Here’s a tip for getting a great ACT score
By alan Dyche September 18, 2012 7:20PM
Updated: October 20, 2012 6:06AM
Congratulations to Minooka High School! According to a recent article in The Herald-News, the school’s ACT scores are improving. (“Minooka ACT scores rise,” Sept. 14)
Wait. What does that mean?
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this test. As a junior at Roosevelt High School in Chicago, I got a 29. That was the best score they’d seen in years.
So, as many adolescents are wont to do, I all but wore the score on a T-shirt. At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I and my fellow underclassmen often compared scores. There, I had my come-uppance: A score of 29 was only a bit above average.
After I’d been teaching GED and remedial math classes for a while, my admiration for the ACT cooled off. When one is wrestling with building the skills necessary to get into any college — let alone a great one — one doesn’t pause long to wonder, “Hey, can I get this student’s ACT score.”
It wasn’t until my college used the COMPASS test for placement for math classes that I began to fall in love with the ACT again. (COMPASS and ACT are both written by the same firm.)
I don’t teach to the test, but, in the last two weeks of every semester, I show my students what the test is about. Take a look at this:
For what value of “k” is the line represented by the equation y = 3k + 5 perpendicular to the line represented by the equation 3x - 2y = 6?
To get this right, you need to connect three concepts: lines have slopes, which you can get from the equations, slopes of perpendicular lines are negative reciprocals, and that “3k” must be set equal to the perpendicular slope to solve for “k.”
The director of curriculum credits, to no one’s surprise, curriculum for the improvement. I expect that curriculum rewards problem solving, for the number of connections required to score that problem correctly isn’t attainable by drilling facts. It isn’t even attainable by using a calculator.
All ACT math problems have numbers small enough to work out in one’s head. Several years ago, I took on a student who had to get a 25 on the ACT to qualify for a baseball scholarship. The math score, stuck at 16, was the obstacle to raising the overall score. I advised him to ditch the calculator and focus on the idea behind every question. Over the months we spent, he became adept at seeing the connections.
His ACT exam proctor was amazed he had no calculator on test day; the proctor even offered his own. My student got his 25 without it.
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