Improve Your Speed on the ACT Math Section Using Math Fluidity

stopwatch-620Speed is key on the Math Section of the ACT – you have only 60 minutes to complete 60 questions. However, this doesn’t mean you should spend one minute on each question, as not every question on in this section is created equal. Many questions (particularly Questions 1-30) are problems that you can solve in under one minute. In fact, you should aim to solve Questions 1-30 in less than 30 minutes – around 25 minutes is the goal.

That’s because some of the later questions, particularly the questions from Questions 40-60, will require more than a minute. Basically, you want to put aside extra time for the tricky questions at end of the section by completing the easier, earlier questions as quickly as possible. If you do Questions 1-30 in 25 minutes, then you have 35 minutes to do Questions 31-60.

One way to improve your speed on the Math Section is to develop what I call “math fluidity.” That means recognizing how common patterns, formulas and special rules can help you solve any particular problem. To illustrate, take a look at the following triangle problem:

Triangle ABC (below) is an equilateral triangle with side of length 4. What is the area of triangle ABC?

ACT Triangle 1




The first step to any geometry problem is writing down what relevant common formula you’ll need to solve the problem; i.e. whenever I’m asked the area of a triangle, at the top of my work space I’ll write:

A = (b*h)/2

Having the formula in front of you will be helpful because right away, it’s clear that although we have some information, we don’t have all the information we need to solve this problem – we have the base of the triangle (4), but not the height. Since the height of an equilateral triangle always goes from one angle to the opposite side, where it forms two 90-degree angles, drawing the height of an equilateral triangle creates two identical triangles, as shown below:

ACT Triangle 2




Many students would now conclude that they need the Pythagorean theorem to solve for the height (that line bisecting the equilateral triangle). This is where math fluidity comes in. Although you could use the Pythagorean theorem, it’s much faster to instead recognize what type of triangle you are dealing with.

Whenever you split an equilateral triangle in half, you create two 30-60-90 triangles. These are also called “special right triangles” because they always follow the rule that the shortest side is always “x,” the side opposite the 60-degree angle is always x√3, and the hypotenuse is always 2x. See the triangle below:

ACT Triangle 3




So, rather than spend any time solving for the height of the our triangle by using the Pythagorean Theorem, recognize that because the hypotenuse is 4 and the base is 2 (of either of the smaller triangles), and because the triangle is a right triangle, the height must be 2√3. Therefore, the area of the larger triangle is  (2√3)(4)(1/2), which equals 4√3.

Instantly recognizing that the two smaller triangles are 30-60-90 triangles only saves a little bit of time – if you can regularly shave off 20 seconds on question after question by recognizing special rules or how best to apply formulas, you’ll accrue saved time that can later be spent on harder math questions. Speaking of which, math fluidity also applies to tricky questions – similar to what we previously saw, recognition will break down hard questions into easier, faster steps.

So, let’s take a look at a more difficult question. Note, this next example is especially relevant for students shooting for 99th percentile or perfect scores. Although many students can solve the following question if given enough time, few students can solve it quickly enough to get it correct on the ACT. Here’s the problem:

In triangle ABC below, angle BAE measures 30 degrees. What is the value of angle AED minus angle ABE?

A) 30ACT Triangle 4
B) 60
C) 90
D) 120
E) 150


Although there are several ways to solve this problem, math fluidity will help with whatever approach you choose. As I mentioned earlier, it is always best to start by writing down a relevant formula, as it will include what information you have and what information you need. In this case, I’m looking for AED-ABE. Because I’ve also been given the measure of angle BAE, I’ll write down:

BAE = 30 and BAE + ABE = AED

Here’s where math fluidity comes in; the second formula is based off a theorem that you probably learned (and then forgot!) in your geometry class. I do recommend (re)memorizing it for the ACT as follows: a measure of an exterior angle of a triangle is equal to the sum of the measures of the two non-adjacent interior angles.

ACT Triangle 5Are you drawing a blank? If so, take a moment to think about why that statement is true. If the smaller two angles of a right-angle triangle, as shown at left, are 40 and 50, then if we extend a line as shown to form the adjacent exterior angle x, then x + 50 = 180, so x = 130.


Also, 40 + 50 + 90 = 180, since the sum of interior angles of a triangle always add up to 180. So, if x + 50 = 180, and  40 + 50 + 90 = 180, then x+ 50 = 40 + 50 + 90.

Removing the 50 from both sides, we can conclude that x = 40 + 90, or x (the adjacent  exterior angle of one interior angle) is equal to the sum of the other two interior angles.

Now, returning to our original problem:

If BAE = 30 and BAE + ABE = AED, then:

30 + ABE = AED

AED – ABE = 30

Therefore, our answer is A, 30.

Still need to take the ACT? We run a free online ACT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Rita Pearson

Answer ACT Reading Questions By Matching the Author’s Tone to the Answer Choices

ReflectingOne of the best ways to attack the Reading Section on the ACT is to look for reasons to eliminate answer choices. In other words, rather than try to find evidence for each answer choice to determine whether or not it is correct, you can identify reasons as to why you can eliminate answer choices because they are incorrect.

In this post, I’ll be covering one easy trick you can use to eliminate at least one answer choice on a surprisingly high number of questions in the ACT Reading Section – matching the author’s tone to the choices. Quickly read the following excerpt:

Russian author Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, perhaps better known as Leo Tolstoy, is largely considered the most prolific Russian novelist in history. Most famous for his two long novels War and Peace, which he penned in 1869, and Anna Karenina, which he wrote in 1877, Tolstoy was a master of realistic fiction. While not the beginning of his literary career, his rise to prominence began when he accounted his experiences in the Crimean War with Sevastopol Sketches, his first acclaimed work. Soon after, between 1855 and 1858, he published a self-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, recounting through fictional characters his own childhood with a sentimentality he later rebuffed as poor writing. Toward the end of his life, Tolstoy became more of a moral thinker and social reformer, transitioning from poplar novelist to evangelical essayist.

Even after a quick read-through, you should be able to describe the author’s tone. (And if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, now is the time to start!) That is, you should be able to ask yourself, “Is the author’s tone laudatory? Is it critical? Is it neutral? Is it persuasive?” and so on. In short, you should have a general sense of whether or not the author has a positive, negative, or neutral stance towards their subject, and you should also have a sense of the degree – i.e. is the author strongly critical, or do they just have some reservations?

Now, go ahead and write down what you think the author’s tone is in the above excerpt.

In this case, the author’s tone is laudatory, as the author calls Tolstoy “prolific” and  a “master of realistic fiction.” So, keep in mind that descriptive terms – adjectives, descriptive phrases, and the like – will clue you in on what the author’s tone is.

Now that we’ve identified the author’s tone, take a look at the following question*:

According to the passage, it could be concluded that the novel War and Peace was:

(A) The first of Leo Tolstoy’s works to be published.
(B) Leo Tolstoy’s last novel of any cultural or literary significance.
(C) Written by Leo Tolstoy after he wrote his self-autobiographical trilogy.
(D) Written by Leo Tolstoy using inspirations from his experience in the Crimean War.

Without rereading the passage, I can immediately eliminate one of the answer choices. Why?  Because it is distinctly different than the author’s tone. The author is praising Tolstoy, so answer choice B, which comes off as critical (Saying that the book is Tolstoy’s last novel of any cultural or literary significance is pretty dang snarky!), couldn’t be the correct answer.

Let’s use this strategy again on a few more questions. First, read the following excerpt and identify the author’s tone:

“A handicapped child represents a qualitative different, unique type of development… If a blind child or a deaf child achieves the same level of development as a normal child, then the child with a defect achieves this in another way, by another course, by another means; and, for the pedagogue, it is particularly important to know the uniqueness of the course along which he must lead the child. This uniqueness transforms the minus of a handicap into the plus of compensation.”

That such radical adaptions could occur demanded, Luria thought, a new view of the brain, a sense of it not as programmed and static, but rather as dynamic and active, a supremely efficient adaptive system geared for evolution and change, ceaselessly adapting to the needs of the organism – its need, above all, to construct a coherent self and world, whatever defects or disorders of brain functions befell it. That the brain is minutely differentiated is clear: there are hundreds of tiny areas crucial for every aspect of perception and behavior. The miracle is how they all cooperate, are integrated together, in the creation of a self.

In this passage, the author’s tone is positive. The author uses the words  “dynamic,” “active” and “miracle,” and cites another author (in the first paragraph) who uses the word “unique.” Thus, these descriptive phrases allow me to conclude that the author takes a positive tone towards his or her subjects of handicaps and the brain.

Now, let’s take a look at some questions. The goal of this exercise is simply to notice what answer choices we can eliminate (not what the correct answers are) without rereading by simply noticing which tones of the answer choices does not match the tone of the author.

The author’s main purpose in the second paragraph is to show:

(A) how he has come to think differently about the brain.
(B) why sickness often causes a contraction of life.
(C) when he had made new discoveries about the brain.
(D) which of his subjects helped him redefine the term “norm.”

With just a quick look at this question, I can immediately eliminate answer choice B. This option takes a negative tone towards sickness, which is clearly out of line with the author’s tone.

Simple enough! Let’s try another question:

The quotation in the first paragraph is used in this passage to support the idea that:

(A) children with handicaps should be studied in the same way as children defined by physicians as “normal.”
(B) deficits need to demonstrate intactness in order to be judged acceptable.
(C) neural or sensory mishap occurs in children as well as adults.
(D) development of children with handicaps may proceed in positive yet quite distinctive ways.

Once again, you will notice that the tone of one of the answer choices stands out as distinctly different from the author’s tone: answer choice B is unusually harsh in tone (judging a deficit “acceptable” comes off as rather cold, if not outright inhumane), so I can make the decision, even without rereading the quote, to eliminate B.

The more adept you get at noting the author’s tone, the more naturally this strategy will come to you. So, next time you do a practice reading section, try incorporating this strategy into your studies.

*Note that I can use the matching tone strategy on these questions because they all reference the purpose of the author (namely, they begin with the phrases “according to the passage,” “the author’s main purpose,” “the quotation is used in this passage to support,” etc.). However, if the questions had asked about a different point of view than the author’s, I wouldn’t be able to use this strategy.

Still need to take the ACT? We run a free online ACT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Rita Pearson

ACT Science: What To Do on Test Day

SATIn my last post, I covered why the ACT science test is so difficult, and what habits you can develop to overcome its particular pitfalls and obstacles. However, with an ACT coming up in mid-December, you might not have time to fully perfect those habits. As the saying goes, no plan survives the first bullet; I’m sure no one is a stranger to the awful experience of totally freezing up on a timed test. Here are two strategies that could come in handy on test day in case you do get stumped on the Science Test:

1) Skip and Do What You Can
On nearly any given section on the science test, some questions will be significantly easier than others. As noted in my last post, when a question begins with the phrase “according to figure x…” or “according to the results of…” you probably can get the answer (in well under a minute!) by studying the relevant graph or table. However, some questions aren’t as straightforward, so one way you may lose a significant number of points in a section is if you get hung up on a tricky question. Some questions are so jargon heavy that they simply don’t make sense on a first read-through. Others require you to make logical inferences based on multiple paragraphs and corresponding visuals, making it unclear where to get the information you need from. The number one mistake students make when encountering such a question (either one they don’t understand or one they don’t know how to answer) is wasting too much time reading the adjoining dense paragraphs. There will always be more information in the accompanying piece than you need, so if you begin reading through it without an idea of what you need to look for, you’re likely to get bogged down in technical details. It’s easy to waste two or three minutes trying to answer a question this way.

In such situations, it’s much more pragmatic for you to identify which questions you can answer in the section. Chances are, there will be two or more questions that can be answered by looking at the provided visuals and ignoring everything else. And if you are sure to answer the easy questions first, then at least you’re making sure not to miss out on any easy points.

2) When You Return, Start Fresh
Although I do recommend initially skipping questions that seem unapproachable, I still think that all students can answer them correctly. That’s because the two major advantages of skipping hard questions are that 1) you have a chance to calm down and rebuild your confidence on easy questions and 2)you’ll have a chance to look at the hard question again with fresh eyes. If you answer all of the easy questions in the Science Test quickly (which you can do if you remember that tables and graphs are your friend!) you will have enough time left to work through the more difficult questions. And when you look at them a second time, you’ll also have to chance to use strategies you may have forgotten to use the first time. For example, take a look at the following difficult question:



















The first time I ever did this question, it stumped me, because the corresponding tables (copied below) didn’t mention either paper or plastic.

So, I skipped the question, finished the rest of the questions, and then returned to it. The rest of the Science Test went more smoothly, so by the time I was back to the question, I was feeling more relaxed and confident. I even remembered my strategy: that whenever the tables didn’t provide enough information to answer a question, I needed to scan the paragraphs for the important words (in this case, paper and plastic, which aren’t listed on the tables). When I did, I found exactly what I needed:



By reading just the smallest chunk of each experiment description, I was able to realize that Experiment 1 measured how well tape stuck to paper, and that Experiment 2 measured how well tape stuck to plastic. I then noticed that, according to the tables,* it took more force to remove brand X tape from paper than it did plastic. Thus, I correctly chose answer A.



For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Rita Pearson

*Table 1 tells the results of Experiment 1, and Table 2 tells the results of Experiment 2

ACT Scores to Get Into an Ivy League School

Harvard Business School GuideIt’s likely that any high school student who wants to apply to several Ivy League colleges knows that these exclusive schools have especially high standards. For instance, an applicant must have impressive SAT scores and a well-written admissions essay along with glowing letters of recommendation. Students who are applying to these schools must be able to achieve high ACT scores for Ivy Leagues. These eight schools see an excellent ACT score as one indication that a student will be able to excel in challenging courses. Consider the typical ACT scores for Ivy League college students and learn what you can do to perform well on this difficult exam.

A Look at the ACT

What is the ACT? The ACT is a standardized test that gauges a student’s skills in the subjects of math, reading, science, and English. The results of the ACT reveal a student’s understanding of high-school-level material. An impressive ACT score means that a student has grasped high school work and is ready to move on to more challenging material. The ACT is usually taken during a student’s junior year of high school. Taking the ACT during junior year allows a student plenty of time to retake the test if necessary. Also, most high school students want to take the ACT during their junior year so they can tackle the SAT in their senior year.

Ivy League Schools and High ACT Scores

When it comes to ACT scores, Ivy League college applicants should earn a score of at least 32. The highest possible score on the ACT is 36 and a score of less than 31 is not likely to earn a student a place in the Ivy League.

ACT scores are important, but they aren’t the only thing taken into consideration by Ivy League schools. Admissions officials also look at a student’s academic performance during all four years of high school. They take special notice of students who sign up for challenging courses. A student who takes on the challenge of more difficult material is demonstrating an intellectual curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning. These are both important qualities in an incoming freshman.

In addition, Ivy League admissions officials pay attention to a student’s extracurricular activities, including sports teams, clubs, volunteer work, and more. They like to see students who dedicate themselves to worthwhile pursuits. So although a student does need a high ACT score for Ivy League acceptance, it does not override every other qualification.

Tips for Earning Impressive ACT Scores

High school students who want to earn ACT scores for Ivy Leagues should start by taking a practice test. The results of a practice test are invaluable as a student starts to craft a study plan. One student may find that they need to focus a lot of attention on improving their performance in plane geometry, while another student may see the need to improve their punctuation and grammar skills. The results of a practice test give students the opportunity to use their study periods in the most efficient way. Another tip for students who want to earn their best ACT score is to make studying for the ACT a part-time job. Preparing for the ACT in a gradual way over a period of months is the most effective method of absorbing all of the necessary material.

Our diligent instructors at Veritas Prep have navigated the ACT and achieved scores in the top one percent of all who took the test and teach strategies to students that allow them to showcase their strengths on the ACT. We instill in our students the confidence they need to earn high ACT scores. Ivy League admissions officials are sure to take notice!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on FacebookGoogle+, YouTube, and  Twitter!

The Science Behind the ACT Science Test: Part 2

professor futuramaWelcome back ACT Preppies! If you recall from last weeks blog post, we started to deconstruct the ACT science section. We reviewed the first part of the strategy “changing where you first look.” Now, let’s go over the second step.

As you may have noticed, some questions refer to information from the dense paragraphs that accompany tables. In these cases, language in the question will tip you off; for example, the question will read something like this:

rp sci 6




Notice that the question asks you about the design of the study. Whenever you are asked about the design or set-up, rather than just the results, you should know to immediately look at the referenced study, because the tables will not give you enough information. Note, in addition to looking first at the referenced study, you should specifically look for words from the answer choices, since those are the relevant terms to pay attention to.

Here are the related paragraphs in the section. Give them a read, and then see if you can answer the question on your own, before looking at the explanation:

rp sci 7










The correct answer is G. Given that a controlled variable is one that scientists keep constant in order to measure other variables, the line “two seed dishes were placed in each site” clearly communicates that the dishes are the controlled variable.

In sum, the most important habit you can develop to master the ACT Science Test is always looking at the most relevant piece of information first. When you are asked about the results*, always look at the tables or other relevant visual information pieces. When you are asked about experiment design or underlying concepts in the experiments, use the terms in the answer choices to skim the dense paragraphs.


*When you are asked about simple relationships between variables:

Tables, graphs, and visual information pieces are often also often the best places to find your answer. The question will usually begin with a phrase like,” According to Figure, Graph, or Chart x…”, which will tip you off as to which graph you should look at. Consider:

rp sci 8




Even without knowing anything about the study, you can answer this question if you just look at the axis of Figure 1:

rp sci 9









Answer: C!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Rita Pearson


The Science Behind the ACT Science Test: Part 1

science flaskIf you’re like 90% of my students, then you find the ACT Science Test to be the either the first or second most difficult section on the ACT. Which makes total sense, given that you are dealing with questions such as this:

Scientist 2 says that a protein may be trapped in a moderately high-energy shape. Which of the following findings, if true, could be used to counter this argument?

  1. A) Once a protein has achieved its tertiary structure, all of the folding patterns at the local level are stable.
  2. B) Enough energy is available in the environment to overcome local energy barriers, driving the protein to its lowest energy shape.
  3. C) During protein synthesis, the secondary structure of a protein is determined before the tertiary structure is formed.
  4. D) Proteins that lose their tertiary or quaternary structure also tend to lose their biological functions.

And this:

Which of the following equations correctly calculates R (in nm) for Objective Lens 2, using light with a wavelength of 425nm?

  1. A) R = 425 / 2(.10)
  2. B) R = 425 / 2(.25)
  3. C) R = 10/ 2(425)
  4. D) R = 0.25 / 2(425)

Questions like these seem challenging for two related reasons. The first reason has to do with the technical jargon (i.e. all those headache-inducing terms like “moderately high-energy shape”, “wavelength of 425nm”  and  “tertiary structure”) that seems to complicate both of the above questions. In brief, as Daniel Kahneman describes in his magnum opus, Thinking, Fast and Slow, when a person encounters anything unfamiliar, including words she rarely comes across in everyday life, she is more likely to feel drained and/or frustrated. This is exactly what happens to many students when they read the above questions; almost right away, they feel stressed. And notably, their first reaction is to assume that because of all the big, ugly words, the question will be difficult to answer.

This brings us to the second reason as to why these questions are challenging. Because most students immediately assume that such questions will be difficult to answer, they don’t search for an easy way to solve them. For example, they waste time by reading the dense paragraphs that accompany the tables or by trying to understand the exact meanings of complicated words. In order to help my students get in the habit of finding more efficient and less-stressful approaches (which do exist!) to solving such problems, I teach them the following test strategy, which I call “change where you first look”.

The most important habit you need to learn to tackle the ACT section:

Let’s take a look at some real ACT Science questions chalk full of technical jargon.

rp sci 1





rp sci 2





The biggest mistake a student answering these questions could make would be to read the accompanying paragraphs to try to understand what the heck “elaisome” is, or why “ant-planted’ plants survive longer. The reason you don’t need to waste time doing this? Whenever you see questions that say “according to the results of the studies”, nine times out of ten you only have to look at the provided tables, graphs, or charts, to find the all information you need to answer the questions. And on the ACT Science Test, tables are your best friend. I’ll show you what I mean; take a look at the following tables that will give us the answers to the above questions:

rp sci 3






rp sci 4



rp sci 5







The key to reading these tables is to look along their rows and columns to find the labels that match the terms (the technical jargon) in the questions. For example, notice that the answer choices in the first question match the row labels on Table 3 (seeds that germinated, plants alive after 1 year, plants alive after 2 years, seeds produced per plant after 2 years), and that the question (what can be said when comparing hand-planted and ant-planted seeds) corresponds to the column labels on Table 3. In other words, all you have to do to find the answer is find which answer choice correctly matches one of the rows. And that would be answer choice A; according to the table 39 ant-planted seeds germinated, whereas only hand-planted seeds germinated.

Now that you’ve seen the power of using tables, go ahead and see if you can answer the second question on your own! All the information you need to answer is on Table 1.

Explanation for second question: The correct answer is C. Both species have elaisome masses of 6.2, so their masses of such are the same.

Stay tuned to next week for a second step to this strategy! See you next Monday!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Rita Pearson

Should You Take the ACT Plus Writing Test?

Essay As an ACT tutor, one of the most frequent questions I’m asked by students is whether or not they should take the ACT Plus Writing test. Don’t let the fancy name throw you off; the ACT Plus Writing Test is just the ACT with an essay added onto the end. Unlike the SAT essay, however, the ACT essay is optional, so most ACT-takers inevitably wonder if it’s worth the extra time and effort to prepare for the ACT essay.

When I speak to any of my students about this in person, I always ask them the following questions, which I’ll now give to you:

  • Do the colleges you are applying to require it?
  • How much time do you have to prepare for the upcoming ACT?
  • How comfortable are you with timed and/or in-class essays in general?

So, let’s start with question 1. If you can’t answer that question now, not to worry, this handy search engine on the ACT website can find out the answer for you. I would recommend that you search for the requirements of both your “reach schools” and your “safety schools”. I say this because you’ll find as you get deeper into the college application process, you may change your mind about which school you actually want to attend. Maybe you thought that you wanted to go out of state, to one of your reach schools, but now you’ve decided that you’d like to stay closer to home. Or maybe you’ll realize that you could be a candidate for scholarship to a school that wasn’t on your mind a few months ago, because it didn’t have an elite name. In other words, be sure to cover all of your bases, so that you don’t run into a situation where you have to take an additional ACT just to get the essay score, because now you’re trying to get into a school (that requires the essay) that you’d previously overlooked.

An aside, your essay score will not affect your score for the English section, nor will it affect your composite score. In other words, if you get your dream composite score on the ACT (like a 32 or higher!) and you don’t do so hot on the essay, your overall score won’t drop. The only additional thing that happens when you take the ACT essay is that you will receive a Writing test score on a scale of 1-36 (as well as individual scores for Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions) and an image of your essay will be available to colleges that you have the ACT send that test date’s scores to. This means that worrying about how the ACT essay will “make you appear to colleges” shouldn’t be a determining factor in your decision. The primary factor that will help you choose whether or not to do the essay is whether or not any of your reach or safety schools require the essay.

Onto question two. If you are, at the moment, fairly certain that you won’t be applying to schools that require the essay, you may still be one the fence about taking it because you can’t quite dismiss the thought that in the future you may want to apply to a college that does require it. This is especially relevant if you are a junior, since you still have a good deal of time to get your dream score and figure out what colleges you want to apply to. If this is you, I would ask you to consider how much time you have to prepare for the upcoming ACT. If you are extremely busy in the morning, afternoon, and night with homework, extra-curriculas, and other work, and you only have a month or so until the ACT, you may want to spend your time focusing on studying for the other four sections. Basically, it may be a better use of your time to focus on less, that way you can really improve your test-taking habits, rather than to try to cram everything in at once. However, once you’ve taken one official ACT, if you do need to get an essay score, you will want to start carving out time to add the essay to your studying plan.

As a tutor, I believe that the ACT essay is actually fairly straightforward to prepare for, just as long as you have enough time. So, if you can commit to both writing at least 3 or 4 practice essays before test day and reviewing those tests using the ACT grading rubric so that you can steadily improve, I’d tell you to go ahead and do it.

Finally, my last question for you is how comfortable you feel writing in-class essays or timed essays in general.  If you struggle with these, the ACT Plus Writing may actually be an opportunity for you to improve this skill. It is a skill! In college, you will regularly be asked to write in-class essays on both your mid-terms and your finals, so learning how to write an essay under timed conditions while you are still in high school is a skill with long term benefits.

Happy Studying!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Rita Pearson

3 Most Common Mistakes You Want to Avoid On the ACT Math Section

Veritas Prep ACTThe ACT Math has one major advantage compared to the ACT English and Reading portions: no “best answer” choices. Instead, there will be only one possible, objective, absolute correct selection to make. So if your calculator spits out a number that isn’t A, B, C, D, or E, you know you need to re-do your math.

If you’ve taken algebra and geometry classes in your high school career, you will know 99% of the content of the exam. The trick is avoiding simple errors in your calculations that also yield a multiple choice answer. The following is an example excerpted from a sample math question on the ACT website:


ME- Blog 1


This is a simple solve-for-x scenario that most ACT Math test-takers are familiar with. Note the answer choices.


ME- Blog 2








With both sides of the equation balanced properly, the correct answer is E.


Say, for instance, that a student who knew how to balance equations accidentally added three instead of subtracting 3 to one side. The answer yielded, “1,” is among of the multiple choice. C.


ME - Blog 3








In this way, the multiple choice selections for the majority of the ACT Math portion rely on students making errors in basic operations. Below are a few of those common errors:


  1. Distributing the Negative

-2(x+2) does NOT equal -2x+4.

-2(x+2) = -2x 4.

It’s a simple rule, but always be wary of negative signs on the ACT Math.

  1. Square Roots:

The square root of 64 is 8. But it’s not the *only* square root. -8 is the other.

This detail is especially important on questions that concern quadratic functions or ask for the “number of possible solutions.”        

  1. Percent Change:

Take the given, simplified example: “A $100,000 investment grows by 50 percent in the course of 2015.=

What is it’s new value in 2016?”

Too many students will solve this question using the equation below:

100,000 x .50 = $50,000

Whenever calculating new value in a percent growth problem, the solution must be higher than the original value.

100,000 x 1.50 = $150,000   ==> This is correct.

The new value = $150,000.

The difference = $50,000.

As always, if time allows, the most valuable strategy is to check your answers before proceeding to the next problem. A quick calculation to make sure that your multiple choice selection satisfies the conditions and equations of the original question will catch most of these errors!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Madeline Ewbank is an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she produces student films, interns for the Department of State, and teaches ACT 36 courses. She is excited to help students achieve their college aspirations as a member of the Veritas Prep team.

4 Ways Sleep Can Make or Break Your SAT or ACT Score

sleepYou have a big test coming up at the end of the week. You’re a dedicated, hard-working student, so you know you have to study to do well. The nights before the test, you stay up late, pushing yourself to review and learn as much as you can.

However, while taking the test, you can’t remember a lot of the information you spent so much time going over. Focusing on longer questions is more of a struggle than it should be, and you get irritated or panicked easily when you can’t figure out the answer. In the end, when you see your score, you feel that all that hard work and those late nights didn’t pay off as much as they should have. You wonder what you could have done wrong.

If this story sounds familiar, as it should to many ambitious high schoolers, it’s because you’ve experienced for yourself how sleep deprivation can hurt your performance on test day. Getting enough sleep is one of the most crucial steps you can take to achieve your highest potential score. Here’s how to make sure sleep deprivation isn’t holding you back:

1. Know how much you need. Several recent studies have shown that high school students are chronically sleep-deprived. Sleep scientists agree that adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and teenagers probably need even more. If you’re consistently falling behind these numbers, you’ll need to make some changes in your schedule if you really want to get that high score you’re after.

2. Know you might not realize you’re sleep-deprived. Most people assume that as long as they don’t feel tired and drowsy, they aren’t really behind on sleep. In fact, studies show a person can become used to sleep deprivation to the point that they no longer recognize that they’re tired. However, the negative consequences of sleep deprivation still persist. Just because you’re not yawning, it doesn’t mean you’re fully awake and alert.

3. Know what the consequences are. Sleep loss can cause a host of problems for any high-achieving student. Lack of sleep leads to lapses in focus, difficulty memorizing new information, inability to recall important words and facts, problems with multitasking, increased irritability and stress, and quite a few other issues. If you want all your studying to pay off on test day, you have to eliminate these problems. Put simply, you have to get enough sleep to be the best test-taker you can be.

4. Know how to catch up. It’s not enough just to sleep 8 or 9 hours the night before your test. Due to a phenomenon called “sleep debt,” sleep loss actually accumulates over time. Essentially, every time you sleep 5 hours instead of 8, you fall that much further behind the sleep you need. The only way to catch up and get back to your peak self is to sleep well for several nights in a row. You’ll need to plan ahead and make sleep a priority in the week before the test.

Stay well rested and you’ll be at your best on test day! Good luck with the SAT tomorrow!

Are you uncertain about your college application? We can help! Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation

By Cambrian Thomas-Adams

Tackling the Tricky “Best Answer”: 3 Steps to Succeed on the ACT Reading

writing essayUnlike the ACT Math, in which there is only one correct possibility, the ACT Reading will present multiple interpretations of a passage that are defensible. Rarely will one choice distinguish itself as the clear solution or, in the language of the exam, as the “best answer.”

Obviously, in literature classes, there really are no “best answers” for interpreting subjective art, poetry, and prose. But as far as the ACT Reading is concerned, here’s a simple formula for determining the correct multiple choice:

1. Identify which is wordier: the question or the possible answers?

If the question is longer, jump to 2A. If the possible answers are longer, jump to 2B.

ME - Oct 9 _1ME - Oct 9 _2

2A. Simplify the question.

*This sample question is excerpted from Passage 5.B of the ACT’s Sample Reading Questions. The original passage can be found here. Try it out for practice!

Distill the original question into its most significant question words. In this example, the question is very specific about the comparison. In this example, the correct answer will very specifically relate the narrator’s expectations to reality— be wary of options that open with the wrong claim, such as “similar,” but follow-up with a soundproof justification for why the expectations are dissimilar from reality.

ME - Oct 9 _3ME - Oct 9 _4


2B. Simplify the multiple choice.

*This sample question is excerpted from Passage 5.A of the ACT’s Sample Reading Questions. The original passage can be found here. Try it out for practice!

Before reading too deeply into the nuances of A, B, C, and D, break them down into their core essences (ideally 4-8 words). Using the example above, which best describes the transition? A description to a reflection? Or an overview to an explanation? The “best answer” will usually be the most apt summary of a passage, even in the simplest of terms.

3. Check your work

Confirm that all parts of the multiple choice selection are accurate. For instance, using the example question provided for 2B: If A, “a description of events,” was the best general summary, read the whole of option A to verify its accuracy.

If “a description of events leading up to sudden action by the narrator to a reflection on the intentions and meanings behind that action” is 100% correct, great! Bubble it in on the answer sheet.

If it’s not— in this case, the passage might not reflect on the meaning behind an action— don’t bubble it in. An answer must be 100% correct to be the “best answer.” If any part of a multiple choice selection is fallible, the whole thing is wrong. (One bad apple spoils the bunch.)

Just try again with another simplified summary!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, check out our free online ACT resources, and be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Madeline Ewbank is an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she produces student films, interns for the Department of State, and teaches ACT 36 courses. She is excited to help students achieve their college aspirations as a member of the Veritas Prep team.


6 Steps to Succeed on the ACT Science Section

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing-science-dog1I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the ACT Science section is just Reading in disguise!

For the vast majority of questions on the Science section, you don’t need to really know anything about science. You only need to follow these six simple steps:

1. Spot the Data

Any chart, table, or graph attached to a passage will be significant. If it’s there, you will be tested on your ability to interpret it.

2. Interpret the Data

Once you’ve located an important-looking chart, table, or graph, it’s time to decipher it. Don’t go overboard just yet; for now, identify the variables and how those variables are related (the basic trend).

For example:


Here are the important things to immediately note about the graph above:

A. The x-variable is the number of snacks and the y-variable is the number of smiles.

B. As the number of snacks increases, so does the number of smiles.

3. Compare the Data

Often there will be more than one graph/chart/table in a given passage. If this is the case, there is guaranteed to be a question that will require you to compare/contrast the data at hand. BE SURE TO REMEMBER THE DIFFERENCE(S) BETWEEN THE CHARTS/TABLES/GRAPHS. These questions almost always emphasize the difference(s) between the variables and/or results in the data. Always, always, always note the changes between “Scientist 1” and “Scientist 2,” or “Experiment 1” and “Experiment 2.”

4. Examine the Questions

You will always be tested on the data presented, but peruse the multiple choice to determine what else you need to read. Immediately answer the questions that directly address the data included; there are reliably 1-3 questions specifically about the graph(s) following a given science passage.

5. Skim for Key Words

For the other questions not concerning graphs or specific data, seek key words. More often than not, the phrasing of a multiple choice question will be excerpted directly from the passage.

For example: if a question asks you about the relationship between atmospheric pressure and wind speeds, locate the word “atmospheric pressure” in the passage and only study sentences in the nearby vicinity. Be selective about the text you choose to read closely.

6. Don’t Get Intimidated

If I had to summarize the best strategy for the ACT Science section in two words, it would be, “Avoid reading.” The rambling science passages are intended to lose you, bruise you, abuse you and confuse you. Seriously. Some of them are long enough to give The Odyssey a run for its money.

I’m a fairly fast reader and I didn’t have enough time to finish the ACT Science section. I spent my 35 minutes attempting to comprehend overly-complicated paragraphs about experimental design and the scientific method. Don’t let this happen to you.

Stay focused. Watch the variables. Eat snacks. Smile.

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, check out our free online ACT resources, and be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Madeline Ewbank is an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she produces student films, hosts podcasts, and teaches ACT 36 courses. She is excited to help students achieve their college aspirations as a member of the Veritas Prep team.


Are Brain Training Exercises Helpful When Studying for Standardized Tests?

StudentIn the last two classes I’ve taught, I’ve had students come up to me after a session to ask about the value of brain-training exercises. The brain-training industry has been getting more attention recently as neuroscience sheds new light on how the brain works, baby-boomers worry about cognitive decline, and companies offering brain-improvement software expand. It’s impossible to listen to NPR without hearing an advertisement for Lumosity, a brain-training website that now boasts 70 million subscribers.  The site claims that the benefits of a regular practice range from adolescents improving their academic performance to the elderly staving off dementia.

The truth is, I never know quite what to tell these students. The research in this field, so far as I can tell is in its infancy. For years, the conventional wisdom regarding claims about brain-improvement exercises had been somewhat paradoxical. No one really believed that there was any magic regimen that would improve intelligence, and yet, most people accepted that there were tangible benefits to pursuing advanced degrees, learning another language, and generally trying to keep our brains active. In other words, we accepted that there were things we could do to improve our minds, but that such endeavors would never be a quick fix. The explanation for this disconnect is that there are two different kinds of intelligence. There is crystalized intelligence, the store of knowledge that we accumulate over a lifetime. And then there is fluid intelligence, our ability to quickly process novel stimuli. The assumption had been that crystallized intelligence could be improved, but fluid intelligence was a genetic endowment.

Things changed in 2008 with the release of a paper written by the researchers Susanne Jaeggi, martin Buschkuehl, John Jonides, and Walter Perrig. In this paper, the researches claimed to have shown that when subjects regularly played a memory game called Dual N-Back, which involved having to internalize two streams of data simultaneously, their fluid intelligence improved. This was ground-breaking.

This research has played an integral in role in facilitating the growth of the brain-training industry. Some estimates put industry revenue at over a billion dollars. There have been articles about the brain-training revolution in publications as wide-ranging as The New York Times and Wired. This cultural saturation has made it inevitable that those studying for standardized tests occasionally wonder if they’re shortchanging themselves by not doing these exercises.

Unfortunately, not much research has been performed to assess the value of these brain-training exercises on standardized tests. (A few smaller studies suggest promise, but the challenge of creating a true control group makes such studies extraordinarily difficult to evaluate). Moreover, there’s still debate about whether these brain-training exercises confer any benefit at all beyond helping the person training to improve his particular facility with the game he’s using to train.  Put another way, some say that games like Dual N-Back will improve your fluid intelligence, and this improvement translates into improvements in other domains. Others say that training with Dual N-Back will do little aside from making you unusually proficient at Dual N-Back.

It’s hard to arrive at any conclusion aside from this: the debate is seriously muddled. There are claims that the research has been poorly done. There are claims that the research is so persuasive that the question has been definitively answered. Obviously, both cannot be true. My suspicion is that the better-researched exercises, such as Dual N-Back, confer some modest benefit, but that this benefit is likely to be most conspicuous in populations that are starting from an unusually low baseline.

This brings us to the relevant question: is it worth it to incorporate these brain-exercise programs into a GMAT preparation regime? The answer is a qualified ‘maybe.’ If you’re very busy, there is no scenario in which it is worthwhile to sacrifice GMAT study time to play brain-training games that may or may not benefit you. Secondly, the research regarding the cognitive benefits of aerobic exercise, mindfulness meditation, and social interaction is far more persuasive than anything I’ve seen about brain-training games.

However, if you’re already studying hard, working out regularly, and finding time for family and friends, and you think can sneak in another 20 minutes a day for brain-training without negatively impacting the other more important facets of your life, it can’t hurt. Just know that, as with most challenging things in life, the shortcuts and hacks should always be subordinated to good, old-fashioned hard work and patience.

Plan on taking the GMAT soon? We have GMAT prep courses starting all the time. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By David Goldstein, a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in Boston. You can find more articles by him here

This is How You Become an Awesome Student

tutoringI’ve been a full time student for about fifteen years now–elementary, middle, high school, college. It wasn’t until I began teaching, though, that I really understood how to be a good student. My best students haven’t necessarily been the ones who scored highest, knew the most, or learned most quickly; they were the ones who studied, practiced, and listened in ways that maximized our communication and made the most of our tutoring hours together. A few of their best habits:

  • Admitting spacing out. We all zone out from time to time–not necessarily because we want to, because we’re tired, or because classes aren’t interesting. Sometimes there’s a distracting noise nearby. Sometimes we’re having trouble understanding part of the lesson. Sometimes we’re just preoccupied with non-academic things. One of my students had just accepted a prom invitation about twenty minutes before we were scheduled to work–through no fault of hers, for about the first twenty minutes of our class she had a lot of trouble focusing on misplaced modifiers. As a teacher and a student, I fully recognize that sometimes, classwork is hard to focus on. As a tutor, I have ways to help students work through it: we can take breaks, slow down, approach material in a new way, or temporarily switch over to more interesting classwork. However, I can only help if I’m aware there’s a problem. I promise I won’t be offended if you politely mention that you’re having trouble focusing. You’ll be saving both of us a lot of time and repetition.
  • Avoiding spacing out. It’s great if you let me know when you space out, but it’s even better if you avoid spacing out in the first place. Before class starts, make sure you’re in a quiet, non-distracting environment. Use the restroom or grab snacks/water before we start, to avoid interrupting the lesson later. If we’re working through an online classroom, do your best to find a place with strong wifi. Get a good night’s sleep, and eat reasonably healthily (meaning: don’t scarf five donuts thirty minutes before the lesson. Food comas are real.) Try to schedule our practice hours on a day and time you know you won’t be exhausted or distracted–for instance, don’t schedule a class at 7am, or right before your tennis championship game. These may all seem like minor details, but they can have a huge effect on the quality of our limited tutoring time. I can usually help you pay attention if you’re distracted, but my job will be next to impossible if you’re trying to learn while your parents are throwing a loud dinner party, or while you’re running off of two hours of sleep.
  • Immediately before class, quickly review material we’ve gone over in previous lessons. Don’t redo every one of our past practice questions or try to memorize our old outlines–you don’t want to tire yourself out before we’ve even started–but double-check that you remember what happened in our most recent lesson, and that you understand all the major concepts we’ve discussed before. That way, we can start our lesson by jumping right in to the core of that day’s material, instead of spending time repeating things we’ve already gone over.
  • Tell me when I’m not making sense, or when you don’t agree with a strategy/approach. I’d much rather explain something several times, or in several different ways, than move through a lesson thinking you understand concepts that you actually don’t. My goal isn’t to cover all of our planned material, or even to finish the lesson on time, but to improve your understanding of the ideas we’re covering. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and don’t think that doing so constitutes blaming me for not teaching well enough, or admitting that you’re not smart enough to “get it”. Tutoring is a dynamic and interactive communication process, and it’s perfectly fine (even expected) that it might take a few tries to figure out what strategies of communication and explanation work best for us. By speaking up about things you don’t understand or don’t agree with, you’re helping that process happen more efficiently.
  • Understand the type of relationship you and your tutor want to build. Different students and tutors work best in different ways. I, for instance, am usually only a few years older than my students, so I’m most comfortable working in a fairly informal and friendly setting, and I find it a bit strange when students call me “Ms. Tran”. In order to improve communication and rapport, I like to get to know the students I’m working with; as long as we stay on task and use our time efficiently, I’m more than happy to crack a joke or to take thirty seconds to chat about the adorable puppy who jumped on your lap during our math review. Other tutors and students prefer a more formal environment, or get frustrated when they’re not running through material quickly. Instead of coming into a lesson with a firmly set idea of what the tutoring setting should feel like, try adapting the way you learn best, and to the way your tutor teaches best. If you just don’t get along with your tutor to the point that you’re not learning as well as you could be, consider finding another. Remember that the goal of individual tutoring is to facilitate your understanding of the material, and be aware that the way you interact with your tutor can plays an important role in achieving that.

Still need to take the SAT or ACT? We run a free online SAT prep seminars and ACT prep seminars very few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.

This is How You Can Be Successful on the ACT!

DSC_0038 - Version 2The following interview comes from recently had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A session with Jonathan Er, one of Veritas Prep’s expert ACT instructors, to inquire about the ACT and get his take on the questions that many college applicants would like to ask with regards to ACT prep courses and how to be successful at achieving their desired ACT score.

1. How do you personally ensure that students who are struggling end up with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful on the ACT?

No two students approach the ACT with the same set of skills or the same grasp of concepts. If anyone has difficulty with the lesson, I try to find out what knowledge we share, and then I steadily build on that while maintaining flexibility in my explanations. I also regularly communicate with my students so I can track their progress and address issues or concerns as they arise.

2. If you could give three pieces of advice to future ACT test takers, what would they be?

First, Practice and review. You (and your instructor) should seek a proper balance between learning material, practicing questions (as many real ones as possible), and reviewing whatever time permits.

Second, Be specific. The ideal study session, anywhere from 30-90 minutes long, should exclusively deal with a single test subject, perhaps revolving around one problem set or one tricky concept. You should set goals that are verifiable, often in quantitative terms, such as how many questions you want to answer and review, how many terms you want to learn, etc. And you should be intent but realistic about reaching your target score, which can still be flexible (hopefully upwards!)

3. Is there a common misconception of the ACT or of what is a realistic ACT score?

On the East Coast the SAT is emphasized while the ACT is overlooked, and the situation is reversed in the West. Colleges are usually fine with either test (although you should confirm with specific schools), so you shouldn’t feel that you can only take one or that you must take one over the other. However, I do think the ACT is better aligned with what is taught and assessed in most high schools and that it should receive more attention where I’m from.

Read the rest of the interview here!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Shay Davis

I’m a High School Junior: What Should I Do Now for College Admission?

As a junior, you’re actually really well positioned to get a leg up on the college admissions process.  You still have some time to complete your testing requirements and you can start to research colleges before the crunch of application season.  Here are some things you can get started on right away:

1)      Study for the SAT or ACT.  This is a great time to start studying for the SAT or ACT.  But which one should you take?  Try out some practice test questions and see which might be a better fit test for you.  The key differences between to two tests are the tone of the questions, the math sections, the number of sections, the writing sections, scoring, and focus on vocabulary words.  This is a great time to figure out which test would be best for you so that you can also determine a plan of action for how to best spend your summer.  If you’re in the U.S., register by February 13th for the March 14th SAT test and March 13th for the April 18th ACT test.  For more information on getting help for these tests, visit our SAT and ACT pages.

2)      Research colleges you are interested in.  Just like in the dating world, it’s really important to make sure that you are a good match for a college and that the college is a good match for you.  This is a great time to discover what things matter to you and which colleges have those things.  For example, would you thrive in classes that have less than 30 students or would you prefer large lectures of 200+ students?  Do you need to be in or very close to a big city or would you prefer a college in the suburbs?  Make a list and take notes on what you like and do not like about the colleges.  This will help you to narrow your list down when it comes time to make your final college application decisions.  In addition, you may want to take advantage of your upcoming spring break or long weekends and fit in some college visits.  You can request guided campuses from a number of colleges; go directly to the college websites and search for “campus tours” for a list of dates and times.  You may even be able to meet with an admissions officer! Visiting the campus is a great way to get a feel for the student body and the school’s culture.

3)      Analyze your extracurricular activities.  What do your activities say about you?  Are you pursuing extracurricular activities that demonstrate your passions and interests?  If yes, great!  How can you deepen your commitment to these organizations or roles?  If not, let’s find activities that you can get excited about.  Remember, colleges are looking for depth over breadth so don’t wait until the last minute to suddenly add more extracurricular activities. Find something that really interests you and dig in!

Need more guidance in planning for college? Visit our College Admissions website and fill out our FREE College profile evaluation

Jennifer Sohn Lim is Assistant Director of Admissions at Veritas Prep. Jennifer received her Bachelor of Arts at Wellesley College, followed by her Master of Education and Certificate of Advanced Study in Counseling at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Your Timeline to Success on the ACT

Veritas Prep ACTJunior year can be challenging. Especially with the looming presence of standardized tests. For all those planning on taking the ACT, the first step towards success is simple: create a study timeline for your exam. Most students opt to take the ACT some time during their junior year.  While test prep time will vary student to student, a good rule of thumb is to start preparing about 5-6 months in advance. Keep in mind that you may need to take the exam more than one time.

Six Months Before
Figure out if the ACT is the right exam for you! Test prep experts, like our Veritas team, are a great resource to help you figure out whether you should take the SAT or ACT. Test prep experts can pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses in standardized testing and direct you accordingly. If you chose the ACT, this is also the time to take a practice exam to establish your baseline score. Knowing your baseline score will allow you to create a realistic target score. Your baseline score can also help guide your choice of test prep courses.

This is the time to choose your course and talk to an expert about what course will best fulfill your learning needs. Veritas Prep offers three general kinds of ACT prep courses: Full Course, Private Tutoring, and On Demand. The 36 hour Full Course offers all live instruction. Private tutoring can be adjusted to your personal schedule and can also be in person or online. The On Demand Course offers HD video lessons that allow you to pause, fast forward, and rewind your lessons. Most ACT test prep courses run for about 6 weeks.

Four Months Before
Practice, practice, practice! Test prep courses will provide you with the foundation of essential skills you need to do well on the exam. Four months before the exam you should feel familiar with the exam and start focusing on specific strategies to improve your weaker areas.

This is also the time to choose your test date. Looking forward to the rest of the 2016 academic school year, ACT administration dates are:

  • April 9th
  • June 11th

The ACT website lists all test dates and registration deadlines. Registration deadlines are typically 5 weeks before the exam, although you can register later for an added fee. However, try and register early, as registering for the exam can provide extra motivation to study.

Two Months Before
Once you’ve completed the bulk of your test prep course, this is the time to take lots of practice exams and become very comfortable with the test. If there are still areas of the exam you feel uncomfortable with, this is a great time to really zone in on specific strategies with a tutor. Otherwise, you should focus on taking full-length exams. Once you feel comfortable with specific strategies and skills, the best thing you can do to prepare for the exam is to take full-length tests under real testing conditions (silent, no interruptions, timed, etc.).

The Night Before
Do not try and cram the night before. While it may be tempting to keep pushing yourself, keep in mind that you have studied for months for this exam. The night before the exam is a good time to relax so you feel well rested and ready to achieve success on your ACT!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Sarah Smith is a Pre-med, Bioethics major at Northwestern University. She’s editor in chief and co-founder of the student health magazine and enjoys being involved in various clubs around campus. Sarah is passionate about education and enjoys learning and teaching. She enjoys helping Veritas Prep students prepare for the ACT!


The Power of Routine: 3 Tips To Improve Your ACT Score

Once you have acquired the toolbox of skills and knowledge you need to do well on the ACT, there is one more valuable strategy to help you do well on test day: routine. Routine is one of the more underestimated elements of test-prep, but it can be a powerful aid in preparing for test day. Routine will help you conquer your nerves and walk into test day prepared and confident.

Routine works to improve your test score on a few levels. It gets your body physically accustomed to test day conditions as well as works to quell the nerves (your biggest enemy on test day can be anxiety). Routine is powerful! Here are a few ways in which you can establish a routine that will help you score better on test day.

Sleep Schedule: You want to ensure that you know exactly how your body and mind will feel on test day. Establishing a good sleep schedule in the weeks before the test will play a crucial role in this. If you’re used to sleeping in until 10am and taking your practice ACT at 11am, it will come as a shock to wake up at 6am on test day. You will know your test time weeks before the actual exam; work on getting your body accustomed to the sleep schedule that this test time requires.

“Test” Practice: You can work to simulate testing conditions in a number of ways. If you’re scheduled to take your ACT on Saturday at 8 am, practice waking up at 6am, driving to another location, sitting down, and taking a practice exam four Saturdays before the test. The more times you do the routine, the more comfortable you will feel on test day. If you can practice at your actual test center, that’s great! Be sure to account for timing and standardized breaks.

Nutrition: Food is a critical part of routine that is often forgotten. Hunger can distract your attention from the exam, so be sure to figure out what kinds of snacks you need to bring. This plays a significant role on test day, from the breakfast you eat, to the snacks you bring, to the amount of liquids you consume. Everyone is different, so it can be helpful to test out what kinds of breakfast keeps you full and satisfied throughout your exam. While it may seem trivial, making sure you stay hydrated without over-hydrating is important too; no one wants to feel uncomfortable during testing.

These three simple tips for establishing a routine will help you feel more comfortable on test day. Once you’ve established a routine, you can walk into your actual test day feeling more confident and you’ll know exactly what to expect. Happy Studying!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Sarah Smith is a Pre-med, Bioethics major at Northwestern University. She’s editor in chief and co-founder of the student health magazine and enjoys being involved in various clubs around campus. Sarah is passionate about education and enjoys learning and teaching. She enjoys helping Veritas Prep students prepare for the ACT!


How To Tackle Vocabulary (And Actually Remember!)

The groans I hear when I ask my students to memorize a new list of vocabulary words makes it seem as if I have asked them to do some impossible task akin to carving a replica of Michelangelo’s David with a dull set of dentistry tools. “It’s so tedious!” they say. To me, it does not seem more tedious than trying to slingshot exploding birds into precariously designed structures harboring evil green pigs, but what do I know? The question remains: what is the best way to learn vocabulary?

In order to address this question, let’s talk a little bit about how to form memory. If you are just trying to remember something for a second (like if a foxy lad or lass tells you their phone number and you need to remember it long enough to put in your phone) your brain can hold on to most information for a few seconds before it gets dumped.  If you desire to remember something longer (like what this lad or lass is into so you have something to talk about later) this requires memory that stays longer, which requires focus, repetition, or activation of multiple brain areas.  These are the techniques that can be utilized to form memories.

FOCUS. Trying to go over your vocabulary while listening to the new Taylor Swift album is not the best way to learn.  People need concentrated focus to add information to the brain. The brain is so powerful, but is really only good at consciously focusing on one thing at a time.  Let the focus be on learning, not on “The Evolution Of Dance”.

REPETITION. Repetition really is the easiest way to build long term memory.  You can think about the brain as a dense forest.  I need to get from point A to point B so I blaze a little trail and I have arrived! There is a connection in the brain and this connection is the memory.  If we never use that path again it will become overgrown and covered up and we won’t be able to find the trail again; we will have to blaze a new memory.  If, however, we use that trail sporadically then the trail grows more visible.  The more we use it, the more it becomes a distinct pathway until it is etched into the wood permanently.  The brain works similarly.  Take a word and a definition that you don’t know.  Look at it once then wait one minute.  Now look at the word and try to think of the definition.  Its tough right?  Now take that same word and repeat the definition seven times.  Now wait one minute.  Maybe a bit easier?  Did you get it?  If not try it again.  Repeat the word seven times.  Now wait two minutes.  I bet you can still recall the definition! This process can be used for a whole list of words. For some reason, seven seems to be a good number of repetitions to make things stick.

STORY & IMAGERY. Memory is aided by activating different parts of the brain.  The language area is most used in memorizing novel words, but anything that creates a narrative (story) or picture (visual) will help to create memories that stick much easier.  As an example, let’s take the word dogmatic, which means holding fast to beliefs. The sounds in this word can be associated with some image that both conveys sound and definition. When I think of this word I picture a bulldog hanging from the ceiling because it is biting into an attic door. Dogmatic: holding fast to a belief.  As another example, let’s look at supercilious, which means haughty or arrogant. Again, the sounds can be used to create pictures.  “Super” conjures images of a super hero, while “cilious” brings forth images of a one celled organism with lots of cilia (hairlike structures used for moving), so the image may be a paramecium with a superhero costume and a top hat and monocle (which I associate with haughty aristocracy).  The more silly or memorable the image, the better!  If it sticks in your mind, it will help you to remember the word.

All of these techniques can be used relatively quickly and effectively.  My recommendation is to start with repetition and see what sticks, then use picture memory tricks for the words that you don’t remember. You can do this with groups of words (maybe ten at a time) and in just a few minutes you have created a fairly good start toward creating long term memory.  The good news is every time you review these learned words you are strengthening the memory further.  Over the course of a few weeks you can learn hundreds of words without having to spend hours staring at a sheet of definitions.

As a final note, memory does a funny thing when you sleep.  Every day you experience so many things which create countless connections in the brain.  This means that every night your brain takes ALL the new memories and weakens them a little.  For most memories, this weakening reduces them to nothing, but the memories we create using repetition and narrative remain.  More importantly, the brain can focus on the remaining memories more effectively because all the less useful stuff has been removed.  This means, however, that it is REALLY important to review new words the next day.  It will really to strengthen that memory and get you going towards a permanent memory.  Put the words in your phone on a free flashcard app and review them when you are tired of playing “Candy Crush.” You’ll be very surprised at how quickly you retain these words.

Plan on taking the SAT soon? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.

Your Simple Study Guide to the ACT

There are only three ACT test dates remaining for 2014! Be sure to visit to register and create your student account. The upcoming dates are as follows:

  • Saturday, September 13
  • Saturday, October 25
  • Saturday, December 13

When preparing for the exam, you will want to follow some general guidelines. Here are some basics to consider:

KNOW THE FORMAT. Become familiar with the ACT. Scores range from 1-36. There are 4 multiple choice tests which include English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.  Additionally, there is an optional Writing section. Each section is designed to measure your academic achievement in major areas of high school. Purchase the Real ACT Prep Guide and take an official practice test to review your score. Once you know your strengths and challenges, you will know where you need to focus as you begin your studies.

PREP LOCATION. It is critical that you concentrate so you don’t passively learn test taking strategies. Be sure to study in a quiet location with plenty of workspace. It is beneficial to be away from home where you can get distracted. This includes the virtual world as well – set aside your iPhone so that Facebook, Twitter, and texting don’t pull you away from precious study time.

MONITOR YOUR PROGRESS. Remember that the ACT is content based. Begin with studying 30 minutes a day, three days per week. See if you are improving on your weakest subject and if progress is slow, add an additional 10 minutes per day. Don’t fall for “cramming.” Set up reasonable goals and frequently review in small doses. Be sure to take breaks. Try to find a specific time each day to review. Having a consistent schedule will keep you in the habit of studying leading up to test day. This will help with memorization as you digest various strategies and content.

REVIEW YOUR RESOURCES. It is recommended that you take an ACT Prep Course to get the most out of your studies. Be sure log into your official ACT student account for additional self study guidelines and test taking tips. Utilize Practice Questions and answer the Question of the Day. The ACT Facebook page offers info graphics and details on how to break down the test. Reviewing the official guide with these added visuals will make your studying more effective.

TEST DAY PREP. You’ll feel psychologically ready for ACT by preparing the day before. Get a full nights rest and dress comfortably on test day. Print your registration ticket to bring to the testing center. You will need to have a photo ID as well in order to be checked in. Be sure you are aware of the location and reporting time (usually at 8AM). Pack yourself a snack and water to have during the break.  Other materials you’ll want to bring include several No. 2 pencils (with good erasers!) and permitted calculator for the mathematics section. All other items will not be allowed into the testing room. Specific details on test day can be reviewed at Best of luck to you in  your studies!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Shay Davis

5 Things You Need to Know About the ACT

Of all of the decisions facing hopeful college applicants, the choice between admissions tests can be one of the most confusing. Should you take the SAT or the ACT? Do you need to take the ACT Writing Test? Will colleges think less of you if you submit scores from one test or the other? This quick guide provides an overview to understand the ACT.

1. What is the ACT?

The ACT is a college admissions exam that tests material typically learned in high school. It includes five tests: English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing test. Most colleges often recommend or require applicants to submit ACT scores with the Writing test.

2. What does the ACT “test”?

The English test assesses students’ ability to correct grammatical errors in 5 passages. The math test presents students with 60 math problems in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. On the reading section, students read and answer questions about four passages: prose fiction, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. The science portion consists of 7 passages that present a scientific concept or experiment about which students answer questions (the science test deals mainly with reading comprehension and data analysis and does not test specific scientific knowledge). The optional writing test gives students an essay prompt about a controversial issue, generally dealing with high school or teenagers. Students have 30 minutes to take a position on the prompt and write an essay supporting their position. The ACT (with Writing) takes about 3.5 hours to complete.

3. How does the ACT differ from the SAT?

The SAT consists of ten sections in three major subjects (math, critical reading, and writing) and is scored on a scale of 600-2400. The ACT consists of five tests and is scored on a scale of 1-36. The writing (essay) score is reported separately on a scale of 2-12, so that composite ACT scores can be compared between students who took the writing portion and those who didn’t. In general, the SAT requires more logical reasoning and “tricks” than the ACT does, and the ACT is often described as a more “straightforward” test. However, students are given less time per question on the ACT. For example, SAT math gives students about 18 seconds more per question than ACT math. The ACT also includes a science test, which focuses on data analysis, and a few more difficult math concepts that don’t appear on the SAT. The SAT focuses much more heavily on obscure vocabulary words than the ACT. Students can greatly improve their performance on either test by diligently reviewing content and learning and applying appropriate test-taking strategies.

4. Which test should I take?

The short answer: take the test you believe you will perform your best on. Fortunately, by using practice tests, you can take the guesswork out of that choice. There are official practice tests available for both tests, which means that students can do timed practice runs of each exam, and then compare scores using the official concordance table. The College Board (SAT) and ACT, Inc. work together to create a table that allows you to roughly convert scores between the two tests. This table is available on the websites of each organization. Because the SAT includes the essay in its composite score (2400) and the ACT doesn’t, the concordance table compares the sum of a student’s SAT critical reading and math scores with his or her ACT composite score.

For example, if a student scores 28 on the ACT and 600 Math / 610 Critical Reading on the SAT, she would want to submit her ACT score, because the concordance tables state that a 28 ACT is roughly equivalent to a 1250-1280 SAT.

5. What’s a “good” score on the ACT?

The idea of a “good” score varies depending on the schools you apply to. Colleges provide the composite ACT scores of the middle 50% of their incoming classes. This information is helpful in goal setting for test prep. For example, if a student wanted to apply to Duke University, she could look up ACT score data and find that first-year students at Duke typically have composite scores between 30 and 34, and set her goal accordingly.

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Emma Chomin is a Veritas Prep ACT/SAT instructor and recent graduate of Ohio State University in Columbus. She earned her Bachelor’s in linguistics and gender studies in less than two years while working on multiple research projects and taking graduate courses. Emma has tutored dozens of students in strategies for success on the ACT and SAT!

Get Your “ACT” Together: Understanding the ACT

The ACT is the most popular college admission test taken by students. Doing well on the ACT can get you into the college of your choice, expands your choice of colleges and may also land you more scholarships. Because your performance in the ACT is crucial to your future, you need to be fully prepared before taking the test.

Being prepared for test day means first getting to know every section of the ACT — how the questions work, what material is tested, and what the common mistakes tend to be. With that in mind, we have assembled the following infographic to help you fully understand the exam and get your ACT preparation started the right way!

(Click on the infographic below to enlarge it.)

Veritas Prep ACT Infographic

To embed this infographic on your own website or blog, simply copy the code below:

Make no mistake about it: Doing well on the ACT takes hours of preparation, and no one book or article will make you an ACT rock star over night. But first make sure that you fully understand the test before you embark on your ACT prep odyssey. We hope this infographic helps!

For more tips on acing the ACT and getting into the most competitive universities in the nation, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

By Scott Shrum.

9 Things to Consider When Choosing Between the ACT and the SAT

In most high schools in the United States, juniors and seniors naturally tend towards either the ACT or the SAT, depending on the region. In the Bay Area, for instance, far more college-bound students take the SAT than the ACT, for no apparent reason besides the fact that most of their peers are taking the SAT. In Southern states, the ACT is more dominant. Region, however, should not be the determining factor in choosing between these two tests; their subject matter, style, and requirements differ in important ways that many students don’t consider.

I’ve taken both. Only my SAT score, however, was sent along with my college applications. (My ACT score was released long after my college acceptance). I originally took the SAT instead of the ACT just because everyone I knew was taking the SAT, and because the SAT was offered on a more convenient day in my schedule. Looking back, I realize this was a poor decision on my part. If I had done my research, I would have quickly realized that I as a student was far better suited to the ACT than to the SAT, and would have saved myself quite a lot of worry. Here are the things I should have considered:

1.  The ACT has a science section.

This is arguably the most famous difference between the tests. In high school, I liked reading much more than I liked science, so I originally dismissed the ACT entirely. My mistake: I didn’t realize that the ACT doesn’t actually require test-takers to know any complicated science concepts. In fact, it’s more like a reading test than a science test. As long as test-takers are able to read simple graphs and tables, they need only know some basic scientific vocabulary and concepts. Even those are often defined and explained within ACT passages themselves.

2.  The SAT tests complicated vocabulary and focuses more on reading comprehension.

Students who lack confidence in their reading comprehension skills or who do not want to deal with complicated vocabulary should strongly consider taking the ACT instead.

3.  The ACT tests more complicated math.

Conversely, students who are not comfortable with trigonometry should consider opting for the SAT.

4.  The ACT lets you skip the essay.

The SAT essay is mandatory, while the ACT essay is optional. I recommend writing the essay if you take the ACT, but in the interest of making informed choices, you should be aware that the section is not required.

5.  The SAT is longer.

If you have trouble sitting still for more than three hours, the ACT might be a better option for you.

6.  The ACT was designed as an achievement test, while the SAT was designed as a reasoning test.

In other words, material on the ACT will more closely resemble the work that most high school students do in daily classes, while the SAT will challenge them to approach familiar subjects in less conventional ways.

7.  US colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT, and treat the tests equally.

Choosing one over the other will not necessarily make your application more or less impressive to an admissions office. Take whichever test you believe suits you better.

8.  Practice tests and questions are available for both the SAT and the ACT.

These are available on the official SAT and ACT websites and in test prep books and courses. Instead of guessing which you might perform better on, you can sample each and compare your scores.

9.  If you still have trouble deciding, you have the option of taking both tests.

This will likely involve more study and more test fees, but will allow you the freedom to try both options and submit whichever test score is higher.

The choice between the ACT and the SAT offers students a valuable chance to play to their strengths, and to play down their weaker subject areas. Taking advantage of that opportunity can save time, effort, stress, and test prep money. Trust me; your future self will thank you for it.

Be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament. 

5 Ways to Succeed on the ACT Science Test

The ACT Science Test is a source of anxiety for many students, and it’s easy to understand why. After all, three or four years’ worth of high school science is a lot to review! How well do you really remember that lab activity about springs from ninth grade physics? Fortunately, the test doesn’t test the content of high school science nearly as much as it tests a very narrow set of skills developed in high school math and science classes. Here are five things you need to know in order to succeed on on the ACT Science test:

1. This Is Not A (Science) Test

In fact, the ACT Science test might be more accurately described as a hybrid of a data analysis and reading comprehension test. A student’s ability to deal with graphs and tables is far more important to success on the test than her ability to label a diagram of a cell or balance a chemical equation. Any formulae needed to answer questions (and there are very few) are provided in the passage, and you won’t need to learn any complicated scientific concepts on the spot.

On the flip side, don’t skip over the data in the passage and start answering questions because you think that you already know all there is to know about acids and bases. Just like in the ACT Reading test, make sure you’re only using the information provided.

2. Manage Time Wisely

The Science test consists of 40 questions in 35 minutes, and pacing is a big issue for many students. The most efficient way to work through the test is to complete the data analysis passages first, followed by the research summaries, and leave the opposing viewpoints passage for last. You might notice that this list moves from figure-heavy to text-heavy passage types. That’s because it’s easier to pull information quickly from a table or a graph than from a chunk of text. Because all of the questions are weighted equally, starting with the quicker, figure-heavy passages makes the best use of your time.

3. Don’t Read The Passage Until You Know What You’re Reading For

Because you’re not terribly concerned with gaining a deep understanding of the scientific topic discussed by the passage (and don’t have time to, even if you wanted to), you need to use the questions to guide our use of the passage. Lots of questions will tell you exactly which data representation or experiment to look at with phrases like “According to Figure 2…”

4. Don’t Let The Jargon Get You Down

When many students skim a science passage and see something like “Helicobacter pylori,” panic sets in. So, what the heck is Helicobacter pylori? For the purposes of the ACT, it’s “the thing measured by the graph with an axis labeled ‘Helicobacter pylori,’” plus any plain-English description given by the passage (for the purposes of the real world, it’s both a bacterium found in the stomach and two decent Scrabble words). The good news is that the only things you’ll need to know about Helicobacter pylori to knock out the passage are 1) whatever the passage explicitly tells you about it and 2) whatever information the graphs and tables present about it.

5. If You’re Doing Complicated Math, You’re Doing Something Wrong

You’re not allowed to use a calculator for ACT Science, which is fine because there’s absolutely no reason to use one. The only math you’ll have to do is very simple, and the numbers will all come directly from the data provided by the passage.

With these tips you’ll be ready to rock ACT Science (even if geology isn’t your area of expertise)!

By Emma Chomin

Want the Best in ACT Prep? Now We Offer It!

ACT PrepIt was just 18 months ago when we shook up the college test prep space by announcing Veritas Prep SAT 2400. Since then, thousands of high school students and their parents have discovered what makes Veritas Prep special when it comes to tackling standardized tests: The best instructors rigorously applying a proven system for success that any student can learn.

Now, our march on the college prep space continues with the launch of Veritas Prep ACT 36. Nearly a year ago our work began, and it started with consulting with leading school districts and education leadership programs such as University of Michigan’s Graduate School of Education to design the perfect learning environment for high school students wishing to excel on the ACT. With multiple Master of Education degree holders on our development team, we identified the three things that every student needs to excel on the ACT: Skill, Strategy, and Performance.

To keep the energy level high in the classroom, our program is segmented into three sections. First, we cover the essential Skills necessary to navigate the content in every ACT question. Next, we introduce a Veritas Prep ACT 36 strategy to simplify the processing requirements on tougher test questions. Finally, students have a chance to synthesize the skills and strategies they’ve just learned on real ACT sections, which are subsequently reviewed in detail with an instructor who has scored in the 99th percentile on the real ACT.

Excelling on the ACT takes work, and you can’t work if you’re not getting enough face time with your instructor. While most leading ACT prep companies offer just 18 hours of classroom time, ACT 36 offers 36 hours of classroom time. This allows us to start at a more elementary level (ensuring that you will indeed master the basic content you need to know, but then also progress to a much more advanced level than what Kaplan, The Princeton Review, and others allow. If you really want an ACT score in the 30s, this is how you do it.

Veritas Prep ACT 36 is available as an in-person course, a live online course, and private one-on-one tutoring. Take a look at our ACT prep programs and see how our team can help you on the ACT starting today!

By Scott Shrum.