ACT

The Power of Elimination - Mastering Multiple Choice

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book -- but is a very powerful, underrated strategy!

“So, what can you eliminate?”

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My students will tell you that I must say this phrase at least 100 times each lesson, but there is a method to my madness. In almost every question on the ACT Math section, there is usually one answer that is completely out of left field. As soon as you see that answer, crossing it off immediately will ensure that you won’t accidentally choose it if it comes down to guessing. It will also help lead your brain to the right answer by narrowing your focus to the other answer choices. In the case of “plug and chug” questions, having to plug in 3 numbers versus 5 can save you precious seconds in the race against the clock.

Eliminating will not only help you increase your chances of selecting the correct answer, but it will exercise your intuition and confidence. Knowing the wrong answer can be just as useful as knowing the right one!

My Favorite (Free!) Website for ACT Reading Preparation

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Most of my students struggle with the ACT Reading section not because they can’t read, but because it is so difficult to manage the short time given. This is entirely understandable, the ACT is a unique experience that is hard to prepare for. Think about it this way, in the real world people normally don’t open up the New York Times and give themselves 5 minutes to read the top front page article. That would be just weird. Even if you wanted to do this, you wouldn't know how long the article should take you to read anyway. With every second counting, guessing an article should take you 6 minutes to read when it really should be 5 minutes can be quite costly.

This is why I love JSTOR’s, the world’s leading digital library of academic journals, daily (free!!!) blog based on the papers they publish.

Sourced and written by their own high-quality writers, the content is on par with what you may see in an ACT Reading section. Even better, they divide the website topically so you can practice the passage type (expect fiction) that gives you the most trouble. Best of all, each article is listed with a reading time so you can time yourself even if don’t have time for a full section. Perfect for when you just have 5 minutes to practice.

JSTOR’s blog is the best free website out there to help you prepare for reading the ACT’s deep academic content under time pressure.

You can find the link here: https://daily.jstor.org/   

Good luck and enjoy!

The Other Half of the Test, and How to Master It

We all know there is a lot of material to learn on the path to mastering the SAT or ACT – formulas, grammar rules, reading strategies. But there is another skill to master: the mind game.

During the nearly four-hour test, pacing, endurance, and fatigue become huge factors in our mental performance. These hurdles make up the mind game: the psychological prowess needed in partnership with the material to maintain rigorous concentration during the test’s unique conditions. Rather than being learned in a lesson, these skills come from building the muscle of focus. And like any muscle, it needs to be trained. 

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Training is not something that happens over night – at our second trip to the gym, we don’t run a marathon. Instead, we take active steps to train this muscle during our practice.

Practice. Interesting word, that. What do we know about practice?

We are taught that practice makes perfect. This is not true. An aspiring pitcher who practices by bowling the baseball probably isn’t going to be very successful, even if they practice all day every day.

The truth is: Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

This means when we prepare for the test but do not exercise the mind game, we are making permanent the limited focus and energy we are bringing to our practice. That is why it is so important to push ourselves to improve focus during all of our SAT/ACT practice.

There are steps we can take to train our focus and improve our mind game when we study for the tests:

THE ENVIRONMENT

Just like test day, your practice space needs to be distraction free. Find a quiet space, preferably with as few people around as possible. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. If kid brother is always practicing his air guitar and mom always has an endless number of phone calls, tell your family “Hey, I’m going to be studying for the SAT/ACT at 7 tonight, can I have an hour of quiet-time in the house?”

Most importantly, put your phone away. In another room, preferably. Practicing with it buzzing at the other end of the table is going to make permanent that little voice in your head wondering what your friends are texting you. It won’t be there on test day, so get it outta there.

Or better yet, head to LogicPrep anytime, and we’ll set you up in a distraction-free study space or an empty room. We’ll even hold your cell phone behind the front desk for you.

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THE BODY

Given the intensity of high school, it is understandable that sometimes SAT/ACT homework happens later at night than we might want. But attempting these endurance-based tests when we’re losing our energy to stay focused is bad practice, and builds bad mental habits. If you feel yourself losing steam, it might be best to call it a night and start up again in the morning.

Hunger can be just as distracting as tiredness. Stock up on brain foods to snack on before you begin your SAT/ACT practice, like nuts or berries. Just like with our phones, we do not want to make permanent the state of distraction that an empty stomach brings.

THE MIND

You know the feeling when you’ve read the same paragraph for the third time but still can’t remember what it is about? That’s your mind’s signal telling you that your focus is temporarily low and needs a little reset. There’s no use reading it a fourth time – we don’t want to make that mental state permanent. Instead, take a micro break. Try moving your body: walk up and down the stairs or do ten jumping jacks. Use this moment to wipe your slate clean and return to the question at hand as if it’s the first question you’re working on today. Slowly, our mental muscles improve, and we can reset and focus by simply taking a deep breath. But until then, note when your mind is drifting, and take active, physical steps to correct it.

In order to build the mental muscles required for staying focused during these large tests, it is important that you study in test conditions. Remember, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

6 Math Formulas to Know Before Taking the ACT

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For many students, the ACT math section is the final frontier on the journey to their dream score. While the section can sometimes feel daunting — those word problems can go on forever — there’s some easy prep that can save you some time and earn you some major points. By far, the one thing that makes the biggest difference for my students is getting familiar with the most common formulas. Because the ACT math section is relatively short (just about a minute per question) and you don’t get a formula sheet, knowing these formulas can be the difference between feeling like a champ after your test and leaving the test center scratching your head. Here are my top six formulas to know before the ACT:

1. Special Right Triangles

One of the first things I ask my students to memorize. For some people, the meaning of life is happiness, or success; for the ACT, it’s special right triangles. It feels like half of the geometry problems are really just triangle problems in disguise, so knowing the sets of side lengths (or angles) that always make perfect right triangles definitely comes in handy.


2. Area of a Trapezoid

This one might seem a bit random, but there’s always at least one trapezoid problem on the ACT, and it’s an easy way to guarantee yourself a point. It’s also one of the easiest to memorize, since it’s so close to the triangle area formula.

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Watch out here- sometimes you’ll be need to find the height, where the Pythagorean Theorem (or your knowledge of special right triangles) will be a big help.

3. Distance and Midpoint

Two very popular questions in coordinate geometry:

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...are easily solved when you have the equations for distance and midpoint between two points. (there’s also a nifty program, Points, that can do this for you- know the formulas, but don’t be afraid to take advantage of the technology!).

4. Slope of a Line

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Slope. Gradient. Rise over run. A slope by any other name works just as well- as long as you remember that your change in Y always goes above your change in X.

5. Slope-Intercept Form of a Line

Speaking of slopes, remembering how to find the slope-intercept form of a line is a must. While the ACT doesn’t play as many tricks as other, similar tests (see: SAT), one thing the test writers love to do is hand you an equation that looks like this:

...and ask you for the slope. Proceed with caution! Most students pull the coefficient off the X (in this case, that would give us C), but this only works when your line is in slope-intercept form:

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2x + 3y + 6 = 0

3y = -6 - 2x

y = -6 -2/3x

Here, it’s evident that the answer is actually D. My advice? Anytime you get an equation that looks like this, rearrange it so it’s in slope intercept. You’ll still be able to plug and chug if you need to, and you’ll save yourself one of those.

6. SOHCAHTOA

Not really a formula as much as it is a mnemonic device, but an essential one, especially on the second half of the test. Most of the right triangle trig questions on the test are pretty straightforward— just remember to double check which angle you’re using when you’re figuring out your opposite vs. adjacent sides.

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P.S. don’t forget- tan can be rewritten a fraction (sin/cos)!

These formulas are a great start for anyone starting their ACT math prep, or a good refresher for anyone looking to bulk up on some math knowledge mid-program. Learn these, and you’ll be flying through the math section in no time!

Why Reading Will Benefit You When Applying to College & Beyond

It is quite clear that we live in a digital age where our minds are often inundated with information from platforms like Facebook and Instagram and also from text messages we receive from family and friends. We spend a great deal of our time responding to notifications, time that we could otherwise spend devoted to old-school, deep reading. I get it! In fact, I am sometimes guilty of it myself getting carried away by such distractions (and I even enjoy it). However, I think it is important to note the difference between the texts found in a book or informative article and the text messages found in your phone. I favor the former and here are a few reasons why:

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Engaged reading can only improve your SAT/ACT scores

First, as many of us know, the current college application process involves more than just completing a set of courses in high school and achieving a certain GPA. It means preparation for standardized tests like the ACT or SAT. It means proving your intellectual strengths. For the ACT or SAT in particular, building the habit of engaged reading is crucial to see progress not only in the verbal sections of the ACT/SAT but all throughout. I see this all the time with my students. In fact, various studies show that deep engaged reading is actually connected to cognitive progress over time. This cognitive progress can help you overcome the reading section of the ACT/SAT, give you exposure to new vocabulary and new ideas, and even give you new forms of reasoning to solve that super complicated math problem.

Colleges want to know that you’re reading

Second, aside from standardized tests, colleges and universities admire students who go out of their way to delve into readings of their interest. So much so that often colleges and universities might ask for your favorite outside readings (not assigned in your English class) on their applications. Columbia for example asks “List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year” in one of their 2018-2019 supplement prompts. Boston College asks “Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?”. Both of these questions provide an opportunity to show that you strive to become more informed in areas that interest you. Reading in this case becomes an advantage during the application process. You can use a book to talk about your passions and values or how a book pushed you to explore a certain subject.

You’ll understand the world better

Finally and most importantly, reading is a tool to learn greater empathy. I read an article recently that asserts this: words serve as a vehicle that transports you through someone else’s perspective. When you read deeply and meaningfully, you come across characters that are just like you. You also get exposed to others that are completely different than you. But reading is so intimate that you are often looking through the eyes of a character whether understanding their struggle or celebrating their success. In fact, different parts of our brain that have to do with emotion activate as we read about the life of a character. As the article pointed out, when we are deeply engaged with a story our brains mirror the actions and feelings of the characters. When we read, we exercise our brain to process new ways of forging relationships between ourselves and others. You have the opportunity to gain more sophisticated ways of understanding the world.

You might favor reading quick posts on your phone because it requires minimal effort. However, keep in mind that with minimal effort comes minimal rewards. You might be slowing your test preparation progress. You might be giving up an opportunity to increase your reading speed and comprehension. You might be giving up an opportunity to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone different.

What I would encourage is instead for you to choose to participate in deep reading. Pick an area that you like, something that interests you, and research a book related to it. If you still have a hard time finding a book, come to any of us at LogicPrep and we will gladly help you.

Reading makes us smarter, more informed, and more empathetic. These characteristics will be highly valued as you apply to college and even beyond. Why not start building them now? You want to go into college showing maturity through empathy and also demonstrating that you can handle the volume and complexity of college-level reading material.

Using Eyeballing to Solve Equations

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When I began teaching ACT Math four years ago, I primarily emphasized teaching students the “mathematical” ways of solving questions — that is, solving questions in ways that their math teachers would be proud of. As a math major, I felt — and still do — that it’s important for students to understand the concepts underlying the math that they’re doing. While I still encourage a conceptual understanding, I’ve also learned that -- on standardized tests like the ACT and the SAT -- students benefit most from having multiple ways to solve any given question. In fact, these tests routinely reward creative solving-problem. To that end, one surprisingly powerful technique that test-takers can use on the ACT Math — one that typical math teachers would probably not approve of — is eyeballing.

Take a look at this math question, taken from a real ACT, as featured in The Real ACT book, test 2:

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This question can be solved in multiple ways:

The standard “math” way to solve it is to recognize that the two angles on the line are supplementary and so must add up to 180 degrees. We then set up the equation (4x + 6) + 2x = 180, and solve to get that x = 29. Since the question is asking for the measure of the smaller angle, which is 2x, we then double this to get (D) 58 degrees.

Another approach to the question is to approximate the measure of the smaller angle by simply eyeballing it: it looks to be slightly more than 45 degrees. We then go to the answer choices. The figures on the ACT Math are drawn roughly to scale, so what answer choices can we eliminate? Well, (A), (B), and (C) are all far too small. We can also eliminate (E) because we know that it’s possible to set up an equation to solve for the smaller angle.

Interestingly, for this particular question, eyeballing the figure to arrive at the answer is actually faster than solving the question algebraically. In addition, eyeballing avoids a common mistake students make when solving this question algebraically. That is, many students set up the equation and correctly solve for x, finding that x = 29. They forget, though, that the question is asking for the measure of the smaller angle (which is 2x), and they choose (C). (Note: Solving this question algebraically is still great as a primary strategy and can be done very quickly if you’re comfortable with the algebra.)

While eyeballing can be helpful, it should be thought of more as an extra tool rather than as a primary problem solving-strategy. The technique is only relevant for questions with figures, and, even on such questions, it often can’t be used by itself to narrow down to one answer. However, it 1) can be the most efficient way of solving certain questions, 2) will often allow you to eliminate at least two answers on many other questions if you need to make an educated guess, and 3) provides a way to double-check your work if you solve the question using a more standard math approach. For example, in the question above, if a student decides to solve the question algebraically, he or she can then quickly glance at the figure to see whether the answer makes sense given the scale.

As a final example, consider this question, again taken from a real ACT, as featured in The Real ACT book, test 4:

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This question appears among the last 10 questions of an ACT Math section. At this stage of the Math section, many students are pressed for time and/or are unsure of how to solve certain questions using standard math approaches. In situations like this, when a student needs to make an educated guess, eyeballing can come in handy.

The question asks for the height of the building. Based on the given length of the shadow, which is 24 yards, and given the scale, we know that the height of the building is slightly more than 24 yards. We can use this to eliminate (F), (G), and (H). In a situation when we might need to guess, (the correct answer is (K)), we’ve very simply and quickly increased our chances.

Let us know if you ever use the eyeballing strategy on the ACT!

How to Solve It

One of my jobs at LogicPrep is to help students prepare for the ACT and SAT. Unsurprisingly, this involves spending lots of time working on, thinking about, and discussing ACT and SAT problems. These are activities some might seek to avoid, reminders of stressful days spent in examination rooms and the fraught process of college applications. While I understand the aversion, however, I do not share it. It is not that I enjoy the cutthroat arena of standardized testing (I do not); it is simply that these tests, while imperfect, represent an opportunity to develop a skill I value deeply in myself and those around me: the ability to solve problems.

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In 1945, Hungarian mathematician George Pólya wrote his short text, How to Solve It, an exploration of problem solving methods drawn from mathematics but applicable in a wide variety of problematic settings. Its introduction lays out the following four-step process, to be used when presented with a new and vexing problem:

1. Understand the problem

Example:
Susie is a rising junior in high school interested in applying to a competitive university, and she needs to take the ACT or SAT. This is a problem for her because she knows little about either exam, has a very busy course load at school, and does not consider herself to be a good test taker. Her older sister Jennifer, always a model student, earned a very high score on the ACT but was still rejected from her top-choice school, and Susie worries this may happen to her.

2. Devise a plan

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Ex. (continued):
Susie decides to meet with a tutor her friend recommends, and she and the tutor plot a course of action together. Since Susie is swamped with schoolwork, it is important she spread out her test preparation as much as possible, so she plans to begin the process the following weekend. She schedules a mock ACT and a mock SAT at a local testing center to determine which exam is a better fit, and she schedules weekly sessions with her tutor to work on relevant math topics, as math is her weakest subject. She aims to take her first official exam in the spring, leaving open the option of taking the test again in the summer and fall.

3. Carry out the plan

Ex. (continued):
Susie finds that the ACT is a better fit for her than the SAT, since she doesn’t mind its strict time limits and actually enjoys the Science section, much to her friends’ disbelief. She and her tutor begin a thorough review of important math topics, including linear and quadratic functions, right triangle trigonometry, and systems of equations. Though she takes a couple of weeks off from her ACT prep for an important soccer tournament (which her team wins), she completes the homework her tutor assigns her and doesn’t lose momentum. In April, Susie performs well on her first official exam, but she decides to shoot for a higher math score and takes the June test as well, ultimately achieving her goal score.

4. Reflect on your work

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Ex. (continued):
When Susie applies Early Decision to her top choice school and is admitted in December, she takes a moment to reflect on her work over the preceding year. Though it is not her style to boast, she feels proud of her accomplishment and is glad she set aside the time to thoroughly prepare for the ACT. Starting early had been a good idea; it made her feel more optimistic about her odds of success and allowed room for unforeseen interruptions to her preparation – her victory in that soccer tournament turned out to be a nice boost to her college application, and an experience with teammates she will never forget.

If Susie could have done one thing differently, it would have been to worry less about her sister’s performance on the ACT and in the college admissions process. Jennifer’s experience was instructive, but it was only one data point in a sea of possible outcomes (and Jennifer’s second-choice school turned out to be a perfect fit for her). Comparing herself with Jennifer was counterproductive, for everybody is different and follows a different path in life. Susie is now more confident in her ability to solve challenging problems on her own, and when faced with life’s next major problem, she will know how to solve it: just take things step by step.

Bounty of the Bard: The Profit of Minor Insights

As many of my students know, I am a self-professed Shakespeare obsessive. His writing – plays and sonnets – might first be introduced in middle or high school as seemingly distant, foreignly-rendered text, but the reality of each line teems with vivid, living and immediate human experience. This experience isn’t something apart from what you, the student, or I, the instructor, might be familiar with – somewhere, in any given line from any work of Shakespeare’s – from the popularly known to the obscure – contains an articulation of every complex emotion that can be experienced: all one needs to do is be paying attention.

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How is this relevant to education practice, or test prep, you might ask? In a larger sense, our shared work toward test prep mastery is centered on self-knowledge and improvement – we strategize around our strength and perceived weaknesses to build a more confident, fully-rendered you (and the human care and reflection built throughout Shakespeare can be a key tenet of that process). 

Let’s look at this in detail: Act I, Scene I of the comedy Taming of the Shrew:

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en.
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.

  Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer in Phylida Lloyd’s 2016 Production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (   Photo courtesy of the Public Theater   )

Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer in Phylida Lloyd’s 2016 Production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (Photo courtesy of the Public Theater)

In the very earliest moments of the play, Tranio (the servant of a secondary character, someone to whom, in the larger scheme of narrative, we might pay little to no attention) delivers an invaluable, sharp insight of empowerment. Enjoyment, and sincere investment, is key to effective growth in any capacity – particularly academic. It’s all about finding your point of entry. Perhaps the content is key, and you readily invest in any fictional work; perhaps you’re of a puzzle-breaking mind, and analyzing and breaking the patterns of the test is your tactic of approach; or perhaps, simply, your drive to put in the work is to finish as soon as possible. Success is personal, and honest-to-goodness happiness is key.

And maybe there’s a lesson to be taken not only from the text, but also from the fashion of its use. A kernel of profundity placed within the early lines of a minor character – easy to overlook, and even easier to not give credence to when notice is taken. Shakespeare imbues every character with expansive humanity, whether central or tertiary. There is human use to this – in the attention we pay to people of all stripes who enter within our narrative – and certainly educational use, too. 

There is innate value in detail-oriented attention, and by taking in every aspect of how value is delivered to us, in Shakespeare, in life, and in the testing room, build a stronger, more comprehensive understanding as we move forward. A growing profit, indeed.

A Letter to High School Students Who Don't Read

Dear High Schoolers,

Here’s the problem: you probably don’t read. Ok, actually, you don’t read at all. If you’re trying to get better at standardized tests, unfortunately, Instagram is not going to help you. Scrolling through nonsense on your phone does not count as reading, even if you’ve traded every spare minute of your life staring at Twitter.  

Here’s the solution: read something-- anything that’s more than one page long. I’m not asking for much, but let’s consider how much I’ve read this summer and then compare it to how much you’ve read this summer. We can then compromise on how many pages you are going to read so that you can become a faster reader and score higher on your tests. Perhaps they weren’t the best books I’ve ever read, but I’ll run you through them here just so you have an idea of what people who read, do. 

 Roger caught reading at our annual retreat

Roger caught reading at our annual retreat

The first book I read this summer was called American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. It is a quick novel, just 465 pages, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re into fantasy and nonsense. Not the kind of nonsense on Elliot Tebele's Instagram, mind you, but well-written nonsense. The story is one of the old gods vs. the new; the old Norse and native American gods are getting old and can’t compete with the new gods of media and television. A war is taking place in the American psyche and you are on the front lines. I will not mention that this is now a TV show because you’ll probably just stream it and continue to read nothing.

Next up was Love and Other Pranks, by Tony Vigorito. It's a silly love story nestled in a silly caper to expose the lies and deceit of a new-age guru charlatan. The guru is a horrible person and hoards money that he gets from his congregation. His former student decides to take revenge with a lot of laughing out loud along the way.  

And then there was The Dark Tower, by Stephen King, a modern-day Lord of the Rings epic. While a bit more R-rated, this story follows a cloaked mercenary through a series of adventures that are typically weird. These books are also well-written nonsense but in my defense, we are up over a thousand pages of nonsense that I’ve put on my summer reading list so far.

For the nerdist types, the last book I'll mention is The Dragons of Eden, by Carl Sagan. This book takes the reader on a journey of scientific discovery beginning at the brains of the dinosaurs. Reptile brains are small and consist of a spinal cord and a small nub at the end called the R-complex (much like the human medulla oblongata). It is thought that much of our instinct is present in this area and only through the advent of the cerebral corpus have higher order animals developed the ability to think clearly. The problem is that having a cerebral cortex does not guarantee that you, my friend, are thinking clearly.

Please, I implore you, use your cerebral cortex for more than cat videos and learn something for crying out loud. Let's compromise on you reading more than a few pages of an actual book every day. If for nothing more than to improve your ACT or SAT score. But remember, Instagram and Twitter pages don't count.

Sincerely,

Roger, Instructor (and concerned citizen)

International ACT Registration Now Open!

Calling all LP International Students!

Registration for the 2018-2019 ACT tests is now open. As we mentioned in our earlier articles (here and here) about the new computer-based ACT, you’ll want to sign up AS SOON AS POSSIBLE for these tests. Because there are fewer test centers (for example, there are only two in Rio and two in São Paulo) and potentially fewer seats per testing center, it is likely that these test centers will fill up quickly. We highly recommend that you sign up early (aka now) to ensure that you are able to reserve a seat at your preferred testing center.

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A couple of things to note:

You will need to set up a new MyACT account to register for the upcoming computer-based tests (even if you’ve taken the ACT before). For all international tests going forward, the ACT will use this new and separate system for test registration and score release. Eventually, they’ll likely merge the two systems for international students, but for now, all ACT scores before August 2018 will be accessible through the US System, and all non-US registrations and scores after August 2018 will be accessible only through the MyACT (International) System.

To create an account, register, and to find more information, just follow this link to the ACT’s Non-US student registration page. After you create an account, the registration process is pretty straightforward and user-friendly, but if you need any help, just ask one of our admin team members to assist you.

Any questions? As always, reach out to us and we’ll do our best to answer them!