The Scholastic Aptitude Test & ACT Exam, and the scores they produce are still one of the largest factors in college admissions. High SAT scores can offset low grades, and overcome certain deficiencies. Parents and students can complain as much as they want to about their opinion on standardized tests. But they will still face them when the time comes to get into college. They are not going anywhere! We see scholarships asking for SAT/ACT scores, the result of which do have an effect on scholarship outcomes. So we may as well embrace it and make the most of the opportunity. Lauren Gaggioli does just that as the Founder & Head Mentor of High Scores Test Prep. In addition she hosts the College Checklist Podcast (one of my Top 8 Podcasts For Parents) and talks with us about the things parents can do now to help their college-bound teen attack the SAT head on. We dedicate our entire episode to this topic, and briefly discuss the National Merit Scholarship and the PSAT.
Listen to the episode: [audio https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/cmmwordpress/Podcasts/episode34.mp3] Download The Episode: CMM 034 April 16, 2014
transcript after the jump.
The following is a Partial Transcript of this episode
Jose “JR” Vazquez – This is episode 34 of the College Money Man Podcast
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And joining us today via Skype is Lauren Gaggioli:. Now she’s the founder and head mentor of Higher Scores Test Prep and what they do is help prepare students and their parents for the SAT and the SAT experience. How is it going today Lauren?
Lauren Gaggioli: Great. Thank you so much for having me on JR.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Schools are only getting more competitive. It is not getting any easier and scores do matter. SAT, ACT scores, you’re seeing them on scholarship applications more frequently. It is being considered and it’s being, it’s a huge part of merit aid quite often for students that are being admitted to private universities and colleges that award the merit aid based on it. In fact, my alma marter, Western Illinois University uses a combination of GPA and SAT/ACT scores to decide how much financial aid they’re going to give you from their own scholarships. So it’s a big factor.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yes. Absolutely and it’s one of those things that I think there’s kind of this public outcry against standardized testing. When you look at the facts, I mean, UCLA got 86,000 applications this year. They are not reading 86,000 essays. They’ve got to have some sort of standardized numerical value that they can use to whittle the pool down. They don’t have that many spots. So it’s very important and this is one of those big factors.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And that’s the thing that really something parents have to understand that this is one of those things that you have to embrace instead of arguing against. It’s going to happen. You’re going to have to accept that you’re going to take one of these exams if your child is going to go to a good private liberal arts college, definitely if they ever want to get near the ivies. But at the flagship state universities, they’re going to have to score well.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely, yup. It’s a big factor.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So break it down for our parents very briefly. Now the two tests that we are familiar with of course are the SAT and the ACT. Can you explain to us some of the differences between those two tests? Where they’re similar? Where they’re different?
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure, absolutely. So the SAT is a four and a half hour exam. It covers reading, math and writing. There are three sections of each and it’s actually a 10-section tests. So you may be thinking that doesn’t add up and you’re right. College Board they are so lovely and kind they put in basically a section that is research and development for them. It doesn’t count…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Don’t you love that?
Lauren Gaggioli: Aren’t they nice? Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Oh, they did that to me in the GMAT. It’s RnD on our time.
Lauren Gaggioli: I know and you’re paying for it and it’s not like this test doesn’t matter.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Thank you so much.
Lauren Gaggioli: So an extra half hour, that’s a big deal. So yeah, before we even go any further I should just say, I have and still a healthy loving hatred of these companies both of them, i.e. College Board and the ACT and my students because you sort have to know…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Does anyone love them? I mean, I imagine their own children like, “You know dad, I really don’t like what you do.” And when people ask me what to do, I tell them you’re a garbageman.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah, probably.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Right. That’s what I tell them.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah. It’s pretty brutal what they do, but the thing is there are systems and there are ways to get around it. So SAT is reading, math, and writing. There are as a guessing penalty on the SAT so you lose a quarter of a point for every wrong answer so it’s not really guessing penalty that’s little bit of a misnomer. It’s a wrong answer penalty. So part of the strategy on the SAT is leaving things blank.
On the plus side of the SAT is the fact that you have more than a minute of question on in nearly every section. So timing is not really one of those things that gets in the way on these tests. It’s generally and this is very general and I will give you my personal thoughts on which tests you should take after. But generally it’s thought to be a better test for people with solid verbal skills and for those who are more methodical workers. So you need to work every step of a problem and for the really general ladies, if you have a daughter, she’s probably going to do better on the SAT, again that’s very broad.
So you know your student and you’ve got to use that as your benchmark. On the flipside, on the ACT, it covers – they worded a little bit differently. There’s English which basically correlates with the writing section of the SAT. There’s Math, same thing. It’s a little more involved on the ACT. It does get into some Trig. And then there’s the Reading obviously correlates with the critical reading on the SAT. And then there is the Science section. And this is where people get a little bit confused because it’s kind of strange to have science on a standardized test. The fact to the matter is the science is all about reading charts and graphs, okay? So it’s not really about Science. There’s maybe one…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It’s more about comprehension.
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure, yeah. It’s you can think of it as an extension of the reading comprehension. So the ACT is those four sections. There is a “optional” essay at the end which I always recommend everyone take because it’s not optional for you, it’s optional for the college to recommend it or not and so, I just say cover your basis and very much cover your basis kind of girl and the timing on the ACT is where things get a little crazy. So in every section, you have less than a minute a question except one where you have exactly a minute a question. So if you’re methodical test taker, this is really, really going to be a probably a pretty painful process to get ready for this test.
There are ways to work around it. There are strategies you can use. But you have to have a plan on either test. So that’s why I always encourage never take a real test as a practice test. That’s really bad practice because it can end up on your transcript. You want to make sure that you are doing a practice test as a practice test in the comfort of your home. There are free resources available online where you can do that and I encourage going that route rather than going the I’ll go sit a real test and see how I do without ever looking at this material.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So don’t go take the actual SAT to try to benchmark yourself.
Lauren Gaggioli: No.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. Good, good. Now, out of curiosity we have heard of the PSAT.
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Some parents have it but is that a good one to use, to prepare for and then to take prior to the SAT?
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah. Absolutely. Especially if your student is on the upper end of the academic spectrum, there are a lot of – as you know I’m sure JR it’s the national merits scholarship qualifying test, that’s NMSQT that you see after PSAT.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Completely relies on it. Yeah.
Lauren Gaggioli: So yeah. If you are looking into scholarships, you want – I mean, if you’re listening to this podcast, I have to imagine you’re into learning about how to pay for college so you have to get a certain score and it sort of changes every year and it’s different based on whatever state you’re in, but that is a good test to prepare for and what I usually recommend is if your student is that student who is likely going to qualify, I would say there is, it’s always given. The PSAT is always given in October of the student’s junior year. That’s the one that counts. Sometimes they give it in their sophomore year but that’s truly a practice.
So the one in the October of your juniors or your student’s junior year, there is in October SAT right on the heels of it. So my thoughts on this, the PSAT will be a breeze if your student has prepared for the full SAT. It’s all the same content, very, very similar. It’s shorter and there’s no essay. So if you’re a student prepares for the October SAT and this would be juniors who have maybe already taken Algebra 2. They have Geometry. Maybe they’re on a fast track and they’re already in Pre-Cal. Those students should just prepare for the October SAT their junior year and it will cover their basis on the PSAT. It’s really a great way to kill two birds with one stone and save yourself some money in the process as well.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So no special prep on that? You can study for the SAT and if you prepared properly, you should be able to do well on the PSAT.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yeah. Now, if your student is not ready. There are certainly are truncated courses for the PSAT that there, I would call them baby courses. They’re not going to give you the full blown prep for the SAT. So if your student is not quite ready to take the SAT in October of their junior year, but you think that they have a shot with a little bit of prep of maybe getting into some qualification for that scholarship on the PSAT, you could invest in one of those programs. Just know it’s sort of like you’re undershooting the SATs. You’re going to have to go through it all over again. So I like the two birds, one stone kind of thing.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yeah. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure. Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Keep is DRY, don’t repeat yourself.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah. Keep it easy as easy as it can be.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Now, when it comes to the SAT, what – how is the SAT scored? Because currently when I was in school, it scored differently and now that it’s changed somewhat, how is the SAT now scored?
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yes. So I actually took the 1600 SAT as well. So that’s what it was I believe until 2005. So essentially what happened was so many schools were recommending that students take the SAT subject exam in writing, at that point it was called the SAT 2 in writing. It was required by so many schools that the College Board was persuaded to basically incorporate that in the main SAT. So when we took it, JR, it was just critical reading and math, right? So two sections each scored on a scale of 200 to 800. So the maximum score was the 1600. So when they incorporated this extra 800-point section, now the score is out of 2400.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. So the total, a three-way even split between 800, 800, 800 maximum total score for 2400.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez:: So what used to be graded to be on a zero to six scale has just changed the way it’s numbered.
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure. Yeah. That’s a good way of thinking of it.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So were the – are the criteria for that essay is essentially the same and they’ve just changed the way, the method in which it’s scored but the criteria are generally the same.
Lauren Gaggioli: Well, the writing section is actually not just the essay. So the essay is a part. It’s a third of the writing score. So like I said at the beginning, three sections each of writing. The first section of the ACT is always a 25-minute essay. They give you a prompt. You write an essay on that prompt. That is graded by two people on a scale of one to six for a cumulative score of one to 12 or zero to 12 if you didn’t write anything. Then, so that’s the third of your score. And then there are two more sections that are grammar-based multiple choice which I can just tell the people who are out there cringing “Oh, grammar.” Actually, it’s very systematic. So it’s not that hard, it’s more like teaching a math concept honestly, a plus b equals c and with those two sections, they can count as two-thirds of your score. So this is whole chart that you basically take your raw score and the grammar and you take your essay score and you come down and you can find what you’re scaled score would be. And it’s important to know that the SAT and the ACT are both graded on a curve. So if you get a really hard test that’s actually a great opportunity to outperform the competition. So I see it as this is a great, great time that you could sort of take advantage of rolling the dice a little more. Whereas on an easier test, you got a pretty much be perfection to standout against your peers.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So the SAT now when I took it of course, it was paper-and-pencil based.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Have they moved to the computer yet?
Lauren Gaggioli: They have not and this is kind of an interesting thing because they did just announce that they are updating the SAT yet again.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Thank you so much College Board. You are just awesome.
Lauren Gaggioli: Are they great?
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Interesting.
Lauren Gaggioli: So yeah. And they also in their announcement said that their one part of the reason is they’re trying to put test prep companies out of business so.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Good luck for that.
Lauren Gaggioli: I know. And frankly, they’re currently to keep out the ACT has a reputation of being easier, certainly not the truth but that is its reputation and therefore a lot of students are sort of going over to the dark side as College Board might call it. But they’re losing market share and so they’re up being – they’re changing the test.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It probably doesn’t hurt that they ACT has been integrated in the so many high school programs as part of the graduation requirement or testing.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So it’s like I’ve already taken this exam, I already have a score. So you mean, I don’t have to take another one? It kind of gets them off the hook for that one. It seems like that’s why they’ve lost quite a bit of market share in that area.
Lauren Gaggioli: I would agree. Yeah. ACT has done a great job of positioning themselves within the schools and so.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: But when it comes to the ivies and the large state flagship, public ivies and it’s really ultra selective colleges, I assume the SAT seems to still be king.
Lauren Gaggioli: You know it’s interesting. I find it’s more geographical and legally now, all colleges have to accept both. All the colleges, I believe it was in 2003 or 2002, I believe that was one in high school, they said, no matter where you apply, you can just take either test and we’ll accept them. But each school has, as I understand it, they preferred test but what they do is they’ll just like let’s say their preferred test is the SAT. There’s a chart called the Concordance Table and they’ll take your SAT score and basically find your comparable SAT score and just that would be your SAT score which actually isn’t how it really works in the real world. If you take both tests that won’t necessarily always be the case but that’s how they do it.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Wow. So essentially, they’re trying to transcribe or translate the results even of the test in some respect is essentially different?
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yes, very.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Not to mention the conditions of those tests.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: But the SAT doesn’t have a plan, they’re going to say a computer adaptive model like the GRE or the MCAT or the GMAT.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah. You know I actually I predicted that that is where they were going to go with it. When they first announced in 2012 that they were going to be changing it, I had not done my old blog at that point. It was like, “This is my prediction.” It doesn’t look like that’s the way they were going. But again, they sort of keeping it all hush, hush. We don’t really have very much in the way of knowledge on what specifically going to look like. I will tell you though they are already testing because the March test is a big test date and I was at my husband’s snowboarding because I’d worked really hard to get all my kids ready and I got off this ski lift, pulled out my phone and it had blown up. It was all my kids getting out of their test, going there is this one section that was really weird. We’ve never seen anything like it, “Oh, my gosh. What just happened?” And they had announced like three days before the SAT that they were going to be changing it and officially giving some more information on what that was going to look like and they already had stuff and a grade into the test so I didn’t have a chance. I didn’t think that we would be seeing any of that prep material for that experimental or unscored section until next month, until the May test and seems like they’re pretty on the ball. They’re getting it tested out real quick.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: That will throw a monkey wrench and things for little bit, but eventually test prep will catch up.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, absolutely.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It takes one cycle and they’re on the ball.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: You can’t hide that sort of thing.
Lauren Gaggioli: No. And you know that’s the other thing. They’re bringing on Khan Academy. They partnered with them and honestly I just see that as great because there’s going to be more material out there that kids can use and I think it will be great for us to be able to pull as test preppers, to be able to pull from that and it will be kind of the official line and College Board has free tests resources out there right now. And frankly, nobody in the industry uses them because they’re manipulative. They have a vested interest in protecting the curve.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yeah. I notice that when I took the GMAT originally. When I used the material that that was provided originally it did not correlate, it was not correlating the same. So that practice exam they give you is – thankfully I went to Test Prep to get ready and realize that it would be meaningless. I mean, my test prep through that company, I did not do 100% of my prep though. I had to look for other sources as well and try to augment but it gave me the bulk of the stuff that I was going to need to help create a good foundation, but I learned pretty quick don’t trust the material that’s coming straight from the test company.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely. And I will say the only time, I don’t like their teaching material but those practice tests, if you want to get a read, get a pulse on the tone of a test, there’s nothing like a real test. But don’t use their guidelines. Don’t do what they say to solve those problems. You’ve got to find your own way in or work with someone who knows how to sort of shortcut some of the tricks that they’re throwing in there. Yeah. It’s – you go to strike a balance between, all right, they’re giving me some information now. How do I feel about that information? How am I going to – can I cut through the lines like read them between the lines and say, “Hmm, they’re saying do this but are they hiding something else over here?” And that’s really the important thing. You’ve got to think for yourself on the standardized test.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I notice the test will trip you up especially with the questions that are: Can you solve? And it doesn’t – you’re not really supposedly solved but you just need to know whether or not the information given allows you to solve the question.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes and that’s definitely something that is more prevalent on the grad school level tests. They don’t do any of that quancom stuff, the quantitative comparison. They’re not using that on SAT anymore so that’s kind of nice.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Oh, wow. Thankfully they whittled that out, great because I don’t like back then enough.
Lauren Gaggioli: I know, I know. And it’s kind of nice.
Jose “JR” Vazquez:: I didn’t like it in the GMAT either.
Lauren Gaggioli: Nope.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So either way. It’s just one more thing to try to eliminate the process of elimination.
Lauren Gaggioli: Amen.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Now the question is I’ve got parents of children of all ages. I’ve got an eight-year-old of my own. Some parents, their kids are 16 and getting ready. When is the earliest you recommend students start prepping to the SAT? When is the prime moment where you like, “Okay, this mind is right. Let’s start kicking in right here.”
Lauren Gaggioli: Okay. So I take probably a pretty opposite tack than most. I think you should know when you’re going to take the test, your sophomore year. Sit down, look at your academic schedule, and decide based on whenever you’re going to take you Algebra 2. I do like students to have at least one semester of Algebra 2 under their belt before they sit down to take the SAT. So if you’re taking the PSAT early in the year and you don’t have that, that’s totally fine. You can’t change that at that point. Just do your best but once you have one semester of Algebra 2 in your belt, you’re ready to take the SAT.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. So you don’t need the Trig necessarily, but you’ve got to have Algebra 2?
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes. Yeah, and it’s sort of basic functions. So you don’t need really involve the stuff. You don’t need logs. So there is – Math is really the only thing. Once the kid gets into high school, that’s the only thing you’re waiting for to catch up. You’ve got the verbal skills.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. So they’re not going to be doing the log of x on this?
Lauren Gaggioli: No.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: They’re going to be just working up to Algebra 2. None of the Pre-Cal or the finite Math.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yup. Nothing like that. So for most students, freshman or junior – or freshman – sorry, the first semester or the second semester of your junior year is typically when you start to take the test. I actually have a whole four-part video series that walks students through this on my website and I can give you directions as to how to get there. But…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And we’ll definitely post that on the blog.
Lauren Gaggioli: Great. Yeah. And so it’s a free giveaway. You sign up for my newsletter. So and if you don’t want it, it comes within an hour you can unsubscribe, that’s fine. But so basically what happen is you start taking the test and I would say like decide which test date you’re going to take, count back no more than eight weeks and that’s when you start your prep.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay.
Lauren Gaggioli: I, my course in particular…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: That seems pretty reasonable. It’s not too early.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: But it’s in that sweet spot when you’re getting the information, the information is fresh in the students’ minds.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes. Well, and the other thing is, I mean, this is the other thing that I like to sort of impress upon parents. If you go into work and somebody says, “Here’s a project.” What’s your first question? When is it due? Like when do we need to have completion on this? You’re not motivated the door towards the end if you don’t know where the end is. So it does two things. It’s sort of get your student on board and you are working towards the goal and there is an end date to this work which means often times, harder work, more focused, more intensity on it, and that allow students to really lose their scores the most. So Stephen Covey’s Begin with the End in Mind that’s absolutely what you want to do, know when the end date is, do not commit to an open-ended. Oh, we’ll take it whenever kind of thing. We’ll just sort of wonder through SAT prep. So that will be (crosstalks)
Jose “JR” Vazquez: That will get a fix in everybody’s mind because just like with scholarships, when it comes to testing especially with kids from what I’ve read and listen to you so it seems like a team approach matters.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yes. Everybody’s got to be on board. Because let me tell you, look, I’m in-home tutor and I have an online course. There’s no difference in what I teach but I can tell you that when I walk in to a home, I know how much that sessions going to go up often, based on their attitude. I can tell within the first few minutes of talking to them whether they’re there because they want to be there and they want to open the store to a bright future, not that they want to take the SAT. Nobody ever wants to take the SAT. But that they’re committed to it because it is the door they have walked through to get to the other side versus the kid who is there because mom and dad said, “Hey, sit down. You’re doing this.”
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Right.
Lauren Gaggioli: So.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: You can even see that in graduate test prep, I’ve noticed that.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Some of them go in there, they’re like, “Look. I just want to get through this so I can get in, start getting my MBA and get that job.” That’s same attitude. Not to mention the fact that there is a big difference between what you’ll learn from a video and personalized help.
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: When you can get a sit down, just an hour or two of a sit down makes all the difference because it can clear up those small things in your mind that you may not ask in a classroom or you may not ask in an email but you really need to know.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So I think that really makes the difference. So they can talk all that great thrash about getting rid of test prep companies but the truth is when you can sit down with someone and talk and they’re part of your prep team, it does make a difference. It made a difference for me –
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure.
Jose “JR” Vazquez:- when I went to grad school and a mentor to get in UIUC when I was working towards my doctorate so.
Lauren Gaggioli: Wow.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It made a huge difference for me.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Especially given the fact that I originally before I became an undergrad I had no real math background and I ended up graduating and I ended up teaching statistics and…
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, wow.
JR: But it made all the difference to have the test prep because you can know all the math in the world but if you don’t know how the test operates, how the test works, how they formulated that test because it’s just as important as the answers are the method by which you have to get to them.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely. Well, I always tell my kids and like, “You’re playing in their ballpark, you got to play by their rules. If they’re playing dirty, you’ve got to play dirty back.” And at least be able to recognize when that’s happening. If I find that often times my high scores, the ones who come in with the high score, they’re not willing to buy in to that philosophy. They have a very hard time moving the needle because they’re committed to just doing it the way they do it because they’re smart and this is the way it should be. Well, that’s great except you’re not on a test that your teacher wrote and wants you to succeed on. You’re in a place where they’re trying to force you down in the curve. That’s the game.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: You know it’s funny they were talking about this and they had talked about in another podcast about the angular, with regard to the angular student and how many schools are the way they’re targeting these students and the fact that many of these higher performing students, they have three things in common. The ones who get into the best colleges and perform well, there are ones who not only have good intellect but also have another aspect, the ability to conform when necessary to the environment in order to complete the task. They don’t have to like it, they just have to endure it and know how to endure it and they tend to do better not only in testing but in college in general, the ability to conform to the circumstances.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It’s not about liking. It’s about dealing with the fact that being able to conform matters.
Lauren Gaggioli: And I think that’s an important life lesson too. I mean, you can’t walk into a room and just go, “I am who I am” and this is you know. At some point, if you want to have a conversation with someone, there’s a little give and take that has to go on. So it’s a good, it’s weird, I love these tests. I hate them because of what they do but I also love them because I get it and I just am so passionate about sharing that knowledge with my kids like let’s just get in there, get your score and get you out. You got better things to do with your life. I’ll stay here.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Right.
Lauren Gaggioli: You move on.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Right. With limited resources, people have no choice. Schools have no choice and state universities they have no choice but to weed out the ones who are blessed likely to make it through. On one hand, while there is no big correlation between high scores and the ability to actually graduate, what there is, well, this person took the time to learn this material, then took the test. Well, there is a certain level of sticktoitiveness you have to have in order to endure that process.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yup, absolutely.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I mean some people say undergrad, you know, for some school there’s nothing more than being able to prove you can put up with sticking somewhere for five years before you go to grad school.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh sure, yeah, absolutely. And I think on the test too, the other thing to really I think you need bloop your kids in on this conversation is there is money in your score. So.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: A lot of money in that score. A lot of money
Lauren Gaggioli: A lot, a lot. If you — if you move the needle hundred points, that’s valuable. It has tangible worth. So I think that that’s something that, if kids are on board and they get it, they understand the implications, then again, they more likely to commit to in a more thorough manner.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I try to impress on people that on one hand, there’s the merit aid system which occurs at the school level. It’s all individualized. But when you have, in the scholarship world where more and more scholarship are being corporatized and that they’re being run by or operated by, let’s say, Scholarship America which is a nonprofit, which operates a lot of different companies scholarships on their behalf. The SAT and the ACT is used as part of the total scoring. They use the same sort of scoring in order to decide who wins a scholarship and who doesn’t. It’s not judges sitting down. It’s created the same way they grade, the SAT written portion.
It’s created the same way and they will give you the same mark. So your SAT goes into the total cumulative score and makes an impact. So it’s got — it matters on so many levels and in so many different ways. Not just getting in, but getting in, getting the funding and keeping the funding you need to be able to continue going to school and graduate.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Now, here’s the thing. Parents really, if they want to just take off, take off running, what are three things that parents could do right now to help their students prepare? The things that they could, some habits they could start putting into play right now before anything else, as your kids going to school to help them prepare for the test.
Lauren Gaggioli: Sure. The first I would say is buy a really boring book something with, maybe by an old, dead white guy, like that, those books, The Canon. That would be a great place to start. Honestly, they’re trying to bore your students with their reading. So the more you bore your student and practice boring reading, if they view that as boring. Now, if they don’t, if they’re a weirdo like me who actually likes that stuff, send them to the economist.com and have them read an article a day, right?
Send them somewhere that’s outside their comfort zone, that’s a high level reading because that is a skill that is developed over time and it cannot be done. I have techniques to teach reading but if your kid is a really poor weak reader by the time they get to prep, six weeks, eight weeks that isn’t going to cut it. This is years of practice and it doesn’t have to be a horrible thing. Sit down and read it with them and let it spark a conversation; tie it to other things, really trying encouraging curiosity in an area that is maybe not an area of curiosity naturally for your student. Because I…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So Hemingway over Twilight.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yeah. And hey, I’m a die hard…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: The Old Man and the Sea.
Lauren Gaggioli: Right. I’m team Jake.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And don’t me get wrong, kids like the movies, okay? Oh, wow. She’s team Jake.
Lauren Gaggioli: I know, I know.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I mean…
Lauren Gaggioli: I’m a contrarian, what can I say?
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t care what anyone says, a wolf is far cooler than a vampire. I just think it’s…
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: That’s just me. I just think it’s way cooler.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. So I would say that would be the number one thing. And then number two, steaming off of that is to really help your student develop their vocabulary, right? So I find that in this day of LOL, GTG, whatever it is.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: IRL.
Lauren Gaggioli: What is that?
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I’ve noticed them using it in real life. I tried to talk to parents and students, they’re saying it and I’m sure even parents have found like, you know what? Let’s just speak in normal tone. Let’s have a conversation.
Lauren Gaggioli: What is that even mean? I don’t even know.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Right. IRL in real life.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yeah. I’ve had to start speaking it because I’m part of a coder for them and some of these young kids who code, they speak in this coded language, the same sort of Twitter speak.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, my.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And they hyphenate or shortened everything they say. So it’s really important to understand what it is that they’re saying and get it and speak Twitter and speak hash tag and speak text speak in order to really get it.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, no. You’ve got to go away from that at least around the dinner table and honestly, make a concerted effort to toss in one word a day that maybe your student doesn’t know and see if they catch it. If they don’t, ask them what it means and really force the conversation because I have to say the ACT is not a vocab-driven test, but they drop vocabulary in there and you can’t really study it because there’s no body of words that they use and it’s like two words a test maybe that they mixed in. So it comes from that base knowledge and something that a student needs to bring with them on the test. Just studying vocab words doesn’t really help as much as making it more an integrated approach.
So that would be number two, I would say and notice it’s very much reading verbal heavy. The fact to the matter is and especially if we’re focusing on the SAT, the whole darn thing is a reading test. Even the math, they are sneaky. And if your student can’t stay engaged with the written word, they’re going to have trouble. They’re going to have problems when they get on to this paper-and-pencil test, and that’s one reason why I have not yet put everything online. There are paper and pencil materials with my courses because that’s the format. They’re going to take it and eventually. So they need to be familiar with that and not – there is a difference between looking at a screen and looking down at a book and they need to start getting used to that.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: You got to walk away from the browser. You’re not going to get everything that way. You have to take in those conditions.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yes.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And you train – in the military we say “You train as you fight.” So make it as real as possible if you’re not able to get out of the browser and to use standard pen and pencil. If your school went to all iPads and you’re not using pens and pencil anymore, you’re not going to prepare for it, you’re not going to be ready.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely. And I’m offered green initiatives, that’s great, but at some point, we’re still doing a lot in pencil and paper. So try and bring vestiges of that old world back if you can. And thirdly, I would say sit down today if your student is in high school, sophomore or higher. Sit down today and come up with a plan of attack on the exams. One thing I didn’t mention before is that I encourage students to take both tests. I like students to take both tests because I was clearly supposed to do better on the ACT. I’m much more of a verbal girl. But I ended up doing exactly the same on the ACT without any prep for the ACT so I would have ultimately done better on it. So do I look one way?
I was actually wired a different way to do better on a different test and I say do the ACT first if it all possible because it’s slower. It’s – I like it too when you teacher student to drive. You don’t start on the freeway. You start on the parking lot. Well, the SAT is the parking lot. The ACT is the freeway. So if you’re going to do both, definitely start with the SAT. If you’re going to pick one, pick it and go for it but by all means, do not take a test called. Do not sign up for the real test unless you are committed to doing some preparation before you go in there.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: That is great advice. I got to admit that it – taking, I have to go back to taking test within the conditions. Even my test prep from that, I learned from, the place where we practice them looked and felt almost exactly like the real thing because the conditions do matter.
Lauren Gaggioli: Oh, yes. The library is an excellent resource. I say, go, rent a room at your local library. Usually you don’t have to pay, you just reserve it. Go in there, turn off your phone or turn it on airplane mode and only use the timer if that’s going to be your timer. Ideally, it’s a separate timer and go for it. And if you’re bored, guess what? That’s what it’s like on the real test day. You have to learn how to forge ahead –
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yeah.
Lauren Gaggioli: – and push through it.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It’s boring. It’s uncomfortable and it’s a complete chore just to use the restroom.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Get used to it. Time it.
Lauren Gaggioli: That’s part of it.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I mean, I tried to – somebody tried to tell me how much of a pain it was going to be just to use the restroom. I should have taken the word for it. I wonder if I could have gotten 10 more points out of that test. I just wonder if I could have eked it out if I just, you know because sometimes everyone is more like. You know and I’m going back to the center. I’m doing it again. No, no. This is happening.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I tell you what, you emailed me something and like I said you’re lightning round and I totally love it and I want to crib it and this is the first time I’m going to be using it. So complete source and credit to Lauren Gaggioli, let’s…
Lauren Gaggioli: Well, you’re welcome to use it whenever you like.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. So what is your number one best tip or piece of advice for families as they get the ball rolling?
Lauren Gaggioli: It’s hard being on this side of these questions, I just have to say. Number one best tip is to take the long view. Look at the whole process from where you’re starting and also don’t do what I call, don’t buy into the mentality that I called “keeping up with the Jones’ kids.” It’s not about them. It’s about your kid. It’s about who they are and what they’re going to bring to college. It doesn’t matter is little Suzie has done 4000 hours of community service, that’s not your kid’s gig. Don’t feel like you have to pressure them to do that. Just be authentic in who your student is and chart your course. Chart your unique course.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: What is the college testing book, blog, or tool that no family should be without?
Lauren Gaggioli: Mine.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Let it go confidence.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah. I have to say as much as I brag on them; College Board does a great job. They have wonderful college search tools. If you go over to SAT.collegeboard.org you can find all of those and there’s an online college search app that’s really great, that’s put out by ACT. So if you’re doing more desktop browsing, something on your laptop or your tablet, I would highly recommend College Boards. Their sort of online stuff is great, but if you’re looking for a free app to do a college search and sort of little things down, the ACT’s app is really awesome.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. So lots of families are out there overwhelmed by this process. What would you do to encourage those families to focus as they prepare for test day? I mean, they’re coming down to crunch time, what would you advise for them to do?
Lauren Gaggioli: It really depends on where you are, what year you’re in. Start from where you are. I think I’ve said it already but it’s really important to not look back and go or we should have. Just do the best you can with what you’ve got, when you’ve got it, and fight and attack. I mean, your kid is worth it. They need to have an advocate, be on the same team and work together towards wherever those goals are
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Okay. So your favorite – all time favorite book non-college admissions related.
Lauren Gaggioli: Okay. I had to cheat on this one. I have to.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Go ahead.
Lauren Gaggioli: So The Alchemist, I believe his name is Paulo Coelho is the author. It’s a short little read. It’s a beautiful story about finding your life’s calling and it’s like I said, it’s really easy. It’s very short. It’s simple and beautiful and it’s where I go when I need inspiration. I have read it a few times and I pretty much pick it up once a year ever since I found it. So well, it was given to me, I should say. So that’s a great one and it’s just a heartwarming story. And then the flipside is a non-fiction read by John C. Maxwell.
It’s called the 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. I love this book because I listen to it as I was getting ready to launch my company and a lot of the principles in it apply to test prep, to my world and I try and integrate them in my program. But I also just love them for students as they’re heading out on this path and it applies in life in general as well. So I think it’s great in all three of those arenas.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So like love the mirror, the love modeling, the love rubber band.
Lauren Gaggioli: I had it. Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I’ve browsed it before in my library so
Lauren Gaggioli: It’s great.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: My – I’m a bit of biblical files so I have – I keep it stock here and oddly enough, my son reads only a few of them. So he’s extremely well read. It’s just in other things.
Lauren Gaggioli: There you go.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: I’m going to have to take the Freakonomics’ author.
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: The author’s point of view. It really matters that you have a lot of books in the house. Not necessarily that you read to them so.
Lauren Gaggioli: I like it. Yeah.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Yeah.
Lauren Gaggioli: At some point, I’ll pick him up.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So finally, help our listeners get to you. How do they go about finding you? What’s your Twitter handle? What’s your website?
Lauren Gaggioli: Yeah. So my website is higherscorestestprep.com and that’s where you can find everything on SAT and we will be bringing an ACT course at spring 2015 is the latest. It will be there. I’m thinking I may ram it up and do it over the summer. But…
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And I definitely want you back on for that so we can –
Lauren Gaggioli: Great.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: – talk more about the ACT because there’s going to be some students here at the Midwest, we’re going to be taking it.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: And they need to prep just as much.
Lauren Gaggioli: Absolutely, yeah. And it’s a harder test to prep for, I have to say. It – the mental aspect of it is much more challenging. So yeah, so that’s the best place to reach me online. When you go there you can find links to all of my social media, but I am on Twitter @higherscoreslor. So that’s a great place to connect with me as well.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Lauren Gaggioli, founder, head mentor of Higher Scores Test Prep, thank you so much for taking the time to come on tonight.
Lauren Gaggioli: My pleasure.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Thanks.