Monthly Archives: February 2017

What You Need To Know about the PSAT and SAT Test Math Fill-In or Grid-In Questions

The Math Fill-In Questions on the PSAT and SAT can be quite unsettling for many students because they are different than the other questions throughout the test.  In my tutoring and teaching experience, these are the four things that often surprise students when it comes to the SAT Math Fill-In Questions:

  • There Are No Negative Answers.  There is no way to bubble a negative response in, so if you ever find yourself coming up with a negative answer, know that you are incorrect!
  • Sometimes, There Are Multiple Correct Answers.  The SAT computer grading system will pick up on ranges of correct answers – sometimes there may be 2 or 3 correct answers, sometimes there may be hundreds! Knowing this may help you prevent overthinking.
  • There Is NO GUESSING PENALTY on the Fill-In Questions.   The new SAT has NO GUESSING PENALTY! Be certain that you answer every single one of the fill-in questions!
  • You DO NOT Have to Reduce Fractions!  If you enter a fraction like 3/24, the SAT computers will compute that you actually meant 1/8 and still give you the correct answer.

You can find practice for the Fill-In Questions on the College Board Website:

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/psat/prep/gridins/gridins.html

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

 

 

What if You are a Bad Test Taker?

Having worked with thousands of students over the years, I’ve come to realize that some students, no matter how much content and strategy help they receive, are simply not very good test-takers.  What can you do with respect to college admissions if no matter how hard you work, you can only make miniscule improvements in your test performance?  Here are six ideas:

  1. Look into extended time.  Maybe your issues with timing and test anxiety are due to an underlying learning disability that only manifests when you are doing a major test like the ACT or SAT.  If you have never been tested for a learning disability and you find that you have serious issues with attention, reading, and problem solving, it may be worth checking out.  Typically, a school psychologist will do it at no cost.  If you want to move the process along, you may need to have a private psychologist conduct some testing.  If you end up finding that you have a learning disability, you would then need to get an IEP or 504 plan through your school.  After that, you could apply for extended time for the ACT and SAT.
  2. Know it’s only part of the process. In my reading of the blogosphere and my discussions with college admissions counselors, the consensus seems to be that about ¼ of the college admissions decision is based on your standardized test performance.  If you know that tests are not your thing, be sure to make your extracurricular activities and grades as good as they can possibly be.
  3. Check out Test Optional Schools.  Many colleges are now test-optional, making it possible to gain admission to a great college while having poor performance on the ACT or SAT.  You can find a complete list on the website Fairtest.org.
  4. Submit a Portfolio. If your true intellectual talents cannot be demonstrated with a test, take the initiative to demonstrate them in a different way.  If you are a great artist, send in a portfolio of your creations.  If you excel at music, submit a CD of your recorded work.  If you are an excellent writer, direct the admissions officers to your blog or novel.  Admissions officers will only know that you have non-testable talents if you show them – the application gets accepted, not the person.
  5. Have a personal meeting with someone on the admissions staff. Schedule an in-person meeting with someone who works in the admission office at the school.  This will give you the opportunity to explain your unique situation or share accomplishments that cannot be easily presented in an application.  Most colleges will be more than happy to do this with you, provided you give them sufficient notice.
  6. Evaluate if college is really the best choice for you.  So many recent college graduates find themselves with tens of thousands in debt and only able to find jobs that they could have gotten with a high school diploma.  If you feel that you are likely to end up with a degree that won’t really help you find work, perhaps you should look into an associate’s degree in a field that is more to your liking.  There are tons of people who have made great livings starting plumbing, electrical, and web design companies, just to name a few. Check out your options!

ACT Science Content

Although many people claim that the ACT Science test does not require any background knowledge, they are incorrect.  If you examine several ACT tests, you will find that you must have basic knowledge from these two high school courses:

  • Physical Science
  • Biology

They require you to have this background knowledge because high school juniors across the country should have taken these two courses, no matter the rigor of their individual high schools.  Expect to see just a handful of questions that involve actual background knowledge from these two areas.

If you have taken advanced science, such as AP Chemistry or AP Physics, that certainly won’t hurt you.  It will help in the sense that your general ability to reason through scientific charts and graphs will be stronger, not because you need to have specific knowledge from any of those areas.

The material they present on the passages can come from all sorts of general scientific areas:  physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, astronomy, geology, and so forth.

The ACT Science Section has 3 types of passages:

  • Data Representation (38%). There are three of this type of passage, and each passage has 5 questions.  You will need to evaluate information presented in graphs, tables and figures.
  • Research Summaries (45%). There are three of this type of passage, and each passage has 6 questions.  You will need to analyze 2 or more experimental summaries, thinking about the results and the experimental design.
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (17%). You will only have 1 passage of this type, and it has seven questions.  It will present viewpoints from anywhere from 2 up to several scientists.  You will need to read a good bit here, although sometimes there is a graph or two given as well.  You will need to sharpen your ability to compare and contrast differing scientific explanations.

The passages are in a random order of difficulty, so just be on your toes to think critically at any point.

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Reading Test Content and Material

The Reading Test always have the same four types of reading passages, and they will  always be in the same order:

  1. Prose Fiction–a short story or an excerpt from a longer fiction story.  Something you would typically find in your English class.
  2. Social Sciencesomething that a teacher from Social Studies would instruct, including history, economics, psychology and more.  This is basically, any non-fiction area that is not a “hard” science like physics, chemistry, etc.
  3. Humanities – This is about art, music, films, and other creations.  You’ll find first-person and third-person accounts of human creative tasks.
  4. Natural Science – Could be anything from the sciences, such as astronomy, geology, or physics.  You won’t have to have any specialized scientific knowledge – it will be material you can understand simply based on the passage.

Each passage is approximately 700-800 words, and has 10 questions that follow.  You will have two subscores: The Social Studies/Sciences subscore is based the Social Science and Natural Science passages, and the Arts/Literature subscore is based on your performance on the Prose Fiction and Humanities passages.

This is the one section of the ACT where no background knowledge is required, other than having the skill of knowing how to read.

This test is extremely quick; if you want to finish the whole thing you must be a fast reader. You can improve your overall reading speed and comprehension by reading high quality books and magazines.

Hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

ACT Math Test Content

Before you take the ACT make sure you read the information they give you on each of the sections! Here is what the ACT tells us about the math, “translated” into normal English.

The ACT will always allot the Math questions the same way, with each type of math content having the same percentage of questions from test to test.  If you have taken Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, you should be in good shape.  They do have some topics that are occasionally covered in pre-calculus, so you may want to wait to take the ACT until you have covered all the material.  No need to worry about calculus – that won’t be on the ACT.

Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra

  • Pre-Algebra (23%)
  1. Number Basics:  Fractions, decimals, integers
  2. Scientific Notation
  3. Square Roots
  4. Exponents
  5. Factors of numbers and expressions
  6. Ratios and proportions
  7. Percentage calculations
  8. One variable equations
  9. Absolute Value
  10. Simple statistics (mean, median, mode)
  11. Simple probability (dependent and independent variable problems)
  12. Simple interpretations of data graphs

 

  • Elementary Algebra (17%)
  1. Properties of Exponents and Square Roots (multiplying, dividing, adding, subtracting, etc.)
  2. Solving equations using substitution
  3. 2 variable equations
  4. Order of operations (Parentheses/Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction)
  5. Factoring of equations

 

Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry

  • Intermediate Algebra (15%)
  1. Quadratic Formula
  2. Equations and expressions involving radicals and roots
  3. Equations with Absolute Value
  4. Inequalities
  5. Sequences and Patterns (Geometric and Arithmetic)
  6. More complex systems of equations (usually no more than 2 variables)
  7. More complex functions
  8. Turning word problems into algebraic models
  9. Matrices (addition, subtraction, multiplication)
  10. Complex numbers
  11. Once in a long while – synthetic division, standard deviation

 

  • Coordinate Geometry (15%)
  1. Be able to graph equations in the x-y coordinate plane, including lines and parabolas.  (Don’t need to worry about Hyperbolas or Ellipses).
  2. Be able to graph a circle in the x-y coordinate plane.
  3. Be able to graph inequalities.
  4. Slope formula
  5. Slope-Intercept form
  6. Parallel and perpendicular line rules
  7. Distance Formula
  8. Midpoint Formula

 

Plane Geometry/Trigonometry

  • Plane Geometry (23%)
  1. Vertical Angles
  2. Supplementary Angles
  3. Complementary Angles
  4. Alternate Interior Angles
  5. Area and Circumference of a Circle
  6. Perimeter of Shapes
  7. Area of Square and Rectangle
  8. Area of Triangle
  9. Area of Parallelogram
  10. Area of Trapezoid
  11. Basics of Proofs
  12. Cylinder Volume
  13. Box Volume

 

  • Trigonometry (7%)
  1. Sin
  2. Cos
  3. Tan
  4. Secant
  5. Cosecant
  6. Cotangent
  7. Basic Trigonometric Identities
  8. Graph of Sin and Cos
  9. Basics of Unit Circle (i.e. knowing quadrants)
  10. Radian/Degree Conversion

The ACT English Section

So what is on the ACT English? The ACT provides great information on what is on their test; that information is often hard to understand. I’ve broken it down for you here!

Usage/Mechanics – Half of the ACT English Test

  • Punctuation (13%).  Primarily you need to know commas.  Also, review usage of semicolons, colons, and dashes.  It is critical that you don’t just know simple punctuation rules but that you also know how proper punctuation affects the meaning of sentences.
  • Grammar and Usage (16%).  Look at subject verb agreement – words that need to agree with one another will often be separated, so you’ll really have to pay close attention to context.  Watch out for vague pronouns, idioms, and proper adjective and adverb usage.  Basically, make sure that the intended meaning matches up with the actual meaning.
  • Sentence Structure (24%).  You have to be more than a proofreader – you need to be an editor.  Be certain that individual words and longer clauses are placed in a logical order.

Rhetorical Skills – The Other Half of the ACT English Test

  • Strategy (16%). You will need to examine the intent of the author, and pick answers that do what the author actually intended to do.  You will also need to see if phrases and sentences are relevant, or if they can be removed.
  • Organization (15%).  You need to know where sentences and phrases should be placed – rearrange things until they make sense.  Also, you need to connect paragraphs, sentences and phrases with logical transitional words, like “but”, “also”, or “because”, as demanded by the situation.  You’ll  need to be able to see what a sensible introduction or a conclusion would be based on the context.
  • Style (16%). This is big picture stuff. How do you make an individual sentence have the same tone as the rest of an essay?  Depending on what the goal of the author is, how do you pick the best wording to express what is wanted?  How can you be clear with pronouns?  How can you prevent needless repetition and wordiness?

Check out our full length practice test and see how you do!

What to expect on the ACT: Timing

 

If you’re taking the ACT, you’re in for a long morning.  You should arrive at the test center before 8 AM in order to find your room and check in.  You will then have a roughly 4 hour test in front of you.

The ACT is broken up into four sections with an optional fifth section:  English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.  To remember the order in which the test sections fall, simply remember that they go in alphabetical order!  

Here is the breakdown for timing of the test, and how you should pace yourself on the ACT:

English Test – 45 minutes, 75 questions, 5 passages.  You should take about 9 minutes per passage.

Math Test – 60 minutes, 60 questions.  Questions increase in difficulty so start out quickly and then slow down about half way through.

You then have a 10 minute break when you should have a snack!  Bring it yourself. 

Reading Tests – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 4 passages.  Take about 9 minutes per passage.

Science Test – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 6-7 passages.  Take about 5 minutes per passage.

If you are sticking around for the writing, you have a 5 minute break.  If you are not doing the ACT Writing, you can go home at this time. 

Optional ACT Essay – 40 minutes.  Spend about 5 minutes prewriting, and 30 minutes writing and 5 minutes editing.  They typically give you 4-5 pages on which to write.

 

As the tests go on, they become more difficult for most students to finish.  English is very easy to complete, and Science is quite tough.  Practice ahead of time so that you have a good internal feel for the pace at which you should go.  Also, by practicing, you will have a good idea of whether it makes sense to skip and guess on some questions.  Remember, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so if you don’t complete all the questions, be sure to at least bubble something in for each question.

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart