How To Select, Prepare, and Perform on the SAT & ACT

Your number #1 priority this summer is to prepare for your official standardized test at the end of August or beginning of September.

This is what you should do:

  • Select a standardized test to take (SAT or ACT)
  • Register for the exam
  • Study your face off
  • Take the exam
  • Never look back

Let me remind you why I recommend this strategy in case you start to waver on implementing any of these steps:

  • An SAT or ACT score is a top 3 criteria for college admissions
  • Summer provides maximum time and flexibility to study
  • Studying for this test in the middle of junior year is a disaster
  • Ability to maximize energy, sleep, and hydration before test
  • Fewer distractions and potential scheduling conflicts
  • Less-crowded testing sites
  • Results provide an early indicator of what tier of colleges to consider
  • Potential to score well and never take test ever again
  • Ability to re-test later in the year if things don't go as planned
  • If a re-test is necessary, the bulk of studying is already done
  • Ivy League...
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How many AP classes?

This is one of the top 3 questions I hear regularly from high school students. It's such an important (and difficult) question, that I thought I'd share my thoughts below.

To review, AP (Advanced Placement) classes are considered "college-level" courses and are thus weighted more heavily than regular classes when calculating GPAs.

For example, an "A" in AP History gives you 5 points, versus 4 points from regular History. This is why some schools regard a 4.0 GPA as a yawner these days.

As long as GPA remains one of the top three criteria for college admissions, students will continue to use AP classes to spike their GPAs. Taken to extremes, however, this can be dangerous.

Things to consider before registering for AP classes:

Are you interested in the topic? If so, chances are you will succeed in the class. If not, you are flirting with danger. For example, if you don't like to read, but take AP History anyway to boost your GPA - think again. AP History may require 90+ minutes of...

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How Do Teens View Time?

These days, I worry that teens are gradually losing skills and concepts that may have long-term effects on their personal development. Here's a short list of things that are going the way of the buffalo...

  1. writing in cursive   (thanks keyboard)
  2. typing   (thanks voice activation technology)
  3. driving   (thanks Uber)
  4. map skills   (thanks Google Maps)
  5. patience to wait for their favorite song on the radio   (thanks Pandora and iTunes)
  6. face-to-face conversations   (thanks texting and SnapChat)
  7. cooking   (thanks microwave)
  8. humility   (thanks Instagram and selfie-sticks)
  9. restraint   (thanks Costco)
  10. concept of time   (thanks digital calendars)

Clearly, these changes aren't all bad, but the pace and depth of these changes should be noted.

After spending the last two years observing how teenagers approach the college admissions process, I have concluded that the average teenager's concept of time...

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Letters of Recommendation

How do I ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

I received this question from a highly motivated 9th grade PrepWell Academy student. It's a bit early for 9th graders to worry about this - and I couldn't be more proud! This is proof positive that our message is getting through. It is never too early to prepare well.

How important are letters of recommendation?
If you plan to apply to selective or highly selective schools, they are very important. After a few hours of staring at GPAs and standardized test scores, they all start to blend together - especially for application readers at highly selective schools where everyone posts impressive scores. Letters of recommendation can help you stand out from the crowd. In fact, qualitative inputs like this can serve as tie-breakers in many cases.

When are they needed?
Letters are not normally due until the beginning of senior year, but in no way, shape, or form should you wait that long to begin this process.

Whom do schools want to see letters...

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How to Raise a Reader

Experts agree that reading may be the single best activity a student can do to excel academically in school. It trumps tutoring, Kumon classes, and flash cards. I wholeheartedly agree.

In addition to what reading does for one's imagination and exposure to new ideas, it also takes a tremendous weight off a student's shoulders when it comes to SAT prep (and class work in general).

The truth is, the verbal section of the SAT (which includes Critical Reading and Writing) cannot be studied for at the last minute. There is no way to cram for "reading comprehension", for example. In some ways, a student either "has it" or not.

Sure, there are strategies and test-taking tips that may swing a score by a few points, but a student's true score will be a direct reflection of how much they have read over the past decade. Yes, the last decade.

Gulp!

Yes, there's a lot riding on whether your child grows up as a "reader" or not. And the benefits extend far beyond the verbal section of the SAT.

All...

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Foreign Language classes?

How much foreign language is enough?

This is another common question I hear from my PrepWell Academy students as they begin to solidify next year's class schedule.

Aside from "a love of learning" (which is the best motivation), there may be other reasons to extend your foreign language study during high school. Namely, the impact it may have on your college admissions prospects. Here are some factors to consider:

What type of schools do you aspire to?

Highly-Selective Liberal Arts Colleges...

  • expect 4 years of foreign language study in high school
  • yes, even if you took foreign language in middle school, and plan to meet the minimum high school language requirements by sophomore year, highly-selective liberal arts colleges still want to see 4 years (in high school) of foreign language study.
  • consider foreign language on par with other core disciplines (e.g. math, science, social sciences, English).
  • believe foreign language is essential to a broad-based education
  • often...
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The Power of Habit

During a recent blog interview, I was posed this question:

"Phil, if you had to pick one thing that was most responsible for the success you've had thus far in your life, what would it be?"

My answer was simple - good habits.

"Good habits", she replied. "That's it?"

She seemed a little disappointed.

"Yes, good habits," I continued. "While our lives are certainly complex with an infinite number of factors that influence our paths, in some respects, we are nothing more than an accumulation of habits - both good and bad."

The Power of Habit
Habits are a powerful force in our lives, yet we rarely pay attention to them. Here's an old story that illustrates this disconnect:

Two young fish were swimming side-by-side in the ocean when an older fish swam by in the opposite direction. The older fish saw the younger two and greeted them, "Hey guys, how's the water?" he asked. The two younger fish just kept on swimming. A few minutes later, one of the fish looked at the other and said, "What...

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