7 Things You Need to Know about College Board’s New “Adversity Score”

7 Things You Need to Know about College Board’s New “Adversity Score”

First things first– it’s not actually an Adversity Score. It’s a tool that helps colleges interpret a student’s SAT scores. This “Environmental Context Dashboard” (ECD) uses data from a student’s school and neighborhood to calculate their level of “disadvantage.” This means average scores from other students at their school, graduation rates, crime rates in their areas, median income and more.


Students are then given a “disadvantage level” in the form of a score from 1-100, with 100 being the most disadvantaged. While this score is important, it’s only part of the whole story. The EDC contains a bunch of information, and there are many things to know about how it will affect the admissions process.  


Here are 7 things that you need to know:


1. The info provided in the EDC will not change a student’s SAT score.


2. Information about a student’s race, ethnicity, or individual demographics will not be included in the ECD.


3. Students are not able to access their ECD report. This information will only be shared with participating admissions offices.


4. Taking the ACT will not prevent schools from seeing a student’s disadvantage score. They will simply convert the ACT score to its SAT equivalent.


5. The program is being piloted to 150 universities during the Fall 2019 semester and will continue to expand to other public and private institutions in 2020.


6. Schools that already used the EDC had higher rates of admission for more disadvantaged students.


7. Two students living in the same neighborhood and going to the same high school will have exactly the same disadvantage score, regardless of race, individual family income or personal history.


Though it is difficult to determine what the exact impact of the ECD will be, especially from school to school, it’s important to keep in mind that the information included in the ECD has been available to universities for many years. Now, it is simply all put into one, easily accessible dashboard. If you would like to learn more about the data used by the College Board to calculate disadvantage level scores, click here.

Seven Mistakes to Avoid on Your Personal Statement

Seven Mistakes to Avoid on Your Personal Statement

Writing the personal statement for your college applications is a daunting task, but choosing a topic is even more challenging. It can be tricky to determine where you want to focus, especially if you don’t know what your readers might be looking for. You’re a complex, unique human being — How on Earth are you supposed to smash your entire being into a few hundred words? Unfortunately, we can’t write your personal statement for you, but we *can* help you avoid some mistakes that students make when deciding their topic!  


1. Spending too much time on various achievements. Remember: This is an essay, not just a second resume. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of impressive achievements, but this is not the place to talk through them all. Your best bet is to choose one topic and dive deep.

2. Choosing a topic that’s too big. All told, you really don’t have that much space. Make sure the story you’re telling is the right size, and not too big (or too small) to adequately cover in the space allotted. Get to the point quickly and stay on topic!

3. Telling a generic story. Stay away from topics that are too common and not unique to you. At worst, it’s plagiarism, and at best, it’s boring. Ask yourself questions like, “What experiences have I had that speak to who I am?” “What essay can I write that no one else could write?” “If I don’t feel strongly about this, why should my reader?”

4. Crossing a line. If you’re choosing a controversial topic, think critically about the subject at hand. Standing out is great, but make sure you don’t cross the line from edgy to offensive, rude, or indignant. Be smart when discussing issues such as race, religion, class, politics, etc.

5. Not being a particularly likable character in your story. Beware of complaining or coming off overly negative, or, on the opposite side, too arrogant. Your reader needs to be impressed by your writing, but they also need to like you. There’s a happy medium in there that will serve you well.

6. Making your reader uncomfortable. Some vulnerability can be powerful, but try to avoid oversharing. We understand the temptation to pour your heart out, but you need to be sure that all of the emotion you’re using is justified. You don’t know the people who will read this and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable for any reason. 

7. Silly mistakes. This shouldn’t even be here on this list, but please please make sure everything is thoroughly edited. Please.


Hopefully, these tips can help you zero in on your perfect topic!

One last piece of advice: If nothing else, think about what makes you, you! Good luck!

Your Ultimate Organic Chemistry Survival Guide

Your Ultimate Organic Chemistry Survival Guide

Whether you’ve just begun your Organic Chemistry journey or you’re looking to improve your current study habits, here are some useful tips for being successful in your Organic Chemistry course.


First and Foremost: Keep Your Cool!

Organic Chemistry is one of those subjects that somehow automatically elicits a series of fearful groans whenever mentioned. College students have vilified the course for decades, passing down horror stories like old folktales of a mystical, unconquerable beast. But just like folktales, these stories are often exaggerated and, at times, completely false. Organic Chemistry is not an impossible course. If you approach it with confidence and open-mindedness, you may realize that it can be quite interesting and even, dare I say, fun!

But even though Organic Chemistry may not be as intolerable as your peers make it out to be, it is still a very challenging course. Therefore, it is useful to be strategic in your approach.


Second: Forego the Flashcards

Up until this point, you may have been able to survive off the good old “memorize and regurgitate” method of studying for science tests. You find yourself waiting until the last minute to cram an entire semester’s worth of information into one night. Though this can be a fast and simple way to cut out hours of studying, this method will not work for Organic Chemistry.

Organic Chemistry is fundamentally more conceptual than most other science courses. Therefore, it is imperative that you have a firm grasp on not just what is happening but why it is happening. This takes time and practice, and it cannot be mastered in just one or even two nights of studying.

Make sure that you are setting yourself up for success by building a strong foundational and conceptual understanding of the principles of Organic Chemistry early on. This will help you when you move on to more complex concepts like mechanisms, especially in the second-semester Organic Chemistry course.


Third: Take Really Good Notes

Unlike the General Chemistry and Physics courses you may have taken in the past, Organic Chemistry is primarily concerned with the physical nature of molecules. This means that, rather than using formulas and functions, Organic Chemistry uses molecular structure and 3-dimensional shape to explain scientific concepts. A good way of orienting yourself to this change is to take notes that will supply you with a rich visual understanding of the concepts that you are learning. In this way, you may find it useful to take color-coded notes or use a whiteboard when studying for tests. You can also watch instructional videos online that provide visual aids.

Bonus Tip: If you are finding it difficult to draw out molecules or if you’re interested in having a more tangible representation of reactions, you should consider buying a molecular modeling kit. These can be easily purchased online and allow for you to build out molecules as a visual aid.


Fourth: Practice Makes Perfect

It doesn’t matter how much you’ve read or how perfectly drawn out your notes are. If you do not practice, your chances of being successful in Organic Chemistry are very slim. The more practice that you can get, the more prepared you will be when it comes to exam time. This means completing your assigned homework, textbook problems, and practice tests when available. In total, the time you spend studying outside of class should equal to approximately twice the time you’ve spent in lecture. So if you’re taking a 3 credit hour class, you should be spending about six or more hours a week studying.


Finally: Ask for Help!

If you are having a hard time grasping Organic Chemistry concepts on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out to your classmates, TAs, or professors for extra help. Often, an alternative explanation or demonstration can clear up any confusion or misunderstanding.

Additionally, you may find it useful to find a tutor who can guide you through the ins and outs of Organic Chemistry, providing additional support when needed. Check out the tutors we have available through Smart Alec! Our top-of-the-line tutors provide in-home and video tutoring services in a wide variety of subjects, including Organic Chemistry.

Unfortunately, there is not a simple plug and chug formula for getting an A in Organic Chemistry. Just give it your best and don’t give up! If you’re ever feeling stuck, remember these tips and don’t forget to ask for help. Good luck out there!

Conquering the SAT Reading Section When You’re Short on Time

Conquering the SAT Reading Section When You’re Short on Time

The 65-minute reading section of the SAT is designed to measure your ability to understand and interpret different types of texts. However, for many students, 65 minutes doesn’t feel like nearly enough time.

Managing time effectively for this section is paramount to your success, and we suggest that you tailor your approach to the passages based on the amount of time you have. If you had all the time in the world, you might go at things a bit differently than if you were moments from the buzzer.

Here are some strategies for attacking a passage in the reading section of the SAT when you’re low on time. Remember: don’t panic! You can still do a lot even when you feel like you don’t have time. Let’s get down to basics.

Before Reading:

Before reading a word of the passage, look at the questions. Get an idea of where you should be focusing while reading. When you’ve finished going through the questions, circle the ones that are asking about larger themes and concepts so they’re fresh in your mind. Take a moment to note any questions that reference specific lines and make a mark next to that line in the passage so you’ll know there’s a question to answer when you get there.

While Reading:

Now it’s time to read. If you feel like you need to skim to finish on time, skim! As you read, write a few key words next to the paragraph in the booklet. This will help you simplify the point of the piece. It will also help you find what you’re looking for quickly if you need to refer back to something. As you’re going through the passage, pause to answer the line-specific questions you’ve noted already. That way you won’t have to look back at the passage as often when you’re answering the questions.

After Reading:

Answer the remaining questions! Once all the questions are answered, skim through the passage one last time with your answer choices in mind. If you’ve completed all the questions and feeling confident, it’s time to move onto the next one.

If You’re Down to the Wire:

Now, there may be a time when you find yourself with with only moments left and an entire passage still to go. Don’t hesitate — look straight to the questions. Avoid questions about theme, argumentation, or anything that would require you to have read the whole text. Look for the simpler questions that call attention to specific lines, the meaning of words in context, details, syntax, literary devices, etc and answer as many of those as possible! 

Of course, if you had all the time in the world, you’d read and reread the passage, taking your dear sweet time to work through the questions. But sometimes, that’s just not realistic.

Whatever type of test-taker you are, or however you perform with time constraints, the reading section presents challenges for all students. However, the above strategies will help you attack the section with confidence. 

Your Secret SAT/ACT Weapon: The PIN Technique

Your Secret SAT/ACT Weapon: The PIN Technique

When it comes to the math section of the SAT or ACT, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by complex or confusing questions. Luckily, even if you find yourself truly struggling with a difficult question, there’s a helpful last-ditch technique that can still get you the right answer.

Allow us to introduce your new secret weapon: “Plug in Numbers,” or “PIN.” PIN is a great way to turn an algebraic problem on its head. Remember, one of your biggest advantages on these exams is that most questions are multiple choice. The PIN technique can be used to leverage the answers provided to your benefit. This works particularly well on these exams because no one is checking your work or critiquing how you answer a question — you get the points for the correct answer no matter how you arrived there.

The basic idea of PIN is to plug in your own numbers in place of variables or unknowns to solve questions. Often, this can work for both algebra and geometry questions. These questions are often asking about relationships between numbers, and those relationships will stay the same, no matter what the numbers are. That’s why, as long as you follow the rules of the questions, you can answer them by plugging in your own numbers.

Here’s an example of how you can solve a problem using PIN:


Let’s begin by assuming we have no idea how to solve this question. Using PIN, let’s plug in a number for t to help figure out  this problem. We know that t has to be greater than 1, so let’s try something simple like 3.

If t=3, then the question is asking “If 3 is a number greater than 1, then 3^2 (or 9) is how much greater than 3?” Simplify even further and the question is asking, “9 is how much more than 3?” This is much easier to understand than the original question, isn’t it? We can clearly see the answer is 6.

Now, we can take what we’ve found and test it against the answers. Which one comes out to 6?

The first three answers can all be eliminated immediately because they are too small (1,2 and 3), which leaves us with just D and E.

Plugging in our numbers to D, we have 3(3-1), which simplifies to 3(2) and solves for 6.

So answer D is correct, but let’s solve answer E too, just to be sure D is our only correct answer.

Plugging in our numbers to E, we have (3-1)(3+1), which simplifies to (2)(4) and solves for 8.

This doesn’t work, which means that D is our answer!

More PIN Considerations

As another “PIN” tip, when deciding which numbers to test, consider including irregular numbers, such as 0 and/or a negative number.  In this example, those numbers would not have held true with the statement in the question, but in other cases, they may be extra helpful in allowing us to see the right answer.  

If you intend to use PIN on an exam, make sure that you’re confident in your understanding of this tool. Be warned: PIN can sometimes take a bit of time, so also make sure you’ve got an eye on that clock. Sometimes, when you start to use PIN, you’ll see that one or more of the answers is immediately incorrect. Take a few moments to strike out these obviously incorrect answers! It may seem trivial, but any time saved can really help in the end.

Also, if you’ve completed your math section and find that you still have some time, PIN is a great way to double check your answers or return to questions you skipped initially. It’s always smart to double check an answer using a different method than what you used to solve the problem originally, to ensure that you’ve actually solved it correctly.  This can help you avoid making the same mistake multiple times and, as a result, getting the same incorrect answer.

Extra PIN Practice

Think you’ve mastered the PIN technique? Here are some sample questions that you can practice your skills on! Good luck!


(Answers: A, B, K)

So, how did  you do? Have you mastered the PIN technique? If so, stay tuned for the next SAT/ACT blog post coming soon.

2019: New Year, (Slightly) New You

2019: New Year, (Slightly) New You

Whether you forget them by January 2nd or you’re in it for the long haul, New Year’s Resolutions are a great opportunity to take stock of who you are, who you’ve been, and who you want to become.

Think about what you’d actually like to address, not just the things you think you “should” be doing.

Below, you’ll find four resolution categories: self-care, physical health, academics, and relationships. For each four categories, you’ll find four resolutions. Your task is simple: pick one resolution per category. This should ensure a well-balanced, thoughtful entrance into the new year.


  • Limit screen time
    • We all know the dangers of too much social media and too much time staring at our phones. Set some time limits, and you’ll be the happier for it! There are even some great apps to help you measure your time, such as Moment or ZenScreen.
  • Worry less about what others think.
    • Maybe this will be the year that you let yourself be you! Remember that your own approval is often what matters most.
  • Volunteer for a cause that resonates with you.
  • Try to let go of some of the regrets or grudges you may be holding.
    • We can all be really bad at this one, but if you’ve got axes you’ve been grinding all year, maybe it’s time to let those go. Easier said than done, but a great goal for the new year is practicing forgiveness for yourself and for those around you.

Physical Health:

  • Fitness
    • A little exercise can make a big difference for your peace of mind. Your body will thank you! There are plenty of free options out there, like going for a run, local community classes, and an endless number of apps that have expert teachers leading a variety of free exercises.
  • Sleep
    • No matter how much fun Red Dead Redemption 2 is, your body needs those sweet eight or nine hours. Be nice to yourself, be nice to your body, and get the rest you deserve (your gang will understand).
  • Water
    • Water! Health experts recommend 8-10 cups a days. Keeping yourself hydrated might be annoying or might feel like one more thing you have to remember, but it is a key part of staying healthy and keeping your body machine running smoothly
  • Limiting Coffee
    • If you’re up to the challenge, you’re a true champion.  Benefits include reduced anxiety and better sleep. Not convinced? Check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s article for the Huffington Post by clicking here.


  • Start earlier on projects and papers.
    • Who doesn’t love procrastinating? But starting projects earlier means giving yourself more time to consider things carefully, more time to ask questions, a better shot at work you can truly be proud of, and not least, a break from the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
  • Start a study group.
    • This is one a bonus — friends and work! How do you beat that? Round up some of your peers and set aside time to get together and work. You’ll be amazed at how much easier studying can be with people around you to help.
  • Take a class in something outside your comfort zone.
    • Maybe you know nothing about astronomy but you’ve always been captivated by the night sky. Maybe you’re intimidated by French but have always longed to learn another language. This can be the year to go for it!
  • Ask for feedback from teachers, mentors, or family friends whose opinion you respect.
    • If you come across someone who inspires you or who is ahead of you in a particular path, ask for their guidance! It’s a change to learn some invaluable lessons. At the very least, they’ll be flattered, and you can have someone you respect in your corner.


  • Do nice things for others.
    • This seems simple, but it’s bigger than you might think. When’s the last time you called your grandparent? How about the last time you wrote a handwritten letter to an old friend? Doing small (but heartfelt) deeds goes a hell of a long way, and it’ll start to fill your life with sweetness.
  • Befriend someone you normally wouldn’t.
    • Have you always surrounded yourself with similar types of people? Consider breaking through that this year! It’s a chance to see the world in a new way and open up your life to new adventures and new ways of thinking.
  • End or address unhealthy relationships.
    • This is a big one. If there are relationships in your life where you’re not appreciated, respected, or things just aren’t working, maybe this is the year to stand up for yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting someone out of your life completely (although, in extreme circumstances, it may be your only option) but it does mean speaking your mind, communicating honestly, and being strong. You can do it!
  • Practice respectful conversations with people you disagree with.
    • This may be the most timely resolution here. Practice having civil, non-judgmental conversations with people who have had different life experiences, who see the world through a different lens. And, not just on Facebook.

Listen to yourself. If something new you’re trying isn’t working or is making you miserable, change it! It doesn’t mean your weak or a failure.   By choosing four small resolutions (as opposed to multiple, major-life overhauls) you’ll still feel a big impact while enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes with commitment.

Best of luck out there! Go shine in 2019!

Being a Good Student Over the Holidays (While Not Ruining Your Break!)

Being a Good Student Over the Holidays (While Not Ruining Your Break!)

Winter break is that celebratory time that signals you’ve made it halfway through the school year. But in addition to being a wonderful time to relax, enjoy the holidays and be with your family, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to take stock of your wellbeing and check in with yourself.

To help you make the most of this vacation, we designed these five “RE”s as your guide: relax, recharge, reflect, reevaluate, and return. So, pull up a chair, grab a pen and paper, and pour yourself a mug of hot chocolate– here’s our re-commendations!

  • First and foremost — relax! If you just finished an entire semester’s worth of work and weeks of exams and papers, this is your opportunity to breathe. Don’t be afraid of letting your engine slow down a little bit. Spend time with family and friends. Make memories. Reach out to those you don’t see enough and try to get some nice one-on-one time with the people you care about.


  • Second — recharge! Get that good, good sleep. Do the things that you found yourself too busy to do during the school year. Is there a hobby that you’ve been neglecting? Also, don’t be afraid to be a little lazy, whether that might mean lounging around your home, playing video games, or binging the latest season of your favorite show. You’ve worked hard — don’t move too fast and forget to reward that.


  • Next — reflect and review. More than just finishing a semester — a full calendar year is coming to an end! Take this time to look back over everything that happened. Perhaps take a moment to write down everything you’re proud of. How many books did you read this year? What were some of your favorite memories? How are you doing in terms of goals?


  • Fourth — reevaluate. Are you still in love with all the things you were last year? What really stressed you out? What was harder than you thought it would be? Think about how to plan this coming year in a way that plays more to your strengths. And from the other side — what was easier than you anticipated this past year? Are you pushing yourself enough?


  • Fifth — Return. Yes, you’ll be returning in earnest when January comes. And each day of movies and lounging is a day closer to that return. Try to not live in denial of that. But there is another, less literal, return also. I’m speaking of a return to the material, and to your student self.

Follow these steps and we guarantee that when the last day of break rolls around, you’ll be ready to go back to school a happier and healthier you.

Happy holidays and happy New Year!