SAT goes back to 1600

By 2016, the SAT will drop the required essay, bringing a perfect score back to 1600, simplify vocabulary, cover fewer math topics and more closely resemble what students learn in high school, College Board has announced. Students won’t lose quarter points for wrong answers on multiple-choice questions, a policy designed to penalize random guessing.

Khan Academy will provide free test-prep tutorials online, reports the Washington Post.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the learning students do over years,” said David Coleman, the College Board’s president.

Students will be able to finish the exam in three hours, if they skip the optional essay section, which will take 50 minutes. (To avoid exhaustion, students can take the SAT II composition test on another day.)

The math section will tighten its focus on data analysis, problem solving, algebra and topics leading into advanced math. Calculators, now permitted throughout the math section, will be barred in some portions to help gauge math fluency.

The section now called “critical reading” will be merged with multiple-choice writing questions to form a new section called “evidence-based reading and writing.” Questions known as “sentence completion,” which in part assess vocabulary, will be dropped. Analysis of passages in science, history and social studies will be expanded.

And each version of the test will include a passage from documents crucial to the nation’s founding, or core civic texts from sources such as President Abraham Lincoln or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The vocabulary will focus on “words that are widely used in college and career.” For example, “synthesis” is used in college, said Coleman.

Carol Jago, a past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, who serves on a College Board advisory panel, said the test revisions would “reward students who take high school seriously, who are real readers, who write well.” She said she was loath to drop from the exam a word such as “egalitarian,” which appears in one College Board practice test. But she said: “Maybe we can live without ‘phlegmatic.’ ”

The essay never caught on with college admissions officers, reports the New York Times.  Writing quickly, with no time for research or revision, isn’t a college skill.  

The new SAT will be more like the ACT, which has been attracting more students. However, the ACT includes a science section, while the SAT will have only a science reading passage.

“Obscure” words give us powers of description, clarity and insight, writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper. “Words enable us to explain, and an infinitely complex world requires an expansive vocabulary so we can be clear and precise.”

When grownups take the SAT

SAT Taking the SAT as an adult is a harrowing experience, writes Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker.

She was inspired by Debbie Stier, a 46-year-old mother who took the test seven times in hopes of motivating her son, a B student. Obsessed with earning a perfect score, Stier tried various SAT-prep methods. She ended up with a book, The Perfect Score Project.

Since 2005, the SAT has included an essay. Kolbert had to write on whether progress requires struggle and conflict. From reading Stier’s book, she knew the key to scoring well is a clear thesis. “Declare, don’t waffle,” Stier advises.  “Pick a position and then bang away at it, the way you might at a piñata, or a rabid dog,” Kolbert puts it.

There was no time to argue the premise or question the definition of progress. Kolbert went with “No pain, no gain.”

I ended up writing on the Manhattan Project, despite my misgivings about whether the prospect of nuclear annihilation should count as an advance. When I got to the point of quoting Robert Oppenheimer’s famous line “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” I couldn’t remember exactly how it went, and so, heeding Stier’s advice—“Details count; factual accuracy doesn’t”— I made something up.

Kolbert, whose goal was to avoid humiliation, doesn’t report her scores.

Stier tells all. As a high school student in 1982, she received a below-average 410 on the verbal and a 480 on the math. But she was able to go to Bennington College and build a successful career as a book publicist. Stier didn’t think that would work for her son.

No longer, she’s concluded, can a kid from an affluent suburban community expect to waltz his or her way into a decent college, and from there back into an affluent suburban community.

On her fifth try, Stier scored a perfect 800 on the writing section, 740 in reading and 560 in math.
Her son, Ethan, did well enough on his SATs to get into Loyola University in Baltimore. Test prep taught him to “set goals and work hard,” he believes. “You have to have all the basic skills down before you try to learn any tricks because without a solid base of math and grammar, you won’t be able to answer the questions fast enough on the test.”

Still, his mother is doing test prep differently with her daughter. Before they start test prep, “I’m having her go back and shore up the fundamentals of math, grammar and reading,” Stier says. “I have her read the New York Times every day and we go over all the vocabulary words she doesn’t know, and we discuss the articles, starting with the main idea, which is a great exercise for the SAT reading section.”

It sounds educational.

Study: High school grades predict college grades

College students admitted without submitting SAT or ACT scores do just as well as “submitters,” concludes a new study. Applicants with good high school grades will earn good college grades and complete a degree, said William Hiss, the study’s main author.  He is the former dean of admissions at Bates College in Maine, one of the first colleges to go test-optional.  

Defining Promise looks at students admitted to small, private liberal arts schools with test-optional policies and large public universities that admit most students based on high school grades and class rank.  (For the public universities, the study looked at admitted students with below-average test scores.) Also included were a few minority-serving institutions and two art schools.

Submitters had slightly higher high school grades and significantly lower test scores.  Their college grades and graduation rates were very similar to nonsubmitters’ success rates.

While many students outperformed their SAT or ACT scores, high school grades strongly predicted college success, the study found. 

. . .  kids who had low or modest test scores, but good high school grades, did better in college than those with good scores but modest grades.

Hiss says it’s probably not so surprising that a pattern of hard work, discipline and curiosity in high school shows up “as highly predictive, in contrast to what they do in three or four hours on a particular Saturday morning in a testing room.”

I can’t see elite colleges and universities going test optional: They have way too many straight-A applicants.

The SAT will be redesigned to “strongly focus on the core knowledge and skills” needed in college, said David Coleman, the new board president, in a letter to College Board members. Some believe the new SAT will look more like the ACT, which is gaining market share.

Coleman, a co-author of Common Core standards, has promised to “move beyond delivering assessments to delivering opportunity for students so they will be better prepared to succeed in college.” Nobody knows what “delivering opportunity” means, writes Alexander Russo.

Let your kids fail

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success

Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg. Her new book, The Up Side of Down advocates “learning to fail better.” That includes taking on challenges and being ready “to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out.”

After a book talk, a 10th-grade girl said she understood about “trying new things, and hard things,” but she couldn’t risk it. “I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?” 

High school shouldn’t be about perfection, writes McArdle.

If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines.

Too many achievers are trying to get into a small number of elite colleges, writes McArdle. Upper-middle-class parents are pushing their children “harder than ever — micromanaging their lives.”

AP overload?

“Some parents, educators and even university admissions officers are rethinking the role of AP classes,” reports the Baltimore Sun. Achievers are overloaded, while poorly prepared students at low-performing schools often “flounder and fail” when pushed into AP, writes the Sun.

“The relentless marketing effort by many principals to place a greater number of kids into a greater number of AP classes — all in a single semester, as early in a student’s career as possible — is backfiring,” said Mary Ellen Pease, a co-founder of Advocates for Better Course Choices in Baltimore County Public Schools and the parent of two recent county graduates.

Dulaney High offers 25 AP courses, but fewer honors classes. The remaining honors classes “often are too easy and are taken by students who are struggling to pass,” say AP students. 

Sixty percent of applicants to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have taken 10 to 12 AP classes. Freshmen-year grades go up for each AP course up to five, then level off, the university found. It’s telling applicants they’ll get no advantage from taking more than five APs.

(Admissions director Steve) Farmer hopes the new policy will encourage students to be more thoughtful about their high school education, taking advanced courses they care about while leaving time for “reading the newspaper or learning to play the banjo or becoming a healthier or more interesting person.”

The top reason for taking AP classes is to raise admission odds, not to save on college tuition, said students in a College Board survey. 

 

 

To get into college, fake it

Applying to College Shouldn’t Require Answering Life’s Great Questions, writes Julia Ryan in The Atlantic. Elite colleges’ admissions essay prompts pretty much demand that students “pretend to be something you are not,” she charges.

Brown University is asking applicants for the Class of 2017: French novelist Anatole France wrote: “An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.” What don’t you know?

The University of Chicago would like high-school seniors to tell them: How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Tufts would simply like to know: What makes you happy?

“Applying to college shouldn’t be the intellectual equivalent of dressing up in your mother’s clothes,” writes Ryan.

Many of her commenters liked the prompts. (They made me very glad that all this is behind me.)

Universities have automated admissions, writes a commenter who designs admissions software. An outside service will use “advanced OCR and ICR recognition software plus semantic analysis” to turn the transcript and extracurriculars into a single number. Essays are turn through plagiarism software. “If a university is particularly prestigious they *might* read the essay, but the counselor is reading about 15 to 20 an hour.” The essay reader is probably an untrained graduate student or unemployed graduate making $11 to $13 an hour, he writes.

Hacking the Common App has good advice on writing admissions essays. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Bard’s new admissions option — submit four research papers instead of grades and scores — is begging to be gamed by the wealthy, writes Jordan Weissmann.

Rather than submit a full battery of grades, teacher recs, SAT scores, and personal essays, Bard applicants will be able to choose to hand in four 2,500 word research papers, which will be graded by faculty. Applicants who earn a B+ or better on their writing will be accepted . . .

“It’s kind of declaring war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions and the failure to foreground the curriculum and learning,” Leon Botstein, Bard’s president of 38 years, said in an interview.

Who’d choose this option? Someone who’s gone to a very good college-prep high school and learned to write a college-quality research paper, but hasn’t earned Bard-worthy grades or test scores. That’s a small group. Or, as Weissmann suggests, someone who can afford to pay a “college consultant” to write the papers.

The Ivy rat race

New York City’s “most ambitious, wealthiest parents” start the college-admissions process by hiring a consultant to get their toddler into an elite nursery school, writes Lacy Crawford.

Then come tutors, learning specialists, resume-polishing internships or exotic community service and a recommendation letter from a trustee of the first-choice school.

Finally, after 15 or so years of parents managing every variable, there comes the time when a student is expected to do something all by herself: fill out the actual application. Write an essay in her own voice.

Not really. Parents hired Crawford, an independent college admissions counselor, to help their kids craft Ivy-worthy essays and applications. Her new book, Early Decision, features an “application whisperer” who helps helicopter-parented kids get into Harvard.

In Personal Statement, Jason Odell Williams satirizes the Ivy rat race. As a hurricane heads for Connecticut,  students converge on the coast to win humanitarian laurels that will look good on college applications.

New SAT aims to help low-income students

By focusing on what’s taught in school, the new SAT will help students who can’t afford test prep, writes Ilana Garon, a Bronx high school teacher.

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity, notes Garon.

While both the current SAT and the ACT have Reading and Writing sections, the SAT currently focuses on vocabulary and more verbally complex reading passages, while the ACT does away with vocabulary definition questions in favor of questions about punctuation and a longer, more involved focus on writing mechanics. In the Reading section, the ACT features articles in four known categories (as opposed to the random selection offered on the SAT), as well as a Science section, which makes students analyze graphs. The Math section of the ACT more closely aligns with a high school math curriculum, while the SAT features some logic games, which are more similar to LSAT questions, and does not include trigonometry.

Students who are strong in math or visually oriented will do better on the ACT, while “verbal” students “may find the SAT plays to their strengths,” writes Garon.

One of the on-going problems with the current SAT is not that it is “harder” than the ACT (as some would argue) but the fact that, more than its rival, it focuses on material outside of the scope of a high school curriculum. For wealthier students, an SAT tutor becomes a mandatory accessory; for many poor students, this type of service is out of reach, leaving them to take a test that is disconnected from what they’re learning in their regular classes with only sparse opportunities for preparation

College Board plans to inform low-income achievers about scholarships and aid to pay their way to selective colleges. But raising college awareness may be less important than redesigning the test, concludes Garon.

I’m not optimistic that the new SAT will be an equalizer:  Students who go to academically strong schools will have a huge advantage.

Prepare for new SAT, digital ACT

College admissions tests are changing, reports the New York Times.

Say farewell to vocabulary flashcards with arcane words like “compendious,” “membranous,” “mendacious,” “pugnacious,” “depreciatory,” “redolent,” “treacly” and “jettison.” In the new SAT, to be unveiled in 2015, David Coleman, president of the College Board, wants to get rid of obscure words that are . . . just SAT words, and replace them with more common words like “synthesis,” “distill” and “transform,” used in context as they will be in college and in life.

And the math? “There are a few things that matter disproportionately, like proportional reasoning, linear equations and linear functions,” Mr. Coleman said. “Those are the kinds of things we’re going to concentrate on.”

“And it shouldn’t just be about picking the right answer,” he said. “It should be about being able to explain, and see, the applications of this math.”

Coleman, a principal architect of Common Core standards, wants the SAT to align with what students learn in high school instead of trying to measure “aptitude.”

The ACT, which already is more curriculum-based, will be given on computers and will include “more creative, hands-on questions,” the Times reports. In addition, ACT will offer yearly testing as early as third grade to “help guide students to college readiness.”

Coleman plans to change grading for the SAT essay, which lets students “get top marks for declaring that the Declaration of Independence was written by Justin Bieber and sparked the French Revolution, as long as the essay is well organized and develops a point of view.”

 “We should not be encouraging students to make up the facts,” Mr. Coleman said. “We should be asking them to construct an argument supported by their best evidence.”

Over and over, Mr. Coleman returns to the need to prod students into marshaling their evidence. “The heart of the revised SAT will be analyzing evidence,” he said. “The College Board is reaching out to teachers and college faculty to help us design questions that, for example, could ask students to use math to analyze the data in an economics study or the results of a scientific experiment, or analyze the evidence provided within texts in literature, history, geography or natural science.”

In 2005, the SAT dropped analogies and added more advanced math. However, the test is losing market share to the ACT, which last year was taken by more students.

Find the top college — for you

Stanford is America’s top college, followed by Pomona, Princeton, Yale and Columbia, according to Forbes‘ new rankings.

The magazine also lets college aspirants input a grade point average, SAT/ACT score and annual cost to find a “college you can get into and afford.”  Using the total cost — not the average net cost after financial aid — is liable to scare away all but the wealthy — and those planning to attend a military academy.  (West Point ranks #7.)