Friday, September 2, 2011

I'm getting ready for the ACT test!

    I'm starting to get ready for the ACT test.
    Okay, I'm not going back to college, and in fact I will not be personally taking the test. But Ash will be taking it in February as part of the Duke TIP program. While he can take the test almost anywhere, he's going to take it at Oxford Middle School, where there will be a special administration limited to seventh graders.
    When it comes to academics, I'm a little bit like Charles Murray's first wife, who he describes as a half-Thai all-Chinese tiger mom:
[T]he mother of my first two children was half Thai and all Chinese, and it was all so familiar. The subject heading of the email attaching the Chua article to my elder two daughters was “Bring back memories?”
My own archetypal memory is when my eldest daughter, then perhaps eight years old, came home with her first Maryland standardized test scores, showing that she was at the 99th percentile in reading and the 93rd percentile in math. Her mother’s first words—the very first—were “What’s wrong with the math?”
    Getting ready for the ACT means ordering books. I spent a bit of time figuring out which books to order and came up with three books plus a software program.
    The first and an absolute must-have book is "The Real ACT." This book is published by the folks who administer the ACT test, and it now contains five old tests instead of just three. Most other ACT books will refer to this book or advise the use of this book for diagnostic purposes, so you have to have this one.

    The second book is Cracking the ACT by The Princeton Review. This book comes highly recommended on various college prep forums and I must say I like the format.
    Cracking the ACT has lots of test-taking tips, but it is also a teaching book. It presents each type of problem that is likely to be given on the ACT and then provides the solution in easy to an easy-to-follow format, which, given the title of the book, is always appropriately labeled "Here's how to crack it." The instructions are easy to follow. I wish textbooks did as good a job of explaining things.
    Ash is in seventh grade. He had a bit of geometry in pre-algebra and is taking algebra this year, but there are simply going to be things on the ACT that he hasn't been taught yet. If he will tolerate a little Daddy-tutoring and will use this book he will be able to learn and master at least a few of these additional skills. In fact, I think you could just give this book and a stack of 50 great works of literature to every junior high student and tell them, "Master this and we'll give you your high school diploma." But I suppose that makes too much sense.

    I have to confess that the third book feels a little like cheating; but it isn't. It's Boost Your Schore: Underground Calculator Programs for the ACT Test.
    Students taking the ACT are allowed to use a Texas Instruments TI-83 or TI-84 programmable calculator, and yes, the calculator may be programmed. This books lists a number of problems that are likely to be on the test and gives programs that can be pre-loaded on the calculator. As one Amazon reviewer reports:
    This book is really big at my school right now. The programs in this book are easy to program and good for two situations:
    1) The formulas you never remember -- for me this includes distance formula, quadratic formula, how to find an equation of a line when given two points, etc.
    2) The formulas you know, but want to save time on (or are afraid you'll mess up since you're rushing) --for me, this includes things like Pythagorean Theorem, area of a circle, circumference of a circle, etc. They also show how to store a formula 'cheat sheet' which I used to store other things I need for reference, like SOHCAHTOA, equation of a circle, etc.
    These formulas are likely to be used on only five or six problems on the ACT, but if their use saves five minutes that's a huge amount of time that can be applied to other problems. This book is simply a must-have.
    And I must say I don't think it's going to stop Ash from actually learning the formulas. He was merrily programming them last night and in so doing was actually learning or refreshing himself on some of the material.

    My final purchase was by the same people: Boost Your Score: The Unofficial Software Guide to the Real ACT. I haven't received this yet, but the reviews are good. I think this is supposed to provide good diagnostics as to where students need to spend their time studying. And everyone loves something they can do on the computer.
    There are additional ACT prep books. Barron's has one, for example, for students who are aiming to make a 36 on the ACT. A noble goal, but one we will postpone until Ash's junior year!
    The Duke TIP programs offers a great chance for serious students to take a test that will have a pretty important impact on where they will attend college and what they may do for the rest of their lives. The program is not nearly as elite as many think. Any student scoring in the 95th percentile on any subsection of any a number of standardized tests is eligible for TIP. For example, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills has something like nine subtests. A student might have a composite score in the 80-85th percentile range but still be in the 95th percentile for just one of the subtests. That child is eligible.
    If your child is eligible, by all means get signed up. It can be both fun and educational. And it can give you an idea of your child's strengths and weaknesses.
    Last year Ash and Lucy took the Explore test as part of Duke TIP. Ash did well, but we thought his reading score would have been one of his highest. It wasn't. By taking this we've identified a problem and can now work on a solution. That and putting forth a little extra effort is what it's all about.

Addendum added 7 p.m., 9-02-11: The software program arrived today. It is absolutely tied to The Real ACT book and the sample tests it contains. So you must buy this book for the software to be any good. BUT, I think the program looks to be a very good program. You input your results from the sample tests and then it shows you your strengths and weaknesses. Also, since the new Real ACT book has two additional sample tests they are going to update the software at no charge. They will email the update.

Also, I mentioned that Ash did well on the Explore test as he is through with it and going on to the ACT. Lucy did just fine as well, but she will be taking Explore again in February before going on to take the ACT in seventh grade.

1 comment:

jmsrobertson90 said...

The Princeton Review book helped me out the most when taking the test. I recommend their books to everyone.