Intelligence and Integrity

For the good of humanity, by far the most important quality of a person is his or her character.  Take the comparison between intelligence and integrity.  A brilliant, evil person can do incredible harm.  An uneducated, good person will still likely have a net positive effect (bringing happiness to others, improving the bonds of our social contract and the soul of society, etc).  Brilliance can actually be detrimental to society when not paired with virtue.  Integrity, even when not paired with brilliance, can only be beneficial.  The combination, however, of brilliance and character has incredible potential to do a vast amount of good for the world.

 

 

 

No January SAT: Should I Care?

Since the Collegeboard eliminated the January SAT and instead added an August SAT, rising juniors have been put in a precarious position, whether they realize this yet or not.  Previously, the latest that we would recommend that juniors start taking the SAT was in January.  Doing so in January or earlier was advantageous for two reasons: 1) Students could see definitively how they score on test day with enough time to make adjustments to their prep and still finish with testing by the end of junior year, and 2) the January SAT offered the Question-and-Answer service, which allows students to get back the test they took (only the October, March, and May tests will currently offer this).

Now, juniors are either forced to start taking the SAT in the fall and then have a three month gap before the March test, or they are stuck with only the March, May, and June SAT test dates in the Spring.  That might seem like a lot of test dates, but many students also need to take SAT subject tests.  The May SAT test date typically coincides very well to the AP exam test dates, so students can study for both APs and SAT subject tests simultaneously and take them very close together.  Most students do better the second time they take any test, so many students will also choose to re-take SAT subject tests in June.  Thus, if students wait until Spring to take the SAT and also need to take SAT subject tests, they would only be able to take the SAT once in March and then have to choose between the SAT and SAT subject tests for the May and/or June test dates.

The outcome: more students will likely be taking the SAT into their senior year if they choose to take the SAT, simply because March, May, and June do not allow students much time to achieve their score goals.  This schedule is a bad bargain for students, who would benefit from not spending the summer between junior and senior year preparing for exams and instead working on college essays/applications (not to mention relaxing).

If a student is significantly better suited to the SAT than ACT, they should of course still pursue taking the SAT.  However, particularly careful consideration needs to be paid to when students take the SAT in junior year, and their prep plan should be in place to ensure they have the testing schedule to achieve their goals.

 

 

 

Why Tutors Teach

The simplest icebreaker has been somewhat of a torture question for me over the years. “What do you do for a living” (or some semblance of that question) and you’d elicit the same conversation I’ve had countless times. “I’m a tutor”, which gets the same response: “Oh so you are a teacher”.

No.

I am not a teacher. I taught (High School History and Literature), but I felt nothing comparable to the relationship I now have with my students. Most tutors are very intelligent who were the “good students” in school, an idea that I try to challenge every day I show up to work (but that’s a story for another day). The job description most people would attribute to my craft is “get ___ score on ____ test”.

No.

Can I do that job? Yes. Do I do that job? To the best of my abilities, yes. But that isn’t the job of a tutor.

Teaching is obviously part of the job, but it is such a different perspective. Teachers have lesson plans, goals, meetings, curriculum, and multiple classes to worry about. Simply put, some kids aren’t reached, whether it is for a pre-calc test, history paper, or the ACT. The job of a tutor is to guide our students into the unknown. Whether it is a foreign subject, a foreign test, or simply just the unknown fear that some students face every day in class, our job is to take every student by the hand and be a part of his or her goals. A tutor can view him or herself through the lens of how many more questions right/how many more points gained, but that doesn’t do any justice to what the real goal is. Students who enter our learning environment don’t walk out with a goal score reached. Our students walk in to our lives when they enter this center, and in that exchange is where we really accomplish our goals: protecting those who need it. We are tutors, not because we are great test takers (that makes us the best tutors), but we are tutors because we truly believe in the idea of bettering a student. Lessons, strategies, anecdotes, stories, scores, experiences, and ideas…the job of a tutor is to push you towards the best version of yourself. It can’t be done in a classroom – I learned that the hard way.

The easiest way to explain my job is through text messages over the past hour:

Student #1 “RYAN! I AM FREAKING OUT, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO NUMBER 12”

Student #2 “Alright. I’m not home right now, but I’ll make whatever time work. I know I can do better on the September Test”

Student #3: *Sent an Andy Sandberg Thumbs up GIF*

Getting the score, passing the test, getting into that college are all goal that every tutor targets, but to help build the best body and mind of each student is the real job of a tutor.

When I think of how to describe my job, I seem to always settle on the term tutor (I still hate the word; I have two degrees and three minors and sometimes find it tough to swallow as a ‘title’) but my real job is to protect your dreams. No guarantees or promises, but simply my best tueri. As most words, the best definition or root for the word “Tutors” comes from Latin: Tueri. There are so many different reasons to select a job: location, money, power, ease. Tutoring is an open ended job that one list can’t define, my job is to protect the dreams and goals of those who walk in here, so daily tasks range from teaching all and any subjects (that I can learn/teach myself) to philosophical debates on our judicial system (because one student may have gotten a speeding ticket and wanted to debate the merits and issues with our system), but always an ear to listen and guide any student that calls our name.

So this blog isn’t about the tests, the strategies, or the sophisticated nuances (that’ll come). It is about getting one idea straight. You can hire anyone to tutor you, there are thousands of resumes and ads waiting for you one website away. But realize what a real tutor is, and realize what type of person you want to bring into your lives, because, make no mistake, to tueri is the highest form of teaching there is. Feel free to call, interview, and request anyone who you think will ‘fit the bill’…then call us.

 

 

 

Some Savvy Financial Tips for Clever Parents

What do most people care most about in life?  For obvious and innumerable reasons, their children.  We want to give them the very best we can and everything that we can to help them be successful and happy.  Education is, for good reason, one of the best avenues for achieving this.  But, here are three unconventional ways you can give your kids an automatic advantage:

1) Buy the website URL address for their name:

If someone else (who probably has the same name) buys it first, then they can own it forever.  As the world gravitates ever more into a digital ecosystem, it can be incredibly beneficial to stand-out in this environment and to tailor your online image to represent the personal brand you have created.  Additionally, buying your children’s website names empowers them to promote themselves by raising their website to the top of the results when someone, such as a potential employer or college admissions officer, searches their name.  If you search “Summit Prep,” our company is the first to come up in part because our web address is www.SummitPrep.com.  What was searched is literally what our web address is; this works the same for every company and for every person.  If you do not buy the domain name first, then you would need to buy it from someone else.  And who would want to sell the website of their own name?  I have no plans to ever sell www.DavidBlobaum.com, and I consider buying it one of my best purchases.  Buying the domain for your child’s name is an inexpensive investment (usually around $10 per year), yet this personalized online real estate can yield tremendous value.

2) Add your children as authorized users to your credit cards:

… and cut up the cards when they arrive (or do with them whatever you want). Adding them to your credit cards will dramatically improve their credit scores in two ways: it will increase their credit limits (they will have your credit limit) and increase the average age of their credit accounts.  Your children could easily start their adult life right out of college with a credit score of 750 or above.  Given what a large impact credit scores have on our lives (loan interest rates, car insurance rates, and sometimes even job offers), giving your kids an automatic head-start is very advantageous.

3) Match their earnings with IRA investments:

Encourage them to get a summer or part-time job when they are 16 and match their earnings with IRA contributions.  This is smart for a few reasons: 1) Working teaches professionalism and how to work hard and manage money. 2) It doubles their financial incentive to work (which could be particularly important if they are only making minimum wage).  3) It will likely make a significant impact on their retirement assets.  The maximum annual contribution to an IRA is $5,500 per year; and, in order to make this maximum contribution, your child will have had to earn that amount or more Let’s say they earn $5,500 when they are 16 and again when they are 17 years old, and you match that amount, thereby maxing out their contributions.  At a 7% rate of return, that $11,000 will grow to over $320,000 by the time they are 67 years old.  The IRA should be a Roth IRA (instead of a traditional) because there is virtually no tax benefit to a traditional IRA for someone with an income of only $5,500.  This also means that they’ll have that $320,000 to withdraw tax free.  Pretty incredible incentive for them: make $160,000 in a summer that they can use in 50 years, plus the $5,500 they made themselves.

The real trick will be getting them to appreciate what you do for them.  That too might take 50 years.

 

 

 

Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

There is no “one size fits all” answer.  But here are some general guidelines.

Two years ago, the advantage went to taking the SAT because 95% of colleges superscore the SAT, and, at the time, hardly any colleges superscored the ACT.  Today, still only about 40% of colleges superscore the ACT, so, in this respect, taking the SAT still has an advantage.

When the SAT changed last year, however, the overall advantage switched to taking the ACT because of the comparative lack of official content for preparing for the SAT.  This difference between the two tests, because it has nothing to do with the content of the tests or how they are used by colleges, is often overlooked, but it is more impactful than any other difference.  Only 7 real SATs have been released; compare that to over 50 real ACTs.  Let me explain why that difference matters so much.

The SAT and ACT spend about $300,000 developing each real test.  Third party providers of tests spend, I can only guess, maybe 2% of that same budget developing each of their practice tests, and these third party tests vary dramatically in quality.  The Princeton Review practice tests are comparatively good; the Barron’s tests (though I like their books for other subjects) are almost complete rubbish.  Yet even Princeton Review’s tests pale in comparison to the quality and accuracy of the real tests.  There is simply no substitute.

Because of this limitation, students preparing for the SAT and trying to substantially increase their score encounter the real problem of running out of authentic content on which to practice because more real content simply does not exist.  When this happens, they can only rely on practice tests that are significantly different from the real tests and do not give accurate estimations of what scores students will receive when they take the real tests.  The lack of accuracy in practice scores is almost as bad as the lack of accuracy in the content because it does not allow students to assess or track their progress.

The abundance of real content for the ACT allows students to more easily and efficiently continue raising their scores beyond a comparative increase on the SAT.  Thus, while it is still important to assess which test is best for each student by having them take a mock test of each, the advantage for most students goes to taking the ACT.  Only if a student does dramatically better on the SAT (which sometimes happens due to the differences in the tests) is taking the SAT equally or more advantageous.  Otherwise, in the marathon for a large score increase, the ACT wins.

 

 

 

Should I take the optional ACT and SAT essay?

Every student should take the ACT and SAT “optional” essay at least once.  There are many schools that require the essay score for a student’s application to even be considered.

But should students take the essay every time?  Short answer: probably.  Here’s why.

Our average student increases six points on the ACT, but more often than not students need to take the test multiple times to achieve such a large increase.  Suppose a student takes the ACT for the first time with the essay in September of their junior year and scores a 28 out of 36 composite and a 10 out of 12 on the essay.  Most of our students would then continue to take the ACT in October, December, and February.  On the February test, if they score a 33 composite but do not take the essay, then for many schools they will still have to submit that first ACT score of 28 (or any other ACT test score with an essay score attached).  Although almost all schools say that they will only judge students based on their highest composite or superscore, the 28 composite adds nothing to the student’s application and, if anything, could only take away from it.

In contrast, if the same student scored a 33 and re-took the essay and scored a 10, then they could potentially delete all of their past ACT scores (as long as they did not score higher in any section on the other tests) and colleges would only see the score of 33.  There is nothing wrong with doing this, and the ACT actually allows you to do so for free.  Some of our students increase 10 points or more (our highest increase last year in 2016 was from a 22 to a 34); in these cases, re-taking the essay becomes all but necessary given the large gap between initial and final composite scores.

Taking the essay costs $16, but this money is well-spent if it allows a student the opportunity to only report her best scores.  It is an extra 40 minutes, but, luckily, it comes at the end of the test, so students can relax at that point.  We only recommend students not re-take the essay when they can be almost certain that they will use a prior test score because they are only re-taking the test to increase their superscore in one or more sections.

The essay is by far the easiest part of the test.  As long as students write a lot (they have to write more than 2.5 pages to be considered for a score above an 8) and follow a very simply outline, then they are almost guaranteed a good score.

Given the low cost and effort and the opportunity to gain more control over what tests students report, re-taking the essay makes sense for most students.

Tips for Taking the SAT

When I walked into the testing room and handed my admissions ticket to the proctor, there was an immediate chorus of laughter.  No surprise: I am old (at least to a high schooler), and I am taking the SAT.  Why?  I could say it’s because I own a tutoring company and thus it’s my job to do so, but I mostly take it because I genuinely enjoy taking the test.  Taking the tests also gives me otherwise unavailable insights:

  • Content: One question I had before actually taking the new SAT for myself was, “How similar are the practice tests put out by the Collegeboard to the content of the real tests?” The answer: very.  If anything, the six official practice tests (four in the official SAT study guide book and two online) are more difficult than the real test I took in October.  The math and grammar topics are essentially the same on the practice tests and the real test.  Some of the most common grammar topics on the test were transition words, addition/deletion, pronouns, redundancy, and subject-verb agreement.  Some of the most common math topics were percentages, slope, averages, medians, quadratics, equation of a line, equation of a circle, imaginary numbers, polynomial division, and manipulating equations.
  • Food and Drinks: Collegeboard recommends bringing snacks and a drink, but I want to add some specificity to that recommendation. First of all, definitely bring food picture-of-an-appleand drink (you can read here about good snacks to bring).  Eating well and staying hydrated are essential for maintaining energy and focus throughout the test.  Additionally, students should not even count on water fountains at the school.  I took the October, 2016 SAT at Montclair High School and on both of my breaks (because I left my water bottle in my car), I went hunting for water fountains.  Number of fountains found: 4.  Number that worked: 0.
  • Breaks: Knowing the spacing of the test and the breaks is important so students know how to maximize their break time.
  1. Check in and fill out Scantron cards (30 minutes)
  2. Reading section (55 minutes)
  3. 10 minute break: This is the longest break of the test, so students need to prioritize eating during this break.
  4. Writing and Language (basically just grammar) section (35 minutes)
  5. No-calculator Math section (25 minutes)
  6. 5 minute break: This is really only enough time for a bathroom break.
  7. Calculator Math section (55 minutes)
  8. 2 minute break (assuming students are taking the optional essay next): Students are not even allowed to leave the classroom for this one. It’s just enough time to basically drink water, stretch, and then get back to man-on-top-of-mountainwork.
  9. Optional essay (50 minutes)
  10. Freedom! (and probably a nap)

The decreasing duration of the breaks makes it important for students to understand how to capitalize on the breaks they have.

  • Seating: If a student can pick her own seat, she should sit at the front of the room or on the sides. With fewer students either in front of her or on her sides, she will have fewer distractions and will be less likely to compare her progress to that of those around her.  (On the reading section in particular, there is a lot of page flipping – often the questions are on the back page of a passage, so students have to constantly flip back and forth for the answers.  Optimal seating can help mitigate the distraction of nearby page turning.)
  • Clothing: Wear a sweater and a T-shirt underneath. Who knows what the temperature will be in the classroom, so students should have options to make themselves comfortable.
  • Pencil: In contrast to ACT proctors, SAT proctors do not tell students that they cannot use a mechanical pencil (though the Collegeboard website advises against using one). Not all mechanical pencils use #2 lead, which is the only lead that the Scantron machines read.  However, as long as students make sure that they are using a mechanical pencil with #2 lead, then there is no reason not to use one.  (Though I would bring a back-up regular pencil or two just in case the proctor does not know that students may use mechanical pencils or in case the proctor manual changes.)  I always use mechanical pencils (even on the ACT actually – the proctors have either not seen or cared) because the tips do not dull.  This allows me, and others, to write more quickly and with less hand strain, which becomes very helpful when writing the essays on both the SAT and ACT.  Students also then do not have to sharpen their pencils on breaks and can use that time to eat, drink, or relax.
  • Essays: Although optional, I recommend taking them. It is possible a student will be applying to at least one college that wants to see an essay score.  Best trick to the SAT essay: write a lot.  Although neither the SAT or ACT makers will admit this, the primary determinant of students’ scores (as much as it pains me to say it) is the length of their essays.  Students absolutely have to write 2.5 pages or more (ideally three).  Of course there are other tips about essay structure, varying sentence structure, using concrete examples, etc, but these are still secondary in importance to length.

Though students may not enjoy taking the test as much as I do, I hope these tips not only provide them some peace of mind about what to expect, but also give them an advantage on test day.

 

 

 

The ACT Watch

One of the most difficult aspects of taking the ACT is timing, particularly on the Reading and Science sections. In order to improve on these sections, students need a lot of practice (preferably from the real tests), the right strategies (skim for key terms on the reading and science, when to read/skim/skip the science reading passages, etc), and a foundational knowledge of scientific principles. All of those take time. And we all love shortcuts. If only there was…

*Cue the red curtain parting to reveal a shining watch elevated on a gleaming glass stand*

The ACT watch. Unfortunately for me, I do not benefit from the sale of these watches, but I do enjoy seeing my students do better. To that end, I strongly recommend that every parent purchases one of these watches for their children. The watches have preset countdown timers for each ACT section, which would be reason enough to buy them (other stopwatches are banned on the ACT). If a proctor writes a start time of 11:37am and an end time of 12:12pm on the board for a 35 minute Reading section, it would be difficult for anyone to figure out when they should be a quarter of the way done, half way done, etc. And students are already under enormous pressure from time, so doing any such calculation is simply impossible.

Luckily, the stopwatch function counts down, so students always know how much time they have left, and, even better, the markers placed around the edge of the watch’s frame let students know where they should be in each section at any given time. (The Reading section is broken down into 4 passages, so the watch breaks the timed segments into 4 as well. And the Science section is 40 questions, so the segments are broken down into 10 questions each on the watch.) Using the watch, students can glance down and immediately see if they are on pace to finish the section, if they can slow down to improve their accuracy, or if they need to pick up the pace.

Here is a screenshot of the Reading section on the watch (the dashes around the frame disappear according to how much time has passed):

act-watch-reading-section

It takes a lot of work to dramatically raise a student’s score. But this watch is an immediate help to almost all students, whether they are trying to increase by one point or ten.

Link to the ACT watch: http://www.testingtimers.com/wc-shop/  (It can also be bought on Amazon with Prime shipping.)

 

 

 

Understanding New SAT Scores

The new SAT scores are confusing (even more so than one would think).  Let’s clear up the ambiguity.

For the sake of consistency and clarity, one would think the Collegeboard would keep the scoring for the old and new SAT the same.  Unfortunately, like other decisions that the Collegeboard has made this year, they decided to make an incomprehensible change: they inflated the grading scale.  For example, a score of 700 on the new SAT Math is only equivalent to a 670 on the old SAT Math.

To further complicate understanding the scores, Collegeboard now also reports two percentiles: the “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile” and the “SAT User Percentile – National.”  Only the second percentile matters; the first is completely irrelevant.

new sat score report 1 edit (1)

So, how can a person reasonably decipher the complexity of new SAT scores without using a directory of concordance tables?  Luckily, Collegeboard recently published an SAT score converter tool to help out.  You can find the link here.  (The tool is at the bottom of the webpage.)

This tool will convert new SAT scores to old and vice versa.  After inputting the section and subsection scores (make sure you have your detailed score report for your new SAT at the ready), you can also select “See what your score would have been on a 1600 scale” and “Show ACT scores comparison.”

score converter

Now that we understand the scores, the real question is: are we happy with them?  If not, don’t worry, you can still take them again in the fall and you can try out the ACT as well.

 

 

 

Calling All Juniors – Here is your end of year plan!

End of the Year Plan for Juniors

Haven’t taken the SAT or ACT yet?  You’re not alone.  Here’s what YOU should do:

  1. Sign up for the SAT in May
    1. Select the “Question and Answer Service.” If you pay for this service, the Collegeboard will send you a copy of the test back.  While this is always helpful, it is imperative given that it is the new SAT so that you can see how you did.  The SAT in June does not provide this option, which makes the May test better for taking the new SAT.
  1. Sign up for SAT Subject tests in June
    1. If you have a SAT score of 1300 or above or an ACT of 30 or above, then you will likely be applying to some colleges that recommend or require one or two SAT Subject tests.
    2. These exams are basically shorter AP exams, so if you took an AP class in a core subject, then you will likely be well prepared for one of these exams. If you haven’t taken an AP class, then your best bet is likely to take the Math Level 1 (which tests virtually the same math as the ACT) and the Literature SAT subject test.  If you’re not taking the SAT Subject tests, then we recommend re-taking the regular SAT again in June.
  1. Sign up for the ACT in June
    1. Remember to select that you want to receive the “Test Information Release.” This option provides you with a copy of the test that you took, which is invaluable for seeing how you performed, the questions you missed, if timing was an issue, etc.
    2. Even if you haven’t prepared for the exam, the ACT gives you the option to delete test scores, so there is no reason not to take this test.

This schedule gives you the most pathways to achieving a high score on your college admission exams.  Having taken each exam, you will also be well positioned to decide which test is best for you so that, if need be, you can prepare for that exam and take it again in the fall.

We offer free mock tests for all of the exams, and, no matter what your starting point (unless it’s a perfect score), we can help you score higher.  We are always happy to help!