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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Rock your AP tests

The AP exams are probably not at the top of your list of things to think about this week on top of schoolwork, extracurriculars, prom, etc... However, they are only a month away and will be here before you know it.  There's no need to panic, but it is time to create an action plan that will have you ready to ace your AP exams, not dreading them.

Here's the AP test schedule.  Mark your calendar NOW!

First, make sure you have the study materials you need to prepare for the exams.  Because the exams require you to understand a whole year's worth of material, many students find AP review books helpful.  Many of these books provide sample test questions and even test sections which help you become familiar with the AP test style.  Note: some AP language tests include listening and speaking sections .  AP language review books often come with CDs or website login links so you can get used to these sections.  Keep in mind that AP review books are great for studying the  picture but are only one piece of the puzzle.  Your class notes and text book(s) are also important tools to help you review more detailed information    I also recommend that you explore MIT's Highlights for High School, a guide to free online MIT courses that can help you prepare for AP tests as well as the UC (U of California) Scout Program which offers free online AP prep resources.

Once you have your study materials, pull out your planner and set aside two hours each week to study for each exam.  Start by reviewing the material that is least fresh in your mind.  You might want to read through your notes from  the fall and make a list of the concepts and themes which you've forgotten or are finding the most challenging.  Dedicate extra time to going over those topics over the next month.  Research has shown that quizzing yourself can be much more effective than simply re-reading, so make flashcards, create outlines, and copy important charts and formuli in your study sessions.  Color coding can be helpful, too.

This sounds like a lot of work.  Is worth it?  YES!  Even though colleges don't require AP scores, top colleges are inundated with students who have taken 3, 4, 5, 6 - sometimes more - AP tests BEFORE senior year!  High scores on these AP tests show admissions officers you are prepared for the challenge of college level work.  It also shows the high caliber of the work you are doing in your AP class.  So, whether or not you end up using them for college credit, they always count for admissions.

One of the features of AP tests is that you can suppress a score if you need to!  When you take an AP test (or SAT or ACT), don't indicate a college to send the score(s) to.  If you did write a specific college wn when you signed up for the AP test, you can withhold a score before June 15th so that school won't see it until you do (after July 1).  At that time, you can pay to stop withholding the score - the school will now see it.  Even after you've taken the test, if you don't think you got a 3, 4, or 5, you can decide to withhold the score - if you had put down a school's name.  If you didn't designate a school(s) to receive your score, you don't neeed to do anything.  Once you get your score, you can pay to send it wherever you'd like.

AP scores are only available online.  Use your College Board account to get your score.  You'll also be able to send it to colleges.  You can also CANCEL a score.  This means that the score is completely erased from your record (and won't be counted in AP scholar award calculations).  Once the scores are available, you'll need to contact the College Board in writing (snail mail) to cancel or withhold your score(s).  There is no charge for cancelling scores.  There is one for withholding. See your College Board account for the details.  Make sure you have your College Board login somewhere so you can easily access your account in July to get your scores.

BONUS: If you earn a number of strong (3+) AP scores, you will be eligible to receive an AP Scholar Award from the College Board.  Students with three or more scores of 3 or better, are named AP Scholars.  There are also AP Scholar with Distinction, State AP Scholar, National AP Scholar, etc. awards.  Here's another way to distinguish yourself from your peers!

EXTRA BONUS: Lastly, don't forget that strong AP scores may benefit you once you get to college.  Many colleges offer course credit and course placement for high AP scores (usually scores of 4 and 5).  This means a high AP score can often allow you to opt out of an intro level course in favor of a more advanced course, get a jump start on completing your major, or fulfill a distribution requirement.  Students with multiple AP credits may be able to graduate early or study abroad without worrying about transferring the credits from the foreign university.  So, make your AP tests a priority. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The SAT is a-changing! And so is the ACT, but not as much…

In March2014, David Coleman, the head of the College Board held an hour long press conference.  During his talk, he spoke about a number of ways in which the SAT had been eclipsed by the ACT.  If you are not aware, the ACT and SAT are the two tests used by American colleges as a major factor to determine each applicant’s ability to be successful at their college or university.
In the past, the SAT penalized students for incorrect answers, included math through algebra II, included intensive vocabulary, had a required essay, and was a reasoning test. The SAT questions often included extraneous information and asked test takers to ferret out data the needed to answer the question, which might be posed in a circuitous, indirect, or somewhat misleading manner.  The test was focused on students’ ability to reason.
Beginning in March, 2016, the SAT will closely resemble the ACT.  The SAT will revert to its previous format which only included a critical reading section and a math section.  The highest score will revert to the 1600 we parents are more accustomed to. Like the ACT, the essay for the SAT will be optional.  The redesigned SAT will incorporate the Common Core standards and will require students to support their answers with evidence and citations from the reading passage.  The source documents for the reading passages will be selected from a range of disciplines, including one scientific passage, just as they have been on the ACT.  The vocabulary portion of the redesigned SAT will eliminate the higher level, erudite words and focus on words “widely used in college and career.”  The math section will draw from fewer topics and calculators will only be allowed to be used on certain portions of the math section.  Keep your eyes open for details on which math topics will be on the new test.  The redesigned SAT will be available both in paper and in a digital form.
Additionally, the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy to provide free SAT prep.  However, free test prep has been available for years.  Most students need to have informed, supportive adults pushing them to do test prep.  Those who can afford higher quality online or in person test preparation courses or tutors are strongly encouraged to do so.  Low income students will also receive four college application fee waivers.
Beginning in the Spring of 2015, the ACT will be available in digital format as well as on paper.  In at least  ten states, the ACT is required.  The ACT has four sections: critical reading, math (through pre-calc), science, and writing.  The top ACT composite score is a 36.  Additionally, the ACT has, for many years, regularly conducted curriculum surveys to  ensure that what’s on the test matches what’s being taught in schools and required by colleges.
Why, you may ask, did the SAT change so much?  The top reason cited is the fact that they have been steadily losing market share and, in the past couple of years, have tested fewer students than the ACT.  So, business competition is the primary reason.  Additionally, they want to align themselves with the Common Core standards which are being rolled out in most of the states. There is a targeting of certain texts, rather than a broad reading of history in the CC Standards as well as the redesigned SAT.  As more details come forth, the adequacy of this approach to equip students to think critically and have an adequate base of foundational knowledge will be able to be explored. (The ACT is taking the CC standards into account, too.)
In April 2014, the College Board will be releasing the specifications and extensive examples of the redesigned test.  More information may be found at
In the end, it will be critical that students have solid grades in conjunction with excellent test scores in order to be accepted into their target colleges and universities.  As both tests change, college admissions staffs are highly likely to emphasize the high school credentials of each student more.

So, What about Test Prep?.
There are two ends, or results, of test prep.  First, students tend to score higher on the SAT and ACT, AP and SAT subject tests.  Second, students become better prepared for the academic challenges of college.  A number of schools administer placement exams when new Freshmen arrive on campus.  The extra effort put forth doing test prep should also assist students on these exams, and in their first college courses.
For a number of years, I have been an affiliate of  They are already in the process of preparing to give students the opportunity to take practice tests both online and offline (pencil and paper).  Additionally, they will offer study programs for the new SAT starting in Spring 2015, well before the new SAT is launched.  (Yes, for a time, they will offer courses to prepare students for the current format of the SAT and for the redesigned format.)  I will continue to offer a 20% discount on all of their test prep tutorial courses.  Order yours by calling the office at (858) 705-0043 with your credit card info, student's and parent's names and emails, and the name of the eprep course you want.