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!

Why the Diagnostic Process is Crucial to the Test Prep Process

The diagnostic process is the first step for everyone in what is a very long road. Why do we do this? It is extremely important for the student, the family and our staff to understand where we are starting from on both the SAT and ACT; knowing what you're up against is half the battle. Sometimes knowing what you don't want to do in your test prep is just as important as figuring out what to do, and we want all of our families to understand all of their options in totality before making a decision together. After we complete the diagnostic process, we can prepare a game plan for each student that addresses their specific needs.

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A question I get asked all the time now is why take both tests during the diagnostic process, as many students come in with a preconcieved idea about which test might be best for them after conversations with friends and siblings. The truth of the matter is that experiencing a diagnostic SAT and ACT brings clarity for the entire process. Creating a unified goal for us to work towards is crucial - and if they don't expereince both tests, many students will may ask themseves "what if?" once they hit the first plateau in their preparation.

Another key component in the diagnostic process that sets us apart, is the ability to meet with different instructors and pick whom you would like to work with. While all of our instructors are incredibly talented and bright, they all bring different personalities and teaching styles. Finding the right fit for each student is paramount to success.

At the end of the process, we want to empower our students to be in control of their test prep. This is an important process that allows for a lot of growth and we want to foster that growth.

In the words of our late founder, Jesse Kolber, "don't be the sage on the stage, be the guide on the side."

5 Things You Need to Know Before Taking the ACT Science Section

The ACT Science section can be intimidating. Its structure and content are a mystery to a lot of people - especially at first. However, a few basic pointers will do a good job in introducing you to the test and will put you on a path to bring your score to its full potential.

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It’s not rocket science

Is science not your ‘thing’? Not a problem! That doesn’t mean you cannot get a great score on the science section of the ACT. The science section is more a test of your abilities to read, interpret, and break down graphs and tables. General science knowledge definitely helps, but even if science is your thing, you are guaranteed to run into material that might look unfamiliar. Have no fear! Almost all questions for each passage can be answered without background knowledge of the topic presented. You do not have to be a top science student to get a great score.

Graphs and tables are your friends

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While general science knowledge might not be so important, one thing that you will definitely have to be good at is interpreting graphs and tables. A really big part of the science section involves interpreting data. Questions will ask you to find data points on graphs, hypothesize potential results based on trends, and combine tables to find different solutions. Understanding how to read and break down graphs and tables is one of the main skills of the science section.

Don’t sweat the fine print

Does all of that text in each science passage seem a bit daunting? The good news is that you can get away with mostly skimming these passages. One only needs to get the gist of what the experiment is doing before concentrating on the information that is on graphs or tables. Reading each science passage through all the way is an easy and silly way to lose valuable time on the test.

Timing, timing, timing

Much like the rest of the ACT test, the science test is all about timing. 35 minutes to answer 40 questions means that you have to make your way through the science section at a brisk pace in order to make it all the way to its end. Understanding your own personal timing patterns, and allocating time strategically are essential in order to get through all questions in the section.

Do not stress!

The most important pointer for all sections of the test. Unnecessary stress can affect anyone, especially after three hours into a long test, and it will make your brain work a lot slower. Work at a good pace and do not let the test get to your head. After all your hard work and preparation it's important to not let worries get the best of you and affect your performance, especially when you’re so close to the finish line!

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The science section can be difficult, but it is not impossible to break! If you apply these simple strategies you are sure to already start improving your science score on the ACT.

Even More Information on International Computer-Based ACT

NEWSFLASH: We now know more about the Computer-Based ACT, which will be the only form of ACT administration offered internationally beginning this September.

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Some of you may remember from my April post that the ACT will officially be entirely computer-based at all international test administrations beginning this September.

Some of you may also remember that there were a number of questions still unanswered at that point -- what the testing interface would look like, whether the timing would be the same, what testing centers will be available, etc. -- and that you could expect more updates released by the ACT (and delivered by yours truly) coming sometime in June/July.

And so, here we are!  The ACT has recently released a more detailed picture about what exactly the Computer-Based Testing (CBT) will look like, which answers quite a few of the questions that we were left with in April:

What will the testing interface look like?

Generally, the testing window will be split into two parts -- the passages will appear on the left side of the screen, and the questions will appear on the right.

Although you won’t be able to write on the screen (meaning that some of your strategies will have to change), you will get scratch paper to work on, and there are some neat tools on the testing interface that will help you adjust to the CBT format (see the ACT’s infographic below).

Among the features that caught my attention:

  • The Test Timer in the upper right-hand corner is a built-in way for you to ensure that your pacing is on track within each section.
  • The Navigation Bar allows you to see how many questions you have left in the section, to flag questions to come back to and to see which sections you’ve flagged.
  • The Highlighter allows you to highlight words and phrases in the passages. I’m super excited that you have the ability to do this, especially for the Reading section, and I think it will make the transition to the CBT format much easier.
  • The Line Reader allows you to zero in on a specific block of text (or figure), which could be a really helpful tool to help you avoid getting distracted from unnecessary or unrelated information.
  • If you’ve ever had a Reading lesson with me, you know that one of my favorite strategies is to “answer the questions in your own words first, then look for the choice that best matches.”  The Answer Masker allows you to mask the answer choices and then reveal them one at a time, so you can do just that!
  • Or… if you’re trying to use the process of elimination on a question, the Answer Eliminator allows you to keep track of the answers that you don’t like.

Will the timing be the same?

Yep!  The same timing that you’ve been practicing all along will still apply.

What about the Writing section?

This is actually one of the sections that I think will be easier with the CBT format.  You’ll now get a text field that does not have a spell-check function but that does give you the ability to copy and paste.  This will allow you to plan out the skeleton of your essay, then elaborate on each point, and then even decide to switch the order of your points if you wish (not to mention, allow you to type instead of writing by hand, which is much faster for most of us!).

What testing centers will be available on what dates?

We have this question half-answered so far:

The 2018-2019 International Test Dates have been released (see below, or check out the ACT's website).  You may notice that there is now a February test offered internationally (there didn’t used to be!) and that both Friday and Saturday are offered for each of the testing windows.  The ACT also reports that “for each of the two days within a testing window, there will be morning and afternoon sessions offered,” which could potentially give you more opportunities to make a test work with your schedule (and your body clock).

However, registration hasn’t opened yet, so there’s still no information available about where the tests will be offered.  Because of the increased technical requirements for test centers under the CBT format, we expect that seats might be limited.  My personal recommendation? Sign up for a text or email alert on the ACT's website to be the first to know when the September test registration opens, and then sign up as soon as possible to ensure that you get a seat in your preferred location.

Still have more questions?

Check out our original "Digital ACT" post - there’s a lot more information there.  And if you have any dúvidas that haven’t yet been addressed, reach out to your instructors and Academic Advisors.  They’ll help you come up with some CBT-specific strategies for the new testing format and make sure that you’re well prepared come September!

Changes to the ACT Coming September 2018

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In September, the ACT will be making two changes to the test, one of which affects students with accommodations, one that does not. 

Students receiving an accommodation of 50% extra time will be required to have the time divided proportionally among all of the sections rather than having the option to allocate the additional time as they choose. 

Students without accommodations will see a new 5th section of the test appearing. This will be a short, 20-minute section that will "contain the same sorts of questions as the rest of the test" according to the ACT, although they were not able to say what the topic of the questions would be. This section will be experimental and will not impact students' scores.

These changes will be appearing in the US in September.

As always, if you have any question about this announcement or wish to speak with a LogicPrep advisor, we are more than happy to discuss. Click the button below to reach out today!

Advice for the ACT Reading Section

In his last post, Andrew provided some useful tips for the SAT Reading section. To balance things out a bit, I want to offer some advice for the ACT Reading section, where the time pressure (40 questions in 35 minutes!) is even greater than on the SAT.

When I meet with a beginning student to go over a practice ACT, one of the things that I look at, right off the bat, is the student’s note-taking, the markings they made on the reading passages. What phrases or sentences did they circle or underline? What marginal notations did they make?

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With these beginning students, I usually find that one of two scenarios holds. Sometimes, the student hasn’t made any markings at all. When I see that, it worries me. I wonder whether the student really read the passage. An unmarked page can be a sign that the student simply allowed their eyes to glide over the words and didn’t try to engage actively with the content of the passage. And even if that’s not the case—even if the student read the passage as diligently as they could—I worry that they’re trying to carry too much in their active memories. When they get to a question that stumps them, how are they going to find a way “back in” to the passage they just read?

Other times, I find that the student has underlined just about every word in the passage. This worries me, too. For starters, when the passage is all marked up, the whole purpose of marking the passage has been defeated. How can you find what’s really important when your markings suggest that everything is? And I haven’t even mentioned the time that’s wasted in all that pencil-dragging.

The key is to find a happy medium, and the way to do that is to know ahead of time what you’re looking for. Here are some things I tell students to look for, and to mark, as they read.

For every kind of ACT passage, circle any word you don’t know. “Serendipitous”? Circle it. “Solipsistic”? Circle it. Consider this: If you don’t know the word, chances are good that a lot of other test-takers won’t know it, either. That’s probably why the designers of the test included it there. And if it’s an unusual word whose meaning can be discerned from the context, then it’s quite likely that one of the questions is going to ask you to discern that meaning. If you can anticipate those questions as you read, you’ll save time later.

Relatedly, mark any language that stands out—any phrase that’s especially colorful, or unusual, or that makes you pause so that you can figure it out. Underline the phrase, and take those few seconds to think about what the author means. Again, it’s likely that one of the questions will ask you to do that. So why not get out ahead of the question?

For fiction and humanities passages, keep in mind that many of the ACT’s literary narratives are not linear; what happens in the first paragraph of the passage is not necessarily the first event in the timeline of the story. The ACT loves flashbacks, flash-forwards, and interspersed plot lines, and it loves asking you to put a story’s events in chronological order. When the time of the plot shifts in any of these ways, I put a big “T” in the margin, to mark the shift in time.

For fiction and humanities passages, I also pay attention to, and mark, any expressions of strong feeling. If the main character says that he is “insanely jealous” of something, or if an author tells you that a character clenched her teeth, mark that! The questions will often ask you about what’s going on, emotionally, in a passage.

Finally, for social science and natural science passages, underline any unanswered questions or any questions that are still awaiting scientific investigation. The ACT loves to ask about these; I guess they want to make sure that, once you’re done reading, you’re clear on what it is you DON’T know. I mark these unanswered questions with a big “U” in the margin.

Those are just a few of my suggestions. And they could all be summarized under a more general piece of advice: 

Read actively, and mark the passages selectively to help you in your active reading.

If you see me around, I’d love to hear what you look for and mark as you read. Are there other things I should add to my list?

Learning a New Language?

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When I was 10 years old I moved to a foreign country where I didn't understand a single word of what anyone was saying. It was a shocking experience as I never expected to be in a reality where everything was so familiar and unknown at the same time. The first time I went to school in this new place I struggled a lot to understand others and to be understood. That was the moment I realized how important communication and languages are. Here are some tips that I certainly used as I ventured into this new world.

 

Everyone starts at zero

Just like a baby who’s learning how to speak, you’re going to say a lot of silly things when learning a new language, so just get over it and throw yourself out there! 

Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Achieving your goals requires failing and learning from mistakes. 

Learning a foreign language is not so different from when you learned your native one. You need to listen and repeat the same sounds you’re hearing, making connections between words, feelings and moments, just as you used to do with your parents right after you were born. 

 

Phonemes

Have you ever noticed that who speaks more than one language seems to have more than one voice? This happens because every language works with different phonemes, sounds, and tones, so our voice needs to adapt to them. 

For instance, Brazilians have trouble pronouncing the ‘th’ sound in English (found in words like ‘think’ or ‘thumb’) and Americans have trouble saying the ‘ão’ sound found in words such as ‘pão’ or ‘macarrão’ in Portuguese.

In order to correctly pronounce new phonemes, you need to pay attention to how native speakers move their lips, tongues and more importantly to their voice intonation/cadence.  

 

Conversation is Key

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I commonly hear that the best way to learn a new language is to move to a foreign country, and this is true, but I also know people who lived outside their native country and never learned a thing. So what’s the secret?! It’s simple: TALK

Research has shown that our brains record information that involves human experiences and feelings much easier as opposed to just memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules by heart. So in order to actually learn a language, you need to engage in conversations, talk to new people and you’ll learn something new every time you do it. 

 

Reading is very important

Either for work, school, or personal interest, reading is probably one of the things we do the most on a daily basis, so it’s very important that you dedicate lots of time to read during your learning process - It will help you to understand grammar and to learn new words and expressions. 

 

Listen and Repeat

It’s important that you never feel ashamed to ask “How do you say..” to someone, and when you do, try to use it a few times right away. Note it down, and try to repeat it again after a few hours, and then the day after. With practice and repetition, it's likely that you'll remember the next time.

 

Learning Stages

According to a study by the University of Portland, there are 5 stages to learning a new language: 

  1. Silent/receptive - During this time, new language learners typically spend time learning vocabulary and practice pronouncing new words
  2. Early production - Language learners typically acquire an understanding of up to 1,000 words. They may also learn to speak some words and begin forming short phrases, even though they may not be grammatically correct.
  3. Speech emergence - By this stage, learners typically acquire a vocabulary of up to 3,000 words and learn to communicate by putting the words in short phrases, sentences, and questions. 
  4. Intermediate fluency - At this stage, learners typically have a vocabulary of as many as 6,000 words. They usually acquire the ability to communicate in writing and speech using more complex sentences. This crucial stage is also when learners begin thinking in their second language, which helps them gain more proficiency in speaking it.
  5. Continued language development/advanced fluency - It may take up to 10 years to achieve full mastery of the second language in all its complexities and nuances. Second language learners need ongoing opportunities to engage in discussions and express themselves in their new language, in order to maintain fluency in it.

 

Although learning a language may not seem very rewarding or satisfying at first, I personally think that it is only through communication that we will actually be able to evolve and grow as individuals. Nowadays, the world has become a sort of modern Pangea that’s all connected. Why not take on the adventure of understanding one another?