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Top 6 Test-Optional Tricks and Hacks for 2021 and 2022

Top 6 Test-Optional Tricks and Hacks for 2021 and 2022

Grantly
July 21, 2021

#1 Understand School's Motivation

The appearance of exclusivity, rather than the development of an intellectually and spiritually enriching environment for students, is frequently what drives the adoption of test-optional policies. Yale’s application rate, for instance, went up 33-percent this year, and its introduction of a test-optional application must have been largely responsible. And, as noted in the New York Times, “with low scores out of the tabulation, the average test score — reported to U.S. News & World Report for its all-important rankings — rises”. 

New York University is another helpful case study in a willfully misleading test-optional policy. The 85,000 NYU applicants for the fall of 2018 were not required to submit test scores, but of the 6,700 students who enrolled, 4,277 submitted SAT scores and 1,796 submitted ACT scores. This allowed the university to boast that this incoming class was their “most selective in history,” having neatly cut their acceptance rate in half from what it had been in 2015 (from 31% to 15%).

#2 Explain Your Circumstances

Admissions officers are more likely to consider an application without test scores from underprivileged students who faced nearly impossible obstacles. Consider the story of JoEllen Soucier: her parents never received a high school education, her father disappeared when she was five, and when she was sixteen she was without a home at all. Thanks to her resolution and to financial aid, JoEllen went on to earn “a bachelor’s degree in business, two master’s degrees and is well on her way to earning her doctorate in higher education”. For students in similar positions of financial hardship, or ones who have, say, a documented learning difference, a test-optional application can be a good choice. Of course, many of the largest and most direct scholarships are granted through ACT or SAT scores. If you need money for college, try and figure out how much your current scores could get you. Check out “How Much Money is One ACT Point Worth” to learn more about this!

#3 Analyze Your Score

In deciding whether a standardized test score will benefit one’s application, it is helpful to look at the school’s admission data if it’s available. The middle 50 percent of the accepted students for Princeton’s class of 2024, for example, scored 740-800 on SAT Math, 710-800 on SAT evidence-based Reading and Writing, and 32-36 on the ACT. A student whose test scores fall comfortably within those ranges could only benefit from sending it in with her application, especially at a selective school like Princeton. As Jed Applerouth has speculated, “Students who do have strong scores are probably going to stand out a little more in this year,” since many other applicants will provide no scores at all.  But if a student’s score falls significantly below this average, it would of course be better not to let the school see it, though one would then be relying heavily on a high-school record, including extracurriculars, which would need to be exemplary. The decision to omit standardized test scores would make sense only for students with a disparity between their school performance and their testing performance (e.g. a student with straight A’s and a 16 on the ACT).

#4 Think About Finances

There are a host of scholarships given directly for ACT® or SAT® scores. That is not to say that you cannot earn scholarships without an ACT® or SAT®, however, these tests can serve as a very easy way to earn extra scholarship dollars. Here at Granite, we calculated that for each point your ACT score increases you can expect an averages scholarship increase of $8,451!

#5 Analyze Your Grades

In the absence of standardized test scores, colleges and universities will rely more heavily on your high school GPA. Accordingly, if your GPA is very high and your test scores are markedly low, it might be a good idea to consider applying test-optional. The table below offers a general comparison between high school GPA and ACT. This is based on an unweighted 4.0 GPA scale. 

ACT Score

GPA (4.0 Unweighted)

36

4.0

34

3.95

32

3.9

30

3.8

28

3.6

26

3.4

24

3.2

22

3.0

20

3.0

18

2.8

16

2.6

14

2.4

12

2.0

10

1.8

#6 Identify “Student Type”

If you are in the small portion of students who have received likely letters (or another form of early admissions acknowledgment), it can be worth reaching out to the admissions office and inquiring about the need for standardized tests. Many star athletes and significant donor families (donations above 1 million in the last five years) have found that standardized tests were not needed for their admissions.

BONUS TIP!

Exclusivity, Injunctions, and Voluntourism: A New Horizon for Test-Optional

Exclusivity, Injunctions, and Voluntourism: A New Horizon for Test-Optional

Jack Aylor
July 20, 2021

“One might ask a question here: by what means can an ideology, which by its nature requires the surrender of one’s person to impersonal demands, lead to a student’s personal development?”

The Genesis of "Test Optional"

The idea of a test-optional admissions policy–one that would eliminate the requirement for submission of standardized test scores for applicants–first gained steam in the media after a widely-reported speech by the University of California’s president Richard Atkinson in 2001. Atkinson sensed that the concept of “innate intelligence” measured by the SAT-I was a fiction, and that to subject students to what was functionally an IQ test ignored their demonstrated “achievement” over the course of four years in high school. But Atkinson’s comments were somewhat misunderstood by many journalists who claimed that he had called for an end to standardized testing. In fact, he had only asked for it to measure “achievement” (as opposed to “innate intelligence”) more accurately. Atkinson even rejects the term “holistic review” (though it is credited to him by The New York Times), but two decades after his speech, the vague term still haunts nearly all write-ups about the test-optional policy on college websites.

“The legitimating ideology of student personhood...”

Test-optional policies might be seen as an outgrowth of what Jared Furuta calls, in glorious academese, “the legitimating ideology of student personhood” (239). One might ask a question here: by what means can an ideology, which by its nature requires the surrender of one’s person to impersonal demands, lead to a student’s personal development? What Furuta makes clear is that, rather than focusing on “student personhood,” the admissions officers have begun merely to transfer their evaluations from one set of impersonal data–SAT and ACT scores–to another equally impersonal set of data involving a GPA and endless logs of “extracurricular activities.” In other words, if an applicant’s test score has become less important, it doesn’t mean that admissions officers are no longer interested in strict evaluations. A student without test scores will now have to account for his or her “transcript, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular involvement,” as well as “demonstrated growth

Extracurricular activities demonstrate to schools certain intangible qualities that wouldn’t be apparent from a test score alone. A charitable student mentions the times when they worked at a soup kitchen, and an ambitious one the reforms they made while serving as student council president. But such lists of endless activity tend to benefit students who have time and money, rather than talent, to burn. Since the 1990s, the participation of working-class students in school clubs and sports has consistently declined, leaving the wealthier students to pick up the slack on the squash team. Letters of recommendation, too, seem to benefit students in small classes whose teachers know their names by heart, a much more likely scenario at an affluent private school than a low-income public school. And some overburdened teachers call the season of letter writing “Sucktober,” during which they must write many of the recommendations on their unpaid time off.

Illusion of Exclusivity

The appearance of exclusivity, rather than the development of an intellectually and spiritually enriching environment for students, is frequently what drives the adoption of test optional policies. Yale’s application rate, for instance, went up 33-percent this year, and its introduction of a test-optional application must have been largely responsible. And, as noted in the New York Times, “with low scores out of the tabulation, the average test score — reported to U.S. News & World Report for its all-important rankings — rises”

New York University is another helpful case study in a willfully misleading test-optional policy. The 85,000 NYU applicants for the fall of 2018 were not required to submit test scores, but of the 6,700 students who enrolled, 4,277 submitted SAT scores, and 1,796 submitted ACT scores. This allowed the university to boast that this incoming class was their “most selective in history,” having neatly cut their acceptance rate in half from what it had been in 2015 (from 31% to 15%).

California's Controversial Injunction

The University of California recently announced that its schools will be test-blind–that is, they won’t consider standardized test scores at all–for fall 2023 and fall 2024 applicants, including those who don’t live in California. For students applying for the fall of 2021 and 2022, the application will be test-optional, but scores will not affect eligibility for the university’s Regents and Chancellor’s scholarships. This pivot from test-score consideration was the result of the settlement of a 2020 lawsuit by students and nonprofits against the university, who claimed that test-results were not an accurate metric for merit and were discriminatory against disabled, low-income, and minority students. The university pushed against the suit, telling Bloomberg Law that it “strongly disagreed with the superior court’s decision to grant an injunction”, and that “an injunction may interfere with the university’s efforts to implement an appropriate and comprehensive admissions policies and its ability to attract and enroll students of diverse backgrounds and experiences”.

As colleges wean off of test scores, they may put more weight on students’ GPAs, but this would not necessarily make for a more equitable admissions process. For example, a study of high school grade inflation from 2005 to 2016 found that “while the median GPA rose in all schools, it rose by 0.27 points in affluent schools but just 0.17 points in less affluent schools”. That the degree of grade inflation differs from school to school is further evidence of the unreliability of GPAs in assessing college performance, since students whose schools do not inflate grades (or do not do so as severely as others) may be unfairly penalized in the admissions process. The path towards an admissions process that is fair for all students becomes ever murkier.

Pell Grants

Test-optional policies are frequently touted as a means of social and economic leveling, but in practice they have borne no fruit. According to one study, test-required schools from 1992-2010 accepted more Pell Grant recipients than did their test-optional counterparts, demonstrating that “test-optional policies failed to effect a positive change in the proportion of low-income and minority students enrolling at test-optional institutions”. This piece of data weakens the case for test-optional admissions, since Pell Grants have long been the greatest source of financial aid for underprivileged students. As noted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “they boost college enrollment, reduce drop-out rates, and improve student outcomes”.

Mindfulness-Based ACT Prep for The Boys and Girls Club

Mindfulness-Based ACT Prep for The Boys and Girls Club

Grantly
May 4, 2021

We are so excited to bring Granite’s Mindfulness-Based ACT® Prep Program to the Boys and Girls Club of Middle TN for the Summer of 2021! 

Program Overview

Boys and Girls Club members will have the opportunity to take part in a two month comprehensive ACT prep program. Our team of educators will host in-person classes three times per week. Sessions will include english, math, reading, science, and (of course) Mindfulness For Academic Achievement! Club members will also have access to Granite’s ACT Everything App (a mindfulness-based ACT® prep app). Finally, Boys and Girls club members will have the opportunity to take part in two fully proctored official ACT® Tests. Boys and Girls Club administrators (and students) will then have access to a rich suite of statistics overviewing student success! 

Live Classes

Our team of educators will host in-person classes three times per week. Sessions will include english, math, reading, science, and (of course) Mindfulness For Academic Achievement!

Mindfulness-Based Software

Club members will also have access to Granite's ACT Everything App (a mindfulness-based ACT® prep app).

Proctored ACT®

Boys and Girls club members will have the opportunity to take part in two fully proctored official ACT® Tests.

GRANITE® Overview

At Granite®, our test prep services are powered by a “mindfulness-centric” holistic approach. Students are encouraged to go beyond simply memorizing test content and learn how stress reduction, focus training, and test taking strategy will help them perform at the highest level.

At Granite®, we cover the academic fundamentals of your test (math, grammar, reading, science, quantitive reasoning, etc..), but we also offer students the opportunity to learn how to excel at Test Taking Intangibles®: test day diet, sleeping to score well, meditation and relaxation to reduce test anxiety, focus training to boost attention, and much more. At Granite®, we like to call this Mindfulness for Academic Achievement®!

At Granite®, we encourage our students to think about test taking as an athlete might think about an event, considering how both mind and body can work together to perform at the highest level.

3 Ways to Motivate an Unmotivated Student

3 Ways to Motivate an Unmotivated Student

Parent working to motivate your son

1. Re-define Goals for Motivation.

“you are so smart, if you just worked a little bit you would get an ‘A’”!

One of the main variables that will impact student decision making, goal striving, and motivation is is what psychologists refer to as “self-worth”. Self-worth, in the context of education-psychology, is a person’s judgment of their dignity and/or aptitude. 

When a student receives a low grade on an assignment, after little to no studying, one of the most common responses from parents is “you are so smart, if you just worked a little bit you would get an ‘A’”! 

In this case, most parents are (with a kind-heart) hoping to boost the self-worth of their student. Unfortunately, however, this language could lead the student to develop an unhelpful pattern: “If I do not study and fail, my parents will tell me I’m smart (but lazy)”. Since we as a society value “smart people”, this will only reinforce the pattern. Furthermore, the student may develop a fear: “If I DO study and fail, my parents will think I am dumb!” This further reinforces the student’s inhibitions to study. Since the student receives a “self-worth-reward” for NOT studying and fears shame in the case of studying, the student’s incentives are completely misaligned. 

The best way to avoid the aforementioned problem of “misaligned self-worth rewards” is to re-define our goals for our students and subsequently the language we use to discuss these goals. If our objective is simply for our student to work hard, it is wise to put our goal directly (and EXCLUSIVELY) on hard work. A parent might try saying the following to a student before a test: “As long as I know you studied for 1-hour before the test, I don’t really care what grade you get.” 

By redefining our goals, we can make clear our expectations to our student, AND we can free our student of the toxic notion that working hard yet receiving a low grade is an indication of personal (self-worth) failure. 

2. Promote Internal Attribution for Motivation

“My kid is struggling with the class because his teacher is horrible!’”

It is not uncommon for a student to find themselves in a class with a teacher who they do not like. This lack of connection could be rooted in personal difference, apathy on the part of the educator (or student), or a host of other complex interpersonal variables. The reality is that humans are complicated and not everyone will get along! That said, we run the risk of leading our student to lose motivation when we are publicly dismissive of a teacher. It is not uncommon for parents to say (often CORRECTLY!) “My kid is struggling with the class because his teacher is horrible!” While this could very certainly be the case, verbal expression of the issue will lead a student to feel that “trying isn’t worth it”.

It is not uncommon “in the real world” for someone to have an incompetent boss, an abrasive teammate, or an unpleasant colleague. Still, none of these situations warrant giving up on a goal. It is incredibly valuable to learn how to navigate and thrive in less-than-optimal situations. 

When a student expresses dislike for a teacher, whether, for pedagogical or personal reasons, I give them the following advice: “Get as high of a grade in the class as you can”! This advice hinges on one key reality: If you have not put effort into the class, your criticisms will be dismissed; however, if you work hard people will pay attention!” In other words, if a student with poor class attendance and poor grades criticizes a teacher, most people will not take the criticism seriously; however, if the star student makes the same criticism people will listen! 

Put simply, being dedicated to the class of a teacher you do not like, positions you well to express your discontent with the class! 

3. Work with Mindfulness for Motivation

"The biggest factor influencing student motivation is simply maturity!"

It is no secret that one of the biggest factors influencing student motivation is simply maturity! As adolescents grow, so do critical regions of the brain involved in long-term planning, decision making, and self-concept. While for the most part, these developments just take time, a mindfulness-practice can be an amazing way to nurture all these key regions of the brain. 

Mindfulness will train students to work skillfully with test anxiety, interpersonal struggles, boredom, and stress!

If you are new to mindfulness and don’t know where to begin, consider exploring some of our mindfulness courses. We have a mindfulness-based ACT® course to help students prepare for the college-entrance standardized test. Granite offers a course titled “Mindfulness for Academic Achievement®” which (as the name might suggest) is all about finding academic achievement through mindfulness. Finally, we even have a course that empowers adults to become certified “Mindfulness-Based Educators” (a great opportunity if you – as a parent – want to gain insight on guiding your student to a mindfulness practice).

Sources:

Everything You Need To Know About Filling Out Your FAFSA

Filling out the FAFSA
Students Graduate with Less Debt Thanks to FAFSA!
By Landon Funk, Granite Director of Education
Filling out college applications is strenuous, time-consuming, and, sometimes, boring. Now, add on applying for scholarships and federal aid, and you might feel a little overwhelmed. Well, you do not have to be. As someone who applied to around forty colleges and universities and for federal student aid, I can tell you firsthand that this process does not have to be as hard as it sounds – especially when it comes to applying for federal aid.
Dealing with the federal government is not something that you ever willingly want to do. There is a bunch of legal jargon and steps that make it difficult. Hopefully, this article will provide you with the knowledge and information about applying for federal aid that you need to succeed and come out of the process unscathed.
The first thing you need to know is that there are different FAFSA deadlines depending on which state you live and for which college your child is looking to apply. In Tennessee, our FAFSA deadline is February 1, 2021 for the 2021-2022 school year. Even still, your child’s future college might have a different, earlier deadline. Be sure to check out the college or university’s student loan/federal aid page on their application website.

Once you have decided when you are going to fill out the application, you will need to gather the following documents:

  • Child’s Social Security Card
  • Parents’ Social Security Card
  • Child’s Driver’s License (if they have one)
  • Alien Registration
  • Number (if not a US citizen)
  • Parents’ IRS W-2, IRS 1040, and Foreign Tax Returns
  • Records of Un-taxed Income (i.e. child support, interest income, etc.)
  • Records of Cash Information

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In order to apply for federal student aid, all you have to do is go to Google, type in FAFSA, and click the first link that comes up. Once you are there, press “Start Here” under the question “New to the FAFSA process?”
FAFSA Webportal

How do I fill out the FAFSA form?

Once you begin you FAFSA, you will be prompted to create a FSA ID. This can be anything as long as you remember what it is. After you create the FSA ID, you will be asked to create a “Save Key” which is another name for password. Your FSA ID and Save Key will allow you to login and access your FAFSA at anytime.

If you need to logout of your FAFSA before you finish it, you may do so. All your information will be saved and you can return to the application by simply logging in.

After you have created your credentials, the form will ask you a series of personal questions. This is a good time to grab your documents that I suggested you grab earlier in this article as you will need them to answer the majority of the questions.
One question will ask if your child is “Dependent” or “Independent.” If you claim your child as a dependent on your taxes and will continue to do so, please choose “Dependent.”
With the personal information out of the way, it is time to choose the colleges and universities to which your child is applying. Fill out as many schools as you wish to send the information to. And don’t worry, if your child decides to apply to another school after you have submitted the FAFSA, you can log back into the form using your credentials and add another school.
The last page of the FAFSA form is a review of all the information you have already filled out. Be sure to read over it carefully, checking to make sure that each question is answered correctly. Then, sign and submit!

What do I do after I submit the FAFSA?

To make things easier for us, we can access our FAFSAs via an app that is available on both the Apple Store and Google Play. This way, you can always access the application no matter where you are or what device you are using (iPhone, iPad, Android, or tablet).

If you have any questions about the FAFSA or federal student aid process, please do not hesitate to email me at landon@granitetestprep.com. I will be more than happy to assist you with the form and any other questions you may have. Also learn how ACT® and SAT® tutoring can help you maximize your college scholarships!

Other Questions about College Planning?

Top Test Prep Companies

Top Test Prep Company Nashville
Top Test Prep Company in Nashville

Preparing for the ACT®, SAT®, or AP® exams can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. That said, finding the best test prep can make the process exciting, empowering, and affordable! Recently, a student told me a story about the test prep center he had attended before coming to GRANITE®. Namely, the student’s previous testing center (it shall remain un-named) had paired the student with a fellow high-schooler who had scored LOWER on the ACT® than he had! Needless to say, their working relationship was not going to be fruitful. I was so shocked by this center’s practice, I wanted to create a list of the best test prep centers in Nashville. Clearly, I would rather EVERYONE learn with us at GRANITE®. However, should that not be “in the cards”, I want you to know the alternatives in town that have a great track record for success! Below are the lists of centers with professional test prep educators who are determined to help their students thrive. Additionally, i’ve added “Google Star Ratings” as an objective measure of the top test prep companies in Nashville! 

20 Google Reviews (5.0 stars)
5/5
What people are saying:

"I HIGHLY recommend this service for anyone trying to improve their score."

"We would refer him and his company to anyone preparing to take the ACT."

Clearly we are just a bit biased here at GRANITE®! But how could we not be; we truly believe that our mindfulness-centric approach to education: Mindfulness for Academic AChievement®. Allows us to empower students like no other test center in the world! All that said, there is no one better to focus on than the happy families who have worked with GRANITE® educators! For example, one high scoring student said: “I’ve used Granite test prep, and my score went up 4 points from a 30 to a 34!!! I HIGHLY recommend this service for anyone trying to improve their score. Thank you so much!!!” A happy parent had this to say about their family’s experience with GRANITE “…helped our son prepare well beyond what he had imagined, and the results far exceeded our expectations. We would refer him and his company to anyone preparing to take the ACT. He is professional, courteous, accommodating, and knows how to customize the learning process for each individual student.” Even school educators are talking about the GRANITE® classes, programs, and software offered at their schools! “I highly recommend Grantly Neely of Granite Test Prep. He worked with a group of students at the school where I work and provided excellent tutoring. Despite it being a large group, he provided individual feedback and encouragement.”

27 Google Reviews (5.0 stars)
5/5
What people are saying:

Best ACT prep I’ve ever done! Thank you so much Mr. Joseph !

"Highly recommend ACT HELP Tutoring."

It is hard to argue with 27 perfect 5.0-star reviews! Needless to say, Joseph students love his teaching style, methodology, and results. An excited high scorer had this to say “I’ve been in his class for about 3 years and I’m now acing my honors math class, and also been able to score a 32 in the PSAT Math. He is an amazing teacher and can guarantee you a 36 on your ACT.” Guaranteeing a 36 – that is an impressive guarantee no doubt! It seems, however, that many students attending ACT® HELP are scoring a 36! Just look at this feedback “Superior, Talented, Smart, Awesome, Fantastic, Amazing Teacher! If you’re a serious student looking to score a 36, take Joseph. As long as you attend the class and do flashcards and study, you get a perfect score.”

33 Google Reviews (4.9 stars)
4.9/5
What people are saying:

"My daughter had an amazing experience with doing ACT Prep with Ngenius."

"Highly recommend their services."

Based in Franklin, TN, “Ngenius” could be a perfect choice for families in Williamson county looking for a neighborhood option. Ngenius is incredibly well-reviewed with an average star rating of 4.9 stars!  One family had this to say about the amazing convenience of working with Ngenius “My son went for tutoring for ACT. They were positive and very easy to work with on scheduling. My son increased his ACT score by 4 points due to their tutoring. Benny is great. We can’t say thank you enough.” Another family was incredibly excited at how QUICKLY they saw results “After ONE session with Benny, his ACT score went up four points. After five sessions, his composite score broke 30!” Needless to say Ngenius is helping alot of families achieve their ACT® dreams!

5 Google Reviews (5.0 stars)
5/5
What people are saying:

I would definitely recommend this class to any student looking to improve their score!

Scott Sherman tutored both my children for ACT Prep. He is the best! Scott is professional and experienced. Mary Lee Bunch and Associates are a well kept secret.

Located in Brentwood, TN, and therefore convenient for both Davidson and Williamson County residents, Mary Lee Bunch Associates, L.L.C. has consistently been an iconic force in the middle Tennessee test prep scene. A student had this to say “I took a class to study for the ACT here and it was very helpful. I had a score of 33 on my practice test, and after being tutored here for a month I got a 35 on the actual test! They are also all really nice here and will help you learn in a comfortable environment.” Everyone knows that tests can be stressful and anxiety-inducing, therefore, we love how Mary Lee Bunch manages to help students feel comfortable.

How Much is 1-Point on the ACT Worth in Dollars?

How Much is 1-Point on the ACT Worth in Dollars?

Grantly
October 18, 2019
As the founder of Granite Test Prep, a Nashville, TN based education center, I spend a lot of time working with students and families on increasing ACT scores, finding colleges based on these ACT scores, and finally using these ACT scores to pursue merit scholarships and financial aid to make college a little more affordable!
I recently had a family ask me a great question: “how much is one point on the ACT worth in dollars?”
I recently had a family ask me a great question: “how much is one point on the ACT worth in dollars?” At the time, I didn’t have a direct answer for them; however, I was curious and I wanted to find a more exciting answer than “it depends on what you and your family values etc…”
I was curious and I wanted to find a more exciting answer than “it depends on what you and your family values etc…”
Finding an answer to the value of a single ACT point began with seeing what other experts in the field had recorded. College admissions blog “The College Solution” claims that a one point increase in ACT score (given certain situations) could equal as much as $24,000 for students applying to The University of Indiana. While this figure is certainly interesting, at Granite we wanted to know more! We didn’t want to know simply what a 27 to a 28 meant at Indiana, or what a 35 to a 36 meant at Alabama, we wanted to know ON AVERAGE how much a one point increase starting at ANY SCORE meant for ANY SCHOOL.
To calculate the average dollar amount value of a single point increase on the ACT, we went out and built a list of ALL the ACT scholarships we could find, their dollar values, and their ACT cutoff thresholds and we let the statistics magic begin
Without anyone on the internet giving an absolute value for “the value of a single point on the ACT”, I went about using some tricks I learned in my economics degree and began building a data set! Our set began with the college readiness blog “Prep Scholar”. Their fascinating article “Guaranteed Scholarships Based on SAT/ACT Scores” outlined many of the ACT-based scholarships available to college applicants. Still we needed more data, so we went school by school and studied their scholarship and financial aid pages. To calculate the average dollar amount value of a single point increase on the ACT, we went out and built a list of ALL the ACT scholarships we could find, their dollar values, and their ACT cutoff thresholds and we let the statistics magic begin (see the bottom of the article for a description of the “statistics magic”).
Ultimately we calculated that a single point increase on the ACT was worth $8,451 over four years.
Ultimately we calculated that a single point increase on the ACT was worth $8,451 over four years. That means that for ANY score and ANY school we would expect and AVERAGE increase in scholarship of $8,451 for every single point you get on the ACT. Below is a graph of some of the schools we included in our calculations. Along the bottom of the graph are ACT scores, and for every ACT score you can see how many dollars that score would be worth after 4-years.
It should be acknowledged that not all schools give money for ACT scores. Ivy League schools for example (and other “highly selective institutions” like Stanford or MIT), don’t offer any merit scholarships for academics or athletics. These schools prefer to give all of their scholarship money in the form of financial-aid, a package of grants, student work options, and sometimes loans that make these (otherwise very expensive schools) often very affordable. Since these schools typically have acceptance rates in the single digits, the value of an additional ACT point is in your percent chance of being accepted. Look for our next article which will be “Acceptance Rates and the Value of the Marginal ACT Point”.
These schools prefer to give all of their scholarship money in the form of financial-aid, a package of grants, student work options, and sometimes loans that make these (otherwise very expensive schools) often very affordable.
If you are interested in how much more money you could get in scholarships given a certain school and your specific profile please feel free to contact us at: contact@granitetestprep.com. We spend all day helping students and families like you figure out how to raise ACT scores and then how to use these ACT scores most efficiently in the college application process.

Stats Corner:

For our friends who love statistics, want to learn about statistics, or are simply wary of random figures posted in blogs, here are the calculations and methods we used to get our numbers and graphs! If you DON’T like statistics don’t worry! This section just explains how we got to the number of $8,451.

Our data set was an aggregated list of merit scholarship amounts and their corresponding ACT threshold. Merit scholarships were only included if they depended solely on ACT score (so as to reduce risk of bias from unobserved variables like “student GPA” or “student achievement”.)
Our equation was modeled as follows: Dollars= ß1(Score) + C
Regression Results are shown below:
R-squared: 0.634
ß1 T-Stat: 9.174 (p>0.000)

Math Geniuses Don’t Exist.

Math Geniuses Don’t Exist.

Grantly
October 15, 2019
For many students, math (or another “math-heavy field” like computer science, physics, accounting, economics etc.) can be the most intimidating subject in school.

For many students, math (or another “math-heavy field” like computer science, physics, accounting, economics etc.) can be the most intimidating subject in school. Statements like “I’m not some math genius” or “I can’t possibly take that class” can be heard echoing down high school and college hallways alike, when math class is mentioned. 

“I can’t possibly take that class”

Parents and students typically attribute these mathematical challenges to “not being a math person” or “the class being just too hard”. After tutoring countless students in math, physics, economics, statistics and other quantitative classes that elicit stress in those with “numerical anxiety”, at GRANITE we think something different is going on. 

Math is different from history or english largely in the way it is expressed.

Math is different from history or english largely in the way it is expressed. English and history use words. While words can be long and complicated, ultimately they are still words. Words are comfortable; we use them to text our friends, read our favorite blogs, and follow the subtitles in foreign films. Accordingly, when an english or history teacher gives us a uniquely hard article, primary source, or novel, we can feel reassured that at the end of the day this challenging academic obstacle is still made up of words. Math by contrast is not built on words but on “notation”: symbols used to count, categorize, and estimate.

Words are comfortable; we use them to text our friends, read our favorite blogs, and follow the subtitles in foreign films.

It is not uncommon for a student to come across a math problem and leave the question blank, in spite of having all the skills needed. When reviewing the problem, the student will often say “I didn’t know that symbol, so I panicked and just skipped it”. This, of course, is not the fault of the student at all. Our mainstream cultural dialogue and academic systems consistently reinforce the idea that math is something extremely difficult reserved for “math geniuses”, and the resulting panic students feel is just a self fulfilling prophecy. 

…consistently reinforce the idea that math is something extremely difficult rese

What happens when smart kids don’t score well?

Student Taking the ACT

What happens when smart kids don’t score well?

Grantly
December 19, 2018
“If I am working hard, why am I not getting the score I want?”
As the founder of Granite Test Prep, an education consulting and college readiness company based in Nashville, TN, Grantly Neely spends most of his days talking with students about test scores: what they mean, how to raise them, and whether or not they even matter. It is not uncommon for students to excel in school, yet struggle when it comes to test taking. In these cases, the solution can often be to get a tutor; however, when test grades don’t improve or ACT scores don’t increase, students can become disheartened and lose confidence. Teachers may tell families things like “your student is doing her/his work and understands the concepts, I’m not sure why s/he is struggling so much on our tests.” Or a student will be consistently performing academically, only to perform far below expectation on national standardized tests (PSAT/SAT/ACT), in spite of prep courses, tutors, and practice tests. At this point it is only fair to wonder: If I am working hard, why am I not getting the score I want?
For many students, this unfortunate gap between understanding and “performance” is a product of our preparation methods.
For many students, this unfortunate gap between understanding and “performance” is a product of our preparation methods. Tutors, review books, teachers, and even well intentioned youtubers, typically focus exclusively on the test content, completely ignoring the reality that performance on tests is driven just as much by an understanding of test content as it is by the “intangibles of test taking”. It is likely these “intangibles” are so frequently ignored that you might not even know what I mean. At Granite Test Prep we are fascinated with these test taking intangibles and typically focus on two major intangibles: the ability to stay focused through the entire duration of an exam and the ability to stay calm when an exam is not going exactly as we like. Our focus, calm, and confidence vary naturally from day to day. Accepting these as key variables on test taking success, we often attribute undesired scores to these intangibles. It is not uncommon for parents to sympathetically say: “don’t worry honey – you just had an off day!” Still, this consolation leaves students with a question: why did I have an “off-day” and how can I have more “on-days”?
There are many exercises and strategies that are designed specifically to help test takers have more on-days.
Fortunately the above question has an answer! There are many exercises and strategies that are designed specifically to help test takers have more on-days. These exercises help build up focus or calm, depending on a student’s need. Therefore, if you struggle to demonstrate what you know on exams and tests, practicing mindfulness might be a great place to start. It is important to remember that mindfulness is a skill and an exercise, while some benefits can be experienced in only a couple days, most of them don’t start to show up for a few months. If you want to try a simple meditation one of our favorites is outlined below:
Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”over four years.
  1. Find a comfortable seat and sit upright

  2. Close your eyes

  3. Take a couple deep breaths

  4. Notice any sounds or scents in the room

  5. Notice the ground beneath your feet

  6. Notice what your breath is doing (don’t change it – just notice)

  7. Begin counting your breath 1 on the in breath 2 on the out breath (again we aren’t trying to control or influence our breath just gently count)

  8. Once you reach a count of 6 start back at 1

  9. If you notice your mind wanders just bring it back to whatever number you last remember being on. No need to feel frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath; you are building the “focus muscle” of your brain.

  10. Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”

  11. After 10 mins is complete open your eyes and go about your day!
    Source: “Students with Test Anxiety Score 8-Points Higher (out of 100) After 3 Week Mindfulness Course

Considering what you eat is also very important when thinking about test performance. Cutting-edge scientific research shows the importance of nutrition in supporting the focus and calm needed for academic performance. Many student’s struggle with long tests simply because they don’t bring any snacks. Rapid changes in blood sugar level can wreak havoc on our ability to focus. Accordingly, keeping a steady energy level by eating small snacks during all breaks can be extremely helpful to test takers. These snacks should be high in protein and low glycemic index.
Rapid changes in blood sugar level can wreak havoc on our ability to focus.
High glycemic foods (white bread, candy, soda) can cause crashes and subsequent brain fog. The world of nutrition for academic performance is complicated things like fiber, probiotics, and fat also have critical implications on how our brains work. Learn about how “Medical Students See Lower Cortisol Levels (stress hormone) after 8-weeks of probiotics”
Small changes can have huge impacts on test scores, so just choose a couple intangibles that resonate with you and work on those.

When evaluating how test taking intangibles affect our performance on standardized tests it can be tempting to feel overwhelmed thinking: “I have to change my entire lifestyle just to do well on tests!” That is absolutely not the case! Small changes can have huge impacts on test scores, so just choose a couple intangibles that resonate with you and work on those. If you have any questions about the world of test prep feel free to reach out to us at contact@granitetestprep.com we love chatting with people and sharing our recommendations!

Author: Grantly Neely is a certified KORU mindfulness teacher, founder of Granite Test Prep and Nashville native. For more about Grantly and his amazing team of educators CLICK HERE

What test takers can learn from athletes about a 24% GPA boost and 13% increase in confidence

What test takers can learn from athletes about a 24% GPA boost and 13% increase in confidence

Grantly
November 21, 2018
“the GPA of [the] “brain training group” had increased by 24%… [and] a 13% increase in self reported confidence”
We know that athletes work out to perform at a higher level for their sport. Be it baseball, tennis, basketball, or soccer — it is understood that you will only be able to perform at the highest level if you are training your body. Not surprisingly your brain needs a similar type of “workout” if you want it excel on tests and projects. Doing math, writing papers, or creating art are all great “brain workouts”. Still, one brain workout has been largely ignored until recently.
Still, one brain workout has been largely ignored until recently…

Thousands of cutting edge scientific studies are finding the value of mindfulness-based brain training exercises for academic achievement. Just as an athlete works on cardio to improve endurance, a student should use a mindfulness-based practice to build up attention span. When an athlete lifts weights to get stronger, a student might use mindfulness to strengthen memory. The parallels between physical fitness and brain fitness are endless.

Mindfulness powered brain training literally increases the density of “grey matter” in our brain.
The connection between time spent in the gym and time spent with the aforementioned brain exercises continues if we look at the anatomy behind these respective gains. Mindfulness powered brain training literally increases the density of “grey matter” in our brain. Grey matter, the material made up of billions of neural-connections, is the critical building block for many of our brains most important regions. Specifically, mindfulness has been shown to increase the size and density of the hippocampus (the area of the brain associated with memory), the temporoparietal junction (the area of the brain that deals with language and attention), and the posterior parietal cortex (responsible for keeping us focused on the task at hand). If your team’s coach thought you needed to strengthen your biceps, you would do concentration curls. On the flip side, if you had a hard time focusing on tests, your tutor should recommend the appropriate brain training exercises.
If your team’s coach thought you needed to strengthen your biceps, you would do concentration curls. On the flip side, if you had a hard time focusing on tests, your tutor should recommend the appropriate brain training exercises.

So what is an easy way to get started with some “brain pull-ups”? Below is an easy ten step guide to begin practicing. If you have specific questions set up a meeting with a Granite Prep educator to discuss your goals and needs.

Enjoying the benefits of mindfulness isn’t difficult, nor is it particularly time consuming. The simplest mindfulness exercise (a breathing meditation) only takes ten minutes a day and goes something like this:
  1. Find a comfortable seat and sit upright

  2. Close your eyes

  3. Take a couple deep breaths

  4. Notice any sounds or scents in the room

  5. Notice the ground beneath your feet

  6. Notice what your breath is doing (don’t change it – just notice)

  7. Begin counting your breath 1 on the in breath 2 on the out breath (again we aren’t trying to control or influence our breath just gently count)

  8. Once you reach a count of 6 start back at 1

  9. If you notice your mind wanders just bring it back to whatever number you last remember being on. No need to feel frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath; you are building the “focus muscle” of your brain.

  10. Every time you get distracted and focus back on your breath you have done a “brain pull-up”

  11. After 10 mins is complete open your eyes and go about your day!
    Source: “Students with Test Anxiety Score 8-Points Higher (out of 100) After 3 Week Mindfulness Course

If you aren’t completely convinced yet, let the numbers speak for themselves. Below shows the results of a study conducted at the University of Almería, Spain. The study randomly split a high school into two groups; one group received mindfulness brain training, the other did not.
…after the training, however, the GPA of the “brain training group” had increased by 24% for the semester whereas the “no brain training group” didn’t see any change in GPA.

GPAs of the students were recorded and then compared to GPAs at ten weeks later. Before the training, the two groups had very similar GPA’s, after the training, however, the GPA of the “brain training group” had increased by 24% for the semester whereas the “no brain training group” didn’t see any change in GPA. The students who received the mindfulness training also saw an increase in academic confidence. These students enjoyed a 13% increase in self reported confidence. Once again, the group who did not receive any brain training did not see any change in confidence. The results from the study are shown in the table below (to read the full study click here).

If you are looking to bring your academic performance and self confidence to the next level, getting into a mindfulness practice to train your brain is a great place to start. Try getting in a habit of doing the exercise described above every morning or afternoon for ten minutes.
Just like with any exercise, you won’t start noticing the results right away. Just like it takes time to build muscle, it takes time to build our brain.
Just like with any exercise, you won’t start noticing the results right away. Just like it takes time to build muscle, it takes time to build our brain. That said, after staying with this exercise for a month or two you will likely begin to notice a sharper and calmer mind. For any questions about what exercises would be most helpful for your particular goals reach out to us at contact@granitetestprep.com or leave a comment below and we will answer!

*The Stats:

At Granite Prep we feel it is critical to maintain the highest integrity with our statistics, so we publish t-statistics and confidence intervals for all our figures. The t-statistic for the difference in academic achievement between our groups’ pretreatment was 0.846 (not statistically significant ). This is a good indication that the groups were infact randomly assigned. The pretreatment difference in confidence was 0.858 (not statistically significant), again speaking to the randomly assigned nature of the groups. The t-statistic of the difference between treatment and control groups after the ten weeks was: 3.62 (p<0.001) and 4.86 (p<0.001) for GPA and confidence respectively.
If you don’t know what these numbers mean, but you are interested check out this great course on research statistics!

Grantly Neely is a certified KORU mindfulness teacher, founder of Granite Test Prep and Nashville native. For more about Grantly and his amazing team of educators CLICK HERE

Sources:
Franco C., Mañas I., Cangas A.J., Gallego J. (2010) The Applications of Mindfulness with Students of Secondary School: Results on the Academic Performance, Self-concept and Anxiety. In: Lytras M.D., Ordonez De Pablos P., Ziderman A., Roulstone A., Maurer H., Imber J.B. (eds) Knowledge Management, Information Systems, E-Learning, and Sustainability Research. WSKS 2010. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 111. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg

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