Written by Lily McIntyre
Hi everyone! I hope you’ve all been taking good care of yourselves amidst the great change and upheaval going on in our country right now. I've been worrying about the world a lot lately, but my mom always tells me to focus on the stuff I can control instead of worrying about things I can’t. If you’re in high school and planning on taking the SAT or ACT sometime soon, something you can control is getting ahead on standardized test prep (...as terrible as that sounds). If you don’t have any idea where to start or are looking for resources, we’re here to help. Today’s blog post features an interview with Ben C., a top ACT and SAT tutor for a boutique tutoring company called MyGuru. Ben and I talked about study mistakes, tips, test prep resources, and information on standardized tests that might help give you all a leg up in this process!
I started off by asking Ben what kind of student would be a better fit for the ACT versus the SAT; I was confused myself when I was going through this process just a couple of years ago! According to Ben, “The ACT tends to be well suited for students who make a lot of distinctions between things they know, i.e. analytically minded students, where the SAT tends to be suited for students who reason well, or synthesize different kinds of information.” The tests themselves have gotten more similar over the years, so it’s not the end of the world if you’re not sure which test best suits you! Ben also notes that colleges don’t prefer one test over the other, so your decision can be completely based on which test you feel more comfortable taking.
Then, we discussed the prep period before taking the test. Personally, I started prepping for the ACT 6 months before I took it because I was freaked out about it. Ben says that if you’re comfortable with tests, you can start prepping 6-8 weeks before you take it. But for people who get nervous with tests (like myself), Ben agrees with beginning test prep around 6 months in advance. When you’ve started studying and are looking for online resources, Ben recommends test-specific materials. Specifically, “...most tests have numerous official copies that have been uploaded by HS programs and others who gain access to official ACT/SAT tests. It is always a better idea to practice with official materials than a secondary company if possible.” In the weeks leading up to the test, Ben recommends studying 2 hours a week with a tutor, spending 2 hours doing practice questions, plus 4 hours scattered throughout the week doing study work like flash cards, reading, etc.. However, you might have a different time frame and schedule that works for you! Studying for standardized tests is an individualized process; different methods work for different people.
When you’re studying, though, Ben warns against studying “too hard” in order to relieve test anxiety. It is just as important to rest while studying as well! In the weeks leading up to the test, Ben notes that there are certain types of problems that consistently appear on each test, and that there is usually a conventional “right way” to solve it. If grasping that one process is challenging for you, get creative! In Ben’s words, “The ‘wrong way’ can be easier [and] faster, and the test isn’t checking your work. See if you can make up a way to solve the problem that works for you.”
Ben and I also discussed the actual test-taking process. When asked about the biggest test-taking mistakes they see students make, Ben says, “Something I always preach is that we should always choose our own way through the test. Following the sequence of questions as offered… leads to a tendency to get stuck on questions or easily tripped up.” I agreed and reflected on my own experience of being stuck on some math questions while taking the ACT and inevitably wasting more time on those few problems rather than tackling the questions I immediately knew first. In our interview, I also asked Ben about how many times students should take the ACT or SAT. I remember talking to some of my high school peers who took the SAT seven times. Is this actually your best bet? According to Ben, “Taking the test is never fun, so the true ideal is 1 time, so prepare well and hit that mark on the first go. In my experience, though, the experience of taking the test is an essential teacher, and so usually the second or third time will be substantially higher. After the 4th it’s less and less likely, so you definitely don’t want to overdo it.” Similarly, I was satisfied with my score after my third time taking the ACT.
Finally, I really wanted to get a tutor’s insight on the new test-optional policy many universities have been adopting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ben’s eyes, “The college application is a process that incorporates an array of information in the service of determining whether a student would be a good fit for a given school… It does make sense and feels fair to make the test optional in so many places this year, given that many students are not able to go to great lengths to take it under the pandemic - requiring it would unfairly benefit students with access to more resources.” Given this, Ben still believes that taking the test and getting a high score can positively affect your application. Looking to the future, Ben is excited to see how standardized tests will transform, whether there will be new kinds of tests or new ways to do testing at home, or something we can’t imagine right now. We hope that Ben’s insight has given you some guidance, and hopefully some relief, on the big, bad standardized test process! Find out more about Ben and MyGuru’s services below:
Ben C. is a top ACT and SAT tutor for a boutique tutoring company called MyGuru. They specialize in connecting students with experienced (at least 3 years) and impressive (at least 95th percentile test scores and bachelor's degrees) backgrounds at an affordable cost. They also stress the importance of mindset, strategy, confidence, effective study habits, and time management and organization skills in achieving superior performance in school and on standardized tests. Visit them there for more information on their ACT and SAT tutoring approach.
by Lily McIntyre
We hope that everyone is staying healthy and safe during these troubling times. If you haven’t read our last blog post, I posted about some mental health resources and self-care tips that might be helpful given our current situation. Please check them out if you haven’t yet; you can find the post here.
But this week, I wanted to share some thoughts on the situation as well as things that I’ve been learning throughout the past week or so. We at Lucent believe that the killings and abuse by the police, as well as the systemic racism that disproportionately impacts Black people, are unjust and need to end. We hope that people are educating themselves so that Black people may be treated as equals, with the respect and dignity that so many already have the privilege of having. Black Lives Matter, but “matter” is the minimum. Black lives are worthy and needed. Of course, I am unbelievably angry that this keeps happening, and that it ever happened in the first place. I’m even angrier that some people are morphing a human rights crisis into a political issue.
I actually saw an analogy on TikTok recently that I think explains the situation clearly to those who might be having trouble understanding. Here’s the link: https://vm.tiktok.com/EsmYX6/. The woman in the video is talking about a conversation she had in which one of her friends said, “I just can’t support this because all lives matter.” The woman in the video then explains a hypothetical situation in which people are sitting down to eat and everyone gets a plate of food except for Bob. Bob is hungry and wants a plate of food, but Karen, with a full plate, says, “We’re all hungry, Bob.” Bob doesn’t have any food, though. “I deserve food!” Bob says. Everyone else keeps eating. Do we all deserve food? Yes! But saying that doesn’t change the fact that Bob still doesn’t have any. This next part really stuck with me and I hope it will stick with you too. The woman says, “Do all lives matter? Yes! But saying it doesn’t change the fact that Black lives haven’t mattered for years. Don’t be mad because you don’t have a movement. Be happy you don’t need one.” The time for us to step up has been long, long overdue.
As a white woman, I am aware of my privilege and have been viewing each day as an opportunity to educate myself and confront the systemic racism that has burdened our country for over 400 years. Privilege is educating yourself about racism instead of experiencing it (@sirjohn on Instagram). Privilege is being encouraged to vote instead of being turned away from the polls. Privilege is feeling sympathetic for the people directly affected by this situation instead of truly empathetic, because as much as I educate myself, as often as I sign petitions and donate, I will never really know the pain and suffering the Black community is feeling right now and has felt for centuries.
Maybe you’re wondering how you can step up. Maybe you’ve seen posts online about protests, step-by-step guides on how to be actively anti-racist, or books and movies that bring awareness to the reality of being a Black person in America. Maybe you’ve seen bail funds to donate to or petitions to sign. We have our work cut out for us. Maybe you’re feeling pressured to do everything, which simply isn’t possible for one person! If I’m being honest, the sheer influx of information I have been seeing, while incredibly helpful, can get overwhelming after a while. But as long as we collectively keep our foot on the gas and make a habit of doing something meaningful that benefits this movement every day, that moves us in the right direction. Do whatever you can to make a tangible difference. Here is a compilation of resources for accountability and action for Black lives:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Xa9Av-NfuFsWBHlsMvPiqJHdNedZgnCRW56qAS-7PGQ/mobilebasic. Also, you can still donate without actually spending mone (check this out for more information: https://www.instagram.com/p/CA7xa-gJ6To/?igshid=1q83y0muclfsg ) . But please keep in mind as more time goes by that this movement is not a trend. We have created great momentum and have to keep it going!
Check-in on your Black friends (here’s a guide if you don’t know what to say: https://www.instagram.com/p/CA-hlZwlz9s/?igshid=h05fdz84gm2). They are carrying an enormous weight on their shoulders. And to the Black community: We see you, we hear you, and we are here for you.
We also wanted to note that this has been a time of high emotion, which can be very overwhelming. There has been a lot of intense content on social media during the past couple days, so we want to remind everyone of a few tips if the media/situation at large has you feeling overwhelmed:
1. Write down your thoughts (@justgirlproject on IG). Doing this without judgement is very important. Feel whatever it is you feel.
2. Have productive conversations and express your feelings to friends and family (@justgirlproject on IG).
3. Read (especially before bed)! (@justgirlproject on IG)
4. Color, paint, or do paint by numbers.
5. Focus on what you can control (_@hi_anxiety_ on IG)
6. Continue to educate yourself and continually check in with yourself to be aware if you need a break.
We hope that you are all looking out for others and also yourself. We hope that you continue to stay healthy and safe. We are here to support you in any way we can.
College, Graduate School, and Career Coaching.