High School 2 College

August 27, 2009

8 Quick Answers to Questions About the PSATs

Although I’ve written in my blog about the PSATs before, here are most of the answers you need in one place.

Question: Should I take the PSATs before 11th grade?

Answer: NO! There’s no good reason to take the PSATs before 11th grade. The PSATs are given once a year on a Saturday morning in October (this year, they are given on October 17, 2009).  Save your money for the PSATs in October of 11th grade when they count. If you must take a practice PSAT, do it in the privacy of your own home.   Too often, kids take the PSATs in 10th grade – and they naturally do poorly because they’re too young.  They haven’t had all the math and their reading skills aren’t good enough.   They mean to do some prep before the PSATs in 11th grade, but most don’t.  Then they take the 11th grade PSATs with the self-defeating attitude that they’re just no good on the PSATs.

Question: Does it make sense to hire a tutor or take a course to prep for the PSATs?

Answer: No! (And I get paid for PSAT tutoring, so you know I’m not telling you this for any self-serving reason.)  There are only two exceptions:  kids who do so well on standardized tests that they may indeed get a scholarship from the PSATS/National Merit, and kids who are such nervous test takers that, without practice, the PSAT would be a traumatic event for them.

Question: Is the PSAT easier or harder than the SAT?

Answer: The SAT is harder than the PSAT in almost every respect. The math is much harder on the SATs, the reading selections are longer, the vocab is harder, the test is longer, and there’s an essay on the SATs but not on the PSATs.  There’s no getting around it – the PSATs are easier than the SATs.  That means if you do okay on the PSATs, don’t get too optimistic.  And if you are disappointed in your PSAT score, don’t wait to get help!

Question: Can I take the PSAT again if I don’t like my score?

Answer: No. If you took it in 11th grade, you can’t take it again.  Concentrate on the SAT and the ACT.  No one but you, your parents, and your guidance counselor gets to see your PSAT score anyway unless it’s amazing.

Question: Is the PSAT a good predicter of how I’ll do on my SATs?

Answer: Not necessarily.  Most kids do a bit worse on their SATs than PSATs — unless they get tutoring.  Many kids do go up from their PSATs to SATs in math because each year you take more math in school, but most kids don’t go up on the writing or critical reading part without a lot of work either on their own or with a tutor.

Question: When do I get my PSAT scores back?

Answer: Your SAT results are reported to you via the internet and are sent to your home, usually less than three weeks after you take the test.  The PSAT results, however, go first to your high school’s guidance department.  There the guidance department will separate the two copies they get.  One copy goes home to you; the other copy stays in your file in the guidance department.  Your PSAT scores will be sent to you sometime in December, anywhere from the second to the fourth week depending on your high school.

Question: How can I prepare for the PSATs?

Answer: First of all, get and read the free PSAT booklet by the College Board that your guidance department has available (you may have to ask for it, or they may be stacked up somewhere ).  Take the practice test in that booklet in a quiet room under timed conditions.  After you take and score that test, if you want to do more practice, get the Princeton Review SAT book (save the College Board book for prepping for the SATs).  Do a few practice tests in the Princeton Review book.  Get a good vocabulary book like SAT Vocabulary For Dummies from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Keep it in your backpack for down time, like when you have a sub or a fire drill.  Or keep a copy in your bathroom with a pencil.  And most of all, READ!  Read anything you like, but read!

Question: I heard you get penalized for wrong answers on the PSAT.  Is that true?

Answer: Yes.  But don’t take that too seriously. If you can eliminate two of the five possible answers, you’re probably better off guessing.  Too often, kids leave out too many questions because they don’t think they’re 100% sure of the answer.  You don’t have to be sure – but you shouldn’t guess wildly, either.

Any other questions?  Just send me a comment to this blog and I’ll answer any questions you might have.

Wendy Segal


August 25, 2009

Biggest Mistakes People Make the First Week of College

I’ve made some of these mistakes.  People I know have made others.  Try to avoid as many of these as you can when you start college.

Mistake:  Not checking out where your classes are. When you choose classes, keep a map of your campus handy.  Try to avoid classes on opposite ends of campus on the same day.

Bigger mistake:  Not checking out where your classes are once you’ve signed up. Before the first day of class, do a test run like you did before you entered high school.  Walk the route.  Check where each classroom is.  You don’t want to show up late the first day.  Some buildings have wonky classroom numbering systems, so do the test run BEFORE the first day.

Mistake:  Choosing classes by what people in your dorm suggest. What do they know?  Even if someone you know took that class before, it may not be right for you.  Hey, maybe they prefer papers to tests and you don’t.  Maybe a class is just right for their major but not yours.

Mistake:  Choosing classes by what the course catalogue suggests. They’re not always accurate.  Professors change at the last minute.  You might want to take a look at http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ .  If there are two sections of a lab or discussion group, this website might just help you pick a winner.  People love to complain, but it’s better than flipping a coin or choosing based on which section is later in the day.

Bigger mistake:  Not conferring with an advisor. This was my biggest mistake in college.  I chose courses based on what sounded good instead of what I needed to get into grad school.  So find an advisor and get his or her advice.  You don’t have to follow it, but you should know what your advisor has to say.

Mistake:  Not joining a club right away. You might presume that you need a bit of time to settle in.  Wrong.  If you wait too long, people will have joined clubs, assigned roles, made friends – and you’ll be out of the loop.  Join whichever clubs or groups seem like they might be even somewhat interesting.  You can always drop out if they’re not what you expected, but it’s harder to drop in once everyone has formed a clique.

Mistake:  Limiting yourself to one group of friends. I’m especially talking to girls here.  Girls can be passionate, loyal friends – or girls can be catty and mean.  If you don’t develop a few interests, join a few clubs, participate in some activity you enjoyed in high school (band, sports, community service), you’re relying too much on one group of kids.  If they all get housing together next year and leave you out, you’ll feel bereft.  Have more than one group of friends.  Trust me.

Mistake:  Not getting to know at least a couple of professors. You might not get to know any professors as a freshman.  But by sophomore year, you should be getting to know a professor or two.  They can be really helpful in planning classes, getting an internship, writing a recommendation for graduate school or a job.  Make friends by dropping by a professor’s office during office hours to discuss something you found interesting in class or something you didn’t understand.  Make friends by emailing questions to a professor.  If your school encourages students and professors to share a meal, do that.  Don’t be shy – if they didn’t like students, they wouldn’t be teaching.

Mistake:  Not keeping your parents informed. If things are going badly, tell your parents.  No one wants you to succeed as much as they do.  They might just have an idea that could help.  If things get worse and you’ve kept them in the loop, they won’t be shocked and angry.  They may be able to intercede for you.  If things are going well, tell them.  They’ve worked very hard to get you where you are now.  Let them have a little pride in your accomplishments.  It’s a gracious way to say thanks.

Mistake:  Not telling me how you’re doing. I’m able to help kids create a list of colleges they’d fit into because older kids let me know about how their schools are, what’s good and bad about them, whether they made a good choice.  Knowing how you’re doing helps me to help high school kids.  So if we’ve worked together, please do keep in touch.  Sometimes kids need to or want to change schools.  Let me know why you’re changing.

To those of you in college now and to those of you who’ve graduated recently or long ago: what are some of YOUR college mistakes? I’d love to help others avoid them, so add a comment to this blog and let me know.

Wendy Segal

August 7, 2009

I Told You So: Another Person’s Advice About the College Essay

Here’s Newsweek‘s advice about the college essay.  Read this, and then go back and read my last blog posting.  Sound familiar?


One piece of advice that they had that I missed on my last blog entry was the bit about not letting your parents have too much input when it comes to your college essay.  It’s true. I can tell when a parent has “helped” a kid with his or her essay.

I’ve worked with kids on essays and we’ve crafted a great essay that really says what the student wants to tell the admissions people about himself in the most authentic way (sounds like a teenager but with much better grammar and a bit better vocab), and the mom will say, “I think this sounds like a teenager.  I think it should say this….”  As my kids would say, “FAIL!”  All of your essays should sound like an intelligent, thoughtful teenager, not like a parent.

I think I do quite a good job (if I must blow my own horn) at guiding kids to a topic that they’ll actually want to write about.  If you want to write it, it’s a pretty good bet that someone else might want to read it.  If the topic bores you to death, guess how the reader will react?  I look into a student’s face and see what makes them light up.

Once you have a topic, start writing. You’ll fix it up later.  Don’t worry about how to start.  Start in the middle if you must.  Start with what you heard, smelled, saw, felt when something happened.  Just start.

Write a few essays — or at least a paragraph or two of a few essays — and then put them aside for a week.  Then take another look.  Finish a few of them.

You’ve worked hard for at least 3 years in high school to get to the place where you are now, on the verge of applying to several colleges.  You’ve spent weeks on research projects that you didn’t really care about.  You’ve studied for tests knowing you’d forget the information the week after the test.  So why are so many of you reluctant to put in that time for the most important writing assignment of your high school career?

Get off Facebook and get going!

Wendy Segal

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