Tag Archives: college application

How will the SAT change?

6 Mar


The College Board announced March 5 that it will be making changes to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)–the first changes since 2005.

The changes seem to be in response to two forces — states’ adoption of the Common Core and the rising popularity of the ACT, which for the first time in the last year was taken by more students than was the SAT.

The changes will not take place until the spring 2016 SAT, but here’s a summary of what’s ahead for current high school freshmen and younger students:

1. No mandatory essay: Like the ACT, the essay will be optional. That means that the overall score will be 1600 (800 for math, 800 for critical reading), instead of 2400. A separate score will be provided if students take the essay. This will make the exam three hours long instead of three hours and 45 minutes. (Those who do the essay will have 50 additional minutes.)

2. No scoring penalty: Students will not be penalized for wrong answers. That means that students should bubble all answers instead of leaving any blank that they were not able to finish.

3. Vocabulary changes: Students will not be tested on obscure words; instead, the test will focus on words that are “widely used in college and career” such as analysis and synthesize.

4. Limited calculator: The use of a calculator will be limited to only certain portions of the math section.

5. Digital option: The SAT will be available in paper and digital forms.

6. Historical document: Each critical reading section will have one passage from an American founding document, such as The Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address.

One nice arrangement the College Board has set up is that it will offer a free SAT prep program online through Khan Academy. The College Board has received criticism over the past that wealthy students had an advantage over others because of their ability to pay for costly SAT prep programs that can cost a thousand dollars or more.

Are these changes good? Time will tell! In any case, colleges have indicated that the best indicator of college success has been a student’s success in high school, so it is important to take the most challenging classes your high school offers and then do your best in those classes.

The College Board will post the first sample SAT test on April 16. More information is available on the College Board website: www.collegeboard.org.

Maximize your college fair experience

17 Oct

college fair

You can get a lot of bang for your zero-cost buck by attending a College Fair. These events, held typically in the fall and spring around the country bring college recruiters to cities to talk with prospective students and their parents. If you do not have the time or money to travel all over the country or even just your own state, you can get some pertinent information in a short couple of hours.

You can find one in your area by talking to your high school counselor. Some of the major ones are sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and its fairs are on the following schedule: http://www.nacacnet.org/college-fairs/students-parents/Pages/default.aspx. An organization on the West Coast that sponsors college fairs is the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC), and the next one of those fairs will be held at the University of Nevada, Reno, on Sunday, Nov. 3, from 12 to 4 p.m. Students should register in advance to save time at the door for this FREE event:http://www.wacaccollegefair.com. Typically, as many as 200 or more colleges attend these events — and many of my former students found their dream college at one of those fairs.

As you search for these college fairs in your area, make sure that as you register online, that you are registering as a STUDENT and not a college rep. These are most always FREE events, so if the online form asks for payment . . . oops, you’ve got the wrong form!

Often these college reps are from the prospective students or outreach office at their university. However, sometimes you might find that admissions officers and perhaps even the head admissions counselor is standing right in front of you. You do not need to dress in business attire, but you will want to look sharp.

To make the most of these events, engage with the college representatives. As I’ve taken students to college fairs over many years, I give them a pep talk before we enter the event, saying something silly like this: “You’re happy! You’re smart! You’re friendly!” That gets a smile on their faces and helps them understand that they should be the one most proactive about getting the most from the experience.

Do the following:

1. Smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m John Jones, and I’m a student from Littletown.”

2. Explain what kind of college program you’re interested in. “I’m interested in mechanical engineering. Can you tell me something about your program?”

3. Engage in conversation about those subjects important to you. Here are some other great questions to ask:

  • “How would you characterize the students at your university?”
  • “What do students like most about the college?” “What do they like the least?”
  • “Is the faculty accessible to students other than the traditional office hours?”
  • “Are any departments being cut back or discontinued? If so, why?”
  • “What percentage of students receive merit-based financial aid? And what percentage of students receive need-based financial aid?”

You and your parents might want to make a list of important questions before you attend the college fair — ones that are most important to you.

I coach my students to ask each college rep at least a couple questions. One that can often catch a rep off-guard is “Do you like your job?” You can find out the true answer to that in their face — and that can say volumes about a school, too! If the rep was a student at that college, ask that person to relate some of their best and worst experiences.

Pick up any and all of the freebies: brochures, flyers, pens, and other trinkets. If you can’t use them, your friends and even your high school counselor probably can.


How to Rock the SAT

16 Sep

Reach for success by studying hard for the SAT and/or ACT.

Reach for success by studying hard for the SAT and/or ACT.

As budgets grow tighter and as students amp up the rigor of their high school schedules, SAT (and ACT) scores may become even more important to admissions officers. As a high school teacher and academic advisor, I am often dismayed when I hear that my students didn’t even look at test prep questions until the night before they took the exam.

Whenever they come see me for counsel about these tests, I show them the test prep books I have available for them to use. In fact, as part of my AP English summer reading requirements, they have to do two complete SAT exams. This year another teacher and I have been offering an SAT workshop on September Saturdays.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be well prepared for these tests. Even if a college doesn’t put much emphasis on the results for ADMISSION, they are critical for initial course placement in math and English and for consideration for scholarships. Students literally can make money by doing well on these tests.

When our small high school had a National Merit Scholar a couple years back (the only one in our northeast corner of the state, by the way), I asked Emily how she did so well on the PSAT (which qualifies juniors for that honor). This was her sole piece of advice:

Do the SAT Question of the Day, which she did every day for several years.

That was all what she did, she said. Admittedly, Emily is brilliant and learns quickly. But practicing those questions gave her a sense for the various kinds of questions that will be asked. Nothing was a surprise for her. Yes, the math numbers change . . . but the basic problems will be same, as will the critical reading questions and essay prompts. You can get those daily questions to you by going to http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/.

Here’s some more advice for the rest of us who are less brilliant:

  • Take full tests in a timed setting. (Emily had forgotten that her AP English teacher made her do this two summers in a row!) It’s important to get a sense of the pacing of the exam, so students have time to finish the exam. You can buy prep books via the same College Board webpage . . . or buy your own at a local bookstore or Amazon. I recommend the book published by the CB. Makes sense, right, since those folks create the test?
  • If you’re not a senior, take the PSAT every year — and even start in junior high. High schools are doing signups right now for the Oct. 17 (or Oct. 20) test. The cost is minimal. See your school counselor to sign up. Plus, you’ll get the actual test back . . . as well as invaluable feedback about your performance.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Figure out why the correct answer is the correct answer.
  • Get tutoring. I got some tutoring help for my oldest child after her first SAT test. She improved more than 100 points in the math section alone, which helped get additional scholarship money. We paid an adult engineering student for two hours of tutoring. Our daughter had forgotten some geometry skills, so the tutoring helped immensely.
  • If your school does not have an SAT prep course, look into one on your own. One is available from College Board; others are available, too.
  • Buy SAT words flashcards and use them. Build your vocabulary.
  • Practice many of those SAT essays. Get feedback from your English teacher on your writing. Some college admissions departments feel that the writing portion of the SAT is most indicative of a student’s potential. I would agree: writing requires synthesis, an important skill for success in college.

Remember to take your calculator, many sharpened pencils, and picture I.D. (now also required when you REGISTER online). Be early at your test site, and wear warm, comfortable clothes.

My last piece of advice is that set times be scheduled for SAT practice of the full exams, such as Saturday mornings. Do the daily questions during the week, then take the full tests on Saturdays in a timed setting. Go over your wrong answers, and get help if you do not understand any.

Seniors typically must take the SAT (or ACT) by December of their senior year. You can still late register for the November exam, and now is the window of opportunity to sign up for the December tests. (The ACT web address is http://www.actstudent.org.)