Grades, Test Prep and Extra Curricular Activities

Grades/Test Prep/Extra Curricular Activities

Preparing for college admissions takes a well-rounded understanding of how to get a better GPA, whether or not to take any honors courses or AP courses as well as which AP/Honors courses you should take. It also includes knowing study skills and resources for study help. There is a difference between a weighted and a non-weighted GPA and knowing the difference will help you immensely.

I am calling this section the “Real Deal” session because this stuff matters, more than any other part of the admissions process. If you don’t have the grades, the test scores, and the activities; you will be fighting an uphill battle to admission. If you can get these things in order, you will have your pick of colleges, in fact, they will be scrambling to have you! This means more acceptance letters, more scholarships and more merit-aid.

Why does this matter?!

A GPA is a representation of your accumulative grades throughout high school. The best ways to get a better GPA start with understanding how important it is to your college acceptance. Being aware of the weight that a GPA holds for your future can add positive stress to your academic career, encouraging you to begin by balancing your time between academics and a social life. Maintaining a straight A transcript can be the most important factor for you, but for most people, it is healthier to maintain a balance so that you are not too burned out before college even arrives, rewarding you for your hard work. Each teacher should outline the course requirements in high school with a syllabus. Holding on to each of these and writing down major due dates and test dates in a large monthly calendar will help you to put your schedule into perspective and learn time management.

If you’re playing the GPA game (trying to get a high GPA) and taking a light schedule that isn’t challenging, it will catch up with you at the college level very quickly. One of the things admissions officers pay attention to, besides GPA, is course selection throughout high school and especially senior year. They like to see students have momentum going into the freshman year (of College). If you sit back your senior year, it’s hard to recapture that momentum.

One thing which will help your GPA is taking AP or honors courses. These courses are generally more difficult and are what contribute to a weighted GPA or a non-weighted GPA. See the table for an explanation of how this works. For AP and honors courses, each grade is increased by one number. This makes an A worth five points, a B worth four points, and so on, which can provide you with a higher GPA. The reality is that colleges know that the GPA is weighted, but they also know that AP/Honors courses are more challenging, this is the point, and this is what colleges are concerned about, did this student challenge herself?

College Prep: Un-weighted AP/Honors: Weighted
Grade: “A”= 4 points (4.0) Grade: “A”= 5 points (5.0)
Grade: “B” = 3 points (3.0) Grade: “B” = 4 points (4.0)
Grade: “C” = 2 points (2.0) Grade: “C” = 3 points (3.0)
Grade: “D” = 1 points (1.0) Grade: “D” = 0 points (0.0)

Taking AP courses means that you get to take AP tests at the end of each academic year. If you score high enough on these tests, then you can be exempt from remedial college courses. These cover a wide variety of subject, allowing you to utilize specific skills or interests for particular areas of study while in high school. If you are better at math as opposed to history, then a B in history can be compensated for by an A in an AP math course.

Tests required for college are:

* Subject tests referred to as SAT II: These include subjects such as Spanish, French, Physics, U.S. History, Literature, Mathematics level 1 and 2, Biology, Chemistry, German, Modern Hebrew, Latin, and World History (you only need to take 2-3 subject tests, NOT all of them!)
* OR the ACT

In order to prepare for any of these tests, there are online preparatory courses available which mimic the actual test. The U.S. Department of Education supports practice with practice questions or samples on sites such as and the affiliated websites for each test company. Also, SAT hosts practice exams. ePrep is an excellent online program you can utilize with hundreds of practice problems and videos to go with the explanation. This is especially helpful for visual learners (Know Thyself!) and those on a tight budget.

When preparing for either the SAT/ACT/SAT Subject Tests/AP exams, you should start test preparation six months to one year before taking the exam. The official SAT site offers daily questions emailed to you as well as practice questions from all of the sections of the test with an immediate score provided upon finish, FOR FREE. The Official SAT Study Guide includes ten previous tests and test taking tips. Utilizing any and all of these relieves stress from the process and can take place with a tutor, through a class study group, online courses, a formal class on the weekends or evenings, or self-preparation through texts and online resources.

One week before taking either the practice exams or the actual exams, you should review your material again and then relax the night before. Taking the practice SAT is recommended by experts so that you understand the format and how the process works, familiarizing yourself with the structure. Each of the different methods of practice should be used in conjunction with the rest. Note: It is either the SAT OR the ACT, you don’t need to take both.

Testing TIPS for the SAT:

1. Learn the section directions now. Use the time saved during the test to work on questions.
2. Answer easy questions first. Mark skipped questions in your exam book so you can quickly return to them later.
3. Guess…if you can eliminate at least one choice.
4. You can write in the test book: cross out wrong answers; do scratch work.
5. Take care when filling in the answer grid for the student-produced response questions.

6. Avoid stray marks on the answer sheet. A machine scores your test and can’t distinguish between a correct answer and a careless doodle.
7. Easy questions usually precede hard ones.
8. Mark only one answer per question.
9. Skip any question if you haven’t the faintest idea about the answer. You don’t lose points.
10. Understand the scoring! You get a point for a right answer. You lose a fractional point for a wrong answer. There is no deduction for omitted answers, or for wrong answers in the math section’s student-produced response questions.
11. Keep checking that you are placing your answer in the correct section and number on the answer sheet.
12. Don’t spend too much time on any one question. You should spend only seconds on the easiest questions, and hesitate to spend more than 1-2 minutes on even the hardest ones.
13. Practice, practice, practice!
14. Remember that the SAT consists of a series of small, timed, mini-tests. Keep track of the time you’re allotted for each one and how much time remains.
15. Bring a watch to the test center. You can’t be guaranteed that there’ll be a working clock there.
16. Don’t change an answer unless you’re sure you made an error.
17. Read the words in the question carefully. Be sure to answer the question asked and not the question you recall from a practice test.
18. Know the Question Types to Expect on the SAT I: * 19 sentence completion * 40 reading comprehension * 35 math multiple-choices * 10 student-produced responses


1. Before looking at the answers, try to complete the sentence with words that make sense to you.
2. Don’t rush your selection. Consider all the answers to make the best choice.
3. Use the context of nearby words to figure out unknown words.
4. Don’t overlook the reversing effect of negative words (like not) or prefixes (like un-).
5. If you’re really stuck for the meaning of a word, try to think of other words that have similar prefixes, roots, or suffixes.
6. Eliminate choices in double-blank questions if the first word alone doesn’t make sense in the sentence.
7. Let transition words (like although and likewise) help suggest the best answer.


1. You should base your answers to the questions solely on what is stated or implied in the passages.
2. Read the italicized introductory text.
3. Skip questions you don’t know. Return to them after answering other easier questions.
4. First and last sentences of each paragraph are critical.
5. Find the right spot in a passage by using any line reference numbers that appear in the questions.
6. Answer questions on familiar topics before unfamiliar topics.
7. Read the passages before reading the questions.
8. Don’t waste time memorizing details.
9. Passage content comes from the Humanities, Social Science, Science, and Literal Fiction.
10. Some passages are presented in pairs. Read the brief introduction first to see how they relate.
11. Spend more time on answering the questions than on reading the text.


1. Write a short (about 250-300 words), persuasive essay on an assigned topic.
2. Keep in mind the structure of an essay – 5 paragraphs consisting of an: Introduction, Body (about 3 paragraphs), Conclusion
3. The allotted time frame is 25 minutes. Read the essay question quickly and think about the topic (about 5 minutes). Allow most of your time (about 15 minutes) to write the essay. Spend the remaining 5 minutes reviewing and editing your work.
4. Introductory Paragraph should state the position that is being taken. It should also state about 3 points that support this position.
5. The Body Paragraphs should expand the points that you present with specific detail and examples.
6. The Concluding Paragraph should summarize your point of view by restating the thesis statement in a revised format.
7. Keep your writing simple.
8. Avoid wordiness.
9. Avoid slang.

WRITING SECTION — MULTIPLE CHOICE: Usage, Sentence Correction, and Paragraph Correction

1. Think about the question before you answer it.
2. Move around within a Section.
3. Usage & Sentence Correction questions are based on individual sentences. They test basic grammar, sentence structure, and word choice.
4. Paragraph Correction questions are based on 2 brief passages, with several questions per passage.
5. Read the questions carefully.


1. Guess if you can’t figure it out. There is no penalty for wrong answers in this section.
2. Negative numbers are not possible as answers in this section. If your answer comes up negative, do it again.
3. You may begin to enter a short answer in any column. For instance, .6 can be entered in columns 1-2, or 2-3, or 3-4.
4. If an answer is a repeating decimal (like .33333333), just enter as many decimals as will fit in the grid (.333).
5. You may enter an equivalent decimal for a fraction as your answer, but why waste the time evaluating the fraction?
6. Do not try to enter mixed numbers. For example, if your answer is 3 1/2, enter it as 3.5 or 7/2.


1. Read the question well. Be sure to select the best answer for the variable, value, or expression that is requested!
2. Learn in advance all of the critical definitions, formulas, and concepts that appear in common questions.
3. Remember to use the test booklet for scratch work, as well as for marking up any diagrams/graphs.
4. Early questions in this section are easier. Spend less time on them.
5. Don’t get carried away with detailed calculations. Look for a trick or a shortcut if the question seems time consuming.
6. When a question contains a weird symbol, just substitute the accompanying definition when figuring out the best answer choice.

Extra Curricular Activities
Other ways to help ease the admissions process is selecting and using the appropriate extra-curricular activities. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that you take on the activities early and consistently, and that activities which work in conjunction with your field are a great start. However, expound upon that and take part in some which are outside of your field and comfort zone.

By doing this, you will put yourself above every other applicant in your field who took on the same activities. Keeping a broad range of activities will demonstrate to the application committee that you are a well-rounded student. Things like the essays and extra-curricular activities can be a way that colleges separate the good from the great, but grades and test scores are still king.

You must make sure that you keep up with your grades in the middle of all the extra stuff you also want and need to do. The purpose of the extracurricular activity is to enhance and compliment your “star quality.” When the admissions counselor looks at your file, they will do the following:

* Was the application turned in on time?
* Does this student have the minimum grade and test scores?
* Are there essays attached?
* Is this student involved?

Once these requirements are met, then they start to look at who you are. They will take a look at your grades and see how challenged you were in high school. Then they’ll take a look at how you did on your SAT and/or your ACT, then they will read your essay, then they’ll look at your recommendations, and then they will examine your extracurricular activities. The truth is, “Class rank is only used by 50 percent of schools, and fewer colleges are relying on SAT scores, one aspect recruiters are taking a closer look at is an applicant’s extracurricular activities. So what makes your extracurricular activities stand out from the rest? Here is a list of ideas that you may want to consider” (Gail Oliver, 2009).

Some ideas include:

* Coaching for a disadvantaged soccer or baseball team
* Start a book club with friends
* Start an online movement through Facebook
* Organize an annual blood drive
* Start a small business like landscape maintenance, or some kind of online business
* Volunteer serving the homeless
* Go build houses in a 3rd world country
* Volunteer at a local school helping ESL kids learn how to read
* Get involved in politics and volunteer for a campaign
* Show your unique characteristics and run a marathon, spice it up by running for a cause like breast-cancer awareness, stopping child trafficking etc.

The longer you were involved in the activity the better. It shows that you can stick with things and see them through. Also, you don’t need to list a ton of extracurricular activities on your college application. Just three or four that you are really passionate about will do.

After the last session, this one NEEDED to be shorter. Make sure that you participate in the discussion forum and ask other students questions, there are also CLP administrators online to help answer questions and give you some extra guidance.

Complete the short (and easy) quiz!


About Nathan and Joanna Cornett

We are a from San Diego California, currently on a mission trip in Guatemala. Nathan has worked as a youth pastor, teen center director, college advisor, and now missionary. Joanna has worked at LaBahn's Landscape for 7 years in the field, sales, and as the Vice President, she started the Hispanic ministry at Foothills Church, and has worked in youth ministry, she is now working as a missionary. We are both passionate about youth, worship, and missions.

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