Congratulations Class of 2018!

Congratulations to the class of 2018!

In the last two years, More Than A Teacher worked with over 2,000 students from this year’s senior class.

We are so proud of each of them and excited to hear what they are going on to do next. A special congratulations and thank you to the graduates who shared their success stories and let us know about their plans!

Aaron R. – University of Texas Arlington, Scholarship Recipient
Abby S. – Tufts University
Alan J. – Austin College, $100,000 Scholarship
Alex S. – Texas A&M
Cheryl C. – Texas A&M, Visualization
Christopher L. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas Dallas, Scholarship Recipient
Cole T. – Ole Miss
Cooper B. – University of AK, Honors School of Business
Corinne S. – Evergreen State College, Awarded Five Scholarships
David J. – Texas A&M, Biochemistry
Drew B. – Texas A&M, Computer Science
Ellie N. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas at Austin
Emhely G. – St. Edward’s University, Biomedical Engineering
Grace D. – University of Texas at Austin
Isabel K. – San Diego State University
Jack M. – Texas Tech, Honors Program
Kai F. – Samford University
Kaylee K. – Texas A&M
Lauren H. – Presidential Scholar, George Washington University, Elliot School of Public Affairs
Libby M. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas at Austin, Economics
Matthew Z. – Austin College
Nathan H. – Willamette University
Nisha K. – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Electrical Engineering
Rylan D. – University of Texas in Austin, Arts and Entertainment Technology
Sharika M. – University of Texas at Austin, Business and Plan II

Meredith S. – Texas A&M, Mays Business School

Corbin S.  – National Merit Scholar, Stanford

Tara W. – Commended Scholar, Trinity University

Joseph S. – University of Texas Dallas, Scholarship Recipient

Trenton N. – University of Texas Dallas, Computer Science

Alyssa R. – Chapman University, Honors Program, Provost Scholarship Recipient

Spencer S. – University of Chicago, Economics and Cancer Biology

 

Want to share your admission or scholarship story with us? Email [email protected]

 

20 Hours of Practice

photo credit: 57_365 by Alba Estevez G via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The College Board is singing the praises of their partner, the Khan Academy. According to a recent article, 20 hours of practice on the Khan Academy website “is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy.”

 

The article notes that Khan Academy practice is personalized. This is true: students can link their Khan Academy account with their College Board account to get personalized practice questions based on their performance on previous tests. You can also practice specific content areas, “leveling up” as you improve. For example, if you choose to practice linear equations, you will start at Level 2, and if you get five questions in a row correct, you will advance to Level 3, and on up to Level 5.

 

The problem is that some of the questions are much too difficult—even on Level 3. While it’s true that any student who could master Level 5 will probably get a near-perfect score on the SAT, some students could end up wasting a lot of time agonizing over questions that would never show up on the real test. Another problem is that the SAT has more than five problems per section—and it’s timed! While Khan Academy is a good resource, if you want a more accurate picture of what to expect on test day, it makes more sense to take official SAT tests.

 

Each SAT is 3 hours (not counting the essay), so you’d need to do 7 of them to get in 20 hours of actual test taking—BUT there’s more to studying than just taking practice tests. In fact, far more important than taking tests is reviewing them—looking at every missed question and figuring out why you missed it. Every official practice test comes with answer explanations, so if you can’t figure it out, you can look it up. The more questions you miss, the more time it will take to review, so the number of test sections needed to fill up 20 hours will vary from student to student. There are eight official tests available for free on the College Board and Khan Academy websites, so regardless of how much time you spend reviewing, you can definitely get in your 20 hours.

 

While you should take at least one full practice test in one sitting, replicating actual test conditions as closely as possible, you don’t have to take a complete test every time you sit down to study. If you take one section a day for four days a week and review every question you miss, you could get in your 20 hours (or close) in about six weeks.

 

Again, you can do this all on your own for free. But if you would like a little guidance, we’re here to help! And even if you don’t live in Austin, we do Skype tutoring, so we’ve got you covered. Give us a call at 512-453-7272 to schedule a free consultation.

 

New SAT Practice Tests Available

Scantron-Optical-Scan-Exam-and-Pencil-by-Natalie-Freitas-via-Flickr-CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scantron-Optical-Scan-Exam-and-Pencil-by-Natalie-Freitas-via-Flickr-CC-BY-SA-2.0

Since the release of the Official SAT Study Guide for the revised SAT, there have been only four official practice tests available. That changed last week when Khan Academy published Tests #5 and #6 on their website. Update: The new tests are now available on the College Board website as well.

So if you’ve already exhausted the book and want some new material to work on before your fall SAT or PSAT, download these tests today!

PSAT scores vs. SAT scores

Complementary Creative Commons Casio Calculator by Boaz Arad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The new SAT debut is around the corner! On March 5th, the official test will be given for the first time. But it’ll seem awfully familiar to juniors who took the new PSAT/NMSQT in October. The SAT and PSAT/NMSQT are the two main tests in the “SAT Suite of Assessments”:

PSAT 8/9
PSAT 10
PSAT/NMSQT
SAT

Since the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT are practically the same test, and since PSAT/NMSQT is a rather unwieldy acronym, the rest of this article will just use “PSAT” to refer to both the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT.

The SAT and PSAT tests are very similar in content and structure. The main differences are:

1. The SAT is slightly longer: 3 hours compared to 2 hours and 45 minutes for the PSAT.
2. The SAT has an optional essay, which will bring the total test time to 3 hours and 50 minutes.
3. The SAT is supposed to be slightly more difficult than the PSAT.
4. The SAT is on a 400-1600 scale, whereas the PSAT is on a 320-1520 scale.

That last one is pretty confusing, especially considering statements like this from the College Board website:

The redesigned SAT Suite uses a common score scale, providing consistent feedback across assessments to help educators and students monitor growth across grades and to identify areas in need of improvement.

How can the SAT and PSAT use a common score scale when the highest score on the SAT is a 1600 but on the PSAT it’s only 1520?

The answer, according to a College Board packet is that the tests are “vertically equated.”

If that’s a good enough explanation for you, maybe you should work for the College Board!

Here’s a better explanation. According to that same packet, the score you get on the PSAT is the score you would likely have gotten had you taken the SAT on the same day. For example, if you got a perfect score of 1520 on the PSAT, you would probably have gotten a (less than perfect) score of 1520 had you instead taken the SAT because the SAT is a little bit harder.

The reason the College Board does it this way is a little easier to understand when you consider the first test in the “Suite of Assessments,” the PSAT 8/9. This test will be given to 8th graders. Even the smartest kid in 8th grade probably hasn’t learned much about radians, for example. That kid might get a perfect score on his PSAT 8/9, but if he took the SAT, he’d probably miss that one question about radians and get a lower score. If the PSAT 8/9 was on the same 1600 point scale as the SAT, that kid might get his score report and say, “Only 1440 out of 1600? But I’m the smartest kid in 8th grade!” (As it happens, 1440 is a perfect score on the PSAT 8/9.)

Presumably the verbal questions also get progressively more difficult as we move from PSAT 8/9 to PSAT to SAT. However, the College Board hasn’t released a PSAT 8/9 to the public. Comparing the one PSAT they have released to the four SATs in the Official SAT Study Guide, I can’t tell a whole lot of difference, but presumably the College Board has assigned difficulty levels to questions based on focus groups (test students). Those extra 80 points on the SAT come from the extra questions that were too difficult for the PSAT.

If you really want to, you can read all about the SAT Suite of Assessments vertical score scale here.

The PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index Demystified

Scantron-Optical-Scan-Exam-and-Pencil-by-Natalie-Freitas-via-Flickr-CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scantron-Optical-Scan-Exam-and-Pencil-by-Natalie-Freitas-via-Flickr-CC-BY-SA-2.0

 

With the October PSAT just around the corner, a lot of parents and students are asking, “What score do students need to get National Merit recognition and/or scholarships?”

Well, it’s a little complicated . . .

First of all, it’s impossible to know exactly what the cutoff is until after the scores are released because the top 3.33% of scorers are eligible for recognition, so the threshold score changes from year to year. Also, because the National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top students in every state, the threshold score varies from state to state.

In years past, students could get a pretty good idea what a qualifying score would be based on the previous year’s threshold score for their state. But this year there’s a new test scored on a new scale. Actually, there are two scales. (I said it was complicated.)

When they announced the new SAT and PSAT, the College Board claimed they would be simplifying things by putting them on the same 1600 point scale. But later, they dropped the PSAT top score down to 1520. They also added a separate selection index score on a scale of 8-38. To make matters worse, the Reading and Writing & Language scores are averaged for the overall score, but not for the selection index score. Simple, right?!

The big picture is a little easier to grasp if you start with the selection index scores. Each section (Math, Reading, and Writing & Language) is scored on a scale of 8-38. (Going from 0 to 30 makes more sense to me, but I wasn’t consulted.) Here are some hypothetical scores:

M: 28
R: 32
W&L: 30

The selection index is the sum of these scores multiplied by 2:

(28 + 32 + 30) x 2 = 180

The highest possible selection index score would be (38 + 38 + 38) x 2 = 228.

Okay, so much for the selection index score. What about the composite score?

The composite score can be calculated by first averaging the selection index scores of the two verbal sections and then multiplying the result by 20. The math Selection Index score is also multiplied by 20. These two scores are then added. For our hypothetical student, we get:

Verbal: [(32 + 30)/2] x 20 = 620
Math: 30 x 20 = 600
Composite: 1,220

The highest possible composite score is 1,520.

Note that the Math score counts for only one-third of the selection index, but one-half of the composite score. Or, in other words, each of the verbal sections counts for 25% of the composite score, but 33% of the selection index. Bottom line: if you’re competing for National Merit recognition, don’t neglect the Writing and Language section. It counts just as much as the other two, and it’s the easiest section to improve.

That’s all fine and good, you might be saying, but what score does a student need to shoot for to get National Merit recognition? What’s the magic number?

As stated above, no one–not even the College Board–knows at this point, but our (fairly conservative) anticipated threshold for National Merit recognition in Texas is 210.

So how many questions do you have to get right on each section to hit this target?

Reading: 42+
Writing & Language: 40+
Math: 39+

Of course, since all sections count equally, if you ace one of them, you’ll have a little more leeway on the other two. As stated above, students tend to get the biggest return on investment on the Writing & Language section since most of these questions test grammar rules that are fairly easy to master. Becoming a better reader or mathematician will require significantly more practice.

New PSAT Practice Test

Exciting news! The College Board has just released a new practice PSAT with answer explanations.

Just to be clear this is a PSAT, not an SAT. Juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October. But the content and difficulty level should be very similar to the new SAT. The Official Guide for these tests won’t be available until June, but there are plenty of resources for students who want to start studying now (see below).

There are four sections:

1. Reading: 60 minutes, 47 questions
2. Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
3. Math (no calculator): 25 minutes, 17 questions
4. Math (calculator): 45 minutes, 31 questions

Here are my thoughts.

Reading:
Since they’ve scrapped the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, this is really just a reading comprehension test. A couple of the passages have charts, but the questions about them are very easy—similar to the easiest questions on the ACT science section. Two of the passages are old: excerpts from Jane Austin’s Emma and a political piece by Andrew Carnegie. The rest are new: an article about social networking, a science passage about hibernating bears, and a paired passage about bringing back extinct species. My advice: read National Geographic.

Writing and Language:
If you want more study materials for this section, there’s already a book with 375 practice problems. It’s called the Official ACT Guide! That’s right: the new SAT Writing and Language section is almost exactly like the ACT English section. The only real difference is the inclusion of a single graph on one of the passages. Other than that, it’s the same old stuff: relevance, tone, subject-verb agreement, idioms, pronouns, possessives, comma splices, putting sentences in logical order. The questions are even worded similarly to those on the ACT. My advice: take every English section in the Official ACT Guide.

Math (no calculator):
Like I said about the sample questions released a few weeks ago, the math is significantly more challenging than what we’re used to seeing on the SAT and PSAT. These questions look like they came from a Math 1 Subject test—except on this section, you can’t use a calculator! I found myself reaching for my vintage TI-82 so frequently I had to put it in a drawer. I know a lot of students who use their calculators for even the most basic addition; for them, this section will pose a challenge.

Interestingly, the questions are not in order of difficulty. There are four grid-in questions, and both the grid and the instructions are exactly the same as on the current test. Frequent topics on this section are: setting up equations, systems of equations, functions, and quadratic equations—in other words, all the hardest stuff from the current SAT. My advice: take AP math classes.

Math (calculator):
While it was comforting to have the calculator at my fingertips, it was no help on questions like this:

If the equation 110x + y = 1,210 represents the number of free samples, y, that remain to be given away x days after a coffee shop’s promotion begins, what does it mean that (11, 0) is a solution to this equation?

Your calculator isn’t going to tell you that! Many of the problems include graphs, tables, scatterplots, and histograms. (Again, the Official ACT Guide would be helpful; the science section has similar charts and graphs.) There are also several challenging physics problems (e.g. finding the maximum height of an arrow shot into the sky). My advice: take AP physics.

Summary
Compared to the current SAT (and the PSAT that was retired in 2014), the math is more difficult. The reading and writing are, in my opinion, a little easier (mainly due to the lack of obscure vocabulary questions). But don’t panic about the math. Even though it’s harder, students will be scored relative to their peers. (In other words, if it’s harder for you, it’s harder for everyone.) Students who take challenging courses in high school and make good grades should be fairly well prepared. If you’re taking the PSAT in October and want to start studying now, my advice would be to get the Official ACT Guide and the SAT Math 1 and 2 Subject Test Guide (just do the Math 1 tests; Math 2 is very difficult and mainly geared toward students who plan to major in computer science, engineering, or similar fields.)

Note: The answers to the new practice PSAT are all on the last page of the Answer Explanations. (Really annoying!) So just scroll to the end when you’re ready to check your answers. There’s no way to score it yet (scaled scores are based on student performance, and no one has taken it), but you can find your percent correct for each section by dividing the number correct by the total number of questions. Basically, it works just like grades in high school: 90% and above is great; 80-90% is good, and so on.

More Than A Teacher is currently accepting students for one-on-one tutoring for the new PSAT and SAT. If you live outside the Austin area (or just want to avoid traffic), we offer remote tutoring via Skype. Just send us an email to set up an appointment!