10 Tips for Testing With Extended Time

Our colleagues at Endeavor Academics have worked with countless students as they navigated the process of testing with extended time.  Megan Phillips shares their top tips for students focussed on getting their best score with the least amount of stress.

1. Apply for accommodations ASAP: Getting accommodations can take time.  Ideally, you’ve been using your accommodations in school for several months before applying for extra time on the SAT or ACT.  If not, starting early will give you time to complete or update educational testing and get your accommodations in place at school.  Starting early will also give you the opportunity to appeal the decision if your initial request for testing accommodations is denied.  

2. Start early preparing early, but not too early: Both the ACT and SAT include math content covered in Algebra 2.  Unless you are on an advanced math track, you are likely to still be learning important material over the course of your junior year.  While it’s tempting to wait until the end of junior year to get more math under your belt, doing so will leave you with very few test dates to choose from before your application deadlines. Waiting until after the first semester of junior year is often a good compromise. If you have already completed Algebra 2 when junior year starts, start your preparation in the fall.  It feels great to have your testing out of the way early!

3. Choose one test to focus on - pick that test based on data: Junior year is stressful enough without having to juggle preparation for two tests.  Sometimes students get approved for accommodations for one test but not the other.  If that’s the case, your decision is an easy one. If you get approved for accommodations on both tests, take a practice SAT and a practice ACT to make the decision based on facts not feelings. Often students perform significantly better on one test, so it’s worth investing the time in practice tests to be sure of your decision.

4. Consider available dates: Your preparation should be scheduled backward from the test date you choose.  Unfortunately, each test is only offered seven times each year.  As a result, it’s important to consider your schedule when choosing a date.  Are you playing football in the fall?  If so, waiting for an early spring date will allow you to avoid testing the morning after a big game.  Are you in the spring play?  Rehearsals might leave you too exhausted to adequately prepare, so testing in the fall is likely a wise choice. Whatever date you choose, make sure that there is at least one (ideally two) date after your initial test in case you decide to test again. Many students test two or three times before arriving at their final score.

5. Decide whether to add the writing: Both the SAT and ACT include optional writing sections, though a handful of schools require applicants to have an essay score.  Fortunately, neither test incorporates that score into your composite score.  If you are still unsure of where you will apply, taking the essay is probably the safest bet.  However, it should be noted that the vast majority of schools do not require it.  

6. Pick the right prep program: Make sure that the program you choose will set you up for success.  If you are testing with accommodations, you will want a teacher or tutor that has experience working with students with extended time.  The strategy and techniques should be adapted to your strengths, scores, and testing conditions.  Don’t be shy about asking questions about a tutor’s experience with accommodations before you decide on a program.  Having the right support will increase your scores and decrease the amount of time, money and stress associated with the preparation process.

7. Commit to doing the work: Unless you plan to apply to schools that are test optional, your scores are a vital component of your application.  Unlike with your GPA, you can make a significant difference in how competitive your application will be in a relatively short period of time. Every year we see big gains from students who buckle down and get focused.  Don’t wait to get serious or you will drag out a process that could have been much shorter.

8. Do your homework under testing conditions: Using your time efficiently can be one of the most challenging components of these tests.  A strong test prep program will have you completing homework each week.  Make sure to complete your assignments using a timer.  If you have other accommodations beyond extended time, practice under those conditions as well.  For example, if you qualify to have the test read aloud, ask a parent, sibling or friend to read homework assignments to you.  Practicing the same way you will test will give you more confidence on test day and will give your teacher or tutor more accurate data to coach you.

9. Take practice tests: Homework is incredibly important, but it won’t give you the same experience as taking the full test.  Make sure to take at least one full length test (though ideally several) before your real exam.  This will give you a sense of the stamina required to complete the test.  It will also allow you to test out the pacing plan that you’ve developed with your teacher or tutor.  

10. Keep the lines of communication open with your teacher or tutor:  Everyone learns differently.  Don’t be shy about letting your instructor know if you still have questions, if they can make adjustments in their instruction to improve your understanding or if their suggestions for a pacing strategy aren’t working as well as you had hoped.  The best strategy is one that you develop with your teacher based on their years of expertise with the test and your knowledge of how you work and learn. This isn’t a one size fits all process, so don’t be embarrassed if you feel like a different approach might help!  Your teacher wants that high score for you too, and sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference.  

5 Steps for High School Students To Perfect Their LinkedIn Profile

Social Media is something that often comes up in the college search-- typically in a fearful manner. A recent study from Kaplan Test Prep of about 400 college admissions officers reported that 40 percent said they had visited applicants’ social media pages, a fourfold increase since 2008. Often questioning if your son’s Instagram is appropriate or, as a student, if you should take down a certain photo on her Facebook? As LinkedIn becomes a more and more prominent social media platform we are given the chance to reframe our view of publishing things about yourself, or your kids, online.

LinkedIn is a platform that is focused on expanding your professional network. The New York Times recently pointed out that colleges have begun to look at LinkedIn profiles as they consider admissions applications. A student can use LinkedIn to stay in touch with teachers, friends, and their professional network from jobs and/or internships. Even more, students can use LinkedIn to connect with the people who inspire you or the people who go to your dream school.

But before you can do this, you need to perfect your profile. So here’s how:

  1. A Unique Headline: Talk about your what. What gets you excited? Why are you passionate about sports or community service? Why do you get so excited about American History or robotics? This is a short statement about your what. A great example would be: Passionate about engineering in the field of renewable technologies. A more creative example could be: The most detail-oriented person you know
  2. Your Education: Simple enough. Put your school. Once you go to college, there are amazing Alumni tools that will be great for the job search. But for now, let me people know where you!

  3. A Purposeful Headshot: Now, we aren’t saying you need a professional headshot in a suit, but no cropped photos from brunch with the family. A straight-on picture where you look and feel good is perfect for your profile picture.

  4. A Creative Summary: Talk about what you like do after school. Where you passions lie and why. Tell a story. This doesn’t need to be super long, but it needs to say something about you as a person.

  5. Add Experience, Organizations, and Projects: Now, when you look at accomplished professionals profiles you often see all their jobs and what they’ve done. It’s unlikely you have been the CEO of Google, or a columnist for the New York Times. That’s totally fine-- you have still done a lot. If you are a leader in a club, put there in the experience section. Or, if you’ve made something amazing in AP Art, put your portfolio in the projects section. This can be similar to your resume, but be sure to add pictures of links to things with the media button.

Once a student has a great profile, they are ready to connect with your idols and influencers. They can add these people by adding a note when you connect and saying you’re so impressed and would love to chat with them. They can connect with an admissions counselor on LinkedIn, as another way to show interest. They can also follow the schools they are applying to.

Working Effectively With Your High School On All Your Application Details

Working with College MatchPoint will complement the support that your high school offers, but you will still need to meet with your school guidance counselor and follow any college application procedures that your high school has in place. We do not generally have any contact with your school, so you are responsible for the following:

Recommendation Letters: Students are responsible for asking your teachers to write letters, as well as for making sure they are delivered to the appropriate schools on time. This includes asking your guidance counselor to write any letters that he/she may be responsible for. Many high schools have very specific guidelines and timeframes for recommendation letters. In general, you should give teachers 3-4 weeks to write a letter. Most teachers will want some type of information (or “brag” sheet) that will help guide their letter writing.

The most important piece of advice is this: follow your high school's procedures. If the instructions seem unclear at all, call the high school guidance department to get more information. Many high schools will not send recs until both the parent and the student have completed a brag sheet.

In general, most students need two teacher recs. Ideally, the recs are from junior year, with one from math or science and one from history or English. It is the student's responsibility to ask for the rec and to follow up with the teacher on the rec. Most teachers require 3-4 weeks to complete recs. There will likely be some colleges on your student's list that only want one rec (or possibly none). We typically suggest that, for the sake of ease, you send all recs to all schools.

Ordering Transcripts: Your guidance department will likely have a specific procedure to follow (or form to fill out) to request transcripts, so make sure you know how to get copies of your grades sent to every college that needs them. Transcripts must be sent directly from your high school. For schools that use Naviance, transcript orders are typically made through this online system. Most high schools will not send transcripts until the beginning of September, so we encourage students to request these immediately after the fall semester begins. Don’t wait until the guidance office is facing a backlog!

Test Scores: Once you are done taking standardized tests, you can go ahead and send your test best scores to the colleges. Remember that you MUST send the test scores by the application deadline for each college. You do not need to send both SAT and ACT. Only send the test that you scored highest on. You must order scores online directly through the College Board or the ACT websites--again, watch your deadlines!

5 Insider Tips for Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Texas at Austin

Last Thursday College MatchPoint hosted an informational session with Alexandra Billick, Director of the Undergraduate Admissions Center at The University of Texas at Austin. We were thrilled by the turnout and appreciated the insights that Alexandra was able to provide to everyone in attendance.

For those who missed the event, we did want to share a few highlights from the evening—there are important takeaways for everyone considering UT:

  1. Making your application personal is key. With all applicants getting a holistic read (this includes automatic admits, who aren’t necessarily admitted their top choice school/major), you need to be sure that your story is coming through. From your essays and resume to rec letters, UT admissions wants to see what makes you, you. Alexandra even suggested choosing non-traditional recommenders who know you beyond your grades—those with personal stories to tell. Students should be strategic in choosing their recommenders, looking at their total application and trying to fill in holes with rec letters (if your grades and test scores show that you are a math genius, for example, don’t have someone writing a letter that says essentially the same thing).
  2. Sending an expanded resume is critical, particularly for Engineering, Computer Science, and Business applicants. Engineering and Computer Science applicants must show actual background in the field beyond coursework. Business students need to  demonstrate significant leadership experience. And students in all fields should use the expanded resume to communicate how they match to their intended major. The key to making a resume work for UT is to show details beyond those in the application and show why an activity matters to you and your story.
  3. Send in all your scores—they will pick and choose which test score to consider for your major/school and will toss out the others.
  4. Fit to major remains an important piece of the UT admissions puzzle—this means that they want to match students to majors they know you have interest in, and are likely to succeed in. Alexandra confirmed that trying to “game” the system and sneak into highly competitive programs like business or engineering by selecting a different major might find themselves without an acceptance letter—they are on to this strategy and it doesn’t play well.
  5. Don’t mess with the deadlines. For UT, all application materials (rec letters, test scores, resume, etc.) must be received by—not postmarked by—the deadline. This means ordering test scores for any fall tests on the day of the exam (so that UT gets them the same time you do). If any piece of your application is missing on deadline day, your application will be deleted. Don’t be late!

MatchPoint Workshop: Planning for Summer 2018

For many of today’s college-bound high school students, the summer is no longer nine weeks of total relaxation, but rather an opportunity to spend time actively working, learning new skills, or diving deeper into an area (or areas) of interest.

We encourage students to consider what they enjoy, what areas they could improve in, and what their goals for the future are in order to decide what to do over the summer. We don’t encourage any student to spend their summer doing something that they don’t enjoy, so don’t fill summer with activities just because you think they will look good on an application. 

At this workshop for students and for parents, we will discuss:

* Defining the goals for this summer 

* Determining the impact your summer options might have

* Researching your options for summer activities with trusted online resources

* Evaluating your options for summer activities

The workshop will break out into two tracks - one for students, the other for parents. Space is limited.