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 Accommodations Policy

no more tests 05.30.09 [150] by timlewisnm via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).jpg

no more tests 05.30.09 [150] by timlewisnm via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).jpg

Exciting news! The College Board has announced a new streamlined process for students to get accommodations for the SAT.

For years, when my students have asked about accommodations, I’ve told them, “You’d better apply now because it takes forever to get approval—if you do.” But, according to the Washington Post, starting in January 2017, most students who have accommodations in school (e.g. extra time, private testing rooms, readers for students with language processing disorders) will automatically be approved for accommodations on SAT and AP tests.

You can read the College Board’s announcement here.

Even more surprising is the fact that the College Board will now allow English Language Learners access to instructions in their native language as well as bilingual glossaries. For now, however, these accommodations will be available only during state-funded school-day tests that are given once or twice a year at participating campuses.

The Washington Post article notes that the College Board used the announcement to brag about the fact that students have 43% more time per question than on the ACT. True, but the ACT doesn’t have those “evidence-based” reading questions that everyone struggles with. I still think the answer to the question “which test is better?” depends on the student, but extending access to accommodations is a step in the right direction for the SAT. The two tests have been locked in a cat-and-mouse game for a while now, so I expect the ACT to follow suit shortly.

If you have questions about accommodations on standardized tests, talk to your guidance counselor or 504 coordinator. If you are wondering which test you should target (SAT or ACT), take practice tests for both. We offer free practice tests regularly. You can also schedule a free consultation by calling our office at 512-453-7272. We look forward to hearing from you!

Posted in SAT

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!

College Board Releases Concordance Tables for New SAT

Project 365 #147- 270509 Testing Times Ahead by Pete via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Project 365 #147- 270509 Testing Times Ahead by Pete via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Scores for the first new SAT, which students took in March, have finally come back, and, just in time, the College Board has released concordance tables (i.e. comparison charts) that neatly line up new SAT scores with their pre-March 2016 test equivalents. They’ve also got tables comparing scores from the new SAT to those on the ACT. It’s all very simple and intuitive. Ha ha, just kidding; this is the College Board we’re talking about! They’ve got 16 different concordance tables! But here’s what you need to know . . .

The big picture: new scores are higher than the old scores. Overall, new SAT scores seem to be inflated by about 30-40 points per section. On the old test, an average section score (e.g. Math or Reading) was around 500. On the new test, it’s 530-540.

Similarly, the ACT average of 21 would have been roughly equivalent to a 1,000 on the old SAT but is now in the range of 1060-1090. (This information is on Table 7.) It remains to be seen what effect this change will have on automatic admissions scores. For example, Texas A&M has traditionally guaranteed admission for students with a score of 1300 on the SAT or 30 on the ACT. But now a 1300 on the SAT is comparable to a 27 on the ACT. Presumably, they’ll update their requirements, but how soon? When the SAT added the Writing Skills section in 2005 (increasing the maximum score from 1600 to 2400), many colleges were slow to adapt and continued to base their admissions requirements on the 1600 scale (ignoring the Writing Skills section altogether). This is one reason there are so many concordance tables: there are 2400- and 1600-scale conversions (Tables 1 and 2, respectively).

There are, of course, tables comparing individual sections on the old and new tests as well. The Math table (Table 3) is fairly straightforward: a 500 on the old test is equivalent to a 530 on the new. But both the Reading and Writing & Language sections on the new test are scored on a scale of 10-40, so a 500 on the old SAT Critical Reading section translates to a 27 on the new SAT Reading test. That makes Tables 4 and 5 pretty confusing.

Here’s a better way to look at them. Since the new test combines the Reading and Writing & Language scores (on a 10-40) scale for a total of 800 points on the so-called Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Section (let’s just call it the EBRW Section), you can just take one of these two-digit scores and multiply by 20. The results are similar to the math-score conversions. Take new SAT Reading test score of 27:

27 x 20 = 540

According to Table 5, a 27 on the new Reading test translates to a 500 on the old test, so again, the new scores are about 30-40 points higher per section.

Table 6 compares the new EBRW Section (200-800) score to the old Critical Reading + Writing Skills (400-1600) score. If you double the new score, it’ll be about 90 points higher than the old score, so about 45-points higher per section.

Table 7 compares the new SAT to the ACT (see above). Table 8 compares the new SAT W&L score, which does not factor in the Essay score, to the ACT English/Writing score, which does, so this table makes little sense. Feel free to ignore it.

Tables 9 through 16 (old–>new) are just Tables 1 through 8 (new–>old) reversed. Basically, they tried to make things simple by duplicating everything. Typical!

The College Board also has a score-converter app. I’m sure it’s very user friendly . . .

Posted in SAT

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 New SAT Study Guide

sat study guide

 

The new SAT Study Guide comes out tomorrow. We got an advance copy. Here’s the scoop.

The four tests in the guide are the same four tests available on the College Board website. It’s disappointing that they didn’t release more tests, but it’s nice that everything is basically free (minus the cost of ink and paper). The answer explanations are online too, so if you’re on a budget, there’s really no reason to pay for the book.

If you do pay for it (the cover price is $24.99 but Amazon has it for $17.00), you’ll get 326 pages of instructional material and practice problems, which are almost all taken from the SAT sample questions released back in March, and which are still available, with answer explanations, online.

What you will not find either in the book or online is a one-page answer key for each test. To grade a test, you have to flip through about 45 pages of answer explanations. Not very convenient! So we made up some answer keys to make things easier. You’re welcome!

New SAT Test 1 answer key

New SAT Test 2 answer key

New SAT Test 3 answer key

New SAT Test 4 answer key

Posted in SAT

New SAT Practice Tests Now Available

no more tests 05.30.09 [150] by timlewisnm via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

no more tests 05.30.09 [150] by timlewisnm via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).jpg

Today the College Board released four new practice SATs—presumably the same four that will appear in the new official guide scheduled for release June 30th.

This is the format:

Section 1: Reading: 65 minutes, 52 questions
Section 2: Writing & Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
Section 3: Math (No Calculator): 25 minutes, 20 questions
Section 4: Math (Calculator): 55 minutes, 38 questions

Total: 180 min, 154 questions

That’s about 70 seconds per question—a little more (8 seconds) than on the old test. As noted before, they’ve also removed the 1/4 point guessing penalty and the obscure vocabulary questions, so overall this should be a less-stressful test.

I’ll be back soon with more info. Right now I’ve got some work to do!

Posted in SAT

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!

The Most Common SAT Vocabulary Words

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Note: This article is about the current SAT. For info on the redesigned SAT coming in 2016, click here.

There are many books and websites out there that claim to have all the “hot words” for the SAT. One website boasts 5,000 words! Think you can memorize them all? Good luck with that.

As someone who’s spent almost eight years with these tests, I can tell you that these books and websites are not very accurate. To me it looks like the authors did no research at all, but rather just listed as many “difficult” words as possible regardless of whether those words had ever appeared on an SAT.

In any case, the test makers do not tend to use the same obscure words over and over. They don’t want the test to be predictable. Basically, their word bank is the dictionary, and with over 100,000 words in the English language, they’ve got a lot of options!

But there are some words that appear on almost every SAT simply because they are common words. And yet, most high school students don’t really know them. The following words (or close variations) appear on most of the tests in the Official SAT Guide. (I know because I checked; all it takes is a highlighter and a lot of patience.) Consider making flash cards for every word you don’t know.

1. aesthetic (adj.) – related to beauty or art: Taking an art appreciation class can enhance your understanding of aesthetic principles.

2. equitable (adj.) – equal, fair, judicious: The U.S. Constitution guarantees equitable treatment under the law for all citizens.

3. equivocal (adj.) – capable of several different interpretations, especially with the intent to deceive: The congressman’s equivocal answer didn’t really answer the journalist’s question.

4. sentimental (adj.) – expressing or appealing to emotions: The sentimental song brought tears to Mary’s eyes.

5. phenomenon (n.) – a fact, occurrence, or circumstance, especially an impressive one: A complete solar eclipse is a rare phenomenon.

6. nostalgia (n.) – fondness for the past: At the sight of his old uniform, Billy felt a keen nostalgia for his school days.

7. advocate (v.) – to support or recommend: The FDA advocates regular vaccinations for children.

8. rhetoric (n.) – the art of using written or spoken language: The professional speaker was a master of rhetoric.

9. ambivalence (n.) – uncertainty or inability to choose, especially caused by conflicting desires for two incompatible things: The candidate’s conflicting answers reflected his ambivalence on the issue.

10. temperance (n.) – moderation, especially in consumption of alcohol: Rather than accept a second glass of wine, Suzanne opted for temperance.

11. romantic (adj.) – idealistic, impractical, unrealistic: After a week sweating on the farm, Billy began to reconsider his romantic view of agricultural life.

12. elitist (n.) – a snob; a person who considers himself a member of a special class: Chet was too much of an elitist to consider attending the rodeo.

13. deliberate – 1. (adj.) on purpose: He shouldn’t be punished because his actions were not deliberate. 2. (adj.) slow, unhurried, careful: Marvin grew increasingly frustrated at the deliberate pace of life in the small town. 3. (v.) (pronounced with a long “a”) to consider: You should deliberate awhile before you answer.

14. conventional (adj.) – pertaining or conforming to general agreement, ordinary: Placing your right hand over your heart during the Pledge of Allegiance is a conventional demonstration of respect.

15. contempt (n.) – disdain, scorn, hatred, ridicule: The judge handed down the maximum sentence, explaining that he had nothing but contempt for jaywalkers.

16. cynical (adj.) – distrusting the motives of others; assuming that people act from selfish motives: Jerry was cynical about the “free hugs” campaign.

17. anxious (adj.) – worried, distressed, uneasy: Many people are anxious about public speaking.

18. commercial (adj.) – pertaining to business: The preacher complained that commercial interests have tarnished religious holidays.

19. reverence (n.) – a feeling of deep respect or veneration: The architecture student expressed a reverence for Frank Lloyd Wright.

20. integrity (n.) – adherence to moral or ethical principles, honesty: The ethics committee criticized the lawyer for his lack of integrity.

21. subtle (adj.) – not immediately obvious, difficult to grasp: Chef Louis patiently explained that there is a subtle difference between flan and crème brûlée.

22. skeptical (adj.) – doubtful, slow to accept as true: Most scientists are skeptical about the existence of UFOs.

23. lament (v.) – to express sorrow or regret over: The professor lamented the decline of voluntary reading among American high school students.

24. domestic (adj.) – devoted to the home or household: The new father declined the invitation to the poker game, citing domestic responsibilities.

25. anecdote (n.) – a short account of an event, especially an amusing one: Tommy shared a hilarious anecdote about the time he fell into an aquarium.

26. rigorous (adj.) – severe, stern, inflexible, demanding: After studying the syllabus, Henry opted for the less rigorous calculus course.

27. pragmatic (adj.) – practical: Sam wanted to take a hot-air balloon across the Atlantic, but his wife suggested the more pragmatic option of an airplane.

28. inherent (adj.) – existing within someone or something more or less permanently, essential: Many people have an inherent dislike of broccoli.

29. exclusive (adj.) – limiting to only a select few, excluding: It’s an exclusive club; they don’t admit just anyone.

30. evoke (v.) – to call up, produce, elicit, or draw forth: According to the advertisement, this laundry detergent evokes the countryside and spring rain.

31. substantiate (v.) – to establish by proof or evidence: The prosecutor was aggressive in his accusations but was unable to substantiate the allegations with physical evidence.

32. intricate (adj.) – complicated or complex: Wilbur was mesmerized by the intricate pattern in the spider’s web.

33. digress (v.) – to deviate (wander away) from the main topic, to “go off on a tangent”: After rambling for ten minutes about his preference for non-dairy creamer, Dr. Franklin realized he had digressed from the lecture topic.

Of course, the best way to build a vocabulary is to read a lot of books, looking up unfamiliar words as you encounter them. So, if you don’t already, read for at least 30 minutes every day!

Posted in SAT

The New SAT: A Look at the Sample Questions

This is our second post about the upcoming changes to the SAT. To read the first post, click here.

Last week the College Board released sample questions for the new SAT. (If you didn’t get the memo, you might want to start checking our Facebook page.)

Here’s what we’ve learned:

The math is tough! There are trig functions, radians, imaginary numbers, and other high-level math concepts not found on the current SAT. Some of the problems require more steps than we’re used to as well. Consider this geometry problem, for example, which is considerably more complex than any geometry problem in the Official SAT Guide. And take a look at this multi-paragraph word problem. These problems look like what you’d see on an SAT Math Subject test.

As for the Critical Reading, it doesn’t seem drastically more difficult than the current test, but with only 24 questions over five passages, it’s hard to say. We already knew there would be no fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, and the three vocabulary-in-context questions are easy. There are also three questions of the form “which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?” They’re all easy—as long as you got the previous question right.

As expected, some of the reading passages come with graphs and illustrations, but the questions about them are pretty easy. There are no “founding documents,” as the College Board’s earlier press releases had led us to expect, but there is a speech by Barbara Jordan (1974) and an excerpt from an Edith Wharton novel (1911). The other passages are from science and social science contexts and are all from 2010 or later.

The Writing portion looks very much like an ACT English section, with questions going beyond mere grammar, asking things like “should this sentence be kept or deleted?” I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily harder than the current Writing Skills section, just different.

The essay asks you to analyze how an author builds a persuasive argument. This task is more difficult than answering a general question like “can knowledge be a burden?” or “is money a more powerful motivator than conscience?” The responses are graded on three different criteria: reading, analysis, and writing. So, to get a good score in each area, you have to understand what the author is saying, recognize the author’s use of persuasive rhetorical devices, and demonstrate this knowledge in coherent, eloquent prose. Piece of cake, right?

If you’re ready to start preparing for the 2016 SAT (or the 2015 PSAT), these sample questions are a great place to start. The College Board is planning to release more material in March, and when they do, we’ll let you know.

Posted in SAT

The New SAT: What to Expect

In the spring of 2016, the College Board will launch the redesigned SAT. What will change? The short answer is that the new SAT will look more like the ACT—no guessing penalty, less vocabulary, more charts and graphs. There’s more to it than that, but with the reboot still in progress, the College Board isn’t saying much. The details are hazy, but according to the College Board website, there will be eight key changes. Of course, these summaries are like a lot of SAT problems—convoluted and confusing. Here they are in plain English.

vocabulary
1. Vocabulary: The new SAT will scrap questions about obscure vocabulary words like obsequious and magnanimity and instead ask students to identify the meanings of more ordinary words in context. For example, the word “acute” can mean “sharp,” “intense,” or “clever,” depending on the context. In fact, the current SAT already has these “vocabulary in context” questions on the passage-based portion of the Critical Reading section.
evidence

2. Evidence-Based Sections: The new SAT will combine the Reading and Writing portions into a single “evidence based” test. Here’s what that means:

Reading: Some questions will require students to select a sentence from the passage that best supports their answer to the previous question. For example, question #7 might ask, “How does Daisy feel about Tom?” And #8 might ask, “Which of the following sentences from the passage best supports your answer to question #7?” Some passages will also be paired with infographics.

Writing: Much like on the ACT English test, students will analyze multi-paragraph passages rather than focusing stand-alone sentences (like on the current SAT). This section will also require students to edit passages so that they accurately convey information from infographics.

analyzing

3. Essay Analyzing a Source: This new essay will also be evidence-based. Students will read a source document and write an essay explaining how the author constructs his or her argument. This sounds much more difficult than the current essay format. The idea is to make the SAT essay more like college essays.

The essay will be optional (like on the ACT), but some colleges will require it. In other words, it’s only optional if the colleges you are applying to don’t require it. Read your prospective colleges’ admissions requirements carefully. If you’re applying to Yale, and Yale requires the essay, then for you the essay is required.

math

4. Math that Matters: The new math section will focus on three areas: Problem Solving and Data Analysis (using ratios, percents, and proportions to solve problems in science, social science, and career contexts), The Heart of Algebra (linear equations and systems, abstract thinking), and Passport to Advanced Math (manipulation of complex equations—the College Board is pretty vague on this one).

In addition to these areas, some problems will test geometry and trigonometry skills “relevant to colleges and careers.” (Note: the current SAT does not have any trig function—sine, cosine, tangent—questions.)

real world
5. Problems Grounded in Real World Contexts: The primary focus of the redesign is to make the SAT less abstract and more practical—in other words, more like the ACT. The Reading/Writing section may have fiction passages, but it seems the focus will be on non-fiction passages from the humanities, hard sciences, social sciences, and “career contexts.” On the Math section, students will be presented with several charts and graphs relating to some real-world scenario (e.g. television-viewing statistics or fluctuations in the price of soybeans) and asked several questions requiring them to integrate information from these various sources.
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6. Analysis in Science and History/Social Studies: The new SAT will require students to “apply their reading, writing, language, and math skills to answer questions in science, history, and social studies contexts.” Basically, it sounds like the Reading/Writing and Math sections will be more integrated than on the current SAT (more reading on the Math section, and more charts and graphs on the Reading/Writing section). Students will also be asked to revise texts to make them consistent with infographics related to “recent discoveries, political developments, global events, and health and environmental issues.” These kinds of infographics are common in National Geographic Magazine.
7. Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation: Every new SAT will contain excerpts from U.S. founding documents (e.g. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers) and documents from “the great global conversation,” that is, politically-themed documents by authors like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Henry David Thoreau, and Martin Luther King Jr. The College Board website specifically mentions Mary Wollstonecraft, Edmund Burke, and Mohandas Gandhi. The founding documents as well as texts by all these authors are available for free online. If you want to start studying for the new SAT now, start reading these texts—along with notes.
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8. No Penalty for Wrong Answers: On the current SAT, you lose one-quarter point for every wrong answer. Taking away the guessing penalty makes the test easier because students won’t ever have to decide when to guess. If a wrong answer gets you the same result as leaving the question blank, then guessing is a no-brainer. You might as well guess and move on to the next question; there’s nothing to lose. Decision making is mentally and emotionally taxing. Taking a little stress off students should actually make it easier to get a more accurate assessment of their performance on the test material.

The College Board will release a full-length practice test in March of 2015. Until then, students should make sure their basic math and reading skills are up to par. Since the new SAT will be more like the current ACT, and since practically every university will accept either test, now is a great time to study for the ACT. If your ACT score is good enough, you probably won’t even need to take the new SAT, but if you do, the skills you develop studying for the ACT should transfer.

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