate a claim as its ever been. College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free prep for the test for those who want it, and every student would have access to that, if not at home, then at school or the local library. There are innumerable resources online for students to take practice tests and learn strategies for improving. The ACT also offers free resources for preparation on their website, and many schools offer exam prep courses as part of the regular class schedule.

So regardless of the student’s situation, s/he has resources to draw from to make improvements on the tests. Both tests have also made concerted efforts to ensure that there isn’t racial bias in the wordings of the questions, as that has been brought up as a criticism in the past.

What is the SAT anyway?

Through all this, it’s worth asking what the SAT actually is. One of the complaints that’s been lodged for years against the test is that it doesn’t ask the student about what s/he learned in school. Neither the SAT nor the ACT was designed to test a student’s class-specific knowledge. Both tests were designed to test college readiness, and that is a completely different issue.

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

I often ask students why they think there’s a reading section on the tests. Are they testing to see if you can read? No. They’re assessing a college-level skill: processing through unfamiliar information and answering basic questions about it. Why are the math questions so confusing sometimes? Because the test is designed to assess the ability to problem solve. Sure, you know basics of algebra, but can you do anything with them? Students who struggle on the tests tend to have struggles with critical thinking and problem solving, and those strategies end up being a large part of any preparation for the tests.

As a side note, one of the great benefits of preparing for the SAT or ACT is that students are reintroduced to math and English concepts that they may not have studied for years, and this can be a great help as they head off to their freshman years at their chosen schools.

The SAT isn’t the only piece of criteria

Opponents of the SAT and ACT often leave out that colleges don’t use the tests as the only tool for admission with students. Stanford routinely rejects perfect scorers on the exams because the test is only one piece of the puzzle. Schools generally value getting a good objective read on a student–this is the best way of comparing students from different states, counties, districts, and schools. A 4.0 at one school is very likely not equal to a 4.0 at another. The SAT and ACT work to normalize those numbers and give admissions departments another way of evaluating prospective students. So a good score doesn’t guarantee anything any more than a lower score does. But for those willing to put in the work, they can maximize their score so that it doesn’t hurt their chances at a particular school.

In sum, standardized tests will always carry some controversy. There will always be those who fault the objectivity and normalization that such tests bring to the process. But this single ruling in a superior court in a California county will not ultimately take away a valuable tool, both for students and for administrators across the country. So those that clamor for the death of the SAT will have to go on clamoring a bit longer.


SAT ACT Cancellations in the Age of COVID

At this point, no one can deny that the COVID-19 outbreak has changed our way of life forever. College admissions haven’t escaped this paradigm shift, with some schools even moving to a “test optional” admissions process. Still, the SAT and the ACT will continue to be important benchmarks for students to use to set themselves apart. The biggest issue in the short term has been ensuring that your testing center will actually give the test. SAT and ACT cancellations have been a huge issue in the age of COVID. Because the SAT and ACT use high schools and colleges as testing centers, and because many of these high schools and colleges remain closed to students due to COVID, we’ve seen many students have their test delayed or canceled. This has led to student and parent frustration and despair. Some wonder if they’ll even get the chance to take the test.

You’ve got plenty of chances!

First things first, if you’ve gotten that email from the ACT or from College Board that says your testing site has been canceled, don’t despair! The best next step is to sign up for the next available test. The SAT is giving tests every month from August to December, so there will definitely be a spot for you! Seniors have the added advantage of a school-administered test on October 14 (to replace the canceled April test). The ACT has added dates in both September and October to try to accommodate as many students as possible. As the curve continues to flatten, students will continue to return to in-school instruction. This will increase the likelihood that schools will administer the tests. So if you’ve been bumped from one of the test dates, you have a great chance of making that test up in the fall.

Stay on top of things!

If you’re already signed up to take the test in September or beyond, be vigilant! Be sure to check back on the website of either the SAT or ACT often. Look for announcements about testing centers being added or canceled. If you stay proactive, you’ll be better equipped to react when necessary. Some of our students have been able to change their testing centers when others canceled, preserving their opportunity to take the test on their chosen date. One things that’s proved true about this era of COVID is that things can change quickly. Stay on top of the latest information–it could mean the difference between taking the test when you want or being forced to wait weeks or months.

Stay positive!

As the best selling book in the universe advises, Don’t Panic! Even if your testing center is canceled and you’re pushed back a month or more, it’s not the end of the world. Keep working, keep taking practice tests, and keep your chin up! Nearly every college and university has altered its normal admission deadlines to reflect the difficulties of COVID and standardized tests. If you’re looking to apply for an early decision or early action, there’s a good chance you’ll still be able to get test scores submitted. Many schools are allowing students to submit their scores later than usual. So don’t despair! Keep working and stay positive! You’ve got this! You can navigate through the SAT or ACT cancellations in the age of COVID!


Guessing on the SAT/ACT

No matter how skilled or how experienced the student, at some point on the SAT or ACT, they’ll find it necessary to take a guess. Or two. Or ten.

Guessing is part of any good test-taking strategy. Knowing the ins and outs of guessing on the SAT/ACT can make a big difference in the final outcome of a test.

Be sure to actually guess!

One of the biggest mistakes I see students make, especially early in their test prep journey, is leaving answers blank if they aren’t sure or if they run out of time. Unlike the SAT of days gone by, the current SAT and ACT do not penalize students for guessing. As a result, students should always put an answer down, even when they have no idea what it might be. Leaving answers blank is leaving points on the table!

Even on the SAT Math grid-ins!

Students tend to give a funny look when I encourage them to guess on the fill-in-the-blank math questions on the SAT.

Their look says, “It would be like… impossible to get those right, right?”

My response is that, at least if they guess something, they have a chance. Even if it’s a small chance, it’s still more than if they left it blank. Some chance is always better than no chance! And many of the grid-in answers on the non-calculator section tend to be single-digit integers (0-9). So that makes the chances a little better if you stick to something in that neighborhood.

Multiple choice straightlining

Another guessing strategy I pass along to test takers is to guess in a straight line. So if a student is running out of time, fill in the remaining answers with A, B, C, or D (or E, if on the ACT math section). In terms of probability, you always have a 1 out of 4 chance to hit the right answer. But because the test answers tend to hit every letter at some point, your chances of at least getting some correct tend to be higher if you guess in a straight line.

Especially on ACT Math

One of the quirky things I’ve noticed through teaching the ACT for years has been the tendencies of the end of the ACT math section. After doing some anecdotal research, I started coaching students to guess the outside lines (A/F or E/K)–or anything but the very middle line (C/H)–if they ran out of time at the end of the math section. When I looked through 20 or so ACTs, I found that the outside lines were good for roughly 1-2 more questions correct in that last 15 of the math test. One to two questions could make a point or two difference on the section.

Students are always curious as to why the answers tend to drift to the outsides. The answer is simple: psychology. What do most test takers guess on a multiple choice test? The old axiom is to guess C. Human nature compels us to stay away from extremes and guess toward the middle. It seems as though the makers of the ACT understand this and tend to push more answers to the outsides, making it less likely that students will guess well at the end.

Know the tendencies

Knowing the types of answers that the tests prioritize can be incredibly helpful if you need to do any guessing on the SAT/ACT. For example, in the English section of the ACT, clear and concise answers tend to be correct. When in doubt, go with the shortest selection. On the math section, CANNOT BE DETERMINED is a regular answer choice. However, this answer is very rarely correct, so it wouldn’t be wise to randomly guess it. Having some familiarity with the way the test operates can really be a game-changer, even when you have to guess.

Narrow down your options

Finally, one of the best strategies for guessing on the tests is to eliminate answers that can’t work. Does the answer have to be positive? Then eliminate the negatives. Are there verb forms that you know are incorrect? Get rid of those first. Then, if you’re left to make a guess, your odds are considerably higher. On most sections of the SAT and ACT, you have a 25% chance of guessing the correct answer. Eliminate one, and that percentage jumps to 33%. Eliminate two, and it soars to 50%. So the more you can eliminate, the better your chances.

Ideally, a student will know how to work through every question and problem on the test. But test taking isn’t often ideal, and even the best test takers will have to make a guess at some point during an exam. Using a little strategy for guessing on the SAT/ACT can make the difference between hitting a goal score and falling agonizingly short.


Weighing in on “Test Optional”

One of the most common questions I hear from students and parents involves that idea of “test optional” schools. As a result of the COVID-19 dilemma, some colleges and universities have seemingly relaxed their admission requirements in order to accommodate those students who weren’t able to take the SAT or ACT due to cancellations. It’s a great gesture by those schools, but it’s been confusing for students. Does it mean you don’t even need to take an SAT? If you already have an ok score, does it mean there’s no need to push for more? Is everyone just getting admitted based on GPA?

No, no, and no.

What does “test optional” mean?

In a June 9 web article, Forbes Magazine took a look at the top schools who’ve gone “test optional” and dug in to what that actually means. Forbes maintains a ranked list of the top colleges and universities, and author Christopher Rim used that list to see which elite schools have switched to “test optional.” Of the top 20 on the Forbes list, only six had made the decision to make the SAT or ACT optional. Four of those schools were Ivy League institutions: University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Cornell. The other two schools to offer test optional application were Cal Tech and Pomona College.

The key, however, isn’t that some schools are “test optional.” The real key is to understand what that actually means. As Rim writes in his Forbes piece, “test optional” isn’t the same as “test blind.” The schools who aren’t requiring an SAT or ACT score aren’t trying to discourage students from taking the exams. On the contrary, other than Cal Tech, the “test optional” schools on the Forbes list are all still considering test scores for admission, placement, and merit scholarships. The schools are still accepting scores and are still using them. Students applying this year simply have the option to submit their applications without accompanying test scores.

Is “test optional” the new normal?

And this brings up a secondary point. Of the “test optional” schools, most of them are instituting this policy for this application year only. The anticipation is that students who apply next year–those who are about to enter their junior year this fall–will still need competitive test scores to gain entrance.

The “test optional” disadvantage

Additionally, Rim writes that this “test optional” policy could actually create a disadvantage for those students who apply without a test score. This would serve to single out students who hadn’t prepared for and taken an official exam early enough to have a score to submit.

Most students aiming for some of the top schools in the country prepare and sit for these tests early in their high school career. Omitting test scores on a college application to a competitive school indicates a failure to prepare as early as students can.

So as we enter the fall season and school begins to come into view, it’s as important as ever to begin preparation for the SAT or ACT as soon as possible! The next SAT dates are August 29 and September 26, and the ACT will offer several test dates in September (9/12, 9/13, and 9/24) and October (10/10, 10/17, 10/24, and 10/25).


ACT Adds Five New Dates

The ACT announced this week that they’ll be adding five new testing dates to the Fall 2020 lineup. These dates, shown in the list below, will be potentially available beginning the last week of July, when registration opens.

  • Saturday, September 12, 2020
  • Sunday, September 13, 2020
  • Saturday, September 19, 2020
  • Saturday, October 10, 2020
  • Saturday, October 17, 2020
  • Saturday, October 24, 2020
  • Sunday, October 25, 2020

What this means for students is more flexibility for them to take the test in the fall. For those already working through a summer program, it means several options to get a good result. For those thinking about starting test prep, this is the time!


“Test Optional” and the SAT/ACT

As part of the academic fallout from COVID-19, several test dates for the ACT and SAT were canceled. This left many students to wait until the fall to take their exams. Some colleges and universities, to help mitigate the situation, announced that they would become “test optional” schools. The headlines emphasized the term “test optional,” but news stories rarely dug into what it means for the SAT and ACT.

What does “test optional” mean?

The true significance of “test optional” schools is that students are able, if they choose, to apply without submitting test scores. However, colleges and universities–even the ones labeling themselves as “test optional”–are still considering ACT and SAT scores for admission, class placement, and merit-based aid. In fact, in a recent survey of college admission departments, over 80% of colleges feel that ACT and SAT scores are important evaluators for prospective students.

The California conundrum

Creating even more confusion was California’s decision to drop the SAT and ACT from their university system’s evaluation process. By 2024 or 2025, the state declared, California would no longer use either test for college admission. Again, headlines touted the decision as groundbreaking and game-changing, but the fine print contained the real story. As California phases out its use of the SAT and ACT, the state will be creating its own standardized test to use for students seeking admission. So they’re simply replacing one test with another of their own creation. This isn’t surprising, considering that the UC faculty recently announced that SAT and ACT scores were far more accurate predictors of college success, even for minority groups, than were students’ GPAs.

Why is a standardized test so important?

One of the major takeaways for students and parents should be a simple one: standardized tests aren’t going anywhere. With the volume of applications that arrive at a competitive school–for example, Stanford receives over 48,000 applications, while UCLA gets over 110,000 annually–colleges and universities need to have ways to work through those applications efficiently.

Student GPAs, while incredibly important, don’t tell a student’s whole story. A 4.0 at one school might not represent the same thing as a 4.0 at another. One school might have been academically rigorous, while the other might not. Test scores provide that objective benchmark schools need to couple with the rest of a student’s academic career. And when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of applicants, being able to get a quick snapshot is vital.

What does it all mean?

The end result is that preparing for the SAT and ACT is still vitally important, even in the post-COVID world. For juniors, the summer is the absolute best time to begin working to improve your test scores and opening the doors that a good ACT or SAT can provide!


Surveys and Polls on the SAT

2020 has been an interesting year, to say the least. COVID-19, earthquakes, murder hornets, and a rejuvenated civil rights movement have all hit the headlines in the first half of the year. As we enter the summer, however, the drama dial will be turned up to 11 as the next wave of chaos rolls in: the 2020 presidential election. And as part of that process, Americans will be inundated with surveys and polls. Even standardized test takers aren’t immune! Understanding surveys and polls on the SAT is an integral part of success on the math sections.

We’ll take a look at a couple of examples of polling and survey questions on the test and talk you through the strategy behind them.

Question 1: How to create a successful poll

A political scientist wants to predict how the residents of New Jersey will react to a new bill proposed in the state senate. Which of the following study designs is most likely to provide reliable results for the political scientist?

A) Mailing a questionnaire to each of 300 randomly selected residents of New Jersey

B) Surveying a group of 200 randomly selected New Jersey residents

C) Interviewing a group of students randomly selected from a large public university in New Jersey

D) Surveying a group of 1,500 randomly selected US residents

Any ideas? This is a fairly straightforward question that tests students on what makes a survey valid. Students can usually eliminate choices C) and D) because they don’t involve New Jersey residents directly.

But A) and B) can be a little more tricky. A) seems like the right choice at first glance because the survey involves more respondents–if it weren’t for the fact that the success of a questionnaire is dependent on a person returning it. Would all 300 residents return the survey? And, as I often ask my students, who returns a mailed questionnaire? A person who has a more pressing or direct interest in the issue! So while the political scientist may get some data from the questionnaire, a far more reliable method would be to directly survey a random group of state residents.

Question 2: What do the poll results mean?

A city with 120,000 residents is voting on a proposal that would eliminate overnight parking of vehicles on the city’s streets. An independent company randomly surveys 1,200 residents to see whether or not residents would support this proposal. The outcome of the survey shows that 60% of the residents surveyed approve of the proposal with a margin of error of 2%. Which of the following statements is a plausible conclusion from the outcome of the study?

A) Exactly 60% of city residents approve eliminating overnight parking.

B) There are 72,000 city residents who approve eliminating overnight parking.

C) About 2% of the city residents do not approve eliminating overnight parking.

D) Between 58% and 62% of the city residents approve eliminating overnight parking.

In this question, the survey has already been completed and the results are in: 60% of people approved eliminating overnight parking with a margin of error of 2%. This question is focused on just what that result means.

We can eliminate choice A) because of one word: exactly. While a well-done poll can give a predicted result that is very close to reality, it’s still just that–a prediction. Even under the best of conditions, it’s not an exact science. One only needs to look at predictions surrounding recent elections to see how unscientific polls can be.

B) is an attractive choice because it looks like it might require some math. Surely the SAT would want us to calculate something in a math question! And, in fact, 60% of 120,000 is 72,000. The problem, however, comes back to the exactness of that result. A poll is always a prediction. So to say that 72,000 people would approve is far too precise for any poll. If the answer had said, “Around 72,000 city residents will likely approve…”, it would be far closer to the truth.

That leaves us with C) or D), and the choice between the two comes down to an understanding of the term “margin of error.” Because polls are only predictors, polls are often presented with a bit of wiggle room. Our poll said that 60% of people approved eliminating overnight parking. That 2% margin of error is just that: a range in which the truth might actually lie. And choice D) reflects that idea. According to the poll results, the correct percentage that approves could be anywhere between 58% and 62%, given the margin of error.


The most important strategy to use with questions about surveys and polls on the SAT is an important strategy for every question on the test: read carefully. The test writers aren’t doing you any favors, and they’ll word things in convoluted ways just to make it tougher on you. If you’re working too quickly, it can be easy to overlook words like “exactly” or “likely,” and those types of words can be incredibly important. So take a breath and read that question carefully.

Practicing on actual SATs is also helpful. Poll and survey questions appear in the no-calculator and/or calculator sections of nearly every SAT, and the more of them you see and work through, the less likely that you’ll be duped by a trick. So putting in the time to practice is essential to be successful on these questions, as well as all the other types you’ll see on a typical SAT.


Choosing the Right School

For most students across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted the end of the academic year. Juniors and seniors saw the March, April, May, and June SATs canceled. Those students who would normally receive vital guidance from their school counselors as the year wrapped up were not able to get it. Because of this, it’s becoming increasingly important for students and parents to have good resources to help them choose the right school for their financial and academic needs. And choosing the right school can be easier if you know where to look.


Money.com has one of the best ranking sites to help parents and students balance the financial cost of the college decision with the academic achievement and potential future earnings a particular school could provide. The initial web page has Money.com’s rankings based on over 19,000 data points. The rankings take into account such elements as potential student debt, standardized test scores, acceptance rate, and graduation rate.

Some of the schools that rank high on the Money.com list aren’t surprising: Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Stanford. What is surprising is that the number one value in the country, according to the list, is the University of California-Irvine.

What makes the Money.com list even more valuable to college seekers is that feature that allows a user to rank the colleges based on numerous criteria. For example, if a student wanted to study marine biology at a mid-sized school in the western United States, s/he could enter in those parameters, and the website would show which schools fit the bill. Incidentally, the top school for our future marine biologist would be Sonoma State University.


College Board has their own detailed search for colleges, though it doesn’t have some of the more interesting financial features of the Money.com site. BigFuture is easy to use and can also be a great way of narrowing down school choices. One of the most helpful features of the site, as you might expect, is that it provides the desired SAT and ACT ranges for colleges.

The range of scores is presented with the lower score representing the 25th percentile–meaning 25% of incoming freshmen scored below that number–and the higher value representing the 75th percentile. Students applying to a particular school should be shooting for an SAT or ACT score in the middle or higher to have the best chance of being accepted.

BigFuture also allows students and parents to sort through schools by size, type, location, and other parameters to narrow their focus. And while the Money.com site focuses on the academic and financial aspects, BigFuture also allows students to refine their search by sports and activities, diversity, and other social factors.

Together, both sites can be invaluable resources when choosing the right school for you!


When Should I Start Studying for the SAT?

To a high school sophomore just finishing up their academic year, college seems a long way off. But the truth is that the summer before your junior year is the ideal time to start studying for the SAT!

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Free time

One of the most obvious reasons for beginning exam prep in the summer is the increase in free time. Especially given that many summer camps and other activities have been canceled due to COVID-19, students have quality time to spend on sharpening their standardized test skills.

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If you start studying for the SAT during the school year, as many students do, you’re then forced to juggle your academic work (including AP and IB courses!), sports, drama, other extracurriculars, and a social life with several hours per week of SAT sessions and homework. That’s a lot to keep track of! One of the SAT students I worked with in the past was taking five AP classes, participating in marching band and jazz band, playing as the starting goalie on the soccer team, and serving on the National Honor Society council for her school. No wonder she was continually exhausted!

To avoid that sort of workload and the potential for burnout during one of the most important years of high school, start that exam prep in the summer and get it done!


Along with avoiding a heavy workload, another great reason for studying for the SAT during the summer is flexibility. If you take your first SAT in August, you’ll have an official score you can use in the application process.

If you prep during the summer and crush the August SAT, great! You’ll never need to take that test again! If you don’t get the score you want, you have many more opportunities throughout the year to take the exam. This year, again because of COVID-19 and the March, May, and June test cancellations, College Board is offering the SAT in August, September, October, November, and December, as well as March, May, and June in 2021. That gives many opportunities to take the test and get your goal score!

By doing your preparation and studying for the SAT in the summer, you give yourself a great deal of flexibility, which, in turn, can be a great stress reducer.

Potential for National Merit

Depending on how high you’re able to push your score on the SAT with some preparation, you might want to have an eye on the PSAT in October, as well.

Many students view the PSAT as simply a free practice for the SAT, but it can be much more. If you achieve a high score on the PSAT, you can qualify as a semi-finalist for the National Merit Scholarship. A student’s National Merit Index score is calculated by doubling her/his reading and writing scaled scores, dividing the math score by 10, and adding the three scores together. For example, if a student received a 34 in reading, a 33 in writing, and a 610 in math on a PSAT, her/his National Merit Index would be calculated in this way:

(34 x 2) + (33 x 2) + (61)

So this particular student would receive an index score of 205.

Index scores that qualify a student to be a National Merit Semi-Finalist vary by state. A list of recent scores for each state can be found here. In Idaho, for example, the qualifying index score is usually 215 to 217. Achieving a National Merit qualifying score can open doors, whether or not s/he ends up winning the actual scholarship. In fact, plenty of schools offer full scholarships just for qualifying as a semi-finalist or finalist! So it’s worth it to make a good effort on the PSAT.

And that’s where summer practice comes in.

By starting in early summer to begin preparation for the SAT, you can not only prepare yourself to achieve a great score on the regular exam in August, but you’ll also be more prepared to do well on the PSAT. What a deal!

Getting Help

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Students looking to gain insight and help on the SAT have myriad resources at their disposal. College Board itself provides a self-help program on Khan Academy, and there are many companies who offer self-directed instruction online. For those who want the best help possible, there’s no substitute for meeting regularly with an expert on the test. Whatever you choose to do, if you’re a rising junior, the time is now to begin studying for the SAT!


Five Tips for Online Learning During COVID-19

COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, has turned the world upside down, seemingly overnight. The latest change came this week, as Idaho announced that schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year. While this wasn’t a big surprise to some, it does mean that all students will now be doing their learning online, either through school programs or other resources. At Huntington Learning Center East Boise, we’ve had all of our students shifted to remote learning for over two weeks. It’s been a great experience for both our amazing teachers and our fantastic students. To help that process, we’re suggesting five useful tips for online learning during COVID-19 that will hopefully make the transition a positive one for you.

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Relax and enjoy!

Parents and students have been stressing about COVID-19, then toilet paper shortages, then home-bound boredom, and, now, online learning. I’ve taught online extensively before I came to HLC, and it can be a really rewarding experience. Our tutors are the same great teachers you would have in-center, and our digital curriculum is exactly the same as it would be if you were working in-center. Sitting in front of a computer screen with one of our educational experts will bring you the same benefit as if you were sitting at a desk with them. So come ready to work and have fun with the best online instructors around! Whether your student is prepping for the ACT or SAT, AP exams, or just everyday academic work, we can help!

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Have a good headset!

One seemingly minor detail that can make a big difference in the online learning experience is having a good headset or a good set of earbuds with a mic. Most students have these already, and using them for an online session can be incredibly helpful. Being able to hear your instructor makes it easier to focus and process through what’s being taught.

And a good webcam!

Along with a good headset, a well-functioning webcam is crucial. It makes the experience far more personal to have that face-to-face contact with your instructor. And from a teaching perspective, your teachers will be able to anticipate your questions and your focus if they can see your facial expressions and body language.

Pick an ideal study spot!

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When working through an online class or session, location is key! Be sure to pick a spot that’s quiet, that has all of your necessary materials close at hand, and that is far from potential interruptions. Sitting at the kitchen table while dinner is being made–or served!–is not an ideal spot for learning. But if you have a desk in a bedroom or home office, that generally works well.

Use the time wisely!

Finally, this crisis has given everyone a potentially golden opportunity for learning. With students essentially stuck at home, they have the time to make big gains in challenging classes. Set a schedule for the day, even if the school hasn’t done so. Have students spend time on each of their core subjects, and hold them accountable.

So there are five quick tips for your online learning during COVID-19! At HLC East Boise, we would love to partner with you to help you make the most of this time and to come out of it with the knowledge needed to succeed next school year!


ACT Questions of the Month

Tips from the Dec. 2019 official exam

Whenever an official ACT exam is released into the world, it’s an exciting time. At least for exam prep tutors. Recently, the December 2019 ACT was made public, allowing students and tutors to peruse the sections and practice strategies on the newest iteration of the test.

Let’s take a look at a selection of questions from English, Math, Reading, and Science on the December ACT. Play along and see how many you can score correctly!

English Questions on the December ACT

Our English question is #33. Take a look and see if you can come up with the correct answer.

Notice the NOT. The ACT generously highlights when they ask NOT or EXCEPT questions, but those questions still throw students off. Since most of the exam asks students for the correct answers, imagine how tough it is when you’re asked to pick the wrong one!

In this case, we have some very ACT-ish things going on. This particular question tests on punctuation, among other things, so it’s helpful to know what semi-colons, periods, and commas do. Specifically, it’s good to know that, while there is a subtle difference between semi-colons and periods, both of them are used to separate complete sentences. As a result, the ACT treats them as virtual equals. This helps us to eliminate choices C and D, since they are punctuationally identical. (Yes, I may have made up a word.)

Similarly, a comma with a conjunction–a connecting word like and or but–is used to separate two complete sentences, so A would be correct, as well. That leaves us with our choice: B.

Math Questions on the December ACT

For math, we have an oldie and a goodie: a midpoint question. The ACT asks about midpoint on nearly every test. Over my years as a tutor, I’ve seen many students balk at these questions because they don’t remember the Midpoint Formula. The trick is that you don’t really need to have the Midpoint Formula memorized to solve it. Try your hand at this one.

When students are faced with a midpoint question, I usually start by asking them what “midpoint” means. If you have two particular test scores in a class at school–let’s say you scored a 94 and an 80–if you wanted to find the midpoint, the middle point, how would you do it? Many students reply with something like, “I’d average them.” Yes! Midpoint is just another way of saying the average of two values.

So… if we average the x-values, -6 and 2, and the y-values, 9 and 5, what do we get? Averaging two numbers involves adding them together and dividing by 2. So -6 + 2 = -4. And -4/2 = -2. Do you see any answer choices with an x-value of -2? There’s only one! So B is our answer again. If we had to, we could average the y-values to get the 7, but we don’t even need to. Thanks, ACT!

Reading Questions on the December ACT

Because one of the best strategies for ACT reading is finding the main idea of a passage, it’s tough to single out one question to look at without needing to go through an entire essay. However, the ACT does ask some vocabulary-in-context questions, and these can generally be done without knowing the whole story. Check out #10, for example.

One of the best strategies to use for many of the questions on the reading section, vocabulary or otherwise, is to read the question carefully and predict the right answer. In this case, the question is asking us to decide what the word observe most nearly means in line 79. So first, we should read the sentence at line 79: “But her family did not consent: afraid of the Improper, they questioned his intentions, his failure to observe certain formalities, his ancestry, his habits and his character.”

Can you think of a word that could replace observe? Usually, when we refer to observing traditions, we’re talking about abiding by or following those traditions. Once we get that prediction figured, we can look at the answer choices and look for what works and what doesn’t. In this case, the word follow looms large, as it’s exactly what we predicted. So we select G and move on.

Science Questions on the December ACT

The science section of the ACT, as our students learn quickly, is not really about science. It’s much more about reading charts and graphs, identifying patterns, and inferring from data. A good example of this is #17 on the December test. Without even looking at the rest of the passage–and there’s quite a lot more information in the actual passage on the test–we can confidently answer this question.

First off, it asks us to look at Figure 2. I’ve provided that figure here, but if you had the entire passage in front of you, your first task would be to locate the right figure.

Second, we need to decode the question. As you can see, it’s asking us to go from the highest initial O2 level to the lowest initial O2. This is crucial, as two of the four answers will undoubtedly give the materials in reverse order. So if you misread that as “lowest to highest,” you’ll fall for the trap.

Looking at Figure 2, how do we know which material required the highest initial O2 level? Looking at the labels of the graph, we see that the bottom label is Initial O2, and the y-axis, the left side, is time in seconds. Without getting bogged down into all of the info–and, again, without even reading through the passage–we can deduce that the highest initial O2 would be the pine wood, represented by the circle. It’s furthest along the Initial O2 line, indicating it’s the highest. This eliminates A and B.

Notice, then, that the only difference between C and D is the order of the middle two materials. So which is the second-highest? This is a bit trickier, as two of the symbols overlap. However, if you look at the lines, you can see that the material that starts at the next highest value is the candle. The dry paper, represented by the star, actually starts at 14, even though it also hits at 15. Remember, we’re looking for the initial point. So our answer must be C.

In sum…

So how did you do with these questions from the December ACT? While students usually view the ACT as a challenging test–and taken as a whole, it can be–when you gain experience with the proven strategies that you can learn from the seasoned tutors at Huntington, it’s a challenge that can be overcome.


Exam Prep: Is it really worth it?

The short answer is yes.

When I took the ACT many years ago, the culture of college admission was completely different. I took the ACT once, and that was the score I submitted to the colleges of my choice. And I got in. The same was true for me with the GRE when I’d finished my college experience and was preparing for graduate school. I walked in, took the test, and began to apply.

Increase in Competition

Today, as college has become an expectation for more and more students (according to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 70% of graduating seniors head to higher ed), the competition has become more and more intense. As a result, many students turn to exam preparation courses and individualized programs. In 2018 alone, Forbes reported recently, students and their parents spent a record $1 billion on test prep. Author John Byrne posed the question, “Was it all worth it?”

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Spoiler Alert: Exam Prep is Worth It

In a survey conducted by Byrne’s PoetsandQuants.com website, test prep users were asked about the effectiveness of their prep, specifically for the GMAT exam. Unsurprisingly, the survey found that test prep made a vast difference in students’ scores, helping them gain an average of 100 points on the GMAT.

Perhaps more interesting, though no more surprising, was that students who reported spending more time on test prep ended up with the best resulting increases. Specifically, test takers that prepped for more than 40 hours achieved the best results. Byrne speculates that even a 30-50 point increase on the GMAT could mean a difference of $1 million in lifetime earnings. Exam prep was worth both the time and money investments.

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While the GMAT is only one specific standardized test, an increase in an ACT or SAT score can be just as important to a student’s academic and career path. As you and your student plan to begin the process of test preparation for either the SAT or ACT, it is helpful to keep in mind that quantity is nearly as important as quality. In short, skill building takes time.

Our goal at Huntington is to help your student build a mastery of the test. And while we provide strategies and skills from Day One, it takes time and effort for the student to “own” those techniques. The goal from the beginning should be to learn the test well enough to build that sort of mastery by the time the student takes the official exam.

As Byrne concludes in his analysis, “The big takeaway: Like it or not, test prep works as long as you are willing to put in the time.” And with the March, April, and May tests approaching quickly, now is the time to begin making that investment.


Mom Guilt vs. Dad Judgment

How parents see their students’ academic lives differently

While each student who walks in to Huntington is treated as an individual with her/his own strengths and struggles, there are definitely tendencies and similarities that link every child. One of these tendencies is the way in which moms and dads look at their students’ need for help. In short, it’s a difference between mom guilt and dad judgment.

Mom Guilt is Real

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Given the nature of a mother’s relationship with her child(ren), she tends to be more nurturing, more empathetic, more self-sacrificing, and more affirmative. Because of this, when a child is struggling in school, Mom typically falls on her proverbial sword.

  • “Why didn’t I read more to him?”
  • “I was too easy on her when she was younger.”
  • “If I’d been better about being involved with his homework, he wouldn’t have fallen behind.”
  • “I was a good student… I don’t understand why she is having so much trouble.”
  • “I always struggled in school, and I think he got my genes.”

Dad Judgment is Just as Real

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Dads, on the other hand, tend to look at their students’ relationship with the real world and see their parental roles as preparing their children for life. As a result, fathers’ assessment of their struggling students is slightly less empathetic.

  • “He’s just lazy.”
  • “If she’d just do the work, she’d be getting better grades.”
  • “He doesn’t even try.”
  • “I’ve taken away her tablet until she brings her grade up.”

The Reality Probably Lies Elsewhere

Both of the typical perspectives are extremes, and neither is the whole truth. If homework time has become a battle, for example, it’s likely not because Mom has failed or that the student is lazy, as Dad believes. Children often complain about homework because they’re struggling or, more typically, have struggled for some time. If Chris complains about doing his math work every night, a major reason for that is probably because he struggles with the concepts and skills he desperately needs.

Let’s say you were asked to build a bookcase, but you didn’t have a good sense of how to measure out the wood, cut it to length, or assemble it. That would end up as a frustrating project, even though people who do possess those skills would find it enjoyable. In the same way, when a student is given a multiplication worksheet, it can be incredibly daunting if her/his addition skills or math facts are lacking. No one–young people especially–enjoys working through an exercise they’re not really prepared for.

There Is a Solution

Fortunately, there is a solution to the core issue. At Huntington, we have students work through a full skill assessment to pinpoint their real struggles in math and reading. By figuring out what’s truly going on, we can create a plan for students that will help them get back on the grade-level track and begin to feel real success. Which also cuts down on the number of guilty moms and judgmental dads!


This Year’s Resolution: Improve your ACT or SAT scores!

Happy New Year to all of you from all of us at Huntington East Boise! With the New Year comes exam prep season, as the ACTs and SATs come in rapid-fire fashion over the next several months. Now is the time to prepare to improve those ACT or SAT scores!

February 8, 2020March 14, 2020
April 4, 2020April 9, 2020 (School-administered SAT)
June 13, 2020May 2, 2020
June 6, 2020

If you’re a sophomore in high school, you still have plenty of time to plan out which test to take and when. But if you’re a junior, the time is now!

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Plan on taking multiple SATs or ACTs

In the current climate of competition for college, students should plan on taking two to three actual ACTs or SATs. Planning for multiple tests takes stress away from any single exam. With test anxiety looming large for many students, anything that depressurizes is valuable. In addition, since colleges generally expect students to submit multiple scores, there is no disadvantage to taking a test once vs. taking it three times.

Superscoring can be a game changer

Not only is there no real disadvantage, there is also a very real potential advantage to taking a test two or three times. Many schools across the country superscore the SAT or ACT.

Superscoring involves taking the highest verbal and math scores a student has earned over multiple tests and putting them together to make a new composite. For example, let’s say Alexis takes three SATs, and her scores on each test are posted below.

SAT #1600 verbal590 math1190 total
SAT #2650 verbal580 math1230 total
SAT #3610 verbal650 math1260 total

Alexis managed to improve her overall score each time she took the test, which is great! However, if Alexis applies to a school that superscores, that school would look at the highest verbal score, 650, and the highest math score, also a 650, and treat Alexis as though she had scored a 1300 on the test. That’s a 40-point increase!

Superscoring generally gives students a higher composite score than they have achieved on any individual test, and, as many schools use this scoring method, it gives students even more reason to plan on taking the test more than once.

You’re not in this alone!

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Of course, the best way to maximize a student’s score is to provide an expert for her/him to work with. At Huntington, we partner with students on their educational journeys, helping them learn the skills and strategies needed to improve their SAT or ACT scores. And with the next ACT about a month away and the next SAT about ten weeks away, now is the best time to formulate a plan to increase that score!


‘Tis the Season for SMART Goals

For students, the end of the calendar year means Thanksgiving, Christmas, vacations, and, in some cases, final exams. But as the old year ends, the new year is the traditional time for resolutions and change. And for students, it’s a good time to begin planning their goals for second semester. One of the best ways to plan out change for second semester and beyond is to set SMART goals.

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What are SMART goals?

SMART goals have been used since 1981, when George T. Doran presented the acronym in a paper on setting agendas for management teams. Since that time, his framework has been used around the world to set goals for both business and personal growth.

SMART goals are goals that are 

  • Specific – What exactly do I want to happen?
  • Measurable – How will I know when I’ve reached my goal?
  • Achievable – Is it something that can be accomplished?
  • Relevant – Is it a realistic goal?
  • Time-Specific – Can I set a specific deadline for my goal to be achieved?

How are they helpful?

The biggest advantage of students setting SMART goals is that they force a student into thinking through the process to achieve their stated goals. While “getting better grades” is a great sentiment, setting that as a goal doesn’t take the process of achieving the goal into account. What do “better grades” look like? When should that happen by?

A SMARTer way of looking to improve academically, particularly for a student whose grades are suffering because of late/missing assignments, would be to set a goal of “I will begin each week by taking 5-10 minutes to write down all of my assignments for the week in a planner. I will complete each of my assignments at least a day ahead of schedule.” This goal is specific, focused, and measurable, making it easier to see accomplishment and easier to know when the goal isn’t being met. 

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And if a student sets a goal that is too far reaching or not specific enough, those goals can be revisited and retooled. If a student’s goal was to achieve a B in Algebra II, for example, that goal can be changed once the student hits that mark. 

On her blog on Scholastic.com, educator Genia Connell outlines her classroom process for using SMART goals, and she provides a worksheet for younger students to think through their academic and personal plans and goals. 

So as we approach the season of making (and breaking) resolutions, students can begin to practice the valuable life skill of setting good, attainable goals for the new semester.


Putting the “Smart” Back in Smartphones

When I was working as a classroom teacher in the early 2000s, cell phone use by students was a relatively new phenomenon. My policy–as well as my school’s–was that cell phone use was unnecessary during school hours. Students who were caught using their phones at school had them taken away and given to the administrative office, much to the chagrin of the students involved.

Fast forward to 2019. While some teachers and parents are still fighting the tide of technology, nearly every student from elementary school on up carries a cell phone. Fortunately, if used prudently, smartphones can be great tools for educational purposes.

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Homework tracker

Many students still use paper planners to keep track of their tests, assignments, and other obligations, but cell phones are increasingly becoming the mode of choice to organize students’ calendars. Because students carry their phones everywhere, they are able to check their upcoming work quickly and easily, and they can continually adjust as new events arise.

Reminder setting

For students of all ages, smartphones can be used to help remind the students to carry out tasks throughout the day. Your child can be reminded to get a parent release signed, to be sure his/her pencil bag is filled, or to attend their weekly improv club meeting.

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Fact finding

Of course, cell phones put the knowledge of the world in students’ hands. If a teacher mentions a topic or term that is unfamiliar, a quick Google search can fill in the information gaps.

Taking board or screen photos

Teachers can sometimes move quickly through material in the classroom. Any time a student feels confused about that last trigonometry problem or the timeline of Christianity’s progression through the ancient world, she or he can snap a quick picture of the board to either revisit the information or to show it to a tutor, like the wonderful ones working at Huntington.

Note taking

Typing–or Swyping–is generally much faster for today’s students than writing by hand. Given that, smartphones can be a great way of taking important notes from class. Using apps like Evernote or OneNote can make recording and using ideas from class much more efficient.

Apps, apps, apps!

Finally, many classrooms now use specific educational apps that tie in to what’s being done in class. Teachers now routinely use document sharing apps, like Dropbox, as well as study apps, such as Quizlet, to administer their classes. College Board, the maker of the SAT, offers an SAT Question of the Day app. Smartphones make it easy for students to utilize these apps on the go.

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Of course, as with all technology, parents should set expectations with their children when it comes to cell phone use. Talking with your students about the dangers of the online world is always a good idea. But used correctly, cell phones can be a great way to enhance students’ academic experience, putting the smart back in smartphones!


Substitution on the SAT/ACT

One of my favorite songs as a kid growing up was that great Stevie Wonder hit, “Substitution.” I can remember the lyrics like it was yesterday…

“When you need to solve problems

That you don’t understand,

Then don’t suffer,

Substitution is the way.”

Ok, maybe that’s not exactly the way the song went. And maybe Stevie was singing about superstitions instead. But using substitution on the ACT/SAT is still an excellent strategy that can help students overcome potentially difficult problems.

Not just one substitution

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In general, substitution refers to replacing an unknown quantity with a known number. For most students, it’s far easier to work with real, tangible values than with x or y. And when it comes to the SAT and ACT, there are essentially three types of substitution students can use, depending on the situation.

When the question is the answer

The most obvious instance of a potential use of substitution is when the question provides a number to sub in. For example, when faced with a problem like this,

If f(x) = 6x – 3, what is the value of f(x) when x = 4?

the best strategy will be to plug 4 in for x and see what the result is.

f(4) = 6(4) – 3 = 24 – 3 = 21

And voila! The solution presents itself.

Looking at the answer choices

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The second type of substitution involves using the answer choices provided on a multiple choice test–what some strategists call “backsolving.” This method is ideal when the question presents variables and the answers provided are actual numbers.

Given that x (x + 6) = 16, which of the following lists all solutions to this quadratic equation?

a) 8 and 2

b) -8 and -2

c) -8 and 2

d) 8 and -4

While some students would be able to solve this algebraically, those that struggle with this type of question could use the answer choices to their advantage. By plugging in 8 for x, for example, we see that 8 (8 + 6) does not equal 16. So choices a) and d) are out, leaving us with a 50-50 at worst. Seeing that -8 is featured in both choices b) and c), all we would have to do now is plug in either 2 or -2. Putting 2 in for x gives us 2 (2 + 6), which does equal 16, and we’re done! Easy peasy!

Substitutional creativity

The third and most strategic type of substitution is the student-generated variety. With many percentage questions or with questions featuring variables in both the question and the answer choices, coming up with a number that makes sense can be a great option. Consider the following:

A shoe store has a long standing sale on their best selling pair, selling the shoes for 20% off the original price. On Black Friday, they take an additional 10% off the sale price. What is the total percentage off from the original price?

a) 20%

b) 28%

c) 30%

d) 32%

e) 72%

This is a very common type of percentage question. And while it can be done in other ways, substitution can make it a snap. 

Let’s assume for a moment that the original price of the shoes was $100. Why $100? Because it makes percentage calculation easier. That would make the long standing sale price equal to 20% off $100, or $80. Great! Now, the Black Friday sale took an additional 10% off the $80, which would be another $8, leaving the final sale price at $72. How does 72 compare to 100? It’s 72/100 or 72%. And since the question asks for the total percentage off, that gives us a correct answer of 28% or choice b).

Notice the trap answers of 30% (20% + 10%) and 72% (if we didn’t pay attention to what the question is actually asking). But substitution made this potentially tricky question pretty simple.

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Of course, learning to use substitution on the SAT and ACT–and understanding when to use it (and when not to)–takes some practice. But it’s a strategy that can take what some might consider complicated math and make it much more doable.


Developing Critical Thinking at Home

One of my kids came up to me a few weeks ago, and it was obvious he was itching to deliver some information.

“Everyone should be taking cold showers,” he declared triumphantly. When I asked how he’d come to this decision, he said, “A study has proven it.” Intrigued, I asked about his research. “I read a story on the Internet about a rich guy who felt like he was healthier because of cold showers, so he got some scientists to do a study. They found out he was right.”

I saw this as an opportunity.

“So he had a belief, and he paid for a study to be conducted,” I replied, “and the study that he paid for confirmed his belief?” Yes, my son nodded enthusiastically. “Do you see any potential problems with that?” He shook his head as a confused look crossed his face. So we talked a bit more about the reliability of single sources–particularly those on the Internet–and he agreed to do more digging to see what others said on the subject.

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Now, to be fair, I didn’t have an opinion one way or another when it comes to the ideal shower temperature (we found out that there are lots of opinions on the topic, but many studies have shown lukewarm to be the best, coupled with a skin moisturizer afterward). But I do have strong feelings about teaching my kids the value of critical thinking.

Just as there are seemingly countless opinions about our ideal shower temperature, there are myriad articles about the necessity of teaching our children the value of critical thinking. Predictably, the tips and findings of many of those articles overlap, so I’ll give you the best bits here.

It’s never too early to help your kids develop critical thinking skills.

Preschoolers may not be ready to learn the difference between a major premise and a minor premise, but they can be taught to think more critically. The website parentingscience.com, a great general resource for parents and teaching, urges parents to start working with their kids early, encouraging them to restate ideas in their own words. The article also stresses the need to talk with children about biases and how those biases affect what we hear and read.

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Ask the right questions.

In his insightful TED Talk, Brian Oshiro encourages parents to ask follow-up questions to their kids. Instead of focusing on the “what” of a subject, ask kids “how” or “why” something is true. “How do you know?” is an easy way of teaching kids how to think through their sources and beliefs.

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In a recent Forbes magazine article, author Helen Lee Bouygues urges parents to have their children question the media and individual sources. Especially in our age of social media, kids need to be shown the value of confirming their information with multiple sources–what a Stanford University study called “lateral reading.”

Encourage emotional intelligence.

Because much of the misinformation in cyberspace is designed to evoke feelings of outrage or frustration, it’s also important that parents encourage children to learn to manage those emotions.

Making the home a safe place for kids to express and discuss their emotions is key, as is providing good emotional role models for them. Showing kids that emotions can be freely talked about and managed can go a long way to avoiding knee-jerk reactions to false or biased information.

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For many of us as parents, the 21st century can be a scary place. Because so many outlets are working for our children’s attention, it’s vital that we equip our kids with the skill of discernment. Fortunately, parents can take the lead, helping kids learn how to properly navigate the stormy Internet sea.


Zen and the Art of Commas

When I was in eighth grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Borgman, introduced me to the art of commas. Before entering that class, I thought I was a good writer. When I turned in my first writing assignment that year–a biography of someone I thought of as a hero–I was excited to see what she thought of my craft. Before she handed our papers back, she began talking about one of the best essays she had received, and, as she read excerpts, I realized it was mine. 

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I could feel my ego tangibly inflate as she lauded the writing style, the sentence variation, and the transition statements. I began to feel a bit sorry for all the other students in the class who obviously didn’t have my innate skill. Mrs. Borgman ended her string of praises with what, at the time, seemed like an innocuous phrase: “This paper had a little problem with commas, but other than that, it was great.” Then, we got the essays back. The letter at the top of the page brought my ego crashing back to earth.


And it was in that moment, as I looked at the red circles that appeared throughout the essay, that I realized I didn’t know how to use commas.

One of the biggest grammatical issues our students have to overcome when beginning the exam prep process is learning how to properly use commas–at least in the way the SAT and ACT expect. Students generally receive their last real grammatical instruction somewhere between sixth and eighth grade, so they have bad habits (“Don’t you put a comma whenever you pause?”). Fortunately, the rules are simpler than you might think, and students can master the art of commas on the ACT and SAT.

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Comma Usage and Extra Stuff

First, commas can be used to separate extra information in a sentence. This extra stuff can take the form of a dependent clause, an introductory phrase, or simply an extra bit of description that enhances the sentence but isn’t necessary. 

The lizard basking on a rock in the warm sun was startled by the sound of approaching motorcycles.

This sentence, for example, has a bit of extra information that can be separated off with commas. What might that extra information be?

The lizard, basking on a rock in the warm sun, was startled by the sound of approaching motorcycles. 

As you can see, the extra stuff was “basking on a rock in the warm sun.” If we took that phrase out of the sentence, what remains (“The lizard was startled by the sound of approaching motorcycles”) would be a viable sentence. While the fact that the lizard was sunning itself is interesting, we don’t need that phrase to make a good sentence. Hence, extra stuff.

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This also applies to introductory phrases.

When I was a boy, my parents took me to Disney World.

Here, the introductory phrase “When I was a boy” is the extra stuff. Without it, the remaining sentence, “my parents took me to Disney World,” works on its own.

Grammatical FANBOYS

The second type of comma usage on the SAT and ACT involves FANBOYS. I once asked a student if he knew what the FANBOYS were.

“People who are really into something,” he replied.

True, but not what I was going for. FANBOYS is an acronym for the conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. When a comma appears before a FANBOYS–unless it’s in a list, which we’ll get to in a second–it indicates the separation of two complete sentences.

The festival lasted for two hours, and we stayed until the end.

Here are two full sentences separated by a comma+FANBOYS. “The festival lasted for two hours” and “we stayed until the end” would both be complete sentences on their own, so the comma+FANBOYS is appropriate and correct. 

A loaf of bread, a gallon of milk…

Finally, commas on the SAT and ACT can be used to separate items in a list. 

Erin went to the store and bought milk, butter, and bread. 

In a list of more than two elements, we separate those elements with commas. And for those who dislike (or even know about) the Oxford comma, both tests use it, though they generally don’t test specifically on its usage.

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With a bit of practice, commas can become almost second nature. Mrs. Borgman pounded us with comma usage that year in eighth grade, but most students aren’t fortunate enough to have had a tough grammar teacher in school. Fortunately, the Huntington exam prep program can be a great way to not only prepare students for the punctuation they will see on standardized tests but also give them a valuable refresh of all the vital grammar rules they’ll need in their academic writing.


The Impact of Executive Functioning

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Bethany sat in class, nervously fidgeting with her pencil and trying to avoid the teacher’s gaze. Mr. Johns repeated his question: “Who wants to read their answer from Question 3 on the homework?” Bethany felt herself sinking lower into her chair. She knew she was supposed to complete the worksheet last night. She’d even brought it home–a triumph, since she usually ended up forgetting it at school or losing it after tucking it away in a textbook.

But she got distracted with other work, then a few YouTube videos, then some aimless web surfing. And then, suddenly, it was time for bed. She had decided she would work on the questions the next morning. But, when the morning came, she had struggled with getting her hair just right and forgotten. And now, here she sat, questions undone and prayers sent to the classroom gods that she wouldn’t get called on. 

Does any of that sound familiar? If so, then it’s possible that your student lacks the set of skills known collectively as executive functioning.

What is Executive Functioning?

Executive functioning, in general, is composed of three main areas: working memory, flexible thinking, and self control. Working memory involves remembering information so that it can be used later. One example of this would be a student remembering the main idea of a paragraph so she or he can answer questions about it. Flexible thinking involves problem solving or being able to approach a problem from multiple angles. Self control is the skill to resist distractions and temptations and to stay focused on a task.

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Not Lazy, But Lacking

Over the past several years, more emphasis has been placed on executive functioning skills than ever before. Where some students would previously have been labeled as “lazy” or “unintelligent,” research now shows that the real culprit is a lack of executive function. Those skills begin developing at an early age and continue developing all the way into a person’s early 20’s.

Without well-developed executive skills, a student has difficulty setting goals, regulating emotions, understanding others’ point of view, and sticking with tasks–all vital skills of successful adults. And while some people may possess one or more of these executive functioning abilities naturally, everyone can improve and sharpen their skills with training and practice.

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What Can We Do?

Here at Huntington, we help engender those important skills as we work with our students, making them accountable while helping them plan out tasks, use critical thinking skills, and complete assignments in a timely fashion. But there are also several helpful strategies parents can use at homework time and beyond. 

  • Look for resources. Huntington offers help for organizational skills that are proven to work, and many websites, such as Understood.org, give great suggestions.
  • Use timers for tasks, both ones involving homework and ones involving household chores.
  • Write things down–have goals for tasks readily visible.
  • Offer rewards for tasks successfully carried out.
  • Organize frequent, planned breaks (3-10 minutes) for your student. Write out their work schedule so that it can be easily seen and understood.
  • With younger learners, many games can be used to teach executive functioning skills in a non-academic format.
  • Emphasize a focus on completion of the task and not on the grindstone. Get your student to begin to see tasks as a means to an end.
  • Give pep talks–a word of encouragement can go a long way toward getting a student to repeat desirable behavior.
  • Show compassion–struggling with executive functioning can be daunting. Try to understand the difficulties your student is facing, and let them know that you’re there with them to help them succeed.

Executive functioning is sometimes known as the “CEO of the brain.” For many students, a lack of executive functioning skills is a sizable obstacle to success. By being aware of the necessity of these skills and by being willing to guide students through the process, we are ensuring that the next generation of lifelong learners will be well equipped for long-term success.


Preparing for Exams 101

Believe it or not, semester finals are nearly here! In light of this, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best practices for preparing for those all-important exams.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Begin your preparation early!

One of the biggest mistakes students make when it comes to preparing for any test is waiting too long to begin the study process. While teachers may set aside the last week of class (or no time at all!) to review material in class, students should start their own preparation a month before the exam. This allows for slow and repeated review of concepts from early chapters without the stress of cramming. Even setting aside 5-10 minutes nightly for review as part of a homework routine can make a huge difference.

Make up your own exam study guide!

Another beneficial practice in the exam study process is for students to make up their own study guides. While teachers often give review material for exams, a common complaint is that the official study guide doesn’t cover what’s actually on the test. Using tests and quizzes given over the course of a semester, if they’re available, can be a great way to organize the topics that the teacher will likely find important on a final. Breaking that study guide into chapters can also help to turn the exam preparation into steady chewing, rather than last-minute scarfing.

Utilize your resources!

As part of the study process, be sure to use teachers and their materials as resources. Ask questions about unfamiliar concepts. Be willing to stay after class or after school to get extra help, if necessary. Ask about the ideas that the teacher finds most important when it comes to the exam. Generally speaking, when they see students make a genuine effort to prepare, teachers are far more willing to make an effort to get those students the help they need. 

Don’t overdo it!

Be sure to break up the work into bite-sized pieces. One of the reasons that cramming is so stressful (and generally unsuccessful) is that students are attempting to memorize a massive amount of information in a very short time. One tool that can help a student through the study process is the Pomodoro Technique. In short, the idea behind Pomodoro is to work intensely for 25 minutes, then take a short break. Many students work under the misconception that a study marathon equates to success. But attempting to study for long stretches usually results in a less-than-stellar effort and a gradual loss of focus. By breaking the work into shorter bursts and taking the needed mental breaks, students can give their best effort.

Have a plan!

The most important tip of all is for students to plan out their exam study. While it does take a bit of extra effort to plan out a longer period of study for a test, the rewards of good scores and less stress are well worth the investment.


Growth Mindset and the SAT/ACT

“I’m not a math person.”

In all of my experience as a test prep tutor, this is one of the most common self-assessments I’ve heard from students. For better or worse, most students have already developed an expectation for themselves by the time they’ve reached high school, and it can be difficult to overcome. The primary challenge is that the student’s overall outlook needs to evolve into a growth mindset.

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Growth Mindset in the Mainstream

The idea of a growth mindset gained mainstream popularity with the book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck in 2006. In the book, Dr. Dweck shows how one’s mindset is the determining factor in a person’s overall success in life. The student who believes “I’m not a math person” is evidencing a fixed mindset. Many students working their way through school on all levels are laboring under the delusion that their way is fixed and there is no possibility for change.

On the other hand, a student with a growth mindset, while still potentially faced with struggles in math or other subjects, believes that they can work through the obstacles and come away better. On a wider scale, mindset can be a determining factor in whether a student sees herself or himself as an average student and persists at that level or a student sees their potential to grow and gain the skills necessary to succeed.

Exam Preparation with a Growth Mindset

In the exam preparation game, one of the biggest hurdles many students must clear early on is the idea that they can–and will–improve. A student who has gone through their educational career with a fixed mindset might see an initial score as an end. In my own experience, these are typically the students who look at a low categorical score on an ACT, for example, and respond with a proclamation such as “I’m bad at reading” or “I’m not good at math.”

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Huntington Can Help

At Huntington, our tutors work through the concepts a student needs to be successful on the test, but they also work to change a student’s mindset on the SAT/ACT when it comes to her or his own ability to improve. “I’m bad at math” becomes “I might still struggle with math, but I know I can work through it.” The result is not only an increased test score, but also an outlook on learning and success that will benefit that student in their academic career and beyond.


Why Is Spelling So Hard?

Whether we like it or not, the ability to spell words correctly is quickly becoming an art form. As literacy rates in the U.S. continue to decline, spelling skills go with them. Not to mention, literacy and its definition have gone through many changes throughout the years. As literacy used to be defined, it simply referred to reading and writing. Anymore, literacy skills encompass all forms of communication from reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

Therefore, many educators are still catching up with the changes and focusing their literacy lessons on reading and writing skills (grammar)–which is not a bad thing. But the skill of spelling is often left behind as the focus on other aspects of literacy get the main stage. This is caused by a few different phenomena. 

Death of Drill and Kill

Direct instruction used to be the go-to method for educators to teach their students. Direct instruction means lecturing and drilling. In other words, dumping information into students’ brains without checking for true and meaningful understanding. Traditional educators give spelling tests weekly, testing students on all sorts of higher-level and lower-level words. They give out a list, tell students to study, provide a test, grade the test, and move onto a new set of words. Very little time goes into actually teaching the students how to spell these words or why they are spelled as they are. This means that students have not been taught the morphological rules that go along with the English language. Which leads to more bad spellers.  

Greek and Latin Roots

If you were in school before the 21st century, Greek and Latin roots were your bread and butter in English class. Teachers valued their role in learning how to decode and describe words. Lately, the focus on Greek and Latin roots has diminished as teachers move toward a more holistic approach to teaching vocabulary. This wouldn’t be a problem, if Greek and Latin roots didn’t play a large role in our ability to read and understand words. With a strong knowledge of these root words (which are responsible for the creation of the English language and several other romantic languages) one can read, spell, identify, and describe nearly every word in the Oxford English dictionary. That is because the knowledge of one Latin root can help you understand close to 30 or 40 words. And once you understand words, spelling them becomes second nature. 

Less Reading – Less Spelling

Reading. The enemy of the English Language Arts instructor. Getting students to read in this social climate is like pulling teeth. Students don’t want to spend their valuable time reading books when they can be reading Instagram posts. The trouble with this is those social media posts often contain slang, jargon and expletives, which serve little purpose to students developing their reading and spelling skills. If you spend less time looking at, studying, and learning new words, the likelihood of replicating those words in your spelling goes right out the window. Luckily, the prescription is simple. Read more. 


The Day Before The Test

Tips for Preparing for the ACT and the SAT

Students preparing to take your official ACT or SAT in the coming days or months: have no fear. The day may be near, but Huntington is here to steer you clear of your woes and bring you cheer. Just a little rhyme to make you smile. I know it’s probably been a stressful time, but it’s important to maintain some level of sanity as you work through your exam prep programs and prepare for the big day of testing.

The day before your test is an important day as well. As you know, most students are in the habit of spending the day before a big test studying and cramming in any information they can. They stay up late drinking Mountain Dew and listening to heavy metal to pump them up. Or maybe that was just me. Regardless, there are some good habits (and far healthier habits) to get into the day before a crucial exam. 

To Study or Not to Study?

That is the question. Luckily it’s an easy question to answer. And the answer is definitely, absolutely, positively no. The day before your test is too late for studying. Your brain can only handle so much information in a window of time before facts and data start spewing out of your ears. For weeks you have likely been in input mode. You have been taking practice tests, reading through study guides, working with your tutors, and a number of other test preparations. Now that the test is here, it is time for output mode. You have done as much studying as you can. Put the books down and fight the urge to cram and freak out. 

The Most Important Meal of the Day

We have all been told for as long as we can remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this is mostly true. But if you’re anything like me you might find yourself too busy in the mornings to make breakfast. And that’s okay! But the day before your test is a really important day to make the time to sit down and have a nice breakfast. The great thing about living in 2019 and having instant access to the world wide web is the delicious and healthy breakfast recipes available everywhere. My favorite place to check out great recipes if Tasty. Here are some fast and healthy recipes to browse! 


Last, but certainly not least, is the concept of self-care. If you take anything away from these pre-test strategies, I surely hope self-care is the one. Mental health is extremely important. Especially in the fast-paced and stressful world we live in today. And a huge aspect of mental health is self-care, something not nearly enough people value. Self-care means taking the time throughout your week to put yourself first and take care of your needs. For me, this looks like a quiet bubble bath, a sheet mask, and some lavender essential oils. For others, this might look like a long jog, a coffeehouse with live music, or a relaxing nap. Any way you look at it, self-care will go a long way the day before a test, so take advantage of it and plan some much needed you-time.


Early Warning Signs

How to Spot When Your Child Needs One-on-One Tutoring

When your children begin the journey into schooling, a lifestyle change takes place. Kids go from playing and laughing to learning and growing. Often, this transition is met with some challenges. Especially when you come to find that your child has not reached the academic level they should be upon entering Kindergarten. Which is a very stressful event. 

Parents can often all agree that finding out your child is behind in school is one of the most difficult conversations to have about your 5 or 6 year old. They are at an age where we still view them as young, maybe even “babies” in some aspects. But, nevertheless, they are being judged and measured by adults on their reading, writing, and math skills. Much like other adults. 

If your child is behind from the get-go, starting a one-on-one tutoring program is a terrific solution. Here are some things to watch out for in your child’s early formative schooling years to ensure they are not in need of one-on-one tutoring. 

Fatigue or Lack of Endurance

Does your child seem tired or lazy during learning moments? Can they only focus for 5 or less minutes before they are giving up or throwing tantrums? These are clear indicators that parents should seek tutoring intervention. Endurance is a huge part of learning. Starting from the earliest days of Kindergarten to the tertiary years of college. If your child struggles with endurance, starting a regiment with a tutor can help build it. Your child will then get the opportunity to practice working for longer periods of time until, eventually, they become excited to sit down and read for 30 minutes. 


Indifference is the end of creativity. Indifference leads students to Mediocre Land where they catch a bus into I Don’t Care Anymore-Ville. Indifference is a virus that can spread in schools. If your child appears indifferent about their school work, this may be a sign that they could benefit from having a one-on-one tutor. Indifference generally blossoms from a lack of motivation or interest in the subject matter – two things that one-on-one tutors can help establish. Don’t let indifference be the blockade preventing your child from a full learning experience. 

Failing Grades and/or Assignments

The early weeks of a new school year are a great time to observe your child’s schooling behavior. Watch them as they work on their homework. See what strategies they use to study or stay organized. This can clue you in to how devoted they are to their classes. Because without devotion to your school work, failing becomes a more likely possibility. Failing early assignments or tests is a big sign that your child needs to seek one-on-one tutoring. Tutors don’t just teach content, they also teach tools. And students who find themselves failing can use these tools to grow and stay ahead of their coursework. 


Tips for Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Seniors of the world. This is the time. The time when you finally get to blossom out of your childhood shell and start taking steps into adulthood. For many of you, this time has been a whirlwind. You might have started a new part time job, gotten your own car, or enrolled in college credits. However you’re spending your time, these years will be held in your memory for many years to come. 

This is a very important transition in your lives. Especially those of you thinking about going to college. If college is on the brain, then you know how vital letters of recommendation are. No matter what school you hope to apply at, every college application is made stronger with these letters. So we compiled a list of tips that will help you in the process of attaining them. 

Choose the Right People

Letters of recommendation are a necessary part of any important application for a number of reasons. The most important of those reasons is because they showcase how well you have built your network in high school. Your network is the peers and colleagues you have gained in your formative years. This can be teachers, professors, counselors, or employers. In other words, people who have watched you work hard and seen the motivation you move through life with. Choosing the right people to write your recommendations is huge. 

Choose those you have known for several years and can speak to your accomplishments and character with accuracy. If those people hold important positions in educational settings, extra brownie points for you. These letters will notify college administrators of your work ethic, your drive, and your ability to succeed in the various ventures you pursue. So don’t simply ask a friend to write a nice letter about you. Ask a colleague or supervisor to write a letter describing the attributes you possess that make you a strong candidate for enrollment in your dream school. 

Choose the Right Discipline

As you know, college is the place where you get to branch out of the standard Gen Ed curriculum and onto more interesting subjects. You get to choose your own adventure and sign up for classes that feel meaningful to you or are aligned with your anticipated major. When choosing individuals to write your recommendations, go for those aligned with your subject area. If you plan to study biology in college, ask your biology teacher to write a letter. If your plans are to join the theater arts program, ask your most recent stage manager or director for a letter. Presenting letters that describe your achievement in your future area of study will surely strengthen your application. 

Provide All Necessary Information

The fatal flaw in requesting letters of recommendation is the failure to provide your authors with information about your academic career. Having written letters of recommendation in the past, I know how challenging it can be to write about a student when all your have available is their class schedule. When asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for you, be sure to provide any information that can help them map out an image of you. Provide your resume or CV. Give them access to your grades and test scores. If your have certifications of various sorts, provide those. Even giving your authors access to your extracurricular calendar can help them write a more encompassing letter. All of this information tells a story about you, a story that is only yours, so share it. 

Get the Ball Rolling Immediately

DO NOT WAIT TO ASK FOR LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION. These letters take time and energy to write, and often the people writing them for you have very busy schedules. So jump the gun on these letters. Create a list of possible authors and send them emails or visit their offices to speak about your letters of recommendation. It would be smart to make folders for each author containing the information listed above so you’re prepared in the event they accept your request. Once you have your chosen authors, don’t forget about them and move on with your process. Follow up with them weekly or biweekly to check on the status of your recommendations.


Starting the Semester Off Right

The Boise School District is gearing up to begin the Fall term for the 2019-2020 school year. This means parents are scrambling to buy school supplies, school clothes, and prepare for the schedule shift. With the incoming school year about a week away, students need to start getting in the mindset of school. The right mindset for school can include a lot of different things. 

Some students will let out a big “whoo-saw” as they prepare for upcoming stress. Others will spend every moment they can with friends. And some students might spend the next week in front of the TV letting their brains chill out before getting crazy. These are all great preparation techniques, but there are some tangible things that need to be taken care of as well. 

Plan Ahead

Most schools now use some kind of internet portal to keep students, parents, and administrators in the loop regarding a student’s progress in a particular class. These online portals are likely available for your perusing now. Start the peruse! Look at your teacher’s classroom page, read their profile, learn more about them. Take a look at their classroom portal and familiarize yourself with it. This will help you get a better idea of what your semester will look like and will help you plan for the upcoming school term. 

Develop a Calendar

Calendars are hugely important, especially for high school kids. By the time most students start high school, they are involved in some kind of extracurricular. Whether that is football, chess club, theatre, or band, lots of students have things going on outside of the school day. Create a calendar that accounts for everything you are involved in. Yes. This means including your classes, practices, meetings, driver’s ed, eating, homework time, family time, and friend time. Having one place where you keep everything going on in your week will help you stay on track. 

Organize Your Supplies

School supplies are super fun to buy. I remember getting so excited to buy school supplies every year. And I won’t lie, I still get excited every time I walk into Staples or Office Max. Supplies help us stay organized and keep our chaos under control. Since your supplies do so much to keep you organized, they deserve to be organized as well. Once you have purchased the supplies you will need, organize them so they can be as effective as possible. Build your class binders, label your dividers, individualize your notebooks. Do whatever you need to to keep your supplies organized so they can help you stay organized during the school year. 

Meet Your Teachers

I know, I know. This seems a little scary at first. Many students think the best time to meet your teacher is on the first day of school. But this isn’t really true. Meeting your teachers before the school year begins is really beneficial. Meeting your teachers gives you an idea what to expect from their class so you can prepare for the nuances assigned to it. Learn about their background, talk to them about their teaching style, discover the classroom rules and guidelines. Plus, teachers love to meet their students. The better your teachers knows you, the better prepared they are to teach you in a manner that is best for you. So don’t be afraid to send them an email, drop by with a coffee, or friend them on Facebook (if they allow it!).


How Many Times is Best?

Taking the SAT and the ACT

High school students all across the country are required to take college entrance exams. Whether those tests help them get into their dream school or get the full-ride scholarship they needed, these tests are very critical. The question that remains is: How often should one take the SAT or the ACT? A tricky question. 

When I was in school, I took each test once. I signed up for the test, showed up at my testing center, took it, then immediately forgot about it, and never looked back. This is not the ideal way to do things. Instead, taking these tests multiple times can actually increase your ACT and SAT scores in huge ways. Not only do you become more comfortable with the nuances of the test, you also practice working on similar questions before the pressure sets in on test day. 

Practice Test is Best

Always, always, always take a practice test. There are a number of ways to get access to both free and purchasable practice tests online and through Huntington Learning Center. Here at Huntington, we actually offer free practice tests to our students as they make their way through their program which leads to giant increases in scores. Practice tests help you learn the rules of a test and how to manage your time, so they become necessary for critical tests like the ACT and the SAT. Before taking your official test, try to take at least THREE practice tests to feel less stressed and more comfortable. 

What Score is Right for You?

Another factor to consider as you decide how many times to take these tests is the score that is right for you. Perhaps you want to get into an Ivy League college and need a nearly perfect score. Maybe you are going to a state college and need to meet a certain requirement for your program of study. Whatever the case, getting the score that is right for you should be your only goal. We advise our students to take the test three times in order to feel confident and proud of their results. Also, be aware of your potential school’s requirements. Some schools require that you submit your first official score, while others allow you to choose which scores you submit. Be aware of these rules. 


Many students have never heard of superscoring, but it can make a huge difference on your college applications. Only specific colleges accept these scores so do your research and see if you can take advantage of this opportunity. Superscoring is the process of combining your best scores from multiple tests to give you the best results. In other words, if you scored really high in math on your second attempt, really high in science on your third attempt, and really high in reading on your first attempt, you can take those separate scores and combine them into their own super score. This is HUGE for high school seniors. Take advantage of this. Take the test several times and pull your highest scores. It’s like walking through a grocery store and getting to pick out five free things, don’t miss this incredible opportunity!


The Power of the Practice Test

Important tests come up all throughout our lives. We have to take a test to go to Kindergarten. We have to take tests administered by our state to track our growth in elementary school. We take tests to get into college (and to stay in college). We even have to take tests before we can legally drive a car. Testing is a big part of life. 

Those of us who have taken many of these tests (in other words, the oldies) know the power of taking practice tests beforehand. Practice tests do so much for our official testing day. They can eliminate stress because we feel more prepared. They give us a baseline for upward growth. They will even tell us our strengths and our weaknesses. But that’s not all the practice test does for us. 

Secret Intel

If you’ve ever seen a spy movie, you know just how critical intelligence is for a mission. And I don’t mean intelligence like brain power. Although that is helpful as well. I’m talking about intel, as in information. Taking practice tests is the student’s version of secret intel. When we take a practice test, we discover many, if not all of the nuances to the test. We learn how much time you get for each section, what the questions will look like, and what to watch out for. 

This intel is then used to hone in our studying so we can focus on more crucial parts of the exam. For example, if during a practice test for the ACT you discover that you are performing low on the math section, you now have the intelligence to focus your studying efforts on mathematical strategies. The same goes for other content areas of the exam. If you know all of the road signs and the laws of the road, but can’t actually drive a car, your efforts should be spent behind the wheel. 

Practice Makes Pretty Good

Most people would say practice makes perfect, but I like to say you should never let perfect get in the way of pretty good. So in this case, practice makes pretty good. Striving for a perfect score on a test is like hoping your favorite shirt will fit you perfectly for the rest of your life. It’s just not realistic. However, practicing a test before you take it can significantly upgrade your scores. For instance, here at Huntington, students who participate in our exam prep programs can expect an average raise in their ACT score by 6 points and an average increase on their SAT of 200 points or more.  

Testing Skills

Taking practice tests also provides you with a priceless skill – test taking. Not all people have this, but those who do can pass tests in their sleep. That is because taking a test is an actual skill. And like all skills, it can be built and developed. Build your test taking knowledge by taking practice tests. This way, you learn about time management, elimination, choosing the best answer out of a bunch of good answers, and so much more. Practice tests prepare your brain for the real thing. And if your brain is prepared, so are you. Like good study habits, good testing habits will follow you all your life and help create a more positive outlook on learning and achieving. 


Setting Gears in Motion: Study Habits

School is a complicated place. There are students of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic levels. There are hundreds of rooms, a giant parking lot, a large sporting complex, lockers gallor, and so many people it’s hard to keep track. School is overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact, it can cause anxiety and stress for many students. Once the anxiety and stress sets in, the students check out academically and their grades suffer as a consequence. 

But schooling doesn’t have to be a complicated mess. It can have structure and routine. For example, having a steady study schedule that encompasses all of your classes can really help eliminate stress and make room for discovery. And creating a steady study schedule begins from day one of classes. Not halfway through the semester. If you are working on creating a solid study schedule, there are some pointers to keep in mind. 

Small Increments Beat Big Ones

Beware the cram session. Cramming has been scientifically proven, over and over, to be unsuccessful and to be debilitating for students. Cramming leads to almost zero retention and can cause further anxiety before a test. Instead of spending a large block of time studying, break your block into several small blocks. For example, instead of planning to study from 5pm to 9pm the night before the test, spend the week before the test studying in 20 minute spurts each day. As we all know, attention spans are generally quite small, so make sure you are catering your study time to your attention span. 

Visual Reminders

Sticky notes are a student’s best friend. Sticky notes help you keep track of your day and your calendar, as well as important details to remember. Sticky notes are excellent visual reminders to study. Stick one on your vanity or your mirror at home. Stick them to your school work. Trust me, if you see a sticky note five times a day that says don’t forget to study, you likely won’t forget. During college, I went as far as to stick my reminder notes on my food in the refrigerator to ensure I would see them. Girls gotta eat!

Another form of visual cues for studying is color coding. You can color code your sticky notes if you so desire. But color coding mostly refers to the methods you use for actually studying. If you are a visual person, use multiple colors of pens, pencils, or highlighters during your studying to categorize information. The colors act as a secondary means for retaining the information. If you remember what category the color represents, it can help you remember the material in the category. Next time you’re studying, color code your flash cards, your vocabulary terms, your math formulas, or anything else you are studying and see if it makes a difference for you. 

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Studying is not a sprint. It doesn’t happen over a small period of time. Studying takes months and months to truly perfect. And the American public school system doesn’t lend well to this. We only give our students a few months in a class before we switch things up. Which makes creating a study routine from the get-go even more critical. Your study routine might take some getting used to, but if you remain vigilant and consistent, it will come naturally to you and studying will become a part of your everyday routine. 

Once it becomes a part of your routine, you won’t have to stress over an upcoming test, because you have been slowly preparing for it for weeks. If you feel like a deadline for an essay is approaching rapidly, have no fear, your study routine has already given you time to outline and draft your essay. Now it just needs to be polished. Remember this next time you are assigned a big project. Plot out your study routine over the next few weeks until the due date. You won’t regret being ahead of the curve. 


Know Your Learning Style

Learning happens in many forms. We learn from our parents who instill values and culture. We learn from our teachers who encourage traditional education. We even learn from strangers about sociology and the way the world works. Learning happens all the time, all over the world. And it looks like a lot of different things. Learning takes place through trial and error, practicing or drilling, repetition, reading, and much more.  

Because learning is such a big part of our lives, it is important to understand the ways in which we learn best. There are four basic ways in which an individual can learn new information. Of course, there are versions of learning that encapsulate more than one of these styles. But generally, we learn best in very specific ways. 


If you are a visual learner, you learn best through representations. This could look like graphs, infographics, charts, and images. Visual representations provide the visual learner with important information in a format that is easiest to understand. Many of the visual learners I have encountered also possess photographic memories. Or the ability to take a snapshot of an image and remember its details. Many visual learners excel in the arts and have a proclivity for painting or drawing.


If you are an auditory learner, you learn best through sound. Sound is an interesting thing. Auditory learners can learn through podcasts, music, and even direct-instruction like lecture. Because these learners take in information through their ears, they excel in learning that gives them an opportunity to truly listen. College is a great place for auditory learners because courses at the university level are often lecture-driven. They can listen to the information and keep it in their long term memory for later recall. 


If you are a tactile learner, you learn best through touch. These individuals tend to have hands-on jobs as adults. Jobs like fixing cars, flying planes, or rewiring electricity currents in a home. Tactile learners excel in classes like mathematics when manipulatives are involved. They likely excel in classes like physics and chemistry where they perform hands-on experiments or lab work. Tactile learners have the ability to take things apart, learn about them, and put them back together. 


If you are a kinesthetic learner, you learn best through movement. An example of strong kinesthetic learners would be professional athletes. Kinesthetic learners like to move, and use their bodies to understand concepts and make connections. They do their best work when the learning prompt requires movement of some kind like learning stations or gallery walks. Some studies have also shown that kinesthetic learners perform better during work when they have the chance to move as well. Examples of this would be standing desks, yoga ball chairs, and treadmill desks. 


Creating a Culture of Mistakes

Mistakes are a big part of life and learning. Unfortunately, mistakes are also often connotated with failure or stupidity. Which is largely incorrect and simply horrifying for educators. When children make mistakes, especially during their formative years, these mistakes allow their brains to focus on what not to do. Or non-examples. Non-examples can be very powerful in learning for helping to establish a precedent and a baseline for development.

I remember the feeling I used to get as a student when I made mistakes. I was instantly de-motivated and lost the confidence to continue. This was likely due to the fact that I held myself to really high standards as a student, and truly still do. Mistakes were detrimental to me, not because they weren’t helping me learn, but because the culture surrounding mistakes was so negative. Changing that culture is necessary to shift the focus to self-efficacy and confidence. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong

Like me, many students are afraid to be wrong or make a big mistake. Mistakes aren’t thought of as accidents, or bad things that simply happen to you. Mistakes are thought of as decisions that individuals make through their own autonomy that leads to negative consequences. Which, in turn, makes mistakes the individual’s fault. This is not true. 

Mistakes are caused when our brain fails to create fissures, or spark synapses. And this is not our fault. When we are learning, we take in so much information all at once that details can often fall through the cracks. This is nothing to fear. It just means you need to practice the concept more and correctly in order to spark those missing synapses. 

Mistakes Lead to Learning

Mistakes are key to your learning. Without them, we have little idea about what not to do. And as we learned above, non-examples are powerful learning tools. When you make a mistake, your brain corrects the behavior or knowledge and begins storing the correct information. This can be made more difficult the longer we have practiced incorrect behavior or knowledge. Which is why mistakes in school are so critical. Your teachers can pick up on your mistakes, teach you the proper application, and begin guiding you down a journey of re-entering the correct knowledge in your brain. AKA – Learning!

Mistakes Help Track Growth

Growth and development are what all students strive for. Whether that is in a specific subject or culturally and socially. All students are looking for some amount of learning to occur and to be able to track that learning over a period of time, like a school year or a school career. Mistakes help educators keep track of that growth through formative assessments that clear up any confusion about what content is being stored and what content is falling through the cracks. Therefore, when we make mistakes, we can see them clearly in our growth cycle in the form of wrong answers on tests or incorrect usage of literary devices in essays. We can then use that data to determine what we have learned and how long it took us to learn it. 


Meet Our Teachers

Skyler is a verbal Exam Prep tutor and works in the Learning Center. Skyler loves to sing Broadway music and is obsessed with all things Disney. His favorite place in the world is Yellowstone National Park where he visits every year.

Cindy is a verbal Exam Prep tutor. She has had four joint replacements and sets off EVERY metal detector she walks through. She has also visited thirteen countries.

Kelly-Rae is a verbal Exam Prep tutor and works in the Learning Center. She enjoys crocheting in her free time and has a dog named Boots and a cat named Louisa May. She also loves reading Jane Austen novels.

Jameson tutors students in math and science, works in the Learning Center, and helps with Exam Prep. He can solve a Rubix cube in under a minute and plays the ukulele and the cello. He also used to be a student at Huntington.

Roy tutors students in math and science and helps with Exam Prep. He is a tango dancer and has studied sharks in South America. He loves to ride his bike all over Boise.


Meet Our Teachers

Elizabeth is a verbal Exam Prep tutor and works on the Learning Center. She has her Bachelor’s Degree in English and Psychology and has a Master’s Degree in English Literature. Elizabeth enjoys reading fiction and YA novels and loves word play and puns.

Clare is a math and science Exam Prep tutor and works in the Learning Center. She loves parasailing and zip lining and is a huge Civil War buff (she actually visited some of the battlefields). She is also a Day Trader and has a passion for the stock market.

Josh is a verbal Exam Prep tutor and works in the Learning Center. He lived in Alaska for four years where he studied linguistics, Spanish, and TESOL. He once had a job making a dictionary for several native Alaskan languages. He also loves to cook, bake, and play word games.

Kayley is a Learning Center teacher and taught Kindergarten for several years. She is a huge environmentalist who loves crafting and was born and raised in Chicago. She also has a baby named Luna.

Bob is a Learning Center teacher who taught Kindergarten for much of his career. He loves the outdoors and spends a lot of time camping. He is also very passionate about the Oregon Ducks and has many of their stickers on his car.


Strategies for Solving Word Problems

Math is often a dreaded subject in school. But the most dreaded aspect of math, in my opinion, is the word problem. The word problem is the intersection where math and English meet. Students who struggle in one or both of these subjects find word problems nearly unsolvable. Not because they are particularly difficult, but because they lack the language and comprehension skills to solve them. 

Without a basic understanding of math concepts and math grammar, word problems feel like stories that don’t have an ending, roads that go on forever with no turnouts, or gaping black holes. Fear sets in, anxiety builds, and those word problems turn into ugly green monsters. Suddenly, unsolvable is exactly what they are. The good news is, word problems have strategies for solving them, much like most math concepts students will encounter. 

Learning Keywords

Understanding keywords is a huge aspect of solving a word problem accurately. Keywords refer to the words or phrases employed in word problems that give you clues as to how to solve them. If you can understand what keywords are being used, it will guide you to the proper equation or formula to rely on to solve it. Here is a list of common keywords:

increased bydecreased by
ofper, ais, are, was, 
more thanminus, lesstimes, multiplied byout ofwere, will be
combined, togetherdifference between/ofproduct ofratio of, quotient ofgives, yields
total ofless than, fewer thanincreased/decreased by a factor of (this last type can involve both addition or subtraction and multiplication)percent (divide by 100)sold for, cost
sum, plusleft, left over, aftertwice, triple, etcequal pieces, split
added tosave (old-fashioned term)each (“they got three each”, etc)average
(“greater than”, etc)comparatives 

comparatives (“smaller than”, etc)

Understandings Units

More often than you might think, students answer word problems incorrectly because they don’t understand the unit of measure referred to in the problem. Often, word problems, especially those in more advanced mathematics, include multiple units of measure to trick students. This means that you not only have to know the units, you also need to be able to convert the units if necessary. Before you try solving the word problem, be sure you understand what the unit of measure is for your response. This will help clarify the necessary path to take to solve it. 

Set Goals

Understanding what the keywords are and what the unit of measure is for a word problem can help you set goals for solving it. Creating accurate goals is based on understanding what the word problem is asking you to solve. Once you have an understanding, you can then set goals with achievable steps to help work your way through the problem and find the answer. If you know what you are trying to achieve, taking the necessary steps toward achieving it is key. 

It’s like planning a meal. You need to have a time table, a recipe, and a menu. Think of your goals as your fancy dinner. What do you need to cook the food, serve the food, and eat the food? In other words, what is your goal for the evening? Or in this case, the word problem. 

Problem Solving Skills

We all know that problems can be solved in multiple ways. Easy ways, hard ways, long ways, short ways, and dangerous way. Word problems are similar in this regard. Like most skills in math, there are many different avenues you can choose from to arrive at the correct answer. Think outside the box. Try new things. Attempt multiples avenues for solving the problem and see if you end up with the same result. Use skills you have learned from other subjects like physics, history, economics, and more. The more options you have and the more skills you employ, the more likely you are to solve the problem in front of you and move on. 


Combating the Summer Slide

The summer is a great time for catching up on the things you missed during school. You can go camping and hiking and spend time with your friends or beat the video game that’s been sitting on your shelf for months. Some of our best memories are made during the summer months. However, the summer is also a great time to forget everything you learned in school. This is called the summer slide. 

Your teachers likely warned you about this on the last day of school. They hollered, “Don’t forget to keep reading and doing math so you don’t forget about them!” as you rushed out the door and towards freedom. These words probably rattled in your ears for a moment before falling to the floor and evaporating. But have no fear, combating the summer slide is as easy as playing a game or reading a fun book. 

Read, Read, Read

One of the more vital activities to do during the summer is reading. You can read chapter books, picture books, and even listen to audio books. The important thing is just to read. Reading helps build synapses in the brain that allow you to think critically, make accurate predictions, and understand the main ideas and theses of different books or articles. 

Reading is a skill that goes beyond simply learning to read words or understand vocabulary. It benefits your brain in many more ways than we know. If you find yourself forgetting the knowledge you worked so hard to build in school, start reading more books. Twenty minutes a day is all it takes!  

Attend Learning Camps

When I was a child, I attended a summer camp every year. Usually, they were sports camps, but I still got to learn a ton. Camp is where some kids make their most cherished memories. You can attend more academically rigorous camps like science camp, reading camp, or history camp. Or you can attend more active camps like adventure camp, outdoor camp, and boy/girl scouts. Either way, your brain is being active, is pumping knowledge into your long-term memory, and is retaining the information you learned in school. 

Play Learning Games

With advancements in technology and the accessibility of the internet, finding learning games has become easy. If you have access to a working computer, sign up for a fun, free learning game online. There are many resources that help channel learning into a fun and motivating game. If you like video games, there are games that allow you to complete learning tasks like missions. If you like colorful, playful games there are lots of options with fun stories and hands-on activities. All it takes is a quick Google search! 

Try New Things

This may not seem as obvious as the other three strategies, but trying new things and learning new hobbies is an excellent way to keep your brain working during the summer. When we try new things, we assimilate that information into our existing schema. This information is then stored and we can use it later in life with new hobbies. Hobbies help build skills like problem solving, tactile response, and muscle memory. All of which become helpful in classes like physics, chemistry, and even physical education. 


Setting Gears in Motion: Reading

Reading is an interesting subject. Some students love it while others truly despise it. Like math, some individuals possess strong reading skills while others fall behind rapidly. The problem with that is, most classes, if not ALL classes require some level of reading. Therefore, students who struggle with this skill find themselves falling behind in several subjects. Which can cause anxiety and lack of confidence. 

The good news is that reading is a skill that can be learned and developed. Much like most things in life, it just takes practice. Struggling in reading can feel crippling, so taking the necessary steps to enhance your skills at a young age sets you up for success in the future. And I promise, you will need to have some semblance of reading skills in your adulthood. 

Strategic Reading

Reading is similar to competitive sports. There is a strategy to it. Strategic reading requires comprehension, absorption, and retention. Comprehension means understanding what you have read. Absorption refers to finding some amount of joy from the reading. And retention requires the ability to memorize what you have read and recall it at later times. Once you have mastered these three elements of strategic reading, the rest comes easily. So make sure to pay attention to these strategies next time you pick up a book or news article. 

Inference vs. Fact

Many students struggle with understanding the facts in a reading as well as making inferences. These two things are vastly different. Facts are details in a book that are explicitly stated as true and important. Facts are not hard to find as they are often right in the reading. You don’t have to read between the lines to catch them. However, most students struggle with differentiating fact from opinion. 

Inferences differ from facts in that they are not implicit in the reading. Inferences require some level of critical thinking and measured prediction. An inference is a statement that can be concluded from the facts or moods of a text. For example, you can infer that a character will react badly to a certain circumstance if you have paid attention to the fact that they have poor impulse control and are emotionally immature. 

Finding the Main Idea

The main idea of any reading refers to the thesis, or the reason for reading what you have read. The main idea is often stated early in the text and referred back to several times throughout the reading. In most cases with nonfiction, the thesis or main idea is stated in the first paragraph. Or in some cases, the abstract. In fiction main ideas can be harder to spot but can be accurately guessed at if you study the number of times a particular thought was referenced. For instance, if the protagonist keeps referring to fate vs. destiny, this could be the main idea or thesis for the book. 


Building an extensive vocabulary is critical, not only in life, but in reading as well. Especially when we are young, we underestimate how important it is in adulthood to have the necessary tools to communicate what you need to communicate and to understand what others have communicated to you. This requires an in-depth knowledge of words and their meanings. Lucky for us, a strong vocabulary is easy to build.

You can have words of the day emailed to you from Webster’s. You can read books that challenge you. You can even read the newspaper and look up unfamiliar words to learn the meaning. When you learn a new word, work it into everyday conversations with folks around you. This will help with retention.


Meet Our Team

Jennifer Hovey, Owner


Jennifer was born in Twin Falls, Idaho and graduated from Boise State University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She comes from a family of teachers so a career in education was a natural fit. She has owned and operated Huntington Learning Center in East Boise for over six years and has enjoyed helping hundreds of students gain confidence through learning. Jennifer lives in Boise with her family, including three kids and a dog. Jennifer often works alongside her husband flipping houses in the Treasure Valley and enjoys watching her youngest daughter play softball and basketball. 

Emily Wilson, Center Director


Emily was born in Craig, Colorado and attended the University of Northern Colorado where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary English Education. She was taught by very passionate teachers in high school who engaged with their students and ultimately encouraged Emily to one day become a passionate teacher as well. Since then, she has taught 7th grade English and worked diligently to change her students’ perspectives toward school and help build their academic skills and character. Some of her favorite memories with long-term students are having the opportunity to watch them grow and progress over time. Emily loves to travel the world and has recently spent time in Ireland, France and Scotland. Along with her husband and her two dogs, Archie and Sloane, Emily enjoys doing anything outdoors including camping, hiking, biking and most recently, canoeing. She spends her free time reading both nonfiction to challenge her brain and fiction to stimulate her creativity.

Keleah Pinto, Assistant Director


Keleah was born in Redmond, Washington and attended Boise State University where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in English Composition. She is currently attending graduate school and is working toward earning a Graduate Certificate in Secondary Education with an endorsement in English Language Arts. During her undergraduate years, she worked as a Learning Assistant for ESL students from all over the world, including; Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Turkey, Spain and India. Keleah lives in Boise with her partner and their 130 pound Great Pyrenees, Cassius. In her free time, she enjoys playing Frisbee Golf at Ann Morrison Park, kayaking on Lucky Peak, and camping at the Bonneville Hot Springs. She also loves plays and volunteers in the Theater Arts Department at BSU as a backstage dresser.


What’s the Actual Problem?

When children are doing poorly in school, adults often jump to the conclusion that it’s only about their grades or their achievements in class. This is not always the whole story. A student struggling in school could be going through a lot of things. Things that are often hidden from the surface. 

As a student who went through a lot of emotional ups and downs during my formative years, I know this to be true. Students aren’t always simply struggling with the material or content. Often, they are falling victim to other issues that trouble young kids. 

Trouble in School


When a child is being bullied in school, this severely impacts their ability to be successful. Bullying often causes self-harm, depression, anger, and many other troubling things. All things that can negatively impact a child’s experience in the classroom or at recess. If your child is exhibiting signs of being bullied or is perhaps the bully, seek intervention from the school counselor. They are trained professionals and can offer additional resources to help stop the bullying. 


This impacts students far more than parents or teachers can know. There are approximately 12 million students across the United States who experience food insecurities. Many of these students can be found in rural areas as well as intercity schools. Malnutrition causes lack of energy and inability to focus and can lead to rapid grade decreases. It’s important for parents and teachers to know that if a child is struggling in school – it could be starting in the home. 

No Connections with Teachers

Having a teacher in school that you trust and respect can be huge. Especially for young children. If your child has not developed a positive relationship in their school, this can be very detrimental. Teachers are role models for their students. Without role models, kids can begin to make poor choices or go down rough roads. Help your child develop a positive relationship with a teacher in school. That way, if they are struggling, they have someone to talk to as well as someone to push them to work harder. 

Trouble at Home

Household Changes

Changes in the structure of a child’s household impact them much more than we know. Whether they are moving from their childhood home or their parents are going through a divorce, these changes have the power to impact a child’s performance in school. This makes those teacher connections even more important. Teachers who understand what changes are affecting their students can help prepare them for the changes as they approach. This is the same for parents. 

Income Changes

Changes to a families’ income status can also affect a student’s grades. If mom or dad gets laid off from an important job, this often leads to changes that students aren’t always prepared for. Be aware of how this might impact your kids and try to get ahead of it. Teachers – be on the lookout for students who aren’t assimilating well and offer strategies. 

Sibling Disputes

For single child families, this isn’t so much of a worry. But for families like mine (five kids and two parents), sibling disputes are a real issue. I fought with my sister all the time and this definitely impacted me at school. I found myself getting distracted by my emotions and getting behind in lessons. Watch how your children interact with each other and be sure whatever dispute they have doesn’t follow them to class. 

Trouble with Life

Anxiety or Depression

Students suffering from anxiety or depression have a high chance of failing classes. This is due to the emotional stress one is under when they go through what I call “emotional slumps” or the extreme lows. These disorders are not to be ignored. If you think your child may be experiencing symptoms of these common ailments, speak to a medical professional immediately. Get ahead of the emotional trauma and do what you can to ensure your child doesn’t get behind in school because of it. 

Fear of Failure

This one is all too real for the “perfectionist” student. These students love holding themselves to high expectations and pushing themselves to be the best. And there is nothing wrong with that – until they don’t reach those expectations. Fear of failure can result in lowered motivation and lack of confidence – two very devastating emotions. If you have a student who strives to be perfect, help them set realistic yet challenging goals. Teach them that failure is a key aspect of learning and success. 

Lack of Motivation

People often call these children lazy. The reality is that these students are likely focusing their efforts elsewhere. Maybe they are a tremendous soccer player, a top player in the world of Call of Duty, or a devoted humanitarian. No motivation in school is hard to get through, but it isn’t the end of the world. For teachers, offering incentives can be hugely helpful. Whether that’s a pizza party for a high class average on a test. Or a promise to have open computer time after a project. Incentives can be powerful tools when wielded responsibly. 


Setting Gears in Motion: Math

Math can be a difficult subject to master. Some people really struggle in their math and science classes while excelling in their humanities courses like English and History. This is likely due to the fact that math requires strong reasoning skills. If you possess these reasoning skills you are probably left-brained as opposed to right-brained which focuses on creativity.

For example, I am a strong right-brainer. My logic and reasoning skills fall short compared to my creative skills. I therefore have to work much harder at mastering mathematical content. This often lead to anxiety. If you’re like me, there are some key practices you can employ to develop logic and reasoning strategies.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book entitled Outliers which presented the argument that in order to master a skill, you must have 10,000 hours of practice. This may seem like a lot, but over a lifetime it isn’t so daunting. He emphasized the importance of practice. Practicing your craft is a huge step towards mastering it.

In math, practicing solving equations, working through word problems, and comprehending graphs greatly impacts your scores or grades. Practice is necessary to become good at anything. Take professional athletes as an example. They make loads of money practicing their craft. In their free time, they don’t lounge around or go on vacation – they drill, drill, drill. If you do the same thing with math, the mastery will follow.

Understand Your Errors

Like all things in life, it isn’t helpful to simply know you are wrong. You must understand why you are wrong to correct the behavior. It’s the same thing in math. If you make an error or mistake, you must understand why the mistake was made. You can then make necessary steps to change your thinking and correct the error to avoid making it again.

If you are making mistakes on your homework or course work, try taking a step back and understanding the concept. Once you have a full grasp of the concept, you can then break it down and learn how to solve the problem accurately.

Master, Then Move On

Some things come naturally to us. As babies, we naturally learn to crawl, then stand, then walk, then run. As adults, some of us have natural rhythm and dancing comes easy. This is like math as well. For some individuals, math concepts come easily and they can master them quickly and continue their way up the ladder into more challenging content. For most people, this simply is not the case.

It is important in math that you master concepts before moving on. Math skills build off of one another and become more challenging as you work. When you learn a new concept, practice it to mastery before moving on to harder problems. Failing to learn a skill before developing that skill further can lead to confusion and stress. Especially as you make your way into trigonometry and calculus. Start with a foundation, then build your walls, then top it off with a ceiling. You will be glad you did.


Helpful Tips for Applying to College

Applying for college is an exciting and nerve-racking experience. Most juniors and seniors spend months working on perfecting their applications. Although I warn students not to let perfect get in the way of pretty good. For some, these applications might determine what the next four to ten years of their lives look like.

For me, applying for college provided me an opportunity to better my life. I grew up in a low-income household and my brother and I were the first generation in my family to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree. I was immensely proud of this and often reflect on my application process with tremendous gratitude. Had I not utilized some of the resources available to me in high school, my life might have looked a lot different.

If you are a junior or senior getting ready to apply for college, remember to take advantage of your high school resources and get to know the departments available at your prospective school.

Speak with the Registrar’s Office

Every university and college in the United States will have a Registrar’s Office. The registrar can help you plan your application and learn about important deadlines. The registrar also works closely with the Financial Aid Department. Together, these departments help students apply for their intended program and pay for their schooling.

Often, registrar employees will be well versed in application requirements and can offer guidance. Prospective students should absolutely build their network in the Registrar and Financial Aid Departments. These departments are extremely knowledgeable and offer really sound advice.

Seek Support for your Essay

Many students applying for college will need to complete an entrance essay. This essay details why they want to go to college and what they have planned for their education and career. For some students, the essay is the most difficult aspect of applying. Whether they lack confidence in their writing or speak English as a second language, some students really struggle with this portion of the application.

If you find the essay portion challenging, seek help at your local university’s writing center. Sometimes the local library will even offer writing workshops for free to library members. If your high school has a writing club, try reaching out to them to get feedback on your essay. Writing is a collaborative process and including as many people in the process helps improve the end product.

Meet with your Guidance Counselor

Another resource that often goes underutilized is the high school guidance counselor. These staff members are trained in the art of applying for college. They are well versed in financial aid procedures, scholarship opportunities, and university searches. If you haven’t selected your prospective schools, guidance counselors can help narrow down the list. If you know what school you want to go to, but don’t know how to apply, work with your guidance counselor to determine the school requirements.

Not only are these individuals terrific resources for your applications, they often help students ease the stress and tension that comes along with it. Like your teachers, guidance counselors are there to help you succeed. Call your high school’s front office and schedule a meeting with your guidance counselor. You won’t regret it!


Learning Center Benefits for Young Children

Huntington is most commonly known as a place for high school students to prepare for college entrance exams. Huntington’s exam prep program is so successful that most people think this is all we do. Well, I am happy to tell you that these folks are wrong. We are more than just an exam prep program – we also work with young students on fine tuning their elementary level skills to prepare them for school.

Our Learning Center is a place for children as young as Pre-K age to develop cognitive skills and get excited about the upcoming school year. We prepare students in areas like phonics, letter recognition and formation, and early mathematics. Our Learning Center professionals are often trained teachers with years of experience in Kindergarten and other early education programs. They love working with young kids and enjoy being a positive role model of proper schooling behavior.

There are several ways in which your youngin’ can benefit from using our Learning Center right from the get-go.

Prepare Them for Elementary

Many students enter Kindergarten without having had a prior preschool experience. Which can be detrimental to those kids who might be considered behind in their development. Our Learning Center offers these students a chance to practice their Kindergarten skills and concepts while also preparing them for elementary.

Elementary is a huge step. We know this. Parents cry as they say good-bye to their Kindergarteners on the first day of school. And Kindergarteners worry about how their first day will go. With help from the Learning Center, these parents and students can feel more confident that the first day of school will be a success. Not only because your little ones have memorized all their letters or can do basic arithmetic, but because they have had experience in a formal learning environment.

Teach Them Schooling Cues

The rules that go along with being a student are often referred to as the “grammar of schooling.” These hidden rules that students learn in their early schooling experiences can shape how they will behave in school for the years to follow. For instance, if your child never learns to walk in a straight orderly line, they may find themselves getting in trouble or being embarrassed that they never learned the proper way to walk in a line in the halls.

Our Learning Center teachers not only fine tune your child’s cognitive receptors, they also teach students this grammar of schooling. Learning Center teachers promote learning position, listening ears, walking quietly and safely and all sorts of hidden elementary rules. Make sure your child is prepared for both the academic challenges ahead, as well as the social challenges.

Get Them Excited About Learning

Last, but certainly not least, our Learning Center teachers help get early education students excited about school. Our fun and effective curriculum offers young students an opportunity to move around, practice their writing, color and other exciting things kids love doing. Rather than simply working in a book or using flashcards, Huntington has an array of learning materials available to stimulate young minds and make learning more appealing.

If you think our early education programs could be beneficial for your kiddo – give us a call and schedule a free academic evaluation today and start the process of turning your child into a well-rounded student!


Helpful Testing Strategies

College entrance exams have long been feared by high school students. And for good reason. Standardized tests are important in creating trends amongst American students. But there is a general consensus that these exams are actually quite difficult for the average kid. Why you might ask? Because tests like the SAT ask high school students to answer college-level questions. This makes the questions much harder for students who have not prepared properly. If you are a high school student and you don’t feel prepared for your upcoming SAT or ACT, there are some helpful testing strategies you can employ during the exam to increase your chances of choosing correct responses.


No, I don’t mean dash out of the testing room and never look back. DASH is an acronym that stands for Determine Always, Sometimes, Hardly Ever. This testing strategy can be used to separate questions into ones you can always answer accurately, can sometimes answer accurately, and can hardly ever answer accurately.

Before you start a section, mark your questions with A, S or H. Then do all of your A questions first, your S questions next and your H questions last. That way you are spending more time on questions you can answer correctly. After all, these tests only grade you on correct responses, not incorrect ones.


HAT stands for the Huntington Alternative Technique which can be utilized during verbal sections of your tests. Verbal sections include reading and writing questions. Step one is read. Read the passage, the paragraph or the sentence first. Step two is proof/predict. After reading the sentence, paragraph or passage, look for errors that stand out to you. Proofread as you go. Then you can predict what the correct answer might be.

Step three is apply. Once you have proofread and made your prediction, you can look over the answer choices. Apply your prediction to its closest available response. Your ears are used to picking up inaccuracies in language. Trust your instinct and your ear, but back up your instincts with grammatical facts to ensure you choose the correct answer.

Primary vs. Secondary Questions

This testing strategy can also be applied to reading passages. Passages will appear in almost all of the sections of your exams, so pay special attention to them. Primary questions can be answered using the text. These are fact-based questions. The answer will be written in whatever passage the question relates to.

Secondary questions are inference-based questions. Rather than the answer being included in the passage, you must guess, using reason, at what the answer might be. This is called an inference. You are making predictions about the text based on the information provided in the passage. Secondary questions are generally harder to answer.

The last testing strategy you should consider is preparation. Huntington Learning Center has long served the community with terrific exam prep programs. We have seen student scores increase tremendously after working with our tutors and we don’t expect this trend to change. If your child needs exam prep for their college entrance exams, don’t wait until it’s too late. Sign them up today for a free academic evaluation by calling 208-331-9020!


Is 1-1 Tutoring Right for Your Child?

School is a jungle. For young kids, this jungle can be tricky to navigate. So tricky, in fact, that many students lose their way. Parents know just how tough that can be. No one wants to sit around and watch their children struggle. But parents don’t have to feel alone. Resources like Huntington Learning Center will continue to offer 1-1 tutoring to students who have nowhere else to turn.

Tutoring has become much more common since the 1980’s as academia has risen in importance. With advancements in technology happening almost daily, students need to be more diligent about their studies to avoid falling behind the curve. School is getting harder. Tests are getting more in-depth. College is more difficult to get into. If your child is struggling in school at an early age, bring them in for tutoring. The benefits are numerous.

Learning Preferences

1-1 tutoring is most beneficial because it allows students to learn based on their own preferences. Unlike school classrooms where teachers must cater to multiple learning styles at once, tutors can individualize more. What your child needs, the tutor can provide. What they are lacking in school, the tutor can supplement.

So if your child is struggling in physics because there are 25 kids in the class and the teacher can’t provide them with individualized support, join Huntington and we will set them up with an experienced physics instructor. If your child can’t seem to comprehend their reading homework, a Huntington tutor will be there to guide them. What’s more, tutors will guide them using a completely unique path that works effectively for your student’s needs.

New Material

1-1 tutors also focus on new material. Unlike teachers who must work through a curriculum at a steady pace and meet time management goals, tutors can focus on new material for as long as the student needs. If the teacher had to hurry through a lesson, the tutor can slow it down. If your student fell asleep during a lesson, the tutor can get them up to speed.

Some people think tutors only work on materials from class. But tutors can also offer fresh insights and new outlooks on material that you previously thought you had learned. Tutors can choose to build off of pre-existing material or try out new material for size. They can deepen your understanding and offer entirely new understandings.

You Get The Choice

You can’t choose your brother or sister. You certainly can’t choose your mailman. And you can’t choose your teachers. Some people are put into our lives without our thoughts or opinions. Tutors are not like this. If you don’t vibe with your tutor, you can choose to get a different one. If you tutor’s schedule doesn’t work with yours, you can choose to work with someone else. The choice is entirely up to you.

This presents the opportunity for a more individualized learning approach. Tutoring allows students to take control of their learning destinies. It gives kids a sense of autonomy and confidence. Students who attend tutoring regularly often have a more positive outlook on learning. They are motivated and responsible and prioritize their educations.  

Don’t wait until your child is failing to find them a tutor. When you see the signs that they are falling behind, seek a tutor immediately. Don’t make room for the struggle to thrive. Pinpoint the struggle and obliterate it with knowledge.


Supporting Your Child During Tutoring

As parents, it is your duty to support your children. When they are young, you do this in more concrete ways. You buy them clothes and food and you shelter them from harm. And in less concrete ways. You foster their moral character, you demonstrate values and ethics and you teach them important life lessons. Parents are teachers, too. This means parents can be helping their children through their tutoring journey just as much as the teacher.

Tutoring is not a one-stop shop. It’s a marathon that takes time and effort. For some kids, this journey is a few months long. For others, it can be years. Then, there are those who view learning as a lifelong process that never ends. For children, tutoring is an important step in their educational process. Especially if they’re falling behind in a specific subject area.

If you have a child in tutoring there are some crucial things you can do to facilitate their learning experience and ultimately make it a more successful one.

Be the Tutor at Home

Tutoring doesn’t have to end when you walk out of the learning center. When you’re at home, encourage your children to practice new lessons from tutoring. If they just had a math lesson on conversions, let them help you convert a recipe in the Metric system to the Imperial system. If they are seeking a tutor for writing, watch movies with the subtitles on to encourage creativity and develop a sense of story structure. Continually engage your children in their curriculum and they will learn better. In addition, they will see the connections between school and life.

Give Them Breaks

We know that learning makes children tired. The brain becomes exhausted after a day of taking in new information and meticulously sorting through it. Which is exactly what students do in school. If your child is showing symptoms of mental exhaustion, including; 1) Low energy; 2) Irritability; 3) Lack of interest in physical activity; or 4) Repetition of words or stories, allow them a break. Everyone gets exhausted, including adults. Take care of your child’s mental health first and foremost.

Talk to Them

Huntington Learning Center stands out from other tutoring centers because of our connection with our students and parents. This connection is cultivated through close relationships with the families we serve. We communicate constantly and want parents involved in the process as much as possible. This should be the case between students and parents as well. Parents, talk with your children about their tutoring. Ask them what they are learning and what they find helpful. Make sure you know what is going on in their sessions. Communicate with the tutors one-on-one. Teachers want to have strong relationships with parents. This is essential for growth and partnership.

Tutoring can feel isolated if you let it. Become more involved in the process through communication and partnerships. Parents, partner with the tutors. Students, partner with the center. Parents, partner with your kids. Before you know it, progress will prosper within your students and you will both notice the difference in school.


Test Anxiety and the SAT/ACT

As you know from Preventing Test Anxiety During Final Exams, test anxiety is a leading scholastic impairment in students. This is likely due to the crushing pressure students find themselves under to succeed. Test anxiety becomes an even bigger concern during times of high stress. Taking the SAT and the ACT certainly counts as one of these times.

For many students, these college entrance exams will determine the next four years of their lives. They are not to be underestimated. And they therefore come with a lot of emotional baggage. Extreme emotions can be detrimental to tests scores, so managing them comes with practice.

SAT/ACT Test Prep

Test prep will be the biggest contributor to increased tests scores if you choose the correct method. Nowadays, there are several options. Some students prefer an online experience where they can study from anywhere. Others, like those who use Huntington Learning Center’s Exam Prep programs prefer a one-on-one learning experience.

Either way, finding a program that fits your mode of learning will significantly improve your chances of scoring in higher percentiles. If you feel confident in your studying, your test anxiety will lessen.

Know the Test

When I was a senior, I went into the SAT completely unaware of what the test actually looked like. I didn’t know what the testing conditions were. I didn’t even know how long the test would take. Because of this lack of information, I scored lower than I wanted.

Before you take your test, talk to your guidance counselor about your exam. Ask all the questions you need to. Ask for a practice test. Do some research. Knowing the test will help you prepare for the big day. And preparation is key to eliminating test anxiety.

Practice in School

Practice makes perfect. We know this to be true. Well maybe not the perfect part, but practice make preparedness for sure. When you have tests in school, start setting personal timers to practice time management. Incorporate testing strategies like elimination with multiple choice questions.

There is no such thing as being over prepared. Start practicing the nuanced skills needed to achieve success on your SAT or ACT now. Don’t know what these nuances are? Do your research. Call Huntington at (208) 331-9020 and schedule exam prep sessions with a tutor today. These knowledgeable teachers will help you better understand what you can expect.  

Test anxiety doesn’t have to limit your success. If you plan for your test, know what to expect, and practice testing strategies you can achieve the scores you need to attend your dream school.


College is Coming

College: that elusive thing that students dream about and parents fear the debt of. The place where children go to become adults. The promise land. Well, sort of. College is a promise land of sorts because it opens a doorway to potentially bigger and brighter futures. But, if you’re not prepared for college, it can feel like just the opposite – a waste land where dreams go to fall by the wayside.

Thankfully, college doesn’t have to be a waste land if you know what to expect and how to prepare yourself for reality. If you’re entering high school in the Fall, start thinking about college now. Begin to gather ideas about where you might go, what you might study, whether or not you think you will need financial aid and everything in between. You don’t necessarily need to have answers to these questions yet, but formulating on them is never a bad idea.

College Readiness Timeline

To make it easy, we have created a timeline that breaks down your college readiness steps in one place:

Sophomore Year

  1. Ask your counselor about the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and AP courses available at your school.
  2. Next, plan and set your goals for the future. Talk to your school counselor about your talents, schools that might appeal to you, and what you can realistically afford.
  3. Begin preparing for your PSAT in the summer months.

Junior Year

  1. First, register and study for the PSAT which will take place in October. This test will determine your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship.
  2. Attend College Fairs to speak with school representatives and learn about the application process and requirements for colleges you are interested in.
  3. Begin your SAT and ACT Test Prep with Huntington to develop your test-taking strategies.
  4. Determine when the SAT and ACT Test Dates are and what tests your favorite schools require.
  5. Then, develop a list of 20 preliminary schools that are of interest to you. Then, get more information about them from your guidance counselor.
  6. Investigate scholarship and financial aid opportunities.
  7. Take a deep breath and take your ACT, SAT, AP and SAT Subject Exams.
  8. Request catalogs and Application Forms from your list of preliminary schools. Schedule visits during the summer months.
  9. Retake the ACT/SAT if you’re not pleased with your score.

Senior Year

  1. Narrow down your preliminary list of schools from 20 to 5-7 final selections. Choose at least one “safe” school to which you are confident of being admitted.
  2. Ask your teachers for letters of recommendation that will accompany your college applications.
  3. Complete your FAFSA and other financial aid applications available through your guidance counselor.
  4. Send in all of your Early Action/Early Decision applications between November 1st and December 1st.
  5. Submit regular deadline college applications and financial aid and ensure your high school sends the necessary transcripts.
  6. Check the mail for decision letters through April.
  7. Happy Graduation!


The SAT and the ACT: How Do They Differ?

If we took a poll of the United States and asked Americans if they know the difference between the SAT and the ACT, I imagine that less than 20% of people would know. Which is quite odd considering these tests are taken by nearly every high school student in our country and are required by nearly every college. In order to clear up the confusion surrounding these tests, allow me to explain the small nuances between the two.


The SAT, perhaps the most commonly known test, is far more difficult than the ACT. For starters, this test asks students to use college-level thinking in order to have success. That means that every passage the student reads and every question they encounter is above a high school level. This college entrance exam also uses a certain amount of trickery to fool students into choosing the incorrect answer. They put in choices that seem correct, but are actually wrong. I know that seems totally unfair, but the SAT allows colleges to imagine how you will succeed in your tertiary education by testing you on university level critical thinking.

This test also takes much longer to complete, giving you more seconds per question to figure out the correct response. To some students, this alone is enough to sway them to take the ACT, a much shorter test. However, with the increase in time it takes to complete the test comes the increase in time it takes to answer each question. After all, they are much harder questions.

Lastly, the SAT is most commonly used in public schools for sophomore and junior year students. Sophomore year, public schools require all students to complete an initial practice test (or PSAT) which then goes on to mean virtually nothing in terms of the National Merit Scholarship. Then, junior year, students are required to take what I refer to as their “official” PSAT. This PSAT is important because the scores can be submitted to the National Merit Society for scholarship recognition. Which, by the way, is a huge deal for any student who desires to go to college.


It is similar to the SAT, with a few important differences. The ACT, unlike the SAT, has a science section. This has been known to scare off a lot of students. However, it’s important to understand that this so-called “science” section is more like a reading section. The science section asks you to read scientific passages and answer questions relating to that passage. It also tests your ability to read tables, charts and graphs and answer questions related to them. So have no fear – the science section is not solely testing your knowledge of chemistry, biology or physics.

Secondly, the ACT is widely considered to be the easier of the two tests, despite the scary science section. Rather than testing students at the college level, the ACT tests students on their ability to recall information learned in high school. This means that the SAT reading passages might be more appropriate for the voracious reader. And the ACT reading passages can be related to normal high school material or at least material that your high school student can more easily maneuver.

It’s important to note that despite the clear differences between these tests, most colleges and universities will accept either the SAT or the ACT. Please remember to look on your chosen schools application requirements page to ensure they don’t recommend submitting certain scores. After all, you don’t want to submit your ACT scores to a school that prefers SAT scores.

I know it seems daunting now, but taking both tests has become much more popular than it used to be, so look into test prep opportunities for both exams and increase your chance of getting the scores you want. Give us a call at 208-331-9020 for a practice ACT or SAT!

ACT Reading Gets Graphs

Starting in 2021, the ACT will join the SAT in featuring graph questions in its reading portion. Students must use the table or graph accompanying a text to answer an Integration of Knowledge question.

What are graph questions?  Such questions ask test takers to draw conclusions from the graph or connect the data to the text. Reading and writing oriented students may groan when they hear that math questions are leaking into the verbal portion of the ACT. The silver lining, however, is that generally there is only one question per figure.

Here is an example of a graph question a student may see:

The title of this grouped bar graph tells us purpose and main idea of the information presented. The vertical y-axis shows, on average, how much a gift is appreciated, while the horizontal x-axis compares the ‘giver’ versus the ‘recipient.’ An astute student will note the differences between giver’s opinion on gift prices and the recipient’s opinion on gift prices.

Strategies for Graphs

Here are some helpful tips and tricks to know before tackling a graph question.  First, note whether the graph provides information about percentages or numbers.  For example, if the y axis of a line graph displays percentages of people, an answer that says ‘a greater number of people’ would be incorrect.  Whenever numbers versus percentages is present, the test makers will be sure to present misleading answers to trick careless students.

Another piece of advice is to separate the important data points from the unnecessary ones.  A table may provide dozens of numbers, but often only one column or one row is relevant to the question.  Careful discernment can simplify an otherwise daunting chart.

Practice with finding facts and gathering inferences in reading, in addition to solving graph questions in math, will make ACT students an expert at answering graph questions in reading passages.