Tomorrow is the ACT...


To all my ACT students and parents,
Tomorrow is a big day.
Except that it’s also not.
Here’s what I need you to know - know in the deepest depth of your being.

Tomorrow is just one test out of many you have taken before, and many that you will take in the future.
Of course this ACT test measures a bunch of stuff that you know and that you’ve practiced: circles, commas, vocabulary and science concepts to name a few.
But remember there are also more important things that the ACT does not measure.
Your ingenuity.
Your wit.
Your humor.
Your heart.
And thousands of other things that make you an incredible human being.

But what about college you say?
You’ll go to college somewhere. Or you won’t. There are myriad opportunities and possibilities. One of those will be your path.
Tomorrow is about you doing your best with the preparation you have been given.
Use what you know.
Do what you’ve been taught.
And in a weird nerdy way - have fun. Relax. Treat the test like the unique game that it basically is, and then crush it!

Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s one test on one day.
No matter what, you’ll still be the same immeasurably valuable human being you are right now.

PSAT Scores Arrived...Now how do you get ready for the SAT/ACT?

This week, PSAT scores have finally been released online.

By now, you or your student have probably received an email from College Board instructing you how to get to the scores!  To be honest, there has been some confusion and frustration from some people trying to access the site - be patient, you're not alone!  

If you looked at the score report and are confused about what it means, that's also normal! Reading score reports can be a challenge, even for professionals.

To give you some framework, here is what you should do to navigate the jumble of test information and dates to be best prepared for this Spring's SAT and ACT:

Get the Scores
If you haven't already, work with your student to sign in to the College Board site.  Your student should have received an email - if they haven't found it, check your junk mail. 

Think Ahead about the Test Dates
For most juniors, the first SAT they will consider taking will be the March test, which will be the first time the NEW SAT format will be offered.  You can find a list of spring SAT dates here, and ACT dates here.

Consider what is ahead for your student and your family this spring - trips, AP exams, Finals, sports, anything that will impact Saturdays or be a stressful time for your student.  Almost every student should take both the SAT and the ACT one time each this spring.  This will give the the opportunity to try out each test and see which one they like and can do well on, based on actual experience.

The most popular dates to take the tests are the June test date.  These are after Finals and have the added benefit of maximizing your student's time in their English and Math classes.  

Register for the Tests
Once you have a target date, be sure to coordinate with your college counselor to make sure you are all on the same page.  If you all agree, go ahead and register.  While the 'Writing' is optional, every student should sign up for the test WITH the Writing option.

Pay close attention to both the TEST DATE and the REGISTRATION DATE.  No need to have late fees. :)

Plan Out your Preparation 
Now that there's a target, we can get ready.  You can sign up your student for an introduction class either through a private tutor or through a company like Princeton Review.

If you want more personal and intensive preparation, you can hire a tutor to work with your student one-on-one.  A quality tutor will be laser focused on your student's content weaknesses as well as their specific test taking issues to help them maximize their preparation time.  

Don't Wait to Start Preparing!
The most common issue with my SAT and ACT students is that they wait too long to get started.  The more time I have with students, the more I can help diagnose and correct problems with student test performance.   If possible, give your student at least 8-10 weeks ahead of their first test to get started.

Having walked through this process with hundreds of students and families, I know this is both an exciting and stressful time.  Of course you will have questions and need guidance - feel free to ask!  Here are the steps you should follow:

Step 1: Put the test dates and registration dates on your family calendar.
Step 2: Coordinate with your student's college counselor to decide on SAT and ACT dates.
Step 3: Register!

Step 4: Discuss with your student how they will prepare for the test.  It could be taking a class, working with a tutor or doing self-study. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to develop a customized plan for your student.

And finally would you do 2 things for me? 

Step 5: If you found this email helpful, please share it!  Send this email to your friends or share it on Facebook or Twitter!  I want to help as many people like you as possible.

Step 6: Email me!
  • What is your biggest concern for getting your student prepared for the SAT/ACT?
  • #1 thing that would help you feel confident about the Test Prep Process.
I read every email I receive personally.

- Kevin


Winter is coming...and so are Finals!

Today is the day I have to utter the dreaded words to my students, “Finals are coming.”

This is what my finals studying looked like…
book stacks

Ugh! What a mess. I had books and notes and assignments EVERYWHERE! I sat for hours in this hideous swivel chair literally spinning between math, science, history and English. It didn’t just look like a mess; my studying was a mess too.

I was stressed and exhausted, which led to me inevitably getting sick and irritating everyone around me.

Sound familiar?

But I always did ok on finals so I thought it was ‘working’ for me.

It wasn’t.

My junior year of college I received my first C ever on an exam. I was devastated.

What if we could avoid all that horrific grossness? Wouldn’t be not just to do well on finals?

What if you could also be be rested, relaxed and get your studying done more efficiently and more thoroughly?

Whether it’s for finals or learning a new topic for work or pleasure, learning ANYTHING can be better and WAY more effective.

How? Let’s start by outlining what you should STOP doing.

These “study” behaviors are KILLING your results:

  • Rereading your notes/PowerPoints/books - The first strike against rereading is that is incredibly time consuming. Why would you do the same work twice? In fact, if you feel like you have to reread something, it most likely means you didn’t really deal with it right the first time. Second, what are you reading for? General info? Fuzzy concepts? Lastly, you’re just absorbing (or trying to absorb) the content, not actually working with or engaging it.
  • Highlighting your book/notes - Highlighting is a favorite activity for many students because, let’s be honest, it’s colorful. And it feels like I’m actively doing something. Unfortunately even though highlighting looks cool, it’s also not effective. This is because there is no meaning attached to these ‘highlights’. Why did you highlight this part of the passage? What did it mean? Why was it important? You don’t know without re-reading the chosen part. Even worse…students who just highlight EVERYTHING.
  • Recopying your notes/PowerPoints/books - This ‘study’ method is at least doing something somewhat actively with the material. Unfortunately, it is even more time consuming than the other two activities. Recopying assumes that all material is created equal. It’s not. You have to prioritize the information - the exam cannot possibly ask EVERY piece of content. Further, recopying doesn’t make the content your OWN, which is a key to efficient studying.

Ultimately, what drives super effective studying is the fact that it is ACTIVE studying. If you aren’t engaging the material in some important way - quizzing yourself, doing problems, answering questions aloud or on paper - then you aren’t studying.

Said another way, PASSIVE “studying” is fake studying.

If you are going to spend the time to prepare, then wouldn’t you do it in a way that works and that uses your time wisely?

What do you think about these fake ‘study’ activities? Email me! I read every response personally!


PS - Need more personal help with finals? Contact me to get on my one-on-one tutoring calendar for extra sessions!

How to Read the PSAT score report.

Now that everyone has downloaded their PSAT score report, the next question on everyone’s mind seems to be, “What does it mean?”

Great question!  This short article will walk you through a sample score report and tell you what parts of the report are worth your attention to help you know how you performed on the PSAT.

Download your score report and let’s jump in!

“Your Total Score”


Of course everyone wants to know their score and what is a ‘good’ score or a ‘bad’ score.

‘Good’ or a ‘bad’ scores are not the most helpful way to look at your performance.  What is important is how you compare to everyone who took the test. Getting into college is a competition.  You’re competing with a whole host of other people who also want to get into college, and colleges must compare and decide who will get in and who will not.

Luckily, there are lots of colleges with lots of openings (not Harvard).  That’s great news because you don’t have to compete with EVERYONE, just the people that want to get into the schools to which you are applying.

If you glance at the score summary above, you can see that there are 3 main numbers:  your Language score (Reading and Writing), your Math score and a Total.

Since the dawn of time, SAT scores have been distributed on a total maximum score of 800 and PSAT scores similarly were out of 80 (dropping the final 0).  Now with College Board’s brand spangled new test, the scores are out of (drum roll please)...760.  Weird, I know.

What you SHOULD pay attention to is the percentile.  A percentile is simply a number that tells you how you compared to everyone else who took the test.  In this case, the 82nd percentile means that 82% of people scored worse than this person on the Language sections.  That’s good - remember, the test is a comparison tool.  This student beat 82% of people who took the test.  This person also did well on Math, beating 93% of people.  Notice that there is a final percentile for the total score, which is just the Language and Math scores added.  Here, 90% of people scored worse than this person on the overall test.  Excellent!

What if your scores aren’t as high as this person?   Don’t freak out!  This is a practice test, so treat your scores as such.   If you did your best on the test, it gives you decent snapshot of how prepared you are to take the real test, as well as how you stack up to all the people you’re competing with for college admission.  On the other hand, it’s also only a foundation.  Just because you may not have scored how you were hoping this time, does not mean you’re doomed to repeat that score.  I have personally coached hundreds of students to improve their can improve your score too!


A new section for the score report is a list of subscores.  College Board has broken down the Reading, Writing and Math sections on the left, and on the right has broken those scores even further into subtopic scores for each section.   Even though it looks fancy on the page, it’s actually not all that helpful.   Read this as a comparison of topics on which the SAT allegedly tests students.  You should look for two things: inconsistency, and patterns.  This score report shows excellent consistency.  Nearly all of the score lines are in the green area, in a fairly predictable range.  For inconsistency, look for subscore areas that are much higher than the average or much lower than the average.  For example, on this report, “Standard English Conventions” is the only subscore in the yellow range.  DO NOT read this as an indication that you simply need to study English Conventions improve your subscore.  There are way too many factors that affect score performance.  MAYBE you don’t know some grammar rules, but it could also be that you found the style of these questions confusing, or that you misread all of these questions, or that you were overconfiden, or any myriad of other possibilities.    

In short, subscores can help identify a starting point for improvement, but it is rarely as simple as brushing up on a few language rules or math topics.

“Next Steps”
Based on the questions that students get correct as well as incorrect, College Board presents automatically generated responses to affirm the skills you already have as well as to help guide you toward what you need to do to improve your score for each main subject area.  Mostly these recommendations are pointless.  Their suggestions assume that the reason that you missed a question was simply because of the content, which in turn is based on what they think they are testing you on when they present their questions.  I can tell you from nearly 2000 hours of experience tutoring these tests, that what the College Board thinks their questions are asking is often vastly different that what students think the questions are asking.

“Your Question-Level Feedback”


If you want to improve your score performance, this is the most important section of the report.  Each question is listed for each section along with the correct response, your response (if missed), the difficulty level and the subscore areas into which the College Board thinks the question falls.

The best way to use this section is to download the test questions and answers from the College Board website.  (There’s an access code for your test questions at the bottom of your score report.)  Go through each question, figure out why the right answer is correct and why you missed it.  

The fastest and most effective way to improve is to thoroughly process your missed questions by determining exactly what you did wrong and explaining in detail what you will do next time to correct your mistake.  A great tutor can help you understand not just the question or the content behind it but also develop techniques unique to you to make sure that you execute similar questions effectively every time.

ACTION STEPS: What should you do with the PSAT Score report?

Now that you understand the PSAT Score Report, here’s what you should do next:

Step 1: If you’re a student, have your parent’s read this article. If you’re a parent, have your student read it.  Better yet, read this article together, with your score report in hand.

Step 2: Download the questions and answers to your PSAT from the College Board website.

Step 3: Process your missed questions and the correct answers as described above in “Question Level Feedback.”

Step 4: Think through what kind of support will be needed to get the score you want.  For some students, just working through a SAT Prep book is enough.  Many students want to take a class or hire a tutor to help them learn and hone test strategies and learn content.  

And do me a favor?

Step 5: Email me! I really appreciate hearing from students and parents, whether you are client or a potential client:

  • What is your biggest concern for getting your student prepared for the SAT/ACT?

  • #1 thing that would help you feel confident about the Test Prep Process.

I read every email I receive personally.

- Kevin

PS -  Want to know how to get your best SAT or ACT score? Or your best grades?  Get my newsletter.  Email me here with the response "Teach me!"  

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