The SAT vs. The ACT: Which Standardized Test Should Students Take?

February 14th, 2015



Our terrific college admissions counselor Abby wrote this post – she also coaches students on writing and helps with SAT/ACT Prep!

For years, parents have asked us whether their child should take the ACT or SAT. Until recently, the ACT was considered somewhat less popular, even though it has been well-known in the Midwest and Southern part of the U.S. for several decades. However, in 2012, the ACT overtook the SAT in popularity, prompting many students and parents to question which test is “better” to take for college applications.

The simple answer? Neither. Both are accepted by colleges and universities, and are weighted the same in admissions. The harder answer comes when determining which test students might score better on, given their particular strengths and skill set. The emphasis here is on might, as one important statistic to keep in mind is that the bulk of students score nearly the same on both tests—most students and parents aren’t aware of this fact. Many student prep for one exam and then turn to the other when scores are less than desirable, which can add unnecessary stress and not be the best use of time and resources. The tests are quite different and require different preparation strategies, but taking both can add an unnecessary workload in the already packed junior year.

A better plan is becoming familiar with both tests before registering and choosing one to focus on. In most cases, we recommend taking a test 2-3 times in the junior year and senior fall, if necessary, and brushing up on core concepts and sections proven to be most challenging in between exams.

So how do students start to differentiate between the two tests and decide which one to take? Here are a few of the major differences to consider:

1. Scoring and Sections

The ACT has a total score of 36, with four long sections (five with the “optional” essay which most schools require, so it’s not really optional) which cover English, critical reading, math and science. There is no score penalty for wrong answers.

The SAT has a total score of 2400 with 10 sections, covering English, critical reading, math and writing. One-quarter of a point is taken off for wrong answers. However, the SAT is being redesigned, and starting Spring 2016 the new SAT will be out of 1600 points and there will be no penalty for wrong answers.

2. Degrees of Difficulty

The ACT is perceived to be more straightforward and based on general 2824506032_be22415f5bknowledge, but don’t get too comfortable. Two reasons: math and science. The math section is quite a bit more advanced than the SAT (it includes trigonometry) and the science section is an outlier—while in-depth outside knowledge isn’t necessary, it is helpful to understand how scientific hypotheses are formed and the basics of experimental set-up. The science section really tests reasoning ability, and boils down to how well a student can evaluate data from graphs, charts and experimental results.

On the other hand, the SAT focuses more on reasoning and goes easier on students’ math skills, testing through coordinate geometry. However, deep knowledge of vocabulary is necessary to survive the English and critical reading sections. Other things to consider: there are no scientific experiments to interpret and the sections are notably shorter.

3. Test Length and Pacing

scoresThe ACT takes 3 hours and 25 minutes with the writing test, while the SAT is slightly longer at 3 hours and 45 minutes. While both tests require that students be able to read and absorb material at a quick pace, a crucial piece of how successful a student is on the ACT involves keeping a close eye on the clock. One example is the math section, which consists of 60 questions in 60 minutes.

Again, the SAT is being redesigned for Spring 2016, and the new test will be shorter – 3 hours in length instead of 3 hours and 45 minutes. The essay on the redesigned SAT will be optional and come at the end of the exam.

Hopefully this post gives students and parents a sense of the tests and a starting point to determine which might be the best fit. The best way for students to make this decision is to take a practice test of the ACT and the SAT, which will give them a hands-on idea of what’s ahead.

Here are some additional resources on the issue:



Our Upcoming SAT Classes for the January and March SAT Tests!

October 3rd, 2014


At Green Ivy, the majority of work we do with students is one-on-one, but we also offer small group classes to help students prepare for the SAT. We’ve been helping students prepare for 15 years, and we have had numerous students improve up to 400+ points with dedicated practice. Our classes are limited to six students, and have nine Sunday sessions focused on content and strategies, as well as several practice test options on various Saturdays.

Our upcoming class starts in November and ends just in time for the January exam. I recommend high school juniors who are planning to play a sport or participate in a major spring activity (i.e. Spring Musical) try to take the January SAT to get it out of the way. In general students should take the test 2-3 times, and taking the test in January can alleviate some stress. To sign up, please contact Sophia at our office.

The November Class Schedule is as follows:

  • Sunday 11/2, 11/9, 11/16, 11/23, 12/7, 12/14, 1/4, 1/11, 1/18
  • Proctor Exams: Saturday 11/15, 1/3

Our class that begins in January ends just in time for the March SAT, which is the time when the vast majority of high school juniors take the exam. However, check the date, because it often ends up being the same day as many schools’ junior proms, which can make for a very long and distracted day. To sign up, please contact Sophia at our office.

The January Class Schedule is as follows:

  • Sunday 1/11 (1-3 PM)
  • Sunday 1/18 (1-3 PM)
  • Sunday 1/25, 2/1, 2/8, 2/15, 2/22, 3/1, 3/8
  • Proctor Exams: Saturday 1/31, 2/28

To sign up, simply contact our office and get registered – the classes are small, so they tend to fill up in advance. Thanks!


Starting the School Year Off Right with Green Ivy in the Schools

July 28th, 2014


Every year, Green Ivy visits middle schools and high schools around the country and gives talks to parents, students and faculty members on how to create an amazing school year. We also give our 90 minute workshops on organization, time-management, personal purpose and setting goals for the school year – it’s fun, interactive, and kids often comment that it was one of the most helpful assemblies or orientations they’ve been to (personal moment of happiness: when parents at the evening talk told us they came because their children sent them after our daytime school assembly).

It’s almost back to school time, and we love visiting schools and helping Back to school againstudents think about their choices as members of their classroom and greater school community. With increasing social media and digital options, so many students are left confused about all the different ways they can socialize, communicate, and collaborate.  Here are some examples of what Green Ivy does in schools:

-       Middle School Back to School Presentation: We talk about organization, time-management, social media, food and sleep choices, and goal setting. The talk is interactive, fun and lively. Last year, one principal came up to us and said, “I had no idea that was going to go so well.”

-       Workshops: We give our 90-minute interactive workshop on organization, time-management, social media choices, and overall wellness as a part of a greater school effort to focus on building community and making good choices. It’s a great way to start the school year, and teachers and counselors can do weekly follow-up to maintain good choices.

-       Parent Presentations: Keeping parents feeling empowered and informed to make good parenting choices is one of the hallmarks of our work. We talk about organization and time-management, as well as updating parents on the latest social media issues of which they should be aware. Check out Green Ivy founder Ana Homayoun’s Huffington Post piece, “The Teen Vanishing Act.”

-       Faculty/Staff In-Service: So much of organization and time-management begins in the classroom, which is why our founder Ana Homayoun’s  books That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week and The Myth of the Perfect Girl are typically chosen as all staff reads.

To book a talk or a workshop, please contact Sophia at sophia at or call our office 650.472.0617. You can also fill out this contact form.

Sometimes, life gives you (nice) surprises!

July 10th, 2014


Sometimes, life throws you surprises. Hopefully, more of the surprises are of the happy variety, of course – like last month, when I got home from dinner with a friend (at local kitchen and wine merchant in SF, which is a personal favorite and has the best brussel sprouts dish ever) and found out that my second book, The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success and Happiness in School and Life, was A Mighty Girl Pick of the Day!

For those of you unfamiliar with A Mighty Girl – it is a terrific website and Facebook page that has over 450K followers, and has great posts about inspiring girls and women, and offers tips on toys, books, games and the like. If you have girls, work with girls, are a girl, know girls – you should follow them (I’ve covered pretty much everyone, right?!) Every time I go through their posts, I am inspired and learn something new.

The Myth of the Perfect Girl is based on the work I’ve done at Green Ivy, and I still clearly remember the day I was talking to Natalie*, whose story I recall at the beginning of the book. It was the beginning of summer, and I convinced her to spend some of her time in the summer trying to figure out what she liked to do – which she found more arduous than her summer reading.

So, imagine my lovely surprise when I experienced the power of being a ReadingMighty Girl pick firsthand! Amazon sold out of books within a few hours (they’re restocking, don’t worry!) and over 1000 people shared the post, with parents, educators, and psychologists commenting on how it was a must read topic…now that is a mighty nice surprise. We’ve had inquiries on our website from all over the world – amazing. As we move into the slower summer pace and summer reading, I hope parents of pre-teens and teen girls will consider reading the book with their daughters.

How are you helping your daughters overcome the perfect girl myth this summer?

*name has been changed

NYC Event on June 18th on The Culture of Perfectionism: Understanding and Overcoming the Unique Stress of Our High Stress, High Impact World

June 10th, 2014


When I wrote my second book, The Myth of the Perfect Girl, I interviewed many pre-teens, teens and young adult women on the particular challenges of today’s world. I also benefited from having over a decade of experience working with young people on the unique aspects of today’s always on, all the time culture. When I first started my work, there was no Facebook, Tumblr, or Snapchat. Friendster and MySpace were relatively new additions, and it was okay for email to go a day or so before being checked.

One of the best parts about writing the book was speaking with the young women who offered to be readers of the book. So many saw themselves in the book, and one young woman – then a college sophomore at a highly selective school – proclaimed, “This is the book that really discusses what everyone is dealing with but no one is talking about.”

42-16851004I had another mom, a few months after the book first came out, email me to say that she read the book intending to read about ways to help her daughter, and that she found herself recognizing things she did and said within the pages of MYTH – and that it made her feel highly uncomfortable to come face to face with such obvious and painful truths. “Imagine how I feel,” I replied, “Writing the book made me feel as though I was re-living my adolescence, and once was quite enough, I must admit!”9780399537714_MythofthePerfectGirl_CV.indd

So I am really excited to be presenting in NYC on The Culture of Perfectionism: Understanding and Overcoming the Unique Stress of Our High Stress, High Impact World. The talk is sponsored by the Duke Alumni Association, and really addresses the issues we all deal with as young women, older women, mothers, daughters, and anywhere in between. The talk will be about 45 minutes long, with time for Q&A, and it is meant to be a practical, prescriptive understanding of the world we live in today, and offer customizable solutions to redefine success on our own terms.

If you are interested, please register here and join us!

Should coding should be a required part of the school curriculum?

May 15th, 2014


Though we work with clients from all over the world, our main Green Ivy office is located right in the heart of the Silicon Valley. (Side note: the Silicon Valley now means so many things, according to this NYMagazine piece on how many Silicon Valley companies are re-locating to San Francisco, but I digress). I have been working with schools that are implementing one-to-one iPad and computer programs since the very beginning, and have seen so many changes take place over a short amount of time.

In my latest work in schools, I focus a great deal on the curriculum side of bringing one-to-one programs into the classroom. Though my work centers on organization, time-management and social media management, I read this weekend’s NYTimes article from Matt Richtel entitled “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and now Coding” with heightened interest, especially since the school in Mill Valley he highlights is fifteen minutes from my home.


So, should coding be a required part of the school curriculum?, a non-profit founded by Hadi Partovi, is making waves to make it happen by providing curriculum to K-12 teachers around the country. One of the parents interviewed used the fear factor, stating, “Computer science is big right now — in our country, the world,” she said. “If my kids aren’t exposed to things like that, they could miss out on potential opportunities and careers.”

All well and good, and I appreciate the problem solving that happens when a student learning to code, but I am not sure kindergarten is the right age to begin. Too soon, perhaps.  This is something I see of interest for middle and high schoolers, and particularly in high school. And while technology skills should be required (after all, using search engines and document storage and retrieval are completely different now than it was even five years ago) we do need to think about the long-term implications of technology and screen overload for our kids.

democratizing-info-123215-sFor our youngest learners, we should promote more opportunities that build the same skills as coding without necessarily spending ample time in  front of a screen. Those logic skills, if-then reasoning, and cause-effect happenings are invaluable for overall problem solving and critical thinking skills.

In her Motherlode column, When Kids Would Rather Play Computer Games Than Code Them, KJ Dell’Antonia discusses the fact that coding is pretty challenging, and many children have a tough time switching from being consumers (playing video or computer games) to being creators (coding them). It many cases, it takes more effort on the parent to encourage the shift, which may or may not be easy to do.

On a personal note, my mother has her PhD in Computer Science (she got way back before it was the cool thing to do), and I grew up with an Apple IIE and requisite turtle coding games at free range. Some kids enjoy that stuff, others don’t – as with anything. Helping kids find the intersection of what they enjoy and what they have aptitude for, as well as what they can grow aptitude for, is the best any parent can hope. And coding is just another thing to add to the repertoire.

The Tech Sector’s New, Urban Aesthetic

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding

When Kids Would Rather Play Computer Games Than Code Them

This blog post also appears on

Feeling the Standardized Test Love…

May 1st, 2014

We opened our Green Ivy inbox to find this GEM of an email from the parent of one of our students:

I wanted to let you know that Mignote did a great job getting [our son] ready to take the ACT.   He scored a 31 composite (97th percentile), 34 on reading, 31 math, 28 on  science.   The was a great improvement over his SAT of 1700 and his previous practice attempts on the ACT (19 was his highest ACT practice test score).

This has opened up an entire new range of college possibilities for him.   He was beaming when he told me his score!

Again, please express my thanks to Mignote and thank you, Ana, for creating great learning environment that cares about kids.

~ Father of a Mountain View HS Junior, April 29, 2014


Opening this email yesterday was basically the highlight of my day – it wasn’t necessarily about the improved score (though that was AWESOME!! From a 19 to a 31 on the ACT – can we say amazing!) but really it was about the heightened personal confidence I know this young man feels as a result of his improvement.

Don’t get me wrong – he worked hard. Mignote worked with him for nearly nine months to help him really understand the underlying concepts – to us, standardized test scores are just an indicator of other skills that need to be worked on – there is no quick fix, but good test preparation can be helpful for long-term success.

We understand standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, ISEE, and HSPT can be stressful. But they don’t have to be – and at Green Ivy, we focus on building the underlying skills rather than simply rushing through tips on how to increase scores is how we see marked improvement year after year. Our strategy pays off in terms of improved scores, increased confidence, and better preparation for college and the real world.


Do you want to learn more about our work and how we do it? Contact us.

Lateovers, Sleepovers and The Morning After

April 29th, 2014



A version of this was also printed on my website and on the Huffington Post here.

As spring turns to summer, high school prom season is in full swing, there are inevitably more parents hosting slumber parties and sending their kids to sleepovers in other families’ homes. Last week, I was speaking at a book event for The Myth of the Perfect Girl with a terrific group of moms whose girls were mostly between the ages of ten and seventeen, and one parent asked me what I thought about sleepovers. A lively discussion ensued.

The topic of sleepovers (and slumber parties) seems to be one of those issues in parenting where most have an opinion, and no opinion is necessarily right or wrong. A few years ago, Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wrote a Sleepover Survival Guide, and in her New York Times article “Ensuring Domestic Tranquility at Sleepovers” physician Perri Klass notes, “The sleepover, along with its cousin the slumber party, has apparently become an essential part of childhood, for boys as well as for girls.”

One mom suggested her family’s solution of the late-over to describe the scenario where her child goes to her friend’s house until it is just before they are about to fall asleep, and is picked up right in time to go home and roll into her own bed. The late-over (can we coin this term?) is simple and genius in so many ways.  While I do realize having a late-over means parents have to pick up your child at 10:30 or 11 pm or later depending on your child’s age, I find that on the whole, everyone’s next few days might be better because of it.

If you are thinking about the sleepover versus late-over versus other social event situations, I encourage you to consider:

The term sleepover is such a misnomer – even with the best of intentions, very little quality sleep happens. I can generally tell when children (especially teenagers) have been to a sleepover because they are generally irritable, grumpy, and sleep-deprived. One teen girl I work with notes that while she likes sleepovers, she feels they are better in the summer because she generally feels cranky the next day because she is tired. Even when parents insist that they will make sure kids actually get to sleep, it’s not like they have a baby monitor on the situation. The key here, too, is quality sleep. The combination of sleeping somewhere new coupled with young people who distract one another typically means the morning and day after can and become an emotional disaster.

Terrible ideas come to many children in the middle of the night. I have more than a few stories of children who decided to do something relatively dumb in the middle of the night that they probably wouldn’t have considered with the same enthusiasm in broad daylight. Groupthink coupled with exhaustion (and maybe sugar-ladden giddiness) can cause some to make really impulsive and potentially dangerous decisions. The story that comes to mind is that of the three girls who decided to sneak out and try to get to a male classmate’s home, even though getting there involved walking along the highway. Fortunately, highway patrol officers found them walking barefoot along the side of the road around 2 am and called their parents. It’s 2 am, do you know where your kids are? Walking barefoot along the highway to some eighth grade boy’s house they deemed to be “super cute.”

Social media + Sleepover = Recipe for disaster. If I have one major sleepover rule, it’s that there should be no social media whatsoever. If kids are coming together to hang out, they should focus on interacting with those in attendance rather than trying to tweet, text, post pictures of themselves on Instagram, send Snapchats, watch YouTube videos or start Rumres. When social media gets involved, I often find that some type of meanness – either intentional or unintentional – ensues. For instance, kids can post all about the sleepover while it is going on can make others who are not there feel excluded. Worse, kids – and yes, it’s mostly girls we are talking about here – can turn on one of the sleepover guests and isolate them at the event with maneuvering that would make the Mean Girls blush. So it is exclusion at the exclusive event. The list is endless.




The morning after is generally not very pretty. Kids can be exhausted from sleeping in a strange place (or not sleeping at all), and some comment or interaction can leave them a bit upset and not knowing how to process. If you are planning to send your child to a sleepover, make sure they have ample time the next day to rest and recover – perhaps take a nap, have an easy afternoon, etc.


Post-prom co-ed sleepovers for teens can set up big expectations that can potentially backfire. More and more parents host post-prom, co-ed sleepovers in attempts to thwart late night driving and other potential issues. But the flurry around prom, which in this day of group dates and online communication is some teens’ first formal date, can set up some overwhelming wedding-day type expectations. Encouraging prom to become an overnight affair can only heighten those expectations for all involved.


I do understand the fun that can potentially happen at sleepovers and slumber party, and I am a big fan of any positive in-person social opportunities provide in our tech filled world. In truth, sleepovers can be fun for young people, and can offer a mini-vacation for both parents and kids. But while I am sure there are plenty of kids who get are able to get a restful 8 hours of sleep at a friend’s house, perhaps it is just that I haven’t met them yet. I seem to see the kids who are cranky, irritable, and annoyed because they are sleep deprived and/or something happened either during or after the sleepover that made things weird.


So, to borrow the term from the cool mom I met last week, I prefer late-overs to sleepovers. Regardless of your preference, hosting parents should have all electronics and social media devices turned off and stowed away for the duration of the social experience. House rules around social media use should be expressed early and often. And, surprising kids with fresh baked cookies or another treat as an excuse to check-in is never a bad idea.  


What do you think? Sleepovers or lateovers? Or neither?




Summer 2014: Writing Workshops for Middle and High School Students

April 8th, 2014

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Often, with all the excitement of family trips and overnight camps, summer reading gets left to the last minute. Sound familiar? Has your son or daughter ever spent the final days of summer frantically trying to finish all 600 pages of East of Eden? In an effort to avoid that stressful situation, we are offering personalized, one-one-one summer reading tutoring.

The summer is an excellent opportunity to have your student strengthen and polish his or her close reading and analytical writing skills. In a series of five to ten sessions, we will help your student manage his or her summer calendar by developing a realistic reading schedule during an initial session at the beginning of summer. In the following sessions, your student will hone his or her close reading skills by learning how to write an in-depth passage-analysis, as well as develop a better understanding of writing an entire essay from beginning to end. By the completion of the sessions, he or she will have produced a final draft of an analytical essay.

Our one-on-one Writing Workshops are done either in-person or via SKYPE (so your child can continue even when you are on vacation – and we work with students all over the world!) using interactive tools. To learn more and sign up, contact our office.


Kids today as young as elementary students communicate through text  using “cyber slang”, a term for shortcuts, alternatives and symbols in their everyday terminology. This has affected students in their academic writing, and unfortunately, coupled with the summer break, can cause students to lose their ability to properly compose written assignments.

Keep your students on track with our academic writing workshop this summer.  Over the course of four days, this workshop focuses on helping middle and high school students improve their narrative, poetic, expository, and persuasive writing styles through individual and partner activities as well as group brainstorming sessions. Space is limited, so sign up today!

Middle School Workshop: Monday, August 4th – Thursday, August 7th | 1:00 – 3:30 PM 

High School Workshop: Monday, August 4th – Thursday, August 7th | 3:30 – 5:00 PM 



How To Really Encourage Your Daughter’s Leadership Abilities

March 17th, 2014



A version of this article appeared in the Huffington Post.

One of the most defining moments of my college career is a time I don’t often think about anymore. At the time, of course, it was completely nerve-wracking. It was the middle of the first semester of my sophomore year, and I had decided to drop my Organic Chemistry class. In order to do so, I needed to have my professor sign the necessary paperwork.

The professor was funny and engaging, and his enthusiasm made my decision all the more difficult. It’s not you, I wanted to say, it’s me. Regardless of his efforts, I spent most of the thrice-weekly fifty-minute classes and the corresponding four-hour labs feeling as though I was in a foreign country without a map. After what seemed like a lot of soul-searching for a nineteen-year-old, I knew I wanted to drop the class and consequently did not want to be pre-med (Organic Chemistry is one of the hallmark pre-med requirements).

I was shaking a bit when I walked into the professor’s office, and he probably sensed my impending tears when he invited me to sit and chat. He encouraged me to think of dropping his class not as a failure, but as a new beginning full of possibility. He asked me open-ended questions that forced me to reflect, and I remember walking back to my dorm room on that sunny October afternoon feeling relieved and inspired. I finally felt as though I could have a college experience based on my own personal interests instead of preconceived notions of what I could or should be doing.

Not long thereafter, I discovered that my school, Duke University, allowed students to apply and design their own major under a curriculum called, “Program II.” Interested students had to design their major, find an advisor, and defend the program to the Dean. I like to think of as training for my future career as an entrepreneur. My parents, who had immigrated to the United States years earlier, were unsure of what a “self-designed major” meant, and simply hoped I would be gainfully employed with health insurance upon graduation. They also knew they didn’t have all the answers on how I should run my own life, and asked me open-ended questions on how I wanted to become engaged and involved given my personal interests (they also asked questions like “How are you going to be  financially self-sufficient?”).

Since graduating from college, I have designed and run my own successful business, authored two books (and am working on my third), managed Millennials, attended graduate school, worked with tens of thousands of teens and parents, and spoken at junior high schools, high schools, universities and corporations throughout the country and abroad. Few, if any, of these experiences would have happened if I hadn’t dropped Organic Chemistry that day.

In my work, I like to say, “Ask open-ended questions without expectation.” There are so many thoughts on how to encourage leadership for girls and young women, with the latest being the collaboration between Sheryl Sandberg’s and the Girl Scouts to “Ban Bossy.” So many of my own greatest leadership opportunities and happenings have grown from conversations – including that encouraging conversation with my Organic Chemistry professor who reframed my thinking to discover my own sense of personal purpose.

Last month, I returned to campus to be a panelist at Duke Women’s Weekend. The panel was entitled “What is your Question?,”  and was based on an exercise Duke University Dean Laurie Patton does to encourage students to align their actions around their own personal values. As preparation, I was asked to come up with the question I center my own life’s work around. Other panelists’ questions included, “What does healthy feel like?” “What is success?” “How do I live a life with purpose?” My question, after some reflection, is “How do I encourage and inspire others to become leaders in their own lives?”

The weekend had over 300 women in attendance, and each attendee contributed their own fascinating story and perspective. I had conversations with current undergraduates and women who graduated from the Women’s College over fifty years ago. What struck me more than any accomplishments or accolades of this highly talented group, though, was the thoughtfulness of our conversations about life choices, family decisions, corporate opportunities, and personal challenges. When we are younger, it can seem easy to borrow someone else’s blueprint for success, and as we age most of us realize there is no one “right” decision or life path. So many attendees used their personal experiences to become authentic leaders in their own lives – and in doing so, ultimately created positive ripple effects in the lives of so many others.

As parents and educators, one of the most powerful things we can do is give our daughters the opportunity to start asking questions around personal purpose, leadership, and values earlier in life. What are the qualities that make a good leader? What are your most important values? How do you espouse those values in your daily life? Often we don’t face these questions until we are in some way forced, as I was that day my sophomore year. We hear so much about the importance of developing girls’ leadership abilities, and it can be easy to forget how leadership is most powerful when it develops from within. The earlier we start asking open-ended questions to encourage reflection, the more powerful our next generation can be in creating their own blueprint for personal success and happiness. And, in doing so, they become even more empowered to create those positive ripple effects in the lives of others.