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 ( 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 (

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 recent study, 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.

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 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.

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. 


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.