Seven Ways to Improve Your ACT Writing Score


During my junior year of high school, I decided to dedicate my time to being a peer editor. My free periods consisted of revising papers, from youthful, optimistic 6th graders to second-semester seniors that were definitely sliding. One question that I was constantly asked across the board was: “How do I become a better writer?” The number of times this question was asked multiplied when the ACT scores came back and I did well on it. My usual response, even after the ACT,  was some sort of “I’m not sure it just comes naturally to me” or “Just a lot of hard work.” Those answers are slightly true, but not the whole truth. Becoming a better writer, in general, does take time and effort, but these tips below will help your writing process, and definitely your ACT writing score.

  • Read Your Own Work

This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but this is one of the most common mistakes I see in writing. I guarantee that there will be many mistakes: whether it will be spelling errors, punctuation oversight; or even just a sentence that made perfect sense in your head, but is confusing on paper. I understand that it can be very cringe-worthy to read through your work, but I promise it will improve your paper significantly.

  • Practice! Practice! Practice!

This is probably one of the easiest steps for the ACT audience, a.k.a. high schoolers. We are constantly writing for our English courses, and it is very clear that we improve over the years. If you cannot see a change in your writing from assigned papers, search for more prompts and write sample essays. Take about an hour each week, and write a paper with different types of prompts. Not only will this help your writing, but this will help your pacing skills, making you even more prepared for your test.

  • Don’t Make The Same Mistakes

   Not only is this a great life lesson, it is a fantastic writing skill. Think of all of the essays you have gotten back from teachers, what are your most common mistakes? For some people, it may be run-on sentences, comma splices, or general flow of words. Whatever you do, make an effort to change your habits, and don’t hold yourself back by not changing.


  • Dilate Your Vocabulary

It is so important to stand out and use more than average words. Try taking everyday words like ‘good’ and replace it with ‘reputable.’ Try to eliminate casual words like ‘cool’ and the repetition of ‘like.’ I would suggest trying to incorporate a SAT/ACT word into your day (like Cher did in Clueless with ‘sporadically’) This will enhance your vocabulary and make all English assignments easier.

  • Go In With A Plan

Remember those brainstorming tools teachers would give you in elementary school to help organize your ideas when writing an essay? If not, here’s a nostalgic reminder:

This may seem like a childish idea, but it really does help with making sure you have a properly formatted essay with strong points. The ACT gives one prompt with 3 opinions and asks which one you side with. When I took the ACT, I was conflicted in choosing which opinion I delineated with the most; however it was clear when I was able to produce 3 strong points about one and became stumped with the other. If you do this step, I promise that your essay will be 10x easier to write, because it will basically be plugging in ideas and elaborating.  


  • Use All of Your Allotted Time!!!

I cannot express how anxious I feel when I see fellow test takers finish essays in 20 minutes. There is no way to do all of the steps above in that short amount of time!! Even if you are not doing anything to your essay, you might think of a new idea, or correct an old idea written down. This will also help pacing issues if you have them. This was all of your ideas will have the time to develop and come out during the test, instead of later.

  • Have Fun!

Lastly, be creative! Writing is a beautiful way to express yourself and your opinions. This is the only creative outlet on standardized tests, and it should be utilized. Try not to stress too much about writing an essay, but still take it seriously. If you follow these steps and have some confidence, writing an ACT essay should be a breeze. 



Guide to Acing the ACT English Section


{How I got a 35 on the English ACT}

“I admire people who dare to take the language English, and understand it and understand it’s melody.” –Maya Angelou

Let me clue you in on a little secret: I hate studying. Especially mechanical things like historical dates, math equations, or grammar rules. With that being said, around 60% of the English section of the ACT is exactly what I just described: mechanical things like grammar rules.

I definitely have to work on staying focused and paying attention during that 60% of questions, and the other 40% too. Below are some tips and tricks to aid you while taking the English section of the ACT, but first, let’s break the test down.


The English test consists of 75 questions to be answered in a 45-minute time span. The questions are:

Usage and Mechanics

Punctuation: 7-11 q’s

Grammar and usage: 11-15 q’s

Sentence structure: 15-19 q’s

Rhetorical Skills

Strategy: 11-15 q’s

Organization: 7-11 q’s

Style: 11-15 q’s

Tips for Usage and Mechanics:

  • Use Practice Questions to Your Advantage. There are so many practice tests and worksheets out there. Try to do a couple each day, and at the end of the week grade them. The ones you had trouble on the most, practice the next week.
  • The 4 C’s. Make your sentences Complete, Clear, Concise and Competent. Read sentences out loud to yourself and make sure they sound accurate.
  • Cross out answers that are obviously wrong immediately. Instead of trying to choose between four answers, choosing between two or three is a lot easier.
  • Know the W’s. Who and Whom. Who goes with he, she and it. Whom goes with Them.
  • Commas go in pairs. (Unless separating two independent clauses)


Tips for Rhetoric Questions:

  • I cannot stress it enough how much reading helps. When reading, you are constantly being exposed to new vocabulary and correct sentence structure and grammar. Make sure what you are reading is officially published, so it is edited correctly.
  • Read above and below the sentence the question is on. Know the style and tone of the paragraph you are answering the question in.
  • Focus on the NOT. A lot of people miss simple questions because they do not notice a question that say which is NOT right, compared to the contrary.

Know the basics of English. If you have been taking Literature or British Storytelling for two years, you might need to review the basics!




10 Scholarships to Apply For in August/September


“We believe, that is, you and I, that education is not an expense. We believe it is an investment.” –Lyndon B. Johnston

  1. $5,000 Young Patriots Essay Contest

Deadline: January 5th, 2017

Age/Grade: Middle and High School

  The Young Patriots Essay Contest is designed to challenge middle and high school students to creatively engage with public policy and current events through the art of writing. We assign a controversial topic each year, and three winners are chosen to receive a scholarship out of hundreds of essay submissions. Find the topic and entry instructions below! "Are international free trade agreements in the best interest of the United States? Why or why not?"

Contest participants have the opportunity to: -Earn a college scholarship of up to $5,000 -Have your essay published on Debate Central -See your essay posted on the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) home page -Have your essay shared with 200,000 NCPA Policy Patriots via email -Have your winning entry be sent to your hometown newspapers, radio, and TV

Essays must be written in English and should not exceed 1,200 words. A bibliography does not count towards the word total.

  1. Don’t Text and Drive Scholarship

Deadline: September 30, 2016

Age/Grade: None

Citizenship Limit: US or Legal Citizen

Do you know how far you will drive on the freeway if you take your eyes off the road for five seconds, the average time it takes to send a text? An entire football field. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting while driving makes drivers 23 times more likely to get into a "safety-critical event." The purpose of this scholarship is to help you understand the risks of texting while driving. You must be a high school freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior or a current or entering college or graduate school student of any level. Home-schooled students are also eligible. There is no age limit. You must also be a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

We'll select the 10 finalists based on the content of the 140-character message. The winner will be selected based on the content and creativity of the 500- to 1,000-word essay.

  1. $1,000 College JumpStart Scholarship

Deadline: October 17, 2016

Age/Grade: 10th-12th

Citizenship Limit: US or Legal Citizen

The College JumpStart Scholarship is an annual, merit-based competition that is open to 10th, 11th and 12th graders and college students and non-traditional students. The goal is to recognize students who are committed to using education to better their life and that of their family and/or community.

Applicants must be 10th, 11th or 12th grade high school, college, or adult students. Applicants may study any major and attend any college in the U.S. Applicants must be legal residents of the United States and complete the online application form including the required personal statement. The award may be used for tuition, room and board, books or any related educational expense.

  1. $500 Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science International Essay Competition

Deadline: October 5th, 2016

Age/Grade: High School and International Equivalent

All high school students and international equivalents are invited to submit an essay about the recent effects and future promises of science in our society. Write about particular discoveries, events, or persons from science in current events or present a more general account of the changes and developments. Each essay must be accompanied by a statement of acknowledged validity by a teacher in the field of the sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Students must submit their essays and entry forms electronically on or before the contest deadline of October 8th.

Students who have family members affiliated with the Journal, or serving as contest judges are not eligible to participate.

This year's prompt: Albert Einstein once said, "To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science." The scientific process has become increasingly interdisciplinary. Examine a modern issue in STEM being addressed from an interdisciplinary perspective and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of how these separate fields approach the issue and interact with each other. Potential topics could be found within many fields, including environmental science, engineering, and neuroscience. Note that originality is a substantial component of scoring.

- No literary form other than an essay will be accepted. - Each essay must reflect the contestant’s own writing and original thinking. - No graphs, images, or illustrations should be included in the essay - The essay must be sent via e-mail to with the subject line "DUJS ISEC SUBMISSION." - The Student Entry Form should be scanned and saved as a .pdf, .jpeg, or .png It must be attached to the email in conjunction with the essay. - Entries must be received on or before October 5th.

  1. $10,000 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest

Deadline: January 4th, 2017

Age/Grade: Grades 9-12

Citizenship Limit: US Citizens only

The contest is open to United States high school students in grades nine through twelve (9-12) attending public, private, parochial, or home schools; U.S. students under the age of twenty enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or the U.S. territories; and U.S. citizens attending schools overseas. Past winners and finalists are not eligible to participate. Employees of John Hancock Financial Services and members of their families are not eligible to participate.

Topic: Describe and analyze an act of political courage by a U.S. elected official that took place during or after 1956. Include an analysis of the obstacles, risks, and consequences associated with the act. The essay may concern an issue at the local, state, national, or international level.

Requirements: -Essays can be no more than 1,000 words but must be a minimum of 700 words. Citations and bibliography are not included in the word count -Essays must be the original work of the student. -John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy are not eligible subjects for essays -Essays must describe an act of political courage by a U.S. elected official that occurred during or after 1956, the publication date of Profiles in Courage. The official may have addressed an issue at the local, state, or national level Essays about past recipients of the Profile in Courage Award will be disqualified unless they describe an act of political courage other than the act for which the award was given. -Essays must have a minimum of five sources

  1. $500 Odenza Marketing Group Scholarship

Deadline: September 30th, 2016

Age/Grade: Ages 16-25 and have at least one year of secondary school left

Citizenship Limit: US and Canada only

In order to apply for the Odenza marketing group scholarship, you must first ‘like’ our Facebook page, and write two short essays. Every essay must contain 3 essential elements.

The essay must provide a thesis statement (in the introductory paragraph). The thesis statement must encapsulate the main argument for the paper. It must be clear and coherent, and it must answer the question that has been put forth by the application.

The essay must offer supporting evidence. The writer must provide the supporting evidence in paragraph (not bullet or list) form. Each paragraph must contain evidence that supports one idea or concept that proves the thesis statement. The writer must provide citations (in footnote, endnote, or parenthetical form) for all evidence presented.

Every essay must follow basic rules of grammar and format. Every paper must contain a beginning (introductory paragraph), a middle (several supporting paragraphs that compromise the body of the paper), and an end (conclusion paragraph). Grammar is vital for essay composition. Sentence fragments, misspellings, and improper punctuation denote a carelessly-written and poorly-conceived paper.

      7. $1,000 R2C Scholarship

Deadline: September 30, 2016

Age/Grade: 17+ and enrolling in college within 12 months or already enrolled

Citizenship Limit: US Citizens

Scholarship is open to U.S. citizens and legal residents who are starting a program of higher education (college or graduate school) within the next 12 months or are currently enrolled. Applicant must be 17 years of age or older and there is no maximum age limit. Applicant must share in three sentences of less why they are getting their degree.

  1. $1,500 Shout It Out Scholarship

Deadline: September 30, 2016

Age/Grade 13+ and will enroll no later than 2022

Citizenship Limit: US Citizen

Scholarship is open to students 13 years of age or older who are legal residents of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia and are currently enrolled (or will enroll no later than the fall of 2022) in an accredited post-secondary institution of higher education. Applicant will need to submit a short response to a given prompt.

  1. $1,000 Scholarship

Deadline: September 30, 2016

Age/Grade: High school seniors and college students

Scholarship is open to high school seniors and college students enrolled in an accredited academic institution. Applicant must submit an essay on the most interesting item they have received in the mail.

  1. Up to $100,000 Siemens Competition Scholarship

Deadline: September 20, 2016

     Age/Grade: Grades 9-12

Competition is open to individuals and teams of up to three students in grades 9 through 12. Students are encouraged to do research in mathematics, engineering, biological, or physical science.



How to Get Through the ACT/SAT By the End of Junior Year!


If you were to hasten towards a graduated high school senior during their graduation party and quickly ask them about their one regret during college applications, don’t expect a hesitated answer. Almost anyone that recently went through the college admission process will give advice lines of starting something earlier, whether that’s their essays, extra-curricular activities, or getting focused in school. A quick “congratulations” and a thank you for the Target gift card you gave them, and sadly one of your only resources to learn from the best is gone. Now while you may have more follow-up questions to ask, a quick call from their parents for them to start cutting the cake leaves you alone and empty-handed with a bunch of little pieces of advice you don’t know how to execute. Until now…

Your scores on the ACT and SAT, two standardized tests required by a large majority of colleges in the United States, is one of the biggest factors in a collegiate acceptance, wait-listing, or denial in the admissions process. Since test scores, a number on a page that although easily countable to six-year old’s but is a tiring task for anyone, holds near as much weight as your grades and courses, it’s a number that you really want to perfect.

Many high schools’ recommended track for testing, which is taking your test with the school in the spring of your junior year, puts many students on a track that leaves little to no time for improvement. First generation students, the first child in a family, or anyone who’s just naive to the college admission process may fall into this trap, and may be the same senior giving a speech about starting early before quickly diving into your graduation cake.


While not having the tests scores you want not only adds stress to your junior year, it completely delays the rest of the college application process. Since your practice test scores can’t be sent to your colleges, and thus you’re practice test improvements aren’t official, you can’t create a college lists with accurate safety, match, and reach schools based off of your profile, as you don’t know if your test scores are an accurate representation of match, safety, and reach schools based off of your academic profile. This results in you either having to send in scores blindly, which no one wants to do, or not having the flexibility to apply to colleges and universities early action or early decision, both deadlines that require you to submit your application earlier than in January when most regular decision deadlines are. The timeline below is one that can (almost) guarantee all of your testing is done by the end of your junior year, allowing you to get a good amount of sleep each night.

September-December: Introduction to the testing life

The beginning of junior year is the best time to get exposure to the SAT and/or ACT, as you’ll have plenty of time to get practice tests. While some high schools and school districts have the PSAT and practice ACT requirements for their students, it’s also good to take the extra initiative and take a real version of this test on your own, to gain more exposure and experience. Once you get the scores back from the test(s) taken in these few months, you can see if your satisfied with that score if you’re going to put in some additional practice, if that means doing self-studying or private tutoring, which you can read about in the article here:


January-April: The testing grind continues

The cold and rainy months are a great time to do more work when you need it. This is the time to have the work ethic push you did in the fall and beginning of Christmas months show in the scores for the tests for these months. You can either schedule the test on your own, wait until you take the test with your school, or both. Just make sure you pace out when you take each tests so you can balance out your school work, extra-curricular activities, and everything else you have going on.

If after your extra studying, you found that you found your score didn’t move as much as you would’ve liked, this is a great time to possibly take the SAT instead of your normal go-to of the ACT (or vice versa) to see if you do better on one than the other naturally. You may find one test easier than the other, and thus find improving your score easier to do as well. At this point, you could’ve taken full length practice and/or real exams upwards to four times, which will hopefully have you at the score that you’d like.

May: AP Season 

If you are taking AP classes, and are taking the exam, May is the one month you want to take a break on the SAT and/or ACT and focus on AP exams. While AP exams are heavily rumored to not have near as much weight as your regular test scores, it’s important to make sure you focus on AP exams if you're already registered for them, as they do cost a lot of money per exam.

June: The Last Attempt-SAT subject tests and the last time taking the SAT/ACT

Some more selective colleges either recommend or require SAT subject tests also known as SAT IIs. These tests are one hour exams on one specific subjects. SAT subject tests are offered in a myriad of foreign languages, US and World History, two levels of math, English literature, biology, chemistry, and physics. You can take three of these subject tests on the same date.

I found the easiest way to end the school year stress free and to not worry about these exams is to take the subject tests in the corresponding honors, or AP and IB courses as applicable. So if you took AP Spanish and Honors English Lit during your junior year, and studied hard for the AP exam and the final exam at school, you’ll be more than ready than the subject test in June.


They’re a plethora of colleges, including but not limited to Duke, the eight colleges in the Ivy League, Northwestern, and the University of Michigan, that require or recommend two SAT Subject tests. It’s important to check with the schools you may have slight interest in to see if they recommend or require them, so you can sign up! To check your testing schedule availability and registration dates, click here:

Standardized testing is one of the most stressed portions of the college admission process. With much weight that it can hold in your acceptance, or how adding one point to a score can be the difference between a half and whole tuition to your dream school, you want to be able to have the best shot as anyone else. This timeline allows just that, with a schedule that gives you many opportunities to improve your score to your maximum potential!




Of SAT Scores and Self-Worth: Realizing Your Value When the Pressure is On


“This is it. I might as well just kiss my dreams goodbye and say hello to community college, because with these scores, it looks like that’s where I’m headed.”

Those words are verbatim from what one of my close friends told me in an emotional phone call back in May, when scores for the March 2016 administration of the SAT were released. She was absolutely devastated because her scores were not where she wanted them to be, and had overanalyzed everything that could have gone wrong: her nerves distracting her during the test, fallible study methods, and even the incessant ticking of the clock that had been hung on the back wall of the classroom.

Her statements to me, albeit on the dramatic side, are similar to the panicky thoughts that a lot of rising seniors, including myself, are having as the new school year quickly approaches. With the notion of not being good enough for colleges when it comes to standardized testing constantly looming over students’ heads, it is easy to see why so many get caught up in and are discouraged by their scores.


Headfirst Into the Abyss

It is the case for many students to feel as though they have been suddenly thrown into the real world without a parachute during their final two years of high school. I remember having a breakdown near the end of my junior year regarding my own future as I signed up for standardized testing, feeling like I wasn’t adequately prepared for the heavy expectations of the future.

We are taught that standardized test scores are the foundation of a college application and that if they are not satisfactory, our chances of getting into the university that we desire go down exponentially. Our parents shell out the hefty fees for the SAT and ACT and we walk into our testing rooms on the assigned dates with the frightening idea that our futures are dependent on a mere few hours full of scribbling inside of small bubbles and reading passages that we will later joke about on social media in order to ease our stress.

When scores are finally sent out after a nail-biting period of time, students are sent into a frenzy and adolescents pace the floors of their bedrooms in panic. The fact that so many of us are petrified of checking our scores in fear that our aspirations will crumble in front of their eyes is heartbreaking, for we should not believe that simple numbers on a computer screen dictate the rest of our lives.

We do not have to allow ourselves to be hindered by outrageous expectations. We have the power to set standards for ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, not who we are not.

The Value of Valuing Yourself

There is a saying that goes, “It is not what you are that holds you back, it is what you think you are not.”  I love the way that Maimuna Abdi Yussuf puts it in her article, Dear Rafiki, You Are Not Your SAT Score, in which she states that nothing is really what it appears to be and that everything is what you make of it, meaning that you should not take your scores at face-value and should instead use them as merely a catalyst that will propel you into your future that will mean so much more in the long run than what you made on your SAT.  I reiterated this to my anxious friend, and asked for her to remember everything that she has accomplished over the duration of her high school career; when she finished her list (and boy, was it long), she was wiping away her stress-induced tears and reaffirming the validity of her dreams.

I am writing this to tell you, whether you are an upcoming freshman just beginning to get your feet wet in the depths of high school or a senior feeling like you are about to drown, that your standardized test scores do not define you as a person. As human beings, we are sums of many parts, and as students, we have a lot more to put on college applications than our scores on a couple of cumulative tests.

The journey to realize your self-worth can be a hard one, especially when us students are being pitted against each other all the time when it comes to things like class rankings and test scores, but it is necessary to go down that path because it is ultimately up to you to make the decision of whether you will allow your test scores to represent you as a whole or not.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your quest for self-worth:

1. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

It’s an old mantra, but an important step in realizing your self-worth is becoming aware that when you are not satisfied with something, you have the ability to change that. Even if you refuse to allow your test scores to define you as a person, it is important to know that you are in complete control of how you handle them. Be proactive. Skip the nervous breakdown and sign up for the next scheduled test. Find study methods that work for you. Make a study schedule and stick to it. It truly is simple; as long as you pace yourself and work hard, the results will come. Don’t focus on the scores that you didn’t get; concentrate on those you did instead, for you made them yourself with your own hard work and effort and you should be proud of them no matter what.

2. Don’t take the bait of others.

Many students are of the Type-A personality: ambitious, competitive, and aggressive. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the problems come when they need constant validation, like that one friend in your English class who always turns to you and asks what you made on the most recent test when they know that they completely aced it and that you struggled with it a bit. People like these are always trying to find ways to fuel the rat race that exists in all schools, but you have the ability to keep yourself out of it. Know that your standards may not match up with theirs, and that it is completely possible that what they think is horrible may be perfectly adequate to you. As long as you are happy with your scores and the progress that you are making, what they think should not matter to you. If they ask you how you did on your standardized tests, you have the right to keep the actual numbers to yourself and tell them that you are satisfied with what you made instead.

3. Remember everything else that you can bring to the table.

Let’s face it: anybody can be in the top ten of their class or make above a 30 on the ACT. In order to truly value yourself, you have to keep what makes you unique in mind. For example, you may not have the highest test scores, but you’re the surefire editor of you school’s popular newspaper, or maybe you’re a piano virtuoso behind the scenes. Colleges do not only look at your scores, but at your extracurriculars as well. They want to know if you can contribute something extra to the school and that you aren’t just another intelligent student who is going to graduate with nothing to provide them with except another brain. If you are a well-rounded student, you don’t necessarily have to have the best test scores or fall in the top five percent of your class; you just have to be aware of your assets and use them to your advantage by putting as much emphasis on them as you can. Colleges don’t look for perfect students because there would be no reason for them to further their educations if they were on that level. They instead search for students with unique perspectives and experiences who can further the minds of the people around them.

tumblr_o52urptpSA1ut1kpfo1_1280Whenever you are in doubt of yourself, recall this advice and the fact that standardized tests do not measure your worth as a human being. You are so much more than the answers that you bubble in inside of a testing room. As long as you try your best, it is impossible for you to be labeled as a disappointment. You have so much more to contribute to the world, and as long as you are determined and assert yourself, you are definitely bound to make changes in it.