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.


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

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

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

Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash

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!


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.