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Taking the Writing Portion of the ACT?

The Writing portion of the ACT is optional and does not impact your composite score. Unless you’re applying to a highly selective school, chances are your college will not place a great deal of emphasis on your Writing score. Why? Because the scoring method for the Writing portion of the ACT, unlike the rest of the test, is quite subjective. The scoring method involves judges that read your essay and assign it a score based on some fairly vague metrics. Unofficially, judges are unable to spend much time on grading each essay because they have so many to grade. This leads to judges skimming essays for key words and terms, paying more attention to introductory sentences, and, some say, how nice your handwriting is. The judges are not trying to give you an unfair score, but the nature of grading a handwritten essay is one of high subjectivity.


So, if you score fairly low on the Writing portion of the ACT, don’t sweat it. Colleges will pay far more attention to your actual ACT score than to your Writing score. That being said, there are a few things you can do to boost your score:


1. Use strong first and last sentences.

If I want to understand just the essence of what you have written, I am going to glance over the first and last sentences of your paragraphs. After all, the sentences in between will just contain details. Make sure the first and last sentences of each of your paragraphs can summarize, albeit a very basic summary, the gist of the paragraph.


2. Because of #1, write multiple short paragraphs.

Instead of writing five paragraphs of standard length, write 10 short paragraphs, each containing just four sentences or so. You’ll write about the same amount of content, but you will have divided the content up in a way that makes it easier for your reader to interpret quickly. If your first and last sentences are good, then you can state your case without writing fewer and longer paragraphs that your reader may never examine in detail. If you write short paragraphs, the reader never has to read in detail.


3. Use strong first and final paragraphs.

The first and final paragraphs should summarize your viewpoint on the topic presented to you in the Writing portion of the ACT. In your first paragraph, restate the possible viewpoints (ex: some students want school uniforms, while others do not). Then, state your view point (ex: School uniforms restrict personal choice and expression and should not be allowed.). Finally, list supporting reasons, then move on to paragraph two. Your final paragraph should summarize everything in a few sentences, so summarize and leave the essay alone. More detail will not help you here.


5 Things High School Juniors Should Do Now

The school year is coming to a close, but, for juniors, this summer should be a busy one. This time next year, you’ll be graduating from high school, and then you’ll be heading off to college. Between now and the start of the fall semester, you definitely have some work to do.


1. Take the ACT.

By now, you should have taken the ACT at least once. If you haven’t, sign up for the June ACT. The test is offered again in September and October, so consider taking those test dates if you still need a higher score. Summer is a great time to prep for the ACT, so buy a book, attend an ACT Prep course, or prep with a friend - just do something to prep!


2. Schedule College Visits.

You should never decide on a college you have never visited. Reading about the campus and hearing what others have to say about a school can never compare with experiencing it for yourself. So, this summer, schedule a tour of the schools you are seriously considering. By the end of the summer, you should know which schools are truly viable candidates.


3. Research College Deadlines.

College admissions applications and scholarship applications have deadlines. Depending on when you apply and what you apply for, these deadlines could be as early as October or as late as next June. Be sure you know when everything is due, and, if you can, start working on applications. It never hurts to start early.


4. Find a Job, Volunteer, or Start a Project to Fill Your Summer With.

Colleges want students who have done more than just go to class. A job or community service project will look great on your college applications. If possible, find an activity that relates to your planned major. Want to be a teacher? See if you can work at a daycare this summer. Planning to be a business major? Get a job at a local business. Colleges want more than generic community service hours, so make your summer activities count.


5. Schedule Time for Yourself.

Summer can be hectic, so make sure you remember to leave a little time for relaxation. A slow day every now and then is good for recharging your batteries and keeping everything in perspective.

Simplifying the Science Section of the ACT

The Science portion of the ACT is one of the most dreaded tests on the ACT. All of the graphs, charts, and tables can be a bit overwhelming, especially considering that you take this portion of the test towards the end. By the time you begin the Science section, you’re likely mentally drained from the previous hours of testing. Instead of calling it quits and making a half-hearted attempt to answer the questions, consider a few tips to help simplify the Science section.


1. The Science section is really just the Reading section with graphs and charts. Think about it - the Reading section of the ACT requires you to read information, analyze it, and answer questions about it. This is basically what the Science section requires you to do, except the Science section adds in graphs, charts, and tables. Data presented in a graph is really just telling a story. The story might be that heating a chemical causes it to expand, so the graph illustrates in what way the chemical expands. When you begin a Science passage, do not overanalyze! Practically all of the information you need in order to answer the questions is right in front of you.


2. Remember T.I.G.

T.I.G. stands for tables, italicized terms, and graphs. These three things will often tell you exactly what you need to know in order to answer the questions. Italicized terms are usually terms that the test defines for you, so they help you understand the information you’re presented with. Tables and graphs contain trends and variables that you should pay attention to. Always check the graphs and tables for trends, such as “when x increases by 5, Y decreases by 2”. Identifying general trends will help you answer questions more quickly.


3. Choose Your Own Pace.

Many students struggle more with one type of passage than another type of passage on the Science test. The data representation (5 questions) passages tend to be easier for most students, while the experimental (6 questions) and conflicting viewpoints (7 questions) passages tend to be more difficult for most students. Prior to taking the ACT, take a few practice Science tests to determine which sections are easier for you. Then, on the actual ACT, start with the science passages that are easier for you, saving the tougher passages for later. Also, don’t assume that the conflicting viewpoints passage is difficult. The conflicting viewpoints passage will often mirror the nature of the Reading section very closely, so you may want to begin the Science section by completing the conflicting viewpoints passage if you do well on the Reading section of the ACT.


Rethinking Reading on the ACT

Are you one of the many students who struggles to finish the Reading section of the ACT? It’s a common problem, but, luckily, one that can be solved. Most students struggle to find a balance in allotting the right amount of time to reading the passages and answering the questions. Some students swear by reading the questions before reading the passage, while others dive straight into the passage, saving the questions for later. So which method is right? Well, it depends on you, how quickly you can read (and still comprehend what you’re reading), and your current score and score goal. We’ll explain.


Let’s discuss Kate and Emma. Kate has a 27 on the Reading section of the ACT, and Emma has a 19. The strategy that will work best for Kate is likely not the best strategy for Emma. This is, in part, because the ACT scoring scale becomes progressively less forgiving as you move upward in score. In order to move from a 19 to a 20 in a subject, you likely need to answer 2-3 questions correctly, but moving from a 28-29 is likely dependent on answering just 1 more question correctly. So, if you have a 28 and miss a question, you’re at a 27, but, if you have a 19 and miss a question, you’ll probably still stay at a 19. Back to our differing strategies.


If Emma wants to raise her Reading score by 2 points, she’ll need to answer approximately 4-6 additional questions correctly. More than likely, she can find the answers to these questions by skimming the questions and passages a little more closely than normal. Kate, on the other hand, has likely answered every question she can answer just by skimming, so she is going to have to read the passage to find the answers to more difficult questions, such as those dealing with tone, mood, and author’s opinion. It is easy to find an answer regarding a date or time by skimming, but it is very difficult to gauge the author’s tone simply by skimming.


So, how does Emma move from her current Reading score to a score like Kate’s? She is going to have to devote some time to preparing for the ACT, and, most importantly, she needs to read daily for the purpose of improving her reading speed. Your eyes are like any other muscle, so they must be trained by regular use. If you read daily, just for 30 minutes, you will find that you read more quickly and retain information much better than you previously did. On a timed test like the ACT, reading quickly and retaining what you read are key to raising your score.


How to Guess Correctly on the ACT

Despite all the hours of prep, studying, and hard work you put in to taking the ACT, there will be questions you struggle to answer. Since the ACT does not penalize you for guessing, guess! There are two things you need to know before you make a guess on the ACT.


1. Eliminate as many answer choices as possible. Every section but Math has questions with four answer choices (Math section has five choices), so every answer you can eliminate makes choosing the right answer easier. On the Math section, answers are listed in order of increasing value, so, if you come across a tough problem, you can always “plug in” answer choices, starting with the middle answer. From here, you can move up or down the answer choices until you find the right answer.

2. If you cannot eliminate any answers, always guess the same answer choice. The ACT alternates between answer choices of “A, B, C, D, E” and “F, G, H, J, K”. Choose an answer choice that will be your guess answer (such as “C" and "H”) and stick to this throughout the test. Statistically, you are slightly more likely to guess correctly if you consistently choose the same answer.

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