Review of ACT Academy

ACT has just released ACT Academy, which is designed to help students “master the skills they need to improve their ACT scores.” But it is actually helpful? Let’s break it down.

First, the SAT and the ACT have quite the reputation.

There is a pretty sizeable, and not completely unfounded, belief that these standardized tests are so enigmatic that the only students who can do well are those who pay for elite prep. SAT battled this

reputation by partnering with Khan Academy to provide free resources to students prepping for the test. Now ACT is feeling pressure to match these efforts.

Enter ACT Academy…

The kids in the ACT Academy promo are clearly having more fun than the rest of us.

What it’s got

ACT Academy offers students a single site to take practice questions and do targeted topic review. However, when the confetti settle*, these students will realize that all the information on ACT Academy is already widely available on the Internet. No need to create yet another login and receive even more emails. ACT Academy uses questions from previously released ACTs, so any student who has done even a cursory search for ACT questions will likely have already seen these questions.

“But it’s got new content, right?”

No, it does not. When you miss a question from one of the practice tests, they give you links to YouTube videos on the subject of the question. Miss a question on matrices? Here’s a video about matrices! You could easily find these videos on your own using everyone’s favorite search engine, Bing.

Okay, yes, ACT Academy does some of the legwork for you by labeling the questions you miss to help you identify and classify those mistakes. It also has issued what is essentially a stamp of approval on the videos it includes on the website, helping you sort the good videos out there on the internet from the incredibly boring and/or incredibly confusing ones. It’s also free. Everyone loves free.

What to do instead

ACT Academy is a good place to start your ACT prep. You’ll see some practice questions and get an idea of where you stand. If you need more comprehensive material to help you translate effort to score increases, get in touch.

There probably won’t be any confetti, but we think efficiency is its own kind of party, don’t you?

* Confetti is a plural noun! Did you know that??!?


Upcoming College Admissions Presentations in Portland, Oregon

Kristen Miller, a long-time partner of North Avenue Education, is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon. She is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready and offers free consultations to 8th-11th grade students and parents.

Of course, the best way to get to know a college and whether it is a good fit for a student is to visit the college in person. But with the average number of colleges on students’ lists consistently growing, it can be an expensive and time-consuming proposition to visit every college a student is considering. According to The American Freshman Report, 46% of private school students and 25% of public school students applied to seven or more colleges in 2015, up from 17% overall in 2005. Given that demonstrated interest is becoming more important to many colleges, what can students do to get to know colleges and show demonstrated interest without visiting?

Besides the steps discussed in this recent blog post, students (and parents) should research if and when colleges will be visiting their area, and plan to make a connection. Some colleges still have room in their schedules and budgets for individual high school visits. A high school’s counseling office should have a schedule of these spring and fall visits to share with families, and students should plan to attend the visits offered from colleges of interest to them. But many colleges aim for more bang for their bucks by conducting joint presentations with other colleges and universities or by hosting their own informational events at a more central location. If you or your student is looking to make connections and demonstrate interest in person, see below a list of upcoming College Admissions Presentations in Portland, Oregon, as well as websites to check for future visit dates in your area:

Group Events

Join admission representatives from Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, and Washington University in St. Louis​ for a group presentation. Learn more about academic programs, student life, admission, and financial aid at these institutions. There will be time for questions and to meet representatives at the end. The event will be held on Monday, May 22nd from 7-9pm in the Moyer Theatre at Jesuit High School (9000 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy, Portland, OR 97225). Please register here.

The “Exploring Educational Excellence Tour,” hosted by Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn, and Stanford is Tuesday, May 23rd at 7pm at the Crowne Plaza in Portland (1441 NE 2nd Ave). You must register to attend.

The following night Brown University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, and Rice University will be hosting a joint presentation at the same location. The presentation will be on Wednesday, May 24th at 7pm at the Crowne Plaza (1441 NE 2nd Ave). Again, you must register online to attend and print a confirmation ticket to bring with you. If these are schools you are interested in, you should attend. Most of these schools do not visit individual high schools or attend college fairs, so this is your once-a-year chance to hear from the universities without going to their campuses! The presentation includes a brief overview of each institution, information on admissions and financial aid, and a chance to speak informally with admissions representatives. Parents are welcome to attend, but you must register all attendees online.

Jesuit Excellence Tour

Representatives from 15 different Jesuit universities will be gathering at Jesuit High School for a College Fair that is open to the public on Thursday, May 25th from 6-7:30pm in the student center (9000 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy, Portland, OR 97225). For more information and a list of attending schools, check out their Facebook page or contact Claire Silva at silva@gonzaga.edu.

College Fairs

College Fairs are offered in the spring and fall, and are a quick way to gather information on colleges and show demonstrated interest. This blog post offers some college fair tips, and below are upcoming fairs in Portland:

Interested in pursuing a college degree in music, theater, art, dance, or other related disciplines? Attend the Portland Performing and Visual Arts College Fair, Monday, October 16th from 6:30-8:30pm at the Portland Art Museum, Mark Building (1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205).

The 2017 NACAC National College Fair will be held at the Oregon Convention Center (777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR 97232) on Sunday, October 29th from 1-5 pm and Monday, October 30th from 9am-12pm. The fairs are free to attend, but students should pre-register.

Not Yet Scheduled (check back often)

The Coast to Coast College Tour, with Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Berkeley, and Princeton, should be scheduled for fall 2017.

Vassar, Tufts University, Vanderbilt also often travel together. Other highly selective schools use the Coast to Coast College Tour platform so check back in the fall for more information.

Yale and Wellesley (and others) have plans to visit California, but are not currently scheduled to visit Portland.

Past College Events (check back in 2018)

The PNACAC College Fair at the University of Portland Chile Center was just held on Sunday, April 30th. The spring fair is less crowded than the National College Fair in the fall, and is a great introduction to colleges for sophomores just starting to think about college. You can see the list of attendees here. Be sure to check back here next spring, http://www.gotocollegefairs.com/, and mark your calendars to attend if you currently have freshmen or sophomores in high school.

NYU (April 2017) http://www.nyu.edu/admissions/undergraduate-admissions/visit-nyu/events-in-your-city.html.

And MIT visited Portland in September 2016. Keep checking here for updates.

Many more events will be offered in the fall, so check these links again in August! If you are looking for a certain school that is not listed, go to that university’s website and search for “admission events in my area.” If you have any questions or need help with college visit planning, don’t hesitate to contact me.


How to Prepare for AP Chemistry Exam – All Year Long

AP Chemistry is known for being a difficult class in school—and a difficult test! However, if you’re taking AP Chemistry, you’ve already proven yourself to be a bright student and highly capable of studying complex topics. And while I wish I could tell you there was a quick and easy way to ace the test in May, there isn’t. Hard work and planning are what you need for scoring a 5 on the AP Chemistry test.

Here’s how.

In School: Understand Fundamentals

There’s an old English proverb by Lord Kanye West: you must crawl before you ball. Learning (and in a perfect world mastering) the fundamentals of Chemistry will give you a great foundation to understand advanced topics. But you have to be proactive and put the work in.

In the classroom, take those extra steps to understand introductory topics at the beginning of the class before moving on. It’s tempting to breeze over the information and get help from friends just to get a good score on an assignment, but in the long run it won’t be worth it. Cramming just to pass a unit quiz won’t help you retain information. You’re going to need that information months later.

So, talk to your teacher if you are having trouble with a concept. Make sure to get it. You’ll quickly learn that concepts in Chemistry (and plenty of other subjects, too) build on themselves as the course progresses.

For example, mastery of topics like atomic structure and electrons can be used to help explain bonding, ionization, and oxidation-reduction reactions. Learning about ionization will be much easier when you don’t have to rebuild all of that basic stuff to get there.

If not, the class will snowball out of control and you’ll find yourself really struggling. The last thing you want is to spend the year playing a constant game of catch-up.

Asking for help may not be your favorite thing, but building self-advocacy is critical to success in education, esp. college. Teachers want their students to succeed. They will help you. So ask. Ask questions until you fully understand the material to the point that you can teach it to someone else.

At Home: Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s another old English proverb: practice makes perfect. There isn’t much that can prepare you for the AP chemistry test except for the test itself. It’s a three hour and fifteen minute test, broken down into a 90-minute, 60-question multiple-choice section and a 105-minute free response section.

In other words, this test is an endurance trial.

I can’t recommend enough that students take multiple practices tests before the actual test to build stamina, reduce mental fatigue, identify content areas that need more reviewing, and become familiar with the style of questions on the test.

Tell help you conquer your practice tests, and use that time effectively and efficiently, here’s a practice test plan:

Before you take your first practice test:

  1. Read sample responses to free-response questions.
  2. Practice answering some free-response questions untimed to get a feel for the process.

Keep the following in mind when practicing free response questions:

  • Read the question at least twice before attempting to answer to be sure you answer the question thoroughly.
  • If a part of a questions relies on using the answer to a previous part, use your prior results to answer it. If you couldn’t complete a previous part, make up an answer and explain what you would have done.
  • Be specific!
  • Show your work, round calculations to appropriate significant figures at the end of the problem, and use appropriate units.
  • Clearly label your axes on graphs.
  • Once you are fully familiar with the format, it’s time to…

Take a practice test! (Barron’s AP Chemistry includes plenty of practice tests for you to choose from.)

  1. Plan on taking the test under standard test conditions, which means timed and in a quiet place. Set aside an afternoon or morning to take the test, make sure you’re well-rested, and set a timer.
  2. Once you’re done, reward yourself with a break! You just took a great step toward getting a high score on test day.
  3. Grade the practice test.
    Make notes about which type of questions you’re missing. Are there specific topics that need to be explored more fully? Are there fundamentals that need to be reviewed? Make a comprehensive study guide for yourself.
  4. Review missed questions thoroughly.
    Most practice tests provide the answers and explanations. Read these and understand why you missed the question, figuring out what topic is at the heart of the question.


  1. Study problem areas from your first test.
    Dedicate time to reviewing the topics you struggled with in your practice test.
    You can find practice problems specific to those areas in your study guide or test book (or online!).
    Try approaching one topic a day instead of doing it all at once. It will most likely be multiple hours of study, so be sure to split up the studying. The key is to retain all this information, so you need to give yourself time to take it all in!
    After studying a subject, remember to quiz yourself on the material a week later to assess whether you retained the information.

Repeat! (Because each released AP exam contains a slightly different spread of topics covered, the more practice tests you take the better prepared you’ll be for the topics you’ll see on the official exam date.)

AP Chemistry can be overwhelming and frustrating, but you have all the tools to succeed. With dedication and a strong study plan, you can rock it on test day!

Depending on how you do, you should work through a prep book or hire a tutor to review test strategies and content. If you’re not sure how to proceed, give us a ring after taking a practice test; we’ll talk you through your results and give you honest and specific recommendations for getting ready.

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