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SAT or ACT? Or Both?

Juniors in high school are busy students.  Adding to their academic and extra-curricular burden is the prep for the SAT or ACT tests.  Which test is best for me?  Do I have to take both?  Most college applications require SAT or ACT scores so students need to map out when they are going to take these tests before they send their applications in the Fall of their Senior year.

 

Most colleges that we encounter will accept either SAT or ACT scores.  College advisors at area high schools often recommend that you take both.  Many students also respond to the desire to do well on both tests.  However, you only need an acceptable score on ONE test to be accepted.

 

We recommend that you take a free practice SAT test and ACT test.  (Students usually have PSAT scores that we can use in place of a practice SAT test.)  The SAT and ACT tests have different sections and different timing issues for the students.

 

Students who are better at math may gravitate to the SAT because the SAT score is 50% math.  Whereas, students who are more talented in Reading/ English may prefer the ACT because it is only 25% math and the other 75%–reading, English, and science—relies on stronger reading skills.

 

Many of our students are studying to improve their SAT/ACT scores to earn scholarships to out of state schools, like Oklahoma State, University of Oklahoma, and U of Arkansas.  Other students are trying to earn scholarships at private colleges–TCU, Baylor, SMU—or gain acceptance into the honors programs.  It is common for students to earn $32-40,000 in scholarships by raising their scores.

 

Give us a call and set up a free 15-minute consultation to help you choose which test is best for you.  Our program can help you prepare for both the SAT and ACT and we will guide you through your Junior/Senior years as you test and apply to college.

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Demystifying College App Essays: Here’s One for the Juniors & Seniors Out There

As a former tutor and college admission office assistant, I am well acquainted with just how crazed and stressful college application days can be. However, it wasn’t until this past summer when I was helping some prospective students think through the brambles of college application questions that I realized just how milky and obfuscating these prompts and questions can be.

Here’s just one of the many tangled questions my poor students faced:

“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

While on the face of it this prompt may seem simple enough, upon closer examination, it can quickly become clear just how unclear and muddled things truly are. First, there is the “Some students” comment, which suggests that there are students out there so water-thin as to have identities capable of complete capture within the confines of a college application. Insulting, confusing, and arrogant, yes, but above all this phrasing is simply confusing. So then, for those few special students with some deeper, more complex identity, what question exactly are they answering – or, more precisely, what question is this prompt actually asking? What are the readers of such a prompt looking for?

First, they’re looking to see that you take enough confidence in yourself to read such a prompt and agree: Why yes, I am an individual with a complex identity that’s yet to be captured by this standard application.

Second, they’re looking for a story. Note the wording, “please share your story”—this implies not only that the reader wants something personal and engaging (i.e. not academic or even overly formal), but also something that is uniquely and entirely you.

And that’s the tricky part. While the you in this prompt about identity and stories may seem like the most obvious element, it’s also the element that most student writers seem quickest to neglect. Oftentimes this prompt is answered with a story regarding some learning experience or “life altering” event—and while these would certainly be acceptable starting places for an answer to such a prompt, it’s in the description of the experience or the event that students often lose the “them-ness” of their story, burying their own specialness and unique identity in the details of a mission trip, life lesson, or mentor. Don’t let the you be lost from these stories—the reader, after all, isn’t interested in reading about a mission trip to aid impoverished children or about the awesomeness of your eighth grade basketball coach; they’re interested in you. So, when you find yourself faced with something like this prompt, a question that wants you to at once agree that your identity is too big for a college essay and then challenges you to still try and cram it into one, don’t let yourself be distracted by the trappings—touch quickly on the setting and circumstance of your story and then get to the protagonist, our hero: YOU.

And then there are the chestnuts like:

“Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”

Sigh! It’s prompts like this one that make me roll my eyes and respond, Please briefly elaborate on at least one of your motives or goals for making this ridiculous request of exhausted college applicants. My recommendation for any poor students faced with such a question? Get straight to the point.

First, pick only your most interesting and unique activity or work experience. Again, this may seem to go without saying, but oftentimes students will reach out for some less-intriguing office job experience because it seems more “adult” or “professional” somehow. But really, I think we can all agree that we’d much rather read that crazy story about you being the Cow for your local Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. This story would do much more than simply highlight something you learned about conflict management (those people who “save spots” in line for friends? yeah, those people should know that that is NOT cool!); this story would also better entertain your readers while showcasing just how brave and fun you can be. Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of an entertaining story. If you can entertain your readers while sharing something sincere about yourself, it’ll stick in their memory better, give them a better overall experience of reviewing your application, and leave them with a much more impressive show of your writing ability.

Second (and again), get straight to the point. A lot of students end up wasting time and words on describing the job or extracurricular activity itself when, really, this is yet another question about you and your experiences. No one wants to read about the job qualifications or responsibilities of Whatever Office or about the meeting notes of Yeah-Yeah-Yeah Club. These readers want to know A) What Job/Activity, B) Why You Chose It For Elaboration, and C) YOU. And, if you hadn’t already guessed, B and C are definitely the most important elements of this equation. Jump off of A as soon as you can in order to get to the meat of the story (that’s you!).

Remember, they wouldn’t be asking about this if they weren’t hoping to learn yet more about how you react to different situations, what you’ve learned, what challenges you’ve undertaken, and/or what experiences have inspired you.

Then there are gems like this:

“XXXX University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to XXXX.”

….really?

The truth is, these questions are never as simple as they seem on first read. So, take your time. Consider them from all angles and all word choices. And then get straight to your point—don’t make anyone wait around to find out how fascinating you are or what goals you plan to achieve.

And here are a few extra tips and readings to help you along your way:

  • College Board’s “8 Tips for Crafting Your Best College Essay
    • Especially, brainstorm and be specific! First do the work of reflecting on what your strongest traits and most unique experiences are, and then pick out one to three (depending on the prompt) to start getting specific about – bring out the sensory details, the reflective details, the details that give it all meaning particular to you
  • US News’ “10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay
    • The highlights: be concise, honest, and coherent. Don’t let your rush to share your accomplishments and experiences muddle the storyline or embellish the facts. Be genuine and strive for clarity.

How to make essay writing not quite so scary

I recently came upon a blog post from H.E. History Hub (a terrific blog focused primarily upon issues related to students and teachers of history) titled, “Five things you need to think about when starting your dissertation.” As a student of American Studies with a master’s degree and a peer-reviewed academic book under my belt, I well understand both the more exciting and interesting elements of academic writing as well as just how terrifying, anxiety-riddled, and difficult it can be. Moreover, for many students (who are never taught time management skills but are instead all too often left to try and reinvent the wheel for themselves), learning how to organize oneself and give oneself the time necessary to read, take notes, research, and truly think over all the issues before ever putting pen to paper (or finger to key, I suppose), is the true bugaboo. True writing—academic or otherwise—must begin with hours, even days, (in some cases, even weeks) of reading and research before any actual writing takes place.

But I, like H.E. History Hub, am here to tell you that essays of any length—whether it’s a 5-pager for your freshman high school English teacher or a 10,000 word long dissertation for your PhD—are well within your reach and capability; it’s all a matter of:

1) Making your essay topic interesting to you;

2) Being diligent and creative about your research;

3) Reaching out to supervisors, teachers, and mentors;

and 4) Working hard and having faith in yourself.

Now, all of these things may seem either obvious or impossible, but I guarantee that neither is accurate. For college students, the freedom many professors offer regarding essay topic and style can be at once liberating (given the more restrictive nature of the models employed by most high school teachers) and yet overwhelming by the same token. For high school students, the number of restrictions and limitations imposed by teachers can be at once stifling as well as useful and helpful (as sometimes constraints are necessary to both hone basic skills and inspire true creativity).

There is a middle ground here, however, because no matter how wide or narrow your allotted scope, no matter your current writing skill level, you basically always have the room and abilities necessary to make the topic interesting to you—it just means that you’ll have to be willing to take the time to get creative with topics and assignments that may, at first, seem boring/irrelevant/useless/long/busywork/too hard/pointless/etc. Even those short 1 to 5 page assignments (those often frustrating ones that can seem disconnected from everything useful) can be used as stepping stones to bigger and better things if you give them the time and attention necessary. Think of these shorter assignments not as busywork but as opportunities to explore new ground and/or build up research for some future project(s).

And trust me, I understand that it’s super tough to dedicate extra time, resources, and feeling to projects that seem intended for you to fail or be bored out of your mind, but if you’re willing to make the leap, to pay the dues, and wear the Essay Writing Club t-shirt, then it’ll pay off—if not today, then tomorrow, but I promise: It Will Pay Off.

The first thing to know is that, while all rumor and chatter seems to suggest the contrary, high school and college are the places to take risks—to try research, arguments, and styles that may seem odd, that may get you a couple not-so-awesome grades in the short-run, but which might just also blossom into something original, strong, and lasting. Digest that. Let yourself get comfortable with the simple truth that a few bad grades won’t irreparably damage your career dreams but that being timid in your scholarly studies, explorations, and writings just might.

 

Image All digested? Ready to plow forward? Good.

Next step: Leap. Take that strange family tree/ancestry assignment and turn it on its seemingly-clichéd head. Conduct a full-scale oral history of all the extended family members you can get a hold of. While a handful of relatives might bore you, while learning to transcribe recordings to paper might drive you crazy, there will be a relative out there who fascinates and surprises; there will be a teacher so impressed with your efforts that they help you bring the project forward in a new way; there will be something new in the process of collection, interview, transcription, and analysis that arrests you and leads you down a new path of exploration and understanding—there will be something to reward you for your risks and efforts.

Of course, if you looked closely, taking that big leap required a great many smaller leaps pieced together:

  • Deciding to go above-and-beyond for a simplistic-seeming or clichéd-seeming project
  • Finding a way to make it happen: finding/borrowing/renting/buying the necessary equipment to record and conduct formal interviews (*cough*libraries are great for finding these kinds of supplies*cough*)
  • Getting outside of yourself and Starbucks to conduct some real primary research by finding and contacting all of those family members and getting signed agreements to have their stories recorded
  • Organizing your time and resources around the needs of others and restrictive research
  • Learning to be delicate and respectful while still clear and uncompromising in all elements and stages of your research and writing
  • Learning to take things that are close and personal to you and analyze them for the benefit of others and all involved
  • Learning that not all research can be utilized in a written work, even if it’s fascinating or on-point (especially when human subjects are involved)

The list goes on and on…

In other words, as Nate Kreuter of Inside Higher Ed so wisely said in his article, “Conquering Writing Anxiety,”

Sometimes [writing] anxiety can become so pronounced that it makes a meaningful cut into our productivity. But, like all anxieties, writing-related anxieties live in the mind, and can be overcome.”

Whether you’re approaching your dissertation or your first high school-level essay, writing anxieties and frustrations hit everyone, and the first step to overcoming such obstacles is to make the decision to do so.