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

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.”

 

Ready for AP Exams?

vogel-apThere are over 30 AP courses offered in high schools in the arts, English, history, math, sciences and world languages. AP (for Advanced Placement) is a trademark of College Board, the same folks who bring us the SAT and PSAT exams. AP courses teach college-level material to advanced high school students. Each year in early May, there are 30+ AP exams scheduled at schools over a two-week period.

The AP exams are usually two to three hours long with multiple-choice questions and free response (typically essay) questions. The scoring scale is from 1 to 5, with 5 as the top score. Some colleges allow students to get credit for a college course if they score 4 or 5 on an AP exam. In more cases, colleges use AP scores as guidelines for placement, waiving prerequisites and allowing students to start advanced courses sooner. Some highly selective colleges require successful applicants to have a minimum number of AP courses on their high school transcripts in order to demonstrate they can handle a rigorous course load.

At Dogwood, we help AP students with one-on-one tutoring throughout the school year to stay on top of the challenging curriculum. Our expert tutors also help students prepare for each May exam by prioritizing and reviewing the topics covered. And we teach key test-taking strategies to approach the AP exam more methodically. Using practice tests and other materials, we provide valuable review and practice exercises to prepare students for test day.

Call Dogwood today at 678-735-7555 to help your student get ready for the AP exams in May. Click here for the 2017 AP exam schedule.

Changes on the ACT Math Test

Without any fanfare, ACT makes subtle yet significant changes to its test each year, which runs from September to June. The public gets its first look at specific changes when ACT releases its December test booklet to students who purchase it. There are two noteworthy changes to the 2016-17 ACT math test, as shown in questions 30 and 55.

For the first time, ACT is testing basic knowledge of combinations and permutations as shown in question 30 on December’s test (74H). It’s located in the middle of the 60-question test, before they usually start asking the more difficult questions. 

30

While ACT has included questions on determinants in the past, they also provided the required formula. December’s question 55 is the first one we’ve seen where students are expected to know the formula in this advanced math category.

55