What your junior can do in December to prepare for college

If your teen is a junior, you are probably already overwhelmed with a lot of information coming from your teen’s school, neighbors, friends who have kids and maybe even your workplace. With that information overload, it can be hard sometimes to prioritize and stay on top of things. I want to make sure that you don’t get left behind in this process. 

Here are some things that you can do right now in the month of December. 

Researching Colleges 

The first action item would be researching colleges in order to learn whether or not that college is a good fit for them. When they find ones that are a good fit, they will likely thrive in terms of their years in college and that’s what we want for them. 

I’ve mentioned before the five areas of fit which are: academic, social, financial, vocational and cultural fit (You can refer to my previous article on fit here ). 

Decide Which Test They will Take 

The second thing they can be doing in the month of December is deciding which test they’re going to focus on –  the SAT or the ACT. Some states have one particular test as a graduation requirement, for example in Ohio, it is the ACT. However, many students still take the SAT because that’s the test that they favor. Taking both tests is actually no longer required. 

When students are taking both just for the sake of taking both, not only does it waste money, but it wastes time as well. I recommend that students focus on the one that’s best for them, which could even be based on the schedule or availability. Whatever it is, just focus on one test because colleges will take either one, there’s no need to do both. 

After they decide which test to focus on, they need to decide how they’re going to prepare. The month of December is a great time for them to prep for the test they’ll be taking. I usually recommend at least 6 to 12 weeks of prep time. 

 

      Read more about preparing the for test

 

Read a book for pleasure during winter break

There is plenty of research to support why teens should continue to read (and why they don’t do it, as well). Becoming a real reader can improve your teen’s vocabulary, make them a better writer, help them get into college, and enlarge their breadth of understanding of the world around them.  Click here to learn more

But did you know that one of the most commonly used prompts for college admissions essays is “Tell about a book you read for pleasure and why it should be required”?

 

So how can you get your teen to read during their “downtime?”

 

One resource I highly recommend is  Real Ballers Read – a popular Book-stagram with podcast interviews and other literary fun for teens from near-peer mentors. This is a great place to help your teen find a book to read during the winter break.

These are the important action steps that your junior can take during the month of December – researching colleges, determining which test they’re going to focus on (and how they will prepare for the test), and reading a book for pleasure over winter break. Starting this process now, as opposed to waiting until the new year, will make sure that your teen is on track and not feeling behind and rushed as we get into the spring. 

 

For more help with navigating junior year, sign up to receive my FREE College Prep Toolkit. This resource includes my Junior Year Roadmap, so you and your teen will know what they should be doing each month. 

Preparing for the SAT or ACT

Your teen has taken the practice tests and knows which one best represents their abilities. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part…preparing for the test. Keep reading for my top tips for preparing for the SAT or ACT. 

 

Preparing for the Test 

 

Independent Study

There are a number of ways that students can prepare for either of these tests. Whether they’re taking the SAT or the ACT, they could get a test prep book from the library or from one of the testing agencies to study on their own. I’ve had a number of students who are more disciplined and study on their own. I would recommend that they spend a specific amount of time going through the book and doing the practice tests. They should be going through the different sections of the tests and even on occasion, maybe on the weekend, sit down and go through the entire test for the amount of time of the real test. This extra step can help ensure they are prepared. Again, If your teen is disciplined in that way, that’s a great approach. 

 

Online Programs 

Another way to prepare is using an online service. My son used an online program and that helped him stay on task. The online program provided the practice test and scoring as well so he could see how he was doing. There were also video modules that complemented the material and practice that he was doing. It worked out very well for him and helped him improve his score. There are a number of these different automated online programs available. 

 

Getting a Tutor 

The third approach, which could be a bit more expensive, is getting a tutor. For a number of my students hiring a tutor was the best approach. You can receive tutoring either individually or in a class setting. This is also a great way to ensure that your teen is being held accountable. 

One of the things I want to encourage you to do if you decide to go that route is to interview the tutor. Below you will find some questions that I prepared for interviewing tutors. When it comes to working with a teacher or tutor, some of that learning comes through being able to connect with them. By interviewing the tutor, you can ensure they are a good fit for your family. 

Before interviewing the tutor your teen should first ask themselves a couple of questions. The first is determining how they learn best: would having a one-on-one tutor or a tutor in a class setting allow them to learn best? They should also identify why they need a tutor. 

 

When interviewing the tutor possible questions to ask: 

  • How will you measure your student’s progress throughout their session together? 
  • What kind of homework will they do in between sessions? 

 

(This will allow your teen to plan their schedule and make sure that they have the right expectations around what they should be doing in between time because not only will they be preparing during sessions but also between their time together.) 

 

  • Can you provide a demonstration of a typical session? 

For example, if they have a difficult math homework problem from school can they share it with the tutor and then have the tutor demonstrate how they would explain solving that problem? That can be a way to ensure that the tutor’s teaching style aligns with your teen’s learning style.

 

  • What kind of training have you  had in terms of tutoring?

I know a lot of tutors do professional development. Many of them take the test themselves to make sure that they understand what their students are going through. 

 

Some other questions that parents should also consider would be their cancelation policy, how much they charge, their availability over the holiday break and also asking for references from other parents. By talking with other parents you can get a good sense of how that tutor works, learn about how they engaged their students, as well as their test score results. 

 

If a tutor says they usually help their students get a certain increase over their practice score, then that may give you some indication around their success. Of course it may vary with your own teen. I wouldn’t set the expectation of going from a 22 to 30, but at least getting a sense for how they’re going to engage with your teen. Also, check to see how they will follow through on checking in on the student’s progress between sessions. 

 

If you decide to use a practice book or an online course, then certainly it could be similar in regards to finding out about the best book or program for your teen by reading about past success stories. Any case studies or testimonials available online would be a great resource to check out. 

 

At the end of the day, it’s going to be a two-way street in terms of your teen participating and doing the work. You don’t want to make the investment if they’re not going to follow through on their side. However, if they do follow through they really can achieve those great results. 

 

Have you signed up to receive my FREE College-Prep Toolkit? It includes a Junior Year Roadmap to help you navigate junior year and to know what your teen should be doing each month to stay on track. 

Get ahead and stay ahead! Get my FREE Toolkit.

3 Reasons Why Taking the SAT and ACT Might be a Waste of Time and Money

taking both sat and act is biggest mistake

This article was originally published on February 20, 2017, and was updated in 2019.

When parents tell me their children are taking both the SAT and the ACT, my response often shocks them…

“Really? What a waste of time and money!”

On their own, the SAT and ACT aren’t a waste of time or money. But taking BOTH the SAT AND the ACT isn’t the right choice.

In fact, this ends up costing you way more money and taking up more time than it’s worth.

Preparing for college can be hard enough without the extra pressure of preparing for multiple entrance exams.

I wrote this article to not only help your teen avoid some of this stress – but to save valuable time and money, too.

Here are three reasons why taking both the SAT and ACT might be a big waste of time and money:

1. Colleges accept either test

Colleges don’t prefer one over the other! Yep – it’s true.

Decades ago, some colleges required the SAT while other colleges required the ACT. This meant college-bound teens in the 80’s would take either the SAT or the ACT based on where they were applying.

Now, college-bound teens can focus on taking the test that’s best for them because all colleges will accept both the SAT and the ACT – great news for high school students who have enough on their plate already!

2. Teens usually perform better on one test

Rather than taking both tests, I suggest students stick with the test that’s best for them. (More on choosing the right test later…)

Why?

It’s likely the score on one test will be higher than on the other.

Now you might be asking, “but won’t I want to be able to choose the better of the two results?”

But here’s the thing: some colleges request ALL test scores.

In those cases, a student may not want to reveal all of their results!

The best way to avoid sending unfavorable test scores is to take the test that will yield the highest score for the individual student.

3. Taking both tests takes too much time

Let’s say your teen is planning on taking both the SAT and the ACT. They also want to retake one or both tests.

There isn’t enough time!

The testing calendars don’t easily accommodate taking each test more than once.

A high school junior who’s planning to take both tests twice during 11th grade could have a testing schedule that looks something like this:  

6 weeks of SAT prep

November – Take first SAT

January – Retake SAT

6 weeks of ACT prep

April – Take first ACT

June – Retake ACT

You know what I think when I look at this testing schedule?

Junior year is far too important to the spend majority of time prepping for standardized tests!

Don’t you agree?

And don’t forget about the SAT II

Your teen might also have a couple of colleges on their list that request 2 SAT Subject Tests.

The 20 available SAT Subject Tests are also referred to as SAT II — and they’ve only been around since 2005.

College Boards write the SAT Subject Tests AND the Advanced Placement exams. So, when students take an AP course, they’re preparing not only for the AP exam, but also for a similar SAT Subject Test.

If a student has AP exams in May, they’d be better off forgoing the May SAT and taking 2 SAT Subject Tests in June instead.

How to decide between the SAT and ACT

Ultimately, decisions about when to take the SAT or ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests must make sense for the teen’s test-taking abilities and college list options. That’s why doing your research ahead of time and getting to know both tests is essential.

And plenty of help is available for this process.

To discover whether the SAT or ACT would be the right choice (and how to ace either one!), don’t miss these articles:

What sophomores must know about the SAT and ACT
Best tips for Acing the ACT or SAT
When to Retake the ACT

Need a little more guidance?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college click here.

What sophomores must know about the SAT and ACT

High school sophomores are in a great position to make the most of the college admissions process. 

All colleges accept SAT and ACT for college admissions.

Now that the transition to high school is over, sophomores can be involved with those extra-curricular activities that matter to them, develop relationships with teachers just because, and use the summers to explore their own interests. Sophomore year is also a great time to plan for testing, either the ACT or SAT.

Will you score higher on the SAT or ACT?

If you know the answer to this question, then you’re already ahead of the class. Whichever test yields your higher score is the one to focus on in the upcoming months.

If you don’t know which test you will score higher on, then you have a couple of options. One, you can take an SAT/ACT Comparison test. Students can take a comparison test themselves to get an idea of their score for each test. I suggest that students simulate the testing setting as much as possible by taking the test in a quiet space on a Saturday morning, using a timer to stick close to the timings for each section. When the comparison test is scored, the student gets feedback on whether the SAT or ACT is their higher score and tips on improving their score.

Another way to find out if the SAT or ACT is your better test is to compare scores from a practice SAT and practice ACT. Some high schools may even offer a PSAT and a pre- ACT during sophomore year. The scores from each test can be compared through this concordance table.

 

Set testing plan for Junior year

For 2017-18, both SAT and ACT are adding a summer testing date. I would suggest that seniors take advantage of these testing dates for college applications and scholarships. However, juniors may want to use the fall to start any test prep and schedule their tests during the academic year.

Test prep can be done using a book, online self-study or class, live class or private tutor (in person or online). Six to eight weeks of test prep is plenty of time. The key thing you want to remember with test prep is to do it consistently. For example, if you have a fall sport, then perhaps your best time to study is after the season ends since it may be difficult to study for the SAT or ACT along with having practices and games after school. Test prep can end about a week before your testing date.

In junior year, it’s best to allow for 2 testing dates in case a student wants to retake for a higher score. Taking 3 or more ACT or SAT shows a poor use of time and judgment. Beware that some colleges even penalize applicants who have multiple standardized test so please limit the test-taking. (The only time I recommend additional test-taking is for seniors who have selected a college that requires a certain score for scholarship purposes.)

What are your testing plans for junior year?

Should my teen study for the PSAT?

psat

Each fall, parents with 9th, 10th and 11th graders ask me about the PSAT and whether their teen should study for the PSAT. As with most things in college readiness, it depends.

Let’s start with a general description of the PSAT to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s considered a preliminary SAT exam and students often take it to get an unofficial look at the SAT. “Unofficial” means that this test is “off the record” for college admissions purposes. It’s rare that students would submit these scores for consideration in college admissions.

PSAT for 9th graders
Most high schools do not offer the option for 9th graders to take the PSAT. Although I have seen it offered at several independent schools.

Typically, I do not recommend that students take the PSAT in 9th grade. It adds too much unnecessary pressure and anxiety. The 9th grade is such a transitional period that the year is better spent acclimating to the new school environment, making friends, and getting to know teachers.


PSAT for 10th graders
Taking the PSAT in 10th grade can be a good idea, if your high school offers that option. 10th graders who take the PSAT can get familiar with the format and determine their own level of comfort with the question types. The results would also closely project SAT scores.

In addition to the PSAT in sophomore year of high school, I would highly recommend that students also consider taking the pre-ACT. The pre-ACT is an unofficial preview of the ACT. Again, taking the pre-ACT would be an opportunity for sophomores to get familiar the ACT format and determine their level of comfort with the question types.

The results of the PSAT and pre-ACT can then be compared, using an SAT-ACT comparison tool to determine if a student should take the SAT or ACT in junior year. It’s a waste of time and money to take both tests, so I highly recommend that students stick with one test . . . either the SAT or ACT!

Sophomore year is an important year for students to discover their interests and further their academic preparation. Spending time to study for the PSAT or pre-ACT is not a good use of their time. Certainly, students may look at practice questions, if they like, but I would not suggest prioritizing PSAT and/or pre-ACT test prep over homework assignments and reading for pleasure.

PSAT for 11th graders
The majority of high schools in the US require that high school juniors take the PSAT. The PSAT is used in junior year as the qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarships. Even when students take the PSAT in junior year, they must still take the SAT or ACT to meet college admissions requirements.

I have recommended that my students study for the PSAT in only a few cases. When I recommended that my students study in junior year, they met these criteria:

1. Had taken the PSAT in sophomore year
2. Had scored in the 99%ile on the PSAT in sophomore year (Each state has their own National Merit Scholarship baseline so be sure to look it up for your state.)

Those students were in striking distance of qualifying for National Merit Scholarship so it made sense for them to study for the PSAT in advance. Their study plan often included completion of two or more practice tests before the test date and thorough reviews of reading, writing, and math.

Rule of thumb: Test prep should never take precedence over maintaining a strong transcript whether a student is 9th, 10th or 11th grader.

Please let me know your thoughts and/or comments on this topic.

Should my Teen study for the PSAT?

santa clara campus

College-bound teens take the PSAT every year in mid-October. The PSAT is the test that high school juniors take to qualify for National Merit recognition, although more 9th and 10th graders are taking this test each year. In addition, the PSAT gives students practice and feedback for the SAT. After taking the PSAT, students will get a full report which details the questions they missed. This report can be a useful guide to prepare for the SAT.psat logo

Many parents ask me every year whether their teen should study for the PSAT. My answer (like for most things related to college admissions): It depends. The first question in all things college admissions is why. So, I ask parents to tell me why they think their teen should study for the PSAT. Based on the reason, I can then suggest whether it’s worth the teen’s time to study for the PSAT.

Reasons to Study for PSAT  

  • To get a higher score than last year
  • To have a chance at a National Merit recognition
  • To present stronger scores for a summer program application

Reasons to NOT Study for PSAT

  • Did not take the test last year
  • Scores from last year were below 750 for each section
  • Academic course load is demanding
  • ACT is best test for student

In most cases, students do not need to study for the PSAT. It’s an annual test that plays a marginal role in college admissions. If a student’s best test is the SAT, then they would be better off focusing their prep efforts on the SAT, instead. The best time to prep for the SAT is usually 8-10 weeks prior to the scheduled test date. If the PSAT date coincides with the SAT prep then it’s a win-win.

What Parents Need to Know about Testing for College-bound Teens

There are 3 tests that are used for college admissions:

  1. ACT
  2. SAT 1 – Reasoning test
  3. SAT 2 – Subject Tests

Each of these tests is different.

ACT ≠ SAT

The ACT is more of an achievement test and more aligned with knowledge gained during the high school years. SAT 1 is more of an intelligence test. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that my students who are strong readers tend to fare better on the SAT, especially with its vocabulary. Students who do not read as much outside of school tend to do better on the ACT.

The SAT 2 is an hour-long test in a specific subject area. Here are the available subject tests:

  • Literature

These tests tend to match with an Honors or Advanced Placement course. For example, if a student is taking AP US History then they may want to consider the SAT Subject Test in American History for college admissions purposes. (Note: The AP tests are typically used for college placement, but not college admissions.) I recommend that students take the corresponding Subject Test at the end of the course, in May or June. For students who are interested in STEM fields, I strongly urge them to consider taking the Math Level 2 Subject Test soon after they complete Pre-Calculus.

Students will typically take the ACT or SAT in junior year. I do not recommend taking these tests in sophomore year and certainly not the senior year.

Testing Game Plan for Best Score

The best game plan for students is

  1. Determine which test you will focus on at the end of sophomore year. It is NOT necessary to take both tests. Colleges will accept either test.
  2. Take the ACT or SAT for the first time in the winter of junior year. This will give your teen time to get adjusted to a more-demanding junior year schedule and have time to study before taking the test.
  3. Leave time in the spring of the junior year to retake the ACT or SAT, if necessary.

Once the testing is completed, more time can be spent on developing a solid college list and writing application essays! What’s your teen’s game plan for acing the ACT or SAT?

Check out our 4 Tips to Help your Teen Study Better!

10th graders – Why you should take the ACT or SAT in the winter of junior year

It’s tough being a high school junior! I have heard from so many juniors that the academic work load is more intensive. In junior year, students typically take on more honors or advanced placement (AP) which certainly adds rigor and greater homework loads.

In addition to these academic demands, the college admissions process begins in earnest during junior year, whether students are ready or not. For my clients, junior year is focused on developing a meaningful college list, nurturing teacher relationships, and planning for standardized tests.

act logoThe ACT or SAT

The biggest myth that I want to dispel right now is that students do NOT have to take both the ACT and the SAT. The tests are quite different. Taking both tests compromises your test prep and ultimately wastes a lot of time and money.

If students want to get their best score, they should take the test that fits them. How do you which test is best for you? Here are 3 ways that students can determine whether to take the ACT or SAT:

  1. Compare their PLAN and PSAT score reports
  2. Take an ACT/SAT Comparison Test, like the one we give to our client families (link)
  3. Take a simulated practice test for both the ACT and SAT, then compare the results

After determining which test makes sense for you, then it’s time to register for the test date, begin a solid test prep plan, then take the test!

When to take the ACT or SATsat-logo

I strongly encourage juniors to consider taking their first ACT or SAT in the winter of junior year. Here’s why:

  • By winter, students would have had time to adjust to their academic schedules and homework loads.
  • Taking the test in winter, allows enough time to get your scores, determine if you want to retake, do additional test prep in key area(s), then retake the test in the spring
  • Students can typically get a full score report when they test during the Fall and Winter dates. The full score reports can be very helpful for studying if a student wants to retake the test.
  • If a student decides to take an SAT II Subject Test, then they can do so at the end of the school year, while much of the content is still fresh.

When I suggest this testing plan, I always get some push-back. Parents and students will usually ask, “What about taking the test in senior year?” All I can say from experience is that the Fall of senior year in high school is extremely busy. With school demands, sports activities, social events, and applying to colleges, NO senior wants to be bothered with taking standardized tests.

When are you planning to take your ACT or SAT?

 

3 SAT Myths that Every Junior Must Ignore

During this time of year when juniors are registering to take the SAT, there is a lot of misinformation about what they should should and should not do. Before you start your test prep or sign up to take the SAT take heed to these myths:

Myth #1 – It’s OK to take the SAT “cold”, i.e. as a practice testsat or act

REALITY: It’s a waste of your time and money to take any standardized test for the sake of seeing what your score will be! Students often assume this myth because they’ve heard that the colleges will only see certain scores. That really depends on the college where you apply. Likewise, on the Common Application, students self-report ALL test scores. When you sign the Common Application, you’re affirming that ALL information on the application is true.

Best BET: Take an online practice test to see your score, not an official test!

Myth #2 – It’s better to take the SAT than the ACT.

REALITY: All colleges will accept either test. Translation: Take the test that’s best for you. The SAT is different from the ACT, and usually students will score higher on one over the other.

BEST BET: Take a comparison test to find out which test fits you best! If you do not have access to a comparison test, you can also compare your PLAN and PSAT scores to determine which test is best.

Myth #3: I don’t need to take a Subject Test.

REALITY: Depending on where you’re applying and the major that interests you, 1 or 2 subject tests may be “Recommended.” (“Recommended” is another word for “Required”.) When it’s “Recommended” it is highly likely that the majority of applicants to that college will submit Subject Test scores. Unfortunately, when all competing applications include these Subject Test scores and your does not . . . OUCH!

BEST BET: Take Subject Tests that correspond to any Honors or Advanced Placement classes that you take during sophomore or junior year of high school. If you are enrolled in a Pre-Calculus course, then you should consider taking the Math II Subject Test at the least.

When to Retake the ACT

act logo

It’s that time of year when seniors are wondering if they should retake the ACT. The scores from the September 21 exam were released on October 7, so there’s a lot of buzz in the air about what to do next if the new scores weren’t so good.

Before you register for another ACT exam, please review the list of colleges where you’re applying. Review the college’s stance on multiple exams. Some colleges frown upon multiple test-taking. The rule of thumb at those colleges may be no more than 1-2 retakes. If it’s still not clear whether it’s worth retaking the exam again . . . consider these two scenarios:

1. Do any of the colleges on your list superscore the ACT? – Superscoring means that the college will take the highest subscore across your different test dates, then recalculate your composite score. If that’s the case, then a retake may be in order.

2. Do any of the college where you’re applying offer merit awards (i.e. money to pay for college) based on the test score? There are many colleges that will offer additional scholarship dollars based on your ACT score. It may benefit you to retake the test as many times as you’d like to increase your score to the next threshold.

After this is said and done, sometimes your score is what it is. After taking the ACT two or three times, your score is more likely to remain where it is, especially if you’re not preparing any differently.

My recommendation: If it’s more important for you to “prove” to someone else that you can get a better score, then it’s probably not worth the time, money, and effort. You are so much more than your test score. There are plenty of colleges that do not even require a test score to apply. Stick with the score you have and keep your head up!