Standardized Tests, What You Should Know

Standardized tests are a fact of life. They are not going away anytime soon. Even the so-called “SAT Optional” schools that don’t use test scores for admission still use the tests to award merit money.

The SAT is a reasoning and critical thinking skills test. The ACT is an achievement test. Students can do better on one test than the other. Because colleges accept either test, it’s a good idea to know which test your student will shine. So the question that begs to be asked: “Should I invest in a test prep course for my student”?

To help answer, a recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling criticizes common test-prep industry marketing practices, including promises of big score gains with no hard data to back up such claims. The report also finds fault with the frequent use of mock SAT tests. These are often much more difficult than the real tests, and so these lower scores can be used to inflate your student’s improvement when compared to the actual scores.

Jonah Varon, a straight-A student at Lowell High School in San Francisco, took a mock SAT from a test-prep company and scored 2060 out of a possible 2400. A few weeks later, he took the real test. Even though he didn’t take that company’s tutoring course, he scored 340 points higher and got a perfect 2400. If he had taken the course, his parents would have spent $1,500 with no improvement. In fact, most students who took the SAT before completing such a training course showed improvements of only 30 points.

To get higher scores on standardized tests, it’s better to learn the necessary skills and not rely on tricks to “test well”. There are tools that increase knowledge and build skills and are very affordable. One of them is the SAT Question of the DayTM. Each day a new question is emailed to your student and you can be copied, too. It’s very simple to register.

  • Go to The Official SAT Question of the DayTM website and log on in to the MY ORGANIZER section (lower left of your screen) by clicking GO.
  • Enter their user name and password and click SIGN IN.
  • To the right of the MY ORGANIZER banner, you will see Manage My Email Subscriptions.Click on it.
  • On the left at the top of the many the student emails you can get is The Official SAT Question of the Day. Check the box and click Submit at the bottom of the page.

IF YOUR STUDENT DOESN’T HAVE AN EXISTING COLLEGE BOARD ACCOUNT click: Create a College Board Account and enter the required info. That’s it! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. The ACT has an ACT Question of the Day, but it doesn’t email the questions to your student, they have to remember to log on.

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High School Juniors: The Admission Process

November is the time for high school juniors to begin the admissions process. One thing that often proves useful is sitting for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI will give you and your student a wonderful insight into how their personality type can help identify careers that will play to their strengths. Another benefit of the MBTI is that students can begin to focus on majors that will help prepare them for their career.

This exercise can prove invaluable in finding the right college fit, too. Colleges have a personality, of sorts, just like people. By finding a compatible match the student can learn in an environment where they will get the most out of their education, not just go through the motions.

Other activities include preparing for standardized tests. Even though you won’t know the results of the PSAT until December, it can take as long as a year to build up a needed vocabulary. One small thing your student can do is to take the initiative and sign up for The Official SAT Question of the Day™ and have math and verbal questions sent to their email. You can be cc’d as well and you know what? It’s kind of fun. This can be a way to stay connected with your student through the process. Of course, it won’t help unless your student checks their email, which too many don’t these days. It’s too bad the questions can’t be sent by text!

Just so you are aware, the SAT, which is more of a reasoning test that many students haven’t been adequately prepared to take, isn’t the be all and end all of standardized tests. There is the ACT, which is more of an achievement test and results are accepted at all colleges and universities. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for answers.

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High School Seniors: In the Hot Seat

Now is the time of year your student begin submitting college applications. State school application deadline dates often fall around December 1st. The most competitive college deadlines begin January 1st and the majority of college application deadlines fall between February 1st and 15th.

Essays and letters of recommendation will need to be written and, if test scores are a little dicey, perhaps the December 4th SAT test or December 11th ACT test should be scheduled. Speaking of those letters, colleges often want recommendations from an academic teacher (sometimes in a specific subject), the school counselor, or both. If the college requests a letter from an academic teacher, and the subject is not specified, English or math teachers usually make good candidates. Also helpful is to get a recommendation from one of your student’s 11th grade who has known them long enough to form an opinion of their character.  Keep an eye on the progress being made and who knows? You just might survive this after all.

Some colleges– though fewer now than in years past– require an interview either on campus or with an alum in your area. You can help your student before he or she sits down on the hot seat by setting up a practice interview. It is probably best not to take on this job yourself, but an interested friend might fit the bill quite nicely, and your student can become accustomed to the process with no pressure. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started:


•    Why do you want to attend our university?

•    What personal qualities will you contribute to the class?

•    What classes/courses have you enjoyed most?

•    Are your grades an accurate reflection of your potential?

•    Which one of your activities is most rewarding and why?

•    What has been your biggest achievement?

•    What’s your opinion on [fill in current event]?

•    How did you spend last summer?

•    What do you want to do after you graduate from college?

•    What’s the most difficult situation you’ve faced?

•    If you could change one thing about your high school, what would it be?

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Are So-Called “Lesser Schools” Worth It? — Considering Colleges’ Without the “Brand” Name

College Hall, Endicott College

But I’ve never heard of that school!

There are roughly 4,100 colleges and universities in the United States. Some of these schools are harder to get into than others. To know which schools those are, post secondary institutions are categorized as “most selective,” “more selective,” “selective,” “less selective,” and “non-competitive.”

Naturally, not all students are going to qualify for the Harvard, Duke, UCLA, and Notre Dame’s of the world. But for the majority of students there is a home for them– somewhere they will receive an excellent education from educators at the top of their fields. The trick is to sift through all these schools to find this “home.”

By doing a little homework, you can find faculty that have earned advanced degrees from top tier colleges– including Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Dartmouth– and are currently teaching at “lesser known” schools.

When researching colleges for students some would call “average,” meaning students with SAT scores in the neighborhood of 1485 to 1770 (new SAT score scale) or 21 to 26 on the ACT, look for faculties with a majority of teachers who have their PhD or who are pursuing it.

Also look for those colleges where students can help these teachers with their research, if they wish. Students taking advantage of this opportunity sometimes find themselves invited to dinner parties or gatherings at their professor’s home. This kind of involvement can make a huge impact on a student’s academic experience and will help them find work upon graduation.

An education of this sort can be found at many smaller state schools. In-state tuition can cost less than $5,000 per year, and even out-of-state tuition can be only three times that cost. Imagine, a near Ivy-league education for less than $31,000 per year: Tuition and Fees ($15,000) + Room & Board = $10,000 + Indirect Costs (books, personal expenses and transportation) ($6,000). Factor in a couple of thousand dollars in financial aid and you can’t be that with a stick.

Although test scores are not everything, “average” scores do impact admission at the more competitive schools where the cost of attendance can be, and often is, over $50,000 per year. Considering how long it will take to recoup that kind of investment in today’s uncertain economy, doesn’t it make sense to at least look at the reality of the colleges where your student has an excellent chance of being admitted?

To be fair, many of the colleges I’m describing do not have impressive graduation rates, and you won’t find tons of financial aid offered either, but that doesn’t mean that they are inferior. There are many factors that contribute to low numbers. One is that required courses are sometimes hard to come by, which can force students into a fifth or even sixth year. Switching majors can cause problems, too.

Using a student’s academic advisor to full advantage can help avert this. In addition, average students who are ill prepared to deal with the rigors of academic study often contribute to lower graduation rates. Whatever the reasons, an explanation by admissions can help you and your student in the decision to attend a given school, as well as prepare your student for the seriousness of the college experience.

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