## PSAT Semifinalists – How to Advance, What to Expect

PSAT Semifinalist cutoffs being announced soon, so we want to detail the path towards becoming a full-fledged National Merit Finalist, and what that means exactly. Let us know in the comments if you qualified as a Semifinalist!

How Many People Earn National Merit Semifinalist? How Many Will Become Finalists?

For the 16,000 of you who are now National Merit Semifinalists, congratulations!

Across the country, a total of 16,000 students will qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status. As you likely know, students qualify on a per-state basis, with each individual state having its own cutoff score. Of the 16,000 students, 15,000 will ultimately become National Merit Finalists, so overall, your chances of becoming a Finalist are high!

As the college admissions cycle is just about to fire up, we wanted to explain what exactly early admissions is and what it offers when compared to regular admissions.

Apply early, get a decision early!

## 5 Goals for the New Semester

With a new school year fast approaching, we put together a list of 5 goals students, both high school and college alike, should aim to achieve this year:

1. Get to know 1 teacher or professor really well: When it comes down to getting letters of recommendation, which are extremely important for both college applications, graduate school applications, and job applications, you do not want to have to scramble to think of which teacher to ask. By getting to know at least one teacher really well, you can keep your options open while also developing as an individual! Participate in class, crush your exams, and attend office hours whenever possible. You’ll likely develop a natural relationship with that professor. Don’t necessarily suck up or be fake– just try and do well in the class and show some enthusiasm and interest in the course!
2. Explore and find an extracurricular you’re truly passionate about!

Find an extracurricular you are really passionate about: If you haven’t already found your niche, go out and explore the options available to you! Many organizations hold Club Fairs and interest meetings at the beginning of the year, so take advantage of that and try and find something you really enjoy! Besides becoming a more well-rounded person, your application will really shine if you have something you can speak passionately about.

3. Keep your grades going strong: The bottom line is GPA is king, so above all else make sure your academic performance is strong. No amount of extracurricular can make up for a bad GPA, so your #1 focus should always be to do as well as possible in your classes.
4. Spend time developing a hobby: You don’t have to find something unique, but make sure you find a hobby that you can fall back on during times of stress. Whether it’s cooking, League, biking, reading, or drawing, – whatever makes you happy! – make sure you have something that you love to do that can help you relieve stress. If you can find a club or extracurricular that mirrors this, then great! But not everything has to have a resume-line. Do things that benefit you as a person!
5. School is all about bettering yourself! Take every advantage of that!

Explore the classes that interest you: Take a wide variety of courses, if possible, but if not, try and find something that you can really latch onto and capital-L Learn. Too often school is viewed as just another box to check off on an application, another thing to do because we’re expected to. While you won’t like every class you take, make sure you take something away from at least one class. There’s nothing worse than a senior who can’t name a thing they did in the last four years.

## Best of the Blogs: Improve Your College Application : Extracurriculars

As the new semester is approaching, we’re revisiting one of our favorite posts on the extracurriculars needed to get into a top university. It was originally posted by Ridge, so enjoy!

Hey everybody! It’s Ridge with another post about the college admissions process. This time, I’ll be talking about extracurricular activities. I hope you enjoy it!

As high school droned on, I found it important to take on some activities just for fun or to “expand my horizons,” as the cliche goes. High school can be incredibly monotonous for a student oscillating between falling asleep in class and falling asleep while doing homework. Sometimes, I just need a pick-me-up, something I can do during the day that involves more than just looking at a whiteboard and taking notes. Enter extracurricular activities. These are hobbies that involve doing more than just sitting and listening. Extracurricular activities, or ECs as they are sometimes called, include three broad types of activity: sports, arts, and volunteer work.

I take it back, violins can be cool!

Sports weren’t for me, but I did find some things that were for me. I am still involved in the first EC I ever participated in: violin. I have been playing violin since the second grade, and, although it is not the coolest or most unique of instruments, the violin still entertains me with possibly the largest repertoire of solo and chamber music for any single instrument. Playing an instrument falls into the second broad category of ECs: arts. Many colleges value the creativity in the arts (particularly Ivy League schools), and many include an optional arts supplement for talented artists who want to show how important their art is to them. Generally, these supplements involve submitting samples of one’s work. Common arts include: dance, theater, drawing/painting, and musical performance. Again, you can benefit from doing one of these arts even if you aren’t exceptional or naturally talented.

The final group is volunteer work. This is probably the easiest to do as it does not require any particular skill. Volunteering is loosely defined as doing work for others without the expectation of compensation. It is a very popular activity, especially during the summer when there is plenty of time and very little to do. During the summer, many hospitals accept high school volunteers to help around, and many of my friends and I have been involved in such programs. Volunteering is measured in the amount of time you work, and while many universities will not “require” you to have a certain number of volunteer hours to be admitted, many will look very favorably upon such acts of charity. As a mark of good character, meaningful volunteer work reflects well on an applicant because colleges will see that you are involved in the community and are doing things for others as well as for yourself. Many schools also have service-oriented clubs, like National Honor Society, that offer volunteer opportunities throughout the school year. There are also awards for volunteering, such as the Presidential Service Award.

Colleges value extracurricular activities because of what those activities represent about the applicant. Successful athletes are dedicated and disciplined, and usually work well with others (which is important in a classroom environment); accomplished musicians or individuals with similar artistic outlets tend to excel in large part because of their creativity and imagination; service activities like volunteering show colleges you are committed to your community, and that you can bring that same commitment to serve to their community on campus.

While the personal benefits of ECs are evident in the friends you make and skills you learn through such participation, it is important to note that when you are applying to college you must be able to translate your experiences into something quantifiable. In other words, keep track of your accomplishments and be sure to brag about them when you apply to college!

Ridge Liu went through the Test Masters SAT & PSAT course between his sophomore and junior years of high school. Ridge went on to obtain a Perfect Score on the SAT, and we expect him to be named a National Merit Semi- or Finalist this fall.

You can find Ridge’s last “Improve Your College Application” post here.

## The Great Global Conversation and You

“We Americans must fight for our right… to party.”

While the SAT is primarily used for admission into American institutions, the test is administered internationally. Therefore, one of the aims of redesigning the SAT was to make it more accessible for test takers regardless of their respective backgrounds. And what better way to do that than to add a passage to every test that aligns itself with American values and assert that it’s a universally valued text? A text that is part of not just “a global conversation” but rather “The Great Global Conversation.”

All kidding aside, the Great Global Conversation passage of the redesigned SAT Evidence-based Reading exam is very much in line with the college board’s overall goas of assessing a student’s college readiness. In earlier specifications for the redesigned exam, the College Board asserted that it is committed to “the idea that all students should be asked routinely to engage with texts worthy of close attention and careful analysis,” and that “nowhere is [this commitment] more evident than in the Reading Test’s inclusion of U.S. founding documents and texts from the Great Global Conversation.”

Give me liberty, or give me test prep!

So what exactly is this passage from “the Great Global Conversation”? A primary source document such as a U.S. founding document (the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, etc.) or some other historical text that explores the concepts of freedom, liberty, and/or justice. Selections ostensibly span from said founding documents all the way to texts from the twenty-first century and represent authors of all different nationalities and backgrounds. In addition to providing a sample from Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s speech at the Nixon impeachment hearings in 1974, the College Board has also named Edmund Burke,  Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr. as possible passage sources. Your friends at College Compass have also been careful to note some passages that have recently shown up in experimental sections of the exam that fit the profile of “Great Global Conversation” passages (included at the end of this post).

As the College Board is careful to point out, however, while these passages may, in some cases, be more difficult to dissect than some of the more contemporary texts on the exam, the questions associated with these passages will still require students to choose an answer that’s supported by the text. In other words, no previous knowledge of any historical event associated with the passage is necessary to answer the questions. In fact, even if you are an expert on the subject, remember to answer the questions with evidence from the passage.

What it comes down to is this: this passage may seem more intimidating, but the College Board has generated the same types of questions and answering them will require all the same skills and strategies as answering the questions for any other passage. You may want to plan to take an extra minute or two on this passage to allow yourself a little bit more time to interpret the text, but otherwise, treat it as you’d treat any other passage.

Previous examples of Global Conversation passages include excerpts from:

1. The Bill of Rights
2. The Federalist Papers
3. Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
4. Susan B. Anthony
6. Fredrick Douglas *
7. Alexander Hamilton on Slavery
8. Alexis de Tocqueville
*Passage was on October PSAT

## SAT Math Practice: Absolute Values

Today at College Compass we’ll run through an SAT practice problem involving absolute values:

What value of x satisfies the equation  $|2x-7|+3=0$.

## ApplyTexas vs. the Common Application

To better help prepare you for the upcoming admissions season, we’ve put together a quick guide on ApplyTexas and the CommonApp, noting the differences between the two and what exactly you’ll need to apply.

What is the difference between ApplyTexas and CommonApp?

Though Texas might not be its own country (yet), it does have its own separate application system

The one main difference between the two applications is which schools use them. Of course, this is a huge difference, but apart from this, the sets of applications are pretty similar in terms of required documents. One catch is that since ApplyTexas is a different system than CommonApp, if you plan on applying to both Texas schools and other schools, you’ll have to submit both an ApplyTexas and a CommonApp application, along with letters of recommendation, test scores, and transcripts to both.

## Best of the Blog: College Visits 101 – Talking to Students

Nothing like a nice stroll through Harvard yard, right?

Since many of you are embarking on college tours, we’ll be presenting one of our favorite blog posts on college visits, originally posted by Calvin. Enjoy!

You can learn a lot about a college from its website, its guided tours, and its employees. However, there are some questions that can only be answered by a real, live college student. In fact, speaking with a university’s current students is one of the best ways to find out whether a college is right for you. There are many ways to interact with students when visiting a college campus, some more mediated than others. Current students (hand-picked and trained by the administration) will usually lead campus tours when you visit, and it might be possible to meet with students from a particular major by contacting the office of admissions. Simply call them up, tell them you are a prospective student who wants to major in X, and that you would like to talk to a current student who is majoring in X when you visit. They may be able to set something up for you.

## SAT Math Practice: Solving for a Variable!

Today I’ll show you a problem I see a lot of students facing: how to solve for a variable if it appears in both the numerator and the denominator. Given the New SAT’s increased focus on simplifying equations, make sure you have this process down pat!

Given the equation $y=\dfrac{3x+5}{2x-8}$, give x in terms of y.

## Testmasters Summer Courses Starting in June!

Testmasters is one of the fastest growing test preparation companies in the country. Every year, Testmasters produces more perfect SAT score students and National Merit Semifinalists than all local competitors combined. Our Summer courses are starting soon, so if you haven’t signed up yet you better hurry!

“My score increased at least 200 or more points every practice test! Testmasters is not only effective when it comes to learning, but interesting with the outgoing teachers!”

Rene H.

“The Excellent Staff Taught Me About Strategies To Effortlessly Raise Scores.”

Jillian K.

“Testmasters has helped me more than I ever imagined. There are great teachers and you learn a ton of information. I now feel comfortable taking the SAT.”

Cristina G.

“Testmasters has given me the knowledge that I need to do well on the ACT. I know my scores will improve a lot now that I have taken this class.”

Caroline C.

“Testmasters is the best!”

Kelsi G.