Edison Prep Blog
12/02/17 - Guest Post: The Importance of the College Essay
11/08/17 - The Importance of Early Mock Tests: A Case Study
05/10/17 - How Can Parents Help Maximize Student Score Increases on the SAT and ACT?
12/12/16 - What Can a Sophomore Parent Do This Year to Ensure a Smooth SAT/ACT Preparation Process?
11/25/16 - UGA 2016 Early Action Musings: An Update of Our Popular 2014 Blog Post
06/28/16 - ACT Reverts to Old Writing (Essay) Scale of 2-12, and the Overall State of the SAT and ACT Essay
06/12/16 - Understanding the New SAT's 1600-point score scale
12/20/15 - The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part 3: The New Essay's Tough Scale, Science Section Changes, and Score Release Delays
02/01/15 - Be Careful What You Wish For: The Cautionary Tale of the New SAT for March 2016
11/20/14 - The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part II: A Follow-Up With Additional Data
07/14/14 - The Unpublished Changes to the ACT
05/13/14 - All About UGA: Ruminations from the 2014 UGA Admissions Process
07/07/13 - 10 Tips for SAT/ACT Preparation and College Admissions: Summer 2013
06/05/13 - "What's Your Number?" (AKA "How many questions am I allowed to miss for School X?")
04/26/13 - Curve Ball: Why Hitting a Standardized Test Home Run is Becoming Harder
03/23/13 - An Admissions Case Study: Vanderbilt University's Mind-boggling Class of 2017
07/17/12 - A Student's Perspective: The value of Hard Work and Practice Volume for Increasing Your SAT/ACT Scores
07/06/12 - New SAT Registration Procedures are Challenging: A Primer on Navigating the Heightened Security Procedures
05/07/12 - Standardized Testing is Anything But Standardized
02/10/12 - Instilling A Student’s Passion for Achieving a Higher Score on the SAT/ACT
12/10/11 - Report from the Front Lines: Taking the December 10th ACT
07/15/11 - The Great Opportunity and Great Peril of a High Starting Score on the SAT and ACT
06/01/11 - College Planning: The Early Bird Gets the Worm
02/25/11 - College Admissions and the Writing Section: Thoughts from a Former Admissions Officer
Guest Post: The Importance of the College Essay
Dec. 1, 2017
By: Dr. Nicole Cook, Founder, HorizonsEd College Counseling
Note: Edison Prep will be hosting an occasional guest post from college counselors, financial counselors, and the like to add to the breadth and depth of our blog. Dr. Cook's guest post has the honor of being the first one!
Angst about the “college essay” is deep-seated in many college-bound juniors and seniors. I believe this angst exists in such magnitude partly because students and parents don’t accurately understand the function and impact of essays in the college process. After years of coaching students to produce strong essays, I want to share a few points of clarification that might help reduce the stress associated with this particular piece of the application process.
First, I want to unpack the reasons why admissions offices ask students to write college essays at all. For starters, admissions offices ask students to write essays to give them a qualitative (or non-numeric) perspective on the student. I have heard the essay described as adding a “third dimension” to a student’s “flat, two-dimensional application,” or as “bringing a student’s voice to the application.” In essence, “hearing” a student’s thoughts on the essay prompts provided allows an admissions office to try to understand more of the student than just the numbers, test scores, and activities provided.
However, another equally-important purpose is for an admissions office to review a sample of the student’s writing. Yes, this piece of writing may have been proofread or coached a bit by adults, but in general, colleges want to see that a student, when motivated, can produce a piece of writing that demonstrates maturity of thought, precision of grammar and wording, and effectiveness in communication. I find that many students (and parents) get stuck on finding an essay topic that’s good enough or will wow or impress admissions officers. I would say that, generally, very few essays are memorable to the point that students want them to be, but having a thoughtful, genuine, well-written essay goes a long way to demonstrating that you are college ready, even if your essay isn’t about a particularly dynamite topic.
Finally, essays help students demonstrate their fit for the institution. If a student is willing to do research and write a supplemental essay demonstrating his or her fit for the institution, this can help a student stand out from other candidates. In my experience, students spend too little time refining the supplemental essays (which are often as important at some colleges as the primary application essay), and even will send supplemental questions in with errors due to being written at the last minute. In actuality, each opportunity to write should be approached as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to put thought into what you are writing and execute a college-ready piece of work.
As for the potential impact of the essay, the importance of admissions essays can be very difficult to determine from the outside. First, I will acknowledge that the essay is one of the only things left within a student’s control by the time he or she is filling out the application. Grades, test scores, recommendations – these are already established. Often, students funnel all of their anxieties into the essay, and feel that it means everything – which is neither helpful nor accurate. However, downplaying the essay as unimportant can also be unhelpful; an essay can serve as an impactful piece of the application in some scenarios.
Let’s break it down this way. For a student who is applying to a college requiring one main essay or personal statement, where the student is comfortably within the range of the schools mid-50% GPA and test scores, and the chances of admission are reasonably high, the essay is unlikely to be the most impactful part of the application. Similarly, if a student is applying to a highly selective college, is well below the average GPA and test scores, and is hoping the essay will put this student in the game for admission, disappointingly, the essay is unlikely to do that in most cases. Every now and then, a student will have something to say that does change the game, but most of us are inclined to think of ourselves as an exception, when, realistically, we are not.
Another way to say it is that essays are unlikely to change likely outcomes. In cases where other numeric factors point largely toward admission or denial, an essay is important for the purposes of verifying what other facts in the application already show, but no more. However, in a different scenario, where a student is borderline for admission or scholarships based on quantitative factors, the essay could literally be the differentiating piece of the application. In a competitive admission or scholarship process, essays can be one of the biggest factors at play. In these scenarios, where test scores, GPAs, etc. have gotten a student’s application “in the door,” the essay can be the piece of the application that grabs the attention of admissions officers and helps a student stand out over others with similar qualifications. In these cases, laborious time working on essays is justified and well-spent.
So, how important is the essay? Well, it depends on the colleges you are applying to and how competitive you are for them. How much time you spend going from a strong to an excellent essay should depend on if you are marginal for admission or might be eligible for scholarships at that college and might be reviewed by professors or administration. The important thing is to be reasonable about understanding how your essay is going to fit into your process of admission, allot your resources of time and energy accordingly, and do your best.
Nicole Shaub Cook, Ph.D., LPC
Founder, Educational Horizons
Member, Board of Directors, SACAC
Member, IECA, NACAC, SACAC
Questions? Email Dr. Cook at email@example.com.
The Importance of Early Mock Tests: A Case Study
November 8, 2017
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
We wanted to share a detailed but important story regarding mock tests based on an unfortunate set of circumstances that culminated earlier this week.
We strongly advise that students take a mock of both the ACT and the SAT before their junior year begins. If not, by Labor Day, and in almost all cases, by mid-October. It's ideal for students to create a testing timeline early in their junior year, even if that plan doesn't have them preparing until later in the school year.
One of the families we're working with gave us permission to share their story as a cautionary tale (some details have been omitted for privacy). This case study precisely illustrates why waiting too long into junior year to take mock tests and create a timeline can have incredibly stressful outcomes.
Even if a student doesn't start formal test prep until a later date, knowing which test he or she will be taking and when is paramount.
1. The student's family was advised by the school to wait to take a mock SAT and a mock ACT until at least Thanksgiving, if not early second semester.
2. By late October, the student's father was getting antsy because almost all of his son's peers at other schools had taken mock tests. Many of them had scheduled tutoring, a fair share had started tutoring, and a few were even done with their test-taking via the August, September, and October exams.
3. The student's father signed him up to take a full-length mock ACT and a full-length mock SAT with us on 10/29 and 11/5. We graded them and emailed the results.
4. The student was far better on the SAT, achieving a top 28% score cold on the SAT, versus a bottom 43% score on the ACT. We encouraged him to pursue the SAT exclusively. (All colleges accept either exam without favoring one over the other.)
5. In talking with the father, all three of the remaining junior-year SAT test dates are almost impossible to make work:
- A. The March SAT is his school's spring break trip (traveling out of state, $X,XXX in non-refundable fees already paid)
- B. The May SAT falls smack dab in the middle of his four AP exams.
- C. The June SAT is problematic because he has committed to being a camp counselor beginning in late, late May.
- Option A: Pursue his much weaker test of the ACT (possibly not even improving to the equivalent of his cold starting score on the SAT, given the size of the gap).
- Options B, C, and D: Lose out on the pre-paid spring break trip, take the SAT frazzled amidst the four AP exams, and/or break his commitment to be a camp counselor. Additionally, since most people take their chosen test (SAT or ACT) 2-3 times, he would likely have to pick multiple options from that list, not just one.
To be clear, a student does not have to start preparing for the SAT or ACT during the first semester of junior year. Many students very much shouldn't!
- If your student is just starting to take Algebra II junior year, taking the actual ACT or SAT exam second semester should probably be the plan.
- If your student is a crucial player for his or her Fall sport, don't even think of preparing until after the team has lost in the playoffs.
For more thoughts on optimal test date planning, please also see our earlier blog post called "What Can a Sophomore Parent Do This Year to Ensure a Smooth SAT/ACT Preparation Process?"
We offer mock SAT and mock ACT tests most weekends; the full list of them is always available at this link.
Questions? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 404-333-8573! Thanks! ___________________________
How Can Parents Maximize Students' Score Increases on the SAT and ACT?
May 10, 2017
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
In tutoring almost 10,000 students for the SAT and ACT this past decade, we have seen a wide variation in score increases, many of which are attributable to a few key items, such as timed practice test volume.
Parents can be active partners in this process and help ensure that their students maximize their potential by following a few key steps. Six of the most common steps are below.
- Sign your student up for the exams at a reliable test center as soon as you know the exam date(s) he or she will be taking. We can recommend some of the better test centers in your area based upon what part of town you live in. The registration websites are www.actstudent.org (ACT) and www.collegeboard.org (SAT).
- Make your student take the optional Writing section (the essay) at least once, but ideally every time. While fewer than 25% of schools require the essay, a number of schools still recommend it, and each college’s essay policy shifts from year to year. Students who opt out of the essay have to take the experimental “guinea pig” section and thus don’t actually get out any earlier than if they take the essay. You also avoid the risk of having to re-take senior year simply to fulfill the essay requirement for a college you just added to your list or for a college whose policy changed.
- Make each week’s homework due to you, the parent, two days before each group class or one-on-one session. Differences in homework completion volume are responsible for 80%+ of the variation in score increases for students who do the same amount/type of tutoring.
* Generally speaking, students are assigned an entire timed test each week (approx. 3 hours). Students with extremely large score increase ambitions should do more than that. We’re happy to give students as many tests as they want!
* Completed practice tests should have meaningful pencil markings in them via crossed off wrong answers, annotations on reading passages, and scratch work for math problems. “I did it on scratch paper and accidentally forgot my scratch paper at home” usually means that students found the answer key online and simply copied the answers onto the bubble sheet.
* Group class homework is uploaded to the website after each class, and individual homework assignments are recorded in the back of the spiral book at each session.
- Have your student take the test on consecutive test dates if at all possible. Doing so allows your student to maintain momentum and not lose his/her timing, pacing, and knowledge base. A majority of students who do all of their assigned homework are able to take two consecutive test dates as a “one-two punch” and be done.
- If there’s a certain “freedom score” whereby your student will be allowed to be done once he/she hits that score, give your student that number at the outset of tutoring. Some students confide in us that they think they’ll be forced to keep re-taking the test anyways, so “why try?” Students who can see the finish line complete more homework and have a more positive attitude. If you’re not sure what that freedom score might look like for a given cohort of schools you’re considering, feel free to ask us!
- Ensure that they have a TI-83 or TI-84 model calculator. Those models are the gold standard and using other models can greatly hinder SAT/ACT math performance. It's the same calculator that most students will need and use during college as well.
Please give us a call at 404-333-8573 or email us at email@example.com if you have any questions!
What Can a Sophomore Parent Do This Year to Ensure a Smooth SAT/ACT Preparation Process?
December 12, 2016
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
Around mid-November each year, Edison Prep begins hearing from some of the earliest sophomore parents as to when they should start the SAT/ACT preparation process for their students. While no student should begin tutoring during sophomore year, there are still important, meaningful steps that should be taken during a student’s sophomore year to minimize stress and avoid pitfalls during what is a very time-crunched junior year for most students.
Three Ground Rules for Designing a Smart Junior Year SAT/ACT Testing Plan:
1. Well-designed testing plans should give students a very high probability of being done by the June test of junior year at the latest. Senior year test dates are entirely valid, but are ideally avoided because the majority of senior-year exam dates are not valid for some Early Decision, Early Action, and scholarship deadlines. Just as importantly, waiting until senior year increases household stress.
2. Students should plan to take a “one-two punch” of back-to-back test dates so that they take (and finish!) the test while they have momentum. It’s not unreasonable for most students with typical starting scores and typical score increase goals to knock the test out by taking it twice, if meaningful timed tests/practice homework occurs leading up to those two test dates. Large gaps between official tests leads to atrophy; those hours spent knocking off the rust could have been spent pushing the score higher instead!
3. Students who are in lower-level math classes (e.g. are taking Algebra II during junior year) should wait until second semester junior year to take the test. Most students in Pre-Cal or above will have 90%+ of the relevant SAT/ACT math information that they'll ever receive/need by Oct. 1st, if not before.
Specific Steps to Take During Sophomore Year:
1. Between January and April of sophomore year, have your student take a full-length mock SAT and mock ACT on two separate days. Do not waste your student’s time on the increasingly-popular, abbreviated “combo SAT/ACT comparison tests” that are often offered at schools or other firms and claim to quickly diagnose which test is a better fit. These “combo tests” are half-length, are full of inauthentic questions made up by the tutoring companies themselves, and due to a terribly small sample size of questions, are unreliable, volatile and about as accurate as simply flipping a coin. When the SAT/ACT is worth the same as three entire semesters of a student's GPA during the college admissions process, it is worth taking just 6.5 hours to make sure you are pursuing your student's naturally stronger test. We certainly do not enjoy grading twice as many bubbles for prospective students, but it’s the right thing to do to avoid wasting students’ time and parents’ money. More info on signing up for mock tests is at the bottom of this post.
2. If a student is exceptionally busy and can’t do two different mock test dates, we can always compare his/her Sophomore PSAT scores to a real, full-length mock ACT. For about 80% of students, there’s an obvious winner when the Sophomore PSAT and mock ACT scores are compared.
3. A student can then compare the exam dates for his/her stronger test (SAT/ACT) against his/her extracurricular time commitments/conflicts during junior year in an effort to select the most conducive test dates. Because of exam-date conflicts or an overloaded portion of the year (e.g. a sport plus 4 AP classes), many students find that they don’t have 6 or 7 possible testing plans to choose from, but just 1 or 2.
4. Having these mock test scores in hand during late sophomore year allows you to make intelligent plans for your student’s junior year. We typically build our tutoring calendar for the entire next academic year by May 1st and, like all tutoring companies, we simply fill our calendar for group classes and 1-on-1 on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Most Common Pitfall We See:
(This is an overly-specific scenario but one that, even as just a two-person company, we physically encounter 40+ times per year.)
A student intended to take mock tests during second semester sophomore year, but then conflicts quickly piled up (Sadie, Prom, AP exams, state swim meet, etc.). Then, the student is too close to final exams, then they're out of town when school gets out for Memorial Day Weekend, and then the student is out of town as a summer camp counselor and can't take a mock until late July. By late July (or even late June), not just our company, but most in-demand tutors will have started summer tutoring and possibly filled up for the August, September months. If second semester testing was always the goal, this is not a big deal; take a mock anytime before Labor Day junior year and there's zero worries. If taking the first test or two of the school year is desired, however, early mock tests (ideally by 4/15 at the latest) are key.
Common Roadblocks to Taking the SAT/ACT on Various Test Dates:
As you will see below, virtually every SAT/ACT test date has logistical difficulties for a meaningful portion of students, and the list below doesn’t even include personal events (e.g. weddings, religious holidays, college visits, etc.)
1. Aug. SAT and Sept. ACT: Difficult for students who are gone all summer (e.g. camp counselor), or who have mandatory football camps.
2. Oct. SAT and Oct. ACT: Often conflicts with cross country meets, homecoming, and some schools’ Fall Breaks when people frequently go on college visits.
3. November SAT: Often conflicts with state cross country meet and a few homecoming dances.
4. December ACT: Takes place the second Saturday in December, so it’s somewhat close to finals (not a big deal in reality, since students are ideally preparing for months leading up to the test versus cramming).
5. February ACT: Often conflicts with the state swim meet.
6. March SAT: Always conflicts with spring break for most private schools (common exceptions: St. Pius, Wesleyan, Weber).
7. April ACT: Often takes place at the end of spring break for public schools and the remaining private schools. Also conflicts with a fair number of proms.
8. May SAT: Always takes place the Saturday in between the two weeks of AP exams.
9. June SAT: Takes place 1-7 days after most schools' final exams end. A big challenge if students are going out of town and/or can't be convinced to study over Memorial Day.
10. June ACT: Most students who are camp counselors have already left town, or family summer vacation conflicts. Note: You can take the test anywhere in the US! Summer camp or travel plans don't have to ruin the June test date!
Case Study from a Class of 2018 Parent:
One of our clients from this year gave us permission to anonymously use her son’s story. She emailed us around Thanksgiving of her student’s sophomore year and asked about taking mock tests, while joking that she realized she’s "super early." Her son took a mock SAT one weekend and a mock ACT the next weekend. The ACT ended up being his stronger score by a landslide. There are six ACT test dates during junior year to play with: September, October, December, February, April, and June. This student had conflicts that immediately eliminated multiple test dates. Her son couldn’t do the April test because of a school service trip during spring break, and the state swim meet knocked out the February date. Another obligation knocked out the September test date. Thus, while this student was an early, Type-A planner, when it came down to it, he had just one intelligent runway allowing him a "one-two punch" with which to prepare: taking the October and December ACTs.
Given that students usually begin their preparation about two months before the test, had this student waited and taken mock tests sometime after late August of junior year, he would have had some very tough choices to make (pursuing his weaker test (i.e. the SAT instead of the ACT), skipping the state swim meet, dragging standardized testing into senior year, or other suboptimal options).
How do I sign up for diagnostic mock SATs and mock ACTs?
A full list of our upcoming mock SAT/ACT exams is continually updated at the following link: www.edisonprep.com/pages/diagnosticmocks.html. Mock tests are free and take approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes. Students bring pencils and a calculator. An email RSVP is required to hold your student's spot.
What else can I do to get informed?
1. Like Edison Prep’s Facebook page. We post relevant info and links on test prep, financial aid changes, and admissions strategy on a weekly basis.
2. RSVP for one of our info sessions on the SAT/ACT, college admissions, and scholarships. A full list of upcoming info session dates is always at the following link: www.edisonprep.com/pages/infosession.html.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 404-333-8573!
UGA 2016 Early Action Musings: An Update of Our Popular 2014 Blog Post
November 25, 2016
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
Back in May 2014, we posted our original "All About UGA: Ruminations from the 2014 UGA Admissions Process" blog post, which has attracted more than 500% as many views as most of our other blog posts. Therefore, since UGA's Early Action Admits were released this past Friday, we wanted to update our original post with additional data and commentary.
UGA is a school of particular interest to many of our clients, so we continue to do deep dives into its admissions trends and maintain a repository of UGA admissions data. Below is some information that should be of interest to all families that may have students applying to UGA in the next few years.
1) The number of admits via Early Action continues to rise.
While 2014-2016 Early Action admits appear to be flat, that's only because the UGA press releases used vague notations of how many EA applicants were admitted: "Some 7,500/Almost 7,500/More Than 7,500." Early admits have grown by 41% in the past five years, while academic statistics such as average GPA/SAT/ACT/AP/IB have continued to grow simultaneously. This is a testament to the growing strength of the UGA applicant pool.
- The average number of AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes of those accepted has steadily risen by about 0.5 AP classes each year, from 6 to 8.
- The average ACT score has risen by about a half-point per year as well, both at the bottom end and the top end. Important Note: UGA focuses on just the English and Math sections and de-emphasizes the Reading and Science sections.
- The average SAT has risen as well. (Hard to draw too many conclusions given the data available, e.g. average vs. median vs. middle 50%).
- The GPA for the bottom 25% of admitted students has grown from 3.74 to 3.91, while the average GPA has risen to 4.03. (Note: UGA recalculates students' GPAs to count only core classes and adds extra points for AP/IB/DE classes.)
Full statistics for admitted students for both Early Action and Regular Decision from Nov. 2011 - April 2017 is as follows:
Note: For a high-res version of the above table, please click here.
2) Superscoring is still having an increased impact on SAT/ACT score averages.
Just 4,777 students in Georgia got a single-day ACT score of 30 or higher last year, yet 30 was only the 25th percentile for those accepted into UGA via Early Action (meaning that 75% of students scored higher than this), and over 8,000 students were admitted via Early Action. 30 was also the overall ACT average for all of the rounds combined. How is this possible, especially given that not every high-scoring applicant even applies to UGA?
Yes, some students submitted an SAT score (though many fewer than normal, due to the tumultuous SAT switch for the Class of 2017), but a huge contributing factor is that UGA "superscores" both the ACT and SAT (combines the best section scores from different dates). It's a real game-changer. Savvy parents, counselors, and students understand the power of superscoring far better than they did back in 2012, driving average SAT/ACT scores at virtually all schools that superscore upwards. Also, remember that both parents and students tend to fib about their scores; fewer than 1,000 students earned a single-day 34, 35, or 36 last year in the entire state of Georgia (about 2-3 per county), and some of those weren't even students -- they were Edison Prep's own tutors taking the test to stay on top of their game!
3) Academic rigor continues to be far more important than extracurricular activities.
Back in April 2014, Senior Associate Director of UGA Admissions David Graves posted a quote on the UGA Blog that we still sincerely wish were included at the top of every UGA mailing: "When parents or students say that their schedule is already so busy with other activities that it is tough to handle challenging courses...instead of dropping rigorous courses, maybe an activity could be dropped."
We tell students daily that no one has ever been ever rejected for having too low of a "play practice score," but millions of applications are rejected each year for low GPA, low rigor, and/or low SAT/ACT scores. Activities matter if and once your core academic metrics are in the right ballpark. Fun Fact: 95% of students admitted to UGA in 2013 had at least one AP class. Avoiding that AP goose egg is crucial!
4) Applying via Early Action remains paramount.
As the bar graph above shows, a larger than ever number of students is admitted via Early Action. The UGA Admissions Blog goes to great lengths to explain to commenters that it is not easier or harder to be admitted EA vs. RD; it’s just a different timeline. As you can see in the table above, the academic stats for the full admitted pool vs. EA-only are relatively similar quantitatively, which just further strengthens the argument for applying early.
It is likely that if the statistically high-flying UGA Honors College applicants were removed from the rest of the EA pool, the resulting EA vs. RD stats would be near identical. What we can definitively state is that, by all means, unless you think that your statistics are so poor that you'll be rejected during Early Action, apply during Early Action. As the table above illustrates, approximately 2/3 of the total annual spots are already gobbled up via Early Action. Therefore, students should try to compete while a reasonable number of spots still remain. Doing so implies trying to finish up standardized testing by June of junior year at the latest so that students can apply via Early Action (though EA applicants are still allowed to submit the Sept. ACT score and the Oct. SAT score for Early Action).
5)...But couldn't I get rejected via Early Action?
Historically, only 4-7% of Early Action applicants get rejected. About 1,000 got rejected this past week out of the 15,614. The vast, vast majority of EA applicants who are not admitted are deferred, not denied. From 2012-2017, we've tutored 4,000+ students who applied to UGA and who hailed from over 100 high schools and over 25 Georgia counties. When comparing notes with our brain trust of 6-7 local college counselors, we realized that it has been several years since any of us has personally had a student rejected via Early Action, including students who had 0-2 APs, under a 3.3 UGA GPA, and/or lower than a 24 on the ACT. Furthermore, applying early is a relatively low-risk endeavor because any student who was close to gaining admission via EA who might benefit from having one extra semester of grades and/or a better SAT/ACT score would also be a strong enough applicant to at least get deferred.
6) If you are deferred via Early Action, write the essays!
Ironically, the Early Action applicants who get deferred who were *painfully* closest to getting in are also often those who are most likely to lose hope. They may not even bother filling out the essays that are required to complete the application for Regular Decision. Write the essays! It's a small task. As Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take!"
7) Closing Thoughts:
Remember that while SAT/ACT is important (the second strongest factor), a high GPA combined with a rigorous curriculum will always be the single most important factor for admission. Keep up that GPA! Additionally, if UGA is on your student's list, we'd highly encourage you to regularly read the UGA Admissions Blog regularly. UGA has one of the most responsive and high-touch blogs of any college admissions blog in America; David Graves does an amazing job.
Feel free to email us with questions at email@example.com or call us at 404-333-8573!
Note: The immense amount of longitudinal data that went into this blog post is sourced at our UGA Statistics Repository Page.
ACT Reverts to Old Writing (Essay) Scale of 2-12
June 28, 2016
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
Earlier this week, the ACT announced that beginning with the Sept. 2016 exam, it will be reverting to the tried-and-true familiar essay score of 2-12 that was utilized from the inception of the ACT essay until June 2015.
The ACT has finally conceded that the new essay scale of 0-48 raw points that is then scaled and converted to a 36 point score “created confusion” for students, parents, and admissions officers, which would be an understatement. Oddball stories of students receiving a top 0.5% Composite scores but only a 13 out of 36 on the new essay scale were not just occasional, but the norm, and the change was heavily covered by the media and in our blog post from last year. Beginning with the Sept. 2016 ACT essay, we are now back to the old 2-12 scale that we all know and love.
We truly appreciate the ACT’s responsiveness to criticism, since most of the critiques of both the SAT and ACT from the higher education community (e.g. the SAT’s steadfast refusal to release enough practice tests for the New SAT) usually fall on deaf ears.
The new essay format remains the same; only the scale and score calculation are changing.
The new essay format debuted just 9 months ago in Sept. 2015. In the new format, students must directly respond to three pre-authored perspectives on a current social issue, rather than take one side of a binary question. This format stays the same, and the content in our ACT Essay Guide will not change, other than adjusting the scoring scale information.
The new essay format will continue to have four equally-weighted subscores (Ideas and Analysis; Development and Support; Organization and Clarity; and Language Use). Each of the two graders will continue to assign a score of 1-6 on each of the four subscores, which will then be summed and divided by four to create a 12-point score, and rounded up if it ends in 0.5 or 0.75. More information on how to convert Writing scores taken during the 9 months of the 36-point scale from Sept. 2015 to June 2016 is located at this link.
As a reminder, on the 2-12 essay scale, the scores of 10, 11, and 12 combined are only 2% of all scores. The vast, vast majority of the nation gets a 6, 7, or 8 out of 12. Getting to an 8+ (top 16%) is an important and reasonable goal for the majority of test-takers if they write multiple practice essays.
Is the essay going to eventually go away entirely?
Some tutoring firms and high school counselors are of the opinion that the essay should go away for both the New SAT and ACT, saying that it lengthens the exam and increases the cost of taking the test, both of which are true statements. The Writing section is also the section for which ACT’s own internal research has the least reliability / most volatility.
Why does it still exist then?
Some universities that still choose to require the essay may be doing so for a valid (albeit disconcerting) reason. Last year we had a conversation about test prep, the New SAT, and the ACT essay with one of our college admissions officer contacts who works at a top 25 university. Speaking for himself, off the record, he said the following: “Most colleges like ours that still require the essay publicly talk about high-minded ideals of ‘pedagogy’ and ‘seeing the real student,’ but if we’re all being honest, most of the colleges that still require the essay usually require it for one reason and one reason alone: validation. The optional essay section is the only legitimate writing sample from the actual student that is not potentially ghostwritten by parents or fancy independent college counselors. The ACT/SAT essay is, and will always remain, the least important section of the overall score. We look at it as a checkbox of sorts signaling ‘good enough, we get it, you can write.’”
We wholeheartedly agree, and his claims are borne out by the hundreds of students we’ve seen who’ve gotten into great schools with tip-top composite ACT scores but mediocre essays. The US News & World Report Rankings only use the 36-point ACT and 1600-point SAT scales. The essay score is not measured, and as Peter Drucker always says, “what gets measured gets managed.”
With fewer than 20% of schools still requiring the essay, the essay remains a concern only for the students who may apply to those schools that still require it, which tend to be the most highly-ranked universities. For example, well over 70% of the top 30 universities still required the ACT essay as of June 2015, which was when we last did a full audit of the US News Top 50 Universities. One of the most current lists for which colleges still require the essays is this one, but checking with your prospective colleges individually is still warranted in this time of great change as more schools continue to drop the essay requirement each year.
A link to the full ACT press release can be found here.
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June 12, 2016 (and heavily revised on June 25th, 2016)
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
Note: This blog post was originally published June 12, 2016, but was heavily heavily augmented with additional data when the College Board released full percentile data for the new test on 6/24/16.
Since the May SAT scores came out earlier this month, we wanted to write a detailed blog post that can help address students’ and parents’ questions about their May scores: “so what does this actually mean?”
Let’s start off by mentioning innocent mistakes #1 and #2:
1. Parents and students should not attempt to create a new 1600-point score by multiplying the old 2400-point score by 2/3; it will provide a very inaccurate score conversion due to the shape of the curve, the lack of the essay impacting the New SAT score, and a multitude of other statistical reasons.
2. Parents should never make comparisons between the Old SAT score out of 1600 and the New SAT Score out of 1600. While they are both out of 1600 the curves are very, very different.
Big changes to the New SAT score scale, the shape of its curve, and how score percentiles are reported:
1. The Old SAT had 5 answer choices. The New SAT has only 4 answer choices.
2. The Old SAT took off points for incorrect answers. The New SAT has no such guessing penalty. Thus, students who now randomly guess (A) do not lose points and (B) have a 1/4 chance instead of a 1/5 chance of randomly getting it correct on top of that! As a result, the SAT curve is no longer shaped like a broadly-shaped gumdrop but more like a witch’s hat that is more heavily concentrated on the right side of the spectrum.
3. The Old SAT had an average of 500 on each section. With fewer answer choices and no wrong answer penalty, the average New SAT score zoomed from 998 all the way to 1084 (an entire standard deviation!). The National Merit Commended cutoff score has also dramatically jumped from a long-standing score of 200-203 all the way to 209.
4. Under the New SAT, a robot who just randomly guesses now earns a score that is hundreds of points higher than it would have earned by randomly guessing on the Old SAT. Virtually half of the entire "New SAT" 1600-point score spectrum is below the score a robot would earn by randomly guessing. Getting 25% of the questions right (guessing) earns you a score of 780 out of 1600 on Official New SAT Practice Test #4.
5. On the New SAT, the true college-bound score spectrum (starting 6-7 questions below the average and ending at the point where < 1 student per room hits that score) is not 1600 points, but just 380 points (from 1030-1410). The vast majority of college applicants will be playing in a tiny range of 370 points, not 1600 points. While the 1400-1600 range seems very broad, it represents just 6% of test-takers. On average, less than one student per test site will hit a 1520+.
6. In a bizarre twist, these changes actually make practicing for the SAT even more important. Because students may have good days/bad days from test to test and because of the new hyper-compressed score spectrum of just 380 points, we now live in a world in which each additional question is usually worth 7-8 points and in which Stanford’s SAT average will likely only be 100 or so points above UGA’s Early Action average. As much as students used to stress over 40 points on the Old SAT, 40 points on the Old SAT were rarely the sole reason for a college’s denial. On the New SAT, however, 40 points will likely be the size of the score gap between UGA's Early Action average and Georgia Tech's average!
7. Dueling percentiles: Parents will notice that new score reports have two sets of percentiles: "Nationally Representative Sample Percentile" and "User Percentile."
Here's a sample:
"Nationally Representative Sample" -- Do not use this number in any way when analyzing your student's scores. These are made-up percentiles that attempt to estimate what percentile your student would be if, in theory, every high school student in the whole U.S. were forced to take the test, including those who do not take the test / might drop out / will not go to college. It's fake unicorn data that makes everyone look better than reality. The average score for this pool of test takers is a 1019 out of 1600.
"User Percentile" -- These are the real percentiles based on students who actually take the test and will be applying to college. These numbers are what the admissions officers will be looking at. As you can see from Table #2 at the bottom of this post, this User Percentile number is often much lower than the Nationally Representative (unicorn) percentile. The average score for this pool of test takers is 1084 out of 1600.
7. This blog post is written to emphasize to parents that while the New SAT scale is out of 1600, the "actual college bound student score range" is really only about a quarter of that range. Preparing for the tests (whether ACT or New SAT) remains as important as ever.
8. The above changes may make many parents question if their students should just take the ACT instead. The answer is "maybe." Students should always take a full-length, real mock test of both the New SAT and the ACT and pursue whichever test they perform more strongly on. The downside to the ACT remains the fact that a substantial portion of America cannot hope to finish the test; for students who can't finish dozens of questions on the ACT, the SAT tends to come out as the stronger score when the student takes diagnostic mock tests. For students who finish the ACT without any problem, the ACT is often the stronger score. A full list of our upcoming diagnostic mock tests is always located at this link.
For those of you who are more visually-inclined, we created two very helpful side-by-side comparison graphics for Old SAT vs. New SAT with commentary in the last column!
Table #1: The New SAT Percentiles:
Note: Since a normal bell curve would have 3 standard deviations on both side, this illustrates how heavily tilted to the right the curve is. (1084 avg + 193 *3 std dev = 1663, which is far above the max score of 1600.)
Table #2: Comparing Percentiles for the New SAT and Old SAT:
As you'll see from the table below, for any given score, the percentile difference for the Old SAT ranges from the same to up to 12% higher than the New SAT. The New SAT scores are inflated due to the elimination of the wrong answer penalty and the change to only 4 answer choices instead of 5, creating a hyper-compressed curve with an "actionable" range of just 380 points.
Please call us at 404-333-8573 or email us at email@example.com. Thanks!
Sources and Notes:
1. Old SAT Percentile Data 1 and 2
2. New SAT Percentiles from College Board
3. College Board Master Conversion File for Old SAT/New SAT/ACT
4. The ACT has come out and said that they do not endorse this grid, but since the ACT hasn’t put out anything of its own and since seniors are applying to college soon, in absence of anything from the ACT, this is likely the exact spreadsheet colleges will all be using.
The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part 3: The New Essay's Tough Scale, Science Section Changes, and Score Release Delays
December 20, 2015
Note: This blog post is the third (and hopefully final!) post in a series about very consequential but under-the-radar changes to the ACT. For the first two parts of this series please see these two links: Part 1 | Part 2
The continued changes to the ACT may not have been as heavily covered in the mainstream media as the new SAT that debuts in March 2016, but these changes are just as important.
Three additional ACT changes are addressed in this post:
1) The new “Enhanced Writing” (essay) has a radically different scoring scale, and why you shouldn't necessarily worry
2) ACT Science changed its format from containing 7 passages to almost always containing 6 passages
3) ACT is now having perpetual score release delays due to the new “enhanced” essay
1) The new ACT essay has a radically different scoring scale, such that 90%+ of students are scoring far lower on the new Essay than they did / would have on the old-format Writing test that ended in June 2015.
A) Old Format (June 2015 and before): The ACT used to report the essay score on a 0 to 12 scale and calculate a Combined "English+Writing” (ENWR) score out of 36. This ENWR was very easy to do well on since it was weighted roughly 70% via the English section score and 30% via the 12-point essay score. The English section is--by leaps and bounds--the easiest section to score well on if a student practices, whereas only 1% of students used to get a 10, 11, and 12 out of 12 – combined. Thus, as long as students had a good English score, they could earn a respectable ENWR score even with a mediocre writing sample.
B) New Format (Sept. 2015 to present): The new "Enhanced Writing" score is now reported purely based on the writing sample (essay). The same 12-point scale is now used, but on four separate pillars (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use). The new score is thus out of 48 points (4 pillars x 12 points = 48 points), which is then scaled to a 36 point bell-curved score; you cannot just multiply the 48-point score by 0.75 to get your score. Many of our hardworking students who wished to practice were shocked that only two sample prompts for the new essay were released by the ACT. Six months later, there are still only two prompts, despite public outcry from students and parents.
C) The new essay scoring and score percentiles are radically out of whack with what colleges are used to, so much so that the new essay is virtually worthless. The percentiles and the curve for the new 36-point Enhanced Writing score is highly divergent from both the Old Writing score ( ENWR) from last year and the general Composite scores that students are used to. The New Enhanced Writing score is far more punitive. For example, a 21 Composite score is the national average. Parents are used to that average of 21. However, only 26% of students get a 21 on the new Enhanced Writing score. The national average on the new essay is not a 21...it's a 16.5! Over half of America doesn't even get a 17 on the new Essay, which confuses parents, since on the Composite scale that they're used to, a student with a 17 Composite score wouldn't even be allowed to apply to Georgia Southern, a college with one of the least rigorous ACT requirements in the entire Southeast. Heck, GA Southern requires a 20 (3 points higher!) to even apply for probationary status. Only 1/3 of America hits that 20 on the New Essay.
Look at this chart comparing the percentiles for the Composite score, Old Essay, and New Essay:
Anecdotally, we've seen our Class of 2016 ACT students who took both the old ENWR essay last year and the new Enhanced Writing section this year (80+) match the above grid, with only one student exceeding their prior score from the old format. Other articles have noted the same phenomenon. Luckily, this "straddled year" only impacts the Class of 2016.
D) As a result, the ACT essay is becoming optional at many schools that used to require it: Because of the SAT revision occurring in March 2016, many colleges will be revising their essay requirements between now and the time that the Class of 2017 applies, mostly in the direction of making it optional. However, be prudent and check the websites’ for all of your colleges and/or the database below before opting out of the ACT essay. A continually-updated database of each college’s policy on the new ACT essay is at the following link. UGA will not require the essay for Class of 2017 or later.
2) The ACT Science section will almost always have 6 passages from now on instead of 7 passages that are in the practice material:
While the Science section still has the same 40 questions as before, students need to be aware that beginning earlier this year, the ACT has switched to almost always having 6 longer passages instead of 7 shorter ones. All but one of the publicly-available practice tests have 7 passages, so students need to keep this in mind as they pace themselves on test day or they'll mis-allocate their time.
3) The ACT is now having perpetual score release delays mostly due to the new “enhanced” essay:
The ACT has had major score release delays for all three Fall 2015 exams, mostly due to the complexities of grading the new essay on the new 4-pillar scale, and due to their new calculations of oddball indices like the "STEM subscore" that colleges neither asked for or are likely to use in any fashion for admissions purposes. The ACT has claimed that these delays are due to others things, among them "excessive humidity" (can't make this stuff up).
Whereas the ACT had gotten students used to a snappy 9-day turnaround prior to Fall 2015, many of our students from the October test had to wait over 55 days for scores, including seniors who missed crucial application and scholarship deadlines as a result. The ACT embarrassingly had to ask universities to consider using "screenshots" of students' scores because their essay-based score release delays were making it impossible for colleges to get those scores in time for the Early Action/Early Decision processes. Thus, until the ACT returns to timely and reliable score reporting, our longstanding advice of trying to finish all ACTs by June of your Junior year will be more important than ever.
This is a year of massive change and headaches for the Class of 2017 on both tests, not just the SAT. We'll continue adding new blog posts on this page every few months. Feel free to like our Edison Prep Facebook page where we post 2-3x weekly to keep abreast of current news!
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1) ENWR scores (June 2015 and before)
2) New Writing Percentiles (Sept 2015 to present)
3) English, Math, Reading, Science, Composite Percentiles
4) GA Southern ACT Requirements (general)
5) GA Southern ACT Requirements for the probationary "Eagle Incentive" Program
Be Careful What You Wish For: The Cautionary Tale of the New SAT for March 2016
February 1, 2015
By: Brian and Silvia
The College Board just released its first meaningful problem sets of sample PSAT/SAT questions, which is far more helpful than the specifications document that industry professionals scrutinized this past April. The coming March 2016 SAT overhaul, which has been widely chronicled in the media, has finally begun taking shape. (Links to the sample problem sets are at the bottom of this blog post.) Both of us had anticipated heavy overhauls to virtually all aspects of the test (and to our instructional materials), but we anticipated that the math section would require the least renovation. Ratios would still be ratios, and triangles will still have three sides. We could not have been more wrong. While there are intriguing aspects to all of the new question types that were released, math was the one that threw us (and most of our tutoring colleagues on LinkedIn) the most.
Our commentary on these new SAT developments is broken into the three sections shown below:
1) Optimal timeline for Sophomores (Class of 2017) planning to take the tests
2) First impressions of each test section based on the newly-released SAT questions
3) Closing thoughts
1) Optimal timeline for sophomores planning to take the tests:
The answer for most sophomores is simple: most sophomores should aim to either take the existing SAT and finish by January 2016, or prepare for the ACT via a timeline of their choosing. Any ACT date is fine, since the ACT is not being overhauled this year. An ACT date should primarily be chosen based upon when students have time to study. We have always told students that a responsible test prep plan should aim to have a student finish by June of his or her junior year at the latest. The new SAT will only be offered in March, May, and June of 2016 before that deadline, with the October 2016 test being available as the last shot for most schools’ early action deadlines. Given that a fair portion of students need to take the SAT Subject Tests in May or June alongside their AP exams, this gives current sophomores a very tight window with which to succeed on the new SAT, take it twice in order to “superscore” the best section scores from both tests, and be done.
The new SAT timeline is an especially bad “perfect storm” for Atlanta private school students, with all three new SAT dates having significant roadblocks to success.
March SAT: The March SAT has fallen during one of the two weekends of private school spring break for as long as we have lived in Atlanta.
May SAT: The May SAT takes place 36 hours before AP exams begin. Many students taking APs will rightfully want to spend those valuable last few weeks preparing for AP exams instead of for the new SAT.
June SAT: The June SAT takes place after a fair number of students are away at camp or are involved in summer activities or jobs. Many parents also confide in us that getting their sons/daughters to study for the test after finals, while their friends are wooing them with activities that are more fun than the SAT, is a fruitless endeavor. Additionally, the June test date is usually the day after finals end for the high schools that historically end much later than others (e.g. Weber, Marist).
Scores for the initial March 2016 SAT may not be released until after the May 2016 exam.
Despite shocked outcries from college counselors in the audience at the recent College Board convention in Las Vegas, the College Board has refused to guarantee that students' SAT results from the inaugural March 2016 SAT will be available before students take their tests in May 2016 (more info here). The fact that College Board refused to guarantee it in the face of such withering criticism does not inspire confidence that March 2016 scores will have the swift three-week turnaround we are all used to. Students who take both the March and May 2016 tests will likely be flying blind for their second test.
Is it okay for sophomores (Class of 2017) to take the SAT this May and/or June?
We have always urged students to focus on getting a great GPA freshman and sophomore year and to put all concerns about the SAT/ACT off until after sophomore year is over. We’ve turned away dozens of clients who wanted to start tutoring during their sophomore year. Most sophomores should still wait until this summer to begin tutoring and studying for the SAT if the SAT is their desired test. However, given the abbreviated runway with just four tests during junior year (October, November, and December 2015, and January 2016), we have amended our normal rules for current sophomores who are asking about potentially taking the May and/or June 2015 SAT tests. This might be a good solution for people who are gone all summer and/or who have extreme time commitments (e.g. APs, sports) in the Fall 2015 semester.
2) First impressions of each test section based on the newly-released SAT questions:
The new SAT is intellectually more challenging on all fronts. Frankly, we would be far more impressed with someone who misses zero questions on an SAT test resembling these released practice questions than either the existing SAT or ACT. However, as long as colleges take these tests on an even keel with each other, willingly taking a test that is harder to do well on is not necessarily the best idea. Most students would rather dominate the PAC-10 than flounder in the SEC. One caveat: a sense for typical SAT scoring curves will not be available until June 30, 2015, when 10 fully-calibrated tests are released in the new SAT Blue Book. The new SAT is impressive in the depth of knowledge, synthesis, and fluency that is required from students. While this change ostensibly originates from the College Board’s idealistic desire to create a test that better assesses the skills that students will need to succeed in college, these changes may, in the short term, drive students into the waiting arms of the ACT or the existing SAT. Every year, students flee the very difficult AP Calculus and instead sign up for AP Statistics to fulfill their math requirement. A similar pragmatism will likely be seen in many sophomores who are planning to take the path of least resistance.
The new SAT grammar questions will be presented in the context of short vignettes, not independent sentences as they are today. The section strongly mimics the grammar-in-context format of the ACT. Compared to the existing SAT, students will see far more questions on comma splices, punctuation, redundancy, colons, semicolons, selection of topic sentences, and selection of concluding sentences. When we took the May 2014 test, we had grammar questions as part of our “experimental” section. Our first thought was that these questions were so similar to the ACT as to be borderline copyright infringement. Many of our current ACT grammar strategies will be easily adapted to these new-format SAT grammar questions. Grammar is the section that students should worry least about on the new SAT. As with the existing SAT, grammar will remain the most coachable area for most students.
Many students have been anxiously awaiting the elimination of vocabulary from the new SAT. However, reports of vocab’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Here’s a smattering of vocab words from the sample problems on the College Board’s site: hearth, reverberate, evoke, poignancy, gaiety, ambivalent, reciprocate, vivacious, acute, fleeting, foreshadow, stymied, hyperbole, solemn, diminution, subversion, jurisdiction, astute, bridle, tyrannical, maxim, maladministration, agitate, immunity, inimical, appropriations, petty, idealist, advocate, neutrality, convey, clarify, sabotage, prone, siphon, empirically, edible, and conspicuous. These words came from just 24 sample questions from the new SAT, or less than half of a real Reading test. The new SAT will continue to have more higher-level vocab than the reading passages on the ACT, which occasionally have words like "burnish" or "consternation."
Some of our students who are diligent vocab-studiers but who are slow readers have commented that they love the vocab-based sentence completions on the current SAT because finishing those questions quickly allows them extra time with which to complete the reading passages. This new format will make timing on the SAT reading passages similar to that of the ACT reading passages.
We have been talking with some of our tutoring colleagues across the US about how students who lack exposure to higher-level literature and/or other pre-existing academic information may fare worse on the new-style reading passages. For example, 1/3 of the sample reading questions that were posted deal with the structure of the U.S. government. For those students at not-so-great schools, those who haven’t taken certain history classes yet, or international students whom we tutor who just came to the country recently, this is a meaningful concern. By comparison, few current SAT passages require outside knowledge or understanding of external topics, and they can often be quite casual/non-academic in nature (such as a passage about a girl who has a crush on a fellow college student who plays the cello in SAT Blue Book Test #5). Finally, several of the questions will make students justify their answer. For example, students will answer a question, and then the next question will ask the student to identify the portion of the passage that helped them answer the prior question. These problems could be "landmines" for top-scoring students, since missing the first question will most likely mean missing the second one.
Few of the most powerful techniques that work well on today’s existing SAT and ACT, such as plugging and chugging numbers and clever process-of-elimination strategies, will work as effectively on these new-style math problems. These new Math problems are far more theoretical and conceptual than the existing SAT's questions. Students who attempt the existing SAT and fail to finish by January 2016 will experience a rocky transition when beginning to study for the new SAT's math section, which makes picking one of the two tests and running with it the smarter strategy. Some of the currently effective and efficient strategies may in fact be detrimental based on the sample problems we’ve seen thus far. Students who are linear thinkers will be jarred to find that while only 1 or 2 questions per test currently have information that is not used in the problem, a larger proportion of these new problems include information that is not necessary to solve the problem. On the current SAT, knowing that you'll generally have to use all of the information in the question is a powerful strategy; if you are stuck, focusing on the one fact that you haven't used yet is a great way to get unstuck!
Geometry gets whacked:
Geometry makes up 15-18 of the 54 questions on the current SAT, or roughly 1/3 of the test. In the new SAT, geometry is an afterthought, contributing six or fewer of the 58 questions on the new test. Given that geometry is one of the main two subjects students study freshman and sophomore years, this is a big change. The material that constitutes 50% of a student's math curriculum for 9th and 10th grade will contribute to only 10% of the SAT math questions. And the sliver of geometry that's included is tough (sample here, no calculator permitted).
Additional algebra questions take geometry's place:
The College Board calls this expanded 19-question section "the Heart of Algebra." These new Algebra problems are very impressive in that they are more resistant to plugging in numbers (guessing and checking). These problems require students to visualize equations that relate variables to each other within the context of a word problem rather than allowing students to plug and chug. A great example is this problem, in which students are asked to envision the formula for a hotel rate that includes a flat fee and sales tax. On the existing SAT, this same problem might instead ask “How many nights did Aaron stay if he paid $544.73?”
No calculator allowed on 1/3 of the new SAT math test:
One change that the national press has tended to ignore in its coverage is that students will no longer be able to use their calculators on approximately 1/3 of the math test. Many parents underestimate how reliant their students are on calculators for the existing SAT. Tutors will have to spend time teaching students speedy ways to do mental math and refreshing students on how to do long division.
Trigonometry has been added to the new SAT:
The current ACT has approximately eight trigonometry-based questions, advanced material that’s not covered on the existing SAT. The new SAT will include serious trigonometry that many students in advanced math classes don't meaningfully cover until very late in their junior year. Students in some of the middle or lower math tracks might not cover these advanced trigonometry concepts until senior year (if ever). Three sample trig problems are here: Trig Problem #1, Trig Problem #2, and Trig Problem #3. We actually gave Trig Problem #3 to a cherry-picked sample of four of our smartest SAT students who are all scoring in the top 3%. Only 1 of the 4 got #3 correct, which is the same as you’d expect from just random guessing (there are 4 answer choices).
The "Formula Box" that students receive on the test has expanded:
New math topics beyond just trigonometry: advanced statistics, imaginary numbers, and data interpretation:
The new SAT math topics include items not often tested on the current SAT, such as standard deviation, margin of error, statistical study design, and imaginary numbers (this list of additional topics will grow when we have 10 full tests to analyze in July 2015). Most importantly, data interpretation questions are the single biggest growth area. These questions are very reminiscent of the ACT Science section. Data interpretation on the new SAT is 17 questions versus only 6 questions on the current SAT.
One oddball statistical study design word problem from the new SAT sample questions is shown here:
Some other sample questions include:
- Another statistical study design question is here.
- A lengthy word problem is here.
- An imaginary number problem is here.
- An advanced data interpretation problem is here.
- A healthy paranoia will take place as students are painstakingly measuring and counting precise data points on problems like this one, this one , and this one.
The newly "optional" SAT essay will be no more optional than the current "optional" ACT essay. At UGA, Harvard, and 1500+ other schools in the nation, your ACT score is not valid without the Writing component (essay). This will continue to be the case at most schools and your student must take the essay component if they take the new SAT. A few proactive schools like Georgia Tech have already posted about it; other schools will more publicly announce their policies later this year.
The new SAT essay is moving to an ACT-style grading format, by which we mean that the essay score will be reported as a separate score that is not built into the Writing score, as it is today. The two important changes for the new essay are 1) the length has been doubled to 50 minutes and 2) students may no longer make up facts as they can on the current SAT essay. Components of the essay will be similar to an AP History DBQ essay; students will be given “source documents” that they must respond to when creating their essays. The essay score will be reported on three separate axes of 1-4 points each.
The new SAT will still have two silver linings. First, the new SAT is still likely to be superscored at over 95% of colleges, while the ACT will continue to be superscored at fewer than 20% of colleges. Second, students will still have 33-42% more time per question than on the existing ACT. The tougher nature of these new questions will somewhat dampen that SAT time advantage, but likely not to the tune of 42%.
3) Closing thoughts:
Change is always difficult, but planning makes the process go much more smoothly.
Here are our top three tips:
A) Do not purchase any SAT prep guides for the new SAT until, at a minimum, late Summer 2015. The College Board does not release its new 10-test Blue Book until June 30, 2015, so the audacity of some tutoring companies that have released a new book already, before a single real new SAT test even exists, boggles the mind. The existing SAT has a word for these folks: charlatans. Save your money for the new SAT Blue Book when it comes out on Amazon.
B) If you have a current sophomore, consider coming to one of Edison Prep’s free info sessions on test prep and college admissions. We have two this Spring and may well add additional ones since the overhaul has generated more interest from parents and students than usual. A list of info session dates/times and information on how to RSVP can be found here.
C) Keep checking this blog and/or Edison Prep’s Facebook page for updates. As the SAT continues to release more test questions and specifications, we will write follow-up blog posts to this one. We are open to being proven incorrect, and indeed hope we are. If something bizarre occurs when the new Blue Book is released, such as students being allowed to miss 4 questions and still get an 800 on math, that could very much change things. The tough problem is that many savvy students can and should be well into their current SAT studies by July 1st when the new SAT Blue Book comes out.
We’d love to hear your comments and questions! Feel free to email us at email@example.com!
Links to sample “new SAT” practice problems:
Reading Overview: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat-suite-assessments/practice/reading
Reading Passages: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sample-questions/reading/1
The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part II: A Follow-Up With Additional Data
November 20, 2014
Note: This blog post is Part II of a two-part series about changes to the ACT. The original post is here.
We received three main questions since publishing our original “The Unpublished Changes to the ACT” blog post in mid-July.
They were (paraphrased):
1. Why does the original blog post seem to only focus on top-scorers?
2. Does any of this even matter as long as roughly the same percent of kids are getting a given score as before?
3. Do you have any data to back up the anecdotal claims in the first blog post about test-takers from the coasts and other factors that are warping the top end of the curve?
Our answers are below.
1. Why does the original blog post seem to only focus on top-scorers?
The reason that the original blog post focused solely on the top end of the score spectrum (28+) is that, for better or for worse, Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship has created an era in which Georgia’s two flagship schools require tip-top scores to compete. UGA and Georgia Tech have average scores of 30 (top 5%) and 32 (top 2%), respectively. Thus, the original analysis is highly relevant to Georgians who see UGA and GT as increasingly amazing bargains with the HOPE scholarship and with the national reputation the schools have. Indeed, we saw not just one or two but several of our students this year turn down Ivy League schools for the Foundation Fellowship at UGA or the President's Scholarship at GT. On the other side of the coin rests Georgia Southern, one of the schools with the most lax SAT/ACT standards in Georgia. GSU requires an ACT of 20 to apply even under their probationary admission program. That means that even the most lenient schools in the GA University System are off the table for half of test-takers. The 21-36 range is the only meaningful range to analyze for students hoping to attend a school in the GA University System or the US News Top 50 schools.
2. Does any of this even matter as long as roughly the same percent of kids are getting a given score as before?
Some who emailed us asked us whether the changes matter, given that the overall goal is to have approximately the same portion of students earn a given score or above on each test date. This is a valid question. When you're talking about the 26-36 range, it's not just about content; it's about the intersection of speed and content. With more overly-diligent students taking even more practice tests before taking the real exam, the ACT’s response has been to slowly raise the intellectual tenor of the exam since 2011 to stratify tip-top scorers from each other, especially in Math and Science. Ethically, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; making the test intellectually harder but then providing a more generous curve minimizes the damage caused by a careless error. However, the new test is not just harder in the “Einstein e=mc^2” sense; it’s harder in the “my brain cannot process this material in such a short amount of time” sense. The intellectual content has gotten more rigorous, while the timing for each section has stayed exactly the same; thus, it’s tougher to finish in time. Top-scoring students need to know this speed differential going in; they are done a disservice by relying solely on tee-ball ACT Red Book tests and then being thrown into the fast-pitch cage on test day.
The proof of this increase in speed and intellectual tenor is in the scoring scale. ACT Red Book Test #1 Science section has not one, not two, not three, but four “evil bars” (2 point gaps for one missed question), such that a minus 4 drops a student seven whole points to a 29. By contrast, a minus four on what many consider the intellectually hardest Science test ever administered, December 2013, was still a 35--as it should have been. Depending on whether a student's main issue is speed vs. content, allocating time as he or she was used to from the Red Book tests could have resulted in a very different score. Finally, it seems from the 2013-2014 tests that closer to 2-4 questions per test require outside Science knowledge, compared to 0-2 on older tests. Again, something not relevant for middle-scorers, but highly relevant in the upper ranges. The Red Book Test #1 Science example was not cherry-picked, either. The Science section on most other available practice tests (0661C, 0359F, and others) also has three "evil bars."
3. Do you have any data to back up the anecdotal claims in the first blog post about test-takers from the coasts and other factors that are warping the top end of the curve?
In addition to the Washington Post article from the first post and our own anecdotes, we’ve downloaded data from the ACT’s own score statistics site to prove the point. In a moment, we’ll look at some data from the entire USA, Georgia, and some of the higher- and lower-achieving states.
All states are not created equal. We analyzed data from 2010, 2012, and 2013 for the USA, Georgia, and a smattering of high- and low-achieving states. We saw some pretty incredible trends emerge, the most important of which were:
A) High-achievers from the highest-achieving states (read: the Northeast and California) are now taking the test in disproportionately higher numbers. While the overall participation rate in the ACT may not have changed dramatically in the Northeastern states (the same ones that have historically had the highest National Merit cutoff scores
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the University of Georgia and discuss the application’s essay prompts. After reading this article, you will understand what these questions are really trying to get at when they ask you about “blackberry moments” and “creativity.” More importantly, you will have some ideas about how to write a compelling essay that will help you stand out from UGA’s other 24,000 applicants.
About the University of Georgia
So you have decided to apply to the UGA, where the only thing hotter than your ardor for the Georgia Bulldogs will be your animus toward the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets or the Georgia summer heat.
While the school is known for football, its campus boasts a wide array of pre-professional career tracks into any one of its specialized colleges, such as the Terry College of Business, the College of Veterinary Medicine, or the School of Social Work. Whichever field of study you end up choosing, you’ll get all the excitement that comes from going to a large research university with over 27,000 other undergraduates.
UGA admits about 5,500 new undergraduates every year, with about 550 of those students entering its honors program. Because the university is a large public institution, it gives more weight to test scores and GPA than smaller private institutions. In 2017, the SAT scores for the middle 50% of admitted students ranges between 1220 to 1360 and the average ACT score for the middle 50% of admitted students ranges from 28 to 32.
The Honors College is much more selective; for the one-in-ten students admitted to the Honors College, the average SAT score is 1490 and the average ACT score is 33. If you would like help getting your numbers up to this level, check out CollegeVine’s test prep program. That being said, a good essay can still help you stand out, and much of the advice we’ll offer below will apply to the admissions essays you might be writing for other colleges.
Read on for CollegeVine’s guide to tackling the UGA essays.
University of Georgia Application Essay Prompts
There are two different ways to apply to the University of Georgia. The first is using the Coalition Application, and the second is UGA’s own application. UGA says it has no preference, so if you are applying to other schools that use the Coalition Application, it probably makes sense to use that. However, no matter which application you use, you will need to write two essays.
For the first essay, applicants must respond to a question where they tell an “interesting or amusing story” about themselves. For the second essay, applicants must respond to one of four different prompts. One of these prompts (“describe an experience that demonstrates your character”) comes from the Coalition Application, so if you have already have a version of that essay written, you might just use that.
However, as I’ll discuss below, you may still need to do some careful editing in order to make your Coalition essay fit the school’s preferred word count. UGA’s admissions officers say that they want all of your essays to be between 200 and 300 words, which is slightly less than the 500-word essays that many other colleges require.