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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!

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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!

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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!

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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. 

Photo by Barry Zhou on Unsplash

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.

F.

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.

Photo by Ivan Shilov on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Victor Kwashie on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

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.

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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.