Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tips for Parents and Students for College ACT Test Success from Virtual Nerd Expert Tutor Leo Shmuylovich

The ACT college entrance exam is is administered many times throughout the year and many students are feeling extremely pressured as this test can be the deciding factor as to which college or university they will attend.  Test-taking anxiety and high stress levels are common this time of year and expert tutor and co-founder of the “Parent Tested Parent Approved” interactive tutoring website Virtual Nerd, Leo Shmuylovich, is here to help. Leo offers the following steps for successful ACT testing:

1)        GUESSING IS OK - First and foremost, remember that there is NO PENALTY for guessing. No matter what, make sure you at fill in a bubble for every single question. That means you have to make sure that you leave yourself enough time to bubble in an answer on every question (even the ones you didn't have time to read).

2)        ELIMINATE WRONG ANSWERS- You’ll have a better chance at guessing right if you first eliminate some answers, so when you a read a question, read the answers too! You’ll be surprised how many answers you can eliminate if you just take the time to read them over and apply them to the problem. Process of elimination is a technique that tutors really focus on for ACT and SAT.

3)        PLUG ANSWERS CHOICES INTO THE QUESTION - One way to get intuition about eliminating answer choices is to plug in every single answer in a math problem and check to see if it works. So if the problem is asking you to solve for a variable in an equation, just plug in the different answers and the one that works is the right answer! When you’re taking the test there are some tricks to plugging in the answer choices, and ACT tutors love teaching those to students. The key though is to get comfortable working with the answer choices, because then you’re not just taking the test, but you’re taking the test apart!

4)        FOCUS ON CHARTS AND DIAGRAMS - Diagrams and charts are also really important parts of the ACT. If you have a geometry problem without a diagram, then drawing one yourself, and keeping it to scale, can be a great trick for quickly figuring out the problem. If there is a diagram already drawn, use the diagram to estimate what they’re asking about. On the ACT, diagrams are almost always to scale. When you see a chart or graph, especially in the science section, you should get excited, because for the most part the problems in that section will be based completely on just interpreting the chart or the graph. You can basically skip the written description! ACT tutors often tell their students that 1/3 of the science section can be completely mastered if you just get good at interpreting charts and graphs. So when you’re practicing the science section, focus on charts!

5)        TIME MANAGEMENT IS KEY - There are also some tips to keep in mind for time-management. One of the best things for time management is to stay calm as you take the test, and that’s why I always recommend that students practice without time restrictions. That way they are able to focus on the test and can overcome their fear of it. Then, we can add time pressure back in gradually, and that helps deal with issues of time management. Also, it’s a good idea to skip around the test, and pick off the questions that are easiest for you to do. If something is taking too long, try to eliminate an answer choice and just move on to other stuff. You can always come back at the end, and remember, don’t leave any question behind, bubble in every question!

6)        SEEK HELP IN WEAK AREAS- So far these tips have been all about cracking the test, dissecting it and using its tricks and structure to your advantage. It’s important to remember though that the test does rely on some basic math and science knowledge. As you practice taking tests, keep track of the problems that you find confusing, problems where the math was tricky or hard to remember. Make sure you seek out help for those topics, and strengthen your math and science foundations. Tutors and teachers can help you with this, and a lot of online resources exist as well that can help you strengthen your fundamentals and be fully prepared for the ACT!

Leo Shmuylovich just completed his Ph.D in Physics from Washington University in St. Louis. He is currently on a year leave from medical school to help launch the company he co-founded, Virtual Nerd ( He has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University, having graduated Magna Cum Laude in three years—and he was named a Merrill Presidential Scholar, one of the university’s highest honors. As a tutor and lecturer for The Princeton Review, he taught MCAT Physics and Biology classes, as well as SAT Math classes, to hundreds of students. He’s also worked individually with students on SAT, SAT II, AP exams, and science and math courses at both the high school and college level.


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