More than a test: how junior STARS teacher helps students prepare for college admissions exam


Juniors pile into their ninety-minute STARS class and flip open their white binders to the assigned homework. A woman with shoulder length blonde hair and a Texas A&M lanyard walks around and checks each binder to ensure that their required test prep had been completed. This test preparatory course is available to students to help them achieve the best scores they can, and the growth between the beginning and end of the course proves it’s success.


“[Eric Heineman] does a lot of behind the scenes work with your PSAT results from your tenth grade and eleventh grade year, and tries to see what parts of the test our students are struggling with the most.” Ms. Jill DiCuffa, 11th grade STARS teacher said.


Each junior undergoes SAT/ACT preparation from the More Than a Teacher program during STARS class. Ann Richards is one of the few schools that provides the test prep at no cost for its students, due to support from the Ann Richards Foundation.

“When we first started thinking about students taking the SAT in their junior year, we realized that also, a lot of our students weren’t able to financially afford really great test prep programs,” DiCuffa said. “It’s very expensive, several hundred dollars, and students have to take time for the class either at night or over the weekend to complete a course like that.”


The purpose of the program is to teach students methods ranging from when to use specific mathematical equations to knowing what information is important from each paragraph in reading passages in order to reach a “correct” answer. A combination of these methods will increase student’s scores, helping them in terms of getting into their dream schools and becoming recipients of scholarships.


“We realized that was the best way to give our students the biggest advantage they had on a really important test,” DiCuffa said.


DiCuffa remembers the time she took her SAT exams and her emotional state as if it was yesterday. She felt as nervous as students today feel as they walk into their testing site and sit down in the desks with their hearts beating out of their chest.


“When I was done with the first test, I remember leaving and getting into my car and saying out loud to myself ‘well, I’ll have to take that one again.” DiCuffa said.


The current SAT exam is part of the redesign that was first implemented with the March 2016 exam. Before the redesign, the test contained ten sections, a different scoring system, and test preparation programs taught  different strategies to earn the best score possible.


“You’d ask yourself ‘is it worth it for me to guess on this section?’” DiCuffa said, “because if you guessed and got it wrong, it was minus a quarter of a point.”


The redesign includes four sections, with the writing component being optional (but encouraged). The College Board, the company in charge of the SAT, got rid of memorizing ostentatious vocabulary words that are not used as much today.
“It’s just a test more of endurance,” DiCuffa said.