Posts Tagged ‘learning’

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!


Back to School

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

It’s getting to be back to school time, and that means some preparation is in order. Going back to school isn’t a simple matter of packing a kid’s lunch and sending him or her off. Some additional thought is required. This website has some interesting advice for these back-to-school days. Take a look.

For high schoolers, first time or otherwise, these days before the start of school are for mental preparation. It is hard to believe when you’re in the midst of it, but what you do in high school can have a significant impact on what happens in the rest of your life. It is time to start thinking about careers, interests, college and what kind of person you want to be. Parents, you can help kids by engaging them on these discussions and driving home to them the importance of these years in setting a foundation for the rest of their lives.

The high school years are also tumultuous ones. Students are nearly adults but not given the respect or responsibility accorded those 18 and over. In addition, there is a great deal of pressure to fit in and not do anything embarrassing. Incoming high school students should find someone who can teach them the ropes about high school. Perhaps an older sibling or a neighbor’s older kid. Information is the best preparation, so go to the source wherever possible. Perhaps this is too obvious a point to reiterate, but, basically nothing you see on television or in the movies about high school is true. Ignore them.

For more advice for the high schooler, check out this article.

If your child is a starting at a new school this year, there are some strategies that should be taken to ensure a less stressful start. For one, try to arrange a tour of the school. Additionally, if parents can arrange for a meeting with the student’s teacher(s) ahead of time, that can go a long way toward reducing stress. Check out the rules and regulations, dress code, etc, of the school. As a student, you don’t want to be reprimanded out of ignorance. As a parent, you certainly don’t want to see your child suffer over something that could have easily been avoided.

For other tips for students starting in a new school, go here.

Another thing to start thinking about ahead of time is homework. How well does your child do when it comes to homework? Are there areas where he or she typically needs a little help? How does he or she learn best? Visually? Verbally? Hands-on? Now is a good time to start thinking about where help for the student can be found. There are online resources that can provide some tutoring, then there are also in-school and out-of-school services that can help. Of course, we have a full range of tutoring available to help any struggling student.

Check out this article for more information.

Now that we have stressed some of the practical aspects of preparing for high school. There are some less concrete ideas that should be explored. Namely perception. This next bit is directed primarily at the student.

High school is a time for many when everything seems really important. That high school boyfriend or girlfriend, having the best GPA, your friends, your extra-curricular activities… you name it. It can seem as though what’s happening now is the most important thing ever. We did talk above about the importance of taking high school seriously, and that’s true, but it is also important to consider the transitory nature of these four years. Who you are in high school is not who you will be for the rest of your life. You will have different boyfriends or girlfriends, not being the best will fade in importance, your friends will change and you will grow passionate about new and possibly more interesting things. Life has only just begun. When you look back on your high school years, you may be nostalgic, you may be regretful, you may not feel anything at all. But regardless, you will, years from now, see high school in its proper perspective and place: as a brief time in your life. Many years lie ahead. Get excited. Great things are to come.

The school year is rapidly approaching. In these last few days of student freedom, it is necessary to think ahead. What can be done to prepare a student for what he or she will face? What questions need to be answered? What problems need to be addressed? What should a student expect? It is nearly too late to start thinking about this, but there is still a little time left. Start thinking about preparation, and all challenges can be faced.

Learning about Autism

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Many people have had their awareness of autism raised by the media, a family member, or a member in their community. As more and more people become familiar with autism, it is important that we all be educated. On this blog post we are going to take a look at some new advances in the education of autistic students, and then we will provide some websites for further information about the disorder.

People on the spectrum of autism disorders have trouble with social interaction and communication, which can be a liability when it comes to education. Of course, there are special education classes for such students, and there is a variety of help a family can get outside of school, but now, thanks to the wonders of the iPhone and other smart phones, there are special education apps as well.

Check out this  article in the Scranton Times-Tribune. In it, the writer talks about various apps for Apple-related smart devices that can be helpful when dealing with autistic youth.

One of them shows sign language signs so that the family can learn to better communicate with a non-verbal child who uses sign language. Another shows pictures of commonly desired objects or activities. It allows the user to pair one of those objects with the image of a person. Then the image can be made to say the words “I want.” This app would be used as a way of helping an autistic child learn to ask for what he or she needs.

There are, no doubt, many other apps out there. So, if you are looking for a little extra help with special education, the App Store of your smart phone may be a good place to go.

In other news on the technology front, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington recently purchased six robots for its Watson School of Education to study whether autistic students might better learn from and interact with them.

According to this article from, there is evidence that autistic children are able to develop good bonds with computers, something that it is difficult for them to do with other people. The hope is that using these robots, educators will be able to teach sign language, words, social interaction and more to autistic children.

If you want to learn more about autism, we also have five sites that may be helpful.  They were taken from this article from

They are:

The National Autism Association

Autism Speaks

U.S. Autism and Asperger Association

Autism Society of America

Center for Autism and Related Disorders

Autism is a disorder that is becoming better recognized, and it is rare for anybody nowadays to not know somebody who has it or is affected by it in some way. Technology is offering new ways of dealing with autism, but it is also incumbent upon all of us to have a better understanding of what autism is and how to deal with it. You never know when it might be your turn to lend a helping hand.

Technology in the Classroom

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

A lot has changed in the classroom over the many years the United States has offered public education. Perhaps no change is as obvious as that occurring in technology. Typing on a computer has replaced the emphasis on writing by hand. The Internet has added a new layer of connectivity to classroom lessons. And the traditional chalkboard has morphed a bit as well. Today, interactive whiteboards (IWB) are all the range. But how beneficial are they really?

This is a topic covered in this Education Week article

In the article, mostly anecdotal evidence and explanation is given one way or another. It does explain that some studies have linked technology and better grades, but it also makes the statement that any progress depends on the teacher.

One of those teachers talked about in the article is Sandra Simoneaux, a 3rd and 4th grade teacher at Parker Elementary School in Oakland, Calif. She said an interactive whiteboard can give her “immediate insight” into how well students are learning. If she asks a question, the whiteboard can actually track how long it takes for students to answer. If it’s taking a while for the students to understand the problem, then she instantly knows that she needs to spend some more time on that lesson.

She also likes how using an interactive whiteboard can help her to teach the lesson at her own pace. With students relying on her use of the whiteboard, rather than questions on a sheet or in a textbook, they can’t jump ahead. Instead, they must move the same speed at which the instructor teaches. This helps keep everybody on task and in the moment.

The article also talks about the Urban High School of San Francisco. They use interactive white boards there, and school officials talk about how helpful they are with visual learning. The teachers can set up lesson plans and visual tools ahead of time, saving them from having to spend class time setting up something like a graph or chart on the board. Also, the whiteboards have the ability to save work written on them by the teacher. That way, students can download the teacher’s visual class lesson later. This allows them to skip taking notes during the actual lecture and focus instead on taking the information in.

Professional development and repeated use are both emphasized in the article. Just adding an interactive whiteboard itself won’t make for a significant change. That fact is highlighted in this quote from the Education Week article:

“Some people think [the IWB] is a magic bullet that will solve everything,” said Patrick Ledesma, a school-based technology specialist and special education department chair at the 746-student Holmes Middle School, which is part of the Fairfax County public schools in Virginia. He is also a current teacher-ambassador fellow for the U.S. Department of Education. But once interactive whiteboards have been installed, “teachers will do what they’ve always done, unless there is training or support to do things differently,” he said.

It appears that technology can really make an impact in the classroom, but not without the guiding hands of a well-trained professional.