May 2012 SAT Vocabulary: Beleaguered Batman Batters Bungler Bane

On Friday July 20, two exciting things happened in the Bell Curves office; first, we received our copy of the May 2012 SAT and were able to peruse it for lot of fun vocabulary words and second, we went as an office to see the the Dark Knight save Gotham City. What was especially exciting was that in both the May SAT and Dark Knight Rises, bane played a prominent role! In DNK, Bane is the archenemy of our beleaguered hero and on the May SAT bane was one of the beguiling answers maliciously offered to hoodwink unwary test-takers! As we’ve often told our students, most superhero and villain names are English words that reflect their powers or character. As you enjoy your summer movies remember that there are lots of new words to learn which will help your SAT preparation.

To help you get started here are 100 words from the May 2012 SAT that you should learn.  Words which have appeared once on the SAT are very likely to appear again.

The Match Game: Choosing a Tutor

Selecting a tutor is not unlike the process of choosing someone to date.  It seems like there are thousands of options out there, but finding the right one be both difficult and overwhelming – not to mention a serious cash investment!  We want to try to alleviate the stress a bit by providing you with a basic list of questions to ask of a tutor before making the final (and hopefully great) decision: 

 1.       What is your experience with this particular test?

With experience comes an increasing amount of knowledge about not only how to do each question but more importantly how to effectively teach the test to students of different skill levels, backgrounds, and learning styles. Generally, the more experienced the tutor, the more likely you are to get a carefully crafted study plan that will allow you to reach your goals.  Tutoring college-level Calculus for years does not automatically qualify someone as to be a stellar SAT or ACT tutor.  These tests, particularly the SAT, are filled with similar “tricks” year in and year out that experienced test prep teachers will be familiar with and have the ability to explain to students.

Tips from an Expert Tutor

The question I am asked the most often after revealing that I’m a professional standardized test tutor is, “How should I study for Test X?” The reply is always invariably a petition for more information such as the materials being used, past testing history, study habits, and anticipated testing schedule, all of which is just a baseline amount of information that I would then use to offer the most basic and topical plan of action. The reason for such a skeletal plan is because of a very simple reason:  every student’s needs are different and if I haven’t spent any time observing a student’s habits and logical process then I can’t say what he or she needs. The effectiveness of tutoring lies in the customization and personalized guidance. A large part of a tutor’s job is identifying where in the process of answering a question, between reading it to choosing the correct answer, is there a disconnect.  The tutor then formulates a way for that particular student to most effectively bridge that gap. With that said, here are three of the most common issues many of my students face across different tests have.

 

1.            Lacking the fundamental knowledge base that is being tested.

2.            Having difficulty recognizing the topics being tested by the questions.

3.            Executing a strategy for specific question types consistently.

 

The first issue is usually the easiest to diagnose. This issue is most notable with math questions but can manifest with verbal questions (albeit less alarmingly and thus usually more ignored, unfortunately). My opinion on this issue, shared by the pedagogy of Bell Curves, is that regardless of how much test-taking savvy you have, if you don’t know the base content (e.g. geometry formulas, grammar rules, argument structure, etc.) there is absolutely no way to consistently answer questions correctly. The solution is pretty straightforward  – study the material until you understand the rules and their applications.

January 2011 SAT: You Be the (Essay) Judge

One of the best ways to prepare for the SAT essay is to read and write SAT essays. After every SAT, many of our students give us permission to use their actual essays to help others learn from what they did. We’ve posted and discussed this essay to hopefully help you prepare.

A few quick points about the SAT essay for those of you a bit newer to the test:

  • The essay is the very first section of the test.
  • The essay is handwritten in 25 minutes with a pencil on 2 sides of 8.5″x 11″ paper.
  • The essay is worth up to 180 points of the total SAT Writing score.
  • Your full essay will be available on collegeboard.com about 4 weeks after your test date.
  • Each SAT essay consists of a Prompt, which gives some background discussion and context, and an Assignment, which gives the specific assignment they have to complete.

 

Without further ado, here is a January 2011 SAT essay transcribed for your reading pleasure:

Score Select for GRE Starts Next Week

ETS informed the world in April 2012 that ScoreSelect was going to become available in July, and that option is just around the corner.

ScoreSelect allows test-takers greater flexibility in deciding what scores to send to schools. The move is part of ETS’ ongoing push for a more test-taker friendly platform, and will provide test-takers with the comfort and security of knowing that a non-representive score doesn’t ever have to make it to admissions offices at schools. This relief should allow more test-takers to go in feeling confident and put their best foot forward come test day.

The ScoreSelect option is available both on test day and afterwards. Here are the particulars for test-takers, straight from ETS:

Understanding Your GMAT Practice Scores

With Round 1 application deadlines for many schools just a scant 3 months away, many people are revving up their preparation. One big component of the application process is the test score (GMAT or GRE) that most schools require, and a big part of any preparation are practice tests. In a later post we’re going to discuss how practice test scores influence when we should take the GMAT, but today we’re going to take a look at how practice tests (or an official score you’re not happy with) should inform your preparation decisions.

Before we get into discussing practice test scores, we should take a moment to clarify a few important considerations about practice tests themselves:

The College Board Fails the Test, Again!

Recently the College Board again stuck its foot in its proverbial mouth and for me has reopened the never-ending debate about its role in higher education (I’ll be blogging more on this soon). But the latest flub from CB makes us wonder if they need to just put Olivia Pope on retainer to rescue them from a seemingly infinite string of blunders. The latest, which has yet to be named but I’ll call “Summergate,” again starkly raises  questions from “What role does the College Board play?” and “Is the College Board a self-appointed gatekeeper to higher education?” to “Is the College Board driving elitism and bias in education?” and “Is the College Board biased against low income, urban, and minority students?”

Game Changer? Harvard Changing Admission Application

Beginning this fall the Harvard Business School application will reflect its most significant changes since 2003. Long a source of anxiety and many sleepless nights, the HBS application as recently as last year required applicants to submit four different essays that totaled up to 2000 words. Starting for the class of 2015, the number of essays will be halved, with the word limit capped at 400 per essay.

Not only will they be fewer in number and shorter in word requirements, the essays will also be more straightforward. The two essay prompts slated for this fall are

  • Tell us something you’ve done well.
  • Tell us something you wish you had done better.

The HBS application process will also involve another wrinkle. For those who succeed in making it past the first cut, and thereby required (or given the chance) to sit for an interview, an additional post-interview essay will be required. The wrinkle? Well, the essay will be due within 24 hours of the interview, and should address something the applicant wished she or he had said during the interview. This essay will also be capped at 400 words.

ACT Science Test: No science required

Many test-takers have told us that they chose the SAT over the ACT because they were uncertain/cautious/leery/petrified of the science part of the test.  But never fear, here I come to save the day! (cue Mighty Mouse theme)

The truth of the matter is that the Science Test is a misnomer – instead it should be called the ACT Science-y Test, the ACT Science-Lite Test, or maybe the ACT Loosely-Related-to-Scientific-Thinking Test.

 

6pm GMAT Test Time? Say What?

It’s the end of the GMAT as we know it! It’s the end of the GMAT as we know it (And I feel fine)!

We are down to the last two weeks of the GMAT B.I. (Before Integrated Reasoning) and people are scrambling to get their official test done before the switch on June 5th.

We’ve written frequently in this space about how people shouldn’t rush their prep just to avoid IR (i.e. you should not rush to take the test before the IR section gets added in June if you are going to get a lower score on the sections that matter – Quant and Verbal). That being said, there are a number of folks who have been prepping to take their test in the next couple weeks and are ready to do so.

I have a couple such tutoring students, and I found it interesting when one of them told me that her upcoming GMAT was scheduled for 6 o’clock. As in 6 o’clock PM. 1800 hours. Say what? Starting a GMAT at 6pm means ending your GMAT around 10pm. Not good times, but unavoidable it seems given the high volume of test-takers rushing to take test before the change to NextGen GMAT.

Another student taking the test before the change said he had a 4pm test appointment, which is better than 6pm, but certainly outside the ideal testing time for most people. It got me thinking that it might be beneficial to share some tips with people about how best to gear up for their official tests. People with particularly unorthodox testing times like 4pm and (gasp) 6pm should pay particular attention to numbers 1 and 3 below.

  1. Practice (Test) like it’s the Game – Your full-length practice tests should mirror your official test in every way possible: focus, intensity, start time, and components (meaning do the essays, even if you don’t want to). Your goal is both to increase your stamina and prepare your mind/body to be “on” at the same time you have to “on” for the real thing. The later your test is in the day, the more important this is, as people (even late-risers like me) are less fresh and sharp as the day goes on. 6pm, for example, is really pushing the limit of people’s endurance.
  2. Don’t Go Overboard – Practice tests are designed to be evaluative and help you hone your pacing and test management. They’re also designed to increase your test stamina. Doing a test every day isn’t a surefire way to get there. You need time to review, and time to recharge. For every person who says “I did a full-length test every day for two weeks and got a 700,” there’s a dozen people for whom that will not work as a strategy (not least of all because that 700-scorer was probably already ready to score 700). Find your happy medium for practice tests that will allow you enough time to increase your stamina AND give you time to thoroughly review your mistakes and hone skills.
  3. Seek Balance – Don’t disrupt your normal routines too much. We are creatures of habit, and if you all of a sudden stay up really late for a couple nights so you can sleep in later for your noon (or 4pm) test time, your body will NOT be pleased. Same goes for amending your diet or exercise routines. Find the balance between preparing for your test time and maintaining your normal life rhythms.
  4. Avoid Last-minute Practice Tests – Taking a practice test a day or two before your official tends to offer the potential of far more negative consequences than positive. GMAT Preparation is a marathon, not a sprint. Squeezing in that last-minute practice test is going to do very little for your chances on the real thing, largely because you have very little time to learn from and assimilate any insights from it. Conversely, a poor result a day or two before the test can really affect your confidence, and (again) leaves you with little time to redress that blow. Additionally, a 3.5-4 hour GMAT practice test is no joke. It drains you (or should if you’re doing it right). Recovering from that takes time, in the same way that recovering from a marathon session at the gym might for your body.
  5. Don’t Limit Your Prep to Practice Tests – You can do effective practice in small doses as well. In fact, some of the most effective practice comes in smaller doses, largely because you can more easily learn from those sets and then turn around to apply that learning on another set. Regardless of whether you’re doing a lot or a little prep, try to start around the same time you’re going to be taking the real thing (largely because of the reasoning outlined in number 1).
  6. Relax  - The final 24 hours before your test should largely be a stress-free affair. You’ve prepped. You’ve learned what you’re going to learn and have improved as much as you’re going to improve. Frantically running through a bunch of problems the night before (for a morning test) or day of (for afternoon/evening tests) is a recipe for disaster. It taxes you and drives your stress levels way up. You want to go into the test cool, calm, collected, and rested. Period.

For all those taking the test in the next couple weeks, good luck! May the GMAT be permanently in your rear-view when you’re done!

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