Is the New SAT More Reading Intensive?

Though the New SAT seems to be more Reading-intensive, we believe that overall, the exam is more balanced towards both English and Math.
Though the New SAT seems to be more Reading-intensive, we believe that overall, the exam is more balanced towards both English and Math.

We recently came across this interesting piece by the New York Times regarding the New SAT’s  increased focus on the verbal/reading side of academics. While it’s true there is a longitudinal incorporation of English across the test, overall, we feel like the exam is smoothing out its English biases to become more balanced.

Continue reading “Is the New SAT More Reading Intensive?” »

UPDATE 2: 2016 National Merit Semifinalist Cutoff Score for Texas – NEW ESTIMATE

Based on an analysis of nearly 10,000 students, Testmasters has updated our prediction for the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff score in Texas to be as high as 219.

To understand how we got this number, you first need to understand how the National Merit Scholarship Corporation determines who gets to be a semifinalist. Every year, approximately 16,000 students become National Merit Semifinalists. Every state in the country is allotted a number of those 16,000 students proportional to the number of graduating high school seniors in that state. They then “fill in” that allocation starting with the students from that state with the highest scores. The lowest score in that allocation is the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff score for that state.

Distribution of NMSQT Selection Index, TexasUsing new data from roughly 10,000 Testmasters students and other students who took the PSAT in Texas, we reproduced this process. We know from historic data that of these 10,000 students, approximately 60 will become National Merit Semifinalists. Applying that number to our data, we have revised our estimate of the National Merit Semifinalist cutoff for Texas to be as high as 219.

Picture3Our previous estimate of 217 was based on linear regression done on the concordance tables released by the College Board and historical cutoff scores. This new estimate includes 10,000 students – a sampling of Testmasters students and beyond – and is more accurate because it’s based on real, actual scores from students who took the new test and have scores using the new selection index. Even though the cutoff score is higher, the number of students who will become National Merit Semifinalists stays the same.

But what about the sliding-scale estimates?

They were our best guess before the concordance tables came out. We update our estimates when we receive new data.

What does this mean for other states?

It’s important to note that this data is only representative of Texas and cannot necessarily be extrapolated to the cutoffs of other states. However, what the 219 shows us is that our concordance table estimates are in the right ballpark–though we won’t know for sure until August/September.

Please note that this post is an update to previous posts on the topic. You can find those previous posts here:

UPDATE: What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?

What PSAT Scores Make the Cut for National Merit in 2016?

Testmasters produces more perfect SAT scores and National Merit Semifinalists than all local competitors combined. Learn more about our SAT & PSAT course options here!

What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Writing

Josef_Löwy_Handstudie_vor1872
We can answer your questions about the 2016 SAT format!

If you’re taking the SAT before March 2016, you’ll be asked to write a two page essay that makes a completely one-dimensional argument supporting a yes or no answer to a vaguely philosophical question. In fact, one of the most difficult parts about the 25 minute section might just be finding any sort of direction given the lameness of the prompt. But once you get going, if you can come up with some specific examples to support your claim and fill up two pages in the process, you’re pretty much golden. In fact, while your examples do have to be “specific” they do not have to be factual: a student writing that D-Day ended the Cold War between Siam and Spain in the year 1066 will likely receive a higher grade than a student who accurately identifies D-Day as the day the Allies invaded Normandy but forgets to include when it happened, provided that the first student was able to support his claim with his uninformed example.

You might say, “well, that’s not really fair,” and you’d be right! This shortcoming—and a few others that make this a less-than-ideal writing sample—has prompted the College Board to rethink the essay.

Kids, I have good news and I have bad news. Continue reading “What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Writing” »

What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Math

SineCosineAnimationThe College Board claims that the Revised SAT Math will “require a stronger command of fewer, more important topics.” Considering that I personally managed to get two liberal arts degrees without ever having to demonstrate my ability (or lack there of) to solve problems using the trigonometric functions that I forgot immediately after the Calculus AP exam, I don’t know exactly how the College Board determines what topics are “more important,” but the test does seem to be shifting away from its more logic and reasoning based math in favor of problems that involve applying what a student would learn throughout high school math (possibly, dare I say it, more like the ACT).

Specifically, the revised version of the test appearing in March of 2016 will evidently cover four content areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math (“Heart of Algebra”? “Passport to Advanced Math”? real cute, College Board). Another big difference is that the test will now be split into a fifty-five minute calculator section, and a twenty-five minute no-calculator section. Yes, you’ll be assessed over your ability to math without that handy contraption that maths for you—how unfair! Between the two sections you’ll have a total of fifty-seven questions: forty-five multiple choice, eleven student produced responses (grid-ins), and one “extended thinking” question (two-part grid-in). Continue reading “What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Math” »

What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Reading

Feel like you have to translate SAT passages? We can help!
Feel like you have to translate SAT passages? We can help!

The Revised SAT Evidence-Based Reading (that’s a mouthful) will include five(ish) passages: one Literature based passage, two History/Social Studies passages, and two Science passages. Similar to some passages on the current SAT, one of the passages in the Science and/or Social Studies fields may be replaced with a pairing of shorter, related passages, and both topics will include one or two related graphics that a few questions will refer back to. All in all, you’ll have 65 minutes to do fifty-two passage-based questions and ZERO sentence completion problems. There will still be vocabulary-based questions in the passages, but they’ll focus more on your ability to define a word in the context of the passage. Additionally, a new type of question will test your command of evidence. Continue reading “What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Reading” »

The SAT Shape-Shifts Again!

We can help with your questions about the SAT's new mutations!
We can help with your questions about the SAT’s new mutations!

OK, since the revision of the SAT is a pretty major topic in college admissions right now, I probably didn’t have to use a crazy title to get you to read about the New SAT, but how else was I going to fit Mystique into a blog post?

YES! If you hadn’t heard, the SAT is changing March of 2016. We know what you’re thinking, Class of ’17: “Why me? WHY NOW?!” But don’t get too stressed out! You might even like some of the changes they’re making. For instance, you’ll no longer be penalized for wrong answers, and they’re doing away with that pesky sentence completion. And never fear! We here at Test Masters are here to help guide you through the transition! In this post, we’ll get our feet wet with some of the overall format changes. Continue reading “The SAT Shape-Shifts Again!” »

Ask Test Masters: International Student Applying to the Ivy League

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Have a question? Ask the college admission experts at Test Masters!

Ask Test Masters is a free educational service offered by the college admission experts at Test Masters. College Compass readers Arman and Mandy have a question about applying to competitive US schools as an international student. They write,

“We are from Sydney Australia and my goal/dream is for my son to be accepted to a very good US university, preferably with a bit of scholarship if possible. My son is 16 turning 17 in October, and currently in Year 10 and will start Year 11 in Term 4. He will graduate in Year 12 in 2015 and we are hoping to go to university in the US in August 2016. He goes to a Government Selective School and is currently their number 1 player in Division 1 Tennis. I need some guidance, please, on how do I go about it for him to have a better chance? Thank you in advance.” Continue reading “Ask Test Masters: International Student Applying to the Ivy League” »

New SAT – The New Essay

"I see essays in your future..."
“I see essays in your future…”

The essay section of the SAT has been controversial ever since it was added in 2005. To this day, many colleges choose not to consider it when looking at the applications of prospective students, and perhaps not without reason.

One of the chief complaints regarding the essay that critics love to lob at College Board is that the graders do not take factual accuracy into account when grading the essay. The SAT essay in its current form presents students with an open-ended question (usually of a vaguely philosophical nature) and asks them to take a position on it and use examples from the test taker’s reading, studies, experience, or observations in order to support that position. Because the graders do not consider factual accuracy when grading the essays, test takers can blatantly make up the most ridiculous tall tales in order to support their arguments without being penalized.

For instance, if an essay asked a student if risk taking is necessary for achieving happiness, the student could mention the time the famous Chinese explorer Christopher Columbus took the risk of attempting a voyage to the moon in 1973 because he had fallen in love with a moon mermaid over the course of a long epistolary romance. Because taking this risk led Columbus to true love, risk taking is thus necessary for happiness. Difficult to believe though it may be, essay graders would not bat an eye at such a farfetched piece of evidence and would award full points for such an example. Hypothetical examples, in contrast, are frowned upon and considered weaker than patently false but detailed ones.

Some critics might claim that an inarticulate beast, such as this bull, could produce material similar to that considered acceptable for the current SAT essay.
Some critics might claim that an inarticulate beast, such as this bull, could produce material similar to that considered acceptable for the current SAT essay.

There are other criticisms as well. Essentially, the essay encourages students to cherry-pick examples in order to form a one-sided argument that often ignores the complexities of the world. For instance, consider the following typical essay prompt: “Is the way something seems to be not always the same as it actually is?” The obvious answer to this question is yes. Sometimes appearances can be misleading. Sometimes they are not. For the purposes of the SAT essay, however, students must pick one side (appearances are misleading or appearances are accurate) and use examples to support only one side. Attempts to discuss the potential validity of both sides are penalized as weak arguments rather than strong, forceful ones.

Additionally, while College Board does not explicitly say this, there is a strong correlation between an essay’s length and the score it receives. Basically (with a few caveats), the longer your essay, the higher your score will be. In effect, this means that students need to spend as much time writing as possible and, consequently, as little time thinking as possible. Thus, a student who takes a glib, one-sided, superficial view of the question at hand but writes two full pages will likely receive a higher score than one who writes a shorter response but takes more time to think about the question meaningfully.

In essence, one could argue that the current SAT essay teaches students that the truth doesn’t matter and that thinking is bad. In this light, the rejection of the essay by some colleges is entirely understandable (although it is interesting to note that all of our country’s most elite colleges expect prospective students to get top scores on the essay). To be fair, the essay does test perfectly legitimate aspects of writing such as grammar, diction, style, etc., and it is useful in college admissions because it provides admissions departments with a timed, independent writing sample that allows colleges to judge a student’s spontaneous writing ability.

College Board is also well aware of the current essay’s shortcomings, and has decided to radically revise the essay in order to address many of these concerns. First of all, in acknowledgement of the fact that some universities do not consider the essay, it has decided to make the essay section optional (highly selective colleges will still be likely to require it, though). But how can they fix the bigger factual accuracy problem? With thousands of essays to grade, the graders simply don’t have time to fact check every essay. College Board’s solution is simple and should prove effective: make the SAT essay a DBQ.

DBQ stands for “Document Based Question,” a question type common on many of College Board’s other products, namely its Advanced Placement exams. DBQs are typically found in the free response sections of AP History and English exams. Students are presented with historical documents, essays, or literary excerpts and asked to write an essay analyzing the information and opinions contained in the documents. Questions of factual accuracy are easily resolved with document based questions, since all of the relevant facts are presented in the documents.

Furthermore, the actual questions for DBQ essays can be more focused and nuanced than the broad, quasi-philosophical ones of the current essay. College Board has said that “The essay prompt will be shared in advance and remain consistent,” so we will know what exact question they will ask soon enough. In the meantime, know that typical DBQ prompts usually go something like this:

“Analyze the writer’s rhetorical strategies as she attempts to persuade the reader to accept her point of view regarding the separation of powers.”

“Discuss the logical flow of the author’s argument about the United Nation’s declaration of human rights.”

“Explain how the author views the scope of the first amendment of the constitution and analyze his use of evidence to support his view.”

Rather than try to express their own opinions on often complex and difficult questions, students will likely be asked to analyze someone else’s opinions and ideas. This should prevent shallow, one-sided answers to deep, multifaceted questions. Lastly, the time for the essay will be greatly extended, from 25 to 50 minutes. This is partly because the student will need time to read the documents, but we can hope that there is more time for thinking and planning a response built into that 50 minutes as well.

'MURICA!!!
‘MURICA!!!

Where are these documents going to come from? Well, the College Board is aware that these documents will be subject to immense scrutiny in the popular press, so it went with the safest bet it could: the founding documents of the United States, and other documents about liberty and democracy from around the world. College Board says:

“America’s founding documents — such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — are all rather short, but they have inspired a conversation that endures today. Every time students take the redesigned SAT, they will encounter an excerpt from one of the Founding Documents or a text from the ongoing Great Global Conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity. In this way, we hope that the redesigned SAT will inspire deep engagement with texts that matter and reflect not only what is important for college and career, but what is important for citizenship here and around the world.”

The founding documents are a patriotic choice, and the “Great Global Conversation” documents make the test more multicultural and protect College Board from allegations of cultural imperialism (after all, the SAT is taken by students all over the world who hope to study in the US).

Will the new essay be harder? Probably, yes. It’s longer and it tests reading comprehension as well as writing ability. But it will still be coachable, and practice will definitely help you prepare for it. The fact is that the SAT is, was, and always will be a standardized test, and standardized tests must be graded in a standardized way, and if you can figure out what boxes the graders are trying to check off when they grade your essay, you can figure out what to give them. And that’s what we provide at Test Masters. We have over twenty years of experience preparing kids for the SAT, ACT, AP exams, SAT Subject Tests, and a whole slew of other exams. We know what it takes to get a top score on a DBQ essay like the new SAT essay, and if you aren’t sure how to prepare for the new SAT, we are here to help.

Want more info on the New SAT? Find it at www.NewSAT.org!

5 More Ways the New SAT is Actually Harder

The new SAT is going to be harder!You may have heard that College Board is redesigning the SAT for 2016. You may also have heard that they’re “dumbing it down” or making it easier. The main reason for this impression seems to be that College Board is getting rid of the Sentence Completion questions, aka the “vocab” questions. While students might think they can rejoice at not having to study long lists of vocabulary words any more, any celebration on this front would be premature. In fact, overall, the redesigned SAT will probably be harder than the current one. Here are 5 More Ways the New SAT is Actually Harder.

1)      More grid-ins.

On the new SAT, there will be 11 grid-in (or student produced response) questions, which is more than the SAT currently has. Grid-ins are trickier than multiple choice, because it is much more difficult to guess on them. Also, certain strategies like plugging in the answers cannot be used on grid-ins. Even a small increase in the number of grid-ins could impact your score.

2)      More word problems.

The new SAT math section will have a new focus on real world calculations and applications, which means there are going to be more word problems. Because word problems contain more text to read and decipher, they are often more time consuming than normal math problems. Having more word problems thus means that time will likely be more of an issue on the math section.

3)      The essay also has a long passage now.

The new essay will now have a reading component, and will likely resemble an AP-style DBQ (document based question) essay. AP exams (which are also created by College Board) are meant to test college level abilities, so an AP-style grading system is likely to be harder than the one used for the current SAT. The passage will make a persuasive argument and will likely be similar to the types of passages on the reading section – so it probably won’t be too easy. Effectively comprehending, citing, and analyzing the passage will be integral to the essay, so this adds just one more challenge to the test.

4)      The essay is longer.

Instead of having 25 minutes to write the essay, students will have 55 minutes. This might seem good, since students will have more time to compose their thoughts. However, this may not be the case. Part of that time will be used reading the passage that the student must analyze, and it is quite likely that College Board will expect students to write longer essays. Coming up with two pages on the current SAT is hard enough. If the new SAT gives you twice as much time but expects twice as much writing, then it may be twice as hard.

5)   Can’t make stuff up.

The current SAT essay infamously does not assign grades according to the factual accuracy of an essay’s content. This means that if you can’t remember some details of an example you want to use to support your argument, you can just make them up. The new SAT essay is analytical, rather than persuasive, which means you won’t be able to just make up examples to support your argument. The new essay task is more sophisticated and requires more higher level thinking skills, which means it’s going to be harder.

So much for the “dumbing down” theory. If you will be taking the new SAT, then you’ve got some work to do! But don’t worry – even if the new SAT is harder, like all standardized tests it will still be coachable, and the experts at Test Masters will be ready to show you the new strategies you will need to succeed. As College Board has finally acknowledged, test prep really does make a difference, so rest assured: practice makes perfect. Until test day, keep up the good work, and good luck!

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Miss the first 5 Ways the New SAT is Actually Harder post? Find it here! Want to know more about the New SAT? Learn more here!

5 Ways the New SAT is Actually Harder

The new SAT is going to be harder!You may have heard that College Board is redesigning the SAT for 2016. You may also have heard that they’re “dumbing it down” or making it easier. The main reason for this impression seems to be that College Board is getting rid of the Sentence Completion questions, aka the “vocab” questions. While students might think they can rejoice at not having to study long lists of vocabulary words any more, any celebration on this front would be premature. In fact, overall, the redesigned SAT will probably be harder than the current one. Here are 5 Ways the New SAT is Actually Harder.

1)      Vocab was actually your friend.

For the current SAT, the fastest and easiest way to raise your critical reading score is by studying vocab. There are about 500 frequently tested vocabulary words College Board likes to put on the SAT, and if you start a few months in advance, you can easily memorize them all (especially since you have already probably learned a lot of them in school, anyway). Painful as it might be for some students, memorizing vocabulary words is way easier than improving your reading fluency and comprehension, which requires you to read challenging literature regularly for years.

2)      Vocab is still on the test.

Many students think that vocabulary is only tested on the fill-in-the-blank style Sentence Completion questions, but if you look closely at the SAT, you will realize that the passages, questions, and answer choices for the passage-based questions are often full of SAT vocab words. The SAT will still test vocabulary – it will just be part of the passage based questions. If a passage is full of hard vocab words you don’t know, how well will you understand what it’s trying to say? Probably not very well. Thus, you are still going to need to study vocab in order to get a top score on the SAT.

3)      The reading section is now 100% long passages.

On the current SAT, the hardest questions (the ones most frequently missed by test takers) are Long Passage questions. Guess what? The new SAT reading test is 100% long passages. The writing portion of the verbal section test will also be 100% passage-based as well.

4)      The passages will probably be harder.

On the current SAT, College Board mainly uses passages written in the generic, glossy style of magazines like National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine, peppered with occasional high-dollar vocab words but ultimately written to be easily comprehended. They are on general interest intellectual topics and meant to appeal and be readily understandable to the adult reading public. The new SAT will continue to use passages like these, but will also feature new passage types.

The passages based on founding documents of the United States and the “Great Global Conversation” have gotten the most publicity, and chances are they will be older, more abstract, and more difficult than the usual passages. These kinds of passages might come from Supreme Court opinions, the Federalist Papers, congressional testimony, speeches and declarations from around the world, etc. If the speech by Barbara Jordan released by College Board as an example is representative, then these types of sources are likely to be more complex and challenging than the ones on the current SAT. Science-themed passages will also be accompanied by charts and graphs, adding a mathematical component to the passages.

Additionally, the passages for the writing portion of the verbal test will also likely be more challenging than those found on either the ACT or among the current SAT’s paragraph questions (which are found at the end of each 25 min. writing section). While this portion of the test will closely resemble the ACT English test in format, the passages are likely to be at a higher difficulty level, and they will certainly be more difficult than the current SAT’s paragraph questions, which are based on a multi-paragraph passage meant to imitate a rough draft of a student produced essay.

5)      No calculator for part of the math section.

On the new SAT, there will be 22 math questions that students will have to answer without the aid of a calculator. For students who are rusty on their multiplications tables or mental math in general, this will definitely pose an increased challenge.

So much for the “dumbing down” theory. If you will be taking the new SAT, then you’ve got some work to do! But don’t worry – even if the new SAT is harder, like all standardized tests it will still be coachable, and the experts at Test Masters will be ready to show you the new strategies you will need to succeed. As College Board has finally acknowledged, test prep really does make a difference, so rest assured: practice makes perfect. Until test day, keep up the good work, and good luck!

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