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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February 11, 2017

What Do You Mean I’m Not Ready For College-Level Work?!

A recent report has spurned a flurry of even more reports on the problem of high school students’ lack of preparedness for college-level work.

It seems that the majority of colleges regularly accept students whom they subsequently assign to remedial English or math classes.  What’s the problem with that?

For colleges, it means that precious resources have to go to bring students up to the level where they have a chance of succeeding in college, rather than in creating offerings for students who can already manage the work.

For taxpayers, it means that the tax money spent on high school education may not be the investment taxpayers think it is, and more money has to go to re-educate students once they get to state-supported public colleges.

But the biggest problem is for the students themselves.  Students, nearly all of whom got passing grades (if not superior grades), grades good enough to get them into college, have been deluded into thinking they know more than they do and are smarter than they really are, and are more educated than they are.  These students who enter college unprepared have to spend several semesters on remedial work before they can begin the classes they really went to college to attend.  And even more disheartening, most of these remedial classes do not count toward required college credits.  Sadly, many if not most of these  overwhelmed, discouraged, and frustrated students who have to take remedial classes do not graduate from college at all, leaving school with loans or depleted savings but without a degree.

Surely, this phenomenon of unprepared students can’t apply to us in northern Westchester, can it?  After all, most of our students come from middle-to-upper-middle class families, attend schools that have rich curricula that are well-supported by our communities, and are bound for selective or highly selective colleges.

I’ve been tutoring students for just about 30 years, college-bound high school students whose parents are at least affluent enough to pay me, a private tutor, for extra SAT and/or ACT prep and advice about and help with college applications.  I can tell you with complete certainty that the majority of my students are not prepared for most college classes.  Yes, I include students who take honors and AP classes in high school.

Over the years, I have been contacted by many, many students who have asked me for help with college freshman writing and social studies classes. Not only is it embarrassing to get poor grades on freshman classes, it’s extremely expensive to repeat a class — and many academic scholarships require that students maintain a certain grade point average to keep that scholarship. Parents gratefully hire me to work with their college students online with freshman assignments. Paying me is certainly less expensive than paying for the class all over again or replacing that scholarship, but I wish my help weren’t necessary.

Is there anything that parents and students can do to make sure their students are adequately prepared for college-level work?  There is, but but it takes a concerted effort and the student has to want it.

Here’s my advice to students who want to ensure that they will be ready for college-level work:

Don’t be lazy about math.  Each math concept builds on the knowledge before, so if you don’t understand what’s going on in math class, don’t shrug and hope the teacher changes topics soon.  Even if you’re getting the homework right, if you don’t understand it, keep asking until you do.  Ask your friends who seem to get it.  If they DO understand it, ask them to explain it to you.  If they don’t, the group of you needs to approach the teacher after school and let him know that several of you really haven’t mastered the concept. And take advantage of other resources:  review the concept on Khan Academy or read about it in a Barron’s Regents review book.

Take time to read, even if it’s not assigned.  If you went to the gym once a year, you’d find it difficult and even perhaps unpleasant.  But if you went regularly, you’d find you can lift more weight more easily over time – and it might even become an activity you’d enjoy. The same is true with reading.  If you only read occasionally (and only what’s assigned), you’ll find it arduous and tiresome.  But if you read regularly (and books of your own choosing), you’ll find it increasingly easy and even pleasant.  Read whether you like to or not.  Read books that are a bit difficult.  Read books outside your normal area of interest.  If you expect to be able to read and understand college-level material on a subject you might not find interesting, you have to begin WAY before college and you have to keep it up.

Pay attention to your writing.  Unfortunately, too many teachers only give writing assignments that students can complete in class.  Imagine if you wanted to learn to hit a ball in baseball.  If the coach gave you a bat, threw a ball at you, and when you missed said, “Come back next month and I’ll pitch another ball at you,” do you think you’d improve as a batter?  Writing an essay and turning it in with no guidance about the student’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer, with no opportunity for revising, without prompt and thoughtful feedback is likewise not going to turn you into a good writer.  Unfortunately, just like in baseball, few writers improve without a good coach.  If your English teacher won’t give you detailed, specific, and meaningful feedback, you’ll have to find a writing teacher (or tutor!) who knows how to isolate all the skills that go into good writing and can explain them.  Do you use the best verbs you can find?  (Is/Am/Are = weak writing!)  Do you use nouns instead of adjectives?  Do you write the way you read rather than the way you speak?  Have you organized your thoughts into a rough outline before you write even one line?

This essay has been unusually long because I feel unusually passionate about student achievement.  Don’t presume that teachers will challenge you to hone your basic academic skills.  Challenge yourself!

If you need more suggestions or a bit of help, please feel free to contact me!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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November 9, 2016

6 Ways NOT To Choose a College

Choosing a college is a lot like choosing a husband or wife — there’s no single right way to find the perfect spouse, but there are a lot of wrong ways to go about it.  And the ideal mate (or college) for your best friend might be completely wrong for you.

Ideally, each student should attend a college that offers that student an excellent education in a field that interests him or her in a place that feels just right among people whom that student can feel challenged by but comfortable with and taught by professors who are knowledgeable, on top of their field but approachable and interested in each student’s progress.  How hard can that be?

To accomplish such an “easy” task, there are dozens of books, too many articles, and several ranking sites about how to choose a college.

Since I wouldn’t give the same advice to two different people, I’m not going to tell you how to pick the college that would be perfect for you.

But I can tell you some really awful ways to choose a college.  So please DON’T do any of these:

Only look at colleges you’ve heard of.  You probably have heard of about 20 colleges.  Your parents have probably heard of about 20 colleges.  Even if your lists don’t overlap, that’s 40 colleges out of the thousands in the United States.  Just because you haven’t heard of a school doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a stellar reputation among those in your field.  And just because you have heard of a college doesn’t mean it deserves its notoriety or that it’s necessarily a better fit for you.

Decide you want a really big college (or a really small college) without looking at one first.  Some big schools feel really big.  Kids generally feel lost, disconnected, not focused.  But some really big schools do a great job of making kids within a certain major or within a certain housing unit feel like they belong, like the faculty cares about their progress, like they have pride in their school.  The same with small schools.  Some have limited choices.  Others are creative and open to designing the perfect curriculum for you.  You don’t have to visit every school you apply to, but you shouldn’t make a blanket decision about a type of college without visiting a school of that type and a school of the opposite type.

Pick a school based on the dorms or the cafeteria or the weather.  If the freshman dorms are cramped,  remember that you won’t be a freshman forever.  If the senior housing is nothing special, you might be living off campus by then anyway. Don’t decide whether you like a school based on the unimportant externals.  Don’t decide you don’t want to go to school in Connecticut or Massachusetts because it’s colder there.  It’s not.  Don’t decide you want to go further south because you like the warm weather.  You’ll be in classrooms, your dorm, and the library most of the time anyway.  If your campus is lovely but you can never take the classes you like because seniors get priority and the classes are filled before you can register, you’ve picked a pleasant vacation spot but a crummy school.

Expect your guidance counselor or parents to help you choose a school.  As well as your parents know you, they aren’t you.  You’re the one who has to live at that school for four years (at least).  You’re the one who has to take those classes, interact with those students, learn from those professors.  Don’t be lazy.  Do some work yourself as you build a list of colleges to apply to.  Visit colleges when you can.  Look carefully at dozens of college websites.  (They all look good initially.  You can only differentiate between them when you’ve seen many.) Don’t stop at the admissions page of the college websites.  Poke around on the “majors” pages.  See what research the professors are doing.  See what sub-majors each school offers within your general area of interest. Count how many professors each college has in your major.  Look at the online course catalog to see whether you’d really like to take the required classes in your field.  Email the admissions office if your questions can’t be answered by the website — or email a department or professor directly.  By all means show your list to your guidance counselor; guidance counselors have excellent resources at their disposal and know which schools are well liked by previous students. But they may not know you well enough to know whether you like to get friendly with your professors or would prefer to talk to a teaching assistant, or whether you’d prefer a school where the university provides a lot of entertainment or you’re expected to explore the surrounding town or city on your own. Do your own background research as best you can.  Parents are (sorry, moms and dads) a bit less reliable, especially when it comes to advising their oldest child.  A school that was up-and-coming and quite selective 30 years ago might be much less prestigious now (or more to the point, may not be right for their child), and a school that was no great shakes 30 years ago might be truly amazing now.  (I remember when I was in college that Syracuse was a safety school for many solid B students.  Colleges change over time – for better or worse.)

Rely on the ranking reports.  As this New York Times article explains, there are many college ranking lists, most from prestigious institutions.  Each emphasizes different aspects of college statistics from future earnings of students to student satisfaction to peer review to percentage of applicants who are accepted and more.  And the lists disagree with each other quite a bit.  There really aren’t any indisputably “top schools,” even within a particular field.  If you check several lists, you’ll get an idea of whether a particular school generally is toward the top, middle, or bottom of the list of similar schools, but choosing a school because it’s ranked #10 over a school ranked #12 is like ordering vanilla ice cream because it’s more popular when you really love pistachio.

Wait until senior year in high school to start thinking seriously about which colleges you’d like to know more about.  To return to my previous analogy,  you wouldn’t plan a wedding and then a month before the wedding start looking for a potential mate, would you?  Then why plan to go to college but not concern yourself with which colleges might be a good fit until just a month or two before you need to submit applications?

Choosing the place you’ll spend four very important years takes a bit of time, planning, and work.  It’s not crazy to start gathering information at the end of 10th grade.  Think about it:  If you want to apply in the beginning of senior year, you’ll have to be looking at colleges by the end of junior year.  And to look at colleges in the spring of junior year, you need to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year.  And to have a reasonable list by the winter of junior year, you need to start doing some serious thinking and research — NOW.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please send me a message through my website (which has plenty of good information including a link to schedule time with me): www.wendysegaltutoring.com  .

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May 27, 2016

What Do Colleges Want From Applicants Like Me – Part 1

I’m glad you asked, because there are indeed concrete steps you can take to enhance your college application whether you’re in 9th grade dreaming of college, a senior overwhelmed with the process of college applications, or any student (or parent) in between.

First, a little background.  When I first started advising students about how to get into a college that would be a great fit for them about 29 years ago, most colleges were looking for the “well-rounded” student.  The ideal applicant would get good grades, have high SAT scores, belong to several school clubs, play a sport, and perhaps even dance or sing or play an instrument.  The more areas in which a student showed competence, the more attractive the applicant.

About 15 years ago,  there was a shift.  Colleges decided that they could have a well-rounded freshman class even if each student wasn’t well-rounded.  In fact, perhaps a college could build a stellar class if they chose some students who were brilliant academically but had no other activities, some athletes who were stars on the field but didn’t test well and didn’t have wonderful grades, some virtuoso cellists who had played Carnegie Hall but never joined a club or held a job, and so on.  Colleges were looking for “passion,” drive, and singular achievement.

About 7 or 8 years ago, there was another shift.  Colleges found that sometimes star athletes, world-class musicians, and brilliant students kept those interests isolated from everything else in their lives, and so didn’t add much to the school environment.  Now, colleges are looking for something I call “consistency.”  They want to see that your interest or talent pervades your life, that you don’t merely dance or play lacrosse because someone said it would look good on an application.  They want to see how you use that interest throughout your life.  So if you dance, they want to see that you work part-time in a dance studio helping younger dancers, that you and your friends give free dance performances each Christmas in the local senior center, that you dance in your local dance group, that you’ve organized a dance group for your school.  If you play lacrosse, they want to see you get paid for coaching lacrosse, they want to see you spend your summers at a lacrosse training camp, they want to see you volunteer to coach kids in some sport in your nearest inner city Boy’s Club.  Your in-school, out-of-school, volunteer, and paid work should all be organized around your interest, talent, or ability.

The best applicants actually DO have a pervasive, enduring interest that shows itself in every aspect of their lives (while those applicants also get good grades and have good scores).  But if you know that’s what colleges are looking for, you can give them what they want.  Instead of going on your church’s midnight run to give food to the homeless in the city (or in addition to that), be sure you look for volunteer opportunities that complement your “interest.”  Better yet, create volunteer opportunities that both reflect your interest and highlight your leadership abilities.  Be thoughtful about how you spend your summers.  If you’re an athlete, camp or life-guarding is fine, but if you want to be an engineer, perhaps working theater tech for local community theater is better.  Choose after school activities wisely.  If your strength is academics, you may want to join the prom committee, but the debate club might be a better choice.

In many ways, I’m sorry for this trend.  I do think 14- , 15- , 16- , and 17-year old students should be exploring lots of interests.  How do you know if the chorus isn’t for you until you try it?  Maybe you’ll find that the Model U.N. ignites a passion for public service in you.  Maybe not, but you won’t know until you try.  So on the one hand, I’m giving you advice I don’t believe.  I don’t believe young people should be hyper-focused on one passion.  Your “passion” at 15 might bear no resemblance to your “passion” at 17 — and that’s how it should be.

On the other hand, people do pay me for my years of expertise about how to get into their top choice college — and telling students to focus, focus, focus on their grades and one big talent or interest will absolutely differentiate that student from the thousands of other smart, suburban, perfectly likable and capable students who will compete for a limited number of spots at that college.  So you need to decide whether your passion or talent is enduring or a passing flirtation, and how important it is for you to tailor your activities (beginning in 9th grade, if possible) based on college acceptance.  Or maybe this advice gives you permission to resign from clubs and activities that don’t light your fire in favor of those that feed your passion.  Feel free to comment (politely).

Shortly, I’ll write about other aspects of a college application over which students have control so they can give the college what they want.  Stay tuned!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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October 10, 2015

No More Vocabulary on the New SAT? HA!

When rumors of a new SAT were swirling, the College Board let it leak that they would be doing away with the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary sentences.  And they did.  The College Board representatives have held press conferences casting aspersions (look it up!) on so-called “SAT vocabulary,” insisting there would be no such vocabulary on the new test.  Instead, they’ll be using words that are more common and useful in typical high school and college reading.

The College Board released four sample tests of the new type.  In the first test,  you’ll encounter the following words.  Of course you know them because they’re not honest-to-goodness vocabulary words.  Or do you?

Can  you define these 29 words (all from Sample Test 1)?

  • anecdote (no, not antidote)
  • intrude
  • deference (nothing to do with deferring)
  • ambivalent
  • disparagement
  • mediation
  • imposition
  • reciprocate
  • celebrated (not the same as celebrating or celebration)
  • exclusionary
  • unprecedented
  • reminisce
  • substantiated (not the same as substantial)
  • template
  • momentous (nothing to do with a moment)
  • inquiries
  • hypothetical
  • feasibility
  • depiction
  • viability
  • refutes
  • objectivity
  • impartiality
  • grave (adjective, not the place you bury someone)
  • candor
  • solidarity
  • conducive
  • fanciful (nothing to do with fancy)
  • allude

Aren’t you glad they took out vocabulary?  Ah, you might be thinking.  The College Board said they’d be using words in context.  I’ll be able to figure out the meaning from the words and concepts around them.  Well, if they ask you if the author’s tone is sardonic or magnanimous, even if you understood the reading, you might not get the right answer because neither of those words would be used in context.  At least with the old/current SAT, you could learn a strategy for solving those fill-in-the-blank sentences.  With the new test, no such luck.

So don’t throw away your vocabulary books.  (By the way, one of the BEST vocabulary books, especially for students who already have a reasonably broad lexicon (again, look it up), is Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis.  It’s a rather ancient book (I was assigned chapters from it when I was in 7th grade, when phones were still attached to the wall with curly wires!), but year after year, the vocabulary in that book still shows up on SATs.  Furthermore, the author’s dry wit makes expanding one’s vocabulary almost fun!

If you plan on taking the new SAT, which will be offered starting in March 2016, it’s more important than ever to read, read, read.  You might put a sticky-note inside the front cover to note words that are unfamiliar to you (or even more likely, that are a little familiar to you but you couldn’t define).

Pay particular attention to common words  used in an unusual way.  (For example, as in the list above, grave normally means a hole in the ground for a dead body, but what does it mean when you say someone gave the student a grave warning?)

And lastly, don’t let your grammar get sloppy.  Grammar is now part of the reading section of the SATs.  So if  you are a stellar reader but think it’s okay to say, “Between you and I, Tom has less girlfriends than Ted,” you’ll ruin your critical reading score. (You caught both errors in that sentence, right?)

If you have any questions or need help, contact me at http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com or at wbsegal@gmail.com or on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Wendy-Segal-Tutoring-Highschool2college-202183139820161/timeline/

Wendy Segal

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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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August 12, 2014

Quick Question: Do I Need to Take the PSATs This Year?

Here are a few questions I get all the time:

I took the PSATs in 10th grade.  Do I need to take them in 11th grade, too?

And I also am asked:

I took a practice SAT at the library.  Do I need to take a PSAT at all now?

The answer to both is an unequivocal YES!

It only makes sense that if your student did well on the PSATs in 10th grade, he or she will do even better in 11th grade, parents tell me.  First of all, if that turns out to be true and your student did well on the 10th grade PSATs, why wouldn’t you want your student to retake them in 11th grade when a superior score might get a National Merit Letter of Commendation or even a National Merit Scholarship?

No matter how well you do on the PSATs in 10th grade, only the 11th grade PSATs are considered for the National Merit scholarship.

On the other hand, more often than not, it has been my experience over the past 27 years that students who have done very well on the 10th grade PSATs and who skip the 11th grade PSATs have their scores GO DOWN on their first SAT.  The students are shocked, the parents are disappointed, and now there is much less time to correct whatever the problem is.  To make matters worse, some schools require that you send ALL SAT scores when you apply.  Too bad the student in that situation didn’t retake the PSATs in 11th grade.  Then, if the score go down, the colleges won’t know and the student has many months to work on improving.

Furthermore, I don’t trust those library practice SATs.  They’re usually not an actual SAT.  They’re an approximation of the SATs based on what a company seeking to sell you SAT preparation services believes is similar to an SAT.  Real SATs are tested over and over.  I’ve found substantial errors in SAT prep books prepared by Princeton Review, Kaplan, and all the others (and so have many other tutors of my acquaintance).  The SATs given at the library tend to be either too hard (“You see, you really do need our tutoring service!”) or too easy (“See?  With just a little help, you can rock this test!”).

If your student really wants to know how he’d do on a real SAT, have him take a real SAT, either from the book by the College Board or on online from the people who actually create and administer the SATs.  You don’t need a library and you don’t need a detailed analysis that you probably won’t understand (but the prep center will be glad to explain it to you, and show you why you need them).

The PSATs are given in October.  The score report from the PSATs is sent home to you some time in December.  If you’re not happy with your student’s scores, take them to a qualified tutor who can help your student work on her weakness as well as polish where she’s already doing well.

So yes, unless you’re ill on the day of the PSATs or you have a wedding to attend, no excuses!  Just take that 11th grade PSAT.

Do you have other questions about college entrance testing?  Let me know!

Wendy Segal

http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com

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March 6, 2014

Everything You Need to Know about Changes to the New SAT

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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

March 2, 2014

Is Early SAT Prep Worth It? Is SAT Tutoring Worth It?

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I recently wrote a blog post with specific advice about how parents can help their students begin preparing for the SATs in middle school and early high school.

This week, a book was touted by local press in which a mother studied for and took seven SATs with her child.  Her advice agreed that it’s most effective to begin preparing years before the actual SATs.

Now I’d like to tell you WHY students should begin to prepare so early – and why it’s never too late or a waste of time and money to engage a private tutor.  

Is this shameless self-promotion?  Not really.  I already have a very busy practice, and this information is valuable whether you choose to work with me or another tutor.  In fact, as the mother who wrote the book (above) showed, you can be as own your child’s tutor if you have the ability and time and if your student will let you!

1.  Your student’s SATs will help him get into an appropriate, affordable college.  You all know that most colleges do consider a student’s SAT and/or ACT scores as part of his application package.  The larger the school, the more it relies on numbers for evaluation – numbers like GPA and SATs.  State colleges especially have a huge number of applicants and rely on numbers to eliminate some students on the bottom and grab some students on the top.  And state colleges – your state’s or another state’s schools – are generally thousands less expensive than a private college or university.

2.  Some colleges use SAT scores to give out merit aid scholarships.  Some just use the math and critical reading scores, others add the writing score.  Money spent on a tutor now might add up to much more money in college aid later.

3.  Very high PSAT scores might get your student a National Merit Letter of Commendation, Semi-Finalist, or Finalist designation.  These designations often turn into scholarship money, but even if your student’s first choice school doesn’t give aid based on the PSATs, a National Merit designation enhances her college application.  All schools like to brag that they have plenty of National Merit Scholars.  With a little early tutoring and the ability to score well on standardized tests, you could be one of those scholars, but the PSATs are given early in 11th grade, so many start working over the summer after 10th grade.

4.  Some employers ask for your SAT scores – even after your student graduates from college.  Articles like this one from the Wall Street Journal come around every year or two.  It might not be fair but it does happen:  Employers look at SAT scores when hiring for some types of white-collar jobs.

And for the most important benefits:

5.  I work with students to improve their grammar skills.  When was the last time your student studied grammar?  Has your student’s English teacher ever explained to her why a sentence written in the passive voice is weaker than one written in the active voice? Writing well is a skill that will be important in college and for most of one’s life.  Write a letter to the editor, write a proposal for a client, write a note to your child’s teacher, write an email to your boss – and you’ll be glad you studied grammar with me.  Your subjects will agree with your verbs, your pronouns will have clear antecedents, and your participles won’t be hanging.  Being able to write clearly and confidently will come in handy even when the SATs are a distant memory.

6.  I work with students to improve their test taking skills.  I watch kids answer test questions 5 days a week.  I watch some kids get low scores even though they have high grades, and others with modest grades get high scores.  Why are some students better test takers?  A private tutor can watch your student answer questions and correct his technique.  Some kids don’t pay enough attention to the question (they read the answers and hope something seems “true” to them).  Some kids second guess themselves and talk themselves out of correct answers due to lack of self-confidence.  Some kids race through questions because they’re afraid of running out of time or just because they want to be done with the test, often misreading questions.  Some kids need remedial vocabulary help (you can’t tell whether an author’s tone is curmudgeonly or benign if you don’t know what those words mean). That level of individualized instruction simply can’t be done in a class or small-group setting, but experienced private tutors do that sort of analysis and correction for a living.

7.  I improve students’ reading comprehension.  Yes, they read novels in school, but are your students reading persuasive essays like those on the SATs – and in news magazines?  Can your student understand an author’s tone – and how an accomplished reader can figure it out?  Many students can give me a one-sentence summary of an essay, but so many can’t put the individual sentences in their own words.  Understanding what you’re reading makes college studies easier. When you really understand what you’re reading, reading becomes less of a chore and more of a pleasure – a lifelong benefit indeed!

peering stupify demise

Wendy Segal

 http://www.wendysegaltutoring.com/

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