January SAT: Veronica’s Tale

Today's post is brought to you by one of our SAT teachers who recently took the SAT. We periodically send our teachers into the actual test to make sure we have the most current info on the test, the proctoring, and the experience so we can share that with those we're helping to prepare for it. While all of our teachers have taken the SAT in high school and have done many practice tests either at home or proctored in our office, the experience of going to a testing center always reminds us of what students actually go through. - Editor


BACKGROUND: Trust me, you won’t remember anything!
In the past, I’ve been embarrassed a few times by students who ask me about my own SAT scores and how I studied. The truth is that I don’t remember studying at all. I procrastinated opening my ten-dollar Barron’s book until the week before the test, and then I decided to register for a later administration instead of cramming in just a few days. I wouldn’t have taken it that day at all if my mother hadn’t insisted that it would be good practice. But I got lucky: when my scores came back, I discovered that I had surpassed my goal and didn’t need to test again. I suppose I should’ve done it anyway, just to try to improve, but at seventeen, I didn’t think that way. Needless to say, this isn’t a strategy I like to encourage, so I’ve tried to keep that story to myself. But perhaps because I wasn’t all that nervous, I find that I don’t remember the day of the SAT very well, even though it was only seven years ago. All I can recall is the vague feeling that it wasn’t as bad as it was hyped up to be, and also that Stuyvesant (where I took it) was way too big. Despite almost two years of teaching the test, as I was stuffing a graphing calculator and a few blunt pencils into my purse at the ungodly hour of 7am this Saturday, I found myself unsure what to expect.
THE TEST
I registered to take the test at Washington Irving High School, because I grew up near it but had never been inside. Once I got there, I found myself, yet again, surrounded by kids who were way more nervous than I was. I had made a fairly transparent attempt to go incognito under a baseball cap and a sweatshirt, but I don’t think the kids around me would have noticed if I were dressed like the Grim Reaper. They just sat in their seats, facing forward and sweating profusely, until the moment came to bubble our names in. Security was tougher than I remembered, even at Washington Irving, which a student had told me was the most relaxed testing center. We weren’t allowed to chew gum, drink water, or eat snacks in the classroom, even during the breaks, and we had to carry our printed photo-tickets and government-issued IDs with us everywhere, even to the bathroom. A kid next to me had a simple, dollar-store-type calculator on his desk with the cover on top, and he was asked to put it under his chair during a reading section, which I thought was a little unnecessary. The main conclusion I took away from the test was that this testing is harder on the kids than we like to admit. The students around me all looked on the verge of tears and were visibly pale by the end of it. And the addition of an experimental section (a section of the SAT that the college board uses to develop future tests — one which will not be added to your score, but which is also not identified on the test) is just cruel. On my test, it took the form of a math section with material I’d only seen on 1 of the many released test I’ve seen (some kind of polynomial function thing); for other kids, I found out later, it was a series of reading comprehension questions which referred to earlier questions rather than to the passage itself [Editor's note: This is as yet unverified.]. The slog of the four-hour test is bad enough without the additional shock of being tested in unexpected ways on unexpected material, in my view, and anyway, just knowing that one section was experimental makes you sort of paranoid.
On the whole, though, the taking the test was easier than I remembered [Editor's note: let's not forget that the writer has been teaching the SAT for a couple of years], which I found reassuring; the questions seemed clear and direct, for the most part, and the reading passages were engaging. Some observations from the test:
  • No matter how many hours-long written or oral exams you’ve taken in college, there is something uniquely tough about the length of the SAT. I think it has to do with the fact that you’re switching subjects and have such measly breaks.
  • Students didn’t eat enough. I was the only one who ate anything at all during the breaks (thanks for the granola bars, mom!) and, more alarmingly, the only one who brought and drank water. Lots of kids did use the toilets, which you pretty much had to run to because they were so far from the classroom we tested in. Based on my experience, I’d advise peeing before the test and rehydrating during it, not the other way around.
  • I was impressed by the alertness of the students. Nobody even seemed sleepy. I fear for when this tireless generation enters the job market. It is surprisingly easy to mis-bubble. I actually caught myself doing it three times (!) — two of them only because I was checking my work. Check your work, everyone!
  • The room I tested in was freezing at first, but slowly shifted to 78-and-humid in the course of the test. I always advise students to wear layers to the test, so that they can adjust for any unexpected indoor weather, and I’ve never been more glad that I followed my own advice. By the end of the exam I was in a tee shirt, regretting my woolen long underwear.
  • The general impression I had was that the students’ nervousness was a serious handicap to them. They all seemed jumpy and unhappy, and I can’t imagine producing a calm, logical essay if you felt the way they looked. Timed practice tests and going over old exams should make the test less intimidating, and being prepared to take the test more than once also helps reduce the pressure.
In conclusion, my advice for students taking the March or May tests:
- Plug in wherever you can. As always there were tons of questions where plugging in cut your work in half.
- For the essay,
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it helps to use the test booklet as scrap paper.

- If you have extra time, check your work, check your work, CHECK YOUR WORK! I must have saved myself a hundred points by re-checking, and I’m usually very neat. Something about the long-distance aspect of the test makes you sloppy.
- Also periodically check that you’re bubbling in the right section or column.
- Come wearing layers and bring light snacks and a lot of water.
- Be sure to bring extra batteries for your calculator, a pencil sharpener, and at least two pencils.
- When taking practice tests at home, don’t skip the essay! No matter how great a writer you are, producing a structured, logical essay in 25 minutes is a unique skill that takes practice.
- Relax, get in the zone, and try to enjoy it, no matter how stressed the other students seem. Calm minds make better decisions!
Good luck!

BC Alum Interview: Jessica Williams


Today we’re continuing our Q&A series with Bell Curves alumni who are currently pursuing or just recently finished their MBAs. Recent posts have included Q&As with Goreleigh Willis, Crystal Forde , and Kibra Yemane about their first year MBA experiences. This time around Jessica Williams shares some of her insights and advice on her MBA experience. Jessica completed her MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
 
Why did you decide to apply to business school?
Business school had been on the radar since my days in undergrad, but I never knew what that looked like back then. As I was rounding out that 2.5 year mark at work, I knew that what I was doing professionally, although I was learning a lot, was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to take my career in another direction and get exposure to something that was more fulfilling. There were a few interests that I had swirling in my head, so in order to help make sense of those ideas and to help turn those into reality, I joined the organization MLT and thus began my journey to business school!

What Tom Hanks Can Teach You About Taking the GRE

As part of making sure you’re fully prepared for these tests our teachers often sacrifice their time, energy, and sanity and brave the Prometrics centers so that we can report on not only the content of the test be the experience of testing. This post is from one of our fabulous GRE teachers, Kara, who recently went in to take the actual GRE; here is her report:

ACT vs SAT – A Tale of Two Essays

One of the questions we get asked a lot as teachers and tutors is “What’s the deal with the essay, anyway?” Interestingly, this question is asked by both SAT students and ACT students. Let me break it down for ya, fellas…

 

 

First the ACT and SAT prompts are very different. The ACT presents topics that students can easily relate to and have some familiarity with. The ACT topics are often about school or education. The SAT, on the other hand, presents prompts that are a bit more esoteric, obscure and arcane (see what I did there? ). Here are samples of each:

2013 Year in Review

With the end of one year and the start of a new one, people often take stock of what they’ve done and what they could have done. We at Bell Curves are no different, and one thing we are very pleased to have done this past year is visit many organizations and institutions to help their students understand how to prepare for standardized tests. The organizations and institutions we work with share our mission of increasing diversity in higher education, and we’re always thrilled when they invite us to speak with their members or students.

October 2013 SAT: Heretics Derisively Satirize Erudition

Another great word cloud with another great list of SAT words:

Musings from an MBA 1st Year in Action

BC Alum and Johnson MBA 1st Year Kayla Baker

 

Today’s post comes from a Bell Curves guest blogger and former student. Kayla Baker is a first-year MBA Candidate at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Prior to business school, she worked at the JPMorgan Private Bank for 3 years as a Junior Portfolio Manager; most recently, Kayla worked as an Account Manager at the education non-profit, Citizen Schools. At Johnson, Kayla is a member of the General Management and High-Technology clubs. Kayla holds a B.A. in Economics from Bowdoin College.

In this, her inaugural post, Kayla shares some thoughts on how to best prepare for the rigors of business school and maximize your experience.

 

While top business schools attract some of the most ambitious, successful people, returning to school comes with a few challenges. Sure, there’s a reward in the end, but in order to get there, I’d like offer a few considerations to help you prepare:

Grad School Admissions Testing – An Accurate Measure of Intelligence?

Today’s guest post is co-authored by Pauline Jennett, a Doctoral Candidate in the Educational Leadership Field. A former associate director of admissions from Harvard Business School, Ms. Jennett evaluated and interviewed domestic and international applicants. Prior to joining The MBA Exchange as an Admissions Consultant, she served as director of recruitment and admissions for non-profit career development organization Management Leadership for Tomorrow, an alumni officer for Boston University, and in sales and marketing management roles with Coca-Cola, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, and IBM. Ms. Jennett earned her MBA from The Wharton School, where she was a member of the Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory group and studied at Instituto de Estudies Superiores de la Empresa (IE). She has a master of divinity degree cum laude from Boston University, and bachelor of business administration degree from Baruch College where she was a Baruch Scholar. She has traveled to 36 countries on 5 continents and is conversant in Spanish.


 

In my educational leadership doctoral program, I am taking a fascinating class on Psychological Testing. In the textbook “Assessment Procedures for Counselors and Helping Professionals” (Drummond, 2010), the authors note that “despite the lack of a clear definition of intelligence, assessing intelligence typically encompasses measuring one’s ability to understand

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complex ideas, adapt effectively to the environment, think abstractly, learn from experience, learn quickly, and engage in various forms of reasoning.” Any student who has ever taken the SAT, GMAT, GRE, or LSAT, among other school admissions exams, can see remnants of these factors in the testing sections and question paradigms.

SAT Subject Tests: Which Tests To Take And When

Since most colleges don’t require SAT Subject Tests (click here for our post on which colleges require the tests), most students will not need to take them. However, if you’re one of the lucky few students applying to one of the 160 colleges in the United States that require or recommend the tests, you’ll need to take them.

Which SAT Subject Tests Should You Take?
For most students, the answer to which Subject Tests to take is “the ones that you’ll do the best on.” Most colleges that require or recommend Subject Tests do not require or recommend a specific test. Instead, they require a particular number of tests (either 2 or 3) and leave the rest of the

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decision-making to the student.

Guest Blog from Direct Hits: Surviving the Infamous Jr. Year

Our friends at Direct Hits recently published this advice for making the most of your Junior year and we thought we should share it with you. Also if you’re getting ready for the SAT or PSAT you should pick up their books which has a great list of words that commonly appear on the SAT.

For those of you who are juniors, the HALCYON days of summer have come to an end and the dreaded year has begun. While you may be feeling DISCOMFITED or even TIMOROUS about the upcoming year, let us DISPEL the PERVASIVE rumors that junior year is necessarily going to be the BANE of your existence, presenting only INSURMOUNTABLE challenges. Although 11th grade can be stressful, you can DEVISE and IMPLEMENT a FEASIBLE plan to THWART the customary headaches of junior year.

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