Subject Tests 2016 – Should You or Shouldn’t You?

It’s that time of year again, the time to consider subject tests. How many of these questions can you answer yes to?

1. Are you acing one of the following subjects (or doing reasonably well in a very challenging course): Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Pre-Calc, Literature, US History, or World History?

2. Are you applying to any of the elite universities that require subject tests?

3. Do you need any additional “indicators of academic success” to show schools that you are more capable than your GPA would otherwise suggest?

If you find yourself answering “Yes” to at least 2 of the 3 questions, you should strongly consider preparing for and taking a subject test this June.

We are hosting subject test practice days this week and next, $10 a test, if you would like to sign up to take one and see where you need to improve. Testers will receive a comprehensive report for each test they take.


June ACT

A question I’ve been getting a lot lately is whether to continue prep or just wait until the score comes back. There’s not actually a one-size-fits-all answer to the question, but I’ve got some questions for you to consider to help aid in your decision.

1. How did the test feel? How many questions are you reasonably certain you missed? Compare that to a scale in the back of your Official ACT Red book to see what your score may have been, preferably Practice Test 5’s scale. Of course the scales vary a little from test to test, but not significantly. Were you close to your score goal or do you have a ways to go?

2. Have you been prepping a long time and need a break? If you’ve been prepping a long time, it’s more likely that you’ll still remember what you’ve learned in the fall if you take a break, so it won’t be as hard to come back.

3. What does the rest of your Junior year look like? Are AP’s and Subject Tests already starting to overload you? Or are your grades pretty safe? Your junior year GPA is very important to admission to colleges, so taking a break to focus on those may be your best option. But if you have no intention of taking Subject Tests and feel comfortable with your grades, now may be a good time to prep through and just finish with your ACT before the fall tests.

4. What do you want the beginning of your Senior year to look like? Are you prepared to keep prepping then in case your score doesn’t come back quickly enough for you to improve it in June? There will be application essays and brag packets to fill out, and more time can always be spent researching colleges, excelling in your senior classes, or even with friends for your last year.


In short, if you have it in you and you feel like you’re in the phase where you’re still learning a lot from prep, it may be good to prep straight through to June and just be done with it.

If, on the other hand, you have been prepping a long time and need the extra time to study for the end of your Junior year, you may be better off waiting to hear your score and prepping towards the fall tests if need be.

As always, we are happy to help you reach your goals, whatever and whenever they may be!




Useful College Planning Resource

Anxious about which school is the best school? About how you’re going to afford it and if it will be worth it? Have some time to kill but would rather not spend it playing games on your phone?

While this site won’t solve all your problems nor answer all your questions, it’s one of the best resources I’ve seen. Welcome to College Scorecard (clickable link).

I’ll admit I had heard about it a year or two ago but felt it was likely redundant to other resources out there [like the CollegeBoard’s Big Future (clickable link)].

And it very much does have some redundancies. However, what I like most about it is that it reduces the information to an easily viewable page. And the easily digested information becomes somewhat addicting.

For example, check out the differences between UC Riverside and Cal Poly SLO: average cost at UCR is 11k and the average salary upon graduation is 49k, while with SLO, the average cost is 17k with a salary of 61k. Seems like a pretty “good deal.”

I would in no universe have predicted that UCR was more affordable than SLO, nor that there was a 12k difference in starting salaries. However, this is potentially the difference in having a very strong engineering department and should be taken with a grain of salt. Just because the average salary is 61k does not mean that your salary will be 61k.

Whatever the limitations however, this is a pretty interesting site worth spending some time on whether you are just starting your search or trying to narrow down between the ones you’ve gotten into.


Spring Break Plans? Take a College Road Trip!

As a high school junior (or even sophomore), you may have little idea of where you want to go to school, or if you do, have merely an idea and little more evidence to backup why you do. You also may or may not be going back and forth with your parents about why you like or dislike a particular school, and they’re not buying it.

Fortunately, there is an easy, relatively affordable, painless way to settle many of these discussions and help set you up for happiness down the line while applying, hearing back, and choosing between schools.

And as you may have guessed from the title – it’s a college road trip! This road trip need not be expensive (although you certainly may make it so with an east coast tour), as one of the best set of college trips can be had relatively locally.


The purpose of a road trip

While you might be tempted to see every school you’re possibly interested in, the most important purpose is actually much simpler: you want to narrow down and expand your list as accurately and effectively as possible. In order to accomplish this, you’ll want to see a UC, a Cal State, and a small private liberal arts school. You may think you know you definitely want a UC (great education with a great price tag), but it is still advisable to formally visit each type of school (while in session) to really truly know.


Rules of the road trip

  1. 1. Try to only visit a school when school is in session, especially if it’s a small school. You will not get a true idea of what the community is really like if you don’t. (And then what’s the point of going to visit anyway?)
  2. 2. Do a formal visit. Sign up for the information session and tour, and actually go on it. You can always duck out of the tour if it’s too long or you’d rather check out another part of campus, but schools generally track who’s visited and who hasn’t, and you want them to know definitively that you saw the school if you did.
  3. 3. Bring a notebook to make notes on.  You may want to take notes on your phone, but you won’t be able to as quickly as you would on a real pad of paper, and you will almost certainly forget something important if you don’t take notes at all.
  4. 4. Don’t stop your parents from taking notes either! You may disagree with some of what they write, but it will be useful after the visit (or visits) to help both of you remember the schools afterwards.
  5. 5. Try to ask at least one student what their favorite part of going there is and what their least favorite part of going there is. You will almost certainly get a biased answer, but it may help you avoid a school where you clearly wouldn’t be happy.


Ideas for a road trip

  1. 1. Local: UCSD, USD, SDSU, Chapman
  2. 2. Los Angeles: Chapman, UC Irvine, LMU, USC, Cal Lutheran
  3. 3. Inland: Claremont Colleges (choose 2), Redlands University
  4. 4. Up The Coast: UCLA, Pepperdine, UCSB, Cal Poly SLO
  5. 5. Northern CA:  UCSC, Santa Clara University, SFSU, UC Davis

How to make best use of the Waiting Period

Seniors, how’s the waiting period going? You know, the time between when you’ve submitted all your applications and the time you heard back from the schools you really care about? It’s a little nerve-wracking, isn’t it?

We’ve compiled a list to make the most of your waiting period that goes beyond the usual hum-drum lists (a. keep your grades up, b. don’t panic):

1. Use this as an opportunity to research the schools you have already gotten into, beyond what you researched before applying.  What is the course load requirement for graduation? This can be found out by determining the credit load requirement (e.g. 128 credits) and dividing by the typical credit given per class (e.g. 4). and dividing again per year and per semester. To see an example of how much this can vary, let’s consider Harvey Mudd College (128 credits / 3 credits / 4 years / 2 semesters = 5 and 1/3 classes per semester) and UCSD (180 credits / 4 credits / 4 years / 3 quarters = 3 and 3/4 classes per quarter). While the knowledge amount might be the same in the end, your comfort level during your education may vary widely depending on which school you choose.

2. Start reading up on the difference between scholarships, grants, and loans.

3. Calculate travel time and cost to potential schools from home, including connecting flights, travel to and from the airport (Uber? Airport Shuttle? friends’ largesse?).

4. Check out the school calendars. Are there breaks over the whole week of Thanksgiving or just Thursday and Friday? Will you be able to go back home over Thanksgiving break?

5. Check out your potential spots: where you may be able to get a quick bite, where you may be able to “escape” to, and where you’ll be studying.

Any other ideas of what you’ve been thinking about in your waiting period? As always, don’t fail your classes, sit tight, and enjoy your last few months with friends and family. Things are about to change in huge ways, so try to savor the last of this piece of your life as best you can.


ACT Writing Scores Are Up

If your scores are up, can you please send us a screenshot of your scores?

The ACT publishes essay scores in batches, and their website states that they post the scores weekly. I have not been able to independently confirm that they’re only published once a week, but my own essay scores were posted sometime between 5pm PST Sunday night and 10am PST Monday morning.


How to Choose a Goal Score for the SAT/ACT

There are several ways to choose a goal score on the ACT/SAT, but most students defer to beating their older siblings or their friends instead of knowing which score will actually make a real difference for their future.

What we’re ultimately after isn’t one number but two: a minimum and a maximum. We should treat the minimum as exactly that – the minimum you’ll aim for if prep doesn’t go as well as planned but you can still feel good about. The maximum is the number you’ll prep for that if you reach it, you can stop.

1. To find either of these numbers, you’ll need a basic college list in an Excel or Google Sheets list. I prefer Google Sheets as it is not only free, but also easily shared with tutors, counselors, and family members. Aim for a list of around 10 schools (not including repeats of UCs or CSUs), knowing you may not apply to half of them. The goal is to get an exhaustive preliminary idea of the schools, not a perfect list of where to apply to.

2. Once you have created the list, create a column for your rank – where you would like to go most is #1, and every number on down until every school has a rank. Don’t spend too long doing this, as it’s almost guaranteed that your preferences will change as you learn more about each of these schools.

3. What are the 25th-75th percentile scores for these schools? You can find these on College Board’s Big Future (link included). Create a column for the 25th number and the 75th number. I’ve included an example below:

School Name Your Rank 25th 75th
USC 2 29 33
UCLA 3 25 33
Stanford 1 31 34
Cal Poly SLO 4
CSU San Marcos 10 17 23
Pitzer College 5
Chapman 7
LMU 6  25  30


Now that we have a list, we can really dig into how to choose our max and min.

Options include:

1. There’s the obvious choice: take the highest set of scores (average) and the lowest set of scores (25th %). In this example, Stanford would result in a max score of  32.5 = 33, and CSU San Marcos lowest score is a 17. Those are your min and max. Quite a big spread.

2. There’s a sort of qualified version of these scores: maybe you had a look at Stanford and kissed your dreams of Stanford goodbye. But you’d be equally happy at USC or UCLA. This can be your new maximum. And maybe you looked at the scores for CSU San Marcos and figured it wasn’t a very valuable minimum, that you’d likely hit those numbers anyway, so you may as well set your sights a little higher. For your new min, choose the school you’d still be happy going to. Maybe this is LMU. The 25th percentile number can be your new minimum.

3. Another option is also available: research large state schools that are lower down on your list but easier to get into. It’s highly likely that at least one of these schools has a documented scholarship program with a minimum ACT score. Find out what this number is and set this as your minimum. If you can’t find a number like that on the web (or by calling the admissions office), assume that it above the 75th percentile, two points to be safe (there are always variations from year to year). If Cal State San Marcos is of interest, your new minimum would be a 25.

And remember, your SAT or ACT is only one piece of the puzzle. Your essay and your GPA are both arguably more important than your score, as they provide a much more complete picture of who you are as a student. However, the ACT/SAT do serve as the only national measure of students, so they do serve as an integral piece in the process.


Mo Prep Update: 7/27/15

Hi all,

And I hope this finds you well! We are about a month out from school starting for most of you (only a few weeks away for some of you!) and just under 6 weeks until the first ACT.

How does this impact you? That depends: if you’re a senior hoping for this ACT to be the last, it’s time to really put some work in! It also means if you’re an athlete or otherwise schedule-constrained student, it would be in your best interests to nail down your schedule ASAP and get your set weeknight in for the school year. We have already booked in our first school-year session!

We also have a practice test coming up on Aug 8th. I highly recommend some of my SAT test takers to take it, just to see if they might gain from a switch. The test will be $25 and will be in Carmel Valley at 8am that Saturday. Please email info@moprep.com to sign up.

Happy last-week-of-July, and see you all soon!