How to Prep for New SAT, ACT Writing Tests

April 13, 2016

Posted on  by WOW Writing Workshop
By Jed Applerouth
Applerouth Tutoring Services

Jed Applerouth
Beginning this spring, students will need to flex their critical thinking and composition skills when they tackle the new writing sections on both the SAT and ACT. The SAT has been completely redesigned, and the ACT has made multiple updates. As a result, the essay sections for both tests are now completely different from what they looked like a year ago. They are more rigorous than prior versions, however, these tests better reflect the kind of writing assignments students will typically face in college.
To succeed on either writing test, students need to get the basics right first. They need to understand the formats for the new essay prompts, and know what the graders will be looking for in a student's response.
The SAT essay
The SAT essay writing exercise has been transformed from an opinion piece into an exercise in textual analysis and critical thinking; this is similar to exercises on certain AP exams. Students will be asked to read a short (600-700-word) persuasive passage and write an essay response that explains how the author develops and supports an argument.
It is irrelevant whether or not the student agrees with the author (the task of the old SAT essay); the student's task on the new test is to articulate how the author uses evidence, rhetorical devices and structure to support a claim. Students will be evaluated on three measures:
  • Reading of the provided text
  • Analysis of the text
  • Writing skills
To optimize their scores, students will need to:
  • Actively read the passage
  • Scour for evidence that supports the author's main argument
  • Use quotes that demonstrate they understand the author's argument
  • Write a structured, organized essay that stays on topic
  • Use smooth transitions between paragraphs
  • Have an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Use a variety of sentence structures
  • Skillfully use vocabulary
  • Write significantly longer essays
While longer essays typically generate higher scores, students will be evaluated on both the quality and the length of their essay. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has doubled the time (50 minutes!) allotted for the new essay, and will provide four pages (up from two) of paper to write.
The ACT essay
On the ACT's revamped essay, students will get 40 minutes to analyze and respond to three distinct perspectives on a topic that concerns a broad, national issue. Students will be asked to:
  • Analyze and evaluate the three given perspectives
  • State and develop their own perspective
  • Explain why they agree or disagree with the perspectives given
  • Support their ideas with logical reasoning
  • Support their idea with detailed, persuasive examples
Essays will be evaluated using four metrics:
  • Analysis
  • Development and support
  • Organization
  • Language use
To generate higher scores, students must take their critical thinking up a level to identify the overarching themes across the three perspectives. For instance, do the perspectives address tension between change and tradition, or between the needs of an individual versus that of the collective?
Graders want students to critically evaluate the logic of the perspectives, and also to identify errors, assumptions, and potential pitfalls. Students need to organize their essay, use words properly, pay attention to grammar, transition smoothly between paragraphs and vary the sentence structure.
Is the essay optional?
Both the SAT and ACT have now moved their essays to the end of their tests and made them optional. But some colleges might require a writing test. It's best for you to find out how a school uses the writing test in admissions before making the decision to not take it. We always encourage students to write the essay, even if they think their schools won't require it. We've seen too many students discover after taking the test without the writing section that their new stretch schools require the essay. The additional time spent to stay for the essay can save a student unnecessary stress and headaches down the road.
The new SAT and ACT essays raise the bar for critical thinking and analysis, allowing students a chance to show off their thinking and writing skills. Students aiming for a highly competitive essay score would benefit from timed practice with the new forms and corrective feedback. This will help identify strengths and weaknesses early, allowing students to make adjustments and go into the official test ready to hit their optimal score.
Jed Applerouth is the founder and CEO of Applerouth Tutoring Services, an education services company with offices in major metropolitan areas across the country. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Georgia State University, Jed is a Nationally Certified Counselor with a PhD in Educational Psychology. Since 2001, Jed and his team of educators have helped thousands of students across the country optimize their scores on the SAT, ACT, and other admissions tests

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Free Tuition for All?

March 31, 2016

Free Tuition? What might that look like? This is my thinking, and nothing more. I may be completely wrong, entirely right or (likely) a little right and a little wrong.

If beginning January 20, 2017 the next President declares free college tuition for everyone, this is what I think that would look like:

  • Tuition will not appear as a "cost" line item at colleges continuing to participate in the Federal Student Aid program. Some private colleges will opt out.
  • Costs may change at first, but they will creep up year-by-year until the "free tuition" is replaced by other fees and charges. Even with free tuition, room and board, mandatory fees and books will not be free.
  • Admissions criteria will roil with confusion. If college is free because of federal tax supplements, how can a student be denied admission? To manage enrollment, free tuition will be offered for limited college choices based on students' home zip codes?
  • If anyone can attend, and everyone attends tuition-free, there will be an impact on the marketplace value of a college degree. Degrees from private colleges that have opted out, and continue charging tuition, will be perceived as meritorious, and a two-tiered market value will emerge.
  • If college is tuition-free, what will be the motivation to complete a degree in four years? Students may find it much easier to stay, and stay and stay in the crafted comfort of higher education.
  • The federal government will seize some portion, or the entirety of current 529 Plan accounts, using the rationale that they are no longer needed. The argument will be made those funds are needed by the federal treasury to cover the costs of making college free.
  • The IRS will impose a new federal surtax to cover U.S. Treasury disbursements. It may be a tax added to filers with AGI above a certain dollar amount. It may be a surtax on filers above a certain income level who also have students attending college during that tax year. It may be a tax on intercollegiate sporting events and revenue. It may be all of those, and more.
  • Colleges participating in the free-tuition-program will be monitored as to salaries and capital expenditures. The federal government will not, you can be certain, pay a per-student tuition reimbursement college comptrollers think is fair (to wit: Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to doctors). Tuition reimbursement will be according to a federal schedule, based on per capita census, with regional cost-of-living adjustments.
  • Professors will retire early; will exit for higher-paying, private-sector employment, or will devote less time to education and more time to writing, speech-making, fee-based private education, and other means of sustaining and increasing their personal incomes.
Where's the "free" in all of that?

Posted in College Planning.

College Affordability -- the sooner you know, the better

March 1, 2016

Do you understand affordability? How much money, per year, can you lay out on college costs for your children?  What factors must you consider?  What can you do to bridge the gap?

  1. How much money per year can you lay out on college costs for your children?
    1. Know the actual costs per year.
    2. Colleges publish "Cost of Attendance" estimates.
    3. Cost of Attendance includes tuition, mandatory fees, dormitory rent, on-campus meals, books and supplies, travel costs to and from home, miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses
    4. Without borrowing any money, how much of that total can you pull from your monthly cash flow?
  2. What factors must you consider?
    1. What is the anticipated college-costs inflation rate? The prices do tend to go up every couple of years.
    2. Never, never, never touch retirement funds to pay for college. That includes money already set aside, and monthly contributions from current income.
    3. There are four questions about retirement to consider, all determined by your current retirement funding plans.  Based on what you are doing now (err on the side of caution), for your money to last throughout your spouse's and your life expectancy:
      1. What Rate of Return must your accounts average?
      2. How many more years will retirement needs require you to work?
      3. How much more do you need to be saving monthly?
      4. By how much will you be forced to reduce your lifestyle in retirement?**
**if you think you can do that, why not start now and put those extra dollars into your retirement account?
3. What can you do to bridge the gap?
a. Every student is eligible for the Federal Student Aid program (college loans to the student for which the parents have no obligation).  The loan amounts top out at around $27,000 over four years (with some additional possible up to about $31,000 total).
b. Federal Pell Grants may be offered for students from lower income families.  Those are need-based grants-in-aid, not loans.
c. Draw on resources that present the lowest, possible risk. Some people go to home equity.  The risk is, should something happen to your income down the road, you could lose your home to foreclosure. Obviously, reducing current lifestyle expenses during the college years is the safest option (although not the most pleasant) to free-up extra cash.

Sometimes families are transferring wealth away unknowingly and unnecessarily.  We offer a no-obligation/no-charge audit to help you know.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies, Retirement Planning. Tagged as Cost of College; College Affordability;.

You Interview the College

October 19, 2015

Interview the colleges before applying.  A formal campus visit is the perfect time for that.  Develop a set of questions that cover the details of things most important to you.  Ask those questions and make certain they are answered specifically. 
Campus culture has changed a lot since mom and dad were in school.  Some campus policies are greatly relaxed, others are more restrictive.  For example, words that you may use commonly even absentmindedly  around your home and in your community may be taboo at some collegeshttp://(
 What are the school's Core Values? ( for example: 
Learn the details of the specifics behind broad and benign statements of 
ideals.  How are those values practically applied on campus, in the students' lives?  Remember, you're going to be living at this place for four years.  Make sure it's a good fit for who you are as a person.  The most expensive decision you can make is to transfer colleges.  It adds time toward earning a degree; and time is money. 
To reiterate: the college scene, since your parents graduated, has changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable to them.  There is no safe assumption about campus life, about course-work and about costs of attendance. 

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Choose Your College On Purpose

October 4, 2015

Will where you grew up impact your college experience? Will your grades be enhanced or will they suffer based on your hometown? If you have a choice, is it better to greet your favorite professor with "Hey" or "Mahnin" (that's Yankee for Good Morning)?

Dialect and Influences on the Academic Experience of College Students is a research paper out of North Carolina State University and published in The Journal of Higher Education. The report indicates that "students from the South or Appalachian regions face challenges of perception in university classes. " Their accent makes them "sound stupid." (Ouch! Right?)

That report underscores the importance of each student choosing thoughtfully and intentionally a college or university -- choosing on purpose.  Facts, rather than imagination, will serve you better. Campus visits are worth the time and money.

High school students from Hough, North Meck, Lake Norman Charter, Pine Lake Prep, SouthLake Christian, Hopewell, Mooresville, South Iredell, Lake Norman High, Davidson Day, East Lincoln and a handful of others in the Charlotte, NC and Lake Norman regions are where most of our students attend. When asked which colleges or universities they are thinking about, with rare exception, a short list of two or three are mentioned. Digging a little, it becomes apparent that the students' preferences are based on what they imagine the college is like, rather than on facts they know for certain, and impressions they have gained from first-hand experience.

Research online and e-correspondence plus telephone calls to the Admissions Office of a college under consideration are invaluable in making good decisions as to where to apply and, ultimately, where to matriculate. Every college that gains a spot on your "seriously interested" list is worth a scheduled campus visit. Your list of questions, prepared in advanced, will significantly help you make the final decision.

We know that growing up in the South produces a lovely articulation. We also know that Southern students daily accomplish the highest levels of academic rigor. Let's be very patient with, and understanding towards those who don't know those facts -- even if they are PhD's.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

"I've got a full ride" and other urban myths

September 27, 2015

Students say the most amazing things.  They say them to us, but the most amazing they reserve for each other.  Among them is, "I'm going to the University of Havagreatime on a full ride."  Also popular is, "I'm going to get a lot of scholarships instead of student loans."  A common delusion suffered by parents is, "We're planning on scholarships to help us pay for college."
  • "On a full ride" -- remember high school?  It is a professional sport in high school to "one-up" your peers; to put down your rival; to stretch the truth while talking about yourself.  Yes, there are non-athletic, full rides.  There are also people who win the Mega-Zillion-Jackpot lottery.  I do not know any of those people, but I read about them in the news.  In SWIC's five-year history we've had one student go on a merit-based 100% scholarship.  She was valedictorian at a private high school.  And, by the way, we know of another valedictorian from a different but equally prestigious high school who is attending a well-known university with $0.00 (zero) in financial aid awards. 
  • "Lots of scholarships" -- according to the U.S. Department of Education only about 1% (one percent) of all educational dollars comes from private scholarships.  Many of those are linked to very specific qualifications.  For example, in my Sunday, Sep 27, hometown newspaper there was an article about a local student who received a very generous scholarship which he qualified for as an employee of Autobell Car Wash, Inc.  Many scholarships, if not most, are attached to very specific criteria.  It is worthwhile to check, and apply for all you qualify for.  Furthermore, many scholarships are "one offs," meaning you are awarded them once and that is all.  It is important to let your financial aid office know that fact.  
  • "Pay for college" -- Money for college comes predominantly from parents' check books, from student and parent loans, from a university's own resources (endowment, and tuition discounts) and from work-study earnings.  We advise parents to be prepared to pay one hundred percent of the cost of attendance, minus any student loans their child undertakes.  Any outcome better than that is a plus!  At SWIC we help families do better than that, nearly all of the time.  However, there is more art than science in the achievement.  Furthermore, if you will scroll down to previous blogs, you will understand that it is anything but automatic.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

The Four Year Experience or a Diploma Leading to a Career?

September 23, 2015

Let's wrap up the conversation we started last week ( "The Four Year Experience at only $100,000 Each").  Students commonly give us some push back on the task of college selection. The student often has one university in focus; maybe two at the most. There is economic value in expanding those horizons.  

That is where mom and dad come into the action. The cost of a college education, at the end of the day, is a family decision. We [] can produce choices. Which choice is made, however, is entirely yours.

We have had families turn down a full scholarship (90% or better cost-of-attendance covered) and choose something more expensive, but closer to home. One family turned their collective noses up at a 50% scholarship (a potential savings of more than $120,000), because they had one particular college in mind and did not care what it cost. There are other, less dramatic examples, but the point is there is more to college selection than price.

Value is an intangible that not only will be considered by consumers, but should be considered. Value matters. Value is why SWIC does more than coach students in the intensive work of college choice. We also coach and advise parents on cash flow solutions. It is not uncommon for families to choose from the middle of the cost pack among the choices available. At SWIC we are actually very good at finding wealth transfers -- money people are currently transferring away unknowingly and unnecessarily -- and recouping those dollars to be applied to the out-of-pocket costs of a college education.

Regardless of what your final choice may be, our unwavering counsel is to choose a college or university with a degree program that will open a door to a personally satisfying and economically remunerative career for your student.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

The Four-Year Experience at only $100,000 each!

September 14, 2015

Students are buzzing about "the four year experience."  The fact that the phrase is repeated verbatim by our students indicates to me that it is the buzz around high school hallways; maybe even in the classrooms.  My question to we parents is, "How much do we want to spend to give our students an "experience"? 
Here's a quick run-down: 
  • Even at the better colleges, only about 6 out of 10 students graduate in 4 years.  There are some notable exceptions, but no college I know of reports better than about 90% 4-year graduation rate
  • At $20,000 per year cost of attendance (N.C. residents, in-state rates), and a good chance of the "four year experience" taking 5 years (or longer), $100,000 is reality. [more info
  • Cost of Attendance = tuition, fees, room and board, books and miscellaneous expenses. Between our students and ourselves all of that will be borne as some combination of cash outlay and education loans.  If a student gets some merit grant-in-aid (scholarships) to reduce the sticker price, good for them, and for us.  But . . .
  • Remember, in nearly every case scholarships (merit grants-in-aid) are based on four years, are dependent on maintaining an eligibility GPA, and may be lost if a student encounters any disciplinary issues.  In addition, if the grant-in-aid is tied to a particular degree program, a change of majors may result in the loss of some or all of the scholarship
Come back next week to read my concluding words [], answering the "So what shall we do?" Question.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Tim Tebow, the NFL and Your High School Student

September 7, 2015

Being the best in the nation is sometimes not good enough.  Consider Tim Tebow [visit website] and the NFL.
Read full story.

One lesson to learn may apply mainly to college athletes and a professional sports career. Another lesson, more widely applilcable, relates to the first question we ask our high school students, "What are you going to do the Monday morning after you graduate from college?" []  Put another way, focus on the 40, not the 4 -- the forty years of a working career after college, and not just the four, delightful years of college. 

College is wonderful, and a good choice for many high school students.
  College is also an artificially created and sustained community bearing very little resemblance to "the real world."  Just ask Tim! [view story]  

Tim was best in the nation as a college football player, a Heisman Trophy winner.  He competed for two national championships, winning one.  Everything he did in college was with an eye to playing professional football.  Sadly for Tim, he simply did not have the skill set to achieve his goal.  If only, while a scholastic athlete, someone had evaluated more thoroughly his skills and potential, he may have avoided the deep disappointments of the past several years.
Too few high school students move into their college dorm with a clear plan for the day after college ends.  Published graduation rates (barely half graduate within 6 years -- and student loan default rates [view stats] approaching 23% lend underscore the reality [read more].
At Succeed Where It Counts, LLC [] we provide each student with a formal career assessment profile.  We use the Birkman profile, and are happy with it. [] 

College?  Know the end-game before the kick-off.

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

Interview the College First!

August 30, 2015

Every family should interview any college they are considering applying to.  In the news is a case-in-point.  At least one professor at Washington State University ( threatens a reduction in class grade, even to the point of failing the course, for students who use certain, common words and phrases.  Those include such ordinary words and phrases as male, female, and illegal alien.  (
Whether you find this to be wonderful or horrifying, my point is simply that you must learn in detail what is the academic and social atmosphere of every college to which you plan to apply, and possibly to attend.  Your student must find his or her college a good, personal fit.  Campus visits are also invaluable. Otherwise a transfer may be in your future and an added year of college tuition, room and board and fees. 
Make up a set of questions that cover the details of things most important to you.  Ask those questions and make certain they are answered specifically.  

Another example comes from one of my students, a sophomore at a well-known state university.  One of her required courses is "LGBT Families."  Again, if that is within your cultural framework, no problem.  If, however, you would find that problematic as a required course, it is best to know that before applying, much less before matriculating. 
One of the points we make with parents is that the college scene, since they graduated, has changed so drastically as to be unrecognizable to them.  There is no safe assumption about campus life, about course work and about costs of attendance.

Succeed Where It Counts, LLC ( is committed to helping every student find "The Right College, at The Right Price, and to Graduate on Time with The Right Degree."©

Posted in College Planning, College Planning Strategies.

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