Spring- a time for college visits and standardized tests

Spring is a great time to visit colleges. Here’s the copy from two articles I wrote for the Examiner.com, which is no longer online. They are Include college visits in your spring break plans and Test drive your college.

Finally, spring is also the time when standardized testing ramps up for high school juniors. The article I wrote for the Examiner.com, Final Prep for the ACT and SAT is listed below as well.

Include college visits in your spring break plans

March 7, 2016

Spring break is time for high school students to relax and enjoy some down time. However many families often spend the break on a vacation away from home. Have you thought about adding some college visit to your holiday plans? As a high school senior you might try to visit those schools where you were admitted and have not yet visited, or else don’t have a clear idea if that particular school is right for you. For younger students, visiting colleges, especially ones that you might not have heard of, is a good way to explore your options.

Spring break is the ideal time to visit colleges, especially if your family is vacationing in an area where there are some colleges in close proximity. You don’t have to spend your entire vacation stomping from tour to tour. Most colleges offer at least two tour times during weekdays and a Saturday option. So depending on your family vacation schedule, a day or morning (or two) visiting colleges will still give you plenty of time to enjoy your holiday break.

If you are staying close to home for spring break, there are plenty of options within a three hour radius of Spokane. Besides Gonzaga and Whitworth universities, and the Community Colleges of Spokane in town, you could visit Washington StateUniversity of IdahoEastern and Central Washington universities, as well as Whitman College. It isn’t too late to schedule a visit to most campuses. College admission offices have online sign up systems for campus tours and information sessions. Check out each college’s admission visit webpages for specific days and times for tours.

Once you set up your college visit, make sure you do some preparation before the visit. College Board’s Big Future website has some great tips on visiting colleges and questions to ask. So, enjoy your spring break, and have fun visiting colleges!

Test Drive your College

February 3, 2016

No one would consider buying a car without test driving it, and choosing a college is no different. Many high school seniors have finished submitting their college applications and now are awaiting results for admission and financial aid. Some students have already received acceptances to colleges on their application list but are not ready to make the final decision. This spring is an ideal time to visit those colleges where a student has been accepted but not yet decided to attend.

Why visit? Well, the college websites and view books only tell a carefully marketed part of the college story. Students need to do their due diligence and research further what the campus has to offer. A great way to do that is to attend a campus preview or admitted student day. At an event like that you can get an overview of the major aspects of the college experience, interact with faculty and students, all in a condensed visit. But even at those events, the college is choreographing the experience for the student. An even better way to test drive the college experience is to sign up for an overnight visit at the campus.

Most colleges offer overnight programs where a prospective student can spend the night with a current student. This allows for the prospective student to shadow a the student for a day, taking classes, perhaps going to student events and meetings, eating in the dining hall and sleeping in the residence hall. But more importantly, it lets a student see what happens between those events; what are the down times like for a college student? What kinds of activities and conversations do students at that particular college engage in between scheduled hours? College isn’t just one class or event after the other; it is four years of living a life in a particular location with a focused purpose. What you do outside the classroom or scheduled activity is just as important in the college experience.

Our local universities all have some type of open house events this spring for admitted students. Check out the admission event websites for Eastern Washington UniversityGonzagaWhitworth,Washington State University, Community Colleges of Spokane, and University of Idaho for their details. Colleges throughout the country host admitted student events as well as offer individual overnight visit programs. You need to schedule early, especially if you plan on doing an individual overnight visit, as often spaces are limited.

Take your time “kicking the tires” of the colleges to make sure its a good fit for what you want from your college experience. Enjoy your test drive!

Final Prep for the ACT and SAT

April 15, 2016

The spring is flying by, and many high school juniors are prepping for the SAT and ACT tests taking place soon. With the advent of the redesigned SAT, studying for these tests has taken a dramatic turn. Many of the quick tips and crafty strategies that have benefited students on the previous SAT will no longer work. A long term approach is required, but there are some things to be aware of that can be employed for a few extra points.

According to Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., founder of Academic Approach, a one-on-one tutoring company, real success on the tests will come from developing and demonstrating the skills that are necessary for college readiness. These are skills that can’t be crammed into a short study session but need to be developed over time. For students preparing to take the SAT in early May, or theACT in June, there isn’t much time if students don’t already possess these skills. However all is not lost, as Pietrafetta offers some strategies from immediate to long-term that can be used to help students improve their performance.

The Quick Fixes

  1. No guessing penalty: both ACT and SAT do not penalize a student for wrong answers, so don’t leave any answers blank.
  2. Time awareness: bring a silent, digital wristwatch as pacing on the tests is crucial. If you go too fast you can make mistakes, too slow and you leave questions incomplete. Sometimes it is hard to keep track or see the clock in the testing room, so having your own watch with a silent alarm can help you keep track of how much time has gone by.
  3. Write in the booklet: no one reads or cares what is in the booklet, only what you put on the bubble sheet. Annotate, underline, circle, write out math steps or whatever you need to focus on the details.
  4. Refuel: both tests are long, over three hours, which is in line with running a marathon (okay, a fast runner on the 26.2 mile course) versus a sprint. You need to keep your energy up to remained focused and push through the endurance test. Know you will have breaks and bring snacks or a drink that will help re-energize you during the test.

The Level One Skills

  1. Avoid redundancy: on the essays the readers value clear, concise writing. Longer sentences are not necessarily better. Avoid wordy, verbose and excessive language.
  2. Answers are in the text: reading sections and math word problems will provide evidence that supports the correct answer. If you can’t find evidence in the passage or info graphics to support an answer selection, it is not the correct answer.
  3. Use pencil to avoid math mistakes: common errors are made in the math section because students fail to write down steps neatly and completely in the booklet. Avoid mental math. Method and order of operation mistakes are easy to make if you are sloppy with your work.

The Level Two Skills

These skills are advanced and require months to develop. Advanced skill-based instruction, in the classroom with your school teachers or outside tutors, can help you develop the skills that are valuable for school success and as a side perk, higher test scores. Some of these areas include learning the rules of grammar, proficiency in algebra and word problems, and learning to deal with reading complex passages in primary source texts.

A final thought that Pietrafetta shared was that with the redesigned SAT, there is 44 percent more time per question than the previous SAT. What does that mean? For example, there is more time for annotation when reading as there is approximately seven minutes to read a passage in the reading section of the test. Now students might be able to relax just a bit knowing they have some extra time per question which will help them perform better on the test.

For more information on Pietrafetta’s thoughts on the SAT, ACT and test prep, check out the Academic Approach blog.

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