Posts tagged ‘SAT’

March 21, 2014

Is money the most important factor in being ready for college?

by Grace

Money certainly is important.


Because whatever your academic credentials are, it’s good to be rich.

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March 7, 2014

What is the most important secret for a SAT ‘Perfect Score’?

by Grace

20140304.COCPerfectScoreProject1The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by my friend Debbie Stier is described as “one of the most compulsively readable guides to SAT test prep ever”.

As it climbs the charts in popularity, this book is attracting praise as “a toolbox of fresh tips”, as well as some criticism that it is the work of a “hyperprotective, status-seeking” helicopter mom.  The criticism seems to stem mainly from some selective editing in the book’s promotion, and clarification is provided over at Kitchen Table Math.  While there’s no doubt that Debbie is a very involved parent, I can attest that she does not fit the image of an overbearing, pushy mother.  In fact, she has helped me in gaining better insight into the type of supportive parenting that is instrumental in launching children to a satisfying and independent adult life.

The revamped SAT may change some details on the best ways to prepare for the test, but I believe that one of Debbie’s core messages will endure:

… if you have a solid foundation, test prep, great test prep works. if you don’t have a solid foundation, no amount of test prep can help you.


March 6, 2014

SAT will change to look more like the ACT

by Grace

SAT changes that will take effect in 2016 were announced yesterday by College Board president David Coleman.  Changes include an optional essay and a return to the 1600-point scale.

The non-essay part of the new exam will be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

A summary of changes is provided by the New York Times:

• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

• The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze how its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

• The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

• The overall scoring will return to the old 1600 scales, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

• Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Khan Academy will offer free test preparation materials online.

During the transition more students will take the ACT.
As the parent of a teenager, I foresee more students shifting their focus to the ACT until after the new SAT has been in use for a couple of years.  That trend is already in place, and few students will want to rely on the new SAT as the sole test to use in the college application process.

Related:  SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’ (Cost of College)

February 13, 2014

Paying for SAT tests can be the first financial hurdle in affording college

by Grace

The cost of SAT and AP tests can easily amount to hundreds of dollars, but low-income students may be eligible for fee waivers.

A high school senior complains about the high costs of College Board tests.

With college-admission deadlines quickly approaching, my debt to the College Board keeps growing. Two SAT tests, five subject tests and six Advanced Placement (AP) tests later, I am ready to report my scores through the College Board website to the 10 colleges to which I am applying. On top of the total $102 I paid to take the SAT, $114 for the subject tests, and $534 for the AP tests, the College Board now demands $11.25 for each electronic submission of the test scores to the schools on my list.

That makes a total of $750, including the $100-plus needed for electronic scores submission.  Are these fees too high? 

The College Board should behave more like the nonprofit it claims to be. Lowering the cost of the SAT would encourage more students whose parents make modest incomes to retake the test and compete against students from higher income households who often take the test upward of four times, aiming for higher scores. (I took the test twice.)

The total cost of applying of applying to college can easily reach thousands of dollars, creating a strain for many low- and middle-income families.  On the other hand, doing well on an AP test can generate college credit for a student, presenting a substantial value when compared to the typical cost of college tuition.

The College Board offers fee waivers for lower-income students who meet their criteria.

Related:  A recommended schedule for taking the SAT, ACT, and AP tests (Cost of College)

October 17, 2013

Trend of high school grades compared to SAT scores

by Grace

Over the long term, average high school grades have gone up while SAT scores have “remained relatively unchanged”.

Average SAT scores going back to 1952, courtesy of Erik Jacobsen, also known as Erik the Red:



The solid circles and triangles represent scores calculated on the recentered scale.

In April 1995, the College Board recentered the score scales for all tests in the SAT Program to reflect the contemporary test-taking population. Recentering reestablished the average score for a study group of 1990 seniors at about 500—the midpoint of the 200-to-800 scale—allowing students, schools, and colleges to more easily interpret their scores in relation to those of a similar group of college-bound seniors.

By 1995, average SAT scores had drifted downward before recentering brought them back up.


The effect of recentering was to raise SAT scores for almost all tests taken before 1995.  For example, a 540 verbal score from pre-1995 is equivalent to a 610 by today’s standards.  The impact of recentering was smaller for math, with a pre-1995 math score of 540 translating to 560 today.  All scores can be converted by using the CollegeBoard table.

(A comprehensive history of the SAT and ACT tests going back to the late 1800s is also provided by Erik the Red.)

What about high school grades?  Have they also declined over time?  No, in fact they have risen, especially for students with lower standardized test scores.

…  Studies from ACT and College Board, the companies that run the two preeminent college-entrance exams, show GPAs increased while scores on the standardized ACT and SAT did not, a phenomenon they say likely indicates inflation. ACT estimates the average GPA inflation was about .25 on a scale of 4.0 between 1991 and 2003, though the 2005 study’s authors believe even that number understates the actual amount of grade inflation. Whether from hard work or grade inflation, GPAs grew the most for students with lower standardized test scores, and the least for those with higher scores on the SAT or ACT.


Another source indicates evidence of high school grade inflation over the long term.

Camara, Kimmel, Scheuneman, and Sawtell (2003) investigated grade inflation by using self-reported grade data and SAT scores for eight cohorts of college-bound students. The trend of average HSGPA over time was examined to investigate grade inflation. The authors found that 2002 high school grade point average “far exceeded” the grades students reported in 1976, whereas the SAT-V and SAT-M scores remained relatively unchanged.


October 11, 2013

SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’

by Grace

only 43 percent of SAT takers among this year’s freshmen are ready for the academic rigors of college studies.

College readiness is determined by meeting the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark score of 1550.

… The SAT Benchmark score of 1550 is associated with a 65 percent probability of obtaining a first-year GPA of B- or higher, which in turn is associated with a high likelihood of college success. Studies show that students who meet the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark are more likely to enroll in a four-year college, more likely to earn a higher first-year GPA, and more likely to earn a higher first-year GPA, and more likely to persist beyond the first year of college and complete their degree.

A consistent pattern over the last few years:


SAT math scores have stagnated over the last six years while reading scores have slipped.

Leaders and laggards among SAT test-takers

Students planning to major in some of the liberal arts and sciences performed significantly better than many who are aiming at more vocationally oriented degrees. Students wishing to major in multi/interdisciplinary studies earned the highest combined SAT score (1757), followed by the physical sciences (1673), English language and literature (1665), and social sciences (1661).

Significantly lagging behind were students hoping to major in three of the most popular fields — education (1442), psychology (1484), and business management and marketing (1497). Some of the lowest scores came from  students wanting to major in parks and recreation (1328) and construction trades (1274).


November 16, 2012

Grammar, whole language method, experimenting on students, Mad Libs, improving SAT scores

by Grace

Jessica Nevitt is a middle school English teacher who found her own whole-language education left her with a shaky understanding of grammar, a problem that became apparent when she took her SAT test.  Now she is trying to make grammar instruction more engaging for her students by using Mad Libs.

… Grammar is a subject that I have struggled mightily with, as a student and a teacher.

My elementary school experience made me a product of the “whole language” movement. My teachers emphasized the importance of reading and daily journal writing, which in turn, translated into a grasping of the English language, which was organic and boundless.

The rote memorization of grammar rules through charts and workbooks, a hallmark of more traditional forms of grammar education, was seen as archaic and even inhumane.

Because I was both an avid reader and writer, the whole-language approach allowed me to understand grammar in context, without forcing me to spend countless hours memorizing charts and squelching my creativity. Although this approach seemed successful, it was not until years later that I realized something was missing.

During my first attempt at the SAT exam, I nearly passed out when I encountered the then-recently developed “writing” section. The questions asked me to select, in multiple-choice style, the grammatically correct version of a given sentence.

I used my intuition, based on years of whole-language reading and writing experience, to guess at the correct answer, and managed to squeak by. But it became clear at that moment just how clueless I was about grammar.

When she found her own students struggling with “dangling modifiers, participial phrases, subjects and predicates”, she decided to supplement traditional grammar instruction with Mad Libs.

Mad Libs — the popular children’s word game that requires players to fill in verbs, adjectives or other words to tell a story — is perhaps the single greatest grammar tool I have used to engage my students.

With the first few Mad Libs that we completed, the students had fun coming up with “silly” words that fit the part of speech required. However, as they gained a greater mastery of the parts of speech, we began to discuss the nuances of word choice and the incorporation of more sophisticated adjectives and verbs. Thus, grammar became a gateway for the teaching of writing.

Ultimately, the end goal of this exercise is to have students create their own Mad Libs. Students will have to form their own sentences with blanks, leaving out a particular part of speech. By doing this, students will not only gain a better understanding of the different roles that words can play, but also gain an understanding of the relationship between the parts of speech and the structure of a sentence.

Apparently Mad Libs is quite popular as a teaching method, as I learned when I Googled mad libs grammar worksheets. I’m sure that teachers find it engaging, but I have a lingering doubt about its effectiveness.  While I realize that students must be engaged to learn, too often I hear educators stress the importance of “engaging” students over the importance of actual learning.  My sense of uneasiness is amplified when teachers like Nevitt write about how our school children are used as guinea pigs in the classroom.

I am lucky to work at a school that allows me to experiment with different methods of grammar education …

This reminds me.

Schools are not required to obtain permission from parents or undergo IRB review in order to conduct research using their students as human subjects.

All that being said, based on years of research the National Council of Teachers of English recommends against teaching grammar in isolation.

… ample evidence from 50 years of research has shown the teaching of grammar in isolation does not lead to improvement in students’ speaking and writing, and that in fact, it hinders development of students’ oral and written language….

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English affirm the position that the use of isolated grammar and usage exercises not supported by theory and research is a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing and that, in order to improve both of these, class time at all levels must be devoted to opportunities for meaningful listening, speaking, reading, and writing; and that NCTE urge the discontinuance of testing practices that encourage the teaching of grammar rather than English language arts instruction.

I think the optimal situation would be for schools to use lots of grade-level reading and writing along with explicit grammar instruction.  For most students, that combination would probably be the best.


Well, this was a rambling post covering several topics.  The main point I’d like to emphasize:

Learn grammar.  It will help your SAT score.

November 9, 2012

Even for holistic college admissions, test scores and grades are very important

by Grace

Even when admissions administrators at highly selective colleges stress their holistic admissions approach, don’t be fooled into thinking that extracurricular activities and a dynamic personality can overcome poor test scores and low grades.  From the 6 Biggest Lies in College Admissions:

“We look at the WHOLE student.”

A parent raises their hand in the information session at a very competitive college and says that Sally has low SAT scores or a less than perfect GPA, and wants to know if she will still be considered. The very diplomatic speaker says “We look at the whole student and all their accomplishments, not just GPA or SAT scores.” I have yet to see a kid with a 3.0 or 500s get into an Ivy League, Stanford, Duke or Georgetown unless they are a recruited athlete, just played Carnegie Hall, or their uncle donated the library on campus. Yet parents come into my office every month with the unrealistic hope that their child will now be in contention at a college that is ridiculously out of range. The truth is that colleges look at the whole student if your SATs and GPA make the cut, and the bar is VERY high at top colleges. Otherwise, you must have something AMAZINGLY compelling about you to propel you into consideration. Simply loving the guitar or horseback riding, probably isn’t going to do it.

Read about more Biggest Lies in College Admissions’ from GoLocalProv.

Related:  SAT scores matter, even for test-optional colleges (Cost of College)

October 3, 2012

Quick links – SAT scores continue to drop, affirmative action questioned, the downside of smartphones, more

by Grace

 ‘SAT reading scores hit a four-decade low’ (Washington Post)

Reading scores on the SAT for the high school class of 2012 reached a four-decade low, putting a punctuation mark on a gradual decline in the ability of college-bound teens to read passages and answer questions about sentence structure, vocabulary and meaning on the college entrance exam.

Many experts attribute the continued decline to record numbers of students taking the test, including about one-quarter from low-income backgrounds. There are many factors that can affect how well a student scores on the SAT, but few are as strongly correlated as family income.

Scores among every racial group except for those of Asian descent declined from 2006 levels. A majority of test takers — 57 percent — did not score high enough to indicate likely success in college, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the test.

—  Critics charge that there is a ‘Research War on Affirmative Action’ (Inside Higher Ed)

Several studies presented Friday at the Brookings Institution suggested that eliminating the consideration of race would not have as dramatic an effect on minority students as some believe, and that the beneficiaries of affirmative action may in fact achieve less academic success than they would otherwise. The studies were criticized by some present for being one-sided.

Criticism was aimed at two studies with controversial conclusions:

  1. There seems to be no “chilling effect” as a result of doing away with affirmative action.  The yield rate for minority students who were admitted based on “race-neutral” standards actually increased after the affirmative action ban took effect.
  2. Strong evidence was presented for the harmful effects of affirmative action “mismatch” -  the idea “that minority students who are admitted to better institutions because of affirmative action may end up with lower academic achievement as a result”.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing the affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin this month.

—  ACT now more popular than the SAT (

—  ‘Pack More in a Day By Matching Tasks To the Body’s Energy’ (WSJ)

A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks, from resolving conflicts to thinking creatively.

This is definitely true for me:

When it comes to doing cognitive work, for example, most adults perform best in the late morning, says Dr. Kay. As body temperature starts to rise just before awakening in the morning and continues to increase through midday, working memory, alertness and concentration gradually improve. Taking a warm morning shower can jump-start the process.

—  ‘Why It’s Bad That Smartphones Have Banished Boredom’ (Slashdot)

For one thing, we talk less with people while standing in line.

—  Women continue to earn the majority of advanced degrees, but this is apparently not viewed as a problem

Professor Mark J. Perry sees a problem.

… But don’t expect any concern about the fact that men have increasingly become the second sex in higher education.  The concern about gender imbalances will remain extremely selective, and will only focus on cases when women, not men, are underrepresented.

September 27, 2012

A glossary of high school standardized tests

by Grace

From Princeton Review, a glossary of standardized tests

AP (Advanced Placement): End of year, college level exams that are used for admissions purposes at just a few competitive schools (the Ivies, Berkeley, UCLA, USC), and to give students college credit at virtually every college and university. The scoring grid goes from 1-5 (higher is better), with 3 representing a passing score. These tests are traditionally given at a student’s high school during the second and third weeks of May. ACT: An alternative to the SAT. This test tends to reward students who are better in reading and grammar than they are in math. The ACT is the dominant college entrance exam in the Midwest and the South, and is scored on a 1-36 basis (the average score is about 21 or 22). The best time to take this test is in February or April of the junior year and/or September of the senior year. The practice ACT is called the PLAN. To sign up for the actual ACT, go to

PSAT: An excellent practice test for the SAT that has absolutely nothing to do with college admissions. Rather it serves the following functions. It is a strong window into your testing soul — if you do well on the PSAT, you are likely to do equally well on the SAT. Very good testers can achieve National Merit stardom, a scholarship contest that is predominantly linked to PSAT scores from the junior year of PSAT testing. Finally, when you sign up for the PSAT, you will be given the chance to join the Student Search Service through which your name will be released to colleges and you will receive ridiculous amounts of junk mail from colleges that both interest and horrify you. The PSAT is offered at your school during the second week or the third Saturday of October and you must sign up for this test through your high school. There is no essay or Algebra II on the PSAT and it’s about half the length of the SAT.

SAT: The grande dame of admissions tests and you know it all too well. The SAT is popular in the West and the East, and is scored from 600-2400. The average score is about a 1560, a good score is anything over 1800, and 2200+ is the number for the most ridiculously competitive schools. The SAT has Math, Reading and Writing sections, includes some Algebra II and an essay, and can be taken 2-3 times since colleges only count students’ highest scores. To sign up to take the actual SAT, you go to

Subject Tests: The Subject Tests are one hour, multiple choice exams that focus on individual subjects. Until recently, these used to be called the SAT II exams. Subject Tests are offered in Biology (Ecology or Molecular), Chemistry, Physics, World History, US History, Math Level I (not accepted by the UC but is accepted by private colleges), Math Level 2, English Literature and a host of foreign languages. These are of some significance in elite private college admissions, and can be submitted to UC schools to show strength in a subject where perhaps your grade is a little soft. If you are fluent in a foreign language, then take the Language with Listening Subject Test on the first Saturday in November. The test is offered in French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. You will need to bring a portable CD player with headphones with you to the testing center. You may take up to three Subject Tests in one day (although we wouldn’t recommend it – it’s pretty tiring), and each Subject Test is scored on the 200-800 scale. A good score is 600+, and a great score is anything over 700. To sign up to take the actual Subject Tests, you go to

Related:  A recommended schedule for taking the SAT, ACT, and AP tests (Cost of College)


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