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.


Math Level 2 Subject Test

Q: Who should be taking the Math Level 2 Subject Test?

A: Students who have at least completed Pre-Calc H and will not be able to take the AP Calc Exam in time for admissions (aka until their Senior year). Also students who need them to apply to a desired school (some schools still require them) or desired major within a school (most often Engineering, but worth checking out yours just in case). And of course students who need further indicators of academic success beyond their GPA or ACT/SAT scores.

Q: When is the best time to study for and take the Math Level 2 Subject Test?

A: When you have the time for it. For many students, this means over the summer and taking it for the end of August test date. Subject tests are a smaller time commitment in general and should be taken close to when the class was given, unless they are  the more general subjects such as languages you’re fluent in, Literature (you’ve been in English class for a decade now), or Math (ditto).

Q: What do you recommend for preparing for the Math Level 2 Subject Test?

A: We recommend 12 hours of sessions coupled with approximately 12 hours of homework in between them. This has proven very effective for our students in the past to significantly increase their score and problem solving abilities.

Q: What do you recommend for preparing for other Subject Tests? 

A: Always start from the Official Subject Test Book (link) to see where you’re starting. Purchase several subject test prep books, and start with the practice tests. Question topics repeat, so the best way to get better is to take the practice tests and learn from your mistakes. Repeat over 6-10 practice tests, and then follow up with another Official Subject Test if available. For many tests, self study and review is sufficient. For problem based tests (think Math, Chem, and Physics), it can be extremely useful to utilize a tutor to most effectively learn to problem solve the variety of questions and topics. For many students, this means the 12 hour + 12 hour self study program, but for others it may be less.



Subject Tests 2017

As a parent so succinctly put it yesterday, there is a lot of chatter around the subject tests about who should be taking what and when. I love that term to describe it because everyone’s saying a lot, but no one really seems to know the value of the subject tests. I myself have heard large amounts of variety of which tests are important and how high a score is high enough.

However, I am of the mindset that there are two general types of students who should be taking the subject tests:

1. The students whose schools or majors require them. This is a very short list in the grand scheme of things. Many test prep companies maintain lists, but I would recommend these only as a jumping off point. Do your homework and be sure to research each school on your list (just in case). Generally speaking, these are the elite schools and the hardest majors to get accepted into (think Engineering @ MIT).

2. The students who want another indicator of academic success. Standardized tests are the safest, most numerical way to demonstrate you’ll be able to hang academically at a top school, whether they’re ACT/SAT, AP Tests, or Subject Tests. If your GPA is lower than the schools you most want to attend, you might want to supplement with successful test scores. If your math is strong but you won’t be able to take the Calculus AP exam until your senior year (and therefore past when you’ll be submitting you application to colleges), you might want to supplement with a successful Math Level 2 Subject Test.

We must recall too, that time is zero-sum, as in: you can’t do everything. If you are already doing great things (you’ve started a club, you have a unique hobby, you’re a leader in your community, etc.), or maybe you’re taking too many APs already or just want to spend more time with your family or friends, then you’re maybe trading one asset for another, and not actually doing much for your application or life. While it might add value to your application, it might take away something else. (By the way, this is a GREAT question for a guidance counselor or Independent Education Consultant).

However, if you like math or any of the other subject test subjects, and another high score will only help your chances of admission, it’s a great test to be studying for over the summer, when you have the time and energy to spend on it.

And if you are one of those two types of students who could benefit from taking the test(s), it is highly recommended you do well on them. After all, what’s the point of even sitting in a high school classroom for one hour on a Saturday if you’re not going to do well? That’s wasted time and energy (and money). If you’re going to take it, do well.


ACT Spring Intensive

We are happy to announce a new edition of our ACT Intensive! Right in time for the June test, we’ll be hosting a 9 hour program to give you that final push for the last official test of the school year.


In alignment with our philosophy, we’ll offer short, high energy sessions in a small group environment (2-3 students per instructor).


Our goal is to cover the most relevant, commonly missed material with the highest point value impact.


When? May  15th, 16th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 30th

June 4th, 5th, 6th

*Note: this skips Mother’s Day (Sun) and Memorial Day (Sun and Mon)


Times? Sessions run Sundays at 11am, Mondays at 3:30pm, and Tuesdays at 3:30pm


Where? 11772 Sorrento Valley Rd, Suite 160, San Diego, CA, 92121


Cost? $549

*Financial plan available. Ask for more details (info@moprep.com)


To sign up, please send us an email at info@moprep.com.


Contact information:

11772 Sorrento Valley Rd, Suite 160, San Diego, CA, 92121


(858) 951-7149


10 Reasons to take the SAT

Don’t like the ACT? Completely unsure which to take? Maybe you need to look at our 10 Reasons to Take the SAT instead!

We compiled this as a followup to our 10 Reasons to take the ACT post. As we said in our last post, please use this advice in conjunction with proper guidance counseling and keep in mind that what works for many may not work for you.

And if you’re really unsure, email us at info@moprep.com to sign up for a Saturday practice test (or two) to try one out!

Without further ado:

1. There’s a summer SAT this year! August 26th 2017 is the official summer SAT date. For some schools this is still after school has started, but for many it is before your summer homework is due and Junior/Senior year classes have begun.
2. Khan Academy gives away plenty of practice material, and the practice tests are all available free online at collegeboard.org.

3. You’ll be able to compare your score to your parents – the test has returned to a 1600 scale so your parents may actually know what your score means.

4. The test is common-core aligned in the math, which may mean it’s easier for you.

5. The math section is more algebra focused than the ACT, so if you’ve done well in classes, you may find it easier than the ACT with vectors, matrices, pre-calc, probability, and statistics.

6. The passages read more similarly to AP Lit and AP Lang passages, so if you are taking an AP English (or equivalent), the reading may be easier.

7. There is less of an emphasis on the grammar portion of the English section, so less new material to master to get a perfect score.

8. The math counts more heavily into the total on the SAT, and there’s no Science.

9. You have already started practicing if you’ve taken the PSAT. (And if you haven’t, you easily can by going to Khan Academy!).

10. The SAT is developed by ETS, the same company who develops the CAASPP, the GRE, the AP tests, and the PSAT. While all of the tests are different assessments, there will be some level of overlap, i.e. preparing for one will help you prepare for the others as well.


10 Reasons to take the ACT

Deciding between tests? Not sure which one is the one for you? Common knowledge of the differences between the SAT and ACT abound (the ACT is faster, the SAT doesn’t have a science section), but it can be hard to separate the fact from the fiction. As with anything we say, be sure to use this in conjunction with proper guidance counseling and a look at what works best for you individually.

1. It’s easier to improve your score because it’s more content dependent, i.e. you can learn the content and your score will go up.

2. True score choice (choosing who to send your reports to) is built into the ACT. Schools only see what you send because the score reports are stored separately from each other. On the SAT, all of them are stored under your student name/ID, so you have to actively suppress scores from schools if you don’t want to see them. Which leads me to my next reason…

3. You can remove your test records if you really don’t want colleges to see them.

4. The Science counts equally with the Math, so if AP Bio and Chem were strengths for you, this may be the best option.

5. The English portion is more grammar dependent on the ACT than the SAT,  so you can learn the grammar rules and improve your score more. For a free resource, see Meltzer’s blog (http://thecriticalreader.com/complete-sat-grammar-rules/), or purchase her Ultimate Guide to the ACT English.

6. The test is faster, which means the questions can’t possibly be as difficult as the SAT questions. This translates to an absolute necessity that the questions are inherently more straightforward.

7. Students scores tend to go up each time they take the test as concluded by ACT’s own research (see http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/2016-Tech-Brief-MultipleTesters.pdf).

8. Some schools still require the Subject Tests if you take the SAT, but not if you take the ACT.

9. There is a bigger “top tier.” If a 30 matches up to a 1390-1410 SAT score, then the “top tier” can be considered all the scores above that threshold. However, 30 sounds better! This is admittedly the worst reason on the list, but appearance of your score is a real thing.

10. The ACT Profile career matching tool is available for free on the website as part of the EOS, and has been said by several to be one of the best tools out there for determining future careers. (Although it looks like you can still use it for free even if you don’t sign up for an ACT.)