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Category: SAT

The Admissions Mystique: What Do Colleges Expect?

colleges, admissions, students of color, test preparation,, college counseling, GPA, affirmative action, affluent, impoverished, SAT, ACT

What do colleges expect?

The good news about college acceptance? Even “the experts” don’t possess the “silver bullet.”

The bad news? No one does.

College acceptance rates and their corresponding criteria vary from year to year based on a range of metrics including, but not limited to:

  • The pool of applicants and its characteristics
  • A college’s diversity and financial quotas
  • The allowable occupancy of specialized programs such as computer science, engineering and nursing

Nonetheless, there are some readily apparent trends that university data reveals.

According to the New York Times, “What Colleges Want In an Applicant (Everything),”  GPA or grade point average and ACT/SAT scores still function as the gatekeepers of most reputable four year universities.

“U.S. News Data: Admissions Trends at Top Public Colleges” has recently confirmed that student SAT scores are rising, therefore raising the bar for the average student. In layman’s terms, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete.

College Acceptance Criteria

Other nuanced factors bear influence on a college applicant’s acceptance:

  • Ability to pay whether through loans, scholarships or family money
  • Family alumni connections
  • Race
  • Disability
  • Socioeconomic status
  • High school class rank
  • A student’s high school state ranking
  • Student educational opportunities and resources

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “What You Need to Know About Race-Conscious Admissions in 2017” asserts that the most contentious criteria are likely policies of “Race Consciousness,” which proponents argue increases diversity and opportunity for underrepresented youth by ”privileging black, Hispanic, Native American, and other disadvantaged groups.” Opponents claim that such policies discriminate against more qualified white and Asian applicants based on GPA and standardized test scores.

Whether we defend or criticize these policies, “affirmative action” policies exist in higher education, the expectation being that if a student has more, he or she can achieve more. Therefore, these policies have not been deemed unconstitutional as educational opportunities remain inequitable and disproportionately allotted to more affluent students.

Regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity, every student, with the support of his or her educational “village” of parents, teachers, counselors, mentors and tutors, must work to “make the grade.”

General “Rules of Thumb”

Consider the following models to identify safety, match and reach colleges:

Affluent Students are expected to exceed expectations in school, 3.8- 4.2+, and on standardized tests, 1350-1550 SAT score.

  • Most colleges require parents who claim their students as a dependent to report their financial information via their previous year’s tax return
  • In certain cases, these families also have alumni connections, which aid a student’s acceptance prospects
  • Depending on the university, ethnicity, race and/or religious affiliation may sway admission’s departments to meet a diversity quota; albeit, not all colleges have specified “diversity quotas”

Lower Income Students are expected to meet expectations in high school, 3.0-3.7, and on entrance exams, 1100-1300 SAT score. These students will likely need to secure funding through:

  • Public or government grants
  • Military funding or the GI bill
  • Private “need-based” scholarships
  • A student’s ability to pay tends to be more significant here

Students Living at or Below the Poverty Line are expected to “survive.” These students have a larger margin of grace, particularly for state and certain private colleges. Earning a 1000 SAT and a GPA of 2.5+ is a start:

  • Grants and scholarships abound, particularly if a student belongs to a marginalized group
  • A student’s ability to pay is less significant
  • Colleges analyze “growth” on high school report cards; if these students show progress between 9th and 11th grades, universities often wager these students will continue to show promise, grit and determination

Students Who Do Not Meet the Expectations of their peers may have other options:

  • Family alumni and connections
  • Wealth
  • Athletic talent
  • Severely adverse or difficult childhood experiences, trauma or disabilities
  • Strong resume of sports, art, community service, internships, etc
  • Safety schools with high acceptance rates

                     -Texas A&M, 67%

                     -Wofford College, 72% 

                     -University of Denver, 73% 

  • Community College

Most troubling, recruiting students of color from lower-class and impoverished inner city communities is far from equitable; these students often lack fundamentals from basic necessities such as food security and a safe space to study to adequate educational opportunities such as quality teachers, tutors, and test preparation. Although racially diverse underprivileged students are expected to pass their classes and “survive” standardized testing as prospective candidates of safety schools, the vast majority will not qualify for admission at ranking universities unless they possess:

  • Requisite athletic skills to play college sports
  • Intellectual prowess to perform well without extra support
  • Notable artistic aptitude in art, music or the performing arts

While numerous scholarships and public grants are available once students are accepted, poor minority students confront the steepest upward climb toward university admission’s success.

On the other hand, no matter who a student is categorically speaking, college acceptance remains a “cloak and dagger” enigma.

However, students and parents can prepare.

Start with a simple checklist:

  • Maintain 3.5+ GPA
  • Strive to perform on college entrance exams
  • Rise to meet college admission standards
  • Secure college funding (FASFA first)
  • Analyze college freshman profiles (GPA, test score and demographic data)
  • Identify safety, match and reach schools- There’s no shame in attending community college first
  • Seek sound college counseling advice and often

University entrance is an uphill trudge no matter who you are, but colleges are well within reach if students and parents know where they stand, have a plan and stick to it.

Stay tuned for my next article regarding college admissions and the “nature vs nurture’s” impact on university candidates.

I Have Less; Can I Achieve My Best Test?

achievement gap, testing, SAT, tutoring, education, college, literacy, students,, teaching

How do I ace a test, the SAT, or any standardized test? How can they expect me to know everything? What if I don’t have the skills or the advantages?

They, whether a teacher, professor, ETS (Educational Testing Service), or the College Board, absolutely do not expect you to know everything that could potentially arise on an exam. In fact, that is precisely what they don’t want.

However, an increasingly globalized international climate has advanced educational accessibility for students with disabilities. Additionally, educators and public schools are painfully aware of the educational inequities among subgroups and have enacted policies in the United states to lessen the Achievement Gap, the persistent disparity in educational opportunities due to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc. Many public schools and districts have pursued feasible and affordable reforms, which include picking students up at their homes, extending campus hours to accommodate economically disadvantaged students so they have a place to study and use computers, or facilitating after school peer tutoring.

Nevertheless, there is so much more to do. According to Marina Bolotinikova, author of Harvard Magazine’s article, “FAS’s Inequality in America Initiative,” educational imbalances continue to exist even now in 2017 at even some of the most elite universities, including Harvard itself.

We have people who are looking at inequality across race, gender, and class, but also thinking about the different domains of inequality–education, health, the labor market. We have all this on campus, but they’re not always in conversation…The idea here is to pursue a strategy that’s focused on greater collaboration, some new investment, and more dialogue.

On the other hand, prior to Harvard’s initiative, 21st century educators have supported progress along many avenues to “even the playing field” with the advent of student chromebooks, better cheap wifi, enhancing school libraries with used or donated books, and offering online courses and school approved websites. To be sure, students around the globe and across the country are better equipped “to know” and learn more than in previous eras. And yet, educational inequality persists. Not all students have access to private tutors, good schools, educated parents and technology in the home.

So, how do students with less, born and raised in neighborhoods that are so violent, sometimes they avoid school to avoid getting jumped? How do food insecure, homeless, and/or minority youth do well enough on tests to “pass go” and level up? How do young girls who are prescribed as homemakers, not college students,  transcend barriers? What about the SAT, a test so daunting, even students with every resource at their disposal struggle to hit their target score?

In many cases, the best source for success is you, the high school student.

So, let’s ask some fundamental questions and brainstorm some real-word solutions.

What can I do to build skills in reading comprehension and math?

  1. Read more outside of school assignments. Read a variety of materials: newspapers, novels, graphic novels, biographies.
  • Most library cards are free
  • Schools often have materials on hand in their libraries
  • Print out online publications at school; it’s cost free to you.
  • Visit the College Board for free test taking tips and practice tests
  1. Annotate what you read.
  • Underline main ideas
  • Circle and define new vocabulary in the margins, on a separate sheet of paper or make your own quizlet online
  • Stop every paragraph or two and ask, “What did I just read?”
  1. Explore purplemath or mathisfun, websites that will help you review and clarify:
  • Exponents
  • Arithmetic (PEMDAS)
  • Algebra
  • Coordinate Plane Geometry
  • Geometry
  • Basic Trig

What strategies can I use on multiple choice tests and college entrance exams?

  1. Process of Elimination
  • For each answer choice, ask, “Is it wrong?” If it’s not wrong, do not cross it out. Keep it. The choice may not be great, but it may be the least wrong.
  • Underline the word or words that make an answer choice wrong; then, cross it out.
  • The answer that’s not wrong is the correct answer
  1. Annotate all test questions, whether math or English.
  • Hunt for the most specific words and underline them.
  • Ignore everything else- it wastes your time to read words you don’t need.
  • In the following example, inferred, both, and agree are your key words:

It can be inferred from both passages that the authors would most likely agree that

  1. Don’t do anything you don’t have to do on a multiple choice test.
  • Less is more
  • Keep it simple
  • Let your answer choices guide you, particularly in math
    • Sometimes solving half the problem is all that is required.
  1. Set up a Khan Academy account online and practice for free.

The world of educational opportunity remains a far cry from egalitarian or “equal,” but there are resources available to students of every circumstance. If your school or home doesn’t have what you need, perhaps a bus pass and the public library will. Combined with determination, hard work and basic resources, every student can succeed if you have the desire.

Breaking Bad Habits: The Right ACT Attitude

Hawk Educational Solutions, ACT, college, tutoring, college counseling, college admissions, test prep, SAT

Developing Bad Habits

As students gain academic experience, they cannot help but develop coping mechanisms or “bad habits,” which they wholly believe will enable their survival under the competitive pressure of college admissions. These behavioral patterns often serve them well…until they don’t.

For better or worse, we mimic the behavior of others, mistakenly accept bad advice as truth and obstinately cling to our ways and means of achievement even if these methods imperil our future goals. Consequently, “undoing” erroneous habits and rigid ways of thinking is essential for students to make genuine progress toward college acceptance.

It only stands to reason then that students, parents and educators alike must adopt a more adaptable and flexible attitude when approaching college entrance to ensure eventual student success.

Without Pretense or Euphemism, the ACT is a Beast of a Test

  • Many tout it as “knowledge based,” when in fact the ACT requires nuanced reasoning, particularly in the Reading and English sections.
  • Time is of the essence; in other words, you rarely have enough of it. In fact, students have only 35 minutes to complete 40 questions in both the Reading and Science sections, which boils down to 48 seconds per question! This barely accounts for time to read and truly comprehend the text.
  • Lastly, the ACT is deceiving; in other words, it is not an honest, straightforward exam. Specifically, questions supply answer choices that contain misleading details from the passage that may be true in one context, but don’t actually answer the question at hand.
  • Eliminate wrong answers before taking a stab at choosing the correct one.

Given Its Rigorous Timing and Trickery, Might the ACT Be One of Many “Bad Habits?”

  • There is an abundance of costly SAT/ACT diagnostic tests, abbreviated exams that tout accurate predictions of which one is the more appropriate. 
  • The long and short of these magical shortcuts; they are not magic and rarely reveal an accurate picture.
  • Rather, students can print a free online ACT and SAT, and complete each full length exam on their own or with a parent. Don’t forget to set the stop watch- timing is everything!

Be Willing to Confront and Accept the Frustrating Facts: The ACT is Not Your Friend

  • Some college counselors and for-profit testing companies are often the perpetrators of bad advice that steer impressionable teens in the wrong direction.
  • At ages as young as fourteen, some students are convinced that there’s only one way to succeed even when their testing data suggests alternative methods are necessary.
  • For example, a young scholar may believe the ACT is the only route to college admittance even when he’s scoring a 16 out of 36with guided instruction– which is an unacceptable score for any undergraduate institution.
  • In actuality, the new “overhauled” SAT is usually the better test generally for one reason: more time per question.
  • It’s imperative to switch gears if the ACT isn’t working and try something different!

Success Involves Many Avenues; When One Dead Ends, Follow Another

  • Take both the SAT and ACT to start.
  • Prep for the test with the higher score- See the Study Point Score Conversion Chart here
  • If you’re scoring comparably or at roughly the same level on both, analyze which areas you’re scoring better or worse in; if the science section of the ACT is dragging you down, the ACT may not be your test.
  • If you are a slower reader, the ACT is definitely not your test!
  • If you’re scoring poorly on both, even with test prep, consider other options:
  1. Retake certain high school courses that you didn’t pass the first time around to fortify your basic English and math skills.
  2. Consider community college; if you perform well in your classes, you can save a boatload of cash and skip both ACT and SAT to transfer to a four-year.
  3. Don’t get stuck! Attempting the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is one definition of insanity! When it’s time, move on.

To achieve college acceptance, you must first accept yourself. Unless you’re a gifted test-taker to begin with, the ACT will assuredly be a brutal, if not impossible journey.

If the ACT isn’t working, there are better choices that will reveal themselves to you if you’re mind is open and you adapt your behavior. Break some “bad habits;” turn left instead of right this time- try the SAT or junior college- or reverse course altogether and shore up basic skills before moving forward.

You will arrive at the gates of the university you were meant to attend when you finally step foot on the right path!

What about Summer? 5 Benefits of the New Summer SAT

Summer SAT, SAT prep, college readiness, college planning, tutoring, teaching, higher education

What about Summer?

Thinking about a blissful summer sojourn, not the summer SAT? Perhaps a six week program with Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the Young Writer’s Camp at UCSD, playing some Park and Rec club soccer or tennis, jet setting around the globe, or just gaming with friends next door?

Perhaps, we should reconsider the summer plan, or at the very least, make some room in the schedule; the College Board is finally offering the golden ticket- an opportunity to tackle the SAT over the summer for the first time!

First, let’s put it on the calendar, August 26th, 2017! More importantly, let’s list why summer preparation is better than the alternative, cramming it into an already inundated and stressful school year.

5 Benefits of the Summer SAT and Test Prep

  1. Minimize Test Prep’s Competition, with..
  • Sports and athletics
  • AP courses and exams
  • Rigorous academics
  • Clubs and extracurricular activities
  1. Increase Preparation, Decrease Stress
  • Schedule routine practice 3-4 times per week
  • Meet with a qualified Test Prep instructor as needed
  • Simulate the exam and take full practice tests
  • Take some time out- meditate, hike or nap. It is summer after all!
  1. Focus on College Preparation as a Whole
  • Target your “match” and “reach” college prospects
  • Align your target exam score with your target universities
  • Think scholarships: Higher SAT scores and GPA’s = more funding!
  • Create or research college planning checklists, which include testing
  1. Use the SAT Essay as a College Writing Resource, because it requires
  • reading comprehension and analysis
  • citing evidence and providing relevant commentary
  • effective grammar usage and word choice
  • classic essay organization and structure
  • quality revision and editing
  1. Time- There’s so much more of it!
  • Drag your books to the beach or pack em’ in your suitcase
  • Haul them out on work breaks or while riding the bus
  • If you have no other homework, summer is the time to focus!

Spare just some of that precious summer time; chances are, it’ll be harder to master the SAT during the school year with one more high stakes ball to juggle, especially as an 11th grader. Avoid amplifying the school year’s nail biting pressure by attempting a summer test prep program. Whether it’s self-study, light weight tutoring or a comprehensive curriculum, you’ll likely be better off for it!

In It to Win It: Long-term Test Prep

test prep, tutoring, college, higher education, college admissionsClearly, parents want the best for their children. Unfortunately, many hope for “quick fixes” and short term solutions to catapult their student into test taking stardom. As the college admission season quickly closes in on our high school juniors, many parents still wait to the last minute to plan for crucial college entrance exams. According to Top Universities, “While some students do thrive on last-minute ‘cramming,’ its widely accepted for most of us, this not the best way to approach an exam.” As a test prep provider, I frequently receive requests from parents whose students “just need to score high enough for an athletics scholarship” or reach eligibility for their “dream” engineering college like Harvey Mudd; “Can you get my kid to a perfect score over a weekend? How about in a month?” Unfortunately, unless your student is already nearing his or her ideal score, the answer is a blunt “no.” The reality is that genuine progress requires patience, time and hard work.

In most cases, students are not natural born standardized test takers. In fact, many who need additional help require prolonged investment in personalized instruction, resources, and practice. The SAT and ACT, for instance, are not straightforward exams; they are designed to trick, fool and “weed out” university hopefuls from the competitive pool of potential applicants. College entrance exams are brutal, cruel, and purposefully deceitful, so if students are not already academically strong, they will not meet the necessary score unless they have access to substantial test preparation.

Six Successful Test Prep Tips

1.Avoid large classes through major test prep companies and universities. These are expensive and ineffective, particularly since they only offer  “cookie cutter,” “one size fits all” approaches. The vast majority of attendees walk away with more questions and fewer answers.

2. Go with one-on-one instruction. Find your local highly rated entrepreneurial instructor; they generally offer better service and results at a lower cost. Google, Thumbtack and Yelp are all good places to start!

3. Invest in two to six months of exam preparation in advance of the target test. Meet with an experienced instructor or tutor, ideally a credentialed teacher who can actually teach, once or twice per week for one to two hours. Lessons should be consistent or students won’t retain new content and strategy.

4. Prioritize exam preparation. Its high stakes, so lets act like it. Too often, other interests get in the way. Sports, homework, part-time jobs or even travel often supersede test prep. If these don’t allow for regular practice and meetings with your instructor, something has to change or the score won’t!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice. In addition to instruction, students must take the initiative. Ideally, practice should happen daily, but three times a week is sufficient in most cases. Check out Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT 2017: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions for independent practice

6. Kindly, but firmly hold your students accountable. “No pain, no gain!” Having worked with teens for over 18 years, excuses arise. Although some are legitimate of course, others are deployed to merely “get out” of doing the work, which is imperative for improvement!

For most students, getting results is far from easy. Dedication on the part of students, parents and teachers must be present to ensure exam day success.

 Stay tuned for the next installment of free college admissions tips!

3 Reasons: Why Rapid Educational Changes Are Unlikely

Educational, K-12, Betsy DeVos, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, Tutoring, Test Prep, College AdmissionsWhile many Americans vocalize optimism for the advancement of voucher programs and Charter Schools under the potential Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, or express fear of her lack of educational experience and diminished advocacy of public schools, the ultimate authority of public education will continue to reside with local control agencies and school districts themselves. According to FindLaw, “The city or district level school board, or “Local Education Agencies” (LEA), usually has the greatest authority to create, implement, and enforce educational policy.” Additionally, the 2015 bipartisan supported bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ensures “a significant transfer of power over education policy away from the federal government to states and school districts” according to US News’ analysis, “Education Shifts to the States.”

So whether parents are elated with or dismayed by DeVos’ cabinet candidacy, expectations that the nation will experience a sudden massive overhaul in K-12 education are unlikely.

Here’s why:

  1. Teacher’s Unions: Love em’ or hate em’, they exist throughout the nation, particularly in California, and they are mighty. According journalist Mario Koran’s November 2016 article, “Teachers’ Unions Maintain Grip on County, San Diego Unified School Boards” in the independent publication Voice of San Diego, “Despite unprecedented spending from a group backing charters schools, the two major education boards in San Diego County will remain filled overwhelmingly with union-backed politicians.”
  1. Common Core: While the implementation of Common Core standards has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on older students, the standards themselves and corresponding teaching methods are arguably preferable to the “teaching to the test” motto of the former No Child Left Behind policy, a test that inadequately prepared students for university entrance and attrition. Additionally, Common Core skills have already been readily adopted by the nation’s top college entrance testing service, the College Board’s SAT as well as strongly supported by universities as many colleges have voiced concern about the ill-preparedness of many freshmen college applicants.
  1. Universities: “Colleges report receiving record numbers of applications that push up their selectivity numbers and their rankings on lists of top colleges — and increase the anxiety for students.” Competition is fierce, and while many Charter Schools and Private Schools are successful in helping students achieve university success, so are many public schools. For example, the top 10 ranking high schools in California are a mixture of public district and charter schools according to US News; no private schools make the cut. In fact, San Diego’s own Canyon Crest Academy, a public district school, ranks at an outstanding number five. Additionally, public schools offer more options in terms of athletics, the arts, electives and specialized programs than do Charter and Private Schools. On the other hand, charters boast of higher test scores and privates maintain smaller student populations, and in certain, but increasingly rare circumstances, smaller class sizes.

Most importantly, regardless of school type, top-tier colleges will select undergraduate candidates from more competitive, higher ranking high schools, be they public, charter or private. Perhaps there are many issues of concern in 2017, but an immediate educational upheaval may not be one of them. The debate about which schools will receive greater educational funding or the effectiveness of a voucher system will rage on, and may or may not play out depending upon state and local education agency decisions. 

One objective is certain- providing the most comprehensive, college and career readiness education possible for the greatest number of students as well as protecting our effective teachers who work strenuously long hours in the service of their students are tantamount.

DeVos or no DeVos, educators, schools, districts, parents and students can band together to make the best choices for themselves at the local level, at least for now.

Against All Odds- An Effective SAT Essay Introductory Paragraph

#testpreparation #highschool #writing #teaching #tutoring

Hawk Educational Solutions 2016 SAT Essay

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, the No Child Left Behind approach to education reigned for over a decade, “relying too heavily on standardized tests” according to many critics. One of the policy’s greatest deficits was the abandonment of writing curricula throughout the nation’s districts, charter schools, and other Local Education Agencies in order to focus on “teaching to the tests,” all of which were multiple choice. Unfortunately, the 21st century appears to demand effective writing skills, which are trending once again and in high demand, not only by the College Board, the engineers of the SAT, but also by college professors, universities and employers.

Furthermore, given the excruciating competition of college admissions, particularly with respect to top performing Ivy Leagues and the University of California system, 2016 SAT qualifying scores range between 1400-1600 and a formidable score on the new 2016 SAT essay of 7-8 is a must!

So, how can parents, teachers, and students themselves prepare for the SAT essay after the prolonged absence of sufficient public school writing programs?

Familiarize yourself with the SAT Essay directions prior to taking the exam.

Know that the prompt; it will always be the same, except the author and passage will always be unique.

As you read the passage below, consider how Dr. King uses

 

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

 

Practice reading various test released essay passages, annotating and constructing a brief outline of quotes for a five paragraph analysis.

Craft your introductory paragraph. Let’s use  Dr. Martin Luther King’s, “Beyond Vietnam,”  speech as an example to illustrate how to compose an impressive, emotionally potent introductory paragraph:

I. “Hook” the reader:

  • Poignant observation
  • Rhetorical Question
  • Reference to the Constitution
  • Personal anecdote
  • Quote from the passage
  • Combination of all of the above

 

Example Has the U.S. consistently upheld the civil liberties of every American citizen? Some might question the United States’ credibility as the enforcer of democratic ideals around the world when it has not always defended the Constitutional rights on its own citizens at home.

II. Present a relevant summary of the author’s argument with:

 

  • Title, author and genre (TAG)
  • Powerful quotes from the passage

 

Example: In his 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. argues that the United States, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” has undeniably failed many of its civilians, particularly the poor and African American communities. Furthermore, he claims that such hypocrisy has “crippled” our nation’s ethical and literal health.

III. Establish your thesis:

 

  • Use your outline
  • Answer the SAT Essay Prompt: “Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust.”
  • Use unique verbs- replace uses with maneuvers, applies adopts, employs, etc.

 

Example: Dr. King maneuvers expert emotional appeal or style, and reasoning to build his argument that the US government’s involvement in the Vietnam War is an unjust constitutional violation which Americans must ardently “attack” with free speech to promote a healthy and free society.

Stay tuned for more information about how to build an effective SAT essay outline!

 

The Big, the Bad- The Monolithic Test Prep Class

IMG_1692The False Promises

Out of panic and pressure that their children will be “left behind” during the college admissions process, families often fall victim to the mega-test prep firm’s large class instructional package “deals.” Universities and private companies alike employ 100’s of instructors who guarantee “that students scoring in the 500’s will get in the 750 range,” according to Derek Briggs, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Education as quoted in the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Do SAT Prep Courses Help Test Takers?”

Simply put, there are no studies that support such promises, particularly in large class settings of novice test takers.

The Rough Reality

Rest assured, high performers excel in any environment. On the other hand, the vast majority of learners require skill-based teaching in addition to “one size fits all” test prep strategies. The College Success Network suggests that large class settings of over eight students do not yield the miraculous results universities and private test prep companies advertise:

With large group classes, students are exposed to test-taking tips and take multiple practice tests, but rarely have the opportunity for specific feedback or one-to-one coaching on areas of weakness.

Instructors not only lack the time to address individual needs in a large class, but they are also ill-equipped to provide fundamental grammar, reading comprehension, writing and math skills instruction that so many college hopefuls require.

The Colossal Cost

Unfortunately, the best prices these programs offer are large class strategy cram sessions that cost upwards of a $1,500 according to a New York Times 2014 study. In addition to the extravagant expense, students often leave more “deadlocked” than they were when they arrived; their confidence has been proverbially “shot” since their scores stagnate, and in some cases, drop because the courses fail to teach actual skills.

How would I know? Ironically, after all of the money they’ve spent, I host a gamut of one-on-one and small group test prep students who hire me after they’ve endured these torturous programs, having escaped with little else than a deflated sense of dignity.

Who These Companies Are

Generally, the owners establish successful businesses through expensive and enhanced marketing and highlight the success of their top test-takers.

Instructors are hired on the basis of their test score performance, not on their ability to deliver or explain difficult content to high school learners. Author Jared Wells explains in his LearnSpeed article, The Evolving Business of Tutoring and Test Preparation,” that test prep instructors are ultimately not prepared or skillful teachers.

By default, and without proper training and support, well intentioned instructors explain what the student fails to understand…The problem is that this model largely does not solve the underlying cause of why students struggle in the first place.

In a nutshell, large test prep companies that offer large class test prep demonstrate a good business model, rarely a quality education.

Think “Smaller”

At the major firm, expect one-on-one coaching to cost between $100 and $200 per hour! While the tutors are compensated very little, the bulk of the “tuition” pays the company’s overhead, executives and shareholders.

So how can families access qualified and affordable one-on-one and small class (ideally 3-5 students per group) teachers who happen to offer test prep services?

1.Research (google) Sole Proprietors and Small Businesses and their websites. Explore the following advertising forums:

2. Select credentialed and experienced teachers with references.

  • Check their references- How many points did their student’s score increase? What skills did their student acquire?
  • Did they actually learn the grammar rule or just another ineffective strategy?

3. Invest in one-on-one or small group lessons to ensure that all of your student’s needs are addressed on every section of the test, including the essay.

Read It Without Weeping: 3 Essentials for the SAT’s Passage-Based Q’s

How many of us loath the stress and pressure of an ever-changing college entrance exam, one that is still necessary for admission into the U.S.’s most prestigious universities, and yet, may or may not determine one’s success in college or life?

Regardless of our antipathy toward the exam, a high score on this daunting test of 2100 or higher “unlocks doors” to veritable success during the college application process. For instance, the average combined SAT score for incoming freshman at UCLA in 2012 was between 2100 and 2200 out of a possible 2400 in combination with a 4.5 GPA or higher. Believe it or not, a score of 2180 demonstrates no more than a handful of mistakes. Until universities are able to dislodge the SAT’s powerful legacy throughout America’s college admission’s history, the SAT is here to stay.

As it is now (changes are due next year), the exam has three primary categories that are segmented into 10 timed sections including an essay: the Critical Reading, Writing, and Math sections.

The passage-based questions within the Critical Reading category present perilous traps for even the advanced reader; therefore, the consistent application of strategy is necessary to achieve as close to an 800 as possible in this section.

The Passage-based Unlocked

1. Questions First- Answers Last

Before reading the passage:

  • Circle only the key works in the question- annotation is necessary!
  • If a line number, word, or phrase is referenced in the question, immediately move to the passage and circle, underline or annotate only the word or lines indicated by the question.
  • If a general question such as the excerpt’s main idea, author’s tone, or purpose is asked, make a written note somewhere at the top of the passage.
  • Avoid reading answer choices before reading the passage– a preview of the incorrect answers may confuse the test taker as he or she reads the passage.

2. Read with the Questions in Mind

Once the questions have been annotated:

  • Be aware of the general idea and the questions you’ve read.
  • Avoid any prior knowledge– stay focused on the author’s perspective of the topic, not any other. The SAT does not consider the test taker’s outside knowledge or opinion, but only that of the author or those of other persons presented in the passage.

3. Process of Elimination is Paramount!

Many test takers who are advanced readers believe they will do well on this section because they achieve high scores in their honors or AP English courses. Unfortunately, the SAT is designed to deceive us all; consequently, consistent strategy is necessary.

  • Avoid selecting an answer without eliminating other answer choices– in many cases, a question will provide two to three choices that may work, but only one is “SAT correct.”
  • Systematically cross out each letter of a wrong answer choice for every question in the test booklet.
  • Eliminate as many as possible.
  • Refer back to the passage if left with two to three choices.
  • Eliminate an additional one to two choices.
  • Hopefully, only the correct choice stands tall above the rest!

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