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.

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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.

The Redesigned SAT: A Year Later

new_SATOne year ago, College Board discarded the SAT format they had used since 2005. The redesigned SAT launched in March of 2016 was a brand new format with the stated purpose of being more relevant in testing for material and methods learned in high school, including alignment with Common Core. In practical terms, College Board wanted to recover the market share lost to ACT the prior four years. Thus it’s no surprise the SAT now looks more like the ACT than the old SAT. Yet there are still some significant differences between the ACT and redesigned SAT.

First, here are some facts about the tests in general.

  • Almost all colleges accept ACT and SAT results on an equal basis.
  • For each of the past five years, more students have taken the ACT.
  • Both tests have sections on reading, writing (multiple choice) and math.
  • ACT has a science section but, curiously, it really doesn’t require students to have much science knowledge. Instead it tests for technical reading skills using data presented in tables, graphs and charts.
  • The SAT has 1600 total possible points, with 800 math and 800 reading-writing.
  • Each ACT section has 36 possible points, and the composite score is the average of those four sections (out of 36 possible).
  • Thus, SAT math counts for half the total SAT score while ACT math counts for 25% of the ACT composite score.
  • ACT gives students significantly less time to answer each question, requiring better time-management skills. It is common for students to run out of time on ACT sections until they learn how to use strategies to improve efficiency and accuracy.

The redesigned SAT adopts a number of features that ACT has used for many years. For starters, SAT used to deduct a quarter-point for each wrong answer, but now has no such penalty. The old SAT essay used to be required, but now it’s optional just like the ACT essay (the Writing section). The SAT reading and writing sections were changed to look more like ACT reading and English sections. Instead of adding a separate science section, the redesigned SAT includes some data tables in its reading section and data analysis questions in the math section.

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The following analysis breaks down the section-by-section differences between ACT and SAT. Click here for a printer-friendly version of the ACT-SAT Test Differences.


The SAT now has 1600 possible points: Math (800) and Evidence-based Reading and Writing (800). The ACT includes four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading and Science. Each section has a possible score of 36; the composite score is the average of the four sections. Both SAT and ACT exams take three hours, plus the optional essays. The SAT essay is 50 minutes and ACT Writing is 40 minutes.


SAT reading includes graphs, figures and diagrams, which ACT includes in the science section. SAT asks students to identify which line in the passage provides evidence to support their answer to the previous question. The SAT reading section allows 40% more time per question than ACT reading.


Both tests use multiple-choice questions to assess writing mechanics and rhetorical skills. SAT now asks grammar questions using the same format as ACT. SAT has both verbal and graphical questions; ACT has only verbal examples in the English section. Only SAT requires students to cite evidence for their chosen answers. SAT Writing & Language allows 30% more time per question than ACT English.


SAT math now accounts for half of the total SAT score, while ACT math is only 25% of the ACT composite score. On 35% of SAT math questions, no calculator is allowed; ACT allows calculators on all math questions. SAT has grid-ins on 12% of math questions, requiring students to bubble-in their own answers; ACT math is all multiple-choice with five answer choices. SAT allows 80 minutes to answer 58 questions, while the ACT time limit is much tighter: 60 minutes for 60 questions. SAT emphasizes algebra, basic math and data analysis while ACT covers a broader range of math topics.


The ACT science section is really a technical reading section rather than a test of prior science knowledge. Almost everything a student needs to know is provided in text, tables or graphs of data. Questions require students to interpret and recognize patterns in the data. The SAT has no science section, although science topics and data analysis are included in the three SAT sections.


SAT provides a passage and requires the student to analyze the author’s effectiveness. ACT provides three different perspectives on a given topic, and requires students to evaluate one, as well as explain their own position. At Dogwood, we advise all students to write the optional essays for SAT and ACT.

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  1. In late 10th grade or early 11th grade, take a full-length ACT practice test at Dogwood to experience the timing and feel of the test. See whether ACT or SAT (or PSAT) feels like a better fit. See which test yields a higher score. Then decide which test to prepare for first. Avoid bouncing back and forth between tests.
  2. If you haven’t already taken the PSAT (the same format as SAT), take a SAT and/or PSAT practice test. We administer proctored practice tests at no charge at the Dogwood center throughout the year, usually on Saturday mornings.
  3. If you scored in the 90th percentile or higher on the PSAT in 10th grade, consider doing some preparation for the PSAT in October of 11th grade. If you score in the top 3% nationally in junior year, you will earn recognition from the National Merit Scholarship program. The PSAT prep is essentially the same as SAT prep, so you’ll also be ready for the earlier SAT dates.
  4. Plan to take the ACT or SAT (or both tests) two or three times in junior year, starting as early as practical in 11th grade. Many students can benefit from starting test prep in the summer before junior year. Try to plan test prep for months when your workload isn’t already overwhelming.

Call Dogwood at 678-735-7555 or email Ivan@DogwoodTutoring.com to discuss strategic options for moving forward with testing, given your student’s specific needs. Testing is not a ‘one size fits all’ process. We’re here to help you customize a plan to help your child achieve his or her best results.

Now That PSAT Scores Are In, What Is the Next Step?

SAT-ACT choicesThe PSAT is a SAT practice test taken each October, which allows us to predict SAT scores. For juniors, this is an important step to determine whether the SAT or ACT is a better match. Colleges accept either ACT or SAT on an equal basis, so students should start by taking the test where they score higher.

How do you predict how your child will score on the ACT? The best way is to take a full-length ACT practice test at Dogwood. It will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays over Winter Break (see below). You may call 678-735-7555 or email Info@DogwoodTutoring.com to sign up. There is no charge for the 3-hour test or the diagnostic report that follows. After the test is scored, you’ll have a private consultation with the Dogwood director to review the ACT and PSAT results and discuss the strategic options for moving forward with ACT or SAT testing. Bring along all your test-related questions and get straight answers that make sense for your child’s individual needs.

We recommend that students take the ACT or SAT (or both) two or three times in junior year. There are three more national ACT dates (2/11, 4/8 and 6/10) and four more national SAT test dates (1/21, 3/11, 5/6 and 6/3) this school year. The testing schedule will resume in August for the SAT (this is a new, earlier date) and September for ACT.

For juniors, the PSAT is also the qualifying test for National Merit Scholarship recognition. For the 2015 PSAT, the cutoff in Georgia was 219 on the NMSC Selection Index, found on page 3 of the PSAT report. That determined which students qualified to become National Merit Semi-Finalists. To receive commendations, students had to score 209+ on the Selection Index. The cutoff numbers for 2016 will be announced in the spring. 

What if my child didn’t take the PSAT? Are there other options for practice testing?

What is new about the redesigned SAT?

What are the differences between ACT and the redesigned SAT?

ACT Practice Test Dates

Tuesdays 12/20, 12/27 and 1/3 from 11:00-2:00

Thursdays 12/22, 12/29 and 1/5 from 11:00-2:00

We also offer SAT practice tests and our ACT vs SAT Comparison Test by appointment. Please call 678-735-7555 or email Info@DogwoodTutoring.com to sign up. First come first serve.