Optional SAT-ACT Essays – Take Them or Leave Them?

essay writerWhen your student takes the ACT or SAT, should it be with or without the optional essay? The ACT Writing section (essay) has always been optional. Not so coincidentally, students now have the same option when taking the SAT. The essays are the very last section of each test. Students who opt out of essay writing get to leave the test center, leaving the essay writers behind for another 40 minutes for ACT — or 50 minutes for SAT. The scores on the ACT and SAT essays are reported separately, not included in the composite scores.

The SAT essay is a pretty standard five-paragraph essay where students read a passage and analyze the author’s effectiveness. On the ACT, students read three different perspectives on a given topic, then evaluate at least one perspective, as well as explain their own position. The ACT prompts can be quirky, requiring a bit more preparation. In the end, good writers will have little problem other than the fatigue that sets in after three-plus hours of testing.

Which students should take the essay section of the ACT or SAT? If they are applying to colleges that require or recommend the essay, students should definitely comply. In addition, we recommend that all high-scoring juniors and seniors do the essay to demonstrate their writing skills, which are so important to success in college. Generally this includes students scoring 1350+ on SAT and 30+ on ACT. In fact, most colleges do not require the essays — although admissions officers like to compare the quality of ACT/SAT essays to the essays written as part of the college application. They know that the students actually wrote 100% of the ACT/SAT essays, while many applicants get outside help on colleges’ essays.

At Dogwood, our expert tutors help students improve their writing skills, which they’ll demonstrate through college and beyond.

Use the following links or visit college websites to see each school’s ACT/SAT essay policy.

SAT Essay: List of colleges with their SAT Essay Policy

ACT Essay: List of colleges with their ACT Essay Policy

Why Kids Can’t Write

BEN writerWhen your daughter gets to college, will she be able to write high quality papers… or will she need remedial writing help like so many students? Will your son’s employer be impressed with or embarrassed by his correspondence with customers?

Judging by their recent ACT and SAT essays, students just don’t write well. Why are our K-12 schools turning out so many bad writers? A big reason is that teachers lack training in how to teach good writing.

The article entitled “Why Kids Can’t Write,” points out that teachers are usually very good readers after their years of college studies, but many possess weak writing skills and/or low confidence in their ability to teach writing. Those who teach only the traditional rules of grammar and punctuation usually turn out students with modest writing skills. On the other hand, when teachers are trained to combine the traditional approaches along with demonstrating more creative, free flowing writing styles, their students become more successful writers.

At Dogwood, our English language arts experts work one-on-one to help students in grades 4-12 become better writers. Using a combination of teaching methods tailored for each student’s needs, we show them how to organize their ideas into clear, effective essays, papers and correspondence. These are skills that will last a lifetime.

Read The Article>>>

Summer ACT-SAT-SSAT Prep Is A Smart Way To Start

Vector sunset or sunrise icon. Vector sunset or sunrise icon. Sunset or sunrise logo design. Vector illustration.Why not start ACT, SAT or SSAT test prep this summer when students have their lightest workload all year? At Dogwood, we work with many rising juniors and seniors to prepare for ACT in September or SAT in August (a new date this year). We also help with SSAT for private school admissions, but more about this later. The ideal situation is to complete ACT-SAT testing before the college application process intensifies in 12th grade. There are two exceptions, described below, that call for testing later in 11th grade. For most students, however, it is practical and highly productive to prepare during the summer before junior year and take a test (or both tests, if desired) the recommended two or three times.  

What are the circumstances that should tell students to wait on starting ACT-SAT testing? For one, football players should wait until their season ends because they just don’t have enough time or energy to add test prep to their already demanding schedules. All students should try to schedule around their peak seasons so they don’t add test prep to an already full plate. For students who have conflicts all year long, try to start test prep early because procrastination is not your friend.

The other exception takes into consideration students with lower math skills. The math on both ACT and SAT is primarily algebra. If rising juniors struggle with basic math and plan to take Algebra II next year, they might want to wait until second semester to start ACT-SAT test prep. For students who will take pre-calculus or advanced math in junior year, there is no reason to delay test prep because there is no calculus on either ACT or SAT.

Take One of Each Test And Then Decide What To Do – A Bad Strategy

Some people think students should take the real SAT in August and real ACT in September so they can then decide which test to prepare for. We disagree. Why pay $50 per test and wait 4+ weeks for score reports that give you absolutely no detailed information? Come to Dogwood this summer and take ACT and/or SAT practice tests at no charge. Within a few days, you’ll receive a detailed score report that gives you much better information than the real ACT or SAT score reports provide. Our comprehensive diagnostic reports help you make informed decisions about which test is a better fit for your student and how professional test prep services can help improve the results. No cost, no obligation. Just reliable information you can use.

SSAT – Secondary School Admissions Test

Most Atlanta-area independent schools require the SSAT, a very challenging test that rewards good reasoning skills along with math, reading and verbal skills. Even the most talented students in grades 5-11 need tutoring help to achieve their best SSAT results. Because most private school admissions deadlines are around February, students should start SSAT prep in the summer. You should allow time for your student to take SSAT two or three times. We do not recommend taking the SSAT without proper preparation.   

Call Dogwood Tutoring and Test Prep today at 678-735-7555 to discuss your student’s needs and goals. We look forward to helping you navigate the complex maze of admissions testing.

How To Navigate a Gap Year

Illustration depicting a roadsign with a gap year concept. Blue sky background.

A College Application Guide for Gap Year Students

By Kyle DeNuccio — New York Times  April 6, 2017

Applying to college is onerous enough. Asking to defer enrollment for a year can be even more intimidating. Here’s how to navigate the gap-year process.

When to Apply to College

Delay freshman year, not your application. Students interested in a year off should still apply to college their senior year of high school, advises Michele Hernández, co-president of Top Tier Admissions and a former admissions officer at Dartmouth. It ensures that you’ll have access to your school’s resources and won’t be bogged down with applications and standardized testing during a year that may include travel abroad.

“You’d be surprised how quickly your high school forgets you,” Dr. Hernández said. “It’s really hard to go back and ask for teacher recommendations and the other materials you might need after a year has passed.”

It’s also a good idea to keep options open should plans suddenly change. You might not get that internship or job you were counting on, or you might get into a college with even better options for a bridge year, like the tuition-free international program at Princeton or Tufts’ “1+4” program, offering both national and international service opportunities.

When to Ask for a Gap Year

Harvard has long encouraged applicants to consider a year off, but that won’t increase your chances of getting in. While more and more institutions are seeing value in a gap year, it’s better to inform them of your intentions after you’ve been accepted.

 “It might work against you because admissions’ priority is filling that year,” Dr. Hernández said. “They don’t know what the next year is going to look like.”

If your plans have merit — education, work or service components — they are likely to agree. But, she said, “depending on what you’re going to do, a gap year can be viewed as slightly frivolous. So that’s why I say, get in first and then propose an idea.”

If a college has no gap year program, write to the admissions director before deposits are due. Describe plans for the year ahead, and ask whether time off will affect any scholarships the school has offered for freshman year.

Where to Find Resources

USA Gap Year Fairs organizes events where students can hear about an array of programs and speak with professionals in the field: 39 were held this winter; a list of locations for 2018 will be published in the fall (usagapyearfairs.org). The American Gap Association accredits independent programs that offer skills- or service-based learning experiences. It maintains lists of the programs, which run a few weeks to a year, and their scholarships, as well as university policies on deferring enrollment (www.americangap.org).

The association tracked $2.8 million in need-based support for gap year programs in 2015. Some universities even provide funding for service-based experiences. Florida State University offers $5,000 gap year fellowships, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers fellowships of $7,500, with a focus on students from rural school districts in the state.

Chapel Hill is impressed with the results.

“Students in the gap year fellowship don’t struggle like other freshmen do with the transition into college,” said Richard Harrill, who helped design the program. Instead, he said, participants “become even more intellectually hungry.”

 

Can You Prevent Math Anxiety?

Fending Off Math Anxiety

By Perri Klass, M.D.  —  New York Times  April 24, 2017

Stressed High school or college Latina female student sitting by the desk at math class. Blackboard with complicated advanced mathematical formals is visible in background

My mother was what we would now call math anxious, if not phobic. My daughter, on the other hand, was a math major, which always left me feeling like the transitional generation, capable of mastering standardized-test math problems and surviving college calculus (it’s one of the pre-med requirements) but never really connecting to the beauty or power of the subject.

So when I hear people talk about lack of self-confidence when it comes to numbers or intense math anxiety, I always think first of my mother, a college English professor who was terrified by the idea of calculating a 10 percent tip, and desperately grateful to leave it to any grandchild at the fourth grade level or beyond. (Little did my Depression-era mother know that I had taught her grandchildren to jack up the tips to 15 percent; it would never have occurred to her that anyone would willingly undergo both a slightly more difficult arithmetic problem and a slightly higher cost.)

New research shows that math anxiety is by no means an American problem, and is found in countries where students regularly outperform us in math skills. In a study published in February, researchers from the University of Chicago looked at data from 64 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds in math, science and reading skills.

“Math anxiety is prevalent all around the world,” said Julianne Herts, a study author and a doctoral student at the University of Chicago who works in cognitive psychology. “If you look within Japan, students in Japan who are math anxious aren’t scoring as well at math,” she said. “If you look between countries, countries where more students experience math anxiety tend to underperform.”

So does being “bad at math,” whatever that is, make you anxious, or does being anxious make you bad at math?

“There’s increasing reason to believe it’s a bidirectional relation,” said Alana Foley, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago in developmental psychology, who was the first author of the study. “Poor performance in math can lead to math anxiety, but there are also studies that point in the other direction; if you have math anxiety it disrupts your concentration.”

Even students who score high on math tests can feel a special worry around this subject, Dr. Foley said. Among high-performing students, she said, “math anxiety takes a bigger bite out of their performance.”

Other researchers involved in the study traced math anxiety back further into early childhood. Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and the author of the book “Choke,” about performance and pressure, said that math anxiety “oftentimes relates most strongly to the performance of those kids who want to do well, who tend to be high achieving in school.”

A couple of years ago, Dr. Beilock and her colleagues published an article showing that parental math anxiety could be transmitted to children (you can take a test based on the assessment they used, to look at your own level of math anxiety). “The moral of the story is that parents likely play an important role, either for the positive or the negative,” she said.

There has been some overlap demonstrated between math anxiety and other more general types of anxiety, especially related to test-taking, but math anxiety seems to exist as a separate phenomenon; studies have shown increased heart rates when people were tested on math, but not on other subjects.

One problem is that we tend to believe with math that you either have the ability or you don’t, rather than assuming that your skills and abilities are the result of study and practice. “It’s an interesting phenomenon in our culture to hear highly intelligent people bragging about not being good at math, not being numbers people,” Dr. Beilock said.

Dr. Susan Levine, chairwoman of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, agreed: “An educated person doesn’t go around saying, I’m not a reading person.”

Researchers believe that the skills — and the anxiety — are actually shaped even before children start formally learning math.

Dr. Levine said, “a lot of my work starts in the preschool years with the thesis that math learning begins at home.” Math skills at kindergarten entry, she said, predict not only later math achievement but also other important skills, including reading. “There’s some research out there that shows that when kids enter the kindergarten door behind in math, it’s hard to close the gap,” she said.

So what are those crucial math skills in early childhood? Dr. Levine said that although many preschool children know how to count, they don’t necessarily understand the meaning of the number words. By the time children are around 2, “They can recite the count list up to maybe 10,” she said, but “they don’t understand that the last number you reach is the set size; they don’t connect the counting” to the total. With children from 2½ to 4, “parents are often shocked when we bring kids into the lab,” she said. “They know the kids can count, but when we ask them to give me two of something they just grab a bunch of things.”

By kindergarten, children have additional skills; for example, they can understand that you can make five by holding up three fingers on one hand and two on the other, or four and one. Dr. Levine said they also can demonstrate what is known as flexible counting — that is, they can start from four or five, without going all the way back to one, or count backward.

“Parents embrace as part of their responsibility to get kids ready to read in school to introduce them to the alphabet and letter sounds,” Dr. Levine said. “They’re much more likely to think it’s the school’s job to teach math.”

Whether we realize it or not, the researchers say, those of us who get worried around math probably are less likely to talk about numbers and number concepts to our children. In a 2015 study, parents used a program called “Bedtime Math,” a mobile app that presented short numerical story problems to their children; the children’s math skills improved relative to children in a control group, Dr. Beilock said, but the improvement was strongest in children whose parents had math anxiety.

Working with the app might help dispel the myth that there are math people and non-math people, said Dr. Levine, and make parents less anxious and more willing to introduce math talk into their daily lives (let’s put five raisins in each cookie; let’s set the table, how many forks do we need?).

“Think of math as something that’s the purview of the home, not just the school,” Dr. Beilock said.