Apps to Help with the English/Writing Section

Some of our students (especially our non-native speakers) have difficulty with the phrases and small words on the ACT and SAT grammar portions (the English and Writing sections, respectively).

I’ve found some apps that may be of use that are available (for free!) on both iPhones and Androids:

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge (by the British Council) features quizzes on Grammar, Words, and Spelling. The Grammar portion is the one you’ll find the most useful and has a high amount of overlap with some of the question types on the ACT/SAT. It’s basically a series of quizzes that has a leaderboard function so it has a nice competition portion of it. You can connect it to an account or you can play as a guest (both for free).


Preposition Master, a slick app with various levels that quizzes you on sentences and phrases to fill in the correct preposition. There is a free version that you can download to see if it would help you! I like playing a sentence or two at a time in the small waiting spaces of my day. You won’t need to go all the way to the Proverb level (the highest level), but it may be fun to challenge yourself if the other ones get too easy.


Any others? Let me know! I’ll be happy to add them.


How Much Do You Know About the SAT/ACT?

A little True/False quiz to see what you know about the SAT, the ACT, the PSAT, and prep in general:

1.  T/F      The SAT is accepted by every college in the US.
2.  T/F       The ACT is not accepted by every college in the US.
3.  T/F       More students take the SAT nationwide than the ACT.
4.  T/F      As a student, I am most likely to score equally well on both tests.
5.  T/F       Prep towards one test will most likely increase my score on the other test.
6.  T/F       Prep may help me in my classes at school.
7.  T/F       Homework and test prep will take up more than 3 hours a week if I want to improve.
8.  T/F       Feeling prepared on test day will likely result in a higher score.
9.  T/F       An increase in my score will most likely impact which colleges I get into.
10. T/F      An increase in my score may impact how much aid I receive from colleges.
11. T/F       Taking the PSAT will help me feel more prepared regardless of if I end up taking the official ACT or official SAT.
12. T/F      Through the PSAT, colleges can identify me as someone they would like to apply to college.
1. T
2. F – Harvey Mudd College was the last school to accept the ACT in 2007.
3. F – More students take the ACT nationwide.
4. T – although some students score significantly different on one test compared to the other.
5. T – Not a guarantee, but there is enough of an overlap that students usually do improve on both even if they only prepare for one.
6. T – The most common comments we hear in this regard are helping on multiple choice tests, and in literature and history classes, but sometimes we hear reports of math classes feeling easier too.
7. F – 15 minutes a day can be a huge boost to your score if those 15 minutes are used well.
8. T – As is true for all performances,  like sports, public speaking, acting, etc.
9. T
10. T – Again for some students more so than others.
11. T
12. T

Should I Take the Test Again?

As all of the SAT scores and most of the ACT scores of the first tests of the school year have been reported, many of you are now contemplating taking it again. We’ve been hearing some good reasons and some not-so-good reasons for retakes, so I thought it would be useful to shed some insight from our perspective.

Please consider everything we say with a grain of salt and make the right decision for you! In hindsight, it is impossible to know what made or break an application, especially with all of the unknowns (like teacher recommendations) inherent in the process. And every admissions officer in the country will tell you that it doesn’t just come down to one thing (like a score) – except when it does (e.g. a 20 when the medians for the school’s applicants are 28-31). More likely you are stuck debating between a point or two, which may or may not make the difference.

Common reasons to NOT want to take the test again:

  1. “I really don’t want to! I am so over it.”
  2. “I don’t think it will make a big difference to my application.”
  3. “I don’t think I will score much higher if I try again.”
  4. “It will take away from the other things that are important in my life.”
  5. “I feel like I’ve taken it too many times already.”


All of these reasons depend heavily on you and your situation. The litmus test I recommend is as follows:

1. Can you make a real concerted effort (10-15 hours spread out over 5-6 weeks between sessions and homework)?

2. Are you right on the cusp of a median for your dream school or a percentile rank (e.g. the difference between 33 -> 34 or 29 -> 30)?

3. Do you feel like there’s just a little bit more left in you to score higher? As in, does it feel like there are a few questions you could get in every section if you pushed yourself a little more, or do you feel like you had a great sitting last time and pretty much got to everything that was possible with your current brain?

If the answer to any of these is no, you may not want to take the test again. It will likely result in frustration and take away from other more enjoyable and/or worthwhile activities. There is always the possibility that you will have a nice sitting and perform well regardless of making a final push, too. The deadline to register for the October ACT without the late fee is today, but you also have a few more weeks if you are willing to pay the additional fee. For the SAT, you still have time to register for the November SAT, which will release Nov 17-23, which should be plenty of time for the majority of your applications. Please call or text us (or leave comments below) if you have any further questions about your particular situation, and good luck with whatever you decide!


How to Start Off Your Calc AB Class

It’s officially the beginning of the school year, and for many of you, AP Calculus AB might be the first college-level math course you have ever taken! For some of you, your AP Calculus class is also one of the most rigorous classes you’ve ever taken. Whether you have a challenging AP Calc class or not, we all have the same goal: get that 5 on the AP test in May. In order to do this, you will want to start the year off right with good study habits and efficient math strategies to help you succeed throughout the course.

First, make sure you follow class notes thoroughly in class. Write more than just filling in the blanks and answering the warm-up and practice problems. Draw diagrams and pictures to help you remember certain concepts. Write down more than one way to solve the problem. All of these methods can help you study for the test at the end of the chapter. Learning occurs when you really grapple with a subject and the lightbulb in your brain lights up. Writing extra notes and drawing figures on the side will help you remember those lightbulb moments during your studying, and will likely decrease the amount of studying you have to do in the long run.

Second, do the homework on time! Whether your teacher collects homework assignments every day, once a week, or even once a month, making sure you complete the assignment after each class is essential whenever your brain receives new material. Doing homework allows your brain to go through and check for understanding on the new material you’ve just learned.

Third, go through your class notes one more time after you’ve finished your homework assignment. Completing the homework assignment does not always mean that you understand the material thoroughly. By going through the class notes one more time and remembering those lightbulb moments, you are double checking with your brain on the concept of those problems. You may also give yourself a small quiz by stating the definition of a vocabulary term or a theorem without looking at your notes. Ask yourself this question: “Do I really understand these materials?” If not, you may need to go through your textbook, ask a parent/teacher/friend/tutor, or even just do more problems in the textbook.

Going into the class the next day understanding all the materials that were taught before is extremely important. Because AP Calculus is a college-level course, there is little or no chance that the teacher will review what was taught before the new lesson every single class. And each class gives you a little more new material every time. Without understanding the old material, you’re most certainly going to have a harder time understanding the new material. Most importantly, be honest with yourself: if you don’t understand something, are uncertain of something, or even just don’t know why something is the way it is, ASK!!!


PSAT Dates 2017

For most students, the importance of the PSAT lies in the opportunity  to take it – the PSAT is a low cost venture (both financially and time-wise, as it usually occurs during the school day and at the students’ school) that very much mimics the real thing.

It is also a great way to get on particular schools’ radars, as schools use these scores to target students they would like to apply. In my personal experience, the PSAT school search was how I heard about the school I ended up attending!

For some students, the PSAT is also an opportunity to impress and receive recognition from the National Merit Scholarship. This bar is set very high for California, as the results are calculated on a state-by-state basis, but many students can still be recognized nationally with a slightly lower score.

The PSAT is offered only once per school, but that date depends on your school. It will be one of the following dates:

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017,

Saturday, October 14th, 2017.

Wednesday October 25th, 2017.

If you have not already signed up for the PSAT at your high school, we highly recommend you do so. There is almost nothing at stake, as schools will not consider your PSAT score in your application process, and much to gain in the way of opportunity and practice comfort level.


ACT Calculator Policy Update: Sep 2017

Last month, we noted a change to the calculator policy (effective July 2017) and outlined possible impacts this change could have on test day, in addition to letting you know some backup plans in case these changes were implemented strictly.

While we still recommend being prepared for those changes to take effect at any test administration, it seems this September test was not impacted in any way. Students were still allowed to use their calculators, with no confiscations or CAS app checks by proctors.

It remains to be seen if these changes will ever be implemented strictly or if they are serving as more of a discouragement for the rule-following students than anything else. The rules seem to be written in such an open-ended way so as to allow space for ACT to enforce the policy broadly or strictly whenever they determine. We will keep you updated if we hear of any strict interpretations on test day, but the best you can do regardless is to be prepared just in case.


Practice Tests – Calculator and Watch Checkouts

We now have available for checkout both Calculators (TI-84 Plus CE, TI-84 Plus C, TI-30X IIS and TI-36X Pro) and ACT.org approved test watches.

If you would like to check any of these out, they are on a first-come, first-served basis and can be checked out ahead of your practice test or session with the Office Manager Laura or proctor on test day. We do not allow these to leave Mo Prep’s office so you would need to purchase your own on test day, but this can be a great way to test out the product before you purchase.

The ACT watch from Sandusky can be helpful for watching the time throughout the sections, especially the Reading section. If you suspect timing is a major issue for you, and you are already “well-trained” on approach for the Reading section, this watch may do the trick. It does have a normal watch feature, but the design of the watch is so strange that you probably wouldn’t want to wear it anywhere but test day. The price is a little high for what it offers, but makes a lot of sense if you even see one additional point gained from it. I also heavily prefer this watch over the Tutor Buddy ones on the market, as the square-faced countdown provides a great visual that a circle-faced timer can’t.


Note: we are in no way affiliated with either of the companies who manufacture these products and gain no personal benefit from recommending these products, other than for those who gain anything from using them!


How to Delete an App or Program on your TI-84 Plus C / CE

This is a highly recommended read / printout for you to bring with you on test day in case the proctor makes you delete your programs or apps in order to hold on to your calculator!

The following instructions specify how to delete the programs, but this general path can also be used to delete apps if you scroll a little farther down on the last screen.

Instructions from Texas Instruments (the creators of the calculators) here.

In short:

  1. 2nd key -> MEM (the “+” key).
  2. Mem Management / Delete…  -> Enter
  3. Prgrm… or Apps… -> Enter
  4. Select the program or app you wish to delete -> DEL
  5. From the “Are you Sure?” menu -> Yes -> Enter

Update to ACT Calculator Policy

In response to the growing proliferation and awareness of powerful programs and apps on calculators, the ACT has updated their calculator policy to explicitly prohibit Computer Algebra System (CAS) technology. For purposes of this blog post, I’m going to focus on the most popular calculator we recommend, the TI-84 Plus CE, although the general concepts likely apply to many calculators. Reader beware, this is a long post. To read my specific recommendations for test day, scroll down to the bottom!

To an extent, the update to the ACT calculator policy may have 0% impact on students with this calculator. The programs and apps that we tell students about are only relevant to a handful (i.e. 4 out of 60) questions, and are often workarounds for other solutions. For example, the PlySmlt2 app solves quadratic equations, but students can also employ 4 other ways (2 utilizing a different and definitely allowed feature of the calculator, 2 that don’t rely on the calculator at all) to find the solution, most of which they have been taught in school. At Mo Prep, if we address this app at all (which we wouldn’t if students are correctly solving the equations in an appropriate amount of time), we also highlight at least one or two of the other ways to solve the equation. We believe in setting up our students so that no matter what happens on test day (they forget which button to press, their calculator dies, etc.), they can get through the question successfully.

It is also unclear if the one or two apps in question on the TI-84 plus CE are even those that are not allowed. From the updated Calculator Policy available here, there is only a brief mention of the need to modify calculators to remove CAS capabilities. Many parents and students are unaware that their calculator does indeed have CAS capabilities, and it’s unclear how in depth the ACT proctors will be checking. In the FAQ available here on the website regarding CAS, under Question 9,

Q9: What kinds of mathematics-related programs ARE allowed?
A: The kinds of mathematics-related programs permitted for the ACT allow students to use the calculator capabilities to do the routine calculations yet require students to show their analysis skills by choosing the right operations and process. Mathematics-related programs are allowed if they are single-purpose – for example, finding numeric solutions to a quadratic equation. A student must choose the right program for the right purpose. This is much the same as choosing the right formula for the right purpose.

This to me is extremely unclear. Is PlySmlt2 single-purpose or is it multi-purpose? There are two options from the main screen once you enter the app, so it may be considered multi-purpose. And yet, the idea that you have to choose which one to use and know how to use it might be enough to keep it safe. The main option’s purpose is to find numeric solutions to a quadratic equation, so perhaps they are saying this app is allowed. It seems to have been written deliberately open-ended so as to encompass however they choose to implement the policy. I also believe a proctor who is not 100% familiar with the calculators (which is highly likely to be almost all of them – I’ve never had a math or science teacher proctor one of my ACT or SAT exams) themselves will potentially be misled, unless ACT spells out explicit test day instructions to check for particular apps. Furthermore, even if they did explicitly spell out how to wipe programs, this still may result in inconsistent implementation of policy and widespread test-day confiscation of calculators. I honestly don’t know how ACT is going to handle this appropriately. In an attempt to be fair to all test takers (and limit the CAS proliferation), it seems much more likely that this is going to result in either nothing at all different on test day (so only the very cautious type will be not using the apps on their own volition) or an inconsistent crackdown with inconsistent confiscations, and a lot of unhappy students.

All that being said – here’s what I would recommend for test day:

  1. Purchase a low cost backup calculator so that in the event of confiscation, at least your child has something! Recommendations: the TI-30X IIS for $13 on Amazon or the TI-36X Pro for $19 on Amazon. Both are heavily capable of many of the functions we teach at Mo Prep. The main thing you’re losing is the graphing ability, but you’ll be gaining the basic calculations if your other calculator is confiscated.
  2. Bring a printout of the Test Day Calculator policy that correctly lists which calculators are indeed prohibited. I have heard of reports of students being unfairly banned from using watches because the proctor didn’t know the rules. Bringing a copy of the policy may help ease that.
  3. Bring a copy of how to uninstall the apps for your particular calculator, so if you’re having to delete apps the morning of, you know how to do it.









Don’t Forget to TIR!

To all students who took the June ACT and did not pay the additional $20 for the TIR, please consider doing so! The TIR is the service that is only offered for 3 of the tests a year (December, April, and June) that mails out a copy of your test and the answers YOU provided. It can be extremely insightful if you didn’t hit the score you wanted, or if you want to make improvements from there. While it won’t allow us to see the actual work you did (it’s a copy of the test, not your actual test), it does provide an excellent window through which to interpret what happened. Did you miss all the questions in the Differing Viewpoints passage on Science? Did you miss question #13 in math (you know, the one you knew how to do so well that maybe you didn’t write anything out for it….)? Did you actually miss all 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 of the last questions in any section or were the mistakes spread out? And of course, it allows you to revisit your mistakes on a test you’ve already taken. All for $20!

If you didn’t sign up for it originally, you can print out this page here (2017-2018 link), complete the information, and mail it and a check in up to 3 months after your test date. If you’re not sure if you signed up for it, check your old receipt either by logging in or finding it in your email records. And of course there is still time to wait for your scores and then request the TIR if you’re unsure if you’ll take it again depending on that score.

I should also note that there is an additional option listed at the back of each TIR as well that allows you to pay an extra $20 to receive a copy of your essay. I have never seen a student take advantage of this option, but the only way to get a copy of your ACT essay is through the first TIR payment and then an additional payment.