Should I Take Math Level I or Math Level II?

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Deciding which SAT Subject Tests to take can be tricky, especially when it comes to choosing between Math Level I or Math Level II. Generally speaking, if you have completed an Algebra II/Trigonometry course, then you are prepared to take the Math Level I SAT Subject Test. When you have completed a course in Pre-Calculus, you will likely be ready to take on the Math Level II. However, each math student is different and going by this simple guideline can often be the wrong choice.

The subtle reality is that these tests are not very different in terms of overall content. The Math Level I test will cover most materials learned in grade school, Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. The Math Level II test covers all these materials as well as some of the more advanced topics learned in Algebra II and Pre-Calculus (e.g. logarithms, parametrics, trigonometric/piecewise/recursive functions, summations, and three-dimensional geometry to name a few). While this may seem like a significant difference, the truth is that the vast majority of questions on both tests consist of predominantly algebra and geometry topics. Most of the trickiest topics on the Math Level II are rare and, to be honest, a savvy Algebra II/Trig student can often score better on the level two test than on the level one.

While the Math Level I is easier in terms of overall content, the scaled score that one receives is actually harsher. As an example, if a student takes the level one test and gets five questions wrong, that student would receive an approximate score of 750 (95th percentile). If a student takes the level two test and gets five questions wrong, that student may receive a perfect score of 800. However, believe it or not, this perfect score on the Math Level II test only corresponds to the 79th percentile! For an unknown reason, the scaling on this test is skewed down nationwide. Personally, I would like them to scale the test in order to discern more accuracy in the upper range but this is not the case and can make interpretation of the results a little tricky.

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In my opinion, all colleges view the Math Level II test as the real indicator of whether or not a student is proficient in mathematics. This is a major reason to try the harder test. If you want to apply to an upper echelon school with a technical major in the maths or sciences, then this is the test that you should prepare for. I believe that the score that you want to send with your applications and transcripts should be at or above the 700 mark. In order to break 700 on the Math Level II, you will need to answer at least 33 questions correctly while omitting the remaining 17. It is a little known fact that this marks merely the 45th percentile! In order to break 700 on the Math Level I, you will need 38 correct answers and omit the remaining 12 (74th percentile). To clarify, you’ll need fewer questions correct on the harder test yet many of the same algebra and geometry topics are covered on both.

There is no doubt that an 800 on either test is a feather in the cap of the applicant but if you are a strong math student, it is honestly easier to achieve this perfect or ‘near’ perfect score on the level two test. Regardless of what percentile the score represents or which test you ultimately decide to take, colleges like to see scores in the 700 to 800 range. In order to make an informed decision for yourself, you should try one of each and score them accordingly. If you get a score approaching the 700 mark on either the Math Level I or Math Level II, then you should strongly consider taking the Math Level II. A 700 on the Math Level II looks better than a 700 on the Math Level I. If you score in the 500s or low 600s on the Math Level I, then perhaps this is the right test for you. Based on the number of right answers and the scaled score, you can determine which test holds a better chance at a 700 for you and if you are unsure, you can always prepare for both!

Two Questions to Ask Yourself When Crafting Your College Essay

For the past few years now, working as a college essay coach, I’ve been fantasizing about putting together a list of essays for all my students to read before starting their own. These wouldn’t be other students’ college essays (how constraining and competitive that would feel) but a list of “real” essays — reflections like David Sedaris’s “Santaland Diaries,” James Baldwin’s “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” or the opening chapter of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Last week, I entertained adding another piece to this list, and one that breaks from all the others—CityLab’s “A Global Review of Public Transit Seat Cover Designs.”

If you haven’t read it, give it a go. It’s not too long, and it does what I wish more college essays would do: it makes a lively discussion out of a seemingly bland, lifeless detail in our shared world. It talks about four main criteria that go into choosing the ideal subway seat cover — Memorability, Freshness, Intricacy, and Anti-Dazzle (i.e., it shouldn’t make you feel nauseous when you look at it) — and, through comparing designs around the world, weighs the pros and cons. But, more importantly, it shows how much thought goes into parts of the world precisely so that people like us don’t have to think about them.

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In some ways, the more irrelevant the topic, the better. Especially if you’re applying to research universities or liberal arts colleges. Remember that these places are filled with people who spend their lifetimes poring through small details — be them in the humanities, social sciences, or STEM fields — in the name of knowledge production. Countless academic careers come down to discussions of small details.

If you’re hunting for a college essay topic, this approximates a good starting question: Is there anything you think about more than other people? What makes your mind keep returning to this thing?

How ACT Reading & Science Go Hand in Hand

If you work with two different tutors on your ACT test prep (as the majority of our ACT students do), then you need to divide up the test sections somehow so that each tutor is responsible for guiding you through specific parts of the test. The most common way to do that is to work on the three “verbal” sections (English, Reading, and Essay) with one tutor and then to work on Math and Science with the other.

In some ways, this division makes a lot of sense. For starters, it tracks a common way of classifying areas of knowledge more generally (humanities fields vs. STEM fields). And when you ask students (and tutors!), to describe their own academic interests or their strengths and weaknesses, they’ll often invoke this same divide, situating themselves on one or the other side of it.

But this certainly isn’t the only way to divide up the ACT’s sections, and for some purposes, a different approach might work better. One approach that I sometimes recommend is to work on the Science and Reading sections together.

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These two sections have a lot in common, after all: Both of them require you to engage in critical analysis, both require that the analysis be carried out under time pressure, and both require you to maintain your focus as you work through several multi-question passages. Many of the Science passages require careful reading, and these passages are just as much a test of your “verbal” abilities as anything else on the ACT is. (The “dueling-scientists” passages, in particular, test many of the same skills as the comparative reading passages in the Reading section—the ones with a Passage A and a Passage B.) Plus, every Reading section concludes with a passage about natural science.

To excel at both of these sections, then, you need to be able to read about science, and for many students that can be a new kind of challenge. High-school English classes usually don’t involve reading about science, and most high-school science classes do little, if anything, to develop students’ verbal skills.

So, here are some strategies to help you improve at that vital—and too often neglected—ACT skill:

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Make a habit of reading about science, beyond the reading you do during practice tests.

Two websites that I find particularly helpful are Science Daily and the “Trilobites” column in the New York Times. These two websites contain short articles—around the same length as an ACT passage--about recent scientific discoveries. When you read these articles, focus on both the substance of the discovery AND on the mechanics of the scientific experiments that yielded the discovery.

For practice, have a look at this recent article from Science Daily. (It just happens to be about a topic, butterfly mimicry, that has appeared on an ACT Reading section.)

When an ACT passage introduces a new concept (like “umbrella species” or “sky islands”), make an effort to understand that concept as you read.

Sometimes, the test’s editors will even help you to identify a key concept by putting the related term in quotation marks or by italicizing it. It’s a safe bet that you’re going to be asked about that concept when you get to the questions. So why not make an effort to grasp the concept as you read, rather than waste precious time looking back at the passage later?

After reading that article about the butterflies, can you explain the difference between Batesian mimicry and Mullerian mimicry?

When a passage describes a complex natural process, make an effort to understand that process as you read.

Again, this will save you time later!

After reading the butterfly article, can you explain how these butterflies acquire their foul taste?

When you’re reading about a scientific experiment, pay attention to details, and actively try to figure out what those details mean.

ACT Science passages often include questions about experimental design, and the key to those questions is often in the text of the passage, in what may have seemed like a minor detail.

In the butterfly article, you read that Dr. Prudic’s team conducted an experiment using praying mantids that were “hand-reared in the lab.” Why were these mantids “hand-reared”? That’s not extraneous information, but it takes a moment of thought to figure out its significance. And that’s just the kind of detail that an ACT passage would ask you about.

Improving your reading about science takes practice, but it’s one of the best things you can do to prepare for the ACT!

The Do’s and Don’ts of the SAT Essay

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Now that we’re a few years into the “new” SAT (which was completely overhauled in 2016), I’ve started to see more of my students opting to take it over the ACT. One major difference between the tests that often gets overlooked, however, is the essay. If you’re considering both tests, I’d recommend practicing each test with the essay — which you can (and should!) do during the diagnostic process here at LP. And to get you started with thinking about the SAT essay, here’s a couple of quick tips based on the SAT essays that I’ve seen.

First, let’s take a look at an SAT essay prompt. Before the passage, you’ll see this box:

And after the passage, you’ll see this box (just replace “Jimmy Carter” and “the Arctic…” with whatever your passage is about):

Notice how, unlike the ACT, the SAT does not ask you to argue your opinion on a topic; instead, you are asked to analyze how effectively someone else makes their points.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when writing the SAT essay:

DO paraphrase or quote from the most important parts of the passage to demonstrate your reading comprehension. A full third of your score is “reading,” and your grader can only evaluate how well you’ve read from your writing.

DO try to fill close to two handwritten pages, and try to leave yourself a couple of minutes to revise your work for spelling and grammar mistakes. Now, according to the rubric, your ideas should matter much more than length and spelling. But think about your grader, who’s probably going through hundreds of essays very quickly. These types of things can end up mattering more than they probably should.

DO consider a “three-prong” thesis statement to clearly lay out your essay’s structure — something like “Through his X, Y and Z, Jimmy Carter makes a persuasive case that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed for industry.” Sure, it’s not the most “sophisticated” thesis statement. But you have 50 minutes to read and write your essay, and your grader knows that. However, this leads straight into my one big “don’t,” based on the essays that I’ve seen...

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DON’T cram “rhetorical devices” into your thesis or topic sentences unless they are a major, recurring part of the passage. Honestly, it’s stronger to say “at the close of his argument, the author appeals to carefully selected facts and statistics to underscore his point” than to try to force “the author’s use of logos” into your essay and make it sound natural. There might be one or two devices that are present enough to warrant an entire paragraph (appeals to emotion and personal anecdote are two common examples) — and in that case, go for it! But if you feel like you’re “forcing it,” take another approach.

INSTEAD, pick a broader, more descriptive category for your topic sentence, and explain how this category functions for the author’s argument: rather than “the author uses diction to make his point,” say “the author richly describes the natural world, helping the reader to visualize what’s at stake.”

Now, this isn’t to say you should avoid mentioning rhetorical devices entirely. When you notice rhetorical devices, show off what you know! For example, when analyzing a specific piece of evidence in a body paragraph, you can say something like, “Carter’s description of nature in this quote edges on hyperbole” (before going on to further explain how that likely affects a reader). Just don’t let rhetorical devices become a “crutch” for your topic sentences. Your topic sentences should allow you to talk about all the most important parts of the passage, not constrain you to a list of rhetorical devices that you’ve memorized.

How to Avoid Procrastination

We all know that feeling when your to-do list is already at capacity and you have a project due the next morning, but you just can’t wait to watch that YouTube video you heard about the other day...

Procrastination is a monster that attacks everyone, which is why we need to teach ourselves how to overcome it.

As a college student with a full-time job, 2 cats and 1 dog, I am actively doing something at least 16 hours each day. Needless to say, motivation needs to be my best friend at all times. That’s why I have developed pathways to keep my “procrastination monster” as far away as possible:

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Try the Breakdown Technique

It is psychologically known that big tasks that require a lot of time are usually left for last, as opposed to simpler tasks that can be completed more quickly. That’s when the Breakdown Technique comes in handy. Let me explain:

Imagine you had 1 month to complete 300 math problems. A professional procrastinator would simply forget about the task, and start worrying about it approximately 2-3 days before it’s due. Instead, as soon as you receive the task, you should take 5 minutes to look at what you need to do, and break that down into smaller steps. In this case, you could complete 10 problems per day, and by the end of the month, you will have completed all of the 300 math problems. Work on 15 of them each day, and you will be done in 20 days-- ahead of deadline! So, do not be frightened when you have a big project to hand in, just plan ahead of time and you will be fine.

Defy Parkinson’s Law

According to the Parkinson’s Law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. That means that if you have to do something that will take 25 minutes, but you have 1 hour to do it, it’ll take you 1 hour to complete that 25-minute task. You can use this law as an advantage by setting up artificial timelines that will force you to get work done more efficiently. Although, I’d recommend creating realistic timelines as aggressive timelines can lead to unnecessary stress.

Apply The Pomodoro Technique

They say that getting started is the hardest part, but many procrastinators struggle with maintaining focus just as much as starting to do work. The Pomodoro Technique is my personal favorite way to maintain focus on something. This technique was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo and is one of the most used time management methods out there. It consists of breaking down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes long, that are separated by 5-minute breaks. Also, after four 25-minute work sessions, it’s important to take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

So if your procrastination monster has been attacking your brain, now you can defeat it, and achieve your goals. And if you’ve tried all of these tips and are still having trouble with procrastination, there are also many freemium apps that can help you keep organized and remind you of your deadlines (Wrike, Trello (a personal favorite of the entire LP team), Wunderlist, etc).

Things to Do (And Avoid!) While You Await College Decisions

So you’re waiting for mid-March when colleges will release a flood of seemingly life-defining decisions. Some people in your school are probably already wearing their college sweatshirts proudly, but you haven’t heard anything back or settled on a college yet. Thinking about when decisions will be released and where you’ll end up for the next four years and checking your email obsessively may be keeping you up at night. All of us instructors and essay coaches at LogicPrep were likely in your shoes. But as I wait for my students to send me the news, I have been thinking about what an infernal few months that was for me. Since hindsight is 20/20, I’ll share some tips about what to do, and what not do, that I wish I knew at the time.

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Dive deep into non-academic hobbies

I applied for college during a gap year, so I had plenty of time on my hands to freak out over what admissions officers might be thinking about my application. I found that one of my favorite hobbies, playing music, was an invaluable tool for escape. I would call up the members of my band and kind of force them to jam with me for hours on end. These hours flew by much quicker than hours scrolling online, and we got a lot better in the process! Even if you don’t play music, find something hands-on and physical to do that isn’t academic. It will get those endorphins flowing and help pass the time.

Try not to let negative decisions inform your chances elsewhere

I was rejected from about 6 colleges before I got into one. I will never forget my first rejection email from UCLA while I was out to a friend’s birthday dinner. It was like a kick in the gut, and the hits just kept coming. I would receive “We are sorry to inform you…” over and over in the next few months, and I began to question my literal value as a person based on those emails. It’s easier said than done, but try not to let these get you down. Remember, all you need is one acceptance you’re happy with!

Volunteer your time somewhere

This sounds sort of fluffy and moralizing, but it actually helped me a great deal when I was waiting for decisions. When you volunteer your time to some sort of cause you are passionate about, you are removing your “self” from the equation for a while. I don’t know about you, but when I have too much time to sit around and think about myself, it gets exhausting quickly. Chances are you just did a lot of that while crafting your essays and figuring out how to present yourself to colleges, so give yourself a break!

DO NOT go on student forums

I really wish I had followed this rule. Sights like CollegeConfidential can seem indispensable for gleaning insight to cultures on different campuses, and often they are, but they can also be highly toxic. Threads of students giving other students “chances” on getting in based on their statistics seem to exasperate the stress they already face. I remember reading students who should have been Nobel Laureates posting their accomplishments and feeling like a nobody. Do yourself a favor and leave the decisions up to admissions committees, because these websites can really make the wait that much longer.

I know you might be thinking, “Well this is easy for you to say since you’ve gone to college and it worked out well for you”, and I used to say the same thing to my mentor when he would tell me to chill out while I was awaiting decisions. I promise if you can do just one thing on this list, it will make these next couple of months that much easier!

Regular Decision Notification Dates 2019

ARE YOU READY SENIORS?

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Murilo visiting a student at Brown University.

Regular decision notifications will be out before you know it! Take a look at our list below to see when you will find out the news.

American University - April 1
Amherst College - early April
Babson College - April 1
Barnard College - late March
Bates College - April 1
Bentley University - late March
Boston College - April 1
Boston University - late March
Bowdoin College - early April
Brandeis University - April 1
Brown University - late March
Bucknell University - April 1
California Institute of Technology - mid-March
Carnegie Mellon University - by April 15
Claremont McKenna College - April 1
College of William and Mary - April 1
Columbia University - late March
Connecticut College - late March
Cornell University - early April
Dartmouth - late March/early April
Davidson College - April 1
Dickinson College - late March
Drexel University - April 1
Duke University - April 1
Elon University - March 20
Emerson College - beginning of April
Emory University - April 1
Florida State - March 28
Fordham University - April 1
Franklin & Marshall College - April 1
George Washington University (GW) - early April
Georgetown University - April 1
Georgia Institute of Technology - March 9
Hamilton College - March 20
Harvard University - late March
Haverford College - early April
High Point University - Rolling
Indiana University, Bloomington - March 15
Johns Hopkins University - April 1
Kenyon College - mid-March
Lafayette College - April 1
Lehigh University - late March
Loyola Marymount University - April 1
Marist College - mid-March
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - mid-March
Muhlenberg - mid-March
New York University - April 1
Northeastern University - April 1
Northwestern University - early April
Penn State - March 31
Pepperdine University - April 1
Pitzer College - April 1
Pomona College - April 1
Princeton University - late March
Rice University - April 1
Rochester Institute of Technology - mid-March
Rollins College - April 1
Sarah Lawrence College - late March/early April
Stanford University - April 1
Syracuse University - late March
Trinity College - late March
Tufts University - April 1
Tulane University - April 1
UNC Chapel Hill - end of March
University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) - end of March
University of California, Davis (UC Davis) - mid-March
University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) - March
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - mid-March
University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) - end of March
University of California, Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara) - mid-March
University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) - March 15-20
University of Chicago - late March
University of Colorado, Boulder - April 1
University of Georgia - late March
University of Massachusetts, Amherst (U Mass Amherst) - early March
University of Miami - early April
University of Notre Dame - late March
University of Pennsylvania (U Penn) - April 1
University of South Carolina, Columbia - week of March 11
University of Southern California (USC) - April 1
University of Texas at Austin - March 1
University of Virginia - end of March
University of Washington - March 1-15
University of Wisconsin, Madison - end of March
Vanderbilt University - April 1
Vassar College - late March
Wake Forest University - April 1
Washington University in St. Louis - April 1
Wesleyan University - late March
Yale University - April 1

Wondering about a different school? Let us know below!


4 Things to Know About Deferrals

It has been a few months since most Early admission outcomes were announced, and while many of you have received definitive decisions, some of you may feel “in limbo” after being deferred from your Early choice(s). For those who have done the research, you know that universities have varying philosophies around who they defer and how many candidates they defer during the Early cycle. Certain schools—such as Harvard and Princeton—defer a large portion of Early applicants each year, while others—like Stanford—typically defer less than 10% of applicants to avoid a drawn out process for anxious students and families. Receiving a deferral notice can certainly be disappointing, but here are a few across-the-board truths to keep in mind (read: don’t lose all hope!) as you await your final decisions in late March:

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1. Your admission officer was impressed with your application.

Being deferred means your admission officer advocated on your behalf to the admission committee and led a thorough discussion on what they found to be most remarkable about your application. However, there may have been some hesitations among committee members that caused a “split vote” or an outright defer vote on your admission decision—meaning, while your academic and extracurricular impact was notable, the committee has decided to wait for more information in the Regular round before making a final decision (e.g., mid-senior-year grades, significant exams or awards awaiting final results, missing materials in your application, and/or more context provided by reviewing Regular Decision applications from other students at your school).

2. Post-deferral updates you submit can make a difference.

After receiving your deferral notice, universities will typically give you an opportunity to provide updates to your Early application through your applicant status portal. We strongly recommend submitting an update, not only because any new awards, impact, or recognition received can strengthen your overall candidacy, but also because it reaffirms your interest in the university and (if true) your intent to enroll if admitted. While you cannot make changes to an already-submitted Early application, these updates will be reviewed together with it in the Regular round, so be thoughtful about what you include and how you describe noteworthy developments that may have occurred since submitting your application on November 1.

3. Your application will be re-reviewed in full during Regular Decision.

Some students worry that if they weren’t admitted from a smaller pool of applicants in Early, then there’s “no chance” they’ll be admitted in Regular with so many more candidates. You’ll know from previous blogs we’ve written that the Early pool is typically comprised of the strongest candidates applying to any university that year, and if indeed you were strong enough to be deferred in the Early round, you’re certainly a very strong applicant in Regular as well. That is to say—stay positive, carefully craft and upload the aforementioned update, and trust that your admission officer will be looking for reasons to admit you with new evidence to share with the committee.

4. You’re still in the running.

With the exception of Georgetown, universities will not defer you if they believe you have zero chance of being admitted in the Regular round. If your counselor, research mentor, professor contacts, an ‘influential alum,’ or anyone else who knows you well offers to write a letter of advocacy on your behalf (without repeating anything already included in your original application), speak with your college advisor about which universities are open to receiving these and what could be most valuable to include in the letter to strengthen your candidacy further.

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We understand it can be frustrating to wait to learn where you may land, but unfortunately it’s difficult to calculate an individual’s chances of being admitted after a deferral, as it’ll depend on a variety of factors even the committee may not be able to predict, including the strength of the applicant pool in the Regular round and institutional priorities considered when admitting a well-rounded class. Universities understand the anxiety this uncertainty may cause, which is why so few of them (such as MIT) will explicitly state admit rates for deferred candidates. Nonetheless, in general, defer-to-admit rates will be very similar to the Regular Decision admit rates for a university in any given year, which admittedly can be quite low for some of the most competitive schools. However, we encourage you to see your deferral as an opportunity to explore other wonderful college options in Regular Decision and/or Early Decision II. Remember that you’ve submitted a broad slate of other applications to incredible universities, ultimately increasing your chances of being admitted to an awesome institution you’ll love.

3 Easy ACT English Tips to Boost Your Score

The following tips offer strategic approaches to specific question types on the ACT English section. For more thorough explanations of these topics, reach out to your LogicPrep tutor!

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1. When choosing between who and whom, use prepositions as a shortcut.

Prepositions are words that demonstrate the relationship between two things such as with, to, for, in, and on. When you get to a question where you have to choose between options that use who and whom, just look at the word right before it. If it’s a preposition like those listed above, choose whom. Otherwise, choose who. This shortcut works more than 95 percent of the time, so make sure to ask your LogicPrep tutor for an explanation that will cover the other 5 percent of cases.

2. The period and the semicolon are used interchangeably.

The ACT English section considers the semicolon and period interchangeable. As long as you’re connecting what could be considered two separate sentences, either punctuation mark can be used. So if you get to a question that offers two options, one with a period and one with a semicolon —and all else is equal— you can immediately consider both incorrect; no question can have two right answers.

3. For transition word or phrase questions, be strategic and immediately eliminate any equivalent options.

Similar to the prior tip, you should be strategic and eliminate options with equivalent answers since it would be impossible to have two correct answers. Most of the transition words or phrases on the ACT can be categorized into a few broad categories: contrast (however, on the other hand, nevertheless, etc.), similarity (likewise, similarly, additionally, etc.), or consequence (thus, consequently, therefore, etc.). When you get to such a question, look at the options and if two of them fall under the same category, you can confidently eliminate both, even without analyzing the context.