SAT

Why the Diagnostic Process is Crucial to the Test Prep Process

The diagnostic process is the first step for everyone in what is a very long road. Why do we do this? It is extremely important for the student, the family and our staff to understand where we are starting from on both the SAT and ACT; knowing what you're up against is half the battle. Sometimes knowing what you don't want to do in your test prep is just as important as figuring out what to do, and we want all of our families to understand all of their options in totality before making a decision together. After we complete the diagnostic process, we can prepare a game plan for each student that addresses their specific needs.

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A question I get asked all the time now is why take the SAT during the diagnostic process. While it is true that most students will end up taking the ACT because of the wealth of practice material that is available for the ACT, we want all of our students to have an understanding of both options. It also brings clarity for the entire process. While it doesn't happen often, we don't want a student to change strategy and tests midway through their test prep. Creating a unified goal for us to work towards is crucial to set at the beginning of the process. As mentioned earlier, if I have a student take a diagnostic SAT and they come back to me and say, "I never want to see another SAT again," that tells me everything I need to know.

Another key component in the diagnostic process that sets us apart, is the ability to meet with different instructors and pick whom you would like to work with. While all of our instructors are incredibly talented and bright, they all bring different personalities and teaching styles. Finding the right fit for each student is paramount to success.

At the end of the process, we want to empower our students to be in control of their test prep. This is an important process that allows for a lot of growth and we want to foster that growth.

In the words of our late founder, Jesse Kolber, "don't be the sage on the stage, be the guide on the side."

What Happened with the June SAT?

People are fired up about the June SAT.

When the College Board released SAT scores last week, many students noticed something off: they missed the same number of questions as on previous tests, but their scores were lower. In some cases, students answered more questions correctly only to see their scores go down.

How is this possible? Well, unlike most high school grades, the SAT scores that get reported to colleges are not "raw" scores that directly reflect the percentage of questions answered correctly. Instead, they are “scaled” scores out of 800 in each section. This scaled score is what allows colleges to compare a score that a student received in May in Brazil with a score received in October in Florida, or a score received by an applicant this year with a score received by an applicant last year.

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There are minor variations in difficulty between one test form and another, so the scale used -- commonly called the test's "curve" -- changes slightly from test to test. In one typical test, missing 5 questions across the two math sections might lower a student's score from a "perfect" 800 to a 760. In another, the same number of errors might only lower the score to a 780. The College Board calls this process test equating, and it's based on test statistics, not on individual performance.

This kind of "equating" -- and the frustration it can cause students -- is nothing new. So why are people so upset about the June SAT? Two reasons: First, the curve was the steepest by far since the new SAT was first administered in 2016. According to some students' score reports, missing the same number of questions resulted in scores as many as 90 points lower than in previous test administrations. A gap that large raises alarms: while equating works well between tests with only a slight variation in difficulty, it doesn't work well when some tests are substantially "easier" than others. The frustration over the curve is felt particularly strongly among high-scoring students since a test with a steep curve fails to distinguish meaningfully between content-based errors and a small number of careless mistakes.

Second, four items were removed from the Verbal side of the test (two from the Reading section, and two from the Writing and Language section). The test is designed to be able to provide an accurate score even when some questions are deemed flawed after the fact and removed from consideration; still, having four items removed on top of a steep curve for an "easy" test has left many students feeling like the College Board's June test was simply unfair.

What can be done?

The College Board has released a statement affirming that scores are accurate, so don’t expect any adjustments to the test's scale or scoring. Instead of focusing on this one test, students should remember that standardized testing is a long game. Most of our students take the test multiple times in part because the tests -- as well as individual performance -- can vary from day-to-day. The ultimate goal of testing is to present colleges with a score that reflects your hard work and your abilities, and it's difficult for any one test to indicate more than just your performance on a single day. This is a big part of why many colleges "superscore" the test, taking the highest score from each section across multiple tests. Even rising seniors still have several opportunities to take the test again, including August 25 (registration deadline July 27, late registration deadline August 15), October 6, and November 3.

The June test was unusual -- and with all the outcry, you can be sure the College Board will be working even harder to ensure consistent test difficulty in the future. But under normal circumstances, "equating" makes the tests more fair, not less. If you're well prepared and one test section feels harder than usual on test day, you should expect the curve to reflect that. And if you unexpectedly finish a section earlier than usual, be sure to take that opportunity to double check for careless mistakes.

Three Tips for the SAT Reading Section That Will Help You in College, Too

When the College Board redesigned the SAT in 2016, the reading section got a big overhaul. One of the changes was an increase in text complexity: the new SAT doesn't just test the kind of texts you've seen in high school, but also texts that resemble what you might see in college.  

And whether you're a voracious reader in your spare time or haven't picked up a book willingly in several months, college reading can present all kinds of challenges. Often, college courses will assign large amounts of reading each week -- several articles, even a full-length book -- without giving much direction about which sections are most important or what the professor expects you to glean from each text. One of the toughest lessons to learn in college is that reading is no longer one-size-fits-all.

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While a standardized test hardly replicates the kind of reading you'll do in your actual college courses, studying for the test presents an opportunity to develop critical reading skills that you can use in college and beyond. Without further ado, here are three tips for the SAT reading section that will help you in college, too:

 

Tip #1: Do a Little Pre-Reading

Reading something cold is a lot harder (and slower) than reading something when you've been given some context and clues about why you're reading it. But on the SAT, no one introduces a text to you before you have to read it. So, it pays to take a moment and orient yourself before diving into the passage.

Each passage starts with a citation, which includes, at the very least, an author, title and year. These are important cues that warrant reading in and of themselves (you'll read a passage from 2016 with a different set of expectations than a passage from 1816, for example). But for the trickiest passages, you'll often find a brief explanation of what you're about to read. Check out this example from one of College Board's practice SATs:

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This information, when given, is usually very helpful in contextualizing what otherwise might have been a very confusing excerpt of a text!

Similarly, it can be helpful to skim the question stems for tidbits of information and hints as to what's important before you read the passage. On the SAT, I like to group the "evidence" questions together with their pairs before I dive into the passage:

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These tend to be difficult question about critical moments in the text, so priming myself to key ideas in the passage (“freedoms granted by society’s leaders”) helps me to really notice the most important moments in the text. Plus, it's not at all obvious when a question is about to be followed by an "evidence" question (I've even seen the evidence question come after a page break!), so grouping these two questions together can help you to get both answers correct more quickly and efficiently.  

How can this help you in college? Well, orienting yourself before you start can be extremely helpful when doing your readings in college, too. If your professor doesn't introduce a text before assigning it, don't be afraid to introduce it to yourself. Wikipedia and Sparknotes may not be the best source for your papers, but it's only smart to use them to set yourself up for better reading, more focused note-taking, and more success.  

 

Tip #2: Read with a Purpose  

Reading is reading, right? Wrong: strong readers adjust their reading strategy to each reading task.  

On the SAT, the passages are short, and they are chosen and excerpted for a reason. In the nonfiction passages, you're not just reading for information, but for an argument. A good author will motivate their argument (suggest why a reading public would be interested in their claims), state their claim, and then develop it. On your first reading, your task is to skim for these key moments, and then flag them so you can return to them while answering the questions. Having this purpose in mind can help keep you from getting bogged down in details, which you can always return to if a question demands.

In college, most readings aren't one page long. However, their different forms still provide clues for how to read them with purpose. Textbooks have subtitles, chapter introductions and summaries. Nonfiction books might have prefaces that comment on a book's history and impact. Excerpts from larger works that your professor has scanned and assigned have been selected for a reason -- so look for the kernel that led your professor to select it in the first place. Reading should be dynamic and purposeful, rather than just a passive process of absorbing information.

 

Tip #3: You Can Read Faster Than You Think You Can

We learn to read by sounding out words out loud, so it's only natural that we keep hearing the words we read in our heads. The thing is, our brains can read and process written information much faster than we can make all the sounds in our heads.  

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But when I'm not paying attention, I still tend to catch myself "vocalizing" every word I read. Sometimes I want to do this -- say, when I'm first starting a book, getting a feel for an author's voice, or just plain reading for pleasure. But on the SAT, this isn't necessary. Learning to skim, for me, was mostly a process of letting go of this habit of "hearing" every word I read.

Not only can skimming in this way save you time, it can help you focus on what's most important in a text and avoid getting sidetracked by every aside and detail. This applies outside of the SAT as well: recognize when you're reading primarily for sound or for style, and distinguish this from when you're reading for key argumentative turns or for content. Learning to adjust the pace of your reading can help you be attentive to the level of a text that you are most interested in.  


 

There you have it! The most important thing to remember is that being asked to "read" something can mean a lot of different things. Try becoming aware of your own reading tics and habits, and start playing with your reading strategies. Be sure to let us know what you notice!  

Learning a New Language?

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When I was 10 years old I moved to a foreign country where I didn't understand a single word of what anyone was saying. It was a shocking experience as I never expected to be in a reality where everything was so familiar and unknown at the same time. The first time I went to school in this new place I struggled a lot to understand others and to be understood. That was the moment I realized how important communication and languages are. Here are some tips that I certainly used as I ventured into this new world.

 

Everyone starts at zero

Just like a baby who’s learning how to speak, you’re going to say a lot of silly things when learning a new language, so just get over it and throw yourself out there! 

Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Achieving your goals requires failing and learning from mistakes. 

Learning a foreign language is not so different from when you learned your native one. You need to listen and repeat the same sounds you’re hearing, making connections between words, feelings and moments, just as you used to do with your parents right after you were born. 

 

Phonemes

Have you ever noticed that who speaks more than one language seems to have more than one voice? This happens because every language works with different phonemes, sounds, and tones, so our voice needs to adapt to them. 

For instance, Brazilians have trouble pronouncing the ‘th’ sound in English (found in words like ‘think’ or ‘thumb’) and Americans have trouble saying the ‘ão’ sound found in words such as ‘pão’ or ‘macarrão’ in Portuguese.

In order to correctly pronounce new phonemes, you need to pay attention to how native speakers move their lips, tongues and more importantly to their voice intonation/cadence.  

 

Conversation is Key

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I commonly hear that the best way to learn a new language is to move to a foreign country, and this is true, but I also know people who lived outside their native country and never learned a thing. So what’s the secret?! It’s simple: TALK

Research has shown that our brains record information that involves human experiences and feelings much easier as opposed to just memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules by heart. So in order to actually learn a language, you need to engage in conversations, talk to new people and you’ll learn something new every time you do it. 

 

Reading is very important

Either for work, school, or personal interest, reading is probably one of the things we do the most on a daily basis, so it’s very important that you dedicate lots of time to read during your learning process - It will help you to understand grammar and to learn new words and expressions. 

 

Listen and Repeat

It’s important that you never feel ashamed to ask “How do you say..” to someone, and when you do, try to use it a few times right away. Note it down, and try to repeat it again after a few hours, and then the day after. With practice and repetition, it's likely that you'll remember the next time.

 

Learning Stages

According to a study by the University of Portland, there are 5 stages to learning a new language: 

  1. Silent/receptive - During this time, new language learners typically spend time learning vocabulary and practice pronouncing new words
  2. Early production - Language learners typically acquire an understanding of up to 1,000 words. They may also learn to speak some words and begin forming short phrases, even though they may not be grammatically correct.
  3. Speech emergence - By this stage, learners typically acquire a vocabulary of up to 3,000 words and learn to communicate by putting the words in short phrases, sentences, and questions. 
  4. Intermediate fluency - At this stage, learners typically have a vocabulary of as many as 6,000 words. They usually acquire the ability to communicate in writing and speech using more complex sentences. This crucial stage is also when learners begin thinking in their second language, which helps them gain more proficiency in speaking it.
  5. Continued language development/advanced fluency - It may take up to 10 years to achieve full mastery of the second language in all its complexities and nuances. Second language learners need ongoing opportunities to engage in discussions and express themselves in their new language, in order to maintain fluency in it.

 

Although learning a language may not seem very rewarding or satisfying at first, I personally think that it is only through communication that we will actually be able to evolve and grow as individuals. Nowadays, the world has become a sort of modern Pangea that’s all connected. Why not take on the adventure of understanding one another? 

Here’s a Novel Idea: Check Out the Library

I recently discovered this thing called a “library” where they just let you borrow books for
free, and let me tell you, it’s amazing.

For real, though, I’ve been on a library kick recently and can’t recommend it highly enough.
There are lots of books I’ve heard good things about, but sometimes I’m just not sure I want to
commit to buying them and setting aside shelf space for them. Enter the library.

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LogicPrep São Paulo's library

I’ve read about two dozen library books in the past year -- novels, short story collections, non-fiction -- that I probably never would have read otherwise. Some of them I’ve researched on
“Best Of” lists, some of them have been staff picks, and some of them have just had interesting
or eye-catching covers. Some of them have been amazing, and some underwhelming. But all of
them have been worthwhile.

We often stress the importance of reading to our students -- it expands vocabularies, highlights effective communication of ideas, and introduces new perspectives. And these are all true! But you can’t read if you don’t have a book, and what I’ve found is that swinging by the library and grabbing something off the shelves increases the chances that in my downtime, I’ll read a few pages of whatever’s on hand rather than scroll through my phone.

So whether it’s your school’s library or your local public library (or even the LogicPrep Library-- available in São Paulo and coming soon to Miami!), I encourage you to stop by and grab whatever catches your eye. It makes it much more likely that you’ll reap the benefits of
reading.

Plus, they don’t even charge you!

The Do's and Don'ts of SAT Subject Tests

DON'T believe everything you read online

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Most college's websites purport that SAT Subject Tests are not required, but rather "strongly recommended." And, while it's true that your application will be considered complete and evaluated regardless of whether you submit Subject Tests or not, these subject-specific evaluations are not as optional as many students think.

Colleges' choice to use the word "recommended" instead of "required" leaves room for ambiguity, and with good reason. While admissions officers highly value the chance to compare applicants' prowess in individual subjects, they also know that they come from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. Not all students can afford the hefty fees of taking and sending multiple standardized test scores. Not all students have time, between working after school or taking care of siblings, to do their schoolwork and study for additional tests. Not all students have sufficient guidance to even be aware the SAT Subject Tests exist. Admissions offices want to make room for all types of students, including those whose lives may not allow for additional standardized testing. However, if personal and financial barriers are not an issue for you, then Subject Tests are not really as optional as they may initially appear.

 

DO read up on each school's requirements (or "strong suggestions") for Subjects

Many schools have specific requirements for individual majors: Business applicants should take one Math test, Engineering applicants should take one Math and one Science, etc. Be sure to check each college's website for their Standardized Testing Policies to make sure you can meet all of the requirements!

 

DO strategize when to take which Subjects based on your AP classes

Most Advanced Placement examinations (which are administered by the College Board, the same company that is responsible for the SAT Subject Tests) include a multiple choice section. There is a lot of meaningful overlap between the AP multiple choice and the Subject Test multiple choice. The question format and overall strategy is slightly different between the two, but studying the content for one will prepare you well for the other.

Many students who are eager to get started on Subject Tests look to take the Biology exam at the end of their freshman year biology course. To these students I say: be wary and take one of the CollegeBoard's online practice tests before signing up. Non-AP courses don't have a nationally standardized curriculum, and there's no guarantee that your school's coursework will cover all the topics that appear on the Subject Test.

 

DON'T take more than 5 Subject Tests

When asked how many tests each student should take, Grace, one of our College Advisors and former Stanford Admissions Officer warns not to overdo it. "Admissions officers know these exams cost money and take up a lot of time, so there's no need to take ten SAT II's just to show mastery of content. I'd say most students are fine with just two to three, max five. Remaining areas of their application (extracurriculars, summer activities, research work, etc.) are other ways they can show 'mastery' of experience and content that often tell a more interesting story than a one-day exam does."

 

DO take a good look at the Subject Tests offered on each test date

They're not always the same -- particularly when it comes to foreign language tests. Some dates specifically offer the test with listening, while others only offer it without. But don't worry -- colleges don't prefer one test over the other! Just make sure you're studying and preparing for the right one.

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DO take a look at both Math Subject Tests

The College Board offers two Math Subject Tests: Math I and Math II. Math I is for students who have taken two years of Algebra and one year of Geometry. Math II covers the same topics as Math I, "with the addition of trigonometry and elementary functions (precalculus)."

I often have students who claim that their Math skills aren't strong enough to merit even glancing at the Math II. Instead, they only focus on the Math I test. However, if you have completed a pre-calculus course, I strongly suggest looking at both exams, and sitting for a practice test in each, before making up your mind. When I was in high school, I took both tests, back to back, on the same day -- but because Math II is generally curved more generously than Math I, I ended up scoring 60 points higher on Math II. Don't count yourself out for one before trying both!

No Time, Time Management Techniques

So you’ve been studying for the ACT on top of completing school assignments, playing sports, and dealing with all of the “extras” of being a high school student. Before you know it, the test is two weeks away. If you’re anything like me, you have the best intentions for time management, but can’t seem to find enough hours in the day for free time (or sleep for that matter). Fear not! Over the course of my educational career, I’ve compiled a list of what I call “no time, time management” techniques that have helped tremendously, allowing me to approach standardized tests in the college prep process and beyond. Here are a few of the most successful:

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Active downtime 

This sounds counterintuitive, but when the 3 pm wall hits and you’re tempted to reach for the caffeine, try to get up and do something that will make you sweat instead. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that are great to lift your mood, release stress, and renew your focus. Even if exercise isn’t your thing, it doesn’t have to be intense. A simple walk and some sunshine away from a stuffy study space will do wonders for your focus when you return!

 

Write your schedule down

This was a groundbreaking concept for me even as a 22-year-old in college. If I wrote down what I was supposed to be doing or studying in each part of the day, I always managed to get it done with free time to spare. This will also help you track when your brain works best for certain things. For example, I write well in the morning and horribly in the afternoon, so I read after 3 pm. If I hadn’t been in the practice of writing down and adjusting my schedule accordingly, I would probably still be murking through writing assignments at night while getting nowhere.

 

Apply the 10-day rule

As a chronic procrastinator who lacks discipline, this one is my favorite. I always admired peers who could follow a sleep schedule religiously, but I never managed to achieve this. A friend once told me that I did not have to pressure myself to be like them, but instead I could implement a strict bedtime in the 10 days leading up to a standardized test (or college finals). I tried this once and found that on test day I was up naturally about two hours before test time, and by the time I had my pencil in hand, I was fully alert and awake. I did way better on that test than the one I stayed up all night cramming for. This worked so well, I transferred the method to college finals with great results!

 

I hope these few small changes are useful in the course of college preparation and beyond. To me, time management does not have to be a huge lifestyle overhaul, but can instead be a small set of changes that lead to lasting habits and results.

How Taking A Standardized Test is Like Hiking Yosemite

In October of 2015, I spent time in the US to go hiking and camping in Yosemite National Park with some friends.

One friend was in charge of selecting our hikes, and we had to choose between easy, medium, difficult, or very difficult. We chose an 8-mile "medium" hike where we would be able to see the park’s top sights.

The hike was supposed to take half of a day. We started at 8 a.m. By lunchtime, we'd hiked 4 miles and had an amazing view of Half Dome. With after-lunch laziness about to kick in, we thought about taking the bus back to camp, but since we were already halfway through our hike and at the top of the climb, we settled on hiking down since we thought it wouldn't be too challenging.

How wrong were we to assume it would be easy. Indeed, we did go downhill as expected, but that was followed by another uphill and then finally the last downhill. We ended up rushing in the final stretch to catch the last bus to camp, as the day was quickly turning into night. The result was that a medium 8-mile "medium" hike turned into a full-day, 16-mile marathon.

You may be thinking: What does all of this have to do with ACT/SAT test preparation? Everything.

Prepare

First, you have to know what you are getting yourself into and prepare yourself mentally. You have to have the right mindset to do an important test or a marathon, if you don't, your chance of failure greatly increases.

 

Time Management

During the test, it is extremely important to manage your energy and especially your time. The ACT and SAT are hard tests, and you need to be at your best physically and mentally to be successful. Taking practice tests to increase speed, spending less time per problem, and not second-guessing yourself are all ways to manage your energy and time on test day.

 

Never Underestimate Yourself

Last but not least, you should never ever underestimate the path to get to your goal. Yes, you will need to work very hard to achieve your goal, but you are not alone. Be confident in your answer choices!

5 Quick Tips for Avoiding Careless Mistakes on ACT or SAT Test Day

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1. Read the question carefully the first time through

This one seems obvious, but many students rush through the question, only to waste time after trying to sort through what the test really asked them to find. Take your time reading the question on your first attempt. If you understand what is asked of you, be thorough in working to the correct answer. If you are confused, don’t get emotional or frantic - just guess quickly and move on.

 

2. Remember to focus only on the question you are working on

Many students become so frustrated by and fixated on questions that they can’t solve that they lose their focus on subsequent questions. Avoid thinking about your score or your goals within the test. Take a deep breath when you are stuck or distracted and move forward - the only thing you can control is the question directly in front of you.

 

3. Predict an answer before looking at the answer choices.

Most students will do this naturally on the math section, but it works just as well on the other sections of these tests. If you predict an answer before looking at the choices on the reading, you should be able to sort through the answers more quickly. On grammar, identifying the error before you look at the answers will similarly help you select the correct choice more quickly and effectively.

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4. On math, quickly re-read the stem of the questions before choosing an answer

When many students get to the moment when they have solved for the value of a variable or a measurement, they immediately look to the answers to see whether it is there. Try to fight this instinct, and go back to the stem of the question instead. This tip can help you avoid the classic mistake of selecting the answer that gives the value of y instead of x or the area instead of the perimeter. 

 

5. Pace yourself

If you have taken enough practice tests, you should have a good sense for your timing on these tests. If you have to push yourself to move quickly in order to finish a certain section, then you have to be a bit forgiving with yourself and understand that errors due to miscalculations or misreading of the text will be inevitable. However, if you consistently finish a section with extra time, force yourself to slow down and fully reason through each question.

Strong Performance on Standardized Tests Benefits Students Far Beyond the College Admission Process

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College applicants preparing for standardized tests should take heart. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discusses how strong performance on standardized tests correlates not only with college admission or first-year grades but with successful outcomes and major life accomplishments in future pursuits and industries. 

How exactly is this good news? Fair question.

To the extent that standardized tests measure a student’s ability to read and interpret texts, to reason mathematically, or to think critically, preparation for these tests is preparation for future endeavors and future success--even for life accomplishments that benefit us all. 

Rather than reify the notion that standardized tests merely are the bane of existence for high school juniors (and sometimes sophomores or seniors), the correlation between performance and future success is motivating. Thoughtful preparation for standardized tests, rather than a means to an end, is an invitation to hone important foundational skills, the mastery of which (and they can be mastered) benefits students well beyond the college admission process.