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Facts about Rolling Admissions

If a college or university lists a “rolling” admissions deadline, they process applications as they receive them, instead of waiting until a fixed deadline and processing them all at once. Applying to a school with rolling admissions can provide a host of potential benefits, but many students may not look for these types of schools specifically. Here are some quick facts about the subject.

Rolling admissions may provide some peace of mind.

The timeline of the college admissions process can be stressful; months of hectic agonizing over essays and transcripts are followed by months of silence, waiting and wondering. Those waiting moments provide great spaces for worries and stress to emerge. Even students with carefully chosen lists and great “safety” options might wonder: what happens if I don’t get in anywhere? What will I do then?

Applying to a school with rolling admissions offers a chance to circumvent some of that worry. If you’ve already been accepted to one school, waiting to hear back from other colleges becomes less about what happens if I don’t get in anywhere and more about I know I have at least one option. That can make a world of difference if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re applying to a school with rolling admissions, applying early is better.

As spots begin to fill up throughout the rolling admissions process, schools can afford to be more selective. Your best chance of being admitted to a school with rolling admissions is to apply early. Also, because one of the major benefits of applying to a rolling admissions school is having at least one acceptance letter before your other applications are even due, applying early just makes sense.

Financial aid deadlines may be different than admission deadlines.

At K-State, students can apply as early as 15 months before the beginning of the term in which they plan to enroll, or as late as 7 days before classes begin. However, scholarship applications are due in November. Again, earlier is better.

Earlier is better, but sometimes late is OK.

Often, some rolling admissions schools provide an option for students who need to make last-minute applications. At Loyola-New Orleans, 2015 classes begin on August 24th, but as of August 3rd their website says they’re still accepting applications. Do we suggest waiting until the very last minute? Not at all, but if you find yourself needing to look into new schools after conventional deadlines have passed, these schools might be your best bet.

In some cases, getting accepted earlier might mean making your decision early.

Some schools with rolling admissions are prepared to wait for your decision until you’ve heard back regarding your regular-decision applications. Some won’t. This depends on the school, so check to see what their decision deadlines are when you’re deciding where to apply.

Admissions can be beneficial to students navigating the college application process. Doing your research and being aware of deadlines and requirements can help you take the best advantage of rolling admissions.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

 

Gap Year – Thoughts on Taking a Year Off

If I’d told my parents that I wanted to spend a year doing some other stuff before starting college, they would have freaked out. American culture is go, go, go, succeed, succeed, succeed – taking a break is seen as a sign of weakness. Americans have less vacation time than almost any other first world country, not to mention longer work weeks. The trajectory is supposed to go high school -> college -> job or graduate school -> job -> job, with no variations. Saying “I’d like to spend the 18th year of my life backpacking around and maybe working in a cafe” in America is tantamount to saying “I’d like to drop out of society, not be productive, and waste my life.” – Lillet Marcus

There’s been a lot of buzz about gap years recently. Since the beginning of the gap year phenomenon in the 1960s, the practice has increased in popularity, especially in Europe. More recently, more American students have begun to take a structured break between high school and college, as well, but the expectation for most American students is still that they will progress directly from high school to college without a break in between.

While it might be tempting to write off a year-long “break” as indulgent, silly, or even reckless, many colleges actually encourage students to take a gap year. Princeton has gone so far as to institute its own Bridge Year program. Contrary to some popular perceptions, 90% of students who take a gap year do enroll in college as planned, and students who take gap years perform better once they enroll in college than students who start college right after high school. They also report that their gap years helped them choose their majors more wisely, and ultimately claim higher job satisfaction.

What is it about the gap year that contributes to these outcomes? The benefits are different, certainly, for each student, but here are a few:

  1. A gap year allows time for recovery from high-school related burnout. Many high school students are sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, running with all their might towards the light at the end of the tunnel – college ­– as if the next phase might bring them a respite from the hectic pace, frantic studying, and late nights. While college can’t provide that relief, a gap year might.
  2. Students can experience something more of the world – and of their own interests and abilities – than they might otherwise. Wherever a student spends their gap year, working or volunteering in a new environment provides an opportunity for a completely different type of experience than those typical of high school or college environments. Broader experience leads to more knowledge about the world and what you’d like your place in it to be.
  3. Taking a gap year can provide an opportunity to develop life skills and independence that will lead to greater success in college. Stepping outside of your comfort zone builds confidence and independence, ensuring that when you do arrive in college, you’re ready to get the most out of the experience, not stressed out by learning how to do laundry or trying to get to know whole groups of strange people for the first time.

 

The most important thing about taking a gap year is making sure you have a plan to spend the time wisely. There are a lot of organizations that provide structured programs and help make that planning process a little easier. Check out groups like Thinking Beyond Borders, American Gap Association, and Cross Cultural Solutions. Of course, you can always plan your own unique experience, but having a plan is critical. Consider your interests, goals, and budget when devising your strategy.

And no matter where you decide to spend your gap year, plan to complete your college applications in your senior year, just like everyone else. It’s much, much easier to get all of the necessary information compiled when you’re in school, with face-to-face access to the people writing your recommendations, than it is if you’re on another continent doing service work.

Do some research into the gap year policies at the schools you’re considering: some schools are flexible, and even encourage students to take a gap year, while others require that you re-apply if you’re not enrolling in the semester for which you initially applied. Check to see which colleges are likely to offer deferments, and whether or not the deferment will affect any financial aid you’re offered. If you plan carefully and do your research, taking a year “off” can be an adventurous addition to your educational plans, and may even give your grades a boost in the future.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

National Decision Day – May 1st

May 1st is also known as “National Decision Day.” This nickname springs from the fact that for many students, May 1st is the latest day they can inform colleges of their decision. While some students applied Early Action or Early Decision, others may go down to the wire trying to pick which college they want to attend.

 

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part III

Top 10 Test Prep Traps Part III 

At GSP, we understand that the amount of information floating around in the world about how to prepare to take your test(s), which test(s) to prepare for, etc., can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, some of it is also terrible advice! Here are some of the most common test prep traps we see students and parents fall into. From wasting time and money to actually making your college applications less effective, these missteps can be easy to make. Fortunately, we’re here to answer your questions and point out some potential pitfalls!

In Part 1, we talked about the basics – when to take the test, and how many times. In Part 2, we discussed setting goals and committing to one test. Finally, we’ll talk about a couple of more advanced topics – Super-Scoring and scholarships.

9. Assuming the Colleges on Your List Do (or Don’t) Super-Score

Super-Scoring is taking the highest score from each section of a test (either ACT or SAT) to provide a higher composite score than a student would have had otherwise. For example, pretend I took the ACT twice. My first test I got a 24 in English, a 19 in Math, a 25 in Reading, and a 22 in Science for a Composite score of 23. My second test was a 22 in English, a 23 in Math, a 26 in reading, and an 18 in Science, for a Composite score of 22.

However, if a college Super-Scores, they’ll take the highest of each section, so that gives me a 24 in English, a 23 in Math, a 26 in Reading, and a 22 in Science, like this:

So the Super-Score that I actually end up with – a 24 – is higher than either of Composite scores, which is pretty cool (for both me, and the college, as my higher score boosts their student profile).

Some schools Super-Score for both ACT and SAT and some schools don’t Super-Score at all. Some do for one test, but not the other. Further complicating the Super-Score situation are changes in policies from year to year.

What to do instead: Do your research, and make sure your info is up to date! Knowing whether a college or university will Super-Score your results can be key to focusing your test prep efforts!

10. Comparing Yourself (and Your Scores) to Everyone Else

It’s almost impossible not to do. Everyone’s ranked! Everyone’s given their percentile, and it’s easy to be tempted to look to those with higher scores with envy, admiration, or even the suspicion that they’re in on some special secret that we don’t have access to. It can be tough to chat with a friend whose first test score is higher than your goal score without feeling discouraged.

Standardized testing is a skill, and, just like any other skill, it comes more easily to some people than others. Your ACT or SAT score isn’t an indication of much more than your skill in taking the ACT or SAT. The amount of time and energy you want to devote to improving that score has everything to do with the specifics of what you want to accomplish.

There are all kinds of reasons that people might have target scores in different areas. Your score might be just fine for admission to your top school, but maybe one more point will get you a great scholarship! Or maybe a specific program requires two more points in your ACT math score. It may make sense to put in some more time and energy to further boost your score! However, feeling bad about your score, or deciding you need to take it again just because your brother/cousin/friend Bob is going to take it again? That makes less sense.

What to do instead:

Do your research! If you really need a certain score for a school or program or scholarship that’s important to you, let that influence your goal. But be aware that (hopefully!) others are doing their own research, and will have their own reasons for targeting a certain result. Let your brother/cousin/friend Bob stress about those two extra points for that Indiana State scholarship, if that’s where he really wants to go. If you don’t even want to go to Indiana State, much less get a scholarship there, it probably shouldn’t impact your goal score.

We know that preparing for the ACT or SAT can be an overwhelming process. With the right information, it can be less overwhelming. At Get Smarter Prep, we can help students and families navigate the world of test prep by providing advice and guidance tailored to each student’s goals.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

 

Rankings vs. Fit, Part IV

Rankings vs. Fit Part IV

In this series, Audrey dissects a recent debate over the merits of Ivy League Universities which has opened up a much broader and more important conversation – one about choosing colleges and the importance of looking beyond selectivity and rankings when choosing a school. This is Part Four of the series. Here are the other posts: Part I, Part II, Part III.

At the end of Part Three, I suggested there were four “corners,” or major sets of considerations, to assist in narrowing your college list from “all of the schools in the known universe” to “6 or 8 or 10 or however many applications one person can actually complete.” Those corners are Geography, Academics, Extracurriculars, and Amenities.

Geography

You may have been told that you can find your niche anywhere, and to some extent, that’s true. But it will be easier to find opportunities to go cross-country skiing in Minnesota than Louisiana. Do you have strong feelings about trees? Snow? Squirrels? Ragweed? Elevation?

Here are some geography questions to ask yourself: How far from home do you want to be? Do you want to be able to dash home on a weekend with a car full of laundry, or are you happy with Christmas and summer?

What kind of weather do you want to live with for the next four years? Do you really hate cold? Or heat? Or rain?

Do you want to be near the mountains? The ocean? Would you prefer an an urban campus integrated into a large city, or a peaceful retreat with tree lined walks and mossy brick and people playing frisbee on the quad?

Academics

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Do you have a ready answer, or are you now caught in a wave of panic? Either way, you can narrow your list! If you know what you want to do, you have a passion and a focus, it’s important to find a school that has that field. Meet with some professors, or at least send some e-mails. Talk to them about your interests.

If you have no idea what you want to study, you probably want to avoid schools that have a very limited focus or ask that you pick a major immediately. You may want to look for schools that encourage you to explore a few different subjects your first year or two. And even if you have no idea what your future looks like, you should be able to find a major, or two, or three, on the list of the college in question, and think to yourself, “Hm. Maybe.”

How about class size? Picture yourself in a lecture hall with 50 or 100 other students. Then picture yourself in a room with ten students and one professor who knows your name and expects you to have something interesting to say. One of those might sound horrible. Most schools will have some of each the distribution varies pretty widely.

Do you think you might want to go to graduate school? Some schools send a lot more students on to get PhDs than others. What about opportunities for undergraduate research or study abroad programs?

Extracurriculars

What keeps you sane? What keeps you centered? What has been your refuge throughout high school when things were a little overwhelming? Your ideal college should offer some opportunity to do that, whether it’s basketball or saxaphone or religious services of your denomination, either on campus or near by. If art is your hobby, but you don’t want to major in it, would you be able to enroll in studio classes, or are they restricted to studio art majors?

In addition to the hobbies and activities you know are important, what new things do you hope your college will have? Take a look at the list of clubs and activities at a few different colleges and universities – what kinds of clubs are (and aren’t) offered can provide a lot of insight into the culture.

How important is Greek life (or avoiding Greek life) to you? What about sports? The idea of a whole campus decorated in school colors and excited about the next game might seem a necessary part of your college experience, or something you’d rather avoid entirely.

Amenities

It’s not enough to say, “nice dorms.” I loved my dorms. They were historic, with beautiful wood floors and high ceilings and old radiators that knocked and clanked all night in the winter. They had no air conditioners or elevators, but huge closets and plenty of windows. Old buildings are pretty, but they do come with some limitations.

What is “nice” to you? Also, beyond the building itself, think about policies. How do you feel about gender divisions in housing? Is it important to you that you be in a quiet or substance free dorm? What about restrictions on visiting hours, or even curfews?

“Good food” is not obvious, either. Having a choice between eighteen fast food options might sound amazing to you, or it might sound like torture. Do you have dietary restrictions for religious or health reasons? What are the vegetarian options like?

How about the athletic facilities? Art museum? Library? Weird little underground student-run pub?

Some of these things will seem very important to you. Others will seem silly and not worth considering. But by coming up with your own list of must-haves, you can rank colleges for yourself, and (hopefully) end up with a list of schools that fit you, not some obscure list of criteria made up by someone you’ve never met. And since you’re the one actually going to the college in question, it seems like that might be more important.

Audrey Hazzard is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Extracurricular Activities and College Application

Extracurricular Activities and College Application

It is general knowledge that college admissions officers first look at test scores, grades, and the rigor of courses students take in high school. However, what are also important in the admissions process are a student’s extracurricular activities. Students are a representative of the college they attend, and it goes without saying colleges care about the character of the people they admit to their school.

Extracurricular activities are a good indicator of what a student does during his time spent outside of school. In other words, what a student is doing over summer vacation and on the weekends, gives admission officers a good idea of what kind of individual they are considering admitting to their college.

No doubt about it, volunteerism is very important, however admissions officers are looking for real hands-on involvement. There is a difference between the student that volunteers once to collect money for a charity and the student who spends every Saturday helping clean up city parks. The student that dedicates more time is the one that is most likely to receive his or her admission letter.

Most colleges aren’t terribly picky about how you spend your time outside of the classroom as long as it is apparent you are doing something meaningful. While they won’t be able to notice that you spend four hours a day on your smartphone, they will notice if there is a lack of activities on your application.

Leadership

As long as you can make evident to the admission officers that you have accomplished something meaningful, that you are committed, have initiative, and leadership skills, you are on the right track. When admissions officers evaluate extracurricular activities, evidence of leadership and dedication are taken into consideration during the admissions process.

Evidence of leadership is a phrase that comes up frequently during the admissions processes and it very well might be what separates a student granted admission from those that end up waitlisted. Leadership can take many forms. The more selective a university or college is the more judiciously a student’s leadership role is assessed.

When to Start

Your freshman year of high school is the perfect time to explore multiple activities as you continue to discover what you are good at and what motivates you. By sophomore year your list of activities should be trimmed down and your focus should be on the three to four projects that you are generally interested in and enjoy. By the time your junior year rolls around, you should have established the activities you feel the most passionate about and should attempt to become an officer, leader, or president.

During your senior year visiting various colleges and the college application process will begin to take up a lot of free time, so now more than ever it is important to be certain that your extracurricular activities are ones that are meaningful and fulfilling. Students should try and stay involved in their extracurricular during their summer vacations. Colleges are always interested to see any indication that students have done something more than play video games during their break from school.

Interests and Talents

When choosing activities your talents, skills, and academic interests can come together to make sense of whom you are and who you want to be. Try to participate in activities that are related to and support your future major.

You may not know what you want to do with your life when you are 17, but if you have a good idea of what you want to focus on when you eventually attend college, begin pursuing these fields sooner rather than later both inside and outside of the classroom. Whatever your interest, find an activity that supports it. 

But before you decide to sign up for all of the activities your school and community offers, remember that quality outweighs quantity every time. Dedication to your chosen extracurricular activities shows the value of your involvement. While Student A may attend nearly every club her school has to offer, Student B only joins two but is more involved, organizing outings for the environmental club and being the vice president of the school’s drama club.

The level of involvement is more important to the admissions office than breadth. Use the time spent on extracurricular activities wisely by trying things that interest you and then choosing the ones that are the most meaningful to focus on. Extracurricular activities are one key way students can exhibit their individuality and showcase their passions, and perhaps most importantly, in the admissions process appear more interesting and potentially superior to the other applicants.

If you need help with the college application process, contact Get Smarter Prep and we will gladly help you every step of the way. 

Un-learning Our Learning Process

One of the trickiest parts of working with the ACT and SAT is not only helping students improve, but also helping their families deconstruct their preconceptions about the exams.  These exams have become ubiquitous with college admissions – yet all too often, we are not approaching them in the most collegiate way!

The tests – at face value – appear to be a metric to measure what a student has learned in high school, in preparation for college.  Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly what they are!  The ACT and SAT both test material learned at one point or another during the middle school or high school curriculum, but they test it in a way that may not be familiar.  This is where a student must take their first steps toward thinking more like a college student.  They must discover for themselves the distinct differences between the two tests and the tests as compared to their school work.

As mentioned before, for most students there will not be any totally new content on the exams – yet for many students, information recall is not enough to do well on these standardized tests.  As both exams are different versions of psychometric exams, the manner in which a question is asked is often more important than the content associated.  A student therefore must be willing to “play the test maker’s game,” learning new methods to properly take the exam.  The test makers are notorious for asking questions with the words “least,” “not,” and “except” in them.  Before we even get to the content piece, we must realize the question is more about a “logic game” than anything else.

It is easy to get stuck in our learning rut, and for the most part it is beneficial in our schooling systems.  But in order to succeed on these exams we must realign our method of thinking to that of the test makers.  This alteration will lead us toward our ultimate goals: achieving a higher score in order to earn admission to the school of our choice and to become eligible for additional scholarship money to help fund our education

Caleb Pierce is a Tutor and President at Get Smarter Prep.

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?

The International Baccalaureate program has its advocates and its critics.  Some see it as a “more global” version of the Advanced Placement (AP) program.  Some see it as “too global,” thereby undermining a unique American flavor to education in this country.  Beyond these considerations, of course, is the actual IB program itself and whether it may be right for your child.  Since families often ask about this program, we wanted to give a deeper explanation of the answers we give parents when they call or write us.

IB was founded in 1968 in Switzerland to serve as a base of educational curricula for those attending international schools.  If your parents were expats you might not be attending a “local” school but rather an “international” one, and as such, would not necessarily study Swiss history or literature, even though you lived in Switzerland, for example.  IB emphasizes critical and creative thinking and encourages students to choose their own topics and projects while requiring a lot of writing behind those topics and projects.  It also has a community service requirement.  At its core is an ideological agnosticism driven by its alignment with UN’s UNESCO requirements for education: that equal weight and value must be given to each form of government, cultural practice, or social construct.

There are middle school and elementary IB programs, but what we are most concerned with are the high school programs.  Depending on how your school has the program set up, students may be allowed to take a single IB class or may take a full course load of IB classes with an eye to earning the IB diploma.   While IB has no barrier set up to prevent any student from enrolling, sometimes these classes are scheduled in opposition to AP or Honors equivalents so that students have to choose.  Some schools see AP as the past and IB as the future.  Other schools see IB as an upstart whereas AP is the “old reliable.”  What is certain is that passing an AP exam with a score of 4 and above (and 3 in many other cases) will still earn you some level of college credit at many universities, whereas there is often no college credit for an IB.

At this point you may (reasonably) be asking, “So, let me see, colleges don’t give IB any more weight than AP as far as admissions goes, and IB actually carries less weight as far as college credit goes.  So, conversation over, right?”  Yes and no.  As we always try to do at Get Smarter Prep – we want to make sure you have the proper context for the answer.

I’ve taught over 2000 students in the more than 10 years I’ve been in the test prep industry.  More than a few have been in IB classes.  Those students have told me that they enjoyed the different course structure and the challenge.  They were all willing to admit that IB deprived them of a regular social life and even cut back their participation in outside activities, like work, sports, and clubs.   Yet, that overarching unified curriculum and drive for a diploma also creates a sub-group of students within each school who not only can work on things together, but can also commiserate about the tremendous work load.

But my students also lived with the fear that after two hard years invested across multiple subjects that they may not earn the coveted IB diploma.  Any good student loves a challenge – and IB – with its comprehensive curriculum – offers that to them.

Ultimately, the answer to “should my child do IB?” is quite similar to “should my child take the SAT or the ACT?”  That answer is: “It depends, and it’s different from child to child.” For the SAT and ACT, we recommend that your student come in and take practice tests for both, and then we will sit down with you, at no charge, to talk about which one makes more sense for you.  Unfortunately, there’s no “test” for whether you should take IB, but you can use the tried-and-true parent grapevine.  Take parents (and students!) who have been involved in IB out to coffee or dinner.  Ask them difficult questions.  Try to find people on both sides of the argument.  Using that information, you and your student can make an informed decision.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

 

ACT vs. SAT – Is one more accepted?

For many years, I had to assure parents that the school their child was considering actually did accept the ACT.  The parents were working from experience bias. The ACT was almost unknown when they attended college and many colleges didn’t even require an entrance examination.  If one did, it was surely the SAT, which had over a decade’s head start into the blue ocean marketplace of college admissions exams.  I had to send parents to admissions websites where the clear black letters explained that “either ACT or SAT scores are acceptable” and even then, these same parents were cowed by the received wisdom of other parents, who heard from someone’s grandpa’s uncle’s sister who 5 years ago worked in admissions at Dartmouth, you know, that they preferred the SAT.  How much things have changed.

Now some students are hearing from the student grapevine that the ACT is not just a better test, but the preferred one.  Again, we have to step in to intervene.

We understand why there may have been this swing.  ACT has worked hard for years to overtake the SAT, and in 2012, they did.  How did they do it?  The way any smart company does.  Strategic appointments to their Board of Directors.  Legislation which caused the ACT to be required in certain states for the high school graduation process.  Aggressive expansion of their PLAN testing – an early-stages test which is a mini-ACT.  Awareness of the ACT test has crested, and now there isn’t just an acceptance of its equivalency for admissions, but the consumer – parent and student – perceives the ACT as more “fair” as it has 4 subjects tested (English, Math, Reading, and Science) instead of the SAT’s Reading, Math, and Writing.

However, dear parents and students, despite your perception there is still no change.  These tests have fundamental problems, yet, they are still accepted as part of the admissions process.  Our job is to help you beat them, and honestly, we’re very successful in that job.  A lot of our students get into schools they wanted to go to because of their prep here.  Many get into schools or get scholarships they would have never dreamed of before working with us.  Whichever test you end up working on (our advice is to take both free practice tests to see whether the ACT or SAT is better for you), be assured that colleges in America accept both the ACT and SAT as equivalent tests, without preference or prejudice.

On a final note, remember that just as the colleges don’t care which one you take, neither should you.  Don’t just say, “Well all my siblings have taken the SAT, so that means I should too.”  Maybe the SAT was the right test for them.  Maybe they didn’t need prep.  Maybe they didn’t work with experts who advised them to take both as practice tests so that they could get a subjective (how did I feel during the test?) and an objective (what was the score?) measure of this decision.

Unfortunately, although the colleges may have outsourced part of their decision-making process to these exams, it doesn’t mean you should outsource your decision on which one to take.  Your starting point should be taking a practice version of both.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

The New SAT

On Wednesday March 5, 2014, the College Board made announcements that will change the SAT test for those students in your family who will the test in 2016 and beyond which will, among other things, change the scoring back to what it was before March 2005.  It was not that long ago that we mentioned a few thoughts in reaction to a study pronouncing the SAT as “not correlated to college success.”  We had a lot to say by way of agreement, and today we will try to address those points again in the storm of discussion – and in some quarters, panic – about these changes.

Let’s repeat our fundamental beliefs here at Get Smarter, which are backed by numerous high school teachers and counselors as well as college admissions professionals and officials: GPA is the single best indicator of how you will perform in college.  It measures multiple things – not just your ability to do well on a given test, but also your ability to complete projects, do homework, and participate in class, among other things.  A single 3-hour test on a number of different subjects can only measure how well you do against metrics determined by a particular authority.  In this case – College Board (and the ACT) for that matter, have neither a government mandate nor any form of regulation.  They are allegedly nonprofits but they act as free market businesses that have lobbyists and VERY well paid board members.  They, not we, for decades have determined “what matters” on these tests.  Some major shortcomings?  Let’s talk about three areas of the current SAT (let’s leave the ACT aside for now, perhaps for a day when they too announce changes).

Reading

Prior to March 2005, the SAT was all about “difficult” vocabulary and easy to medium difficulty reading passages.  People may whine that these words were “irrelevant” but for any serious student, these words were from a “known” list and could be studied and learned.  As for the reading comprehension – students had been doing that for most of their lives, so not too difficult there.

“Today, when we say that someone has used an SAT word, it often means a word you have not heard before and are not likely to soon hear again. The redesigned SAT will instead focus on words students will use over and over again, that open up worlds to them.”

                        -David Coleman, President of the College Board

This is somewhat puzzling.  Part of the challenge of question design in this section of the test is having a sentence that clearly indicates context and then having a number of challenging words in position.  Part of learning any language is not just using words over and over again, but using new words as bridges to expression.  We’ll see more of what they mean in one month when they release some practice questions.

Math

Prior to March 2005, the SAT was not particularly challenging mathematically.  While there was an element of trickery in the questions, the questions themselves were not terribly difficult.  As for the new test, the College Board says it will be based around “problem solving and data analysis; the heart of algebra; and passport to advanced math.”  Yet, this still repeats the same problem we saw on the old test and the current test: many students who will excel in college are LONG past algebra in their junior year of high school.  In all likelihood they are in Calculus, a math level that is actually used in college, unlike Algebra.

Writing

It is unclear whether the grammar part of the writing section will remain, as the traditional scoring has left 800 points for Math, 800 points for Reading, and over the last 9 years, 800 points for Writing, of which the essay is a little over ⅓ of the weight.  As it stands the grammar portion is the “least bad” portion of the test, as it tests frequent mistakes in grammar that manifest themselves in the emails of Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis, to take just one comparison.  The essay seems to be a new, discursive type of essay, and it is now “optional.”

As we said, we’ll have more to say on this issue in the months and weeks ahead.  As always, as long as there is an unfair testing regime in place in academia, we are going to be here to help our students overcome that regime.

Whatever College Board or pundits tell you, there is no way to “level the playing field” for a standardized test, even if it is a good one (e.g. the AP Exam) or a poor one (the SAT or ACT).  You will always have students who bring more motivation, more study skills, more intelligence, or more prep.  The future will always belong to those who deal with a challenging situation, as our students here at Get Smarter Prep always have.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.