Monthly Archives: July 2019

What to Expect on Test Day

So you’ve practiced, registered, and driven to the test site. But what actually happens behind those closed doors?  It’s nearly impossible to create a practice environment that will mimic the environment of the test. However, knowing what to expect on test day can help calm nerves and improve scores. It’s important to stay flexible as your experience can vary from one site to another and one proctor to another. However, here is a little bit of what you can expect on test day.

Before you get to the test you should know what to bring with you and where to drive and park. If you don’t know these things about your testing site do some research so that you are well prepared on test day. When you first arrive, you’ll see a check in table. Take your ID and your entrance ticket to the table to check in. They’ll compare the picture on your ID and your ticket to your face, check your information, and give you directions to your testing room. They may also check you for non-allowed items. There is often a long line to check in. Arrive early to avoid having to wait and worry! Once you arrive at the test room the proctor should again check your face to either your ticket or ID. Generally, the proctor will then direct you to a specific seat, though some allow seat choice.

From the time you check in until you walk out the door after the test is totally over, you may NOT touch any electronic devices. The best option is to leave them at home or in the glove compartment of your car. If you choose to take it into the test it should be completely powered down. Not on silent, not on airplane mode, but OFF. If your phone goes off during the test you will be excused and your test will not be scored. In addition, the other students in your room may also be excused as well. Nothing is worth that. Don’t touch any electronic devices!

Before the test, you should hear the same instructions regardless of what site you’re at. The proctor will tell you exactly what to do, what to fill in, and any other pertinent information. Then, you begin the test.

Timing is standard across the board. Make sure you know how much time you get for each section of the test. The tests companies do not require that there be a clock in the room where you test, so make sure that you take your own watch. The proctor is required to give you a five-minute warning. Some proctors may be nice and give you more updates- I know of one site  that even starts a giant countdown on the whiteboard- but the five-minute warning is the only one that you can count on receiving.

You entitled to a 15 minute break halfway through the test. During this break the proctor may make you all get up and leave the room or he or she may allow you to stay, but this break is mandated by the test company. Make use of it. Even if the proctor allows you to remain in the room, get up and leave. You should eat a snack, stretch your legs, drink some water, and use the restroom. Do not sit in your seat and stare at the wall for 15 minutes. That is just enough time for your brain to shut off!

The environment of the room should be comfortable. There shouldn’t be noise, and it shouldn’t be freezing cold or boiling hot. You shouldn’t be easily distracted by anything going on within the room or nearby. In short, there should be no distractions that would continually take your attention away from the test.

If any of these things go wrong. If the proctor messes up the timing, if the fluorescent light above you is strobing throughout the test, if you don’t get your break, or if anything else is done that is not according to the testing guidelines, you should report it to the testing company. Testing companies work very hard to ensure that the tests are administered under fair and uniform conditions. If it is found that a mistake or disturbance did occur, the testing companies will to their best to make it right, from a refund to a free re-take.

Finally, if you’re taking the ACT you may encounter a section of the test that you’re not expecting. Sometimes, the ACT will have a 5th section after the final normal test. This section DOES NOT affect your score in any way. The ACT is merely using you as a guinea pig to test out some new passages and questions that they may use in the future. Everyone may have different questions, and some students may not get a 5th section at all. Do your best on this section to help future students have a fair test, but don’t let it stress you out in any way!

I hope you have found this information helpful in preparing for your test!

What Colleges Want in an Essay

The common app will be open for submissions in just a few weeks. Many students’ goal is to be relatively done with applications on August 1st when it opens. This allows students to have a (fairly) stress free senior year without worrying about applications on top of classes, sports, and work. To aid with this, the common app publishes their essay topics well in advance so that students can take advantage of the summer months and knock out the bulk of their essays. Here are the seven prompts for this year:

    1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
    2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
    3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
    4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
    5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
    6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
    7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Students often see these prompts and agonize how to pick one. This approach is entirely backwards! Instead of picking the prompt first, notice how incredibly broad they are! Figure out what you want to talk about and then find a prompt that fits it! In order to find what you would like to write about ask yourself some questions:

  1. What experiences have I had that are unique?
  2. What makes me different from my peers?
  3. When was a time that I worked hard to overcome a challenge?
  4. How would I describe myself in just a few words.

You should not be asking “what do colleges want to see?” This attitude of pandering to the colleges is bad for a number of reasons:

First, it will drive you crazy trying to figure what colleges want, which will result in poor or generic writing. Every sentence and word will sound like a humble brag as you try to spin a story that you think they will find amazing. While you want to show yourself in a good light, remember that no one is perfect! Pick something to write about that you’re confident in and that will shine through.

Second, every college is looking for something slightly different every year. One year at one school your experience as an oboe player in the national youth symphony may make you a top candidate. At another school or another year, they may have 5 wonderful oboe players on campus already. What colleges are “looking for” is often different year to year and campus to campus as colleges try to create a diverse student body. Every admissions department is different and puts emphasis on different things in their selection process.

Third, this may be the most important one. If you pretend to be someone you aren’t to get into a college there is a good chance the real you won’t be happy when you get there. Remember, colleges want to get you know you to see if you would be a good fit, not just academically, but personally. Think about it as a relationship: if you lie about who you are to the person you’re dating is your relationship going to be in good shape when you finally have to be yourself? This essay and your application are kind of like a first date- it’s not a good idea to air all your dirty laundry, but if you don’t act like yourself, there is a good chance you won’t be happy in the relationship down the road.

 

Put all of this together and the best advice a student can hear is this: be yourself. In your essay, try to be true to who you are. Ask your parents and friends what they think the best thing about you is. Do some self-reflection. You can’t control what the colleges want, what they think, or who they choose. You can control the portrait you paint of yourself. Make it a good one- put yourself in a flattering light, get the right angle, tell the right story, but leave the puppy filter and the photoshop for another day.