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 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.