Posts Tagged ‘College Prep’

SAT II: Subject Tests—What Are They and Do You Need to Take Them?

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Another question that we are frequently asked is “What are the SAT II’s and do I need to take them?”.

The SAT II’s are content based tests.  They are each one hour long and are multiple choice.  Students can choose from a variety of subjects including literature, government, history, biology, chemistry, physics, two levels of math, and languages.  Students can take up to three exams on one test day.

The SAT II’s are generally required or recommended by highly competitive schools.  If you are a student that is planning to apply to schools, such as UVA or other similarly competitive colleges, then you will need to take at least two subjects.  Some schools require specific tests for particular programs.  For example, an engineering or architecture program may require that one of the tests be in the maths or sciences.   Schools that are competitive generally have a strong pool of applicants.  They use the SAT II’s as another factor in their admissions decisions.

To determine if you need to take the SAT II’s, decide on the list of colleges to which you’d like to apply.  Then, you can look up the application requirements on the school’s website or by using a college search engine like Bright Futures.  On this site, you can search for a school, then go to applying and admissions information to see what tests are required and how they are used (admissions decisions or placement only). Here is an example of UVA’s profile.  As you can see, UVA says that SAT II’s are recommended.  If a college says recommended, you should consider it required to have a strong application.

Now that you know if you need to take the SAT II’s, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Not all subjects are given on all test dates.  It is important to decide which tests you would like to take and plan a date that those tests are given. CollegeBoard has practice questions for each test and the dates that the tests are given.  Often, the best time to take the SAT II’s is May or June.  This is especially true if you are currently in the course in which you plan to test.  For example, if physics is a strength of yours and you are currently in AP physics, it is a good idea to take the SAT II around the same time that you take your AP exam.  This way, you can prepare for both tests at the same time.

Plan the calendar of test dates early.  You cannot take the SAT and the SAT II’s on the same test date.  Plan for this at the beginning of your junior year so you can map out dates for the SAT, ACT and/or SAT II’s.  If you plan to space out the testing throughout your junior year, you will avoid a very overwhelming spring when AP exams, SOL’s, and finals can make for a heavy workload.

Should I Take the ACT or SAT?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

One of the questions we are asked most frequently is “should I take the ACT”?

I always tell juniors that they should try both the SAT and the ACT.  Even if you do not take an official test, you should at least take a practice test of each to get an idea of the differences and see which test showcases your strengths better.  This does not mean that you need or should send both SAT & ACT scores to college.   Since both tests are meant to test a student’s college readiness, one set of favorable scores is all you need.

You can take a practice SAT  or  a practice ACT here.

Historically, the test that you took was determined by the schools in which you planned to apply—East coast and California schools preferred the SAT while mid-West schools preferred the ACT.  Now, schools use either test for admissions with no preference.  For more information about the history of the tests, check out this interesting blog.

Who tends to do better on the ACT?

The primary difference between the ACT and SAT is that the ACT covers more content but the questions are asked in a way that students often find more familiar or more straightforward.  For example, the ACT math section includes trigonometry, imaginary numbers, logarithms, and matrices.  These topics are not found on the SAT.  However, the way that the questions are asked on the ACT look more like what students would see on a math test in school.  For this reason, the ACT often favors students that have taken a rigorous course load in school but do not test well on tests that require a lot of logic and reasoning skills like the SAT.

Another big difference is that the ACT does not penalize students for guessing incorrectly while the SAT deducts ¼ raw score points for each incorrect answer.  This can add up to a large scaled deduction.  Leaving questions blank on a test is not an idea that students are familiar with in school so it can be tricky to decide whether to guess or omit on top of the pressure of taking the test in the first place.

The ACT also does not have any compare/contrast passages or vocabulary questions.  These are often two of the most challenging areas of the SAT Critical Reading section so that can be helpful for some students.

Who tends to do better on the SAT?

The ACT has more questions in less time.  For example, the writing multiple choice section allows an average of 36 seconds per question on the ACT but about 43 seconds per question on the SAT.  For this reason, students that have a lot of difficulty with time management on tests often have more difficulty on the ACT. 

Also, as mentioned, the ACT does have more content.  Students that have taken a less rigorous curriculum may find the ACT more challenging.  The ACT also includes a science section.  The primary skills needed to be successful on this section are a basic understanding of experimental design and the ability to interpret data tables and graphs.  This does not require a lot of general science knowledge but it can be challenging for students that are not familiar with lab sciences.


As mentioned, there is a benefit to the ACT in that students are not penalized for guessing incorrectly.  On the SAT, students lose points for guessing incorrectly but earn 0 points for leaving a question blank.  In school, students are taught to do their best and put an answer for everything so this is not an idea that students are familiar with.

However, the SAT has a benefit in how the scores are combined across test dates.  On the SAT, there are three scores of 800 each for a total of 2400 points.  Most schools will combine the highest math section, highest reading section, and highest writing section even if they are taken from different dates for admissions decisions.  For example, if these were a student’s scores:


















Then, the overall score would be the highest section, which is a total score of 1860.  This is higher than any single date.

On the ACT, the score is a composite score from 0-36.  This means that the 4 scores from reading, English, math, and science are averaged to give you a composite score.  Most schools will not take the highest section from different dates.  Therefore, students have to do well on all 4 sections on the same test date

Overall, there is no downside to trying both tests.  Determining which one highlights your strengths is a great strategy for being competitive during the college admissions process. Good Luck!


The College Application Essay: How To Write One That Works.

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

College Applications.  There are few things that cause more anxiety for high school seniors and their parents.  Navigating this process can be daunting between gathering transcripts, getting letters of recommendation, taking last minute SAT tests, and trying to recall four years of extra-curricular activities.   One aspect of the process can sometimes get lost or saved for last—the admissions essay or personal statement.  As the college admission’s process continues to get more competitive, increased emphasis is being placed on the essay.  Having a strong essay can help you stand out among your peers.  Here are some easy tips for helping you write a successful essay:


 Engage the reader immediately.

Remember that admissions’ staff are reading thousands of essays during the college application season, draw your reader in right from the start by crafting an effective introduction.

How do you create an effective introduction?  Try one of these:  1.  Make it interesting by using imagery and unique word choice. 2. Ask a question or start by sharing the middle of your story where the action or conflict takes place.  3.  Maintain the suspense factor-let the story unfold slowly rather than sharing all of it at the beginning.


 Use your own voice.

Let them get to know you.    Your personal statement or college application essay is your chance to show the admissions’ staff that you are more than your transcripts or SAT score reports.  What do you want them to know about you?  Your first priority should be showing them who you are.  Find a balance between being completely formal and overly casual.

Not sure if you have succeeded in using your own voice?  Have a friend, parent, or teacher read it to see if it sounds like you. Or, try reading it aloud to yourself—does it seem unnatural to you or is it easy to read?


  Think about what has shaped you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the trap of writing about topics that you think the admissions’ staff wants you to write about instead of writing from the heart.

Think about events, activities, people, and lessons learned that have influenced, changed, or molded you into the person that you are today.  Don’t dismiss something because you think it may be insignificant.  For example, maybe the time spent helping your elderly neighbor during the summers shaped you more than being the president of the National Honor Society.  Writing from a place of genuineness and honesty will help you connect and sound authentic.


 Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.

Even the most profound essay can quickly become overshadowed by mistakes in grammar.  It’s easy to rely on auto correct for spelling and other grammar mistakes but many mistakes can still slip through.  For example, there vs. their or your vs. you’re are mistakes easily missed by a computer.

Leave yourself plenty of time to have someone else take a look at it, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, parent, or tutor.   After spending so much time working on the content, you don’t want to be overlooked for silly grammar mistakes.





Tri-Ed Contributed: New Book Arms College-Bound Women with “Strategic Success Plan”

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

It’s that time of year.  This month roughly 4.3 million students in the United States are donning caps and gowns and walking down the aisle to receive their high school diplomas.  Of those graduates, just over 3 million of them will head off to college in the fall.  In addition to helping them pack clothes, computers, first-aid supplies, and dorm-bed size sheets, supportive  parents will want to arm them with one more essential:  a strategic success plan.  Answering the call for the 1.8 million young women who will join the college-student ranks is the brand new book 5 Must-Know Secrets for Today’s College Girl “hot off the press” just in time.

Author Lauren Salamone, award-winning mentor to college women, has compiled her most powerful strategies into a success book exclusively for college girls. The timing couldn’t be better.  Studies reveal it’s now more important than ever for college women to succeed due to the increasing number of females becoming major bread-winners today.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are on the verge of outnumbering men in the workforce for the first time.  But it’s also true that students are increasingly finding it challenging to achieve college success, especially in four years.  A report published recently by the Education Trust, an independent nonprofit organization, found that only 37% of first-time freshmen entering four-year bachelor’s-degree programs actually complete their degrees within four years.  The problem is – especially with the price of college tuition outpacing inflation annually – it can get very expensive when those four years turn into five or even six.

According to the author, “My mission when mentoring college girls today is to give them the tools they need to EXCEL in college while still enjoying the FUN so crucial to the experience.  It’s definitely an achievable goal, but I’ve found students need to have a fundamental success plan in place in order to truly thrive.  And the sooner the better.”

The book came about organically.  A former high school English teacher, Ms. Salamone was called upon to mentor her own former students as they transitioned to college.  Her mentoring services quickly grew in response to high demand.  And finally she founded her mentoring company in order to make her sought-after expertise available to more college women.  For some time, students and parents have been requesting she make her guidance available in book-form.  Now she has done it, and to rave reviews.  One recent Lesley University grad, Ashley DePasquale, asserts that “5 Must-Know Secrets for Today’s College Girl bridges the gap between a mediocre college experience and a home run.”

Says Ms. Salamone, “the secrets I share in this book show young women how to build a foundation for brilliant success in college…and for the rest of their lives.”  The book also features tips and advice from recent college grads as well as an Action Guide to help girls immediately apply the success strategies to their own lives at college.  Perfect timing for a college woman’s summer reading list!

Preparing for College

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Outsourcing, a poor economy, and more sophisticated technology mean that college is more important than ever. But getting there is about more than getting good grades. Here is a primer on going to college.

It used to be that not going to college was a viable option for people thinking about entering the workforce. That is not really the case any longer. Nevertheless, the first move when thinking about college is to actually ponder whether one wants to go. Here are the reasons you should.

In a nutshell, you’ll earn more money, get better jobs and just be better prepared for life in general if you go to a two- or four-year college. Statistically, the facts are in. Graph the unemployment rate of people with varying degrees of education and you’ll see that college grads will always have a better position on the chart than people with less education. No high school diploma puts you at the highest risk for unemployment. People with only high school diplomas come next. That is followed by people with some college. And then people with college degrees bring up the rear. They are the least likely to be unemployed.

It’s never too early to be thinking about college, and certain courses in middle and high school can get you ready for the journey. Students who want to take advanced courses like calculus in high school need to begin Algebra I by eighth grade. Taking a challenging math curriculum can also help you do well on things like the SAT or in college math classes. Also, you need to take English every year from the start of middle school to the end of high school. In addition, take science and history classes as much as possible. In short, take as challenging of a courseload as you can manage.  Colleges do look at the rigor of your curriculum.

Those are the main necessities, but there are other subjects to consider. Most colleges require foreign language classes, so get started on developing those skills early. Also, with computers so much a part of our lives, computer science classes are a must, as is exposure to classes in the arts. Combine these with the previously mentioned core requirements and you should have a good foundation for college.

Higher education is expensive. If you’re a parent, start saving. If you’re a student, start thinking about what kinds of grades you’ll need for a scholarship. Also, consider to which colleges you want to apply. Private and out-of-state colleges will be the most expensive, while local public colleges may be more affordable. Also, you may want to think about taking your basic college classes at a community college and then transferring to a four-year college. That’s a good way to save money.

Finally, when you get to college, you want to start looking at ways to cut the cost of tuition. Applying for financial aid or Pell Grants is one way. You can also look into work-study programs and federal loans. Be careful, however. You will have to pay those loans back. That will leave you saddled with debt as soon as you get out into the workforce; and, in this economy, there is no guarantee that employment will follow immediately after your education is complete.

These are just some preliminary tips, but they should give you a head start. For more help getting ready for college, go here.

A Remedial Future

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Community colleges are a great way to ease into the college life. They provide a relatively low cost, quality educational alternative to spending your first two years at expensive four year colleges taking the basics.

Unfortunately, many of the students going to community college for the first time lack the preparation they need to succeed.  According to Education Week Magazine, almost 60 percent of students hitting these two-year campuses aren’t ready for what they face. Remedial education is in the books for three out of five students. And even with that, the students probably won’t graduate any time soon. Fewer than 25 percent of those who need the remedial education manage to get a degree in eight years.

To deal with these problems, community colleges are trying to do things a little differently. One is to get to students before they make it to community colleges. Some colleges offer class credits that can be taken while in high school, thus preparing them ahead of time for the rigor of higher education.  Also, there is an interest in making sure educators in grades K through 12 pay attention to how well college students do. By knowing college students’ weaknesses, K-12  schools can adjust curriculum so as to better prepare students.

Community colleges themselves are working on ways to better help students when they show up. To counteract the boring nature of remedial education, some schools will advance students who don’t need as much help faster than others, thus lowering the amount of time they have to spend in remedial education. Also, some community colleges are trying to target students who have to repeat classes early on, so they can get them help before they drop out.

Read more about this at EdWeek.

It is a fact of life in this country that stable careers usually require a college education. Gone are the days when one could graduate from high school and get a well-paying job that would last for decades. Unfortunately, the necessity of higher education means that more and more students who may not be ready are pushed into the grinder. Remedial education will become increasingly important as we try to ensure that all students have the opportunity for success. The assistance will have to come system-wide. From Kindergarten to college, educators will have to do a better job of assessing weaknesses and addressing them. If they do not, then the future of our country will be uneducated, and, perhaps, unemployable.