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SAT/ACT classes offer test-taking tips, strategies

With college admissions becoming more competitive, students are brushing up on testing skills for the all-important SAT and ACT standardized exams.

Spokane teen Ellen Phaneuf just finished a three-week course that boosted her SAT score considerably.

“I took a practice test in the beginning, and I scored a 1,580,” the 17-year-old said. “Then after taking the class, I scored a 1,900.”

The Oaks Academy student took her class from 19-year-old Isaiah Peterson, Gonzaga Preparatory School graduate and Harvard University sophomore-to-be. He operates the Spokane branch of a national group called Ivy Insiders, a student-run business designed to help high school students improve SAT and ACT scores through practice tests, lecture and game theory. Peterson’s program is one of many test-preparation options in the area. Spokane high schools offer after-school and weekend programs. SAT and ACT prep courses are also taught at Education NW Resources and Sylvan Learning Centers, and lots of additional help is available through online and printed workbooks and guides.

Test scores are one of the criteria considered when reviewing students, along with student essays, grade point average, the difficulty of a student’s coursework and their activities outside of school, said Jon Swett, executive director of teaching and learning services for Spokane Public Schools high schools.

“They are looking for the best students to let through the door. There’s a lot an SAT can’t test for. But I think the scores will become more important,” he said.

Peterson said a weak economy means “college admissions are becoming increasingly important.” Public universities are seeing a decline in state funding that many people believe will translate to lower enrollment, further ratcheting up competition among applicants.

Spokane Public Schools has been pushing for more students to take the SAT during the last five or six years, Swett said: “The goal is for 100 percent.”

The average person scores 1,500 on the SAT; a perfect score is 2,400. Typically, the lowest score for those who make it into Harvard University is 1,800. Peterson, the Ivy Insiders teacher, scored 2,120.

Ivy Insiders has been in business nationwide for five years. This is its first year in Spokane and the first class finished last week. The ACT class is scheduled to start Saturday. Classes cost $700, but Peterson said discounts are available.

“We teach them the concepts and tips like a game, a game that they need to beat,” Peterson said.

Whatever the method of preparation used, Phaneuf, the Oaks Academy student, said she’s sure of one thing: “The higher SAT gets you into a better college.”

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