How to help kids succeed on the SAT

Published by The Chesapeake Family Magazine
By Katie Riley

Last year more than 1.6 million high school students took the SAT, and many hope tutoring will boost their score. But the question is, what type of tutoring is best and is it affordable?

“I’ve had mixed results with SAT prep courses because it really depends on the motivation of the student and which type of tutoring program they choose,” says Cori Dykman, owner of Annapolis College Counseling, a service that helps prepare and guide students through the college process.

Traditional classes like Princeton Review and Kaplan offer several multi-week courses at dozens of area locations, but the class doesn’t come cheap. Course fees start at around $500.

In an effort to make test preparation available to everyone, the College Board recently partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, targeted test prep for students online. The Khan Academy program provides detailed assessments and dozens of sample tests and exercises. It also directs students to an extensive library of video tutorials based on a student’s test results and weaknesses.

“Khan Academy is excellent,” Dykman says. “It’s free and offers great resources. I always tell my students to start there and then maybe consider a private tutoring option after that.”

Private online tutoring is an option that is gaining popularity due to its convenience and personalized service. Companies like Applerouth match students with one-on-one online tutors based on interviews, academic strengths and weaknesses, and test results.

Julia Drooff, a senior at Broadneck High School, began using Applerouth during her junior year after a disappointing score on her SAT subject test.

“I knew that if the SATs were anything like [the subject test], then I would not do well,” Drooff says. Her older sister had already used Applerouth and experienced considerable improvements.

“They matched me up with an amazing tutor who helped me get to the root of my testing anxiety,” Drooff says. She worked with the tutor monthly for a year and half, taking practice tests and attending online tutoring sessions.

“I developed a personal relationship with my tutor, and we would text regularly. Her encouragement did wonders for my confidence,” Drooff says, noting that she saw a significant increase in her scores and was recently accepted by her first choice college.

Whether students choose Khan Academy, traditional courses or private tutoring, experts agree that the best way to prepare is simply through practice.

“The most helpful method out there is to take practice tests,” Dykman says. “Sitting and focusing for three to four hours is exhausting for any student, and practice tests can help with timing, directions and knowing what questions to expect. I tell students to never go into an exam blind. The practice is invaluable.”

AP Facts Worth Knowing About College Credit

AP Test are Important

Once you have taken an AP test and have your score, what should you do with it? While you may have taken an AP class to challenge yourself and demonstrate to colleges that you can handle a rigorous curriculum, colleges also care about the score you received on an AP test.

Once you send a score to a college

When a college receives an AP score, the score will go through articulation. This means the college may use that score to grant you college credit. Scoring a 3 on an AP test may mean that you passed, but it may not necessarily count for credit at a particular college. Most colleges have an AP articulation page on their website that shows score conversions for credit. It’s worth noting that all UC and CSU campuses grant credit for a 3 score. Many other colleges require at least a 4 to grant credit.

Approximately 4,000 colleges accept AP scores, but there are around 51,000 separate policies awarding credit for each subject, so look at each college’s rules.

What AP Credit Does…and doesn’t do

Depending on the academic program you are considering in college, you may have to retake courses even if you have a 4 or 5 on an AP exam. For example, in many STEM programs, a college may require a student to take Physics and Calculus at the collegiate level even if she scored a 5 on these AP exams. You can see how this can be frustrating! However, it is still worth taking these courses (and the corresponding test) as many admissions offices are looking for academically prepared students, and your scores may allow you to receive credit for non-major entry-level courses.

If you are considering a graduate-level program like medical school, this issue deserves further consideration. These students often have to decide between protecting their GPA by retaking these courses (which also reinforces knowledge), and jumping into more advanced coursework. It is recommended to work with the college’s academic advising office early and often to determine an appropriate path, and to see which credits to apply to college courses.

AP Credit and Class Standing

Your class standing in college is determined by the number of credits you have. And, surprise, colleges handle this differently from one another. Class standing is calculated by:

  • Incoming credits before matriculation to the college (AP credit, community college, dual-enrollment) may be added and a student can enter with sophomore standing given he has enough accumulated credit.


  • Incoming credits do not count toward your college standing, only those earned at the college do. In essence, first-year students will always be considered freshmen regardless of the number of units with which they enter.

Why is this important? Well, class standing in college can dictate a lot. From housing assignments, to class registration, to graduation timeline, a student’s class standing can determine his/her priority in these processes.

Entering with a higher class standing can also save students significant time and money. Simply put, finishing in under four years can cost students less. Entering with even four classes worth of AP credit can be significant. Conversely, coming in without credit can delay graduation past four years and end up costing a student more.  

Since the most common way to determine class standing is via AP credits earned, the impact of having access to AP coursework and earning AP credit cannot be overstated.

Bottom Line

Your matriculation to a college is unlikely to be determined solely by how AP credit is applied. If you plan on taking AP courses, your decision should be guided by your interest in the material, your capacity to do well in the course, and how that course will prepare you for college admission and beyond. Do not worry about how AP credit will be applied until it makes sense to do so, but do be aware of how it can be used.

How to Receive More Aid from a College

Congratulations, the hard part is over. Your child has run the gauntlet of high school, filled out college applications, and has been offered admission to a college. Can you afford their top choice colleges?

Many schools – especially private ones – can offer substantial financial and merit aid packages, and may be able to make adjustments after the fact if families simply ask.

It’s worth your time to reach out to admissions and financial aid offices. You may be surprised at just how many colleges will try to incentivize a student to enroll with a few extra thousand dollars if that’s the only barrier to entry for that family.

Schools may award additional aid when families present new information (like updated test scores or current high school grades) or may make adjustments to need-based aid when a family’s income or employment situation changes.

Here are some tips to consider when asking for additional aid.

  1.  Don’t deposit right away. Once you make an enrollment deposit, that school assumes your student is coming for the fall and doesn’t have a lot of motivation to continue to try and “yield” them. The national deposit deadline is May 1, and some schools even have an internal grace period after that date. There’s usually no need to deposit before May 1 and when a college is “short” on deposits, the closer they get to May 1 the more pressure they feel to “make their class.” Use depositing as leverage!
  2.  Get in touch with the right office! Financial aid may have nothing to do with scholarship and only work on need-based aid packages. Similarly, the admissions may have nothing to do with departmental aid and only deal with scholarship. Try to understand that the college is like a hand and the various administrative offices are like fingers – they can move independently of one another or in unison. Get the lay of the land and find out which office you need to contact to discuss the various pieces of your student’s aid package. Admissions may be able to guarantee an additional several thousand dollars per year in scholarship, and if there were circumstances that were not considered when filling out need-based aid paperwork, the financial aid office may be able to offer additional grant funds. It pays to call around.
  3.  You’re not buying a house, you’re investing in an education for your student. Don’t treat it like a negotiation! Ask for a “reassessment” or “reconsideration” of the student’s aid package, but only AFTER acknowledging and appreciating any aid that was previously awarded. Again, be prepared to submit additional information, usually from a third party. Did you have a change in your family’s expenses? Job loss? Medical bills? Pay cut? That may inform the route you take and which office can help.
  4.  Be realistic. If your student didn’t qualify for scholarship or need-based aid at all, the admissions office may not be able to offer any after the fact. Similarly, if they qualified for a lower-tier award, they may not be able to package them at a top-tier scholarship level. Asking for additional aid in the $1,000 – $5,000 range will likely yield better results than asking for an additional $20,000. Most colleges package students with aid expecting families to be able to contribute, even if it’s just a little bit. Asking for a “full ride” when your student hasn’t earned it likely isn’t going to happen.
  5.  Show them another offer. It’s OK to tell colleges that your student has options. Colleges may be able to match the award offer from another institution, but the key here is to present offers from similar institutions. A college likely isn’t going to “match down” to another institution – meaning, a top-tier school probably has no motivation to match an offer from a less-competitive institution. Your student might be a stellar admit at a school with a high admit rate and weak rankings, but middle of the road at a premier institution. They’re different institutions. That’s why they award different aid amounts in the first place.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your student to reach out and ask for additional aid if you need it. Be prepared and make a strong case when asking for help!

Finding the “Right” College

It is a hard question to answer, “what makes a college ‘good’?” the reality is that what makes a college good for you might make it a bad choice for someone else. One thing is certain though, how ‘good’ a college is may have very little to do with rankings or the percentage of applicants they admit. Look past the numbers and try to see what a college can do for its students.

Small vs. Large College: Is the school you’re considering focusing on its students? Institutions with a student-centered approach to education, or with language to that effect in their mission statement, are likely to provide personalized education with lots of student-professor interaction. Large research institutions may receive a lot of grant funding or house esteemed researchers, but that may not be useful if you do not have access to those facilities or chances to interact with those professors in a meaningful way.

Freshman Retention Rate: An often telling statistic is a school’s freshman retention rate (the percentage of students that return for their sophomore year). Most students know after a year whether or not they made the right choice. If you see a school with low freshman retention, it is likely that students are not finding what they were told they would find, the school is not supporting them on campus (be it academically, financially, or socially) or the student did not identify whether or not the college was a good fit in the first place. Schools with high retention tend to do these things well and tend to have strong orientation and first-year experience programs. Students that return after their first year and eventually graduate are likely to have found a school that is engaging and valuable in their personal and professional development.

Strong Advising: Support on campus needs to take place for longer than just the student’s first year as well. Academic advising can play a key role in on-time graduation and finding engaging academic pathways for students. With strong advising, you can also make better-informed decisions about your academic and career options. Advising may not be something that is important to you in the college search process, but it will certainly be a key factor in your satisfaction with the college you choose when you are on their campus. Will you have a departmental advisor, an advisor for your specific college, or a generalist advisor for multiple parts of campus life? These are all important questions to consider – especially so if you are considering a graduate degree after your undergraduate career. Strong advising can set you up for long-term success.

Learning that Fits You: The academic environment can also play a huge role in determining if a college is ‘good’ for you. Finding a school that offers hands-on learning, cutting edge research, and abundant internship opportunities should be a goal for any student. You will want what you learn in the classroom to be applicable to the real world as well as in the job market, so having an experiential-learning environment is key! You may also want to make note of where students are finding their opportunities for internships and research. Is there a dedicated career development center or undergraduate research office? Will you be prepared to interview and have help with your resume? With which companies do students tend to intern? Will you have a mentor on campus? Will you have a senior project that brings all of your education together? These are important questions to consider.

It may not be as hard as you think to find a school that handles these aspects of academic and campus life well. Rankings and statistics may help you identify some options, but look to these other attributes to help you find colleges that are ‘good’ for you.

Successfully Attending a College Fair

Attending a college fair is a great opportunity to hear from college representatives about their institution, and make an in-person connection while getting your questions answered. Representatives at college fairs are often the same people that will be reading your application, so it is best to be prepared!

Here are some tips to get the most out of your visit to a college fair:

Have a set of schools in mind and research them first. Most fairs will have a website or flyer before the event that lists which colleges will be attending. Find 10 – 15 that you would like to chat with and take a look at their websites for general information first. At the fair, stop at those tables and ask in-depth questions. If you have extra time, chat with any other colleges that pique your interest. Your list should include schools you would not normally be able to visit in person.

Save time and use labels. College representatives are there to not only hand out information, but to gather it as well. Most colleges will have an inquiry card to fill out so they can add you to their communication flows and track your interest. Have some adhesive labels pre-printed with your full name, gender, address, phone number, (appropriate) email address, year in school, potential major, and the name of the high school you attend. The more information you can give the better. Then, instead of spending valuable face time with a representative writing info, you can simply stick the label on an inquiry card and get your questions answered.

Sign in. If you can’t make labels, signing in lets the college know that you attended an event and were interested enough to stop by. Use legible handwriting, the same spelling of your name that you use on the college application, and the same email address you plan to use for all college admissions correspondence.

Make a good first impression. You should be engaged, alert, enthusiastic, acting in a professional manner and dressed appropriately. This may be your first interaction with a college you are interested in, so you will want to put your best foot forward. Get there early, introduce yourself with a handshake, smile, make eye contact, and try not to get distracted by your classmates that may also be attending the fair.

Ask focused questions. You may be one of dozens of students that the college representatives meet. Stand out and ask thoughtful questions. Broad questions get broad answers. Instead of “How’s your business school?” try “I saw you have an entrepreneurship emphasis in the business school. Can you tell me about that?” If you can easily find the answer online or on one of the handouts, then don’t ask it. You may also find it beneficial to ask about the school’s atmosphere, what kinds of students do well on campus, and what are the school’s unique/best features? Be aware that others may want to chat with the representative as well. If there’s a line, keep the discussion short. It’s not the time to cover every aspect of yourself or the school.

Follow up. Ask for the business card of the representatives you meet. Send them a follow up email thanking them for their time and asking any questions that might have popped up after you left their table. Attach your resume to your email and ask that it be added to your file.

Keep it all organized. You’re going to be collecting a lot of handouts and materials at the fair. Separate content by school and have a folder for each institution at home. Write down relevant info like the dates and times of fairs and who you met there. You may have collected material from schools you’re not interested in. Throw it out and focus on the schools you see as a good fit.

Take things a step further. After the fair is a good time to revisit a school’s website, plan a visit, contact admissions or schedule an interview with an alumni representative or college representative. You can use the time at the college fair as a reference point and expand on the conversations you had.

Campus Visit Review

As you drive home from a campus visit take advantage of the drive time to review your experience! Write down your opinions while the experience is still fresh on your mind.

College: _____________________________ City/State:__________________________ Admissions Office Representative:______________________________________________ Tour Guide:__________________________ Email: _____________________________ Campus Visit Date: ___________________

Tour /  Rate each category (5 being best)

Grounds / Setting       Campus Housing       Student Center       Classroom Buildings        Class Size

Library Resources       Size       Energy       People        Athletics       Social Life       Cafeteria / Food

Fitness Center          Student Clubs / Organizations         Career Resources          Other




If you interview, Interviewer’s name Email:___________________________________________________________

What did I learn about the school:



Off Campus Life (i.e. music, movies, shopping, restaurants, cafes, art, theater, events)


Near campus:


City Highlights:


Outdoor Activities Nearby:


Transportation Options:



What I like least:


Level of academic challenge? Just right   Too difficult  Too easy  Would I feel comfortable here?

Does this school have what I am looking for?

Should I apply to this school? Why:


Preparing for the SAT or ACT Test

 Proctored, Practice Tests On-line

You can take an on-line, proctored, practice test from your home free, as well as receive a detail report on areas you should focus on. Some students can really benefit from the structure of this testing situation and the assessment. It is helpful to know what your score would be, and how you can improve. Sign-up for a mock test  by clicking on this link, The test will be scored and analyzed by Applerouth free, giving you excellent feedback on your areas of weakness. They will then suggest one-on-one tutoring to help you to address these areas. You do not need to use them, please feel free to find the best method for you.

Determine the Best Method of Study

Once you have taken practice tests, please determine your best method of studying. Some of you may want to take a class to get a thorough review of all the areas, some will like the convenience of on-line help, others may want private tutoring. Look at the costs and evaluate your learning style.

Khan Academy is the official site  SAT test preparation. The new SAT now covers 80% of the same material that the ACT does, so you can use it to study for either test.  There are many, many companies which offer help, please find a method that works well for you.

Test Preparation Methods and Companies 

Applerouth Education Tutoring provides one-on-one tutoring for ACT, SAT and school subject tests.

Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that provides free tutoring for the SAT and ACT as well as many other subjects.

Compass Education Group offers free testing and scoring, as well as tutoring.

C2 Educate Tutoring with a branch located in Severna Park, it is very good in-person tutoring. free online test prep courses.

Princeton Review has class and on-line options

ACT registration and resources for preparing to take the ACT.

Register for the SAT, get test dates find out what to expect when you take the test.

Check Colleges to See if  You Need to Do the Writing Section

Very few colleges are evaluating the writing section these days. Here is the list. Unless you are applying to elite schools, you probably will not need to do the optional writing section.

Practice Now for Good Results Later

Take practice tests and get comfortable with the material, it should make a difference in your scores. Do a little every week, maybe an hour or three. This is like a sport, practice improves your game and score.



5 Important Elements Colleges Look For

  1. High Grades. Grades are a sign of intellect and effort, and the best indication of how you will perform in college. College admissions wants you to take the hardest classes that you can that you will get at least a B in. Focus on your grades and work with your teachers.
  2. Taking the most rigorous curriculum that you can while still getting high grades. AP’s, Honors, College Classes, IB if available. Colleges consider your options and want you to  challenge yourself and be successful. Here is an article on choosing the right classes.
  3. Standardized Test Scores. Many colleges consider these, but some colleges are test optional. There are choices you should consider before you start this process. Is the ACT or the SAT right for you? When should you take the standardized tests? How should you prepare for each test to be successful in the college process? Testing information.
  4. Write an Essay in senior year that strikes a chord with the admissions representatives. What do we need to tell colleges to make you the kind of candidate that they want? College essays should be very personal, thoughtful and demonstrate your background, values, goals, or an achievement. Here is an article on writing a memorable college essay.
  5. Your Demonstrated Interest in the institution. You need to show that this is a college that you are very interested in, not just one on your list which is a back-up school. Many college admissions offices track every contact you have with them. How to demonstrate interest.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) annually surveys member colleges and universities. Here are the latest survey results for what colleges say is important:

  • Grades in college prep courses: 79.2%
  • Grades in all courses: 60.3%
  • Strength of curriculum: 60.2%
  • Admission test scores: 55.7%
  • Essay or writing sample: 22.1%
  • Student’s demonstrated interest: 16.9%
  • Counselor recommendations: 17.3%
  • Class rank: 14.0%
  • Teacher recommendation: 15.2%
  • Subject test scores (AP/IB): 7.0%
  • Portfolio: 6.6%
  • Interview: 3.5%
  • SAT II scores: 5.3%
  • Extracurricular activities: 5.6%

Tips for Writing the Essay “Why This College”

Writing the Essay 

Many colleges ask a variation of the same question in their application, “Why are you considering our institution?” It is not a fluke that they ask this. Nor is it an opportunity to quickly jot down an answer, or worse, re-use an answer from another application! Colleges ask this question because your answer tells them a lot about how serious you are about their institution; this is why this question deserves some serious thought!

Colleges look for ‘likelihood to enroll’ when admitting students. They will not waste a spot on a student who is not likely to commit to attending. These essays can be a strong indicator of how much (or little) research you have done.  If you have strong, specific reasons for considering a college, they will notice.

These questions are also a two-way street. They give you the ability to signal why a college might be a good fit for you as well as why you might be a good fit for their college. Letting them know about your interests, ambitions and what you bring to campus shows them you have a serious connection and an understanding of the college deeper than its surface-level characteristics.

Tips for writing effective “why our institution?” responses.

Dissect the prompt. Take note of what they are actually asking. Are there key words or aspects of campus that they bring up themselves? If they ask what academic programs are prompting your application, or how their college fits your future goals, it is best to address these aspects of the question first rather than as an afterthought or not at all.

Specificity is key. It is not enough to say that you like their athletic facilities or that they have interesting classes. Look up the name of the complex or have an idea of the academic path you could take. This does not mean you need to know every single detail about a part of campus or program, but generic answers get generic evaluations in the admission process. Signal that you know what you are talking about.

If it is obvious to you, it is obvious to them. They already know where their campus is located, the programs they offer and what campus looks like. Tell them how you feel about their campus. Center your answer on how you connect to the campus. Err on the side of giving a personal answer, not something surface-level like the weather. On that note…

Bring it back to you. Think about the things or characteristics you want your future college to have. Again, this is deeper than just your major or their facilities. Do you want a college that emphasizes something in particular like research, leadership, or career development? Do you want personal interactions with faculty and staff or would you rather be in a larger setting? Think about the things that you want and only they can offer.

Connect the dots for them. This question is an opportunity to reinforce the connection you are trying to make with their institution. Provide an answer that shows them you are match for their needs and they are a match for yours. Remember, there is a difference between loving a college for its writing program and loving a college because “students in the program get to craft work in a hands-on environment with some of the top minds in the world of historical fiction.”

So, is your answer strong and specific? Here is a trick that admission counselors often use. They will take the name of a similar peer institution and drop it into your answer in place of their school’s name. If the answer still makes sense with the other school, they will know you did not put much effort into developing your answer.

Fall Checklist for Senior Year

Applying to college is a complex process so it is important that you stay on top of the different elements.

Congratulations you have made it this far, don’t slow down yet, and don’t allow anxiety or doubt to take a hold. We will all get through this process beautifully if you can stay focused. I am available to help you as long as you do your part, which I know that you can. Please read all these steps and take the time to implement them.

Input Your Activities Sheet into the Common Application – If you have not sent the finished version to me, please do it soon. This should be given to your teachers and guidance counselor so they can write stronger letters or recommendation. If not everything fits onto the Common Application pare down the wording, and reach out to me if you have questions.

Work on Your Essays – If we have not brainstormed themes, I would like to know what subject you are writing about before you put significant time into the essay. Pick an interesting topic that shows what you can contribute to a college. Here is an article which is helpful: . Essays take numerous revisions so please start them early. You cannot expect to leave it till the last minute and assume that I can review it that day. Some schools have supplemental essays, and some do not use the common application and have their own unique essay. Please stay on top of this.

Have Your List of Colleges Finalized Soon – If you still have questions about a few colleges, research them further. Here is an article on what to consider Peruse their website and call the admissions office to ask any questions that you cannot get answers to from the website. Visit the college if it is less than four hours away from where you live. Visiting is the best way to get a sense of the atmosphere and fit for you.

Demonstrate Interest in Your Top Colleges – If you missed this article, please read it

College Representatives Visiting Your School – A great way to show interest is to meet with the college representatives of the schools you are interested in, when they come to your school. That individual is going to be one of the people looking at your application to decide if you should be admitted. Dress well, look interested, ask an intelligent question, shake their hand at the end of the meeting, and ask for one of their business cards. Write them a thank you note and let them know why you are very interested in their institution.

Senior Surveys or Brag Sheets – Most high school guidance counselors ask you to fill these out. Do an excellent job on this. Many counselors use this document as a blueprint for what they write about you. Make it interesting, clear and positive. Also give your counselor a copy of your activities list to enhance your information.

Teacher Recommendations / Counselor Recommendations / Transcript Request Forms need to be requested two to three weeks before the college’s application deadline. I will be sending you a sheet to track your applications. You must make sure that you let everyone know when your deadlines are so that they will do their part. Find out what your school’s policy is on getting this done.

You Need to Send Test Scores to the Colleges – Test Scores can take up to three weeks to be sent to your colleges, so go on-line and fill out the form. Most schools allow you to choose which scores to send. If you have higher scores on different tests you might want to send all of them.

It seems like a lot, but doing it correctly should give you the outcome you desire!!!