New PSAT Preview Available

Good news sophomores (and younger grades)! The practice PSAT has now been released and is viewable here. More information is also available here and here.

While the upcoming ACT and SAT have been taking up most of my free time lately, I have had a chance to quickly review the new PSAT and here are some of my first impressions:

General Notes: 

1. It looks a lot more like the ACT than the SAT used to, but with some important distinctions.

2. It appears as if ACT-Science-like questions pop up in both the Reading and Math sections.

3. The test looks a little more interesting to take, with synthesis of graphs and reading in one. As in, it may be a little more engaging and you may not be as prone to drifting off during it.

4. This is a well-designed test.


Reading/Writing Section Notes:

1. There is still some vocab being tested, just as the ACT has been testing vocab, through contextual questions. But these are still distinctly vocabulary questions. Quick sidebar: do you know what despondent means? 

2. They’re still using some of their tried-and-true methods for wrong answer choices.

3. The Writing section now looks remarkably like the ACT English section. Note too that it has not been eliminated, but folded into the Reading score.

4. Some of the same Writing errors are popping up with great frequency (think Subject-Verb errors).


Math Section Notes:

1. The No Calculator section is not one in which you would want a calculator anyway. (phew!)

2. The questions look extremely similar to the ones showing up on the last (Feb) SAT.

3. There are more statistics/graph questions than the older SAT.

4. There are more questions related to what you’ve learned in school, but still as difficult as the older SAT (e.g. Section 4, Q28-Q30).



Student Reading: Math and the Pro Offensive Lineman

Disregard the hyperbole in the title, and there is still intrigue in the idea that a pro NFL lineman has published a math paper and still has a promising career in mathematics ahead of him.

Intelligence and athletics, even at the highest levels in each, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.


One of the Baltimore Ravens Just Published an Insanely Complex Study in a Math Journal, by Natalie Kitroeff in Bloomberg Business.


Fashionable Iowa?

By Ryan Fisher. 

I was born and raised in the state of Wisconsin. I would say that, other than it being cold a good portion of the year, Wisconsin was a nice place to grow up. We certainly had our own culture, often centered on dairy based food products, as well as deep passions for Wisconsin college and professional sports teams. Iowa is a neighboring state of Wisconsin. As I think back to my childhood and my thoughts at that time about Iowa, I am certain of one thing…We didn’t look to the state of Iowa for, well, for anything really.

Yet here we are in 2015, and in the world of standardized tests, the stylish East and West coasts of the USA have decided that Iowa is…fashionable? Are you completely confused? Yeah, well so am I!! To assist us all, let me give you a little background.

The ACT was created in 1959 by Everett Franklin Lindquist, a professor at the University of Iowa. The ACT is also still headquartered in Iowa City, IA. For many, many years, the ACT was the preferred test of most of the states in Middle America. When I was in high school in Wisconsin, I took both the ACT and the SAT. However, this was quite rare. I was the only student in my graduating class who took the SAT. Over 80% took the ACT.

The coastal states have been the last holdouts, preferring the SAT to the ACT. That preference, however, is definitely shifting. Many of you right here in California have even decided that the ACT is the best test for your college application. And you are hardly alone. In 2007, 99% of applicants to Harvard submitted SAT scores. By 2012 that number was down to 90%. With the upcoming change in the format of the SAT, by 2017 that number could be under 70%.

So for the time being, maybe Iowa simply needs to stand tall and feel proud. Those of us in the Midwest often felt like we were the last ones in the country to know what was popular or fashionable. But when it comes to the ACT and SAT, as more and more Californians and New Yorkers mimic the choice of their peers in Wisconsin and Illinois, it is clear that the Midwest wasn’t last. It was actually first. Fashionable Iowa, indeed!


Thoughts on the Last SAT

As some of you may know, I sat in on the SAT last Saturday. I like to take them at least once a year to not only see what might be changing on the test, but also see how true to form I can/do stay on top of my own teachings.

What did I find out? I found out a little bit where the SAT is heading, and for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. The test seemed even more predictable than it has in sittings past. Perhaps this is just a sign of my own familiarity with the test, but fortunately either way this means this is something I can (and do) teach to you all as we continue to move forward in our lessons.

And as for the second lesson I wanted to learn? I learned that even with air conditioning right behind me, an early start time + a hot, hot day combined with a later break (after section 6 instead of 7, thanks proctor) makes for some missed opportunities for strategies.

An additional lesson on top of this, though, is that without some of the strategies, I was still able to use them to double check my work. So a lesson for you all: if you forget to use your strategies up front (because of fatigue or whatever else may cause this), you can still use them to double check the correct answers. You may, like me, catch a mistake or two this way!

Now we just have to wait until April 2nd to get our scores back. Best of luck to those of you who sat on Saturday for it.


Test Pressure

A post from our new employee, Ryan:

There’s an important test in the near future. Students have been preparing for it for what seems like their entire adolescent lives. The results of this exam will go a long way in deciding admission or denial to their chosen higher education institutions. The pressure is immense, and seemingly nothing else matters. Know the feeling? I’m sure you do. But it’s not the SAT that I’m speaking of. Nope, not the ACTeither. The test is called Gaokao (高考), and to the education system I encountered while living in China, it is a test that means everything.

Pressure definitely exists for students to produce the desired SAT and ACT score results. However, it is always important to remember that in the admissions process, the test scores are just a portion of how universities evaluate prospective students. While we often focus our discussion on these tests, and they are certainly important, it is also true that there are other ways to influence admissions officers.

This is not the case in China. Admission to Chinese universities is almost wholly dependent on the results of the Gaokao. The exam is administered just once each year, over a 3 day sitting in June. Chinese teachers and students prepare the entire senior year for this potentially life-changing event. There are no do-over’s… one chance, one test, and then it’s time to move on with the rest of your life.

So as you sit down over the course of the next few months to take your own pressure packed SAT or ACT, I have this advice. Relax, take a deep breath, focus, and then allow yourself to smile. Why smile?

Because you are not in China, and this isn’t the Gaokao!