Author Archives: Mike Bergin

From September to June, high schoolers can count on an opportunity to take at least one of the two big college admissions tests every month. Some months, however, offer ambitious test takers shots at both the SAT and ACT. Sitting for both exams in rapid succession can be a better idea than you’d think, especially in December. What makes December such a good month to take the SAT and ACT? For one thing, the tests fall early in a month that gets busier as it progresses. The SAT is traditionally administered on the first Saturday of December, followed by the ACT the next weekend. This means students can finish both tests before the first holiday parties of the season. December also deserves strong consideration for testing because the timing meets the needs of both high school juniors and seniors at this point in the academic year: SENIORS who haven’t yet…

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No part of everyday life escapes disruption by a global pandemic. Even something as fundamental as education gives way when society responsibly shuts down to prevent the spread of a lethal virus. But while classes could–at least in theory–be conducted remotely, all the other trappings of American schooling fell away piece by piece starting this past spring. One rite of passage people didn’t expect to miss the way they mourned the loss of sports, clubs, and prom was testing, specifically college admissions testing. But once the April ACT and May SAT were cancelled, the obvious upheaval of the application process became very real. Spring was a crazy time for anyone in higher education. Colleges across the country faced existential threats they have not yet overcome. At the same time, students in the high school graduating class of 2021 confronted challenges of their own as target test dates fell away with no clear options ahead. College Board and ACT adopted  two…

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Multitasking makes us dumber, in that trying to focus on more than one activity at a time not only leads to inferior outputs but can actually produce a measurable decrease in IQ. But, of course, some tasks require more attention than others. Surely, you might say, just answering a text message while studying couldn’t hurt… Wrong. Researchers at Michigan State University found that even short interruptions can have a surprisingly large effect on the ability to accurately complete a task. Among a group of 300 subjects performing work on a computer, interruptions of approximately three seconds doubled the error rate. Erik Altmann, lead researcher on the study, drew a fairly reasonable conclusion about why such brief interruptions caused errors to spike: “The answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that…

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Few aspects of the college admissions process cause as much consternation and confusion as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better know as the FAFSA. This document is critical: you need to fill out the FAFSA to get any college financial aid from the federal government in the form of grants, work-study, and low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Education. What are some fast facts worth knowing about the FAFSA? Filling out the FAFSA is free. The FAFSA isn’t just used by the federal government. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to determine which students get financial aid and how much will be awarded. The FAFSA doesn’t focus solely on the applicant but also requires information a family’s finances, including tax returns. The FAFSA needs to be filled out every year. Of course, fast facts can only tell you so much. This topic deserves as much…

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Critics of standardized tests often paint those assessments as aloof from everyday exercises of knowledge and learning, conveniently ignoring the primacy of reading and written communication in most activities. That’s right: tests like the SAT and ACT evaluate the kind of reading and writing skills that matter in school, work, and life. Math, however, seems to be more of a disconnect; how often do you need trigonometry or geometric theorems in your non-scientific day-to-day? However, tests like the SAT and ACT do assess math skills and knowledge that matter beyond high school, from broad conceptual quantitative literacy to creative problem solving. One more oft-overlooked skill that carries into real life is modeling, the application of math skills to answer questions about real world situations. What are some common examples of modelling? How much does a shirt with a retail price of $40 cost during a 30%-off sale? How long will…

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This time of year finds us answering a lot of questions about the PSAT, from parents eager to arrange prep to others wondering if their teens should take the the October test at all. And, really, the question deserves consideration. Just about every high school has its juniors, and sometimes even sophomores, sit for the PSAT. Schools have good reason to administer these tests, thanks to the wealth of score data the College Board sends back. But is the test worth any single student’s time? Why take the PSAT? The College Board describes many benefits to taking the PSAT, but only a couple of them seem persuasive. Consider each one: Discover Your AP® Potential BAD IDEA, at least if you are already a junior. By that time, qualified students with access are already enrolled in several AP classes. 10th graders who haven’t already tried AP European or World History might…

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