The Importance of Being Earnest (About your Goal Score)

Yikes, did we just reference Oscar Wilde in the title of this post? Freaking English Majors!

Mr. Wilde’s play, whose title bears the same name as this post, is all over the place. We want to make sure your test preparation is not.

One of the most important elements of SAT and ACT test preparation is setting a reasonable goal score for each subject. Take a look at where you’re at now, and assess your strengths and weaknesses. Is there a section that you’re happy with? Lets rephrase that: Is there a section in which your score, as it stands, will get you where you want to go?

The only way to be sure is to have a list of schools, and know what their average scores for incoming students are. Most schools have this information somewhere on their admissions site. Here’s a link to UCLA’s test standards, and here’s one for Williams College. If you’re having trouble finding information for a specific college, ask your Higher Learning tutor to lend a hand. We’re always happy to do so.

Be sure to check if the schools you’re interested in attending accept super scores as well. Your “Super Score” is your highest score in each section after multiple test dates. Say your first test scores were: Math 620, Reading 580, Writing 570. If the second time you took the SAT you scores were higher in both the Reading and Writing sections, but lower in the Math section, you could combine your first Math score with your improved Reading and Writing scores. Some schools accept “super scores” and some do not. Here is a link to the College Board website that lists how each school judges your scores.

If you haven’t figured out a few schools that pique your interest, talk to your Higher Learning tutor about your interests, odds are we know a few schools that could be a good fit. This is truly the first step in the admissions process.

If all subject areas need improvement, shoot for a score within 100 points (SAT) or 3 points (ACT) in each section. (That’s some serious improvement! ) Focus on what you need to do to get that score. Odds are, you don’t have to worry about nailing every question in every section. Don’t stress the extra stuff!

When you know what you want, its a lot easier to go out and get it. Once you’ve defined success on your own terms, Higher Learning can help you get to where you want be.

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Decisions, Decisions: Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

We’re often asked, before the tutoring process has begun, which exam a student should take, ACT or SAT? While there is no definitive, catchall answer to this question, over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about the differences between the two. In order to properly gauge which exam is right for you, you’ll have to consider what kind of a student you are.

Both the SAT and ACT have distinct features which lend to different styles of test takers. It’s helpful to consider the origins of each exam. “Back in the day,” many colleges only accepted one of the two exams. In the East, the SAT prevailed. In the Midwest, the ACT was king. The characteristics of the SAT and ACT, interestingly enough, match those of urban east coast life, and rural mid-western life, respectively. While there are of course urban mid-western hubs and pastoral east coast communities, bear with us while we compare the two exams.

Imagine you walk up to a complete stranger in New York City, and ask for directions. After he’s told you the most complicated set of directions you’ve ever heard at record breaking speed, you wonder, “Should I trust this guy?” All the while cars whiz by you in all directions, honking horns and screeching brakes. Your task is simple: Find 665 Broadway. (The address to NYU’s admissions department) But the journey seems increasingly more difficult.

The SAT is filled with distracting information. The manner in which Math, Critical Reading, and Writing problems are written can be intentionally misleading. Of course, if you know your way around the city, it’s easy to find 665 Broadway. You know not to trust directions from strangers, and you’re used to the traffic. With great preparation- like Skype Tutoring with Higher Learning Test Prep- you’ll know which answers are bologna and which are filet Mignon. If you’ve studied, scoring well on the SAT is a breeze.

The upside of the SAT is that the test makers are aware that they’ve created a tricky test. If you slip up, they’ll forgive you. You can get 2 or 3 questions wrong on the Math section and still get an 800. (Think: If I mistakenly offend somebody in New York City, it’s not like my reputation is ruined throughout the city.)

Now imagine you’re looking for 119 Anderson Hall, in an altogether different Manhattan, (the one in Kansas). When you ask a stranger in town, they take their time to tell you exactly how to get there. The directions are simple: down the street and take a right. Just don’t miss the turn, or you’ll end up in Missouri.

The ACT, in comparison with the SAT, delivers its questions and answers in a more straightforward manner. But you must be INCREDIBLY CAREFUL! One little mistake can knock you off your goal score. Luckily, if you’re working with us, diligently studying via Skype with your Higher Learning Tutor, you’ve mastered the ACT, and all of its nuances.

So, each exam has its upsides and downsides. In terms of content, they’re virtually the same. The ACT has a Science section, which the SAT lacks, but it’s essentially a glorified reading comprehension section, because for the most part, no pre-requisite knowledge is necessary. They’re about the same length (including the essay, the ACT is slightly longer), If you’re someone that struggles with time management, the ACT can be a bit more challenging, though both exams can be difficult to complete in the given amount of time.

It’s difficult to predict which exam will fit each student’s style best. Our advice is to take both exams. If time is an issue, don’t worry about the order in which you take the exams. If you’ve got plenty of time, plan on tackling the SAT first. Once you’ve mastered all that complicated east-coast trickery, all we’ve got to do is make some slight adjustments for formatting changes, and sharpen your precision a bit.

See “Get Ready for the Exams” for upcoming dates. Best of luck!

The Higher Learning Crew

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2013 SAT and ACT Exam Dates

Get Ready for the Exams!

Talk to your Higher Learning Tutor about when you should take the ACT or SAT.  It’s best to make sure you have plenty of time to get all of your tutoring done before the exam. If your date is rapidly approaching, no worries. We’re the masters of the illustrious study technique known as the CRAM. (You should have seen us in college…)

Upcoming SAT and ACT dates:

The SAT is offered seven times each year in the U.S. and six times internationally. It is offered in October, November, December, January, March (U.S. only; SAT only), May and June.

Upcoming SAT dates:
March 9, 2013 (register by 2/8/13)
May 4, 2012 (register by 4/5/13)
June 1, 2012 (register by 5/2/13)

* late registration is possible but requires a fee

Upcoming ACT Dates:

February 9, 2013 (register by 1/11/13)
April 13, 2013 (register by 3/8/13)
June 8, 2013 (register by 5/3/2013)
* late registration is possible but requires a fee

Dates vary internationally.
For international ACT dates:

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Skype Tutoring vs. Conventional In-Home Tutoring

When students begin the college admissions process, they’re faced with a myriad of choices. There’s a veritable deluge of decisions to make, and a number of factors to consider. There is perhaps, only one easy decision to make: The decision to ask for help.  As college admissions become more and more competitive, more and more students are realizing that the proper guidance and tutelage can be the difference between their first choice and their second… or third…or…ahhh!

So yea… you should get a tutor. You can be sure, these days, the next student in line certainly will.  And just as not all schools are created equal, neither are all tutoring experiences.  Ideally, you and your tutor can connect on a personal level, and work one on one to analyze exactly what you need to do to see improvement on the SAT or ACT. Classes are OK. But there’s no substitute for working one on one with some one you not only respect, but some one you like.

Herein lies the beauty of private online lessons via Skype. Back when the founders of Higher Learning were busy tutoring locally, a parent asked if they would work with a student via Skype. The family’s older daughter had worked with a Higher Learning tutor locally, and the family had since moved, and they just couldn’t find the right tutor in their neck of the woods.  While we were initially skeptical, we agreed to give it try.

The results were incredible: Skype tutoring allowed the same face-to-face interaction that in home tutoring allowed. Moreover, we quickly realized Skype tutoring has certain advantages we hadn’t initially foreseen. The online element allowed us to create a virtual classroom environment complete with a large white board on which to explain any of the trickiest problems- something our previous in-home tutoring would not allow. Most importantly, our first Skype student saw tremendous improvement.

That first experience made us believers. We realized that Skype was as good a venue as it gets for private ACT and SAT tutoring. Ultimately, it all comes down to finding the right tutor. Skype tutoring allows students the ability to work with the perfect tutor for them, regardless of location.

Here’s a short list of pros and cons:


  1. You can work with the perfect tutor for you- regardless of location.
  2. Everybody plays on the home court. You’re at your desk, or kitchen table, eating homemade cookies (hopefully). We’re kicking it in our posh penthouse online classroom, with all the tools for success.
  3. You don’t need to miss tutoring sessions if you’re under the weather. You can’t catch a cold via Skype (Though you can catch strategies for acing the Math section).
  4. You can wear your pajamas, Mom doesn’t have to clean the house
  5. The internet is cool.
  6. We’re the coolest.


  1. We get less homemade cookies. Though occasionally a grateful parent sends a batch in the mail

Ultimately you’ve got to find the right tutor.  Skype tutoring allows us to match you with the perfect tutor.  Whether you’re in New York City, the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, Germany, or Dubai.

Best of luck,
Paul Donaldson
Director at Higher Learning Test Prep

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What is a Good ACT Score?

We’re asked this question time and time again. The truth is, a good ACT score is one that gets you where you want to go. That is, if your overall score of 24 gets you accepted to your dream school, well then, it’s as good a score as your friend’s 32- or better if he or she isn’t accepted to their top choice.

Another way of understanding your score is to compare it to your peers’ score. However, the comparison game is a bit of a slippery slope. It can be hard to really gauge where you stand in comparison to your friends, even if you both typically have similar grades. Remember, the ACT is a reasoning test. That means that, even if you and your friend have the same GPA, your modes of understanding information may be quite different. Perhaps he or she studies more or less than you, or perhaps one of you has test anxiety or time management issues. Moreover, comparing scores can lead to a lot of strife and or frustration. At Higher Learning, we emphasize that there all are different kinds of intelligence, and that ACT only measures certain types of understanding. Some of the most brilliant people may think in ways that the ACT cannot measure.

If a good ACT score is the score that gets you admitted to your school of choice, a great ACT score is the maximum score that you’re capable of. The only way any to ensure you get the best score possible is to study for the exam. The ACT is a very predictable test. The more you familiarize yourself with the subject matter and the style with which the questions are asked, the better off you are. The best ways to prepare for the exam are taking real ACT practice tests, isolating problem areas within each subject, and closely analyzing real ACT questions with the best tutors in the business (hint hint… That would be your Higher Learning Tutor).

Find out about our ACT Tutoring