Tiffani's Boost Blog

College Essay Ideas... Another Reason for Community Service

Jonny helping kids depict the poem "Sick"As 12th grade approaches so do college applications -- and the process of writing college essays.

The process is a hard one for most students. Who wants to write about themselves? Frankly, who wants to even think that hard about themselves? How do you make yourself sound fabulous and  unique at a time when you feel very much like a number in a system?

Grammar Mini-Blog: Is "Everyone" singular or plural?

Who hasn't heard (or said) something like "Everyone needs to take their shoes off!" or "No one has had their dinner yet!"?

In English, we struggle with pronouns. We have lovely gender-neutral plural pronouns, like "they," "their," and "them,"* but all of our singular pronouns are gendered (or 'it,' and who wants to be an it?).

To make matters even more complicated, we have indefinite pronouns,  like "everyone," which seem to capture lots of people, but are actually singular ("everyone" means each and every one... one, singular).

So, when the subject of a sentence is "everyone" or "no one," which are both singular, the verbs and pronouns that go with those subjects should be singular also.

WRONG: Everyone needs to take their shoes off!

Reading Sections: SAT vs. ACT

Both SAT and ACT have reading sections -- and they don't get much press.  They are pretty typical read-the-passage-answer-the-questions multiple choice style sections.  But, there are some subtle but important differences between the sections. 

First, and most importantly, there is a timing difference.

SAT: 65 minutes, 52 questions, five passages (one is actually a pair of passages) with about 10 questions for each passage/pair of passages.

ACT: 35 minutes, 40 questions, four passages with 10 questions each. 

ACT vs. the new SAT

SAT vs. ACTAfter the last post, I keep thinking about the differences between the ACT and the SAT.  The last time I went down this path, I had barely finished the last post when College Board announced that it was doing a total overhaul on the SAT.  Maybe that's why I stopped blogging? :)

But, given the new landscape, it's worth reviewing.  As last time, I'll have to do a few posts on this topic. 

So, first things first, want to know which test is best for you? Don't make assumptions, don't listen to rumors, take some practice tests. 

When to take the SAT?

As adults we often think of the SAT as a rite of passage for 11th graders. Likewise, schools and school counselors often present a pretty natural test progression: PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of 11th grade, SAT in May of 11th grade, SAT Subject Tests in June of 11th grade. Want to raise a score? Retake a test in the fall of 12th grade.

At EdBoost, we've long pushed back against this particular progression: Who wants to still be taking SAT in senior year? Who wants to be doing SAT prep over the summer after 11th grade? (And, if you don't prep, you probably will not improve your scores by much... they may even go down due to summer brain drain!) And, perhaps most importantly: that summer before senior year is the best time to start writing college application essays, but who can think of essays if they're still thinking about SAT?

Is My Child at Grade Level?

We hear this question all the time: is my child at grade level? How can I know? And, if not, what can I do about it?

The question feels like an easy one. Most children are in school, in a grade. And, so, shouldn't that child's grades reveal if he or she is at grade level? They should. In districts like Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), our local district, grades are numerical. A "3" means "proficient" which is supposed to translate to "at grade level." On that metric, "4" means above grade level and "2" or "1" means below grade level. And yet, we find that two children with the same grades can have wildly different skills. Different teachers grade differently. Different schools, which can serve very different communities of students, can have very different standards (although standards are supposed to be uniform and aligned, it's hard not to give your top students top scores). Differences also come from kids: some students remember what they learn and others don't. So, take two students who knew a skill three months ago, one may be able to execute that skill now while the other may not.

What's the difference between ACT and SAT? Part 3: Science

The ACT has a science section.  Should bring our gloves and lab coats to the testing center?  Do students need to have mastered Biology, Chemistry, and Physics before taking the ACT?  No, not at all.

So, why do students who take the ACT for the first time tend to do so poorly on the science?

One main reason: they get intimidated and they give up.  

What's the difference between ACT and SAT? Part 2: Math

Math is usually the part of a test when you really feel like things are easy or hard.  The answers aren't subjective: you either know how to do them or you don't.

So, many people choose SAT or ACT based on how they feel about the math sections.

And there may be something to the notion that the ACT math is easier (well, at least there are more easy questions).  But, just the feeling that something is easier doesn't mean that it's giving you a comparatively higher score.

Before we get into the details, let's do the basic breakdown:

What's the difference between ACT and SAT? Part 1: Grammar

It's summer time -- which not only means it's time for SAT and ACT prep, but it's that time of the year when it seems like every student who is unhappy with his or her SAT scores, wants to try ACT.

My basic advice: pick a test when you begin to prep (take a sample of each -- make an educated decision!), and stick with it.  The tests are different enough that changing course will slow down your progress.  And know that, for most people, the results are about the same (see the stats here), but I'll save that tangent for another post later this week.

Why correct students' spelling?

Sometimes parents call and ask for spelling tutoring.  It's a request for which I never seem to have a good answer.  Bottom line: I don't think that spelling tutoring is a good idea.  I don't think it's very effective (We've tried it!  I've personally tried it -- and not only is it no fun, it doesn't work well!) and it's hard for me to imagine the student whose single biggest academic need is spelling.

And, having said all that, I think that correcting spelling, as a matter of daily homework correction, is critical.