Word Challenge IV: Two Words, One Speech – You’ll Never Guess!

This entry was posted on 4RIISE.com on 2/6/12. Part IV of our ongoing Word Challenge series proves that great speeches can inspire and entertain.

Great speeches use deliberate language and strong vocabulary to sway the audience to a point of view, address injustice, or simply to inspire. We’ve looked a at few figures in US history who have done all those things and more. Not all great speeches happen in Congress or on Inauguration Day, however, or are even given by real-life people. Some speeches take place on Independence Day, or more specifically in “Independence Day” the movie.

Vocab from context vs Vocab in Context

We probably all remember being told “if you see a word you don’t know try to understand the meaning from context.” While this was pretty good strategy for early readers (let’s say through 6th grade), the older you get the less it works.  Trying to learn vocabulary from context as you get older is fraught with peril (is fraught a typo?). Let’s explore the difference between vocabulary in context and vocabulary from context. We also explore some strategies on how to use this to help us with the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and GRE.

Learning vocabulary from context
Children’s books are often written with the intention of helping children acquire new words. To help children learn new words, these authors of children’s books will often use a word and then immediately define it in the context of the text. That text might look like this:

Starting Prep Early: SAT Vocabulary Strategies

Earlier this year we joined SAT aficionados and college counselors on Twitter for the bi-weekly #CampusChat. The topic was SAT vocabulary and it sparked a zany hour of interesting words being used in fun context. By our estimation the prize for most interesting use of SAT vocab was taken by Suzanne Schaeffer (mostly because of her fun digs at Bell Curves founder @akilbello). If you’re interested you can see the full twitter transcript here.

This chat got the juices flowing over in BC central and sparked us to ask our teachers for recommendations for short-term (less than 6 months) and longer term vocab acquisition tools and tricks. In this blog we’ll address some of the long term vocabulary strategies that parents can use to help their children develop college-ready vocabularies.

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!

Accessing the Pipeline: How Summer Enrichment Programs Changed My Life

The following post is from Lawrence Watkins’ blog. It’s very insightful.

Last week, CNN aired a special entitled “Black in America – Part 2″ profiling the lives of different African-Americans all around the nation. I watched with anticipation as the CNN crew was profiling an organization in which I am affiliated, Management Leadership for Tomorrow. MLT is a program that helps aspiring minority business school applicants attain their dream of attending a top notch business school. Out of all the underrepresented minorities at Cornell’s business school, well over half went through the rigorous MLT program.

Preparing for the SAT: done right and for free

Preparing for the SAT when done correctly and most effectively is a task that can only be accomplished by a parent, educational system, and child working in tandem for the same distant goal over the course of about 17 years. This educational triumvirate is the key to the intellectual development of the child and is the key to true achievement on the SAT and its ilk (PSAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc). This tripod of invested individuals sets the foundation for the ways the child interacts in educational settings and manages the challenges presented by testing. This foundation will do more to determine whether the child scores a 300 or an 800 than any prep course or high-priced tutor.

Minorities and the GMAT

A few weeks ago, co-founder Akil Bello presented the above topic at GMAC’s Annual Industry Conference. The session was well attended and garnered positive responses from many of the industry professionals in attendance.

With over 20 years of test-preparation experience, as well as a focus in the last 10 on helping underrepresented minorities excel at standardized tests, Akil was well-positioned to provide the insights interested parties where there to hear. After significant research, and analysis of a wealth of survey data provided by GMAC, Akil brought his observations and conclusions to sunny San Diego.

Starting Test Prep Early: Smartasses are Smart

People often ask me how I became the Sultan of Standardized Tests, the Baron of the Bubble, and the Prince of POE, or they just ask how I got so good at taking tests. It’s taken me a bit but after ruminating on the question I think I’ve arrived at not only an answer but advice that will let others try to develop some of the same talent. The answer I’ve arrived at is “I was a smartass as a kid.” Now I know that sounds crazy but keep reading and I promise it will make sense.

Consider the skills that define a proper smartass:

A Belated Response to the NACAC Report

A deeper analysis must be made of John Hechinger’s article, SAT Coaching Found to Boost Scores — Barely. If we are to take Mr. Hechinger’s conclusions at face value — conclusions that seem more concerned with drawing a crowd than with accurate reporting — then we are voluntarily subjugating the few facts in this discussion to a series of anecdotes and conjecture.

Mr. Hechinger draws a variety of conclusions about the ethical practices of test preparation companies, particularly about (1) the claims of substantial increases in student performance on standardized tests and (2) the validity of practice tests given by these companies.

In making his first point, Mr. Hechinger directs us to look at the study recently published by the NACAC. The NACAC report does not discuss improvement, only effect. The report makes no claims about the veracity of any particular “improvement” at all, but instead seeks to demonstrate that the net effect of expensive test preparation only differs by 30 points from other forms of less expensive preparation. Mr. Hechinger completely disregards one of the major premises of the report — that improvement and effect are two entirely different measurements.   Unfortunately, by missing the major premise of the report, the conclusions he presented seem to further cloud the distinction the report attempts to make.

To address the second point, I counter that providing inaccurate scores is at least partly counter-productive for test preparation companies, which rely on analyzing student performance to enable instructors to direct and focus student preparation. Inflating or deflating scores simply disallows companies from providing effective training. If we accept, as Mr. Hechinger proposes, that the major form of marketing is trumpeting score improvements, companies have strong incentives to take actions that increase such improvements (and not just the perception thereof). The fact that there exist incentives for companies to skew results in their favor does not necessarily mean that they will. In fact, since there are no real tests on the market and ETS, the maker of the SAT, only publishes its own “practice tests” as a test-preparation option for students, one might argue that the same incentive exists for ETS. Since most students likely to be taking these courses would have taken the PSAT and possibly even the SAT, students have their own external benchmarks against which to measure their improvement.

Furthermore, the experiences of one student who scored a perfect score on his SAT is an inappropriate and peculiar example when considering average score ranges and attempting to disparage an entire industry. This type of anecdotal evidence is hardly indicative of student experiences on a large scale. When considering this type of student experience, a reasonable objective observer must also take into account a number of variables that can affect a student taking the official test. Students report a wide variety of feelings, ranging from fear and anxiety to excitement and exhilaration. In some cases these reactions translate into a stronger performance (collectively, this is known as eustress) while in other cases these reactions will translate into worse performances. To cite an informal study of a small population of a few students who worked with one provider and who had similar experiences explicitly ignores those students who might have performed on par with their practice tests or even underperformed those practice tests.

Mr. Hechinger should have perhaps noted that the NACAC report concludes with the following points:

  • students should be encouraged to prepare before taking admissions tests
  • students should be counseled to use cheaper forms of test preparation
  • commercial coaching or private tutoring may well be worth the cost

Finally, the article presents two propositions: (1) SAT coaching resulted in around 30 points in score improvement, and (2) a third of schools with tight selection criteria said that an increase of 30 points would “significantly improve students’ likelihood of admission.” Even assuming that the improvement from the preparation is only 30 points, the author seems compelled to ignore the glaring conclusion that the ‘modest benefit’ can have a very real effect on potential admission to selective schools. To the extent that students can avail themselves of companies (like my own) that offer students the opportunity to get quality test preparation at 20 to 50 percent of the rates charged by the providers highlighted in Mr. Hechinger’s piece, the net value of that “modest benefit” increases dramatically.

The increasingly competitive world of standardized testing and college admission has forced students to seek out every available resource. Until schools become more transparent with how they value SAT scores, college applicants will reasonably pursue any gains, modest or significant, within their reach. And until a more extensive and finely tuned study is performed (the need for which is continually noted in the NACAC report), it is irresponsible to draw conclusions about test preparatory companies or their effectiveness. The more salient question, ignored by both Mr. Hechinger and the NACAC report, is to what extent are students without access to high-quality test preparation disadvantaged by their inability to get those modest 30 points?

Hashim Bello is co-founder of Bell Curves, a test preparation company which seeks to deliver high quality test preparation to traditionally underserved youth.

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