March 2011 SAT: You Be the Reality (Essay) Judge

Editor’s note: After hearing of the topic for the March 2011 SAT essay we at Bell Curves decided to have our intern, a recent SAT test taker, write his thoughts about it. We love you to share your thoughts in the comments!

The essay was introduced as part of the writing section of the SAT in March 2005. It was in response to the increasing demand of college admissions personnel for more proof of a student’s writing and critical thinking abilities. These essays usually ask about general themes (e.g. responsibility, dreams, heroism, or rationality), so that the average student could produce a relatively well-thought out response in 30 minutes.

Typical essay questions (and most of the ones in the preparation material released by the College Board) include:

  • “Is it better for people to learn from others than to learn on their own?”
  • “Is an idealistic approach less valuable than a practical approach?”
  • “Do people put too much importance on getting every detail right on a project or task?”
  • “Do we benefit from learning about the flaws of people we admire and respect?”

These questions are pretty predictable and require some intellectual contemplation on the part of the student. When I was preparing for the kinds of essay questions posed in the Writing section, I decided to always write 5 paragraphs (filling up both pages if possible) and to use three supporting examples that demonstrated that I paid attention in high school. I employed my knowledge of historical events; novels (The Great Gatsby, for example); memorable articles from The New York Times, The Economist, etc; personal anecdotes, which I made up to fit the prompt; and statistics from recognizable sources. Following this method requires the common knowledge, more or less, of a high school junior. Therefore, I would say that most test-takers approach the essay question in roughly this manner.

However students were definitely caught off guard by the essay questions from the exam this past weekend:

  • “Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?”
  • “Is photography a representation of real life or a depiction of a photographer’s point of view?”

GMAT Strategy: Comb That Perm!

Statistics questions can be some of the most exasperating Quant questions on the GMAT. And among those, Combination and Permutation questions may just be some of the worst. The good news: statistics questions are some of the least frequently tested concepts on GMAT Quant. The bad news: you’re still likely to see at least 1 Comb-Perm question come test day. Because higher scorers will likely see a difficult Comb-Perm question, strategies to tackle them are needed. That being said, don’t let those tricky Comb-Perm questions make you want pull your hair out. Often times, there’s an easier way to smooth over those Comb-Perm cowlicks (sorry, I’ll try to reign in the hair jokes).

January 2011 SAT Vocabulary: Virtuosos Subvert the Miniscule Prodigy

At Bell Curves, we love going through old SATs to beef up our vocabulary and assuage potential polemical debates on deleterious topics.  What can we say, we’re mercurial that way.

SAT Q&A: Scores and Score Choice

We’ve had many questions over the years about SAT score reporting policies and more recently the Score Choice policies. Hopefully this will shed some light on these policies and help make the testing and application process a little less of a mystery.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Tests aren’t designed to trick you

Public Enemy - Dont Believe The HypeOver and over I read blogs and hear comments about how evil standardized tests are and how they are designed to “trick,” “fool,” and “trap” test-takers. I say that’s hogwash and poppycock!

It’s the invention of the test prep industry so they can sell you their “miracle cures.” This isn’t to say that all test preparation companies take this line. A few companies, Bell Curves among them, pride themselves on providing test prep that speaks to the knowledge, insights, and strategies needed to conquer the test, rather than play into the notion that these tests are designed to trick test-takers. My gripe with the other, more popular position is that it seems designed to make the test out to be a big scary mysterious unknowable boogie man designed to jump out of the dark and bop the unwary, and thus force test-takers to get help from someone else to defeat the unknown and unknowable. However, if the test is just a test, a test of content, a test of information, a test of factoids presented in a very particular way, then you might be able to prepare on your own. It’s got to be easier to sell a course or tutor if “only SAT experts” have the key to this very special lock.

Don’t believe the hype!

Evaluating Test Preparation Options

This is your last chance; after this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. - Morpheus to Neo from The Matrix

When people say “test prep,” what they mean varies greatly, and it’s usually limited to what they did themselves or what they’ve heard of. As part of this blog, we hope to provide a bit more insight into some of the options for test preparation. Our team has blogged quite a bit about free prep resources (check out our two most popular post on test prep here and here), so it’s high time we devote a little space to the commercial products.

Smokers Beware!

I smoke. That’s right, one or two of us, despite all the research and lecturing and (often) revolting anti-smoking campaigns, still exercise our free will and engage in a behavior we know is bad for us, and against which we’re too addicted or stubborn or ignorant to revolt.

I’m okay going outside to smoke, in the cold and wind and snow. I’m totally for not smoking around kids. I’m even okay with the constant “Tisk-tisk, don’t you know how unhealthy that is” and the “You should quit” and the looks of indignation, mortification, or disdain on the faces of passersby (not to mention my mom).

But before you ask what’s this got to do with the GMAT, let me go ahead and answer: Not too long ago I took the GMAT. I went in with a couple other Bell Curves instructors during the research study for the new in Integrated Reasoning section, and it didn’t go exactly according to plan. Why? Cigarettes. Or rather, the lack thereof.

The AWA Essay: 6 The Fun Way.

Nobody quite understands why GMAC requires that people write two 30-minute essays before test-takers get to the only thing that really matters, namely the Quant and Verbal Sections. Consensus even seems to be that business schools are rarely, if ever, using the GMAT essay in the admissions process.

When to Use the Bathroom, and When to Get out of Dodge!

Ed. Note: Taking the GMAT is an essential part of a good GMAT instructor’s job because it gives us a whole new perspective when advising students. Bell Curves requires all teachers to regularly take the actual GMAT in order to hone their skills in the actual setting of the test, discover new trends, and report back experiences that can benefit students. On an unseasonably warm Monday the third week of November, three members of Bell Curves GMAT development team took the GMAT in order to experience the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) questions first hand in the real setting. This is Jason C.’s experience on that particular day. To see reports of that same day from Akil or Ajani click either of their respective names. Keep an eye on this blog for an upcoming post about those aforementioned IR questions, as well as novel insights on cigarettes and the GMAT, and why NOT to sweat the AWA.  We love to hear from you about any questions you have about this experience or the GMAT in general .

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Recently, GMAC gave us a chance to beta test the new Integrated Reasoning section that it will be rolling out in 2012. Being the standardized test geeks all of us at Bell Curves are, we could not resist and found ourselves at a testing center two days before Thanksgiving.

Follow Through

Ed. Note: Taking the GMAT is an essential part of a good GMAT instructor’s job because it gives us a whole new perspective when advising students. Bell Curves requires all teachers to regularly take the actual GMAT in order to hone their skills in the actual setting of the test, discover new trends, and report back experiences that can benefit students. On an unseasonably warm Monday the third week of November, three members of Bell Curves GMAT development team took the GMAT in order to experience the new Integrated Reasoning (IR) questions first hand in the real setting. This is Ajani’s experience on that particular day. To see reports of that same day from Akil or Jason click either of their respective names. Keep an eye on this blog for an upcoming post about those aforementioned IR questions, as well as novel insights on cigarettes and the GMAT, and why NOT to sweat the AWA.

Last week, my curiosity got the better of me regarding the new Integrated Reasoning question types GMAC were going to test out as part of preparations for the Next Generation GMAT rollout in 2012. So I went along with a couple colleagues and sat for the test. Given the crowded waiting room at the Herald Square location (Manhattan), clearly I wasn’t the only one on pins and needles about the new IR questions. Okay, maybe most of the people there were to take the GMAT to get into Business School, but it was an interesting experience nevertheless.

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