New Cities for Tutoring

We’re about to announce over 30+ new cities for our private tutors and test prep programs.  Call us today at 1-800-501-7737 to get help with your exams – and get into the best schools with our admissions counseling!

How to Find a Private Tutor

We believe there are three ways to find a great tutor:

(1) Look online – don’t just search craigslist for a tutor – there are other sites like http://toptestprep.com to help you. Start with a credible company who already has profiles and has done background checks on private tutors.

(2) Look locally – if you can’t afford a private tutoring company, go to your local University and post on their bulletin boards.

(3) Find referrals from your school – your local high school or college will likely have a list of great tutors.

Give us a call if you have questions about tutoring or test prep 1-800-501-7737.

Vocabulary List – SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT

We want to share our most updated vocabulary list to help students preparing for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and ISEE.

Make sure to bookmark this link in your test prep review.

http://toptestprep.com/about/vocabulary-and-word-list/

We hope this helps you prepare!

If you have any questions about getting test prep or tutoring help, call us directly at (800) 501-7737 today.

Best,

Top Test Prep team.

The Site Slinger Review (Capital Factory company), Austin, TX

Our team recently encountered some major issues using a company called “The Site Slinger.”  According to the Site Slinger website, purportedly, “The Site Slinger turns designs into code. Built for designers and headquartered in Austin, Texas, we’re here to make PSD to HTML better with easy online ordering, reliabile team, and fast turnaround.”  Further, the Site Slinger co-founders, Nate McGuire and Connor Hood claim that, “Our customers love our fully transparent development process and straightforward approach to design to code.”  Well, this is absolutely NOT true.  The SiteSlinger company is the most unprofessional, poorly organized, worse project managers, we’ve ever had to deal with.  Our team would NOT recommend either Nate McGuire, Connor Hood, or any one affiliated with SiteSlinger (http://thesiteslinger.com/) – and we hope the Capital Factory and those coming out of Austin Texas realize the issues you’ll face if you engage with either of these people.

For a quick preface: we’re a test prep and tutoring company that provides customized support and care for our families.  In fact, we employ a Zappos-style approach to treating customers with respect, which is possibly why we feel compelled to share this experience with others so they don’t have to deal with either Nate or Connor at SiteSlinger.

To give you examples of why we would not recommend the SiteSlinger, we contacted both Nate McGuire and Connor Hood in early 2013.  After setting clear expectations about the length and level of our site re-design, we were promised professional and prompt service.  After paying a significant amount up front, which is something we also recommend you do not do, we were told the project would be completed within a two-week period.  The problem with Site Slinger was that these guys decided not to contact our team up until a couple days before the project was to be completed.    They also were resistant, reluctant and provided continuous perfunctory, sub-par work.

SiteSlinger does not respond to customers.

Further, when we would call, every one of our phone calls went straight to voice mail.  We wouldn’t hear back for days.  Totally unprofessional.  Our staff each called and left several messages – and would get an email back, not a phone call.  They have no decency.

SiteSlinger does the bare minimum.

Literally, we asked the SiteSlinger people to convert several PSDs to HTMLs, and found bugs, errors and several issues when they turned the project in – late.  When we sent detailed feedback – they balked and again, only agreed to do the bare minimum.

We actually feel bad for the Capital Factory (http://www.capitalfactory.com/).  To have the SiteSlinger guys associated with your company is absolutely embarrassing.  You should spend some time training these people – particularly if your incubator is to be a reflection of quality companies coming out of Austin TX.

Here’s their contact information.  Do NOT use this company.  You’ll regret it.

Connor Hood  ([email protected])

Nate McGuire ([email protected])

 

And they’re affiliated with The Capital Factory (http://www.capitalfactory.com/)

Positive note:

The good news is that for every company like this, there are thousands out there who employ top level customer service and support.  We’ll use this as a learning experience to share with the hundreds of private tutors and instructors we have on staff.  We sincerely hope this serves as a lesson for others.

 

Updates and Changes to the Common Application (2013)

Beginning this year (2013-2014), there will be significant changes to the “Common Application”. The Common Application acts as the basic unified application for nearly 500 colleges and universities in the US and Europe. Every year, more than 500,000 students use the Common Application to apply to an incredibly broad and diverse range of institutions. This year, the Board of Directors of the Common Application has removed one of long-standing pillars of the Application, namely, the free-response option for the Personal Statement.

Previously, the Common Application’s Personal Statement, or Essay, section always had a range of prompts, one of which would be “a topic of your choice”. Now, the Common Application will contain a series of prompts dealing with:

  • The student’s background and identity
  • Personal transformations
  • Intellectual challenges and solutions
  • In addition, whichever prompt the student selects will now have a limit of 650 words, rather than 500 as was the case before this year.

What do these changes mean? Effectively, the Common Application has limited the means by which students can express themselves, and differentiate their application from those of students with similar academic profiles. This limitation will likely have several effects, which largely reflect upon which institutions benefit from the changes.

  • Larger schools, with correspondingly larger application pools and admission rates, have no real issues with the changes, as they restrict the workload for their admissions offices, and offer a better example of “pure” writing skills.
  • Smaller schools, and more selective schools, will inevitably respond to this by increasing the number of essays on their supplements in order to regain the more nuanced view of the applicant which they will lose in these changes.

Essentially, applying to more selective schools is about to become just a bit more difficult, and applying to larger schools will require applicants to find new ways of distinguishing themselves from the pack.

If you have questions on the upcoming changes to the Common Application, and want to find out how they will affect you or your student, then give us a call at 800-501-7737.

Written by Zachary Bills, Director for College Admissions at Top Test Prep.  Call us for more information about college admissions:  1-800-501-7737 (PREP)

How to Improve Your Scores over Holiday Break!

It seems like just yesterday that the fall semester started back up, you greeted friends you hadn’t seen over the summer, and classes began.  Before you knew it, the semester was half over–now we’re on to Thanksgiving, and winter break is right around the corner.  You are probably looking forward to a change from the daily grind of school or work, but it’s imperative that you keep working on your test preparation so that you don’t forget some of the important ideas that you’ve learned.  Here are some ideas to keep you going strong over school breaks that will also give you plenty of time to relax.

Plan

The first and most important step is to plan out your schedule at least a few days before your vacation begins.  This will keep you organized and focused, while showing you that studying only takes a little time each day.  Use whatever planning form works best for you: iPad, iPhone, weekly planner, Excel file, sticky notes, or even one of those giant desk calendars.  You know how you work best, so make it work for you.

This also means that you should follow the schedule you set; it should be thorough, but practical as well.  Which leads to this key point: the list should consist of a few small things to accomplish every day to keep you going.  Let’s look at a few examples of what you can do in small amounts to keep focused.

Reading and Writing

Here are three areas to focus on for reading and writing over the holidays.

  1. Reading.  Yes, you’ve been reading everything from newspapers to blogs for years (not to mention all the books you’ve got to plow through for school), but it’s important to read a little bit every day  since you never know where you might learn new ideas or new vocabulary.  A large part of many of exams is reading comprehension, which tests you on subjects you are less familiar with and on your ability to read and process information quickly.  What could help you more than reading different subjects every day?
  2. Vocabulary. This leads to the second point: work on 10-20 new vocabulary words every day.  A long list or a big stack of flashcards can be really intimidating to tackle all at once, but if you learn 10-20 new words 6 days a week and then review them at the end of the week, you’ve just learned 120 new words in a week.  In just a few short weeks, your vocabulary will improve greatly!
  3. Writing. Write something – anything! –for 15 minutes every day, both to get faster at writing and to improve your skills.  It doesn’t really matter how you write, be it typing or handwriting in a diary, or what you write, but a little bit every day will make the writing portion of your exam seem far more natural.

Math

Similarly, you could plan out how to work on math over break that only takes a few minutes every day.

  1. Formulas.  Learn a few formulas every day, either on a flashcard or on a list, whatever works best for you.  While some exams provide formulas at the front of the section, others don’t, so make sure you can familiarize yourself with what you need to learn.  Regardless, learning a few quick formulas and shortcuts can save you vital minutes on the day of the exam.
  2. Practice Questions.  Work on a few practice questions, especially those tricky ones in areas you like less every day.  Just like learning formulas or a few new words, it doesn’t take a lot of time – just 10 or 15 minutes.  If you worked on one type of question that you are less comfortable with every day, you would quickly be comfortable with every type of question.
  3. Math Sections.  Finally, make sure that once or twice during your holiday break you spend a bit more time to work on an entire math section or two.  It will improve your math and keep your momentum going.

While all of this combined might seem like a lot to do over a break, plan a different focus for each vacation, so that you spend maybe 30 minutes a day over each holiday to work on them.  Maybe Thanksgiving break will be vocabulary, and the December holidays will be math– you decide!  But whatever you want to do, plan it out and it should be quite doable with just a little work every day.

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Merle E. is one of Top Test Prep’s star SAT/ACT and GRE instructors. We’ve heard great things from his students about his motivational and coaching skills, and we hope you’ll take his advice to make your breaks as productive as possible.

To learn more about our test prep tutoring and expert admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737 today.

Read more: http://toptestprep.com/blog/#ixzz2B6WGJxOT

3 Tips for Your Secondary Medical School Applications

With medical school application season in full swing, anxiety levels are noticeably high–I can personally attest to the stress of waking up for two months with the “Did I get an interview e-mail?!” alarm going off in my head. As you start putting together your secondary applications, there are some core principles you should follow. Now, I’m not going to promise that you’ll feel any less anxious–no one does until they have some certainty about the outcome of their application cycle, and that won’t come until two weeks after your interviews. However, you can at least manage your risk, and maximize the chances of your applications success.

1. Know what the question is asking you. 

Many of you were excellent at recognizing this task on your MCATs and on your scholastic exams, but I’m always surprised at the number of students who struggle to see the goal of the questions being presented to them on the primary and secondary applications. Recently when the AAMC added the “3 Most Impactful Extracurricular Events” section, allowing students the option to talk more about their extracurricular activities? Many took it as a way to list more leadership positions and awards they earned. I’m not saying NOT to do that, but a brag sheet that has no structure as to how you earned those distinctions (Were you involved with this club for a long time? Did you volunteer because of a particular reason? What attracted you to that activity?) really DOESN’T tell the medical school admissions committee anything new about you, other than that you’ve got some more initials after your name. Give yourself character and depth, and make sure that this section complements their comprehensive impression of you. That’s going to lead us to our next point.

2. Make sure you have a common theme to all parts of your application.

Yes, your application. No I’m not just talking about your personal statement. You could be a well- traveled, All-American athlete who has done research on HIV vaccinations for starving orphans, but those are just cold hard facts until you give them character and emotional depth. Tell how the sports injury you suffered right before the championship led to your seeking meaningful inspiration while you healed from both physical and spiritual defeat. Show how that led to you interacting with your physicians, who encouraged you to take a Doctors Without Borders trip with them, on which you discovered a passion for global medicine. NO, DON’T MAKE IT UP! But this relates back to the point I made above–make sure you have a reason for picking those extracurricular activities that you highlighted, and integrate them throughout your application.

3. Get feedback.

I thought my personal statement was so solid that no editor (who wanted to keep their job) would dare touch a letter on it. WRONG. My dad sent me back my first draft with half of it crossed out, with a comment box saying simply “Get rid of this.” I had focused my essay too much on research and too little on the community service aspect of my journey to medicine. It jarred heavily with the overall theme I had tried to establish of my compassion for others leading me into medicine. I was starting to read like a pipetting machine that wanted to go to medical school to do more pipetting! I hadn’t realized it, though, because I knew my story, so I knew what I meant. That wasn’t how it read, though, and I needed that outside perspective to tell me that. Ask non-medical friends, as well. Your themes and messages should be clear to anyone reading your application, and sometimes those outside eyes can give you insight you’d not expected. In general, seeking out others’ opinions will not change the overall message you want to convey, but it may help you to realize what impression you’re giving to people. That’s a HUGE benefit in any kind of writing activity.

The application process is long, but once applications are in, they’re final. Make the most of your process, have some fun, and make sure you get some constructive feedback. Eventually you’ll get that great news, and you’ll be waking up excited for medical school, not panicking about your applications.

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Jason W. is one of Top Test Prep’s leading MCAT instructors and Medical School admissions counselors. His students consistently earn great scores and gain admission to top medical schools–we hope you’ll take something away from his expert advice!

To learn more about our test prep tutoring and expert admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737 today.

Read more: http://toptestprep.com/blog/#ixzz2B6WGJxOT

5 New Ways to Prep for the SAT (Or Any Other Standardized Test)!

1. Listen to Music

Not all music starts and ends with “Baby, baby, baby, yea.”  There are a number of bands out there with serious lyrical and storytelling chops.  Take, for instance, The Decemberists.  They blend storytelling and an impressive vocabulary to make for unique lyrics that can teach you a thing or two.  Here’s a link to The Infanta, an example of the band’s lyrics at full throttle.    When you listen to this song, you’re taking in colorful, varied language.  Rather than simply reading the words from a page, you’re experiencing aurally the use of language to beautifully create a story.  In doing so, you can build comprehension skills in the process.  Songs don’t have the luxury of 300 pages of text.  They’re concise and exacting with their language.  Good lyricists put the onus on the listener to understand the references and allusions made in their songs.  This makes for active listeners who actually get something out of the music aside from a good beat.

The truth is, you might deplore that kind of sound.  Luckily, we’re in an age where every genre and subgenre has talented lyricists who also put out catchy songs.  Whether it’s hyper-literate hip hop from Lupe Fiasco, alternative music from The Shins, or the old school lyrical masterpieces of Bob Dylan, thought-provoking lyrics are everywhere.  Spend some time with a good album and see what you can learn.

2. Write something

Writing often gets a bad rap in high school.  Barring the occasional creative assignment or two, the typical high schooler is asked to pump out dozens of bland, cookie-cutter essays on their way to graduation.  While the skills of writing a well-structured essay are vital, they’re not everything.  What often gets overlooked in the steadfast allegiance to essay structure is the skill of infusing your writing with personality and energy.  Find your voice.  The SAT asks for you to spontaneously write on a subject in a condensed time period.  You won’t have any notes or templates with you.  All you’ll have is your knowledge and your voice.

So write for fun.  Write about things that interest you.  Did you watch an amazing movie?  Write a review of it.  Watch an awful movie?  Write a review of it.  Did you just beat a game?  Write a walkthrough on how in the world you slew the dragon at the end of Level 7.  In love?  Write a love letter (you don’t have to send it).  Every day presents us with new opportunities to write.  Take a chance and write something you love.

3. Play Cards

One thing I’ve always loved is a good card game.  Sitting at the table playing a game of Hearts or Pitch with friends and family is a great way to pass the time.  Of course, the best part of any card game is camaraderie you feel laughing and spending time with good people.  The second best part is winning.  To win, you’ll need strategy and a working knowledge of probability.

What are the odds of a randomly chosen card from a deck being an ace?  1/13.  What about the ace of hearts?  1/52.  How about the odds of getting two cards that are both 10s?  (4/52) x (3/51) = 1/221.  When you can figure out these problems in a card game you’re actually preparing yourself for questions on the SAT.  Card games are filled with chances to employ probability to better your chances of winning.  It’s also true that any SAT Math section is filled with mini logic puzzles.  Sure, you need to know some math facts, but those who truly succeed in the math sections attack the problems strategically.  Most any card game you play is the same way.  You’re constantly figuring out what the most logical play is given the circumstances by analyzing the information available to you.  By practicing these skills in card games, you’re actually learning how to break down and solve problems in the SAT.

4. Define It

This tip is admittedly not so glamorous, but it gets results. If you hear a word you don’t know, look it up.  In college, I got into the habit of writing words I didn’t know in the corners of my notes.  At the earliest convenience that day, I would look them up.  I could hop onto a computer and look up the words to add them to my vocabulary.  An even easier approach for those with smart phones or iPods is to throw on a dictionary app.  This simple, free app, will provide instant answers to any vocabulary questions you may have.  By making this a pattern in your day-to-day life, you’ll begin to build your vocabulary in an organic way.  You’ll be taking words that you actually hear in real life and absorbing their meanings rather than letting them skim over the top of your head.  More importantly, it’s a step toward being engaged in language that you hear.  Instead of tuning out when something sounds too complicated, you’ll be paying more attention.  Difficult passages and highfalutin speakers won’t scare you off, but rather draw you in as you take on an active learning role.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Math

Math is everywhere!  No, really.  It’s common to skip past opportunities to hone your math skills in the real world.  Technology has made it even easier to bypass math in the day to day.  But the truth is, you’re doing yourself a disservice when you go straight to your tip calculator or click “Convert” without a moment’s thought.  This isn’t about going out of your way to do math as much as it’s about being open to it.  If you’re baking cookies and the recipe serves 24, but you only need to serve 16, do the conversions yourself.  Work with the fractions and determine the proportions you need for each ingredient.  If you run cross country and you’re concerned with finishing time, evaluate your speed in different legs of the course.  Use that information to alter your pace at optimal times.   Doing research for your first car?  Take a look at differences in gas mileage and figure out how much money that amounts to at the end of the year.  And last but not least, figure out the tip without your phone.  It’s simple once you get used to it and you might even impress the people at your table.  If you let yourself use math instead of running away from it, you’ll become fluent in its language and more capable come test time.

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Nick M. is one of Top Test Prep’s leading SAT and SSAT instructors. His students consistently get in touch with us to express their appreciation for his innovative teaching approaches, and we’ve seen their hard work pay off in great score increases! We’re excited he was able to share his insights into the SAT with you!

To learn more about our test prep tutoring and expert admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737 today.

Read more: http://toptestprep.com/blog/#ixzz2B6WGJxOT

Rankings and SAT Scores in Fairfax, Montgomery, Arlington and Washington DC

A recent article posted by College Board and Washington Post, clearly outlined research on the average combined SAT scores of students in Fairfax, Montgomery, Arlington, and Washington DC .

Here are detailed scores for the SAT in the DC region and rankings of the best:

(1) Fairfax County – Average SAT score: 1659

(2) Montgomery County – Average SAT score: 1651

(3) Arlington County – Average SAT score: 1641

(4) Loudoun County – Average SAT score: 1590

(5) Prince William County – Average SAT score: 1490

(6) Alexandria – Average SAT score: 1436

(7) Prince George’s County – Average SAT score: 1274

(8) DC region students – Average SAT score:  1184

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Washington DC has a lot of work to do.  We need to improve SAT scores and start being competitive.  The Top Test Prep team is happy to continue working with students from all regions including Bethesda, Fairfax and Arlington, but one of the regions that needs the most help is Washington DC.  Our private SAT and ACT tutors in Washington DC are here, ready to help – let’s get going and start working to improve both SAT and ACT scores in these regions.

Call Top Test Prep today to get your SAT scores up:  (202) 618-4473.

 

 

Test Prep Experts: Keeping Students Motivated

There are two kinds of motivation: long term and short term. The learning team (student, tutor, educational institution, and parent) is responsible for maintaining motivation throughout the process, but the tutor-student relationship is critical in each and every level of motivating the learning process. On a day-to-day level, motivation is necessary to keep focus and get work done well consistently, and it’s the responsibility of the tutor to make sure the student is kept on track. Long-term, the tutor is important in keeping the student focused on end-goals, or where the work is taking them. Parents, friends, and the student are responsible for setting up the scaffolding of goals– the tutor needs to fill in details and show how working on this or that now will contribute to the ultimate goals of the student.

Long-term motivation is really about getting the student to succeed in their field or pursuit of identity. While we focus on standardized testing, the educational process can be about internal discovery as much, if not more, than about the memorization of facts or processes. Why are you taking the SAT? To go to college? No. You are taking the SAT so that you have opportunities to pursue your interests and goals, and to become the human being that you wish to be. As grandiose as that sounds, consider the SAT in a vacuum. It means nothing, in and of itself. Instead, it is a gateway to future freedom. Once you get a student to understand this, they rarely have a hard time motivating themselves to do the work.

Of course, the daily activities of learning can become tedious, regardless of the Narnia promised at the end of the test. We have all been in situations in which the energy is seeping from the room, your student is halfway asleep, and the clock shows that you’re there for another hour. This is an example where short-term motivation needs to take place. I tend to look at such situations as a dichotomy: you can either “soldier through” and try to make the most of it, or you can regress and let your inner kid out– “look for dragons,” in the words of one of my 3 year-old piano students.

For instance, I had an MCAT student that was having a difficult time grasping the ideal gas law. We had been hammering through problems and equations, but were not getting anywhere. He was eyeing the clock and, I feared, was not learning anything. Clearly, this was a waste of his time. Rather than continuing what was not working, we changed the style of teaching. I had him stand up and “become an ideal gas molecule,” walking around at random, walking into walls and obstacles, simulating the collisions experienced by a gas molecule. We proceeded to alter various parameters (PV=nRT) by changing how he was moving, introducing other gas molecules and limiting the space in which he could move.

From this exercise, he understood the principle physically, and was able to manipulate it and work with it in a sophisticated manner almost immediately. The rest of the session was productive because his success had re-engaged him and the physicality of the exercise had made the principle less abstract, easing the learning process and solidifying the principle so that he could get into the significance of what he was learning.

The core, then, of motivating students, either short-term or long-term, is to make the learning process dynamic, engaging and significant. There are limitless ways of doing this, especially when the tutor and student are able to form a rapport, so that learning and teaching styles can be meshed for the ultimate benefit of the student.
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Graham A. is one of Top Test Prep’s leading MCAT, SAT, ACT, and SSAT instructors. He has also worked with students to prepare their admissions essays. We hear constant positive feedback about Graham’s ability to keep students engaged, focused, and interested in the material they have to tackle, and are excited that he was able to share his philosophy with you.
To learn more about our test prep tutoring and expert admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737 today.

How to Prepare for the SAT and ACT over the Summer: Three Tips to Enter Testing Season Fully Prepared.

If you’re wrapping up your sophomore or junior year, you’re probably coming to terms with the fact that the next few semesters are going to be some of the most important in your high school career. Not only will you have a broader range of honors classes, authoritative positions in your extracurricular activities, and AP tests, you’ve also got a terribly exciting, terribly stressful prospect lurking in the later months of your calendar: College.

Don’t get me wrong; college is great. You’re going to take classes that inspire you, meet friends that will last a lifetime, and have ice cream for breakfast (we don’t necessarily recommend this becoming a habit). You know how instrumental those years will be for the rest of your life, and how exciting it is to take the next step into adulthood. But you have to get there first—and that’s where the stress comes in.

While it’s tempting to take the summer as a break –you know, lounge by the pool, take vacations, try not to think about school work—it’s important that you’re using your time wisely. The SAT & ACT are the easiest ways for schools to objectively gauge your readiness for the level of performance that will be expected from you in college. Summer break is one of the best times for you to get yourself geared up for the busy season of applications, school visits, and testing that awaits you once school starts up again.

So what can you do, without sacrificing your sanity and chance to relax?

First off, recognize the biggest advantage of preparing over the summer. You’re not in school, so you’re not going to have to worry about balancing SAT & ACT study with your normal homework load. Why try to cram everything in during the fall, when you’ll be starting classes again and trying to get everything else under control?

At Top Test Prep, we recommend that students approach the summer with a few major goals in mind. Namely:

1. Read.

Read books. Read magazines. Make CNN or The New York Times your homepage, and click through a couple articles that interest you. And talk about that reading with your friends and family! Both the ACT and the SAT will score you on your ability to process reading passages. You don’t have spend your entire summer with your nose in a book, but give yourself a goal of finishing a book every two weeks. Try forming a “book club” with a couple of your friends. Pick something that you’ll actually follow through on, and plan to talk about it when you’ve finished. Lots of books will have guided discussions for just such occasions, and it’s a wonderful way to keep your critical reasoning skills honed.

2. Review your old textbooks.

Yeah…we know. You’re a math whiz. You did that stuff Freshman year. It’s cake. But if I asked you to find the area of a trapezoid right now, or the square root of a fraction, could you? What if your #1 school depended on it? Even though you’re probably enrolled in challenging classes right now, it’s easy for the basics that don’t get used as often to fall through the cracks. So dig out those dusty textbooks and look through tests from the last few years. Especially review the information that was difficult for you then—chances are, you’re going to see it on the SAT or ACT.

3. Familiarize yourself with the tests.

I know people who could go on for hours about why their fantasy football team is going to cream the competition, or how much they loved the latest Twilight movie. Get to know your test the same way, so that when it comes time for you to sit down and take it for real, you know all the ins and outs that will help maximize your score. Take practice tests (we work with actual tests from years previous to make sure you’re getting the most accurate experience and results), learn test-specific strategies, and work to review concepts that don’t come as easily as you’d like. Our private tutoring programs are great at helping you learn the exams inside-out, and our customized lesson plans make sure you’re using your time in the most targeted ways possible.

In the long run, the testing process opens the door for some of the best years of your life. Getting through it might make you want to pull your hair out (just wait until you start getting the question “Where do you want to go to school?”), but starting out well-prepared will make all the difference. There’s also an important lesson to be learned here: in college, you’re going to have to manage your own time, and learn how to balance your school schedule on your own when there are tons of amazing things to distract you. Approach this summer as if it’s a preview of what’s to come, and when fall rolls around and you put your test date on your calendar, you’re going to be doing it with a sense of excitement and accomplishment, rather than panic.

For a free consultation about your plans for the college entrance exams, or our admissions counseling programs, call us at (800) 501-Prep today!

Teacher Appreciation Day – A Thank you from Top Test Prep

Today is the last day of teacher appreciation week. I’m sure that you can think of at least a few people who shaped your life so emphatically that you wouldn’t be the person you are without their influence. We spend over 20% of our lives in the education system, and it’s no wonder that those who have a positive experience with school, and their educators, end up achieving higher.

Because this relationship is so pivotal, we make it a huge part of our tutoring programs. Each student has one of our top 1% tutors personally selected for them by our education team. We base our decisions on students’ test scores, their academic profiles, and their honest feelings about how they learn best. The partnerships formed in our one-on-one private tutoring sessions produce some of the highest score increases in the country, and reinforce study skills that will resonate through the rest of our students’ learning experiences.

At Top Test Prep, our goal is to make sure that you get the best education possible, for which our tutoring programs are the foundation and the launching point. We want our students to get into top schools and have access to incredible teachers, enlightening classes, and character-forming experiences. Doing well on a test will sometimes be the performance that will change the rest of your life. Having the right guide can make all the difference.

For more info on private tutoring and test prep, call us at (800) 501-7737.

How to Calculate Your EFC and True Cost of College

Here’s a helpful article on financial aid and your expected family contribution. We hope this helps you calculate the cost of college!

What is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

The EFC “is a measure of your family’s financial strength and is calculated according to a formula established by law.” Source: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/help/fftoc01g.htm. In a nutshell, it is a number that is used to determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive (what is called your “financial need”). The formula for determining your financial need is: (cost of attendance) – (EFC) = financial need.

How do I find out my EFC?

Students may have varying reasons for wanting to calculate their EFC, but if you complete your FAFSA early, you can find out your EFC in as few as 3 days after completing it. Your EFC is reported on your Student Aid Report (SAR), which you receive after your you submit your FAFSA. If FAFSA has a valid e-mail address on file for you, you will be sent an e-mail, within 3 to 5 days, with instructions on how to access an online copy of your SAR. Otherwise, it will be mailed to you within 7 to 10 days.

If you would like to calculate your EFC before receiving your SAR, you can find detailed information about the formula at: http://ifap.ed.gov/efcformulaguide/attachments/010512EFCFormulaGuide1213.pdf. There are also a number of online resources that provide EFC calculators (just be sure that if you are NOT giving any personally identifiable information, such as your name, social security, etc., when using an online EFC calculator).

Does my financial need reflect my true cost of college?

It depends. Schools often include tuition and other school fees, room and board, books, travel, and incidentals in their cost of attendance. Depending on your circumstances, these estimates may or may not accurately reflect your needs. These costs can be affected by any number of factors (e.g., whether or not you live on or off campus, whether you bring a car to school, etc.). Ideally, you should try to bring your costs below the school’s estimated cost of attendance.

Why? Remember that your calculated financial need is that the amount you are eligible to borrow. While the ability to borrow can be critical in securing the opportunity for post-high school education, borrowing money has a cost.

What are the different types of loans and their costs?

• Federal Direct Stafford Subsidized Loan

These loans are given based on financial need. The federal government pays the interest on the student’s behalf while the student is in school at least half-time, during a six-month grace period following school, and during authorized periods of deferment.

• Federal Direct Stafford Unsubsidized Loan

These loans are not based on financial need. Students are solely responsible for paying the interest during the lifetime of the loan.

• Private loans

This is an option if the cost of attendance exceeds the amount a student or parent is able to borrow through federal student aid programs. These loans typically have higher interest rates than federal loans. Students are responsible for paying the interest during the lifetime of the loan.

A good rule of thumb is to borrow only what you need! To learn more about expert admissions counseling or test prep tutoring, call (800) 501-7737 today. Top Test Prep is here to help you gain admission.

Last Minute FAFSA Checklist

Here’s a last minute guide/checklist for parents completing the FAFSA. The team at Top Test Prep has compiled this list to help parents navigate financial aid/college admissions.

1. Know your school’s deadlines!

For the 2012-2013 school year, you can submit the FAFSA using FAFSA on the Web from January 1, 2012 until June 30, 2013. The federal deadline to submit the application is midnight (Central Time) on June 30, 2013.

In addition to federal and state deadlines, the colleges you are applying to may have a priority deadline for those seeking financial aid. You can find out your schools’ deadlines by visiting their respective financial aid office websites. If you miss the priority deadline, it could delay the receipt of your financial aid award, or even worse, you may miss out on a financial aid award from the school even if you would otherwise be eligible.

2. Gather your financial information for the year prior to when you will start school (and your parents’ financial information if you are a dependent student) before you sit down to complete the application.

A useful tool in gathering all the information is the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. To complete your FAFSA, you will need:
• Your Social Security Number
• Your driver’s license (if applicable)
• Your 2011 Forms W-2 and any other records of money earned (both taxed and untaxed)
• Your 2011 Federal Income Tax Return (If you are married, you will also need your spouse’s Federal Income Tax Return.)
• Your Parents’ 2011 Federal Income Tax Return (if you are a dependent student – ask your parents if they still claim you as a dependent on their tax return)
• Your current bank statements
• Your current business and investment records (if applicable)
• Your alien registration or permanent resident card (if you are not a U.S. citizen)

3. Avoid waiting until the last minute to complete your FAFSA!

All the information you submit must be complete and accurate. Though the Department of Education allows corrections to the FAFSA, an improperly completed FAFSA could mean a delay or denial of your financial aid.

4. Familiarize yourself with the FAFSA on the Web (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/).

If you are in doubt about the FAFSA, there is no better place to find information than from the source itself. If you have questions about the FAFSA, you should browse the help section of FAFSA on the Web at: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/help.htm. If you still have additional questions, you should contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center via live help, telephone, or e-mail. Contact information can be found at: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/contact.htm.

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We hope that information was helpful. To learn more about Top Test Prep’s college admissions counseling and test prep tutoring, contact (800) 501-7737.

How SAT and ACT Prep Can Help You Get a Scholarship

Many students focus on college entrance exams such as the PSAT, SAT, and the ACT as necessary to get into their preferred colleges; however, test scores are also considered for many academic scholarships and grants. High test scores can improve students’ chances of receiving scholarship awards and grants.

Many scholarship requirements include high test scores. For instance, the eligibility requirements to receive the National Merit Scholarship include taking the PSAT/NMSQT exam and scoring in the top 50,000 of 1.5 million applicants, which translates to the top three percentile of applications. One specific scholarship in St. Louis, Missouri is offered only to the top 15% of high school graduates from any high school in the greater St. Louis with the stipulation that the applicant must score at least 29 on the ACT.

Some colleges and universities also offer scholarship awards based on test scores. For example, the University of Houston in Texas offers awards of $2,500 to $7,000 per year through its Academic Excellence Scholarship. Along with ranking in the top twenty percent of the student’s graduating class, the criteria for a qualifying student is a score above 1200 on the SAT or a score above 26 on the ACT. Eligibility is automatically reviewed for freshman students without them intentionally applying for the award.

The most efficient way to achieve high exam scores, especially a score within the top five percentile, is to use a proven test preparation course. Exam preparation programs’ cost depend on a number of factors including the reputation of the program, the student’s accountability to the instructor and how the program can be personalized for the individual student. Scholarships awards and grants often exceed $1,000 each, so excellent test preparation can return more than its cost in scholarships and grant opportunities.

To learn more about SAT prep tutoring and ACT prep tutoring, call (800) 501-7737 today.

Boarding School Admissions Formula: Revealed!

We’ve cracked the admissions code! Many parents have been asking what it takes to gain admission to top boarding schools like Exeter, Andover, Choate, Hotchkiss, Lawrenceville, Loomis, Milton, and many more…

We interviewed many boarding school admissions officers, and here’s the boarding school admissions formula:

40% SSAT score + 20% GPA/Grades + 15% interview + 10% admissions essay + 10% extracurricular activities + 5% teacher recommendations

Yes, school differ in terms of what they’re looking for, and not all boarding school admissions teams are looking for this exactly… but they’re close, and very similar overall.

We hope that you’ll share (and discuss) this boarding school admissions formula. And as always, we welcome your feedback on twitter (@toptestprep).

Contact us today if you’re looking for helping getting into top boarding schools – (800) 501-Prep or visit our boarding school admissions tips page today.

SAT Test Preparation: How to Write a Better SAT Essay

The essay portion of the SAT exam presents a question in a single sentence prompt. Your task according to the instructions is to do the following: 1) Develop a point of view in response to the question and 2) Support the position with the use of examples. These examples can be from your reading, studies, experiences, and observations. In other words, they can come from anywhere.

Now that you know about the type of question that will be asked on the essay portion of the SAT, how can you improve your essay? This article will show you how.

Tip #1: Come up with supporting examples

The first thing you’ll want to do as you prepare for writing your essay is to come up with a list of supporting examples. These examples can come from reading, study, experience, and observations. Everyone can draw on their studies, experiences, and observations to come up with examples to support their argument. Here are a few specific ways to come up with examples:

1. Use your area of expertise: The first question to ask is this: what’s your area of expertise? Drawing from what you know well and love to do is a great way to come up with supporting examples. If you are an expert swimmer, draw from your knowledge of swimming. If music is your thing, you can find supporting examples from music. Whatever you know the most about, you can draw from your knowledge to come up with supporting ideas.

2. Consider the books you’ve read: These books can be ones you’ve read for class or books you’ve read for fun. Either way, identify the major themes in the books and consider how you can use them to support your argument.

3. Think of your favorite subject: What’s your favorite subject in school? Biology? Chemistry? Math? Whatever it is, there’s a good chance you’ve been paying attention in class since it’s your favorite subject. Use whatever you’ve learned to come up with supporting evidence.

4. Papers you’ve written: Have you written any papers recently? If you’ve written about global warming, then you’re an expert on global warming. Use that to your advantage by using your in-depth research on a topic to come up with examples.

5. Use your experiences: Experiences you’ve had are another great way to come up with ideas. Consider you’re favorite activities, trips you’ve taken, memorable events in your life, and other things like clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in. Any of these types of life experiences provide excellent material to support an argument.

6. Pay attention to observations: Observations you have are another great source for material. These observations include your beliefs, conversations you’ve had, events you’ve witnessed, and patterns or trends you’ve observed. Pay attention to these observations and see if there is something from your personal experience that you can use in your essay.

Tip #2: Make the essay personal

The most important thing you can do when writing your essay for the SAT exam is to take the essay topic and make it personal. As you’re writing, make a personal argument and give it your own spin. Instead of writing an answer you think the grader is looking for, argue for the point that you think is right. Making the essay personal by giving it your own spin and offering your take on the topic will improve your writing and produce a final draft that best reflects your writing abilities.

Tip #3: Use very specific examples

Remember, as you write your essay, you’re arguing a point. If you were to argue with a friend, you wouldn’t use generalities. Instead, you’d use specific examples to back up your claim. You would say things like, “One time I had this experience and it helps to prove my point. Or else you might say, “Consider the experience of the character in this book I recently read. The experience will prove my point.” Always remember that the examples you use need to be very specific because that’s the best way to support your claim and prove your point.

No matter what kind of question is asked, you need to have the confidence that you’ll always have something to say. As long as you follow the three tips from above, you can have this confidence because you’ll know the following: 1) How to come up with supporting evidence 2) How important it is to make the essay a personal argument offering your perspective on the question and 3) How important it is to use very specific examples.

In case you need more help, Top Test Prep offers SAT tutoring programs that can help you improve in all areas of the SAT, including the essay section. All of Top Test Prep’s SAT tutors have scored in the top 1% for the SAT exam. In addition, our tutors know the format of the SAT better than any other company, and many of our instructors have written test questions and know the SAT exam front and back. Each of our tutors are trained to customize the tutoring program for each individual student in order to provide the most benefit for each student.

We also have college admissions counselors who can help you get into the top colleges. Our college admissions counseling is led by a team of admissions experts who can help you in all aspects of your college applications.

Contact us today to find out how our SAT tutoring programs and college admissions counseling can you help you to get into the top colleges in America. If you’d like more help preparing for the SAT writing and/or any other level… call us at 1.800.501.7737.

How much should you be willing to go into student debt?

A discussion about student debt and how majors can affect how much you’ll owe… (or won’t owe) after you graduate school.

Ideally, a student would pay the expense of college tuition and living expenses with accumulated savings, scholarships, grants and/or earned income; however, these means are not always enough to last the duration of a four to five year degree program. Furthermore, many majors offer a substantially higher return for a master’s level or doctoral degree, which almost certainly requires the use of debt.

The amount of student loan debt that is reasonable depends on the return on investment. A student may be willing to go into debt to increase earning power above what can be earned without the degree. The return on the debt is calculated by dividing the debt into the difference between the starting salary with the degree and the salary without the degree which is at least the minimum wage of $15,000 per year on a full-time basis.

For instance, let suppose a student would earn $20,000 without the degree but $45,000 with a degree that costs $50,000 to attain. The return on the investment would be 50% [($45,000-$20,000)/$50,000]. If that same student were to pay $100,000 to earn the same degree, the return on investment would only be 25% [($45,000-$20,000)/$100,000]. If the return on investment is 25%, it would take at least 4 years to pay off the loan with no improvement in lifestyle.

The higher the return on investment the less sacrifice and discipline is required to pay off the loan. Although many lenders allow students up to twenty-five (25) year to pay off student loans, it can begin to feel oppressive to have a loan outstanding for such a long term. By striving to keep the return on investment above 20%, the student can plan to payoff the loan early and enjoy some material rewards in the meantime.

In 2012, the highest paying majors are expected to be engineering, most math and science majors, economics, finance, and international business which pay starting salaries in excess of $45,000 per year according to payscale.com. Engineers and pharmaceutical majors can expect to earn more that $65,000 per year. On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest paying majors include psychology, visual and performing arts, studio arts, communications, social work, theology and early childhood education. Time.com posted that the starting salaries are low and the average pay hovers around $40,000 per year.

This article was written by Heather Bain, who is an instructor and test prep tutor for Top Test Prep’s programs. To learn more about Top Test Prep’s admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737.

How to prepare for the ACT exam / test day

It’s 8:00 AM. Saturday. The day you have been both waiting for and dreading over the past few months. ACT Test day.

Although you will certainly be feeling the pressure, remember that today is the day you get to show what you know. It isn’t the time to cram the formula for volume of a cylinder at the breakfast table, or frantically try to learn the exact definition of “superfluous.” Today you have to relax and be confident that you are ready to show this test who is boss! Make sure to stay confident, and facilitate your test day experience by using the following tips:

1. Make sure that you pack a bag with the following items the night before your test: a printed copy of your admission ticket, your ID (issued by your school or the government), a calculator (make sure you check and make sure your calculator is permitted here: http://www.actstudent.org/faq/answers/calculator.html TI-89 calculators, for example, are not!), several No. 2 sharpened pencils…not mechanical pencils!, snacks and Gatorade or water for breaks, a sweatshirt or light jacket in case you get cold, and a watch so that you can keep track of your timing.

2. GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP ON THE NIGHTS LEADING UP TO THE TEST. This is absolutely key! Don’t sleep 4 hours on the Thursday night and then 12 hours on the Friday night before your test. Stay consistent, and know how much sleep you need and what works best by taking your diagnostics under real conditions. This means figuring out if you perform better with 8 hours of sleep or 10 hours of sleep.

3. Eat a good dinner the night before (think carbo-loading with whole grain pastas and other foods that will keep your energy up the next morning), making sure to drink lots of water the night before, and try to eat a protein-rich breakfast that morning. Go easy on the caffeine (but have a little if you typically drink coffee or tea in the mornings), and don’t drink too many liquids the morning of the test.

4. Get up early. Don’t rush through breakfast. Give yourself time to have a relaxed morning so that you don’t have a huge adrenaline rush before the test even begins.

5. Review a few of your notes or vocabulary to get yourself in the “testing mindset.” This doesn’t mean learn all that last minute information, but rather remind yourself of what you already know.

6. Dress in comfortable clothing that won’t distract you. This is not the correct or appropriate venue for those tight jeans or a scratchy wool sweater.

7. Don’t be late. Check in at your test center BEFORE 8 AM. Make sure that you go to the appropriate test center (check your registration).

8. Choosing your seat: sit somewhere you won’t be distracted. In general, stay away from doors that people will enter and exit to go to the bathroom or drafty windows. It is often best to choose a seat where you cannot see any other students, such as in the front row.

Now sit back, relax and have a great test! You’ll do fantastic.

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If you’re looking for any test prep or private tutoring, feel free to get in touch directly at (800) 501-7737.
Thank you Beryl Manning-Geist for writing this post and helping students prepare for the SAT, ACT and more!

Should you take the SAT or ACT exam? Which is better for you…

Article about whether you should take the SAT or ACT exam:

College admissions tests can be overwhelming, but choosing the test (SAT vs. ACT) that best suits you puts you on the path to success early on. While the SAT is historically regarded as the typical admissions test, the ACT is quickly gaining ground and becoming an important part of your college application. For many schools in the Midwest and the South, this test is even the standard for admissions. As you consider your testing options, it is important to determine what kind of student does well on the ACT. This guide should help identify if the ACT is the test for you!

About the ACT Exam:

First off, it’s important to understand what the ACT is all about. There are 4 sections to the test: English, Math, Reading, and Science, and there is also an optional writing section that some schools require. The test takes approximately 3 hours to complete, or 3.5 hours if you choose to complete the writing component. The SAT, meanwhile, takes just under 4 hours. If you tend to get restless during tests or lose focus, the ACT may be a better test for you, because the test has more breaks and a shorter run-time.

In addition to the testing length, the character of each test differs. Although both tests evaluate similar skills and knowledge bases, particularly in math, the ACT tends to ask questions in a more straight-forward manner. The test writers are not trying to trick you in the same way the SAT writers may try. Because of this difference in each test’s style, improving your score on the ACT often involves reviewing concepts, while much SAT prep focuses on test-taking strategies. If you prefer straight-forward questions rather than nuanced or “trick you” questions, the ACT is probably your best bet. That being said, the ACT does tend to focus on grammar (think, “what is wrong with this sentence” type of questions), while the SAT emphasizes vocabulary. You may choose your test based on your strengths in these areas.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the ACT is its science section. At first, many students are fearful of this section, but it is important to realize that very little prior knowledge is required! The science section mostly tests your ability to make connections, use reasoning, and employ basic skills like using information in tables or graphs to answer questions.

Overall, if you tend to be the type of student who works harder in school than your peers and does better in difficult classes, the ACT is for you. If you consider yourself to be more intuitive with strong reasoning skills, but not always the best work ethic, the SAT might be a better test. In general, however, it is important to recognize that with hard work in school and in your test preparation, you can succeed in the college admissions process.

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This post on the ACT exam was written by Beryl Manning-Geist; she’s part of the SAT private tutoring and ACT private tutoring team at Top Test Prep. To learn more about how to prepare for either exam, simply call Top Test Prep at 1-800-501-7737.

Things to Consider When Choosing a College: Compare Reputation with Cost and Majors

The topic of today’s blog post is comparing a school’s reputation versus cost and majors – extremely important factors that go into making your college choices.

With nearly 6000 higher education institutions in the United States, college-bound seniors have quite a few choices of colleges and universities to sift through to pare down their choices to a (relatively) manageable number. Nobody wants to write a hundred different essays. Save that for your writing courses (kidding, but not really).

I can unequivocally say that the importance of your school’s reputation depends on many factors. While there is always a certain amount of pride being able to put down on your resume (insert Ivy League, Duke, Stanford, MIT…), the question is, is it worth it? Chances are that twenty or thirty years down the road, the college you went to will only matter to you. Your success at 40 won’t depend much on what college you went to – it’s up to your own ingenuity, ambition, hard work with a little luck sprinkled throughout (isn’t it always?). However, are bragging rights worth having student loans at 40? The average student today graduates with nearly $30,000 of undergraduate debt, and this can take decades to pay off.

Our goal is not to say whether an Ivy is better than a top ranked state school like UC-Berkeley – rather it’s to show you that with each you can accomplish great things and further that you absolutely should consider all three: cost, majors and reputation of a college.

What’s the difference between a private institution that costs upwards of $40,000 per year and a public one about 10-15 per year? Some of you live in states with phenomenal state schools that can compete with the very best Ivies or just a fraction of their cost – like Virginia, Texas, California, (begrudgingly) North Carolina and Michigan, to name a few. To those who live in those states, if you can get into those respective schools, then more power to you.

There are certain majors and fields where reputation matters more, though more applicable for graduate program reputation like PhDs, MBAs, JDs and MDs. And those exactly are the fields where reputation might come into play – business, law, and medicine. The graduate program you went to will be more important in getting that first job. However, that isn’t to say that where you go to college doesn’t matter – it’ll help you get into the dream graduate program (applications will never end). There are a number of things that come into play with your undergraduate “stepping stone” into good business, law or medical schools. Above all, you need to do well. Remember that if you go to one of the top tier schools, you’ll have pretty stiff competition – we’re talking about the top 1% of students from all over the country. Can you compete? A 4.0 and good ranking in your class is valuable no matter where you went. A mediocre 2.0 from an Ivy? How do you (or an employer, or graduate school) begin to interpret that? You always take the chance.

Ivy institutions and their brethren have resources. And generally speaking, lots of it. But while they have some of the nicest buildings and newest toys, that doesn’t mean YOU get to use them. Having a cast of Nobel Laureates on faculty sound great, but I guarantee you they didn’t get a Nobel based on their teaching ability. Fun (or sad) fact – many of them find teaching bothersome because it gets in the way of their ability to secure research grants and conduct the research that they are passionate about.

Go to the best school you feel confident that you can get good or preferably great, grades. Go on college visits, sit in on a class or two in your potential field of interest (seminars and big lectures). Preferably go during fall or spring semesters (the summers tend to be average representations at best) to see if you can hack it. See what student engagement is like, and whether you feel like you’d fit in.

We recommend you think about a school’s value on the whole – considering reputation alongside cost and majors. Hope that helps you when choosing a college.

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Verne wrote this essay; he’s an admissions counselor and private tutor at Top Test Prep. For more information on getting into top schools, call (800) 501-7737 today.

How to Form an SAT Study Group, and ways to prep for the SAT

Studying for the SAT is no easy task: often, students feel like all their hard work is in vain, or they become frustrated with ambiguous study concepts. A common symptom of SAT studying is “burnout,” when students lose motivation to keep working hard. One of the best things to do in the face of burnout is to form an SAT study group.

Study groups for the SAT go beyond motivation—teaching others is one of the best ways to ensure that you understand important concepts. There are clear advantages to adding a study group to your test preparation regimen. You must, however, think carefully about the dynamic you want to form when assembling your study group. Here are some important things to think about:

1. Keep your study group limited to 4-6 members. More than this and you will get bogged down with each student’s weakness.
2. Try to work with students who are aiming for a similar score as you. This will ensure that you achieve a balance of learning from others and helping others learn.
3. Make sure that everyone brings a different strength. Try not to have a study group where all four of you are math whizzes, but no one knows the definition of “coincidental.”
4. Meet consistently, and have a schedule. It is easy to get distracted when you are hanging out with a bunch of friends, and it is often difficult to find a time that works for everyone to meet. Find a specific time and discuss a “study plan” at your first study group meeting. Stick to it! Generally, it is a good idea to meet for 1-2 hours once per week.
5. Try to do a “homework task” every week. This will ensure that you all are doing the same preparation, and that week’s homework can illuminate weaknesses that your study group can work through together.

Good luck, and most importantly remember that a study group is there to create a change of pace from solo studying. Keep at it on your own, and use this as a tool to continue motivating your progress!

If you find yourself in search of SAT test prep and SAT tutoring, give us a call at (800) 501-7737.

This article was written by Beryl Manning-Geist, an admissions counselor and private tutor with Top Test Prep.

What ACT Score Do I Need? The Magic Number

More and more, colleges are beginning to consider students holistically. Admissions committees acknowledge and reward a breadth of interests, like athletic achievement, artistic endeavors, or other activities. Your application includes a variety of information: personal statements, academic records, and recommendations all play important roles. In light of this, you may wonder how important are your ACT scores? The answer: they are crucial. Although there may not be a huge difference between a 34 and a 35 in an admission officer’s eyes, there is a big difference between a 25 and a 35. You must, with few exceptions, score within a certain range to attend the nation’s best colleges.

So what is a good ACT score? It largely depends where you want to go! The nation’s most elite colleges, like Williams College, Yale, or Stanford, all have average ACT composites of 30-34. This means that only 25% of students scored below 30, and 25% of students scored above 34 at these schools.

Interested in schools like Washington and Lee, Georgetown, or University of Virginia? You’ll want to score between 28 and 31 or 32.

Lastly, make sure that you score comparably in all sections! It may raise a few eyebrows if you score 35 on your science, English, and reading sections, but earn a 25 on your math. Make sure to work on your weaknesses so that you earn a similar score on each section. This will demonstrate that you are a well-rounded student prepared to succeed in many different disciplines.

Keep in mind that these numbers do not secure an offer of admissions. You could score a 36 on the ACT, but if you have a few bad grades that you can’t explain, or you haven’t participated in any activities in high school, you still might not get an offer! Ideally, colleges are looking to confirm that your standardized testing complements your grades. Are you a straight-A student with a 33 on your ACT and a few strong extracurricular activities? You are well situated for the admissions process!
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This article was written by Beryl Manning-Geist, who is on the admissions counseling expert team at Top Test Prep. For more information on ACT Prep and Tutoring, contact (800) 501-Prep today.

Getting on With College: Arguments Against a Gap Year

In recent years, it has become fashionable for families to consider a “gap year” for graduating high school seniors in which they take a year off prior to entering college to travel or participate in community service activities. A cottage industry of books, advisors, and even
“gap year” scholarships have emerged to promote and support this ostensibly maturing experience. Little has been written, however, about the down-side of not heading off to college once you complete high school. Once size does not fit all, and a “gap year” can have an adverse impact on some students. Concerns about the repercussions of “gap years” follow.

First, for those in cumulative disciplines such as science, math, and languages a year away from focused study can hinder your ability to master them. Noble intentions may not make up for a sustained period of time away from core academic subjects.

Secondly, for students who lack focus and a sense of purpose, a year removed from studies may have little impact on their overall motivational level. A sense of commitment to academic pursuits generally comes from within, a state of affairs which is not fostered over a calendar year removed from academia.

Third, your longer term earning potential is hurt every time you take time off from picking up the academic skills which are a pre-condition for success in the job market.

Finally, in an increasingly degree conscious society, the most logical period to take time off is between undergraduate and graduate school. You will then have a stronger skill base for the job market, and some professional graduate programs as business look favorably on experience acquired in the work place.

While the “in crowd” may be enamored with “gap years,” it may be of little utility once you decide to pursue undergraduate studies and move into the work force beyond.

David Dickson is an admissions expert for Top Test Prep which provides test preparation to help students gain admissions to top private schools, colleges, and graduate schools. Call 800-501-7737 to learn more.

The Ten Best Values in Private Universities, Public Universities, and Liberal Arts Colleges

Kiplingers magazine has released its annual list of the best values in American universities. The criteria used by Kiplingers include cost and financial aid (31.25%), competitiveness including admissions rates (25%), academic support including freshman retention rates (12.5%), graduation rates over four years (18.75%), and student indebtedness (12.5%). Institutions which excelled using these criteria follow. Top Test Prep makes an annual assessment on the best values in college educations so as to help our loyal readers make decisions when applying to colleges.

Best Values in Private Universities:
1. Princeton
2. Yale
3. California Institute of Technology
4. Rice
5. Harvard
6. University of Pennsylvania
7. Duke
8. Columbia
9. MIT
10. Stanford

Best Values in Public Universities:
1. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
2. University of Florida, Gainesville
3. University of Virginia, Charlottesville
4. College of William and Mary
5. New College of Florida
6. University of Georgia
7. University of California, Berkeley
8. University of Maryland, College Park
9. University of California, Los Angeles
10. University of California, San Diego

Best Values in Liberal Arts Colleges:
1. Pomona
2. Washington and Lee
3. Swarthmore
4. Williams
5. Davidson
6. Hamilton
7. Vassar
8. Wellesley
9. Bowdoin
10. Amherst

David Dickson is an admissions expert for Top Test Prep which provides college admissions counseling to help students gain admission to top private schools, colleges, and graduate schools. Call 800-501-7737 to learn more.

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