Why You Should Invest in SAT/ACT Test Preparation and Admissions Counseling

StratusPrep ACT and SAT Tutoring IconApplying to and funding college can be stressful, but proper planning and expert guidance can help alleviate some of the pressure on students and their families. According to the College Board, the cost of attending a four-year college ranges from $91,000 to $179,000. College is a large investment in your child, and as with any other large investment, it is best to seek out an expert advisor who is experienced and has successfully guided others to similar goals.

I’ve outlined a few of the top reasons why you should invest in SAT/ACT test preparation and college admissions counseling for your child as a means to maximize your investment and set your child up for success.

Return on Investment. Working with a seasoned team of SAT/ACT tutors and college admission counselors will substantially increase your child’s chances of gaining admission to the school of his or her dreams. Graduating from a top university increases your child’s opportunities after graduation and lifetime earning potential. Investing less than 5% of the investment’s total in expert guidance is a minimal spend to maximize opportunity.

When seeking professional test preparation and admission counseling, it’s important to choose a tutor and counseling team wisely. Costs for these services varies by company, but be sure to ask questions regarding process, credentials and successes. For example, all of Stratus Prep’s tutors have scored in the top 1% on the ACT/SAT and have had at least two years of teaching experience. It is our firm belief that great test-takers must also be experienced educators in order to help students maximize their test scores. All of our admissions counselors have graduated from the nation’s elite higher learning institutions including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia and have significant admissions experience. We also believe in a team-based, customized approach. Stratus Prep counselors and tutors work together to help each student succeed – from practice test to admission. I am also involved with every single student’s admission plan and at multiple touch points throughout the application process. References are also always available.

Scholarship guidance and negotiation. When it comes to paying for college, there is quite a bit of money available. Since 2011, Stratus Prep has helped students negotiate over $15 million in merit-based scholarship. Our experience with negotiation has allowed many of our students to graduate debt-free. The luxury of not having to repay loans after college provides your child with the freedom to take any job opportunity that he or she may desire. Your child may also choose to extend his or her educational career by going to graduate school and would then be able to do so without the burden of knowing that he or she will soon be expected to make loan payments. It is also important to have guidance to navigate other types of scholarships that require essay writing and other forms of qualification.

A competitive edge. Admission to elite universities is more competitive today than ever. Most students only apply to college once. Just like with anything else, doing something for the first time is rarely as successful as the second, third, or thousandth time. Having the support of a team of seasoned admission professionals who have successfully worked with thousands of students gives your child an edge. Highly skilled admissions counselors know what works and what doesn’t.

An unbiased, available advisor. Many high school students look to their high school’s college advisor for guidance. This person serves as a great resource; however, certain universities may only accept a certain number of students from specific schools and it is up to the advisor’s discretion to promote one student more heavily than another to university representatives. Having an unbiased counselor to help guide your decisions such as essay topics and recommenders will allow your child to maximize chances of acceptance. High school advisors may also be guiding hundreds of students within a single application season. In order to receive personalized attention, it is best to look to an outside admissions counselor who is only working with a small number of students at one time.

For these reasons, you should consider investing in SAT/ACT test preparation and admission counseling for your child. Summer is a great time to determine your child’s application strategy and next steps. Please reach out to me with any questions or comments regarding investing in SAT/ACT test preparation and college admissions counseling at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com.

This post was provided by Shawn O’Connor, Founder and President of StratusPrep, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on June 7th, 2014.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Why SAT and ACT Prep Matter, But Don’t Have to Break the Bank

ExamWhile finding an excellent SAT or ACT tutor can give your children a significant advantage when they take their test, finding quality SAT tutors can be difficult at times. Obviously, a good SAT or ACT tutor can have a profound influence on a successfully improved score, but many great resources are available to families that can either complement the efforts of a tutor or substitute for them.

Returning to those promised resources, here’s a list of 6 free things you can do to help your student improve her SAT and ACT scores:

1.  Watch Jeopardy one night a week as a family. Why? It will expose your child to words she might not know, teach her the type of thinking that goes into crafting standardized test questions, and provide a relaxed and entertaining setting in which she can learn.

2.  Listen to A Way with Words. This curious, once-a-week radio show provides an extensive exploration of various words and phrases. Since the ACT and SAT pull their writing selections from a variety of sources, exposure to the diverse phrases featured on A Way with Words will help your student to navigate those sources.

3. Read one essay or article a week (yes, as a family), and have your child try to pick out the main theme from the work. Beyond that, discuss the essay—how does the author present her argument? You can get selections of essays from your local library or bookstore, or simply peruse the New York Times to find a weekly essay.

4. Try using ProfessorWord as a way to highlight ACT and SAT vocabulary that appears in that reading

5. The SAT Question of the Day and ACT Question of the Day are free!

6. Utilize the best free ACT and SAT resources on the web. If you need assistance with SAT math, give PWN the SAT a whirl. The site is a bit goofy, but most students like it—and the site’s author also has a Q&A section where he responds to SAT questions for free. If you’re worried about ACT and SAT reading or English, The Critical Reader provides great online resources and tips. If you need further practice materials, Knerr Learning Center lists even more.

Wondering what else can be done to improve your child’s score? Well, the books published by PWN the SAT and The Critical Reader offer excellent supplementary resources. However, they don’t cover things like ACT math or science. So your best overall resources are The Official SAT Study Guide and The Real ACT Prep Guide. Even handier than books, though, are mobile apps. Why? Teenagers always have their smart phones on them, so they can train no matter where they are. Virtual SAT Writing Tutor, QuotEd Reading Comprehension, QuotEd ACT Science, and SAT Up are among the most effective. As a side note on other prep materials (online courses, books, or apps), just because people like how easy they are to use doesn’t mean they are actually helping students improve their scores. You want your child prepared for the test, not bursting with unfounded overconfidence! Please keep that in mind when you see glowing evaluations of prep materials.

And, for those of you wondering how SAT studying might work if you were the sole driver of your child’s training, Debbie Stier’s delightful book called The Perfect Score Project is a great introduction to both the SAT and parenting while your student prepares for her test.


Kreigh Knerr is a former classroom teacher who specializes in preparation for tests like the ACT and SAT. Kreigh has successfully worked with students from over thirty countries (and almost every state in the US) and consults nationwide on test preparation and test anxiety. In 2012, he invented QuotEd, a mobile app used by thousands of schools and individuals throughout the world.

This post was provided by Kreigh Knerr, the founder of QuotEd, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on December 21st, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Alberto G.

What Every Parent Must Know About the SAT and ACT Tests


Parents of college-bound children need to know the difference between the SAT and the ACT, how to determine whether their student should choose one of these tests or take both, when to take the tests, how much advanced preparation and study time is needed, and how to study for these tests. I have sought to provide an introduction to test preparation and the resources that are available to you as you navigate through this exciting time in your student’s life.

What is the Difference Between the SAT and the ACT Tests?
These tests have many similarities in what is tested. It is, however, the way in which each test determines a student’s proficiency in a given area that sets them apart. While the SAT and ACT both look at Reading, Writing and Math skills, and both have an essay section, they test these skills in very different ways.

  • SAT – Tests reasoning and logic skills and assumes little prior knowledge of the subject areas. For example, on the SAT, students are given the formulas for the area of a circle and the side relationships for a 45-45-90 triangle, and they must demonstrates their ability to use these formulas to arrive at the correct answer.
  • ACT – More curriculum-based test and assumes some prior knowledge. A student must have memorized the formulas for the circumference and area of a circle, as well as the side relationships for special triangles. The questions on this test tend to be more straightforward as they test a student’s ability to use information in fairly straightforward ways.

The two tests do vary in subject matter as well. The SAT only tests math through Algebra II, while the ACT tests math through Trigonometry. The SAT does not test science-based knowledge, while the ACT has a complete section dedicated to science.

Should Students Choose One of These Tests or Take Both?
I believe that students should determine which test works best for them and focus all of their effort on achieving the best possible score on just one of these tests. I always ask students a few questions to start the process of choosing a test:

  • Do you prefer math and science or English and writing?
  • Do you have strong vocabulary?
  • Do you work well under time pressure?

4 Things to Consider as You Choose Between the SAT and ACT

  1. Students who prefer math and science will want to take a good look at the ACT since it is split 50-50 between math/science and English/writing.
  2. Students who prefer the language arts may naturally perform better on the SAT, which has two sections focused on reading and writing, and only one on math.
  3. Students with a strong vocabulary will do better on the critical reading section of the SAT which specifically tests vocabulary skills.
  4. Students must work under intense time pressure on the ACT. Students need to be comfortable working very quickly and must use strategies to improve their speed. Students need to work quickly on the SAT, but the time pressure is nowhere near as great.

What is the Best Preparation Strategy for the SAT and ACT?
If students have a clear predisposition for one of these tests based on their answers to these questions, I would recommend that they take a practice test right off the bat to determine their starting point and then study the material and strategies needed for the test before taking another practice test.

  • Download an official College Board Practice SAT Test here
  • Find more real practice SAT tests in this book
  • Download an official ACT Practice Test here
  • Find more real practice ACT tests in this book

If a predisposition toward one test is not clear, then I recommend that students take a practice test for each to see if they have a preference for one over the other. Students often simply prefer one test to the other, and generally speaking, the test that feels like a better fit usually is.

Professionally speaking, I do not agree with the advice that today’s students often hear, “just take both tests and see which one you do better on.” This is simply not the best advice. For example, taking the ACT for the first time, in an official capacity and with the strict time limits, does not yield an accurate assessment of how a student will ultimately perform on this test. When I give students an assessment test for the ACT, I ask them to take the test untimed. I am only interested in discovering whether they can answer the questions correctly, not in how many they will miss if they are timed. If students are capable of doing well without any time pressure, then I know that I can help them develop strategies to build the speed that they will need to get a high score.

The best approach is to start with a student’s strengths, learn test-specific strategies, then study and take practice tests to build speed and raise the student’s score to the greatest degree possible.

When Should Students Take the SAT and ACT Tests?

Students have traditionally taken the SAT or the ACT in the spring of their junior year; however, more and more students are starting to study for this test earlier and earlier. Spending more time studying for these tests is not always a good thing. Once a student has advanced to the level of math tested on these exams (and science, in the case of the ACT), I believe that the best plan is to choose a test date (usually in the fall or winter of their junior year) when they will be able to spend 3-6 hours per week studying for two to three months leading up to the test. They should take timed real practice tests before the test to determine whether their target score is in reach. This still be early enough for students to delay taking the test until a later date or to retake it if they are not happy with their score. I find that students who stretch out the study time to 4 months or more often waste a lot of this time, while students who study intensely for just 2 or 3 months tend to see much better results. But this process also requires getting guidance on how to focus the study efforts from a good tutor, class or prep book.

Preparation is Your Child’s Key to Test Success
As with anything in life, preparation is essential. Because scores on the SAT or ACT test can play a key role in your child’s academic future, one of the biggest gifts you can give your child is a well-formulated plan. Planning to your student’s strengths, understanding the intricate strategies of the test they will be taking, building both speed and proficiency, and creating a structure in which your child can succeed are all key.

Amy Martin Rodriguez

Excellence for College

Phone:  408-823-9999

Email:  Amy@ExcellenceForCollege.com

This post was provided by Amy Rodriguez, owner of Excellence for College, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on September 28th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: albertogp123

The Nuts and Bolts of the SAT

The SAT - Another test that tests how well you take tests?

The SAT – Another test that tests how well you take tests?

What we have here today is a primer on the SAT. Obviously, this is not the first time that such a project has been undertaken. A search for SAT-related books on Amazon.com, for instance, yields several thousand results. Almost the same can be said for a walk through any bookstore.

In other words, there’s little that could be said about our subject, the SAT, that hasn’t already been covered in some way or another. What I hope this post can do, though, is provide a clear overview of the most significant aspects of the test. We’ll be avoiding detailed strategic approaches, and we’ll just focus the nuts and bolts.

So, let’s begin with an overview…

The SAT is a test used by most – but not all – colleges in the United States as manner of differentiating students from one another. It does a poor job of predicting college success, and it is not a gauge of intelligence. It’s what some people have referred to as a “blunt instrument.” It does nothing more than rank people on a largely self-referential scale.

The SAT is scored on a scale of 2400, with each three sections scored from 200-800:

  • Critical Reading (which entails short and long reading passages, as well as vocab in context)
  • Mathematics (through Algebra II level)
  • Writing (a short essay and multiple choice grammar questions)

The national average is about a 1500 composite. Clearly, some schools will have higher average scores than others. Most schools report a “middle 50 percent” of their scores, but let’s make it easy and use a straight average:

San Jose State… 1535
UC Berkeley…2040

UCs typically have higher average scores than CSUs. Private schools are usually higher than public schools of the same tier. How important are the SATs in general? “Less important that students think, but more important than colleges like to admit,” goes the saying.

For the top tier schools – schools with acceptance rates lower than, say, 20 percent – high test scores are a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for admission. The lower you go in the rankings, the rarer high scores are, so they’re more coveted. Somewhat counter intuitively, then, high test scores mean relatively more to a mid-tier school than to an Ivy League college.

Students should not take a prep course too early. Generally, the student’s level of reading, writing, and mathematics will dictate when they should begin preparing. The SAT tests through Algebra II in the math section, and students will typically need through sophomore English to be successful.

However, this does not mean that students should avoid early preparation in general. The best preparation, in my opinion, involves encouraging students read at as high a level as they can as early as they can. This is important. Critical Reading is the most difficult section in which to improve. It’s hard to become a faster, more attentive reader in a short period of time – far harder than it is to improve at math and writing. So, as early as possible, get kids reading good, difficult literature.

When the student is ready, take a prep class. The SAT tests knowledge, but it also tests speed and strategy. Do your research and ask friends. Every company advertises their “Massive score improvements!” Stay calm and don’t get sucked in.

An ambitious schedule would entail taking a prep class during the summer between sophomore and junior year, with testing scheduled as follows:

  • Fall of 11th
  • Spring of 11th
  • Fall of 12th (if necessary)

If this seems like a lot of work to take a test that really doesn’t test that much, you’re not alone in this opinion. More and more schools are moving away from standardized testing. They’re usually small liberal arts schools in the Northeast, but a few larger schools have recently come on the scene, Wake Forest University being the most prominent of these. For a full list of testing-optional schools (as well as innumerable screeds against the flaws inherent in standardized testing) visit www.fairtest.org.

There are literally scores of aspects to the SAT that we could cover: Score Choice, Super Scoring, and SAT Subject Tests, to name just a handful. Additionally, we haven’t spoken about the ACT – the SAT’s cousin used mostly in the Midwest – which is generally easier than the SAT and accepted at just as many schools. All of these, though, demand their own posts.

In the meantime, the advice is simple: For older students, look into prep courses. Younger high schoolers need to begin looking at their schedules to plan the coming years. Everyone should be reading, and they should be actively reading (pen in hand) good, difficult stuff. Parents have a job, too: emphasize the importance of the test, but only for what it is. The SAT doesn’t test intelligence, and it certainly doesn’t examine work ethic or passion. For all the craziness that surrounds it, the SAT is just another test that tests how well you take tests.

This blog was provided by Eddie LaMeire, an independent college consultant and the owner of LaMeire College Consulting, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on April 27th, 2013.  Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.

Photo Credit: Sewanee