Category Archives: Academics

For those of us who work with students to achieve their best grades and highest test scores, conversations about intelligence come up as often as discussions of athleticism in a major league broadcasting booth. Certain attributes very clearly connect to success in a specific task without actually being either necessary or sufficient, and intelligence definitely falls into that category. Part of the problem comes with mistaking intelligence with smarts. The term ‘smart’ seems to be a catch-all for a diverse mix of skills, strategies, and cognitive attributes the elude consensus. I like the spin Seth Godin–a genius in his own right–has on what smart really means these days: Smart is no longer memorization. It’s not worth much. Smart is no longer access to information. Everyone has that. Smart is: • Situational awareness • Filtering information • Troubleshooting • Clarity of goals • Good taste • Empathy and compassion for others…

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No matter what how the current SAT or ACT is scored, its score scale is arbitrary. Understanding the difference between a 200-800 SAT score and a 1-36 ACT score can drive a person crazy. That’s why percentiles matter so much. Every SAT and ACT section score is based off a raw score which is then converted to a scaled score based on a larger testing cohort. Any score report will include both scaled scores and percentile ranks. And, really, the only way to understand the value of the former is to consider the latter. For any given score, your percentile or percentile rank describes what percentage of the testing population you scored higher than. For example, a score in the 70th percentile is higher than 70% of all the scores for that population. When it comes to test scores, the higher the percentile, the better you are doing! Students prepping…

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Summer is just around the corner, and for high school students, that means that pretty soon you’ll be getting your summer reading assignments. It doesn’t matter if you’re a natural reader with a full bookshelf—nobody really likes having to slog through a list of “classics” before the fall semester starts up. Reading skills are crucial for teenagers, though, and developing any skill takes practice. Reading regularly can help make even the most difficult novels easier to get through, and as a lifelong bookworm, I’ve got plenty of recommendations. These are titles that I find myself returning to over and over because I actually enjoy them, and some of them might already be on your required reading list anyway. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. This beautiful work of historical fiction depicts two women’s intertwined lives in Afghanistan through the Afghan-Soviet war and the rise…

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It might be hard to understand why the SAT and ACT test students on reading skills. Math is practical for lots of careers, and it’s important to know proper grammar and syntax, but why do standardized tests bother with having you read passages and answer questions about them? As it turns out, strong reading skills matter more than a lot of people realize. A 2020 study by Gallup found that a shocking 54% of adults in the United States can’t read at a sixth-grade level. Over half of American adults would probably have trouble reading A Wrinkle in Time or the Percy Jackson series. If you’re a high school junior or senior who’s had to read hundreds of pages of challenging literature, that might seem incredible, but as someone who was a bookworm from a young age, it’s easy to take for granted how hard reading can be for some…

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If you’ve been a student or educator within the last ten years, you might have taught or learned in a “flipped” classroom, where students study the basics of the material at home and spend their class time in collaborative groups, and teachers serve more as moderators than lecturers. There’s a lot to like about this model, but there’s no denying that it takes a lot of work to pull off. To successfully “flip” a classroom, a teacher usually has to arrange study materials for students to work on at home, like recorded lectures and PowerPoint presentations, and then design lesson plans that encourage critical thinking and teamwork and can be carried out in an hour. It makes sense that teachers want to know before trying it: does any of it actually make a difference? The short answer is, yes. It’s difficult to objectively assess teaching methods, and there isn’t much…

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Often, we focus so much on high stakes tests that we fail to recognize them merely as intermediate steps to a larger goal. The SAT and ACT, for example, matter quite a lot, but mainly only for students striving for their choice of four-year college. And while we sometimes miss the big picture, the test makers always keep that test-to-college connection firmly in view. This, in a nutshell, explains why ACT, Inc. provides ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. The College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum scores in each section of the ACT associated with a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses. ACT English is associated with introductory English Composition classes. The ACT Benchmark for English is a scale score of 18, which is approximately 39th percentile. ACT Math is associated with…

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