What Pilates taught me about the ACT


I am a certified Pilates instructor.   The Comprehensive Certification Program (Level 1) required 200 hours of intense, grueling work. My body hurt, my mind was overloaded, and my emotions were fragile.  But the harder that certification process pushed and punished me, the more I pushed and prodded back.  I set my mind.  I decided that not only was I going to pass my physical and written exams, I was going to crush them.

I was over 40.  I was learning something completely new and I was challenging my body in a way I never had before.  Apparently I did inherit something from my athletic father:  enough coordination to systematically move, a competitive will, and the audacity to believe that I actually could succeed.

The ACT is not that much different.  I’m even older now and I am entering my 5th year of studying standardized tests.  I’ve had flashbacks to high school. I am thankful to Mrs. Chic Clemons who taught me to diagram sentences and to Mrs. Lucy Brown who taught me to FOIL.  I know grammar and I know basic algebra.

Yet, for some reason I never learned  Coordinate Geometry or Trigonometry.  Science always seemed a little scary and out of my reach.  But you know what?  Not anymore.  We live in the Age of Information and we can learn anything. We can teach ourselves.  We can teach our children.  Our children can teach us.

So …what of Pilates?   This is what I know.  Learn the basic order first. Practice it over and over. Smooth out the rough parts. Become stronger. Practice it again.  Move faster and with flow.  Find your rhythm.  Celebrate the order and structure of the movements.  Since you know what’s coming, practice it everyday.

Once you have mastered the basic order, add in one intermediate exercise.  Practice everyday.  Add in another.  Practice.  Once you have mastered both the basic and intermediate order, add in one advanced exercise . Practice. Get stronger. Get faster.

So…what of the ACT?  Start with the subject you like best. Answer the questions you can and skip the rest. Assess.  What do you know?  What do you need to learn?  Practice the easy questions first. Forty percent of the math problems test pre-algebra.  However, the questions are presented in confusing ways;  the unpracticed test taker will miss many of them.   But not you.  Learn the basic order. Practice.  Get stronger. Get faster.

Standardized test preparation is a million dollar industry, yet most students don’t see significant results. We buy their books, but they don’t deliver.  Why?  We are working backwards.  We need to START with one actual ACT test.  ACT, Inc. is kind enough to sell them to us.  Stay on that ONE test for months if you need to. Learn the basic order. Add in intermediate problems and then the advanced.  When you can teach that test to others, move on to the next one.

Learning something new is challenging. It takes time. It takes commitment.  It takes practice. Start early and enjoy the ride.






Why a 21 on the ACT is a GREAT Place to Start: English


You picked up a practice test from the high school counseling office, looked it over, went to bed early, ate a good breakfast, and scored a 21 on your first ACT.

Congratulations!  A 21 is the average national ACT score; a 36 is a perfect one.  If you scored anywhere around a 21 on your first test, you are right where the test makers assume you will be: the middle of the bell curve. But, take heart. You have ALL the skills necessary to dramatically improve your score.


There are 75 questions.  If you scored a 21 on the English section, you answered approximately 48* of the questions correctly. You missed approximately 27*.  You missed roughly 1 out of every 3 questions.  This is GOOD news because there is much room for improvement.  Although the English portion of the test is written at a 9th grade reading level, the format of the passages is extremely confusing. Most people plow their way through the test, trying to understand what each question is even asking, and run out of time before they even make it to the end.

Unfortunately, as a first time test taker, you fell prey to some of the ACT’s tricks and traps and missed questions that you may have known otherwise. The test writers work hard to keep most students snuggled safely inside the wide arc of the bell curve.

However, I have good news. With proper guidance and lots of practice, you can move out of the center of that overcrowded arc.  Most tutors agree, that of all four sections, the English section holds the most promise for a significant increase in score.

The English section tests formal, written English.  The comma is the most heavily tested punctuation mark, pronoun/antecedent problems are rampant, and subject/verb agreement is king.  You will need to train yourself to think like an editor and deeply familiarize yourself with the test and its content. With proper study and practice, you can make significant strides in English.  My son went from a 24 to a 34 in the English section.  He just recently told me that I actually taught him how to write. I find this of more value than his test score. Thank you, ACT!

*Each individually administered test has a different range of scores used to determine the actual ACT score of that section. This is referred to as the “curve” of the test and is used to make sure the test results are standardized, i.e. the bell curve looks the same for each test.

Every Standardized Test is…THE SAME

learning more than test score_1_0 (1)exam_hall

So what is a standardized test, really?  Usually when we think of the word “standardization,” we think of the limitations of a test to truly tell us about an individual. How can a test measure someone’s character, creativity, integrity, or intelligence?  Surely open ended questions would provide much more insight into what a person knows about any given subject. Why can’t the ACT do that?

Let’s pause for a minute and take a look at the company that writes the ACT.  ACT, Inc. is a nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to create a test useful to college admission’s offices around the country.  Its biggest competitor is the SAT.

In order to provide this black and white assessment to colleges, the ACT must leave no room for subjective answers.  Every answer is either 100% correct or it is wrong.  Learning to identify wrong answer choices is a crucial part of understanding the ACT.

Every official ACT test administered on any given Saturday must be the same as any other given test on any other given Saturday.  Each test must cover the same material, test the same concepts in the same ways, and present the same wrong answer choices in the same wrong answer ways.  Otherwise, the test would not be standardized.  The ACT’s sole existence depends on making tests that are fair, equal, and THE SAME.

As a student, this is good news!  Standardization is  limited when it comes to creating a test that will represent the student as a whole.  However, standardization works in the student’s favor when he/she begins to understand and dissect the test.  As students, parents, and educators we have an amazing opportunity to shine. Let’s take it.

Last Minute Tips for the ACT Tomorrow

Kudos to you for taking the ACT in the summer. June is a fantastic time to test because you can order an actual copy of your test and answer key.  Of course, with the ACT, nothing is simple.   You must go to their website within 3 months of taking the test and print out a Test Information Release form (TIR) and MAIL the form to them with a check for $20.00.  It takes 4 to 6 weeks after your scores come out to get the test.  I can still hardly believe that they do this.  This information is priceless to you as you study.  You have another real test to work from and access to all of your mistakes.  The ACT only offers this service on the December, April, and June tests.

Here are some basic things to keep in mind tomorrow as you test.


The English section consists of 5 passages:  75 questions that must be answered in 45 minutes.  Most people struggle to finish. If you start a passage and you do not understand it, skip it and go on to the next one.  Do not answer every question in the order they are asked.  Sometimes the ACT will ask you to pick a transition sentence to connect two paragraphs.  Since you haven’t read the second paragraph yet, this is hard. Skip it.  Finish answering the questions and then come back. You have now read the entire passage and you didn’t have to take extra time reading the paragraph twice. Some of the “language usage” questions take much longer to answer than the others. They are also more difficult. Skip these and come back to them at the end of the test if you have time. It is a travesty to not finish a test because you were stuck on the “hard” questions and left the easy ones unanswered.  If you are running out of time, guess on everything that is left unanswered.  There is no guessing penalty on the ACT.


You will have 60 questions to answer in 60 minutes.  You will go through the math questions 3 times.  On the first trip, answer all of the questions that come easily for you.  You know how to do them.  Be very careful and do not make any mistakes.  On your second trip through, do the ones that are a little more difficult, but you are still pretty sure that you can get the correct answer. Save the hardest ones for last.  If you run out of time, at least you will have answered correctly all of the ones that you knew how to do.  Sometimes the last few questions are relatively easy, but people run out of time before they get to them.


0078656031922_500X500You have a 10 minute bathroom break. Bring a protein
snack and a water bottle. This worked great for my son. He consistently crashed during the science section. It was his lowest score and he said that he was mentally and physically exhausted .  After taking a Met-Rx bar at the break, his science score went from a 24 to a 32.  Crazy, I know.


Again, we do NOT answer questions in order on the ACT.  Each test has 4 passages: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities and Natural Science. Start with the passage that you like the best. Do the one you are least comfortable with last. Always answer the “main idea of the passage” questions last (they are usually asked first and this is a HUGE time eater).  After you have answered all of the other questions, you will have a much better feel for the passage and will be able to answer the question more intelligently.    Remember, there is only ONE answer. Every word in every answer must be true for the answer to be correct.  It is sometimes easier to mark out the wrong answers first, leaving you with the correct answer. EVERY WORD must be true and supported by the passage.  Use your pencil.  Mark this passage up. Cross out wrong answers.  Research shows that test takers who mark up their tests score much higher than those who do not interact with the material.


For most students the science section is extremely intimidating.  The science section tests the same skill set as the reading section.  Every answer is on the test. It is measuring how well you can read graphs and trends.  There are 7 passages with 5 questions each.  Usually the 1st question in each of those sections is the easiest and the 5th question is the hardest.  If you were to skip every 5th question and get all of the others correct, you would still score a 27 on the science section. Do not get bogged down here. If you start reading a section and don’t understand it, move on. Don’t spend too much time on one question or you will never make it to easier questions that still lie ahead.  Remember, each question is worth the same amount.  You must do everything in your power to get the easy questions correct.

It’s Over.

You did well.  You showed up. You gave it your all.  The ACT is not a reflection of your character, your skill, your creativity, or even your intelligence.  It is a representation of how well you can take a test and how quickly you can process information.

However, I would encourage you to use your character, your skill, your creativity, and your intelligence to develop a long range plan to conquer this test. It can be done.  Let’s do it together.



Ok, I’m in. So now what?

young child climbing stone steps with a lot of effort


This has been the question of the week. Ok, ACT Mom, I get it.  But where do I go from here?

Here is my best advice.

Parents, you should be involved.   I would encourage parents to purchase the “red book.” Take it apart and put it into page protectors or laminate it. We are going to be using these over and over again. The counseling office at your child’s school should also have a free copy of a real ACT test.

51rcRWxOOCL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Look over the test yourself. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Is studying for the ACT something that is feasible right now in your family? Have an honest conversation with your student about his/her hopes and dreams for the future. Do they involve college? Is your student interested in a state school, private school, or community college? How much does all of that cost?  Go to your favorite school’s website. What merit scholarships are available?

How would your student benefit from a great ACT score? Does he/she need scholarship money? Is your student aiming to get into an Ivy League school where a great score is mandatory?

Develop a plan for your student’s success. If your child is young, you have time and you can move slowly. My 7th grader does the first 30 math problems on our ACT practice tests because they are usually the easiest. It is great practice for him and it is already building his confidence. If your student is a senior, there is still time. However, more time and focus will be required.

Take a baby step.   Assess where you are. Take another step. Assess. Get help where you need it. Practice and repeat what you already do well.

Above all, cherish this time with your children. Love them well during this season of life when their hopes and dreams are still fresh and alive. What a privilege we have. I look forward to our journey together.

Our Story. My Passion.


When my oldest son entered high school, I began the daunting task of looking at the costs of college tuition. Our local university was over $20,000 a year for tuition, room, and board. Private schools ranged from around $30,000 to $45,000 a year. I gulped. I worried. I sighed. What was the average family to do? How did people go to college these days without amassing large quantities of debt?

Through some providential circumstances, I was introduced to the concept of standardized test prep. At the time there was not a lot on the market that dealt specifically with ACT prep. Kaplan, The Princeton Review, McGraw-Hill and Barron’s all published ACT Study books; however, they did not quite hit the mark.  Because it is illegal to republish “real” ACT tests, the test companies have done their best to recreate what they believe will be on the test.  However, studying tests not created by the test maker is of limited help.

I did a lot of researching online before I began.  I bought the “Red Book,” published by the ACT writers themselves, and got busy. I now had five real tests. I literally tore them apart from cover to cover and began to study them. I put them in sheet protectors, purchased dry erase markers, and began to take them over and over.  I saw the same patterns repeated on each test. I saw the same mathematical and grammatical concepts tested again and again.  These were STANDARDIZED tests.  In order to be fair and consistent, each test would generally test the same information and skill set.

I began studying with my son when he was a Freshman.  Every Saturday afternoon we would meet for 1 to 2 hours and work on standardized tests.  We prepared for both the SAT and the ACT, but eventually found the ACT to be more straightforward and more to our liking. It was a journey of starts and stops, mishaps and successes.   But it was a journey I will always cherish.  Two weeks ago my son graduated from high school and will be attending college in the fall with a full tuition, merit based scholarship based solely on his ACT score.

I have two more kids and it’s time to do it again.  My daughter will be a sophomore in the fall and we have plans to CRUSH the ACT.  I have decided that educating my kids on standardized tests is my part time job.  I would love for others to join us in the journey.  I would love to encourage other families who are looking for merit scholarships.  I would love to extend hope to students who want a future without debt.  The future is bright.

It’s a puzzle.


The ACT is a puzzle. How do you solve it? You must first understand what is on the test. Fortunately, the ACT tells us.


These tests are the window into the mind of the ACT test makers. We want to know how the ACT thinks. Every time we miss a question, we have a HUGE opportunity to learn. When you are first familiarizing yourself with the ACT, work slowly and analyze all of your mistakes. Was your mistake careless? Were you tricked by the wording? Do you not understand what the question is about? If you can figure out the concept that the ACT is testing and why you missed it, you will be well on your way to mastering the ACT.