Do all colleges accept the ACT?

Our test prep company is located in Ohio, where most students choose to take the ACT. (Great choice!) The students have no problem choosing the ACT over the SAT; it’s usually the parents who panic:

“ACT? Isn’t that a mouthwash brand?”

“Shouldn’t we just stick with the SAT and play it safe? After all, that’s what we took back when we were in school.”

“Do all colleges even accept the ACT?”

Dear parents, I am here to allay your fears. First of all, as of 2007, all four-year colleges in the U.S. accept the ACT. After hearing this piece of good news, parents inevitably ask if colleges still prefer the SAT. While I can’t speak for all colleges nationally, we have never found that to be the case with thousands of our students applying to selective colleges. And really, how could colleges favor one over the other at this point? In 2010, equal numbers of students took both standardized tests. The SAT is no longer the dominant college admissions test in the U.S.

Once in a while we have students applying to colleges abroad. Then the SAT/ACT preference is an issue. The ACT hasn’t really caught on in many countries around the world. But if you’re attending a 4-year college in the U.S., you can tell mom and dad to relax. The ACT can get you where you need to go.

Master the Dash

Our students are sometimes surprised when we tell them that the Advantage Point teachers still take the ACT test a few times each year. (It’s actually kind of fun once it’s not determining your future!) Taking the tests helps us notice trends on the ACT so we can better prepare students. The ACT hasn’t changed much since 2005 (when the optional writing section was added) but there are a few subtle changes from year to year. So here’s my question for y’all: has anyone else noticed the slow, stealthy, increase of dashes?

That’s right, dashes. Questions involving a dash (as either a correct or incorrect answer) have been increasing slowly but steadily. Back when I was in high school (gosh, that makes me sound old), we probably saw a dash question once every other test. On the last test, I noticed four questions involving this up-and-coming punctuation mark.

I personally am a chronic dash user, so this makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. In case you’re rusty, let’s go over a few dash rules.

The dash works almost like parentheses or commas, but you need to pull it out when stronger punctuation is needed. It connects an independent clause with an ‘interrupting’ thought. (Hint: ‘independent clause‘ is just a sophisticated way to say ‘a chunk of words that can stand on their own as a sentence.

On the ACT, a sentence that is using a dash will have the following structure:

  • Independent clause — interrupting thought— (for/and/or/but/yet/so) + independent clause.
  • Independent clause — interrupting thought.

Here are a few examples:

I’d better have gotten that online daily deal—it’s for my favorite hair salon—or I’ll have to go back to that $5 haircut place that made me look like my grandmother’s poodle.

Well, I unfriended him on Facebook—yes, it was hard—but I did it!

That waiter spilled raspberry vinaigrette on my head —and he expected a tip!

Dashes are also used to offset lists placed in the middle of an independent clause when commas are already being used. Here’s an example:

All of my phone memory—pictures, texts, contacts—got lost when I dropped my phone into a boiling pot of macaroni.

So far, the dash situations above are the only ones we’ve seen tested on the ACT. Brush up now and you can nail those questions on test day. Good luck!

Parallelism: this picture from Yuniversity is quirky, helpful, and memorable

(Yes, that title was a great example of parallelism).

Parallelism is big on the English section of the ACT. Look for similar structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses. Here’s a great example:


What would faulty parallelism look like? Well, for example, you can’t say that Chris Brown likes to tear down dressing rooms, throwing temper tantrums, and apologizing for them later. Make sure your verb forms match!

When incorrect punctuation results in cannabalism


Hahaha!!! Maybe I’m just a punctuation geek, but I think this is AWESOME. Credit goes to the good folks at Zazzle. Off to order this poster for our classroom, but first an ACT comma tip:

Remember that on ACT English, it is much more common to remove commas (or refrain from putting them in) than it is to ever insert a comma. I tell students that on the ACT, an underlined selection needs to SCREAM for a comma. The ACT folks know that students tend to overuse commas, so they repeatedly try to get students to either insert unneeded commas or keep unnecessary commas in an underlined selection by erroneously choosing ‘no change.’ We always tell students, “When in doubt, take the comma out!”

On the ACT, when do you need a comma? By far, these two situations are most common:
1) A shift/pause/change of flow (as in the grandma example)
2) A ‘comma sandwich’. This is when you need to put a comma on either side of a nonessential piece of information. Some examples:

That day, which happens to be my birthday, is the day of the American Idol finale.
(No one really cares that it’s your birthday besides for you. In this example, ‘which happens to be my birthday’ is sandwiched between two commas since it is not essential at all to the meaning of the sentence. If you took out the sandwiched phrase, the sentence would still have the same exact meaning.)

A few more examples of a comma sandwich:

Sarah usually parks in her favorite illegal parking spot without repercussions. In this case, however, she got slammed with a sizeable parking ticket.

The atmosphere in this restaurant is peaceful and elegant. The food, on the other hand, is absolutely terrible.

Top prepositional idioms you need for the ACT or SAT

tumblr_lqk1xe42QJ1qbolbnThe above picture is from the awesome folks at TheYUNiversity and applies to the ACT as well as the SAT. Sometimes these prepositional idioms are so tough. On the April ACT, I totally blanked on “points at” vs. “points to” — and I review this with students all the time! (The answer, by the way, is “points to.” Ex. This points to significant cultural differences.)

ACT test prep products that aren’t terrible

I am so sick of the quality of the ACT test prep products available on the market today. Actually, before I proceed with my tirade, I should clarify that by ‘products,’ I’m referring to ACT prep books and software geared toward those who are preparing for the ACT on a budget. I thought the $1000 Kaplan course I taught for four years was fabulous. But really, how many people can afford that in today’s economy?

Let’s say a student wants to prepare for the ACT as inexpensively as possible. No pricey course or personal tutors. (This precisely describes my situation when I was in high school. I am the oldest of 8 children (!) and there was no way my parents could afford an ACT prep course. But I digress…)

You want to prepare for the ACT on a budget. What are your options? Let me put them out there. You can buy The Real ACT Prep Guide: The Only Official Prep Guide From The Makers Of The ACTpublished by the ACT company. This is the #1 ACT prep book as ranked by This is a great book because it’s the only one that offers official ACT tests. But this book is really weak on ACT strategies. After all, giving away “sneaky” test taking strategies would be a conflict of interest for the ACT people. There’s also not a lot of review of the actual skills tested on the ACT. Not sure what subject-verb agreement is? Don’t know how to calculate the distance formula? You’re stuck. Sorry.

You can buy one of the strategy books out there like Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, 2010 Edition or Kaplan’s Kaplan ACT 2010 Premier Program . What’s wrong with these? This is where I get particularly cranky. First of all, their practice tests are terrible approximations of the actual ACT. Just read the reviews on Amazon:

The tests in this book were nothing like the real test. Not a great thing to discover at the June 2009 test.

The actual test was a lot harder than the tests in this book.

Ouch. Check it out. There are more. The other problem with these books is how watered down the strategies are. As someone who taught Kaplan courses for four years, I get really steamed up when I see just how few of their decent strategies actually make it into their books. My friends who worked for Princeton Review report the same thing about Princeton Review books. These companies save most of the really fantastic tips and tricks for the folks shelling out the $1000 + for their courses or private tutoring. And obviously, this makes business sense. But where does that leave those of us who want effective ACT test taking strategies, but just can’t pay that much?

Then there are the ACT books like those put out by Peterson’s, McGraw-Hill, and Barron’s. The problem with these books is that these companies are not actually test prep companies. Peterson’s is mainly in the educational consulting business. McGraw-Hill is a global publisher of all sorts of educational materials. Barron’s is another publisher that publishes a huge range of educational materials. In fact, my daughter’s potty training book is one of them.

When it comes to college admissions, your ACT score can make it or break it. It can mean the difference between a full scholarship and no aid at all. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather put my test prep in the hands of people who pour millions of dollars each year into test prep, and only test prep. Which brings us back to Kaplan or Princeton Review. Or does it?

Well, here’s where the shameless self-promotion comes in. Here at Advantage Point, we have created an amazing software product called Boost Your Score! Students using this product have reported tremendous successes. In fact, if you combine our software with the ACT folks’ The Real ACT Prep Guide , we think you have all you need for ACT success. The software picks apart your performance on four official ACT tests (the free one on the ACT website as well as the three in The Real ACT Prep Guide ). It provides comprehensive diagnostic feedback so you know exactly which skills need improvement. Then, a resources section provides targeted review and practice of all the skills you need to boost. There’s also a wealth of fabulous strategies including sneaky tricks that can help you get a question right even if you have no idea how to solve it. You can buy the product or find out more here. We’re also publishing our own ACT test prep book, The Underground Guide to the ACT. You can read more about it here. The book will be out in 2011, so stay tuned!

The new Real ACT Prep Guide is out!

51U6jA1UduL._SL500_AA300_I had to consciously stop myself from hugging the poor UPS guy when he unloaded a box of the new Real ACT Prep Guides in our office. I then proceeded to take one of the new books out and perform a little cubicle happy dance. (Ok, that last part is a joke. I thought about it, though. Then I worried it would wrinkle the cover.)

Why is this new version so exciting? Here’s my take on the new third edition of The Real ACT Prep Guide. I should note first that we have always used The Real ACT Prep Guide, put out by ACT, Inc. for our students. The ACT folks have very specific algorithms and very particular topics they test repeatedly, test after test, year after year. Because the ACT is so predictable, the best way to crack it is by taking and analyzing real ACT tests and this book is the only easy-to-find source of official tests. Yes, students can take the fake Kaplan and Princeton Review tests, but they really are not the same. Scores on those tests also don’t boost student confidence (or highlight opportunities for growth) like those on the real ACTs.

The previous editions of The Real ACT Prep Guide included three real ACTs. Along with those three ACTs, we had students take the free ACT on the ACT website (found here: for a total of four real ACTs. We felt that was still wimpy, especially for the many students who benefit from taking a bunch of timed sections (instead of only full-length tests) to practice pacing on particular sections. We therefore had to buy additional tests from the ACT company for our local students so we could guarantee they had enough practice with the real stuff.

Now, this new Real ACT Prep Guide has five official ACTs! (FYI: The first three tests match the ones in the previous versions; the last two are new). When you combine five official ACTs (with great answers and explanations for each test) along with the free test on the ACT website, you get 6 full-length official tests to work with. I don’t think that’s wimpy anymore. Students can really improve their ACT scores if they take – and analyze – six real ACTs. In fact, in our experience, something marvelous really ‘clicks’ when students transition between ACT #4 and ACT #5. It’s like they finally have gone through the entire ‘question bank’ of every type of question the ACT folks will ever ask and they truly know exactly what to expect. Again, the ACT is probably the most predictable test students will ever take. Take the test enough times and the questions all start to look very, very familiar.

(Shameless self-promotion alert:) Take those six ACTs and use them along with ourBoost Your Score software to target and boost weak skills, and you’ll be set on test day!

Article: Expert Tips for Taming the High Price of College Prep


College is expensive enough — it is tough to see families struggling with tons of expenses prior to move-in day — test prep, essay coaching, college visits, etc. This article from has some great tips on cutting costs during the pre-college admissions stage. An excerpt:

The other day, a colleague was lamenting the fact that her daughter is feeling pressured to enroll in an SAT prep course. All of her friends are taking one, the young woman said, which means she’ll be at a disadvantage if she doesn’t take one, too. Yet she gets good grades, so won’t this extra course be a waste of money?
Having just sent my first child off to college for his freshman year, I’m all too familiar with the extra strains on the wallet that occur in the years leading up to move-in day: prep courses, application essay tutors, campus visits, application costs. It can add up to a small fortune.

So I reached out to some experts to get their best tips on how to tame the growing costs of college prep. Here’s what you need to know.

SAT/ACT Prep: The average price of a test prep course varies depending on the intensity of the class. Kaplan, for instance, offers an 18-hour SAT-only course for $599. If your child wants help on all the tests (PSAT, SAT, ACT), you’ll pay $999 for Kaplan’s standard course. But for individualized attention, you’ll likely pay a lot more: Private SAT tutoring through the Princeton Review, for example, starts at $2,760.

The good news? “There are Groupons for SAT classes and test prep, so you can keep your eyes out for that,” notes Jennifer Bloom, an author and co-founder of Entryway Educational Consulting. “Personally I think the best thing you can do is take practice tests on Saturday mornings, timed, under test conditions, over and over and over,” she added. Then tabulate the scores to make sure they’re heading in the right direction. With a little bit of self-discipline, you and your child could avoid a prep course entirely

You can read the rest of the article here. I would change one thing about her advice for low-cost test prep: don’t ever take another SAT or ACT without first picking through the one you just took. You won’t just see improvement by taking test after test. Make sure you go over a test afterwards, flagging incorrect answers (or questions you got right, but were unsure of) and sorting them into these three categories:

1) Skills gaps: With all the time in the world, you still wouldn’t get that question right. Before taking another practice test, review that skill until you know it cold. Otherwise, you’ll just get it wrong next time, your score won’t improve, and you’ll feel cranky and disappointed.

2) Careless mistakes: Beat yourself up about these a bit. Don’t let them happen again, and keep an eye out for trends. Is there something you tend to overlook?

3) Timing issues: Maybe you didn’t get to the question at all or didn’t get it because you were rushed. This means you need to focus more on pacing. Wrong answers in this category are the 0nly ones that benefit from repeated, timed test-taking without thorough review. Students who only have timing issues need to take a lot of timed sections –often daily — so they can work on speeding up.