High School 2 College

October 31, 2018

How Often Should I Take the SATs or ACTs? Which Test Should I Take?

First let me answer a question that parents often ask: What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT – and which should my student take?

In a nutshell, the SAT and ACT are both college entrance exams, and ALL colleges in the United States (yes, even the Ivy League schools) accept either equally.  They want you to take whichever shows you in the best possible light.  All the colleges also know that there’s very little difference between the tests.  Academically-inclined students do well on both.  Students who are struggling academically will do poorly on both.  So it really comes down to which style you prefer.

Before I discuss which of these tests any given student should take, what about the schools that no longer require either test?  Parents often tell me that they’ve heard that students can just skip the tests.  That’s both true and false.  There are some schools that require neither, but there are more schools that require that you take the SATs or ACTs.  I think students who take neither test will regret having to narrow their school search exclusively to those schools that don’t require either.  Some of the schools that say they don’t require the SAT or ACT do require two or more SAT Subject Tests.  Some of the schools that don’t require any standardized tests require students to submit a few graded research papers or critical analysis papers from class, or they require several application essays.  If you decide not to take any tests, choose a few schools that don’t ask for tests and read their admission websites very carefully.  You may change your mind.

If I’ve convinced you that you’ll have to take either the SAT or ACT (or both), which one should you take?  In general, here’s a comparison:

SAT

  • more time per question in every section
  • more reading per question in every section (including math!)
  • reading questions can be fairly subjective (requiring interpretation)
  • math includes a section where calculators are prohibited
  • math includes questions that require you to figure out the answer yourself (not multiple choice)
  • five reading passages, usually including reading from 1900 or earlier

ACT

  • less time per question – speed is a signficant factor
  • math is a bit more straightforward – fewer logic questions, less reading
  • reading questions are straightforward and clear, but again, speed is a factor
  • calculator permitted in all math sections
  • all math questions are multiple choice
  • four reading passages, with most passages contemporary writing
  • includes a separate science section – knowledge of school-taught science only required for 2 of 40 questions but ability to analyze graphs and charts critical

 

Typically, students who excel in English and Social Studies do a bit better on the SATs, and students who excel in Math and Science do a bit better on the ACTs.  Slower readers can do well on either test if they are decisive about answering questions (can you decide quickly what the answer is, or at least decide you don’t know and move on to the next question?).

But how can you know for sure?  Some students sit for at least one SAT and one ACT to see which they prefer.  But you can find out the same information by buying the ACT book by the ACT organization or downloading for free the student guide which contains one complete test (starting at page 12 of the booklet).  Take the test TIMED (each section must be timed precisely because that’s the challenge of the ACT, even if you don’t take all sections on the same day.  Then try the SAT by buying the College Board SAT book or downloading a test for free (download a paper test).  Again, time each section, even if you don’t take all the sections in one sitting.  

About half of my students do precisely the same on the SATs and the ACTs.  Some decide to continue with the one test that feels more comfortable, but others decide to take both tests.

So how often should you take each test?  That depends on you.  Some students say, “I’ll practice as much as necessary and test as often as necessary to get the best possible score.”  Others say, “I’ll show up once a week for tutoring, but don’t expect me to do any preparation at home.  I’ll take one of the tests once or perhaps twice, but whatever I get will have to do.”  Which is closer to your feeling?

Most students are between those extremes.  If that’s you, you’ll probably find that you want to either take one test three times (either SAT or ACT) OR take two SATs and two ACTs.  Experts suggest you should expect to test at least twice, but you can test four or more times if you want.

Given that most students apply to most if not all of their college choices by mid-October to take advantage of the boost that applying early provides, you should plan on completing your testing by the summer after junior year at the very latest, but by June of junior year if possible.  (But you will be able to test once more senior year if necessary.)

So the prime times for most students to take SATs are

  • December of junior year
  • March of junior year
  • May of junior year
  • August before senior year

And the best times to take ACTs are

  • December of junior year (a different Saturday than the SATs)
  • April of junior year
  • June of junior year
  • July before senior year (but they’re not given in New York, so you’ll need to go to Connecticut or New Jersey to take them)

There are other test dates, both for the SAT and the ACT, but these are the most popular because they fit into the application cycle the best.

If you need help preparing for either test, you know where you can find me!

Good luck!

 

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August 5, 2018

When Should I Apply to College?

The Common App opens for the new application season every August 1st.  That’s the date students entering their senior year in high school can begin to create their college applications, but by August 1st, you should really be toward the END of the college application process, which should have begun the summer going into junior year. (Juniors, are you listening?)

Sometimes I find it’s more effective to explain the schedule to students when I work backwards, like this:

The vast majority of the students I work with apply to most of their schools early action.  (Unlike early decision, early action isn’t binding.  It merely says to the college, “I’m showing you my application early so that you can give me a decision early.”)  Early action deadlines are generally November 1st.

That means EVERYTHING needs to be in by November 1st at the latest — your recommendations, your essays (yes, more than one if the college has a supplemental essay), your list of activities, your transcript, your SAT or ACT scores (which have to be ordered from either the College Board or the ACT and sent to each college directly by that organization), any college credits you’ve earned by taking college-level classes.  EVERYTHING.

So realistically, you should have EVERYTHING in, done, and sent by October 15th at the latest because (1) you want to look eager to the colleges and (2) you don’t want to chance having the Common App website crash as you feverishly work to get everything in the last week in October (and it DOES crash – nearly every year!).  Most importantly, you want to apply by October 15th because the acceptance rate at nearly every college is higher for students who apply early action than for students who apply regular decision.  That’s not to say you won’t get into a college if you wait until the regular deadline between December and February depending on the school, but why not give yourself every advantage?  This article from last year explains that early action acceptance rates are getting higher every year (meaning colleges are taking more students who apply early and fewer students who wait until the regular deadline), and this year is certain to follow that trend.

To get your applications finished by October 15th, you need to have:

  • taken your SATs and/or ACTs as often as you think practical to show your best self
  • asked two teachers for recommendations (ideally, teachers you’ve had junior year in a subject area related to your intended major)
  • written your Common App essay (if you Google “Common App Essay topics 2018,” the list of possible topics comes up) and had your essay reviewed by a teacher or tutor or parent (as long as you don’t let your parents edit your paper for anything other than spelling or grammar – I can always tell when a parent has been too hands-on with an essay)
  • written your supplement essays (many schools require an additional essay or two or three!)
  • created a list of colleges to which you plan to apply, with at least three good-match schools, three safety schools (they’re almost guaranteed to take you unless you commit a felony between when you apply and when they get your application), and three reach schools, which are unlikely to say yes, but hey, you never know
  • visited several schools on your list (but it’s not necessary to visit every school to which you are going to apply)
  • filled out your guidance department’s forms so your counselor knows which schools to send transcripts to (some high schools substitute Naviance for this step, and some schools ask you to fill out information on Naviance AND fill out forms for your guidance department)
  • created a resume, or at least written down all of your extracurricular activities, including paid work, volunteer work, academic honors, and athletics grouped into those categories and in reverse chronological order (a resume makes it MUCH easier to complete the Common App and is useful when you go on interviews)

Look at the calendar.  October 15th is just about two months away.  What are you waiting for?

If you need help with your application or essay, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with me through my website.  I’ve been helping kids get into college for over 30 years, so the process doesn’t intimidate me at all, but it can be very daunting the first time.

Good luck!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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December 7, 2016

Taking the ACT on Saturday? Remember These Tips

Filed under: ACT,Advice for high school juniors,College prep,Testing — highschool2college @ 6:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Don’t forget to:

  • Get enough sleep Friday night.
  • On test day, dress up a little (you’ll feel more alert during the test)
  • Eat breakfast (mostly protein, not mostly bread or cereal)
  • Get to the testing site in plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed

 

Don’t forget to bring:

  • Identification
  • Registration printout from the internet
  • Watch (you won’t be able to use your phone for timing)
  • Calculator (and extra batteries unless you’ve just changed them)
  • Pencils (#2 non-mechanical – and plenty of them)
  • Separate eraser (unless your pencils have soft, new erasers)
  • Lots of small snacks (my favorites are Tootsie Rolls because chocolate has caffeine,  they’ve got lots of sugar, and chewing helps you concentrate)
  • Hot or iced tea for the long break (anything with caffeine and sugar is good, but tea is best)

And about the test, you should remember that the ACT isn’t a strategy test, but there are a few pointers to remember:

  • Work quickly.  The ACT is a speed test.  Don’t let any one question slow you down.
  • Answer every question as you see it.  Don’t leave a question out, hoping to return to it later.  Put something down, even if it’s a wild guess.  If you circle the question number, you’ll know which questions to return to IF you do happen to have time at the end of the section.
  • In the English (grammar) section, don’t be afraid to put “No Change.”  It’s a more frequent answer than “No Error” is on the SATs.
  • In the math section, remember that you can’t rely on the drawings.  Don’t presume that the figure that looks like a right triangle actually is one.  Figure it out for yourself.
  • In the reading section, save passage 2/ Social Science for last.  Most kids don’t do particularly well on that section and it can suck up your time.  (If you have done practice tests and you are weak in a different section, save that one for last.)
  • In the science section, save the “student 1/ student 2″ passage for last.  It usually is the most time consuming.
  • For the essay, use the “Persuasive Essay” format we’ve discussed (“First sentence: Summarize the situation,.  Second sentence:  State your opinion.  Next paragraphs:  Here’s what they think, here’s where they’re wrong, here’s what I think, here are examples.”) Use lots of examples.  They like their essays long!

Don’t forget to tell me how you did when the scores come back!scan 00014

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

 

February 20, 2016

SAT or ACT Comparison Chart

Have you taken the old SAT but you weren’t thrilled with your scores and would like to take the test again?  Bad luck!  Students who signed up for the January test took the last test of the old variety.  Sadly, the new SAT is nothing like the old SAT, but it IS astonishingly like the ACT.  Why?  Well, the College Board says it’s to align their test more closely with the Common Core, but I think it’s because more students in the U.S. over the past two years took the ACTs than the SATs — and there’s no sign that the trend is slowing down.

I don’t know of one college that doesn’t accept either the SAT or the ACT.  There indeed used to be a preference for the SAT among the east coast and west coast colleges and among the most elite schools, but that’s no longer true.  Whichever test you feel best reflects your abilities is fine for all American colleges.

For the majority of my students, the ACT is the way to go, at least for the next two years until the College Board works out the kinks in the new SAT. If you do decide to take the new SAT, be aware that you won’t get your scores back until at least May (at least that’s what the College Board is saying now).  Furthermore, there are only four practice SATs of the new variety, but there are plenty of old ACTs around to practice on.  Disappointingly, the SATs had promised guidance counselors and tutors that there would be several new practice tests prepared by the Khan Academy online tutoring site, but when the College Board received the proposed tests, they scrapped them.  No one knows when additional SAT practice tests will be available.  Just as disappointingly, the ACT people had promised a new book in January, because the ACTs changed as well.   Their changes were subtle, and perhaps no one but a tutor who works with those tests 5 or 6 days a week would notice the changes, but it would have been nice to have new tests.  A new book was indeed published in January — but it had the exact same tests as the old book!  The ACT people admitted that their new tests weren’t ready, but they needed to put out a new book to fulfill a contractual obligation to a new printer.  So if you’re going to take the ACTs, buy the least expensive version of the book you can find as long as it has 5 practice tests.

So you can compare the old SAT, the new/current SAT, and the ACT, I’ve included a handy chart below.  Let me know if  you have any questions.

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

 

  old SAT new SAT ACT
OVERALL TEST      
number of choices in multiple choice question 5 4 4 (most sections)
penalty for guessing yes no no
questions range from easy to hard yes no, except math no
multiple choice sections 9 4 4
overall length – multiple choice sections 200 min. 180 min. 175 min.
length of shortest section 10 min. 25 min. 35 min.
length of longest section 25 min. 65 min. 60 min.
sections alternate (random order) yes no no
problem solutions in practice book no yes yes
  old SAT new SAT ACT
       
ADDITIONAL POINTS      
New SAT scores for March will not be back until May
Years of practice tests for ACT, but only four practice tests for SAT
Optional essay isn’t really optional on either test – many colleges require the essay section
Colleges don’t prefer one test over the other
  old SAT new SAT ACT
       
MATH SECTION      
number of math sections 3 2 1
focus on geometry yes no no
logic questions in math section yes no no
calculator permitted all math sections some math sections all math sections
ESSAY SECTION      
essay position first last last
essay length 25 min. 50 min. 40 min.
essay status mandatory optional optional
essay affects overall combined score yes no no
essay topic opinion analysis analysis
READING SECTION      
graph/chart analysis none always (embedded in reading) always (separate section)
extended science reading none always always
unfamiliar vocabulary yes, separate questions yes, imbedded in questions never
number of sections 3 1 1
  old SAT new SAT ACT
GRAMMAR SECTION      
question types replace sentence sections, find errors in sentences, editing in paragraph editing in paragraph editing in paragraph
number of sections 2 1 1
ACT website:
www.act.org
SAT website:
www.collegeboard.org
 

Wendy Segal’s website:

www.wendysegaltutoring.com
Follow me on Facebook:
Wendy Segal Tutoring
Best SAT workbook:
The Official SAT Study Guide
Best ACT workbook:
Real ACT
Best SAT Subject Test workbook:
The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests

May 11, 2015

How Much Will My Scores Go Up With Tutoring?

I get asked this question all the time.  When I’m on the phone with a parent and he or she can’t see me rolling my eyes, I just say, “It depends.”

Before I tell you what it depends on, permit me a not-so-brief rant.  

The press is full of articles and blog posts lately decrying the new SAT and wondering if college entrance tests are necessary or fair.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m far from a fan of the new SAT.  But that doesn’t mean that a national standardized assessment isn’t a valid way for colleges to get an idea of whether a student can handle college-level work.  I encourage you to read this blog post that was in the New York Times recently about the new SAT, the old SAT, and whether either of them are worth anything.  Does the author seem to make sense to you?

Well, it’s nonsense.  I belong to several LinkedIn groups of SAT and ACT tutors who generously exchange information, insights, techniques, and news.  One of the participants, Matt McCorkle, co-founder of Clear Choice Test Prep in California, gave me his permission to share his comments with you.  Read his reaction to the New York Times article, and I think you’ll agree with him – and me. (Click here: Matt McCorkle)

Now, to answer the question, how much will my scores go up with tutoring?

1.  How much your score will go up depends on where you’re starting.  If you tell me that your writing score (the grammar part) is currently at a 420 out of a possible 800, I am confident that I can help you get your score up into the 500s or better.  Can I expect a similar 100+ point improvement if you come to me with a score of 700?  It’s not as likely that you’ll make as dramatic an increase.  Will you go up?  Probably.  By the same amount as someone who starts lower?  Probably not.

2.  How much your score will go up depends on your native ability in that area.  If you’re a good reader with a modest vocabulary, I can pretty much predict that your score will go up much more than that of a poor reader – or someone who just avoids reading.  If you’re fairly good at math, we’ve got a better shot at increasing your score than if you’ve always hated math and really haven’t mastered fractions.

3.  How much your score will go up depends on how much work you’re willing to put into it.  Work doesn’t just mean time.  When I have a student here in my home office, and as we’re grading a section that student is staring out the window, chances are his progress won’t be dramatic.  If I have a student, on the other hand, who wants to know why each wrong answer is wrong and why my answer is right, that student is actually learning from the process of taking practice sections and I can bet that that kid will indeed make a nice improvement.  If I ask you to do an essay at home, and you don’t, and I remind you the next week and you still don’t, it’s much less likely that your score will go up.  Just showing up at tutoring sessions is good and it helps, but not as much as showing up willing and ready to learn and become invested in the process.

4.  How much your score will go up depends on how nervous you get during standardized tests.  Some kids just panic.  It’s hard to score brilliantly when thoughts of “I’m no good at this.  I’ve never been good at this” are running through your mind.  One of the best benefits of tutoring is starting to build a sense that, although you won’t know precisely what’s on the test, you have a strategy for dealing with every type of question and that you’re as well-prepared as anyone in the room.  Still, kids who have a history of doing well on standardized tests go into a new testing situation with confidence and seldom second guess themselves or change answers just because they don’t trust themselves to answer correctly the first time.

Can tutoring really help my score?  Yes it can.  But read this blog post to see how and why your score will improve and why it really can’t be measured accurately.

If tutoring can really improve a student’s SAT or ACT score, isn’t that sort of unfair?  Yes, it is.  But the SATs and ACTs never promised to be an intelligence test.  It’s about being prepared for the test – both by virtue of having the academic skills necessary to perform well and having learned the techniques needed to gain the maximum score.  With or without a tutor, with or without a prep course, you can read the instructions in the beginning of the prep books, take practice tests over and over, grade them, analyze your wrong answers to see where you went wrong, draw conclusions about the type of questions you’re missing and try to fill in those gaps.  A good tutor can focus this process for you, but you can manage very nicely without any help at all if you’re self-motivated and are prepared to be honest with yourself about your weaknesses and are ready to work hard to improve.

Is it easier to improve with a tutor? Yes, it is.  It’s easier for the same reason it’s easier to get stronger with a trainer at the gym than it is to workout alone at home.  A tutor or coach can give you motivation, techniques, strategies, insights, and either a pep talk or stern lecture, depending on which you need.  But you can do it alone if you really, really put yourself into it.  And you can’t get more fair than that!

 

 

January 12, 2015

Should You Take The New SAT? The Post I’ve Dreaded Writing

I’ve been putting off writing this blog post for weeks – no, for months.  But I can’t put it off any more.  If you have a student in 10th grade, I’m sure you want to know what you should do to have the best chance at a decent SAT score.  So why have I been delaying when the new SAT was announced months ago?

1.  I need to make sure the information I give out is accurate.  There’s still too little information out there on the new SAT.  Yes, I’ve read every article.  I’ve watched every video by the College Board.  I’ve participated in every online discussion among SAT tutors and professional college advisors.  I’ve combed the internet and LinkedIn and every other resource I could find. This is what I do for a living and I take it seriously.  I put in time and effort, hoping to save you time and effort.  I like to think that parents, students, and guidance counselors rely on me for timely, accurate, clear, common-sense advice.  But until I see several full-length new SAT tests by the College Board, I just don’t know enough of what the new test will be like to help my students prep.  I know there’s a new College Board book coming out in June of 2015, but that may be too late if you’re in 10th grade now.

2.  Blogs are convenient for quick, general advice.  But there are so many variables, and students have such different strengths and needs, that it’s hard to write one essay that contains good advice for everyone.

The SATs are changing dramatically in March 2016.  The format will be entirely different.  The questions will be entirely different.  The essays (yes, plural!) will be entirely different.  So far, the College Board has only published fewer than a dozen sample questions, too few to use to prepare.

The ACTs are also changing in 2016, but much less drastically.  There will be optional logic-type questions and an optional essay.  So far, they’ve published no sample questions, but the changes won’t alter the way students should prepare for the test and we have lots of prep materials that will still be valid for the new ACT.

I got a good idea from a colleague on a LinkedIn tutoring group.  He created several schedules, depending on his students’ personalities and situations.  With his permission, I’m going to revise the idea somewhat.  I still think that individual advice is best until we’ve had a few years of the new test, but in the interim, this schedule should be helpful.

Explanation:  All colleges in the United States accept either the SAT or the ACT.  They don’t prefer one to the other.  Until now, most kids have told me that the ACT is easier.  That’s not true.  If kids universally did better on the ACT, no one would take the SAT.  The truth is that about a third of students do better on the SAT (at least on the current SAT), a third do better on the ACT, and a third score approximately the same (50% percentile on each test, for example).  There’s really no way to predict which students will score better on which test, so they just have to take at least one of each (often two SATs because they require less knowledge and more technique).  To get the best chance at a great score, now students will have to take a mix of old and new SATs along with old and new ACTs.  But that’s not the only way to go — or even the best way for every student.

Here’s an outline of suggested test schedules that should work for most students:

SCHOLAR (if you don’t mind taking tests and want the best possible shot at a top score):

  • May 2015 (while you’re still in 10th grade) –  old SAT (yes, that means beginning to prepare by February or March 2015)
  • June 2015 – SAT Subject test(s) (especially a subject that you might not repeat, like chemistry)
  • October 2015 – new PSAT (11th grade)
  • November 2015 – old SAT
  • December 2015 – old ACT (yes, the ACT is changing, too but the changes will mostly be less drastic and/or optional)
  • March 2016 – new SAT (should be fairly easy compared to future SATs; whenever they institute a major change, the first administration tends to be easier than subsequent tests.  They don’t want to frighten people!)
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • May 2016 – new SAT (yes again)
  • June 2016 – SAT Subject tests(s)
  • June 2016 – new ACT
  • More testing might be needed for senior year, depending on your performance and goals – but you might be done!

STANDARD (if you are willing to take some tests for a decent score):

  • October 2015 – new PSAT (11th grade)
  • November 2015 – old SAT
  • March 2016 – new SAT
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • May 2016 – new SAT
  • June 2016 – new ACT

MINIMAL TESTING (if you just want the very fewest tests possible – for any reason)

  • October 2015 – old ACT (11th grade)
  • April 2016 – new ACT
  • June 2016 – new ACT

There’s no moral judgment here — some kids look on testing as an exciting challenge, some grin and bear it, and others find tests difficult and frustrating  or know they don’t have the time or interest to prepare for multiple tests.  The key to this coming year may well be to be honest about who you are, what sort of results you want, and how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in achieving that result.

I hope the above outline is helpful in planning your college admissions testing.  Again, let me emphasize that personal advice is best since there are many variations on the above schedule, and the plan that works best is the plan that’s right for you!

You know where to find me (www.wendysegaltutoring.com).  I look forward to hearing from you!

Wendy Segal

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March 6, 2014

Everything You Need to Know about Changes to the New SAT

=======================================================

The College Board today announced sweeping and substantive changes to the SATs (click here to get the College Board summary).  Note that these changes will go into effect in 2016 and will affect current ninth graders.   If you are in 10th through 12th grade, none of these changes apply to you.

Here are my initial thoughts and a review of the changes – before I read what my colleagues and the pundits have to say about the one-hour announcement I just heard streaming live.

Clearly, the College Board takes itself very seriously.  It seems to think that the success of America – and indeed the world – is dependent on what the College Board does.  There were soaring pronouncements of how their new test and policies will lead to more minority students applying to more selective colleges and thereby able to go on to more successful lives.  Specifically, the College Board is going to be focused on supporting worthy African Americans, “Hispanics,” and Native Americans in a most avuncular way.  (Sorry, I didn’t mean to use what the College Board now calls an “SAT word,” one which their spokesman said isn’t likely to be encountered in the real world.  Forget you heard me use “avuncular.”  I didn’t mean to be supercilious.  Oops, I’ve done it again!)  The spokesperson implied we already have quite a few Asians (and we all know that all Asians are alike, don’t we?) who take AP classes and apply to selective schools, but what about the other minorities?  They will be given college application waivers and will be encouraged to take AP classes in high school and will be given counseling to make sure they apply to more selective colleges.  (Sadly, the College Board spokesman didn’t address the dismal rate of non-completion of college by these same minorities.  It’s good to get them in, but more attention has to be given to why there are such high minority withdrawal and/or failure rates.)  Much of the College Board’s initial comments had to do with encouraging more students to take more AP tests.  I wonder who designs AP tests, which cost about $90 each to take?  Oh, yes – the College Board!

MAJOR CHANGES:

1.  SAT tutors like me seem to be at the heart of the problem.  David Coleman, head of the College Board, said that my helping students prepare for the SATs isn’t fair.  And my charging for my time, effort, and expertise REALLY isn’t fair. So he’s going to help students prepare for the SATs.  Khan Academy, which I actually really respect and often recommend to students, will be providing free online videos and sample SAT questions.  Of course, he also said the College Board designed the new SAT to be one that will require diligence (oops, another “SAT word”!) and achievement in ongoing class work so that prepping won’t really help, but never mind – they’ll provide free prepping anyway.  But it won’t help.  But they’re going to give it to you for free.  But it won’t help.  (Yes, he spent a lot of time on that point.)

2.  Writing is crucial to high school and college success – so they’re going to make the essay optional, just like it is on the ACT.  (I wonder if colleges will, after 2016, stop requiring the ACT with writing now that it’s optional for both tests.  I hope so.  A quick, on-the-spot essay is a poor way of judging writing skills no matter what the essay topic is.)  The essay, if a student wants to take it, will be scored separately and will NOT be part of the SAT score.  The new 50-minute essay will be somewhat like a DBQ (document-based question) in that you’ll be asked to read a persuasive essay and/or a series of graphs and explain the persuasive logic employed.  I can’t imagine a lot of kids opting for that essay unless colleges absolutely require it.  The ACT essay, on the other hand, asks students to comment on a topic of general interest to average high school students, like “Should public school students wear uniforms?” or “Is it fair for high schools to require community service?”

3.  They will be going back to a 1600 score, which was the measure before 2005.  Reading and writing (not the essay, just the grammar) will be one combined score out of 800, and math will be the other component, again out of 800.  The essay, as I said, won’t be included in that score, just like they do it on the ACTs.

4.  The reading will include a wider range of subject matter including social studies and science (with graphs and tables), just like they do on the ACTs.  (Are you starting to see a pattern?  By the way, the College Board didn’t say they want to be just like the ACTs, but it’s rather obvious.  Of course, these changes have nothing to do with the fact that, as of last year, more students take the ACTs than the SATs.  Pure coincidence!)  In addition, every SAT will include at least one reading from the seminal (sorry, another “SAT word” that you’ll never see in real life) documents of American government and politics, such as the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, or Federalist Papers.  (I’m not sure how this jives with Mr. Coleman’s statement that the SAT is a global test, but never mind about that.)  Questions will be not only on the content of the reading but will ask students to identify how or why they believe their answer to be correct.

5.  As I said before, there will be no more “SAT words” on the SAT.  In fact, there will be no more sentence completion questions at all, just like on the ACTs.  Instead, they will expect students to know myriad meanings (oops!) for words.  The example Mr. Coleman gave was “synthesis.”  Synthesis, he said, is a word that all of see all around us every day.  Not true for me.  Maybe it’s true for you.

6.  Grammar will be assessed within the context of editing, just like on the ACTs, but it will no longer be a separate section.  I actually like that.  This change will prevent students from asking me to tutor the reading only and ignore the grammar, which many colleges don’t care about.  I think everyone, including college admissions people, should care about clear, correct grammar, but that’s just my personal prejudice.

7.  Math will be more practical and will include sections in which students can use a calculator and sections in which they may not.  Actually, that’s another good idea.  As I wrote on my Facebook page recently, a startlingly high number of my suburban, college-bound students cannot add three two-digit numbers without a calculator, and that’s just wrong.

8.  In an effort to make the math more practical, the SATs will focus on numbers, logic, algebra, and functions.  Gosh, who needs geometry?  Certainly not engineers or anyone trying to figure out how much wallpaper to buy for her bedroom!  Coleman seemed to say geometry will be out completely.  (Now you math people can understand my frustration with eliminating vocabulary.)

9.  Biggest change:  there will no longer be a penalty (point deduction) for wrong guesses, just like the ACTs!  Remember, this is only starting in 2016, but I’m sure the 9th graders are relieved.

Why would any student want to take the SAT (after 2016) when the ACT is faster, easier, just as widely accepted, and a known factor, rather than this longer, less familar new SAT?  I certainly will be suggesting that my students, at least in the first year or so after the new test is in place, focus on the ACT.

As I take a deeper look into the changes, I might have more to say, but I was eager to get my take on the announcement out to my students, their parents, and local guidance counselors as soon as possible.

I welcome your comments!

sat cartoon 1

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

December 17, 2013

Major Changes Coming to SAT – and Why Middle School Students Need to Know

Major changes are coming to the SATs and ACTs.  They were supposed to be implemented in time to affect today’s high school sophomores, but the College Board just announced that they changes will be delayed by a year. What will those changes be?  Well, no one knows for sure, but there have been some hints.

Changes to the ACT:

While the press has hinted at changes to the content of the ACTs, the only change that the ACT organization will confirm is that they will offer a computer version in addition to the paper-and-pencil version of the test that students now take.  Students in some (but not all) states will have the option beginning at some time during 2015 to take the ACT test at a computer testing location and leave with their scores in hand as is done for the GRE graduate school exam.  While that sounds like an attractive feature, most students I’ve spoken to are justifiably leery of a computer-based test.  (Interestingly, most adults think it’s a swell idea but most kids, who are more familiar with computers, don’t.) What if the computer freezes?  How difficult will it be to go back and review your work?  Is it easier to hit a wrong letter than it is to circle a wrong answer in the booklet and then bubble the wrong letter on a scantron sheet?  At least for the first year or two, I concur with those students who tell me that they’ll take the paper-and-pencil version until the computer version is well tested.

Changes to the SAT:

The College Board has been hinting at major changes to the current SAT exam format, changes that would, according to their latest communications, impact current 9th graders.  Why the changes?  For the first time last year, more students took the ACT than the SAT.  (I recommend ALL high school juniors take at least one SAT and one ACT before determining which is their stronger test.)  Clearly, that fact has the College Board shaken.  And the scores of those who have taken the SATs this past year have been disappointing nationwide.  Several years ago, when the average SAT scores declined several years in a row, instead of insisting that we examine our education system, the College Board merely “re-centered” the scores so students had to get fewer correct to achieve the same score.  Just like the can of tuna that used to have 7 ounces, then 6.5, then 6 ounces, and now 5.5, a student can get several critical reading questions wrong and still get an 800 which used to indicate a perfect score.

The new SAT essay, added to the test in March 2005, has been roundly ignored by college admissions people, who find length of essay a poor criterion for grading anything. David Coleman, president of the College Board, has said that the written essay will be moving more toward content-based questions on the essay (right now, you can make up whatever you like as long as the essay itself and your sentences are long).  The SAT essay, then, might become more like a social studies DBQ (document-based question).

Some pundits have examined a statement by the head of the College Board that some of the more esoteric “SAT Vocab” words will be removed and easier words that are more commonly used emphasized.  Since students’ vocabularies have worsened over the past many years, instead of encouraging students to learn more, they’re going to make the test easier.  Others have discussed the possibility that the SATs will focus on words with multiple meanings.  In an article in The Atlantic, James S. Murphy quotes a College Board official as saying, “Vocabulary in the new SAT will focus on multiple meaning words and phrases that ask examinees to determine their meaning based on the context in which they are used.   Testing to see if the examinee knows the one and only one meaning of a word will no longer be tested in the new SAT.  Rather, we will be testing students’ understanding of the meaning of words in context.”  I wonder if they are considering eliminating the sentence-completion questions entirely.

If the College Board begins to concentrate on these words, lists of so-called “SAT vocabulary” won’t help much.  If multiple-meaning words become more important, a student won’t need to know what “somnolent” means, but will need to know that “discriminate” doesn’t always mean to act in a biased manner.  (It means to be able to discern fine differences between similar things, like having a palate so discriminating that you can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi.)  For those who follow my Facebook page or who are on my email list, I’ll be compiling a list of some of these words that have been used by the SATs in the past few years.

But the best way, actually the only way, to prepare for the new SAT vocabulary strategy, is to read.  Students should be reading daily!  (Yes, even on weekends and on vacations.)  Students should be reading in addition to anything assigned by the school.  Students should be reading magazine articles.  Students should be reading essays and speeches.  (Try 50 Essays if you want a student-friendly anthology.) Students should be reading biographies, novels, short stories.  (Check out these collections  or this one or this one by one of my favorite funny authors – all available on Amazon.com.) Students should be reading things that are slightly harder than they think is comfortable.  In short, students should read.  Always have a magazine in the bathroom, a hardcover by your bed, a paperback in your backpack, and a Kindle in your pocketbook.  And parents should model this reading behavior by reading when and where their students can see them, and by discussing what they are reading.  (Nothing makes someone want to read like an enthusiastic review.)

Predictions are that the gap will widen between high- and low-scoring students, at least on the critical reading section.  And the single determining factor, the greatest predicter of whether your student will score low or high, will be his long-term, ongoing reading habits.

While current freshmen will be affected, all this reading needs to start in middle school, just when most students lose interest in reading.  I blame the sorts of books assigned by middle school teachers.  In my town, nearly every book students have to read centers around abuse or death.  My kids had to read books on killing young people, killing soldiers, killing birds, child abuse, and sexual abuse.  They read all about all sorts of heinous behavior as middle school students to the exclusion of anything else.  If it weren’t for me, my sons would have thought that all reading is disheartening.  I understand that teachers must think kids can relate better to reality, but I disagree.  Most kids I know who love to read, love to read fantasy or science fiction.  So why not assign some books that take kids out of their own worlds into another, be it real or imaginary or historic or foreign?  If the school won’t assign books like that, parents, please be your student’s reading coach and encourage him or her to read something engaging.

Students, if you believe that attending a competitive college might lead to a successful future, you need to prepare to get into a competitive college by getting good grades and good scores.  And you need to prepare to get good grades and good scores by reading – starting right now!

(Don’t hesitate to look up any words in this blog post that you don’t know!  And if you need book suggestions, I would be only too happy to help.)

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

April 10, 2013

Last Minute Advice: Taking the ACT

The ACT isn’t a strategy test, but there are a few pointers to remember.

1.  Work quickly.  The ACT is a speed test.  Don’t let any one question slow you down.

2.  Answer every question as you see it.  Don’t leave a question out, hoping to return to it later.  Put something down, even if it’s a wild guess.  If you circle the question number, you’ll know which questions to return to IF you do happen to have time at the end of the section.

3.  In the English (grammar) section, don’t be afraid to put “No Change.”  It’s a more frequent answer than “No Error” is on the SATs.

4.  In the math section, remember that you can’t rely on the drawings.  Don’t presume that the figure that looks like a right triangle actually is one.  Figure it out for yourself.

5.  In the reading section, save passage 2/ Social Science for last.  Most kids don’t do particularly well on that section and it can suck up your time.  (If you have done practice tests and you are weak in a different section, save that one for last.)

6.  In the science section, save the “student 1/ student 2” passage for last.  It usually is the most time consuming.

7.  For the essay, use the “Persuasive Essay” format we’ve discussed (“Here’s what they think, here’s where they’re wrong, here’s what I think.”)  Use lots of examples.  They like their essays long!

Don’t forget to tell me how you did when the scores come back!

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Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

December 10, 2012

Is SAT Tutoring Worth It?

Two years ago, Princeton Review announced that it would cease making claims about how much your scores will go up if you take its test prep program.  It’s about time. I feel very strongly that test prep classes are a shameful waste of time and money for most students. Read on for my reasons.

Parents occasionally ask me if SAT tutoring is actually helpful.  I’m not sure what people expect me to say.  After all, tutoring is what I do. I supposed they want to be able to justify the expense to themselves.

Whether or not any particular family feels that test prep is worthwhile depends on several factors.

What type of prep are you considering?

  • class
  • small group
  • private
  • on line
  • webcam

By far, the most effective type of help is private one-on-one tutoring. That’s the only kind of tutoring I do, in person if at all possible and via webcam if I’m working with someone long distance. Classes benefit nearly no one.  If you’re very smart and just need a little technique, you’ll be bored to death.  If you need some serious remediation (help), you won’t be able to get the help you need because the class teacher has to cover certain material whether you understand or not.  And most teenagers are just not going to ask the teacher to explain subject-verb agreement or how to find the next number in a series if the rest of the class is rolling its collective eyes and sighing loudly.

What kind of help do you need?

  • grammar only
  • reading skills
  • test strategy
  • timing/pacing
  • writing essays
  • confidence
  • someone to force you to spend time looking at the test

Very few people are equally good are teaching reading comprehension, grammar, and math, yet many SAT prep centers have the same teachers teach math, reading, and writing. For two years, I taught an SAT class for a local program.  They gave me a manual of how to answer questions.  It said, “Explain problem #1 in the first math section as follows….”  If a kid had a question after that, I was sunk.  I’m not good at math.  My husband is great at math, but he can’t tell a direct object from an indefinite article.  So I only teach what I’m really good at, but I can help you find an outstanding teacher to help you with those subjects I’m not good at.

Furthermore, when I taught that SAT course, like most teachers I taught it twice a year — once in the spring and then again the following fall.  Now that I only teach one student at a time, I may have up to 34 students a season.  So I teach the SATs 34 times in the spring, and another 34 times in the fall.  I’ve been doing that for 23 years.  I could do the math, but I already admitted I’m not good at that.

How much time do you have before the test?

  • days
  • weeks
  • months
  • years

If you only have days left, see my blog (here and here) for advice on some last-minute things you can do.  If you have a few weeks, get thee to a tutor! If you have months, you can make substantial progress toward your goal of a high score with the right tutor, especially if you’re willing do a little reading or a few math problems on your own.  If you have years, congratulations!  You’re in an excellent position to achieve top scores.  Read, read, read – read magazines, novels, history books.  Pay attention in math class.  When you get an essay back from a teacher, see that teacher privately after it is graded to ask for specific suggestions on how you could improve next time.  And check in with someone knowledgeable (like me!) about what classes to take (I wish I could talk to parents of sixth graders before they decide which foreign language their student should take!), what activities to do, and what summer programs to take to ensure you that colleges will be begging you to go there, waving fists full of money at you.

How much time are you willing to devote to test prep?

  • I signed up for the test
  • I own a book – isn’t that enough?
  • an hour a week
  • 30 minutes daily
  • I’m devoting my life to the SATs

Don’t spend more than an hour or two a week.  Surprised, right? Well, this is only a test.   Actually, it’s a test to see how well you can take this test.  The SATs won’t determine where you go to college.  They won’t tell you if you’ll have a satisfying job, an attractive spouse, healthy children.  The SATs don’t determine much of anything — and I make my living from the SATs.  But colleges do look at scores.  And employers, especially those employing graduates right out of college, can and do ask for SAT scores.  So you want to do as well as you can without going crazy.

Here’s what a really good tutor can do for you.  You need a tutor if you want to:

  • Gain familiarity with the SATs or ACTs
  • Find out which test or tests you should be taking to maximize your chances of getting looked at by a good school
  • Get comfortable and confident going into the test
  • Learn and practice test-taking strategies, including how to answer each type of question, when and how to guess, and how to get a sense of timing during the test
  • Build your reading, writing, and grammar (and/or math) skills, for the test as well as for all future studies
  • Learn how to structure and write a decent essay
  • Get some advice about which colleges might suit you
  • Figure out some possible college majors based on your abilities and interests so you can look for colleges with those majors
  • Plan and write an amazing college application essay

Is test prep worth it?  It depends on what you want and what type you get.  Is finding a tutor who can help you through the entire college application and admission process (including those tests) worth it?  That’s what most of my students and their parents tell me.

I look forward to your thoughts!

Wendy Segal

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