Posts Tagged ‘SAT’

Avoiding the Summer Daze: Rising Seniors Use Your Summer Wisely

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Now that the school year is wrapping up (or has already been wrapped up), it is easy to just kick back, relax, and allow half the summer to go by without doing anything to get your self ready for college.  The fall of senior year can be a very stressful time, so I recommend you use the summer to get a jump on your college applications.  Here is a list of things that you need to get done this summer.

  • Finalize Your College List
    —Narrow list down to 8 to 10 schools
    —Revisit your original criteria, has anything changed?
    —Check application requirements at your list of schools
    —Have you met testing requirements?
    —Do you have teachers lined up for letters of recommendation?
    —When are the deadlines?
  • Visit Colleges Again
    —This will help you narrow down the list and come up with your own ranking of the schools
    —Demonstrated interest is becoming more important in the admission process. This is one of the best ways to show interest.
    —If possible, interview when on campus.
  • Prepare for Fall Standardized Tests
    Take practice SAT or ACT tests
    Review performance results from your spring tests, and study up on areas where you are weak
    Consider tutoring, a course, or a book to help you improve
  • Start Your Applications!
    —The Common Application accounts open on August 1, but you can print a draft and get started earlier
    —Write a resume
    —Start your essay!
    —The Common Application has reinstated the 500 word limit on the long essay.
    Work on the Common Application short answer
    Make certain you know your school’s policy regarding transcript requests
  • Develop a List of Financial Aid Deadlines
    —When are the filing deadlines?
    —What forms are required?
    —Do you have a financial safety school?

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Juniors, Don’t Wait Till Senior Year for the College Onslaught

Monday, February 14th, 2011

It is hard to believe, but we are already in the middle of February.  Most college admission officers will tell juniors that from now on they should be completely focused on college.  But, what does that mean?  First, you need to prepare for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, and SAT II if required by target colleges).  Ideally you would have all standardized tests completed by the end of junior year, so you can devote the summer to drafting your essays and completing applications. 

Second, continue to compile a transcript with rigorous courses and participate in meaningful activities.  The most important piece of the college admission puzzle is your transcript.  So, keep getting good grades and make sure to choose your classes wisely for next year.  Colleges do not want to see you taking it easy in your senior year.  In fact, a recent study corroborated what guidance counselors have been telling students for years: taking harder classes improves your chances of getting in more than improving your grades or your SAT/ACT scores. 

Third, visit target colleges to create “demonstrated interest” and learn about schools.  This is invaluable.  You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first, so you shouldn’t attend a college without thoroughly evaluating it.  In additon to visiting the campus to show demonstrated interest, you can also find local college fairs that the colleges youa re interested in will be attending.  The NACAC college fairs are great, as you get a large number of colleges in one place, and typically they are attended by members of the college’s admission staff and not just local alumni recruiters.

Finally, as we near the end of the year start to approach teachers who know you best to request letters of recommendation. If they seem excited, get contact information so you can send the recommendation forms when they become available in July.

Buckle up, you are in for a wild ride.  But, if you take the time to plan carefully, you will have a number of great options and it will all be worth it in the end.

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SAT or ACT: Which One Should I Take?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

The SAT and the ACT both essentially serve the same purpose: to give colleges a means of comparing students from vastly different schools, regions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. This is very important when trying to decide between, say, a poor student at a small, rural Midwestern school, and a wealthy student at a large, New England boarding school. They may both have a 3.8 GPA and plenty of extracurriculars, but it is difficult to tell which is more “qualified” for the intense academic experience of college, so dissimilar are the circumstances in which they succeeded. In situations like these the colleges will turn to the standardized test, which, by virtue of being standardized, acts as an equalizer of the two very different students. If the rural student scores much lower than the boarder, then admissions officers are likely to assume that the rural school is not a very intense one and perhaps the student will be unprepared for their college. On the other hand, if the rural student scores much higher than the private school student, then the college will assume that he is the real deal and that perhaps the New Englander is a hard worker but not as bright as they thought. This may sound unfair, and it is an imperfect system, but it’s what the colleges have to work with.

Some people may be under the impression that colleges on the East and West coasts require the SAT, while those in the middle of the country require the ACT. Although that situation may have prevailed for decades, it is not true today. Most colleges now require either the SAT or the ACT, with no preference given to either. (In a curious loophole, many selective colleges that require both the SAT I and also two or three SAT II subject tests will allow an applicant to submit the ACT in place of all four of the SAT I and SAT II tests. That doesn’t seem quite fair, but it’s a situation you should consider taking advantage of.) The choice, therefore, is yours, and you should be sure to submit your best test score possible, whether it be from the SAT or ACT.

So which one should you take, the SAT or the ACT? Before we attempt to answer that question, it is important to understand some of the differences between the two tests. (For a detailed and enlightening history of standardized testing in America, see Nicholas Lemann’s The Big Test, from which the following details were taken.) The SAT began in New England as an aptitude test for identifying high-caliber minds in order to give them college scholarships; the ACT, created in response to the SAT, began in Iowa as an achievement test for the “guidance and placement of the many” average, primarily public school students. We can, then, glibly say that the one has elitist origins, while the other’s roots are democratic. This generalization is not necessarily true today, for the present tests are very different than they once were.

What are the two tests like now? As you may have heard, the ETS (Educational Testing Service, the organization that administers the SAT) has recently overhauled the SAT, getting rid of analogy questions and Quantitative Comparisons and adding several higher math concepts and an entire writing section complete with a timed essay so that the new perfect score is not 1600 but 2400. These changes have brought the SAT and ACT closer together, as the ACT has had a writing section for a long time. The SAT currently consists of Critical Reading, Math, and Writing sections, while the ACT includes English, Math, Reading, and Science, with an optional timed essay. The Science section is the major difference in substance between the two tests. In it, you are presented with experimental results in the form of tables, charts, and graphs, and are asked to answer questions about the data and about hypothetical situations such as, “In Experiment 1, if the scientist had added nitric acid with a concentration of 50 ppm to a sample of marble with a surface area of 24 sq. cm, approximately how much marble would have been lost after 24 hours?” Finally, while your SAT score is broken up into three scores of 800, the ACT gives you a score out of 36 for each of the four sections, with your composite score simply being the average of the four and rounded to the nearest whole number. The way that these scores are computed is different; the SAT takes ¼ point off of your raw score for each question you attempt but get wrong, whereas the ACT only credits you with questions you get right. That is, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT but there is on the SAT. (So when you take the ACT never leave a question unanswered!)

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