Summer Reading 101: The Essential Guide

As summer approaches, critical reading will be essential for continued academic progress. The best way to grow as a reader is to read more challenging texts. We've put together this recommended reading list--separated by genre and level--to help students select rigorous, challenging texts to engage with at home. DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE View Our Other Resources

By |2020-06-16T15:54:22+00:00June 16, 2020|Academic Approach, One-on-One Tutoring, School Programs|Comments Off on Summer Reading 101: The Essential Guide

The PSAT/NMSQT: Its Purpose & Benefits

The following is a repost of an essay written by our founder, Matthew Pietrafetta, for the blog last year. As the 2018 PSAT/NMSQT is just around the corner, we hope this is a helpful reminder of what the test is and the benefits of a good score. The PSAT/NMSQT is upon us! This College Board exam for 10th and 11th graders isn’t just a preliminary version of the exam they will take to qualify for college entrance. The PSAT is a big deal, not just a pre-big-deal – aiming for a strong PSAT score helps students (and their parents) do three critical things: predict, qualify, and learn.   Predicting performance with the PSAT Since its 2016 revision, the PSAT/NMSQT has become a better-than-ever predictor of the SAT. In almost every way, the PSAT looks, reads, and feels like a full-length SAT, covering nearly identical content in almost the same amount of time. Because of this, a strong PSAT score helps predict a strong SAT score. Evidence-based Reading & Writing PSAT’s Reading is almost identical to SAT’s, except PSAT Reading is five questions fewer and five minutes shorter.   PSAT’s Writing & Language is the same as SAT’s. Mathematics PSAT’s no-calculator section is three questions fewer than SATs but offers the same amount of time. PSAT’s calculator section features seven questions fewer in ten fewer minutes. PSAT Essay The SAT optional essay is NOT offered at all on the PSAT. The table below offers a side-by-side comparison of the structure and content of the two exams.   In short, the PSAT is only 15 questions fewer and 15 minutes shorter than the SAT (not counting the essay of course). Good News for Students The close comparison of the PSAT and SAT is good news for students. From both a content and experience standpoint, taking the PSAT prepares students for both the material covered on the full-length SAT as well as the experience of sitting for a lengthy and rigorous standardized test. A strong PSAT score predicts similar performance on the SAT. As a predictor, the PSAT can help students year over year. Because the new PSAT system offers testing from 8th grade to 11th grade if a school district offers that testing, a student can have a transparent view of where he or she is tracking towards 11th grade. Qualifying for scholarships with the PSAT A strong PSAT score can also help students earn recognition, and sometimes scholarship dollars, as either a commended scholar or a national merit scholar.   Each state has two cut-off thresholds (one for commended scholars, one for national merit) to qualify for these designations, which are determined by the fall of senior year. Many colleges offer scholarships associated with these honors, though PSAT scores are not typically provided to colleges as part of the application. See additional details in the table below. Learning to improve with the PSAT The most important function of the PSAT is to help students learn. So what’s the best way to [...]

By |2018-10-09T17:42:52+00:00October 9, 2018|One-on-One Tutoring, PSAT, SAT, Special|0 Comments

The History of Academic Approach

In the Beginning The Academic Approach story begins with its founder, Matthew Pietrafetta, as a PhD candidate and instructor at Columbia University in New York City. While simultaneously teaching core curriculum classes to Columbia freshmen and tutoring high school students for the SAT and ACT, Matthew took note of significant challenges that were facing these transitional students. Primary among them were disparities in test scores, college readiness, and student opportunities, as well as a chasm between test preparation and institutional education. Soon, Matthew began to look for ways to turn those challenges into opportunities for student growth and education innovation and quickly became passionate about the idea of revolutionizing test preparation. Matthew sought an alternative to traditional test prep, which for years was maligned for teaching to the test and using generic test-taking strategies for a nonexistent “average student.” The idea for Academic Approach was born in a method of test preparation based on academic skill development and customized for students at a wide range of achievement levels. Founding Principles The company itself was founded in 2001 using three principles as its bedrock: Tests are standardized. Students are not.™ There is no average student. While some may look similar on paper, students vary greatly in learning styles, personalities, and many other dimensions. Academic Approach would tailor its programs specifically to the individual student, eschewing the one-size-fits-all traditional approach. Skills-based Test Preparation.™ Strategy, tips and tricks, gaming: these are not the ways to build lasting skills and knowledge. Academic Approach would bring rigorous college readiness and enduring academic value to test preparation, enabling student growth in high school, on test day, and throughout college. Teaching Beyond the Test.™ By challenging the “teaching to the test” stereotype and working with other educators and institutions to improve academic progress holistically, Academic Approach would live out its mission to teach beyond the test. School Programs Transforming test preparation into a personalized, academically enriching form of teaching is undoubtedly beneficial and will always be at the core of Academic Approach’s mission. However, to truly maximize the company’s impact and address the larger issues of barriers to education and college access, Matthew pushed the company to find ways to reach students in underperforming schools and underserved communities. Academic Approach began to develop school program services to support students from these communities and their school leaders in raising student achievement. Directors from Academic Approach work intimately with school partners to develop readiness solutions that meet the school’s and students’ needs. In addition, Academic Approach offers scholarships, discounts to faculty children, and other discounted programs to bring high-quality instruction to a greater diversity of students. More than 50 urban schools have already partnered with Academic Approach to improve student achievement and outcomes. What’s Next Academic Approach’s one-on-one tutoring and school program services make a real difference for students who strive to maximize their academic performance and compete in the college admissions process. The educators and students served—and their remarkable growth and achievement — make Academic Approach a true [...]

The SAT & ACT Essays: Sometimes a Requirement, Always an Opportunity

"Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."  At Academic Approach, we get asked all the time, “is the essay optional?” The answer is yes, but also no. Technically, the essay on both the ACT and SAT is optional – you can elect to take either test with or without the essay. In terms of scoring, the essay is always a stand-alone score, so it will not impact the composite or overall score of the test.    If that's the case, why then should you elect to take the essay? The answer to that question really depends on the colleges and universities a student is applying to. While you can take the ACT or SAT without the essay, some schools require the essay. It's important that you take the essay each time you take an official test in case you want to apply to one of these schools. The last thing you want to do is retake the test after you have already achieved your goal score simply because you need the essay.    If you know that you will only be applying to schools that do not require the essay, you can choose not to take the essay. That is assuming, however, that you will have selected all of your schools at the time of your first test. Unless you can guarantee that you will not add any other schools to your list – and who really can months before they even start their application – our advice is that it's better to have the essay and not need it than need it and not have it.   I's worth noting that there is a growing movement among colleges to drop the essay as a requirement for admission, but this is not a pervasive practice yet.   What are the essays like?   ACT   The ACT essay gives students 40 minutes to read a prompt, outline, and write an expository essay. The prompt will provide three points of view for students to evaluate and interpret. After asking students to synthesize those ideas, they are asked to form an opinion of their own.  While writing an essay in 40 minutes may sound daunting, it's important to remember that graders will be taking those constraints into account. Students are not expected to produce a perfectly written piece, but rather, a piece that is clear and coherent.    SAT   Similar to the ACT essay, the SAT asks students to construct a persuasive essay in 50 minutes.  The purpose of the essay, however, is to analyze how an author structures a given text, taking note of their arguments and style.  A learning opportunity  The learning opportunity these essays present is valuable. Most students do not take a targeted essay composition course in high school; instead, they pick up essay writing strategies teacher by teacher. Taking students through a focused curriculum on persuasive writing strategies for crafting a thesis, an introduction, a counter argument, and a conclusion often answers a host of questions they've had about their own academic writing and gives them more tools for success on and beyond the test.   Many students wonder what they will get out of preparing for the essay. Aside from the obvious benefit of an improved score, the real value is the ability to practice adapting to different types of writing prompts. Throughout high school and college (not [...]

By |2018-08-07T19:26:41+00:00August 7, 2018|ACT, Essay, One-on-One Tutoring, SAT, Special, Test Prep|2 Comments

Should I Retake the SAT or ACT?

After students and families anxiously log in to their ACT and College Board accounts on score release day, the first question many will ask is whether they should retest. Of course, there are always students who are exceedingly happy with their score, and they should celebrate by putting the ACT and SAT behind them. Others know nearly immediately that they’re unhappy with their scores and will certainly be retaking them. But what about those in the middle? How do you know if you should be happy with your score and not trying for more? To help inform your decision making, let’s explore several scenarios. The student who “takes it cold” A good number of students—in all likelihood a majority—will take an official ACT or SAT without any preparation. They may scroll through a website to learn the structure of the test or page through a guide one afternoon at a nearby bookstore. For these students, test day is an almost entirely novel experience. The timing of the test often proves more difficult in proctored conditions. Students typically experience fatigue and exhaustion especially on the Reading and Science sections at the end of the test. Sometimes too, students have adverse reactions to the pressure of test day and make silly mistakes—incomplete questions, mis-bubbling, and mental mistakes. In most cases, these students should consider testing again. One or more of the aforementioned factors likely influenced them on test day, and consequently, the results may not reflect students’ full aptitude. Scores instead reflect the particular nuances on that particular test day in that particular testing environment—nuances that otherwise may not be accounted for. While some argue that this may be a more realistic snapshot of a student’s aptitude, the intricacies and content of the test prove otherwise. For example, grammar—a topic rarely covered in high school English—is covered extensively on both the ACT and SAT. Without at least some instruction, scores likely reflect a lack of content exposure rather than a lack of aptitude. In order to gain the most from retesting after taking one cold, students should pursue a study plan to help them focus on areas of need and aim for optimal growth in areas of strength. Whether through self-study, a classroom setting, or one-on-one tutoring, students will produce scores that more accurately reflect their abilities after preparation. Without additional study, students may repeat their initial experience only subject to chance differences in the testing experience. A prepared student’s first test Before taking an official ACT or SAT, many students will spend weeks or months preparing. Through self-study, classroom instruction, or one-on-one tutoring, they learn the structure and content of the test. They master time management and find methods for approaching the various sections. The process ideally also involves a combination of homework and practice tests to keep students engaged with material and standardized testing leading up to test day. Prepared students like these should expect scores that are consistent with their practice to this point—particularly their performance on any full-length [...]

By |2018-06-20T15:50:00+00:00June 20, 2018|ACT, One-on-One Tutoring, SAT, Special, Test Prep|0 Comments

Summer Learning and Tutoring

Summer Learning Happens So Fast Summer is nearly here and, as students get through their finals and AP tests, it can be hard to convince them that summer learning is an opportunity rather than a chore. Depending on the individual student’s strengths, goals, and timeline, summer tutoring can be optimal for ACT or SAT preparation. Test Dates to Target There are several dates remaining to take the ACT or SAT in 2018 for students to consider: These dates may be more or less valuable depending on your class year, as well as several other factors: The summer and early fall test dates can be terrific opportunities for rising juniors to wrap up their standardized test preparation before the winter holidays and the hectic schedule of junior year classes and extracurriculars. The remaining 2018 test dates are critical for rising seniors to lock in their test scores before sending in college applications. Students who have yet to take a test can utilize the summer for a comprehensive introduction/overview. Students who have official scores already, but who want to try for a bit more growth, can review material they’ve already covered previously for deeper understanding, as well as incorporate more advanced content and skills from their junior year studies.   A Focus on Math One of the factors to consider in designing a student’s summer test preparation plan is the student’s most recently completed classroom math level. The ACT and SAT both cover math content up to and including trigonometry. However, there are a limited number of questions that require this content knowledge, so students shoring up their foundational math skills can make terrific gains without covering the most challenging material on the tests. Summer tutoring can help a student to close any gaps in previous math knowledge, such as geometry, while connecting more advanced math skills to the student’s foundational skills. This leads not only to score growth, but also to deeper math learning that can be applied in the next school year’s math class and beyond. Building Comprehension Tutors and students can make great use of the summer months by building comprehension skills, which often take more time to develop. The deeper comprehension skills required for success on the reading and science passages can benefit from early intensive focus while math and grammar content knowledge are being refreshed and developed throughout the summer and subsequent school year. There are strong opportunities for growth available throughout the test preparation process before advanced algebra and trigonometry are addressed in students’ math classes. The ACT’s Science section and the SAT’s focus on historical documents are examples of areas that students should be thinking about early and often. Comprehension ability and individualized annotation techniques are tools that students can develop during their summer tutoring and then utilize in the fall (and beyond). The Advantages of Summer Tutoring Another consideration is your student’s school-year extracurricular commitments. Grades are critically important in the semesters before college applications are due, and the added stress of a big [...]

SAT Subject Tests

If you’ve heard anything about SAT Subject Tests lately, chances are it’s that fewer and fewer colleges and universities are requiring them as part of a student’s application. That raises several questions: should I take the SAT subject tests? do the SAT Subject Tests still hold value for college-bound students? Is it still worth the time and effort a student must put into preparing for these exams? The answers, as a good test taker might predict, are ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’ In this post, we’ll take a look at the enduring value of the SAT Subject Tests, when students should consider taking them, and all you need to know about the SAT subject test preparation. What Are SAT Subject Tests? SAT Subject Tests are college admission exams on specific subjects. This definition is according to the College Board - the national organization that administers the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP exams. Formerly called the SAT IIs, the one-hour SAT Subject Tests come in a variety of flavors offering something for nearly everyone: Math, Literature, History, Sciences, and a surprising number of languages. The number of questions on the respective tests varies from 55 to 95, and that number can change for different tests of the same subject (e.g. not every English Literature test has 55 questions; some have 60 or more). Regardless of length, each test receives a score out of 800. That score is computed the way the SAT used to be: students get a point for each correct answer, while partial points are deducted for each incorrect answer. More on that later. SAT Subject Tests are offered on the same days as the SAT—though not all tests are offered on all dates, so students should check with the College Board. Additionally, students can take up to three Subject Tests on a single test date. The Value of SAT Subject Tests Because the colleges requiring or recommending SAT Subject Tests tend to be the most selective, the question students should be asking themselves is not “Will SAT Subject Tests be required,” but instead, “Will SAT Subject Test scores be considered as a part of my application?” If the answer is yes, then it’s a safe bet that other students will be submitting them with their applications. Like it or not, the college admissions process is a competitive one. Students have a limited amount of time and space to make their case to a school that they are not just a good fit, but the right fit. While competition brings out the best in some, not every student responds well to this kind of motivation. Still, these students should consider taking SAT Subject Tests, as they’re a great way to show a prospective school a student’s interest in (and dedication to) a subject. There are a couple of powerful reasons to show such dedication: This can reinforce an interest expressed elsewhere in a student’s application. For example, let’s say that a student wants to be considered for a college’s robotics [...]

How to Prepare for the SAT: An Academic Approach

The Illinois state-mandated SAT is now seven weeks away (on April 10), and millions of students across the country are gearing up for March, May, and June administrations of the SAT. With so many students sitting for upcoming administrations, we want to offer some insights on how to prepare for the SAT for your student. How to prepare for the SAT reading section With the SAT’s 2016 redesign, “going the distance” means something entirely new. The redesigned SAT features a 65-minute reading section, and the number of passages has grown from four to five.  So, our little reading gladiators have entered a new arena, and the endurance requirement of the sport has changed: a reading rumble that involves only 4 rounds of approximately 9 minutes of reading on the ACT, for example, now involves 5 rounds of 13 minutes of reading on the SAT. How is your child training? Is your child getting in enough reading rounds? How long does your child sit and read complex texts? And let me specify: without interruption! No texting, no Snapchatting, no Facebooking, etc. In the weeks prior to the SAT, how can we intensify the training? A practice test to simulate the exact reading conditions of the test; shutting off all devices and reading for over an hour without breaks; timed 13-minute rounds of reading bursts to prepare for the passage-by-passage experience. As parents and educators, we know that mindless drilling does lead to improvement, if not true learning. However, understanding the actual requirements of an academic task – the timing, attention, endurance required – is necessary to create a learning experience that prepares students thoughtfully to maximize their performances. You have to practice how you play. It’s time to script out that all-important and inspiring Rocky training montage for your child, complete with some extra reading rounds to build endurance for an SAT that promises a new, important, and extended reading challenge. How to prepare for the SAT grammar questions How good is your child’s grasp of grammar? Or how well does your child grasp grammar?    Even the two questions above raise an important grammar question—what’s the difference between “good” and “well”?  That’s easy, right?  “Good” is an adjective, and “well” is an adverb. But hold on: can’t you say, “I am good,” and “I am well”?  In the second case, “well” is an adjective meaning “healthy.”  And hold on again: can’t you say, like James Brown famously did, “I feel good,” and isn’t “feel” a verb?  Oh well, maybe we should just call the whole thing off. Writing off grammar is not really an option for student’s taking the SAT, preparing for college-level curriculum, or, for that matter, anyone who wants to avoid costly mistakes in life. This point has been made especially clear in a very expensive class-action lawsuit amounting to $10M in overtime pay a dairy company in Portland, ME owes its workers—all because of the importance of one little, missing comma. The lack of an Oxford comma in [...]

To SAT or ACT? That is the Question.

Major changes to college-entrance exams like the SAT or ACT can make Hamlets of us all, leaving us wondering what to do, what path to take, whether ‘tis nobler to SAT or ACT? To help students and families with their “Hamlet-izing,” let’s consider the following issues. Reading Comprehension: What Kind of Decision Maker is your Student? When reading, some students are more like Rodin’s Thinker — deliberate, calculating, cautious in their decision making. Others prefer more of a Looney Tunes roadrunner approach: reading and reacting quickly based on initial impressions, interpretations, and judgments. The recently redesigned SAT features passages with greater text complexity, so the reading requires a bit more thoughtful analysis. The SAT also grants 43% more time per question, however, so students have increased time for thorough pondering of the passages and the questions. So, if students prefer the extra time and enjoy deep-sea-diving into texts to arrive at decisions and conclusions, then the SAT is for them. However, if students prefer to skim the surface waters and glean the meaning quickly, making decisions on first impressions, then the ACT is their choice. Mathematical Reasoning: What Kind of Problem Solver is your Student? While the SAT and ACT math largely covers similar material, the SAT is a bit more demanding on thorough, algebraic problem solving and less concerned with a student’s memory of geometry formulae. What’s more, ACT allows a student use of a calculator throughout its 60 math questions, while SAT does not allow calculator use for 20 of its 58 math questions. Of those 58 questions, 13 are student-produced-response questions, which feature no multiple-choice answers. In short, on the SAT, students have to do math more the old-fashioned way: they earn it! So, if your student is a problem solver, who is comfortable working it out, grinding it out, and calculating answers by hand, then SAT is the preferred option. If your student is more calculator-dependent in arriving at his or her answers, ACT may be the more comfortable math path. Science Reasoning? Does your student enjoy a full science serving or merely appetizer portions? Whether your student takes the SAT or ACT, they will be asked to assess science through data presentations and analytical questions. The ACT, however, features a standalone science section consistently situated at the end of the multiple-choice sections. On the ACT, science is always the fourth section, after English, Math, and Reading, while on SAT, 35 science-related questions are spreadthroughout reading, grammar, and math. So, if your student is fond of science, and enjoys a healthy, full order of science (ending the test with science as the last section), then ACT is the right choice. If your student would prefer some assorted science appetizers, delivered as small servings throughout the exam, then he or she has an appetite for the SAT. English Grammar and Essay Writing: Apples to Apples The Hamlet-like dilemma, “To SAT or ACT,” is simplified when it comes to the English grammar and essay writing sections, which are largely [...]

By |2018-01-26T15:24:25+00:00January 26, 2018|ACT, One-on-One Tutoring, SAT, Special|0 Comments

Getting the Most out of ACT and SAT Test Prep

Supporting your child through the standardized testing process can raise some age-old anxieties. Am I starting too early and overwhelming her? Am I starting too late and neglecting him? What are other parents doing for their child? Although these feelings intensify as SAT and ACT testing approaches, they are by no means new. Here are some guidelines to help parents get the most out of test prep.

By |2016-04-07T16:58:25+00:00April 7, 2016|ACT, One-on-One Tutoring, SAT, Special, Test Prep|4 Comments
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