Are you worried about admission to UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego?

I recently sat down with one of our parents who was extremely anxious over her son's prospects of being admitted to one of several of the University of California's (UC) top campuses. Despite his excellent profile -- he had strong grades (4.1 at a great high school) and had posted an outstanding ACT score (top 5% of the country) -- her perception was that this wouldn't be nearly enough at UCLA, UC Berkeley, or UC San Diego. She wanted to add as many AP courses as possible to her son's upcoming Senior year.

She went so far as to quote a number of admissions statistics that she had gleaned from the internet, including the following:

  1. UCLA recently saw a 50% increase in admits with 21+ Honors/AP courses
  2. One out of four students who were admitted to UC Berkeley last year scored a 35 or 36 on the ACT
  3. More than two-thirds of UC San Diego's admits last year had a GPA above 4.0

These were facts. They were true. But...

...the critical piece of the puzzle that she was missing was that a student's statistics (GPA, AP courses, SAT/ACT scores) are far from the only factors that are considered in an admissions decision at a selective college.

The UCs practice holistic admissions -- in short, this means they look at a lot more than just the numbers. In fact, at the majority of selective colleges, it is safe to say that while grades and SAT/ACT scores are obviously quite important, they are far from being the ONLY important factors.

It often works as follows: once a student is in the competitive range of standardized test scores and GPA at a given school (for instance, 50% of UCLA admits score between 27-33 on the ACT), the actual decision is often made based on qualitative measures. These qualitative measures include essays, outside interests, the student's ability to express a unique point of view, the possession of a unique skill set, or perhaps a track record of intellectual curiosity in an area of study that fits with the school's offerings.

Naturally, we all want the best for our children. But what the student in this particular story needed to give him the best possible opportunity to gain entrance to one of his top choice schools wasn't necessarily to add more AP classes to his schedule (he had already taken plenty in areas of study that he truly enjoyed). Instead, he needed to take the necessary time to focus his energy on the process of writing unique personal statements, asking the right people for letters of recommendation, and crafting interesting applications.

I share this story because I know that many parents experience similar levels of anxiety over their child's prospects of gaining admission to one of the "top" UCs. However, it's important to remember that the reality is that selective colleges aren't often wowed by students who only have high GPAs/standardized test scores -- what they are looking for are interesting students.

To sum up--

Do SAT/ACT scores and grades matter? Of course they do.

Are they the only measures that matter? Not by a long shot.

What always matters? Being an interesting individual.

So while the scaffolding of an excellent college application requires a solid foundation (GPA, SAT or ACT scores, AP classes, etc.), what really sets top-tier students apart from their peers is a dedication to offering something original and honing their own unique sense of self.

Do High Grades Always Align with High Scores?

It may surprise you to know that the material on standardized exams do not always align with what students learn in school. In fact, these exams often test students on material that students haven't ever seen before in school.

For example, how often are students asked to complete an entire essay in under 40 minutes? The answer is not very often, or maybe even never.

It's not that the ACT and College Board do this on purpose -- in fact, they work hard at attempting to align the assessments with what students learn in school. However, it's difficult to create one standardized exam that aligns with what millions of students across the world are learning.

That said, students should not fear the disconnect between the material they learn in school and that which is tested on the ACT and SAT. Instead, they should recognize the exams for what they are -- stepping stones to reaching their goals for the future.

These exams reward students' hard work and dedication. With the right instructors, the right system, and a little bit of elbow grease, students can improve their scores dramatically. This means that students are in control of their destinies when it comes to this aspect of the college admissions process.

Viewed in this context, the SAT and ACT are no longer assessments -- they are opportunities for students to take steps toward their goals for the future.

 

Would you like to schedule a free practice exam for the ACT, SAT, HSPT, SSAT, or ISEE?

Contact us here.

 

Test Prep: 8 reasons why 1-on-1 is more effective than a class

We are often asked why 1-on-1 instruction for the SAT or ACT is superior to classroom instruction. Here are just few of the reasons: 

1. The student will have the full attention of his or her instructors to maximize specific strengths and address areas of improvement,

2. Instructors take time to articulate and understand the student’s short and long term goals and personalize instruction to reach those goals,

3. The instruction is customized to the student’s particular character, personality, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and goals,

4. Students are paired with instructors based on their particular needs and personalities,

5. Students work more efficiently and effectively at their own pace,

6. The test prep schedule can be tailored to students’ busy lives,

7. Students receive mental and emotional support to ameliorate testing anxiety and stress,

8. By monitoring a student’s progress every step of the way, the instructors are able to help students achieve unparalleled success.

Contact us today to learn more about 1-on-1 preperation

College Admissions as an Experience, Not a Possession

We’re all familiar with the adage that “money can’t buy happiness.”  However, research suggests that some purchases yield more happiness than others – namely, experiences make us happier than material possessions.[1] [2]  

We can apply this same idea to the college admissions process. Families often pursue admission to a highly ranked university as though such prestige is a commodity that can be possessed.  However, we would encourage families to view the college admissions process as an experience of self-exploration; an opportunity to identify long term goals and search for a suitable environment to help achieve said goals. Like the research regarding discretionary spending reveals, adopting this approach helps families to enjoy the overall admissions process and enables them to be more successful at choosing a college that is the right fit for each student's individual aims and aspirations. 

The same idea applies to standardized test preparation. We tend to treat our desired test score on the ACT or SAT as though it were a possession. However, a standardized score has little inherent value by itself. ACT and SAT scores often help students gain admission to selective colleges or earn merit-based scholarships, but even those ends are only valuable insofar as they lead to the life experiences from which students can learn from, grow, and enjoy.  Moreover, the reality is that a standardized score is never evaluated in a vacuum. Rather, it is assessed among our other achievements such as grades, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles.  Thus, when students view the process of preparing for the SAT and ACT exams as an experience of growth rather than as a pursuit of a commodity, they transform the process into an opportunity to learn valuable skills including, but not limited to, growth-mindset, learned optimism, resiliency in the face of setbacks, overcoming anxiety in high-pressure situations, and successfully achieving long-term goals. 

To sum up, treating college admissions and test prep as experiences for growth rather than possessions to be obtained will achieve two ends: it will benefit students’ and parents’ overall well-being and life satisfaction, and it will help them to be more effective in their pursuit higher ACT and SAT test scores and admittance to selective colleges.

 

[1] Van Boven and Gilovich, “To Do or to Have? That Is the Question” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dec. 2003)

[2] Gilovich et al., “A Wonderful Life” (Journal of Consumer Psychology, Jan. 2015)

How Colleges Can Admit Better Students

This thought-provoking article from the New York Times, How Colleges Can Admit Better Students was published by the New York Times on 18 March 2017.

Among other interesting observations, the researchers conclude that:

  • ACT composite scores do correlate with a student’s success in college, but Math and English section scores are much better predictors of success.
  • Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of better grades during their junior and senior years are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better during their freshman and sophomore years.

 

How Colleges Can Admit Better Students

By DEVIN G. POPE MARCH 18, 2017

As colleges nationwide prepare to announce this month which applicants they have decided to accept, it’s worth asking why so many admissions offices pass up easy opportunities to admit higher-quality students.

Nearly all colleges, for example, make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT (the most widely taken college admissions exam). But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.

Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school (say, junior and senior years) are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school (say, freshman and sophomore years).

A paper in The Journal of Public Economics by the economist George Bulman provides evidence for this claim, using data from Florida. He shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college. Later high school G.P.A. is approximately five times more predictive of whether a student drops out of college within two years, and two times more predictive of eventual labor market earnings.

Something similar is true of ACT composite scores. These are the rounded average of scores on four individual sections of the ACT (math, English, reading and science). By using the ACT composite score, college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper I wrote with the education researchers Eric Bettinger and Brent Evans, using data from public college students in Ohio, we provide evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests.

For example, a student who achieves an ACT composite score of 24 by getting a 26 on the reading and science tests and a 22 on the math and English tests is 10.4 percentage points more likely to drop out of college by the third year than a student who achieved a composite score of 24 in the opposite manner.

Don’t get me wrong: Cumulative high school G.P.A. and ACT composite scores do correlate with a student’s success in college; there is no great harm in having admissions offices use them when considering student applications. But there is also no point in using them when these better metrics are just as easily available.

So why are colleges sticking to the old approach?

Admissions officers may be worried that reweighting high school G.P.A.s or ACT scores will affect the diversity of the student body they admit. Both the papers discussed above, however, find reweighting does not adversely affect minority students (if anything, it helps them).

Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings, such as those produced by U.S. News & World Report, use the old metrics in their calculations. While it is possible that schools using the more predictive metrics would see a small initial drop in rank (because of the mistaken appearance of admitting a student body of lower quality), most schools would more than make up for this drop by improving their graduation rate four years later. (Ideally, U.S. News & World Report and others would adjust their methodology to reflect the most recent research on what predicts student success.)

Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback necessary for change. Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success. University officials need to actively encourage admissions offices to take a long-term perspective.

The two examples above — G.P.A. and ACT — provide just a glimpse into the growing field of data and analysis relating to college admissions. Some colleges, such as West Virginia University and Houston Baptist University, are already using sophisticated statistical methods to predict which students are most likely, if accepted, to matriculate and, therefore, where recruiting efforts should be focused. Other colleges, such as Georgia State University and the University of Arizona, are trying to predict which of their current students are most at risk of dropping out, and how best to help these students with additional support.

But most colleges have yet to take advantage of even simple improvements that a more data-driven process suggests. These schools are missing out.

 

Devin G. Pope is a professor of behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

This article was published by the New York Times on 18 March 2017

Parent Question: "Why is the PSAT capped at 1520???"

We received this question from a parent:

Hi Nick,

I have a PSAT/SAT question and I am sure you have a very logical answer!

So from my understanding, the PSAT is out of 1520. If that is true, then why does it say that if a student took the SAT on that same day, they would receive the same score? How can that be, if the PSAT is out of 1520 and the SAT is out of 1600?

Hope you are well! 

-From a concerned parent whose named has been removed for privacy reasons

 

Answer:

Hi concerned parent whose named has been removed for privacy reasons, 

That is a great question as this is confusing to a lot of people (and the PSAT 8/9 only goes up to 1440, just to complicate things further!)

But the answer is pretty straight forward... 

A student's score on the PSAT is estimated to be what they would score on the actual SAT. So, a 900 on the PSAT is estimated to be a 900 on the SAT... 1150 is 1150...1350 is 1350...and so on, all the way up to 1510.  

The exception is with students who get every question on the PSAT correct. These kids are capped at 1520.  The PSAT does not contain the highest level difficulty questions that are found on the SAT. The College Board caps these students at 1520 because they don't know if these students would answer the highest difficulty level questions correctly or not.

So to recap, the PSAT and SAT are on the same scale for all scores...students just can't score higher than 1520. 

Best, 

Nick 

 

Do you have specific questions about your PSAT score report?  

Practice testing protects memory against stress

(MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass., Nov. 24, 2016)—Learning by taking practice tests, a strategy known as retrieval practice, can protect memory against the negative effects of stress, report scientists from Tufts University in a new study published in Science on Nov. 25.

In experiments involving 120 student participants, individuals who learned a series of words and images by retrieval practice showed no impairment in memory after experiencing acute stress. Participants who used study practice, the conventional method of re-reading material to memorize it, remembered fewer items overall, particularly after stress.

Ayanna Thomas, PhD, associate professor of psychology, “Typically, people under stress are less effective at retrieving information from memory. We now show for the first time that the right learning strategy, in this case retrieval practice or taking practice tests, results in such strong memory representations that even under high levels of stress, subjects are still able to access their memories,” said senior study author Ayanna Thomas, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the graduate program in psychology at Tufts.

“Our results suggest that it is not necessarily a matter of how much or how long someone studies, but how they study,” said Amy Smith, graduate student in psychology at Tufts and corresponding author on the study.

The research team asked participants to learn a set of 30 words and 30 images. These were introduced through a computer program, which displayed one item at a time for a few seconds each. To simulate note taking, participants were given 10 seconds to type a sentence using the item immediately after seeing it.

One group of participants then studied using retrieval practice, and took timed practice tests in which they freely recalled as many items as they could remember. The other group used study practice. For these participants, items were re-displayed on the computer screen, one at a time, for a few seconds each. Participants were given multiple timed periods to study.

After a 24-hour break, half of each group was placed into a stress-inducing scenario. These participants were required to give an unexpected, impromptu speech and solve math problems in front of two judges, three peers and a video camera. Participants took two memory tests, in which they recalled the words or images they studied the previous day. These tests were taken during the stress scenario and twenty minutes after, to examine memory under immediate and delayed stress responses. The remaining study participants took their memory tests during and after a time-matched, non-stressful task.

Stressed individuals who learned through retrieval practice remembered an average of around 11 items out of each set of 30 words and images, compared to 10 items for their non-stressed counterparts. Participants who learned through study practice remembered fewer words overall, with an average of 7 items for stressed individuals and an average of a little under 9 items for those who were not stressed.

Amy Smith, graduate student in psychology“Even though previous research has shown that retrieval practice is one of the best learning strategies available, we were still surprised at how effective it was for individuals under stress. It was as if stress had no effect on their memory,” Smith said. “Learning by taking tests and being forced to retrieve information over and over has a strong effect on long-term memory retention, and appears to continue to have great benefits in high-stakes, stressful situations.”

While a robust body of evidence has previously shown that stress impairs memory, few studies have examined whether this relationship can be affected by different learning strategies. The current results now suggest that learning information in an effective manner, such as through retrieval practice, can protect memory against the adverse effects of stress.

Although the research team used an experimentally verified stress-inducing scenario (Trier Social Stress Test) and measured participant stress responses through heart-rate monitors and standardized self-reported questionnaires, they note that stress effects are variable between individuals and additional work is needed to expand on their results. The team is now engaged in studies to replicate and extend their findings, including whether retrieval practice can benefit complex situations such as learning a foreign language or stressful scenarios outside of a testing environment.

“Our one study is certainly not the final say on how retrieval practice influences memory under stress, but I can see this being applicable to any individual who has to retrieve complex information under high stakes,” said Thomas, who is also director of Tufts Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab. “Especially for educators, where big exams can put a great deal of pressure on students, I really encourage employing more frequent more low-stakes testing in context of their instruction.

 

Would you like to schedule a free practice exam for the ACT, SAT, HSPT, SSAT, or ISEE?

Contact us here.

 

 

 

Article Originally posted: http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/practice-testing-protects-memory-against-stress

Ivy League class of 2021 Early Application numbers

The college acceptance season is officially under way, as schools have released early admission numbers for the class of 2021. Here is a refresher on early admission, which is offered by about 450 US colleges.

At colleges that offer “early decision,” admitted students are committed to attending that school. They may not apply to more than one college through early decision.

Other colleges offer “early action,” which is nonbinding, and students may apply to multiple colleges.

Deadlines for both are in the fall. Deadlines for regular admission typically fall between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1.

What are the advantages of applying early?

Better admissions odds, for one. Guidance counselors recommend it for students who have done their homework to realistically narrow their options. From the colleges’ perspective, it lets them know students are serious about attending.

Are there disadvantages?

Students accepted through early decision (binding) generally receive a take-it-or-leave-it financial aid offer from that one school and may miss out on a better offer from another college.

Critics of the process say it feeds the college-admission frenzy and tends to benefit wealthy students who know how to work the system.

The Ivy League is seeing a surge in early applications. A sampling of the numbers released this month:

 Harvard early action (nonbinding) applications rose 5 percent, to 6,473. The acceptance rate fell slightly this year to 14.5 percent, or 938 students.

 Yale welcomed its largest group of early-action admits in several years, accepting 871 students, or 17.1 percent, from a pool of 5,086.

 Princeton University saw an 18.5 percent increase in early applications. It offered admission to 770 students, or 15.4 percent, from a pool of 5,003.

 The University of Pennsylvania had a record-breaking 6,147 applicants and accepted 22 percent.

 

Do you have more questions about finding the right college for you?  

Contact us here.

 

Source:  The Boston Globe, December 28, 2016

Power Poses - Prepare Your Body for Success on Testing Day

There is a simple strategy that you can use to reduce anxiety, improve your ability to deal with stress, and boost your confidence. 

The best part? It works immediately and only takes two minutes to do.

It's called power posing. It can be used to prepare your body for success on test day. To learn more, take a look at the excellent Ted Talk below on power poses --

Do you have more questions about how to raise your ACT or SAT scores?  

Contact us here.