More students than ever are taking the SAT and ACT, standardized tests that determine academic performance and readiness for college. But a report published by the College Board in 2015 suggests that most students are ill-prepared for the academic challenges in college, with scores on these tests holding steady or dropping over the last few years.
Jennifer Henson, a graduate of Beavercreek High School and Dayton resident for many years, is working to change all that. A school teacher for 22 years, Henson discovered she had a talent for helping her students prepare for test taking, especially the ACT test.
“After high school, I attended Xavier University and ended up teaching in Cincinnati,” Henson said. “I got into the college test prep business by accident.”
A 4.0 student herself in high school, Henson’s high score on the ACT resulted in a half tuition scholarship to Xavier. After a stint teaching in northern Kentucky, she was hired at Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati but quickly recognized that Kentucky had state requirements that differed from those in Ohio.
“There is an emphasis on ACT scores in the state school report cards in Kentucky,” Henson said. “I already had a background helping kids with the ACT when I met the quarterback of the Winton Woods football team.”
Henson was called to the school principal’s office where she was told that the athlete, Dominque Brown, desperately needed her help. His full scholarship to the University of Louisville was in jeopardy because of his low ACT score.
“I was a little panicked at first,” Henson said. “I didn’t know if I could really help him get where he needed to be.”
But Henson began meeting with Brown after school and was determined to do what it took to increase his score.
“It was at that time that I noticed that the standardized tests really didn’t change much from one year to the next,” Henson said.
Word quickly spread that she was the “ACT Lady,” and before long, she was working with more football players who needed to raise their scores. And in 2011, an Ohio State University football coach knocked at her door and asked her to help a potential player, Adolphus Washington (currently of the Buffalo Bills) bring his ACT scores up.
“That’s when I became more serious about what I was doing,” Henson said. “I was still teaching full time and I fit this in on weekends.”
After creating a course online, Henson began helping hundreds of students a year and in May of this year, her business, “Jen Henson ACT Prep” was born. She resigned from full-time teaching at the end of May and said she hasn’t regretted a single moment since.
“What makes my program different from others is that I can meet any time of day and any day of the week,” said Henson, who often gives lessons virtually using Skype or Facetime. “With no drive time involved, students meet with me during study halls, off periods and even on the way to practices in their parents’ cars.”
The growth of Henson’s business has been the direct result of referrals from satisfied students and families. She said when students come to her for help, most have taken one of the tests at least once and she uses their scores from that as a baseline to create a plan.
“I tell parents that unless their child has a 34 out of the 36 points on the ACT, there is room for improvement,” Henson said.
She begins by creating a plan for each of the subject areas of English, math, reading, science and the optional essay. And she believes repeated practice of the skills makes a difference. Because of her methods, the average point increase on the ACT is 4.63 composite.
“I’ve had students go up as many as 12 points in a section and my biggest composite growth was 10 points,” Henson said. “I have created a ‘30 Club,’ because achieving that score generally qualifies students for merit money at most colleges.”
Though Henson works with students from around the country, she particularly enjoys returning to her roots in Dayton and helping local students achieve.
“I have current students who live in Dayton and attend Oakwood High School and Miami Valley School,” Henson said. “We know that if students keep taking the tests and don’t do anything in between, their scores will be the same. But with my help, students keep improving on their scores until they reach their personal goals.”
Find out more on Henson’s Facebook page: JenHensonACT-Prep