Review: GMAC IR Prep Tool

The Integrated Reasoning site from GMAC is getting a face lift and some new functionality. So of course we here at Bell Curves couldn’t wait to start playing around with it! (We love test prep with a passion. Don’t hate!) Read on to see all of the options on the new site.

 

Site Design 

The site looks really clean and intuitive. Right away you see it is split into three sections: Practice, Review, and Evaluate. However, there is a fourth piece to the site that you might easily miss. Do you see that little help sign up at the top right corner? CLICK IT! It has a bunch of information that could help you with integrated reasoning test prep. It is easy to miss the useful information hidden behind that innocuous little word “Help.”


Practice

The Practice mode pulls from a question bank of 48 questions. You are able to create practice sets from this question bank based on the type of question, difficulty level, and number of questions you want to answer. There are 12 easy difficulty questions, 19 medium, and 17 hard. Once you have created the parameters for the set, you choose if you wish to take the set questions in order of difficulty from easy to hard or in a random order. The final option for your practice set is whether to take it in exam mode or study mode. The only difference between the two is in study mode you see answer explanations immediately after each question. Exam mode requires you to first complete the set before you can review and see explanations.

 

 


Review

This section is split into four subsections. You can try to answer incorrect questions again, review the answer explanations for questions you got incorrect, look at any questions you may have bookmarked for future review, and review entire sessions you took previously. The first three sections are straightforward, but the session review is where things get different from the standard question review. Sessions are scored on a scale of 10-100, the higher the better. This score is based on a combination of difficulty level, number correct, and the time taken to answer. Sadly, there isn’t a way to get a feel for what this session score means in terms of an actual IR score. If you wish to save a copy, you can also download this information to your computer. 


Evaluate
This is the section that is most exciting! The evaluate portion of the site is also split into four sections. There is time management, session history, question history, and benchmarking. The time management section shows the average amount of time you spend on the various question types. You can either have it look at a specific session or all of the sessions you have taken to date. This can help you see your problem areas by question type.  Session history shows your session scores on a graph to see the overall trend of your practice. Question history gives you the ability to review questions from your history to date rather than from just this particular session. You can see the average amount of time you have spent on questions you got correct or incorrect, how many parts of the multi-part questions you got correct, and get an in-depth look at your question trends spanning multiple practice sets. Benchmarking might be the crown jewel of the site. It allows you to see how you are performing in regards to all other people using the program, and how you are performing in regards to people who indicated they planned to apply to the same schools you indicated you plan to apply to. You can select up to five school programs you are interested in, and it will pull the information from other people that selected those same programs to compare your results. As of the writing of this review, this functionality isn’t working, but the idea is interesting. It will allow you to see how your peers are performing, and hone in on the spots you are weakest when compared to the people also interested in the schools you are.Final Thoughts 

The new site is easy to use, and is a great tool for working on integrated reasoning. The variety of ways to review and analyze your results should lead to better targeted preparation. While it would be nice to get some more practice that results in a 1-8 score, this tool is great to use to improve your skills. You can always check your 1-8 score on the GMAT Prep practice exam. At a cost of $19.95 (at the time of this review), it’s a little pricy relative to the number of questions you have access to, but it’s a great resource nonetheless.

 

Good luck preparing for the GMAT and if you have feedback on any aspect of the IR Prep Tool we invite you to share you experience with us.

Review: SAT Sneak Attack

41T-08wZZXL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Not so very long ago on an internet not so far away, I received an email asking me to review an SAT- related book. Normally, I don’t read the SAT books that currently flood the market; I’ve glanced at some of the books about the SAT (which I’m distinguishing from SAT preparation books) and mostly found them uninspiring. Many of them are too narrow, too poorly researched, too general, or too biased. But for some reason the email I got this day intrigued me and I foolishly said yes I’d read the book and post my commentary on it. So here goes.

First Take

At first glance the title is probably what caught my attention. SAT Sneak Attack How Computer Geniuses Hack, Beat and Cheat America’s Most Feared Exam. It was catchy. It was sensational. It was inflammatory. This boded either really well or really poorly. I’ve been in SAT prep for over 20 years and I’ve pretty much thought about and discussed with friends, students, and colleagues every way to cheat the exam, yet this book suggested that there were folks out there who’d thought of ways to cheat the exam that I’d not considered and that this way worked. I was intrigued… I was skeptical, but I was intrigued.

 

Contents

So I opened up my Kindle app, downloaded the book sent to me digitally and got to reading. Immediately I noted that the book was exceedingly short and from there it went downhill. I tried to buck up and chalk my sinking feeling up to my being a bit of a book snob (if I bother to read something I want it to last. I typically only read series that have 3 or more books. I loved and read twice the Wheel of Time series that lasted 14 books each at 300+ pages) But I rallied; I was wanted to give this article/novella/research paper a chance to see what hidden gems I might find and to mine the secrets that the computer geniuses have to reveal about cheating your way to a better SAT score.

 

The tale begins with an anecdote of what sparked the author’s interest in “investigating” this SAT “cheating” phenomenon. This is followed by the requisite criticism of the College Board, the inconsistency of proctoring, and the exorbitant salaries paid to executives. This set up period lasts too long for me, and includes too many phrases like “friends doomed to live with going to a less prestigious college.” Additionally, the author makes many unsupported assumptions like “the average kid has a four function machine that can add, subtract, multiply, and divide.” But putting all of these quibbles aside I read on hoping to find the much ballyhooed secrets to hack the SAT.

 

Finally almost 1/3 into the article we get to the crux of the matter and the secret begins to be revealed:  programs can be purchased for the calculator to allow you to solve some questions faster and easier. I should have stopped reading there. Everything after that was anticlimactic and only tangentially related to what I was interested in.  I felt cheated. I’d expected to learn some awesome new strategy for beating the test but all I learned was that programs exists that will make calculators do more than their original programming planned for. The author did a good job conveying some of the history of Texas Instruments and the College Board and the growth of supplemental programs used for cheating, but this really didn’t do much to reveal “secrets to hack the SAT.”  Having spent an hour reading this Sneak Attack I certainly didn’t feel I’d learned anything, and certainly not a way to sneak attack the SAT or how to hack, beat, or cheat the feared exam.

 

Summary and Questions

The greatest disappointment in this novella was that I was left with tons of questions. I would have appreciated the work if the author, who gives citation after citation about the reprogramming of the calculators, would have given some data on the effectiveness of these “cheating” tools. Here are a few of the questions this article left me with:

 

  1. What is the maximum impact on the score you could achieve using the calculator cheats vs not using them?
  2. Which of many cheat programs referenced are most effective?  Which are ineffective?
  3. How do these programs impact the 2/3 of the test that is not math?
  4. What percent of students have access to the $189+ TI calculator?
  5. Does using these programs require any knowledge of the underlying math?
  6. Is there a difference in effectiveness in using these programs based on student score level?
  7. Have you had any actually 17 year olds actually test out the effectiveness and usability of the programs?

 

Given that the report was touted as a secret to hacking the SAT, it seems a pretty glaring omission not to address impact on score or ease of access (as in ability to purchase the TI calculator). In the short this was a nice story, mildly interesting to parents and teachers of high scoring affluent potential SAT test takers but having no real value for the vast majority of college bound high school students.

Review: New Online Features for GMAT Official Guide 2015

GMAC sent us a heads up on the upcoming GMAT Official Guide and we had one of our favorite teachers, Andrew Patton in Atlanta, review it and give you this review so you can incorporate it into your prep more effectively.


 

At Bell Curves, we have long been fans of computer-based practice for the GMAT. The test is given on a computer, so it makes sense to practice on a computer, in fact, we designed our own online GMAT student center with that in mind. So when we heard The Official Guide for GMAT Review 2015 (the newest Official Guide edition due summer 2014) will now include an online practice site, we had to check it out!

Here is the list of the practice site content according to GMAC:

  • A diagnostic test to help you evaluate your current level of readiness.
  • Access to a question bank with 900 practice questions that are customizable based on question type and level of difficulty.
  • Links to Integrated Reasoning questions (there is a IR practice site coming from GMAC soon).
  • Exclusive video addressing concerns about taking the exam, balancing work and school, and preparing for the GMAT exam.

Diagnostic Test

The diagnostic test is an online version of the current diagnostic provided in the 13th edition book. While it may be the same questions, having it on your computer makes reviewing the results much easier. Having the type of question, answer explanations,

difficulty rating, and time spent per question is a much more useful tool than the current pencil and paper diagnostic provided. Keep in mind there are a couple differences between the actual GMAT and the diagnostic. First, the diagnostic is not a computer adaptive test, and at 100 questions in length it is longer than the Quantitative and Verbal sections on the official test. This allowed GMAC to include

questions of every type at a variety of difficulties. Also unlike the actual GMAT,

there isn’t a time limit on the diagnostic. However, it keeps track of how long you spent on the entire test as well as time spent on individual questions. Once you have taken the diagnostic, you can review your results and learn where to focus your initial test prep. GMAC provides a score for each of the basic question categories of problem solving, data sufficiency, reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. Comparing your score to the chart they provide will let you know if you are below average, average, above average, or excellent in that particular category. While this diagnostic won’t be able to give you much of an idea of what you would score on an actual GMAT, it can let you know which areas are your strengths or weaknesses. If the thought of taking a GMATPrep practice test before doing some initial test preparation is stressing you out, this may be a good option to give you a starting point!

 

Customizable Question Bank

GMAC claims you get access to a question bank with 900 questions to customize your own practice sets based on question type and desired difficulty. However, there are only 807 questions available to use in custom practice sets. Maybe the 900 number is meant to include the diagnostic exam, but currently there is no way to customize those questions in any way. Still, 807 is a good number, and a lot of practice can be gotten out of the question bank. You can mix and match question types and difficulties to create the custom practice experience you need. Each question includes a detailed explanation, the ability to take notes about the question, and the ability to bookmark a question to return to it later. Just like the diagnostic test, you can review the practice set to see how long you took on each individual question, as well as total time. Use this to work on time management and apply that information on practice tests!

 

Let’s see how the question bank breaks down:

Problem Solving – 37 Easy, 93 Medium, 100 Hard – 230 Total

Data Sufficiency – 24 Easy, 64 Medium, 86 Hard – 174 Total

Reading Comprehension – 23 Easy, 74 Medium, 42 Hard – 139 Total

Critical Reasoning – 36 Easy, 47 Medium, 41 Hard – 124 Total

Sentence Correction – 26 Easy, 64 Medium, 50 Hard – 140 Total

Overall – 146 Easy, 342 Medium, 319 Hard – 807 Total

 

Integrated Reasoning Questions

Currently the Integrated Reasoning questions are the same questions from the Official Guide for GMAT Review, 13th Edition. They are useful but not new. The good news is that GMAC has an IR online practice tool, though it will cost you an additional $20. Check this blog for our review of that tool.

 

Exclusive Video

At the time of the site launch, there is only one video on the site (though the . It is just over eight and a half minutes and covers a lot of frequently asked questions. While the video is a bit dry and at times may seem forced, it covers some good information. It is definitely worth a watch as it may answer a question you didn’t know you had.

 

What the Site Lacks

Sadly the new site doesn’t have any sort of computer adaptive practice. All of the practice is either static sets of questions like the diagnostic test, Integrated Reasoning, or specifically chosen questions based on your selections from the question bank. The good news is if you want extra computer adaptive practice, the Bell Curves Student Center still has plenty of computer adaptive quizzes to try!

 

Final Thoughts

The new GMAC site is going to be a useful addition to the host of tools available for test prep. The best part is the customizable question bank. Even though it may not be as large as advertised (or hoped for by GMAT teachers across the universe!), it will still provide value to the people that use it. While the diagnostic test is nice, it doesn’t give you knowledge of your true starting point in relation to the GMAT. Knowing where you are relatively weak or strong is useful information, but knowing your starting 200-800 score from a GMATPrep practice test is a better indicator of how close or far you are from your GMAT score goal. That is the information that will dictate how aggressive your test prep schedule needs to be.

A few other interesting images:

 

 

We hope this review was helpful, and we wish you luck on your GMAT journey!

ACT vs SAT: Changing the Game to Be Even More Complicated

In the Red Queen’s Race that is the the college admissions test market, the ACT has made its counter push to the SAT’s latest sprint. The ACT has announced a revision to the essay and the introduction of a new scoring rubric. The changes are scheduled to be rolled out some time in 2015.


The ACT essay, which had until now has consisted of a topic concerning high school life, will now have students “evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue and generate their own analysis based on reasoning, knowledge and experience.” Test takers will be expected to provide analysis from more than just their perspective on a specific topic. Further details about the nature of the new essay are scant, but it will still be optional and the time limit may be extended from the current 30 minutes.

As for the new rubric, students’ new ACT scores will include “readiness indicators,” which will attempt to show their “career readiness” and ability to “understand complex text.” There will also be two cross-test categories, one score for language arts derived from the English and Reading sections (and the essay, if applicable) and the other will be a STEM score, based on the Science and Math sections. These cross-test scores are reminiscent of the bevvy of new scores introduced by the College Board three months ago for the new SAT. This growing synthesis of categories into one distinct score on college admissions tests seems to be a new trend and these scores, from this point on, will now be known on this website as “mush scores.”

These adjustments are pretty minor in comparison to the recent overhaul of the SAT by the College Board. However, the ACT is currently on top and not looking to rock the boat too much.  It’s even ahead of the game in terms of transitioning from paper and pencil to computer-based, beta testing 4,000 students at 80 different sites in April 2014 for a 2015 release.  Important to note that ACT is committed to offering paper and pencil tests as long as the market demands.  While some outlets have reported this will be a computer adaptive test (a test that will increase the difficulty level of a subsequent question when you answer the previous one correctly), that information is incorrect.   ACT has stated that the test is not computer adaptive at this time.  They have hinted at additional changes coming in the future, including developing language to correlate an ACT score to the new Common Core standards.


Additionally, the ACT is planning on rolling out a series of SAT II style subject tests. These will be called “Optional Constructed Response Tests” and will be thirty-minute subject tests in math, reading, and science. These tests will not be multiple choice and instead the test taker will be required to produce her own response to “justify, explain, and use evidence to support claims.” Scores from these tests will be combined with scores from the same subject areas on the ACT to give a “constructed-response test score” in each subject area. However, these scores will be an entirely separate entity and will not be reflected in your ACT composite score. So there will be even more numbers to figure out.

Come back soon, we’ll post more news as it breaks.

The New SAT Part II: Reading is Fun and Mental

This is the second part of a series on the new version of the SAT. College Board will roll out more changes over the next 18 months as we await confirmation on the final form of the exam. It’s worth noting that these changes will affect test takers in 2016, but anyone planning to take the exam before that will be under the old system (search our blog for informative posts about that exam. We have some good stuff.  Did you miss the first installment? Check it out here)

Today’s post was brought to you by one of our lead teachers, John Mahone.


 

With the old SAT, the Reading part of the test consisted of Reading Comprehension, passages on various subjects with questions about theme, vocabulary, and other verbal concepts, and Sentence Completion, which required students to fill in the blank or blanks of sentences with the correct vocabulary words or words. On the current SAT, the Writing section of the test consists of one essay written from a specific prompt, and Improving Sentences, which ask students to read sentences and paragraphs, find the error, or identify the ways in which the sentences can be improved. The new exam will shift things around, as there will be a Reading Section, Writing and Language, Math, and an optional essay.

Let’s take a look at what’s new on “The Reading Test.”

 The first detail that struck me about the Reading Test is that students may actually have to do some thinking now. The “higher complexity” passage example challenges the student’s abilities with elevated vocabulary, rhetorical strategies and concepts, and historical references. Additionally, some questions will require “Command of Evidence,” meaning not only will the student have to grasp what is said in the passage, but also build on that knowledge through linked questions, as seen in the example below.

The second question is a direct follow up to the first and makes the student consider the logic of the first question when answering the second. Due to the lack of a guessing penalty, these kinds of corollary questions can now appear on the SAT and force students to actually think out their answers. However, an increase in the difficulty of the passages is offset by the decrease in the difficulty of vocabulary. Gone are sentence completions and their requirements to know polysyllabic words that actually could be useful in some form in the future. In its stead, we are given “Words in Context” that actively confront the student with such strenuous vocabulary like the word “intense.”

Get ready to step up your vocab game, kids. The Reading Test will also include a “founding document” or a text from the “Great Global Conversation,” which is completely not an attempt to include more free texts from the public domain, but instead an attempt to incorporate content a student would learn in the classroom. These passages will be in the same layout and have the same question types as all other passages, but College Board is hanging its hat on these passages connecting the classroom to the test.

The last big change in The Reading Test is the inclusion of “informational graphics.” These graphics are also used in the “The Writing and Language Test” (more on that section later) and are College Board’s naked attempt to incorporate an ACT-style science section into the test without actually calling anything a “science section.”

This question could have come straight from the ACT. I’m also not sure what makes it applicable to the Reading Test since it requires no reading whatsoever of the passage, and simply the ability to recognize the fact that Northeast is the opposite of Southwest.

That’s the scoop on the Reading Test.  Stay tuned for more.

 

The New SAT Part 1: An Overview

This is the first part of a series on the new SAT that will be doled out over the next 18 months as we await more information on the final form of the exam.  It’s worth noting that these changes will affect test takers in 2016, but anyone planning to take the exam before that will be under the old system (search our blog for informative posts about that exam.  We have some goods stuff.)

Today’s post was brought to you by one of our lead teachers, John Mahone. Without further ado, here’s some of what’s coming and what we’ve concluded. 

 

Following up on last month’s event, during which the College Board, amongst horse-drawn carriages and blaring bugles, expanded on the details for the coming changes to the SAT, which will be rolled out in 2016. On April 16th, College Board quietly dropped 208 pages of unanswered questions and teasers on the internet and the world. The first quarter of the tome lays out The College Board’s reasoning for changing the test (somehow without mentioning the words “market share”) and strategy on how to do so (somehow without saying “we copied the ACT.”) But let’s get to the useful stuff.

What’s Different?

In short, a lot. The test will look and feel a lot different than it currently does.

This is major plastic surgery (cheek implants, nose job, botox, ear lifts, shin implants, tummy tuck, and collagen implants) on the test itself and not just the facelift that the 2005 revision was. Here are some of those big changes (in our coming post we’ll address some of the specific changes for math and verbal):

  • Back to the 1600 point scale. The new test will consist of two mandatory sections “Evidence Based Reading and Writing” and “Math,” each scored on the standard 200-800 point scale. The other section will be the Essay, which will be optional.
  • The new test will run 3 hours flat, with 50 minutes allotted for the optional essay, which will now be given at the end.
  • No more guessing penalty. Students will no longer have that quarter of a point deducted for wrong answers, eliminating the entire strategy of leaving questions blank and now raising the “Why would you ever leave that blank?” question from teachers to countless students.
  • Due to the removal of the guessing penalty, multiple choice questions will now have only 4 answer choices, because everyone hates “E.”

The other major change to scoring is the inclusion of what The College Board is calling “test scores,” “cross-test scores,” and “subscores.” This may get a little confusing, so stay with me.

 

Test scores” will be individual grades given in the categories of reading, writing and language, math, and the essay (if taken). This format is reminiscent of the scoring system used for the past decade. However, these scores will be given on a 10-40 point scale, rendering them completely meaningless to anyone for at least 5 years.

 

Cross-test scores,” which I will refer to as “the SAT jungle” because no one really knows what’s in it and few will venture in to find out. The cross-test scores, “Analysis in History/Social Studies” and “Analysis in Science,” will be based on specific questions across the three “tests” that deal with history/social studies and science. These questions will be combined to comprise the cross-test scores, which will be reported on the same useless 10-40 scale. You’re still, here? Impressive.

 

Finally. there will be seven “subscores,” because you didn’t have enough scores already. These will also be drawn from the three “tests.” The Reading test and the Language and Writing test will contribute to the subscores of “Command of Evidence” and “Relevant Words in Context.” The Writing test itself will be used for the subscores “Expression of Ideas” and “Standard English Conventions.” Lastly, the Math test will report the subscores of “Heart of Algebra,” “Problem Solving and Data Analysis,” and “Passport to Advanced Math.” The subscores will have an entirely pointless scoring range of their own, 1-15.

 

So there you have it. I assume this makes total sense to you and leaves you with absolutely no follow up questions, because College Board is making the same assumption and as of the publication of this post has not provided any more explanation.

 

Stay tuned for our next exciting installment on the new SAT!

Buyer Beware: Tech Issues with GMATPrep Exam Pack

For many b-school hopefuls, we’re in

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the thick of crunch time. Application deadlines are already upon us (Round 1) or right around the corner (Round 2), and people are diligently putting the finishing touches on their essays (okay, some people) and taking that final GMAT to give them the score they need. With the GMAT still “in play” for many prospective applicants, the news that GMAC was coming out with TWO new full-length practice tests for GMATPrep an unqualified boon. Well, it started out as an unqualified boon. The reality has been a little more qualified.

Many of our students have purchased the new GMATPrep exam pack to get in one or two more full-length tests before game day. Unfortunately, some ran into technical issues that they shared with us, and which we though we should share with everyone else so that they’re aware of the possibilities.

Here are a couple of the problems we’ve heard about:

Installation Issues

Difficulty installing the new Prep packs, despite following the directions to the letter. The difficulties were such that outreach to GMAC tech support were required.

Functionality/Tech Issues

A functionality issue that requires users to exit and reenter the test to access each question. Time is only lost (at least on the test) if you’re not aware what has to happen to get to the next question, but it’s surely an annoying waste of time overall.

Data Retrieval and Test Review

Naturally our team jumped at the opportunity to test drive the tests. You can read the full review here, which was largely positive. But when we tried to go back to review questions and data there wasn’t any of either to be found. Apparently if you don’t uninstall previous versions of GMATPrep you won’t be able to see the data or review the questions from the exam pack.

We contacted tech support and they told us about needing to uninstall older versions. You can read the full message from GMAC at the bottom of our review here.

 

So what does all this mean? Just that you should know that things

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might not go smoothly. Many people experience no issues at all, but like a new rollout of any technology, there are bound to be some bugs. GMAC is surely collecting feedback and fixing them, but perhaps not in time for many people with test dates in the next few weeks. Consquently, just be aware that your testing experience may be less than ideal. If that should be the case, have a contingency plan, whether tests from other sources, or time to allow a fix or solution to be found. There’s no better testing software available than from the folks who make the test, so most people will want to get the tests, regardless of the possible tech issues.

That’s the scoop from us. Just trying to keep everyone aware of developments. Happy GMATing!

 

-The BC Team

 

College Board: Missing Opportunity

After giving this some thought, engaging in discourse with colleagues and peers, I’ve decided that the theme College Board’s major marketing event last month should have been “Missing Opportunity” (click to read my post about that event). That event marked an important moment in which David Coleman and his College Board junta could have revolutionized the SAT by thoughtfully and comprehensively addressing the elements of the SAT that lead to what he called “the culture and practice of test preparation that now surrounds admission exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.” Instead we got a marketing event, great talking points, and lipstick put on a pig. From all indications the new SAT will be nothing new, nothing different, and imperceptibly less biased against those who don’t have access to SAT prep. There are great articles floating around (I’ll link to a few I like at the bottom of this post) about why the SAT will fail to deliver on its promise of a level playing field, so instead of piling on what’s wrong with the new test I’m going to show you how the College Board (filled with psychometricians and PhDs who are ostensibly far smarter than me and thus begging the question of why did they not address these things themselves) missed out on simple ways of creating an SAT that was less susceptible to test preparation.

Before going on, I have to point out that information about the specifics of the new SAT hasn’t been released, so this entire piece and all others criticizing or praising the new test are based on a high level description of the forthcoming test and are thus about as reliable as predicting the hunting habits of the T-Rex based on fossil evidence. But since, on the modern internet, prognostication and list-making are second only to making gifs and cat videos, I offer to you my contribution to this scholarly endeavor.

 

3 Ways the New SAT Could Have Minimized the Impact of Test Preparation

 

"Grid" provided for Student Produced Response Questions

1. Make the entire math section Student-Produced Response Questions

The current SAT has 10 of 54 math questions which are not multiple choice. These questions allow the student to “grid in” answers. By making the entire test grid-ins, this would increase the number of possible answer choices per question to 14,256 from the current 5. This change would eradicate any benefit of random guessing, since the odds of a correct guess causing a statistically significant increase in scores would be reduced to almost zero from the current 20%. Not only would the addition of grid-in remove the guessing advantage, it would also remove the most popular test preparation tool: plugging in. Every test preparation company teaches some form of plugging in, a strategy that is only applicable and effective on a multiple choice algebra test. The removal of multiple choice options would strip the test prep industry of one of the best tools for changing scores.

 

2. Remove the time pressure

Several studies support the notion that performance on tests is negatively impacted by time constraints, especially for low income and minority groups (though this is not proven). By remaining a highly speeded test (one that creates pressure to finish in time), the SAT remains susceptible to test preparation significantly impacting performance. Many test preparation strategies are designed to allow the test-taker to complete the item (fancy testing talk for what us laypeople call questions) not just correctly, but in the most efficient manner, thus allowing that test-taker time to work on additional questions. Removal of the time pressure would negate or minimize this tool for the test preparation industry.

NYS Statewide assessments give 90 minutes to students expected to take 50 - 70 minutes.

Removal of the time pressure would also align the SAT more with the manner in which tests are most commonly delivered in school and on statewide tests. Both teacher-created assessments and statewide tests typically provide generous amounts of time for completion, rather than allowing only for the exact amount of time it would take the top performing students to complete the test. The approach taken by the SAT further advantages top performers and those who receive test preparation.

If the College Board wanted to decrease test preparation’s impact, they would increase the amount of time to allow all test-takers the opportunity to finish the test, without the mad panicked bubbling that generally occurs in the last few minutes of a section.

 

3. Enforce their own rules of fair usage of scores

Another way the College Board could easily and

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quickly change the impact of test preparation is to enforce the rules they have so long given lip service to. College Board consistently messages the psychometrically valid ideal that a single test score is more properly indicative of a performance range rather than an absolute number. When you consider the standard error of measure, and the standard error difference as well, it becomes clear that no SAT score should stand as a single marker of ability.

CB reports a +/-30 point range with each 200 - 800 single score they report.

For years institutions have been “encouraged” to understand the statistical meanings of these terms and take them into account when making decisions. However, in truth many schools use SAT scores as hard cutoff for admissions and monetary awards.

If College Board wanted to positively impact opportunity, they would create and enforce more stringent rules against the misuse of test scores. They could also simply have changed the SAT scoring scale to convey fewer perceived levels of distinction. Many students who I’ve tutored over the years have paid good money in order to go from a 590 score to a 600 or a 690 to a 700 because of the perception conveyed by minuscule change.

“Ensure that small differences in test scores are not the basis for rejecting an otherwise qualified applicant.” – College Board guidelines for score usage.

 

Were the gang at College Board serious about reducing inequities engendered by the mystery surrounding the test and misuse of scores, they could have changed the 200-800 point per section scoring scale to only report scores in 50-point increments. Instead, they continue to report scores in 10 point increments and “warn” schools not to read much into small score differences. Reporting scores in fewer increments would alleviate a lot of the anxiety around minor score improvements for both students and admissions offices, but nope, that not a choice CB made in this latest iteration of the venerable college admission gate-keeping behemoth (sorry Mr. Coleman I know that’s probably over-doing it with the “SAT words”).

 

Alas, while I hold out hope that some of my changes might have been considered and there was a rationale for not implementing them, I have no real expectation that the College Board will do much besides topical changes to the content of the test. And the changes to the test will simply mean those families with the means to will spend it on test preparation so they can continue to solidify their advantage over those without the means to dedicate hundreds of hours to study or thousands of dollars to preparation. In the meantime Coleman will continue to tout Khan Academy as the great equalizer, though Khan will be the only source of test preparation that doesn’t ever mention timing strategies or plugging in.

Follow up with me in the week after April 16th

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when samples of the new SAT will be released. I’ll have a chance to fully analyze the test and lay out the test preparation tools that we’ll use to help students “beat” the test.

 

In case you’re interested, here’s some research referenced above:

 

Here are some of the articles on the change to the SAT and their impact:

 

College Board Delivering Opportunity: Winners and Losers

Today the College Board, with all due fanfare and a corresponding webcast watched by thousands, announced upcoming changes to the SAT, which will go into effect with the October 2015 PSAT and then the Spring 2016 SAT. During this hour long speech, not only did College Board president, David Coleman, announce changes to the SAT but he set the tone once again for the direction he is planning on taking the global multi-million dollar non-profit organization.

 

Since you can read in articles and newspapers across the internet the specifics of the announced changes to the SAT (a bunch of links are at the bottom), I thought instead to give you the benefit of my perspective on the impact of the changes by pointing out the winners and losers of the day (as I see it based on the information currently at hand which is admittedly incomplete).

First, let’s look at today’s winners:

First Place: Khan Academy

The day belonged to Khan Academy, who scored a coup by partnering with the College Board to provide free SAT preparation. While the details of what that partnership will look like are vague, early indications are that the College Board will/has provided official practice tests and questions to Khan Academy. This is a departure from decades of policy. College Board has historically only made its questions available in books they sold or on their website. Even today you can only download one SAT for free from CB, to get more would require either great google skills or spending $26 – $79.

The Khan Academy partnership will allow KA to reproduce official questions and then make instructional videos and explanatory videos and integrate those SAT items into their online learning system. This is an intriguing partnership because it has potential to broaden access to real SAT practice (not necessarily preparation) materials. I don’t think it will do as much to disrupt the test prep industry as Coleman would like to believe, but it’s a good start if they do it right. You can check out the conversation between Sal Khan and David Coleman here.

“This will be the only place in the world and free to the

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world, besides on our own website, that students will be able to encounter materials for the exam that are surely focused on the core of the math and the literacy that matters most. We will partner with the Khan academy to ensure the quality and validity of every item, every practice item. And there will be no other such partnerships.”

Second Place: College Board

College Board accomplished a lot today, not only did they announce substantial changes to the SAT but while doing so managed to put on the white hat Olivia Pope style, and cast themselves in the role of hero. The speech, in fact, seemed like something Pope would have created. There was a certain artistry in how while criticizing his own test, David Coleman took shoots at his rival college admission test, the ACT.

 

In addition to flinging zingers at ACT, he also took clever shots at the test prep industry while trying to avoid any cast-offs falling on his beloved SAT. Mr. Coleman pointed out repeatedly that paying for test prep advantaged certain students yet always with carefully worded statements that avoided implying that test preparation was effective. And he accomplished his attacks on the College Board’s two biggest foes while framing the entire conversation with the marketing line of “Delivering Opportunity.”

“The real news today is not just the redesigned SAT but the College Boards renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.” – David Coleman

If the College Board delivers on its promises of much greater support for low income students, this day has the potential to be a watershed (a teeny, a-teeny.. this is me shedding Nipsey Russel tears for vocabulary) moment for college access and equity. CB listed a grand set of initiatives and changes that would, as Coleman put it, ” propelling students to opportunity.” Those initiatives included various outreach projects designed to provide qualified low income students with information and engagement in the college selection and going process. Specifically Mr. Coleman cited

- Personalize mailers with personalized financial aid guidance for high-achieving low-income students

- Fee waivers for qualified low-income students to apply to colleges

- Apply to 4 or More campaign to help ensure that counselors encourage application to 4 or more institutions

- Personalized online guidance to support students following the PSAT and SAT

Let’s all hope that this all comes to fruition, because it has great potential. In addition to the positive vibes that these announcements generated for CB, many of the talking points put forth the notion of the new SAT aligning more with high school curriculum and AP programs and thus providing greater access to college. I think this is a masterful stroke since again it fosters the impression of CB products as the gateway and certification of college readiness. Well played College Board.

 

Third Place: Low income students

Low income and under-represented students have become the focus of many initiatives in education. Not only is the College Board focused on them but so is the Whitehouse. It’s nice to see that organizations are finally taking note of the inequities and working actively to address them. The greatest question here will be how are programs implemented at the high school level? Will guidance counselors and teachers know how to guide students to Khan Academy resources, will students and their families have the information, time, and ability to take advantage of these opportunities? Only Miss Cleo knows.

 

“Once the test is over the real work of begins.” – David Coleman

Now let’s look at who lost today.

 

Biggest Loser: ACT

Today the College Board cast the proverbial (a-teeny .. a-teeny) gauntlet. David Coleman sent shot after shot across the bow of the ACT. First he cited flaws in both tests but specifcally mentioned that he was fixing the flaws in his test. Next he attacked most of the structural advantages that the ACT holds. He removed the guessing penalty aligning the scoring with the rival test and removing a major test prep weapon, he made a strong argument that the new test’s content will be less coachable, he made the SAT essay optional like

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the ACT essay has always been, he made the SAT shorter than its rival assessment tool, he announced a digital option to launch only one year after a digital ACT option, and finally he reaffirmed in our mind that College Board is the oldest consortium of colleges and not just a testing agency and thus the access to colleges is an advantage the ACT might not be able to match. He did everything he could to combat the loss of market share except offer the SAT for free and thumb his nose at our friends from Iowa.

 

“It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become far too disconnected from the work of our high schools.” – David Coleman

 

Second place: Test prep companies

While the jury is still out on how coachable the new SAT will be (tune in April 18th after my team has had time to vivesect the new test), Mr. Coleman did all he could to make it seem like nothing short of 12 years of Common Core curriculum and a few hours on Khan Academy would prepare you for the test. While it’s not true that the test will not be susceptible to test preparation, it certainly will influence the perception of the buyers of test prep services. How many schools who currently hire test prep companies will forego that once the new SAT is launched? How many middle income families will choose to have their child use Khan’s free online videos rather than hire a tutor that might stretch their budgets?

 

“We also been listening to students and their families for whom these tests are often mysterious and foster unproductive anxiety. They are skeptical that either the SAT or ACT allow them to show their best work. And too many feel that the prevalence of test prep and expensive coaching reinforces privilege rather than merit.”

“It’s much less about tricks, about mysterious things than an open exam that celebrates good work and the work you’ve done in your high school”

- David Coleman

 

My fear is that this may actually exacerbate the discrepancy in scores as low income families buy into CBs message and solely rely on the free resources at Khan Academy and wealthy families hire individual tutors to teach their children in person (using not only the Khan material but also material created by experts like myself who’ve spent over 20 years analyzing College Board tests and devising ways to take advantage of every possible nuance).

 

“We must not take responsibility for the practice our assessment inspires” – David Coleman

 

Despite these possibilities, test preparation companies are entering a period of flux that will probably shake up many of the smaller companies that might rely on middle income families or contracts with schools. Additionally, by partnering with Khan, CB has provided some measure of leveling the playing field by ostensibly providing easy open access to information about the test years before its normally available. Typically, any change in a major admission test comes with a corresponding boom in the test prep industry, this partnership with Khan has the potential to minimize the “new test panic.”

 

“The culture and practice of test preparation that now surrounds admission exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.”

“The first step we take today in redesigning the SAT is complete openness.”

- David Coleman

 

As additional information becomes available (full test in the new formatted are slated for release on 4/16) I’ll keep you in the loop and share my thoughts here or on twitter. In the meantime check out these articles and sites for more information:

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!
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