The College Graduate.


It’s a cold, crisp morning in Tennessee. The coffee pot is brewing in the hotel room and the Christmas lights from the street reflect on my sleeping family–still resting in queen sized beds, side by side.

There is a certain peacefulness and stillness in the room that comforts my heart. These quiet moments will prepare me for the excitement, liveliness, and joy soon to unfold throughout the day.  The Baccalaureate service was last night:  Graduation will be this morning.

It’s easy to reflect.

Three and a half years ago, our oldest son graduated from high school and I pensively wrote my first blog. I felt that I had a story to tell: a message of encouragement that could help other families.  I wasn’t sure exactly how to share the blog with others so I created a Facebook page. I choose a simple name–The ACT Mom– held my breath, and hit PUBLISH.

Three months later we dropped our son off at Lee University.  He was attending on a full-tuition merit-based scholarship. He went on to make new friends, travel to new countries, and discover a new major. He consistently exceeded the gpa required to keep his scholarship and took on additional responsibilities as well–Resident Advisor, Residence Life Assistant, and Big Pal/Little Pal Chaplain. Three and a half years later he is graduating early, at the top of his class.

Studying the ACT–its repeated patterns, questions, and concepts–has been the greatest opportunity of my life. This opportunity, likewise, has led to the greatest provision of my life.

And so, as my son crosses the stage this morning and walks into his next stage of life, he will do so with minimal college debt. My other two children are following close behind him.

Yet, I am not content with that. Why not bring others along too? This opportunity is available to anyone. I have no plans to slow down or stop until every student who wants to has increased his/her score so that they can attend college with minimal or no debt.

But today I am not teaching. Today I am not counseling. Today I am not studying tests.

Today I am a mother.

Today I will cheer on young men and women as they walk into tomorrow. Today I will take joy in the season as hope twinkles in the lights around me–pointing to the God who became flesh.

Today I will thank my Creator, again, for his provision for my family.

Today I will celebrate.



The Test Information Release (TIR) Came in the Mail Today: Now What?


It came in the mail today: the TEST INFORMATION RELEASE. If you have been following my blog or Facebook page for any length of time, you know that I am ALWAYS telling families to order their student’s test and answer key. It is only available three times a year: December, April, and June. That means we won’t have this opportunity again until December. If your student took the June test and you want to order a copy of it, click on the link below.

Click to access TestInformation_Release_orderform.pdf

But, for those of you who already have it, the question typically becomes this: Now what do I do?

Go through your student’s test and circle each question that he/she missed. The answer key is hard to make sense of, but it’s possible. Don’t mark the incorrect answer that your student chose or the correct one, just circle the number he/she missed.


Cut the test through the middle and put it into sheet protectors. This will always allow you to work on a clean test without marks.


Put the test into a new binder and label it June 2018. Now, TAKE THE TEST AGAIN in the binder with a dry erase marker. Go over each missed question. See if you can get them right this time. Keep a journal or Google Doc of what concepts and questions you are missing. Keep taking old tests: this is the way to raise your score.  Unbelievably, you now have the latest copy of the ACT right at your fingertips.

The Unpretentious Strength of My Father


It was my father’s job to pick me up after Saturday speech tournaments during my high school years. His old truck would always be there, waiting for me long before the bus of worn-out high schoolers would arrive. “How’d it go?” he’d ask.  “Not very well,” I would concede, “I didn’t even make it into the finals.”

Every weekend it was the same. I was mediocre at best. My friends were just more talented that I was. I was trying hard when I was there, but it just wasn’t happening.  One unremarkable evening when he picked me up, he posed a different question,  “How much do you practice?”

Admittedly, I was surprised.  He went on, “I know I am just a football coach and don’t know much about speech tournaments, but in high school, it’s really more about practice than talent.  Sure, I’ve got players who are better than others, but, ultimately, it comes down to how hard they are willing to work.” This was a new perspective for me: a paradigm shift if you will.


And while my father didn’t know much about speech tournaments, he did know a lot about football. As a 27 year- old high school coach,  he led the Mt. Sterling High School Trojans to a Class A State Football Championship in 1969.  These same boys that he loved and coached almost 50 years ago showed up at St. Joseph Hospital in January of this year as word got out that Coach was in his final days.  Now older men, these champions stood in the hospital corridors with tears streaming down their faces, hoping for a final opportunity to speak to my father.

We knew this day was coming.  In November of 2014, two weeks before my son took his final ACT and reached his score goal, my Dad had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Neuroendocrine Pancreatic cancer. He was given six months to live.

I was facing the very real possibility that my Dad would not live to see my son graduate from high school. The hope that I felt for my son and his success on the ACT was juxtaposed against the heartbreak that I felt for my father. My mother, sisters, and I temporarily found ourselves in a place of shock as we resolved to move forward with courage and strength.

IMG_3397Remarkably, Dad lived for three more years. He saw my son graduate from high school and two more grandchildren after that. He witnessed the birth of The ACT Mom, a company I had no idea I was creating.  At one point, he said, “Let me see that test.” After flipping through each section, he exclaimed, “My goodness!  How in the world do you know all of this?” I looked at him, laughing, “You taught me how to do this, Dad.” I replied. “Don’t you remember?? You said that I could do anything I wanted to if I just practiced hard enough.”  He looked at me rather confused. “Oh,” he said simply,  still unaffected by my words.

He had forgotten about the speech tournaments, but I had not. I had taken his words to heart all those years ago.  I had started studying the winners. What were they doing? I made changes. I practiced. I did more of what worked and less of what didn’t. As I slowly made these changes, I gradually started to win. As the Regional tournament approached, I qualified to move on to State. It was an exciting time. I started to learn that speaking was an art and that it could be cultivated.

IMG_3396 The State speech tournament of my Senior year was the final time that I would compete. When my father picked me up on that eventful night, he could see that things had gone well. I was carrying a 2 foot trophy: Prose Fiction– 1st Place in the State of Kentucky.  He had shared his winning secrets with me: assessment, correction, and practice. Twenty-five years later I had used those same skills to master the ACT.

The ACT Mom is busy these days. I miss my father terribly, and I drive his Ford truck to almost every class. He wanted to make sure that I would get there safely. Moreover, it makes me happy to arrive at class with a tangible reminder of his presence.  However, it’s the intangibles that he taught me that matter the most: hope, courage, humility, and perseverance. And so I carry those things with me as well as I seek to teach and train the next generation of leaders.  Into every hallway, into every classroom, and into every office, I carry the unpretentious strength of my father.







I Taught My Daughter the ACT.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Long before I was known as The ACT Mom, I was teaching my children the ACT. As a 7th grader, my daughter sat through a test prep session that I had organized for her older brother. She watched him. She watched us together. She started learning the test.

Last night she graduated from high school with an ACT score in the top 99th percentile of all test-takers.

My hope–and the reason we learned the ACT in the first place– has been that each of my 3 children will attend college with a full-tuition merit based scholarship.  The ACT has been the vehicle that has helped us reach that goal.

While I have talked about WHY we did this and HOW we did this in other blog posts, today I want to celebrate one element that is often over looked: relationship.

One of the greatest memories I have with my daughter came during the Blizzard of 2016. Central Kentucky knew that it was going to be hit with upwards of 3 feet of snow. My classes had been cancelled for the weekend and I knew that she and I needed to practice the ACT.  On a whim, we packed up and left town on a Thursday night, moved into a bed and breakfast, and hunkered down: waiting for the snow. We were not disappointed. We weren’t going anywhere for 3 days.


And what a 3 days we had! We studied the ACT. We walked to coffee shops. We took practice tests. We played in the snow. We ate pizza. We corrected mistakes on the test. We sat before a wood-burning stove. We learned matrices. We talked about colleges. We learned logarithms.  We watched A Walk to Remember. We read and re-read the Reading passages until we learned to think like the test writers themselves. It was one of the most memorable weekends of my life.  I was so proud of this girl.


For the next year, we continued to spend weekends in coffee shops, taking advantage of our night owl tendencies and practicing on old tests while the rest of the family was in bed. She traveled with me to weekend classes and set up shop in hotels, practicing on her own.

My older son learned this test in private. There was no spotlight on him. There were no expectations. My daughter did not have that privilege. The ACT Mom was now teaching her classmates and peers. She asked me not to talk about her experiences with the ACT until she was finished with high school. I have tried to honor her request. But today, 468 days after she surpassed her target score, and ONE day after she graduated from high school,  I am sharing her story. I hope it encourages you. This incredible opportunity is available to all of us.

Sophomores: This One’s for You


I get asked all the time, “When should my child start preparing for the ACT?”  Junior year is so challenging and, I promise you, you don’t want to still be trying to hit that “goal score” during your Senior year. Take the stress off and start early: sophomore year or before.

I suggest that sophomores take the ACT on one of three dates: December, April, or June. Why these dates? These are the magic times that the ACT lets us order a copy of our Test Information Release (TIR). This is a copy of our actual ACT test with all the answers that we missed and got correct. This is a GOLD MINE for sure! Not only will students have the latest copy of the ACT in their hands, but they will also know what they need to work on.

The follow-up question I get asked is this: Should my student prepare beforehand or take the test and see how it goes? By all means, prepare beforehand. We want to send confident kids into that testing room. Why get an entry level score when you don’t have to? I have many free resources on my website including past released tests and commonly tested concepts. Please work on your own or take a class before test day. Let’s crush this test from the beginning. I want you to hit your ACT score goal during your Junior year and then be done with it. Can I get an Amen?




Kentucky Juniors Test Tomorrow

Basic math formulas

All Juniors in Kentucky public schools are taking the ACT tomorrow. I know MANY who have been practicing hard so that they can do their very best! 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. Remember, the ACT doesn’t provide the math formulas that you will need for the test. You will need to know those by heart. I posted them above.

You have a 10 minute bathroom break. Bring a protein bar
and a water bottle. It will help you finish strong for the final two sections of the test. You can purchase these many places, including Krogers.


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 CORRECT 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.  Almost every answer is on the test (every science section has 3 to 4 questions that require outside information). The science section is measuring how well you can read graphs and trends.  There are 6 passages with 5 to 7 questions each.  Usually the 1st question in each of those sections is the easiest and the last question is the hardest.  If you were to skip the last 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: I’m cheering as you do it.

Last Minute Tips for the February 6 ACT




I am rooting for so many kids this weekend who are taking the ACT.  Some are 7th graders taking it for the first time through the Duke TIP.  Some are Seniors who just need one more point for thousands of dollars in scholarships. These kids came to me for guidance and help. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.

So, for all of you who are running this race, I cheer you on! Here are some last minute tips as you round out your final week of study.

  • Be Mentally Tough. You will see things on the test that will initially throw you. Be prepared for that.  Smile, laugh, and move on.  Take at least 4 sharpened pencils with you into the test. Use a new pencil at the beginning of each section. Let the pencil represent the renewed vigor in which  you will approach each section, no matter what happened in the section before.
  • Review Your Personal Strategy. You developed it. You wrote it. You are in charge.    Having said that, give yourself permission to make last minute changes if a Reading passage or Science section is not clicking with you.
  • Manage Your Time. We all could get high scores on the ACT if we were not timed. Do not stay too long on one question.  Remember, there are easy questions still to come.
  • Review Grammar. A semi-colon is always used to connect two complete sentences; a colon must always follow a complete sentence. There are many things that can follow a colon on the right, but a complete sentence will always be to the left of a colon. Don’t EVER connect two complete sentences with a comma. That is a comma splice and the ACT loves to roll out this trick multiple times on every test.
  • Review Math Formulas. Forty Percent of the math is Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1. Draw out word problems and take care with basic Algebra. The math section generally goes from easiest to hardest. Don’t make careless mistakes in the first 30 math problems. If you can’t do a math problem quickly, save it until the end and come back. Review the math formulas that you must know for the test.
  • Eat. Pack a protein bar and water bottle for the 10 minute break.
  • 4,2,1,3. Choose a personal order of preference for the Reading passages. Some do better beginning with the fiction passages. Some prefer non-fiction. If a certain passage isn’t making sense to you, pause and move on. Remember, EVERY answer must be supported by the text. Do not add information to the passage.
  • Finish Strong. By the time you get to Science, you are tired and worn down. Do not be intimidated!  Science is all about reading charts, graphs, and tables. Look at the charts first. Note the patterns. Then look to the answer choices to see where to look on the graphs for the answer.  There will be 3 to 4 questions on each Science test that require outside information. When you come to one of those, make your best guess. Just like the Reading section, every answer can be found within the test pages themselves. Your Reading score and Science score should be within one point of each other. It is testing the same skill.

Take time to review this week. Work hard until Friday. No studying the night before the test. Let your mind rest.  Pack everything for the next day and sleep well. Eat a good breakfast. Resolve to be mentally strong whatever the day holds.

I am proud of you. Run your race.













I or Me?


The easiest way to deal with these pesky questions about pronoun case is to cross out each pronoun and then read the sentence as if there were only one pronoun.

These are Correct.

You and I are learning grammar. (You are learning grammar.)

You and I are learning grammar. (I am learning grammar.)

Grammar matters to you and me.  (Grammar matters to you.)

Grammar matters to you and me. (Grammar matters to me.)

These are Incorrect.

You and me are learning grammar. (Me am learning grammar.)

Grammar matters to you and I. (Grammar matters to I.)

If you draw a line through the 2nd pronoun, you will find that you would never say, “Grammar matters to I.”  Yet, many people think this is correct and say it when they are trying to use formal English. Test each pronoun individually in the sentence and you will usually be able to hear if it should be in the nominative (I) or objective (me) case.

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 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-five percent of the math problems test pre-algebra and Algebra I.  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.