Lynbrook | Module #6: SAT Demystified


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Created by Betsy Tsai (UCLA 2014), Kavya Shankar (Harvard 2014), Varun Pemmaraju (UC Berkeley 2014) and Brandon Liu (Harvard 2014) from Lynbrook High School

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Lynbrook | Module #6: SAT Demystified

  1. 1. MODULE 6<br />The SAT Demystified<br />Brandon Liu<br />Harvard – 2014<br />Varun Pemmaraju<br />UC Berkeley – 2014<br />Kavya Shankar<br />Harvard – 2014<br />Betsy Tsai<br />UCLA – 2014<br />
  2. 2. Introduction<br />Hey everyone!<br />The subject matter of this module could potentially be the most daunting of your high school career. Thus, the intent of this module is not to instruct you about the test, by any means. Any information regarding the test is definitely available online or in books and would be more updated. We want to provide you with the insight of how we fit this one exam into our lives without losing our heads about it.<br />Most of the burning questions Lynbrook students have is about how much time and effort should be allotted for it. When everyone is trying to one-up each other with more classes, starting earlier, it’s difficult to understand how much time and effort is necessary.<br />We’ll hopefully answer your questions about preparation, study techniques, retaking, and score interpretation.<br />It’s just a test. The unfortunate hype surrounding the significance of the exam, however, is also a test of your confidence in your academic planning.<br />Good luck, you may now turn to the next slide.<br />
  3. 3. Preparing<br />When?<br />How?<br />
  4. 4. When did you start studying?<br />“Early Bird”<br />While I don't think you need begin targeted studying for the SAT at a very young age, at the same time, it's important to work on developing your quantitative, critical thinking, and writing skills as early as possible. Challenge yourself to read higher reading level books and newspaper articles. –Kavya<br />“<9 months”<br />I personally don't think that you need to start more than 9 months in advance, assuming that once you start, you spend at least 2-3 hours/week studying (don't just look at the book for 20 minutes each week). If you're already feeling really good, then as little as 2-3 months is fine. –Brandon<br />“~5 months”<br />I did fine by almost anyone's standards with about 3 months of preparation, as long as you are diligent about it. I'd say a time by which you should start is summer before your junior year. At the very least, you can get a taste of the material. –Varun<br />Bottom line: Any timeline is possible, and can fit your lifestyle. Taking this test is just a part of your life, so fit it in where it’s comfortable to do so.<br />
  5. 5. Why start studying then?<br />“Early Bird”<br />Go ahead and roll your eyes at that classmate learning vocabulary in 8th-9th grade. However, having taken the SAT Reasoning test junior year and year, amidst the academic stresses of the end of high school, I wish I had started way earlier to simply get the test out of the way. The skills needed are not particularly special or hard. You as a prepared freshman might do as well as a prepared senior. Waiting won’t give you any smarts that you’ll need on the test. --Betsy<br />“<9 months”It varies from person to person, based on how well you're already doing on the SAT, how effective you are at studying, and how much the SAT matters to you. --Brandon<br />This long-exposure approach is good for a consistent development of test-taking skill, which is great if you’re uncomfortable with cramming.<br />This is probably recommended for students who give the SAT great significance.<br />“~5 months”I think the sense of panic helped me a little bit, but is not something I would necessarily recommend. Set out a plan (4-6 months) where you can attack each bit of the test. –Varun<br />There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a little less time preparing. We all have busy lives. Use this time to schedule test dates and periods of time for consistent study. You can succeed with self-confidence and motivation. Study effectively.<br />
  6. 6. Other tips for Scheduling<br /><ul><li>Give yourself a break between tests.
  7. 7. Before sophomore year, you can focus on preparing for the PSAT. Although the PSAT your sophomore year doesn't technically count for anything, it's a good benchmark and helps you assess where you are. It’s no fun doing worse than you expected on the PSAT junior year—only to panic thereafter.</li></li></ul><li>How do I go about studying?<br />Prep Class, or no?<br />I strongly recommend a prep class. I think that no matter how motivated and smart you are, sometimes, it really helps to have someone else set a schedule for you. A prep class will help accelerate your learning by providing a "crash course" on the SAT. However, something important to note is that a prep class is not a substitute for self-studying, but rather a complement. --Kavya<br />If you think you will not be able to motivate yourself to consistently spend time on the SAT and you want to pay money to ensure that you do, then go for the prep class. The class, however, does not guarantee that you'll do better than if you self-studied. --Brandon<br />
  8. 8. How do I go about studying?<br />Prep Class, or no?<br />I am a strong believer in self-studying. I know prep classes work for some, but personally I believe the whole concept of prep classes (and for that matter, standardized testing) to be a bit of a scam. Today, all the material you need is out there for you, especially for people like you who have demonstrated traits such as self-motivation and the drive to succeed. --Varun<br />If you know how to spend your time studying, then you'll be much more effective because a prep class must cater to the lowest denominator, not you personally. It also saves tons of money! –Brandon<br />The point of a standardized test is to assess students on the same criteria from a variety of backgrounds. What’s the point if some are paying out of nose to be considered higher achievers? The more you let this test control your life (and wallet), the less the test will say anything about you. --Betsy<br />
  9. 9. So either way, I have to self-study?<br />Yup.<br />But then again, you can’t treat the SAT like your biology exam, where you gotta go (or really ought to go) to class to learn the material.The SAT has no curriculum that is the lifeline of the test. It’s a reasoning test.<br />Therefore, it makes sense that the things you learn about your text-analyzing and problem-solving capabilities will be unique to you, and thus more useful.<br />Whether you may benefit from a “crash course” in SAT material that a class provides, they can’t tell you how you study or take tests best.<br />
  10. 10. II. Study Strategies<br />
  11. 11. Uh, where do I start?<br />You can probably think of studying for this test 1 (or both) of these 2 ways:<br />Practice, practice, practice. For kinesthetic learners, maybe<br />Identify and target sections (essay, critical reading…) of the test that you think you are weaker on, focusing specifically on subjects (ie. passage comparisons) one at a time.<br />The word around is: It’s not really about the material on the test.You know your grammar and your math, so don’t think you’re dumber than you are.<br />
  12. 12. Goodies for you!<br />Practice Tests: Just slash and burn?<br /><ul><li>The more you practice the test, the more comfortable it gets and the more machine-like you become in hitting the scores you want.
  13. 13. The more you practice, you actually do better! I do not think that it helps much to take entire tests at a time. It is much much better to go through one section at a time and check your answers immediately after you finish a section. That way your answers are fresh in your mind, and you'll connect the correct answer with your mistake. --Brandon
  14. 14. Don't worry about endurance, because the adrenaline will take you through the full test for the real deal. Definitely try one or two full tests before the real test, but you don’t need to practice as you perform here.</li></ul>Brandon’s got some past SAT tests, as well as a long list of essay prompts:<br />Good Books:<br />The big blue, Official SAT Guide, Barron’s 2400Barron’s SAT—no, difficult, inconsistent, and confusing<br />Take free practice exams hosted by:Kaplan, Princeton Review, Ivy Insiders<br />
  15. 15. Is there stuff I actually need to know(and memorize)?<br />What did I do?<br />BETSY:<br />Learning from your mistakes is underrated. I took it to another level by recording each wrong answer, each right answer, and writing out why my answer (and/or other ones) was wrong and why the right answer is correct. I made lots of commentary, and then compiled my conclusions into a separate document and made a list of general “tips” to answering questions. Check it out on the next slides.<br /><ul><li>Look for patterns in the way they phrase their questions (especially for critical reading).
  16. 16. Every test, every vocab word, every math concept has shown up at some point before –they've simply run out of new material to test you on. –Varun
  17. 17. The College Board is very consistent in their questions and answers. Learn their question style, and do not fight it. Some people refuse to conform, insist on their own answers, and end up getting lower scores. Going through practice tests will train you to understand the College Board style. –Brandon
  18. 18. If you're really good at math, just do the "level 5" math problems instead of wasting your time doing all the questions. --Kavya</li></li></ul><li>
  19. 19. I wrote eight pages of tips and advice for critical reading like this, separating them into sections of question phrasing, vocabulary questions, specific references, tone & rhetoric, opinions & points of view, and main ideas.<br />Looking back, I can’t say I don’t think this was overkill, but if it helps you, then I won’t think it was a waste of time.<br />If you would like a copy of this document yourself, feel free to contact me and I’ll hook you up.<br />
  20. 20. What did I do?<br />What kind of essay is written in 25 minutes?!<br />BRANDON:<br />2-3 minutes: Come up with one or two examples first that relates to the prompt. Then take a position based on the example that you can think of first. It's much more difficult to pick a position first and then think of examples.<br />20 minutes: Write!! Think up of your second/third example while writing.<br />2 minutes: Proofread and revise.<br />BETSY:Intro and conclusion last. Leave a couple lines blank.<br /><ul><li>Always fill up the full 2 pages. It's hard to get above a 10 if you don't do this.
  21. 21. Use as many SAT vocab words as you can, especially if it obscures the sentence.
  22. 22. Strive to get three examples in. Two is okay, but three is always better, even if the third is short!
  23. 23. Some kinds of examples are better than others. Literary and historical examples are the best, with a personal anecdote being less credible.
  24. 24. Practice writing a few essays and post them to College Confidential for review. Keep in mind people there tend to be a bit harsher than the College Board, at least in my experience.
  25. 25. Go through the list of prompts I have attached, and practice coming up with three examples for each prompt.</li></li></ul><li>What did I do?<br />Wait, what about vocabulary?<br /><ul><li>Brandon highly recommends using Anki as a flashcard program, as it uses spaced repetition, a very powerful tool for learning! By just spending 15-20 minutes a day, you can very quickly amass a large vocabulary.
  26. 26. When you read books (yes, like literature), take the time to look up words you don’t know. Bonus points if you make your own personal dictionary.
  27. 27. Most SAT vocab products you can find should be sufficient. (Barron’s flashcards are good.) If you want to ace the vocabulary questions, aim to learn 2000-3000 words.
  28. 28. Additionally, try to play vocabulary games (, to develop your vocabulary early on.</li></ul>BETSY:<br />Forget flashcards.Get a big whiteboard.Write words you don’t know and their definitions on it.(I write them in rows of diff. colors so each word stands out.)Hang it in the kitchen or in your room. Now, you see these words all the time, when you’re dressing, eating… heck, do jumping jacks and see if you can say all the definitions before you get tired. I could fit 40 words at a time, and I would erase words when I knew them.<br />
  29. 29. What did I do?<br />Other general study tips<br />BRANDON:<br />I read through the questions first, looking for all questions that refer to a specific place in the text, like line numbers, and mark the lines with the question number<br />Then I read the text, and whenever I hit a circle, I go to the question and answer it!<br />Questions that refer to a specific place in the text rarely reference material that is later in the text.<br />If I read the whole thing first, I would often have to go back and reread the relevant section anyway. <br /><ul><li>Write on the book. Circle your answers on the test if you can, and transfer them over to the scantron every page. This is more efficient, keeps your focus on the text (not on the scantron), and makes it much much easier to check answers later. Please don't think about the resale value of your book. It's not worth it.
  30. 30. Ask questions! Ask College Confidential or your friends when you don't understand why a particular question has a particular answer. Yeah, if the SAT can ask you questions, why the hell can’t you?</li></li></ul><li>III. Is my score good?<br />
  31. 31. Well, what do you want your score to mean?<br />“I don’t want to sound like a prick, but I want to go to a Top 10 school.”<br />For Ivies, I think you should aim for 2300+. Don't worry about getting 2350+. –Brandon<br />However, I do want to point out that the test is honestly pretty important for your academic career. Even as a college student, sometimes when applying to jobs or submitting resumes, I'm asked to include my SAT score. –Kavya<br />Similarly, if you are looking for a Regents’ Scholarship at a UCLA or Berkeley, you might want to aim that high for a “safe” score. My primary motivation for retaking the SAT and passing 2300 was to get a full-ride scholarship from USC, unfortunately. –Betsy<br />But always keep in mind…<br />The standard out of Lynbrook will be higher. I was surprised to find that quite a few of my floormates at Berkeley scored about 2000 on the SAT but are just as intellectually bright as the 2200s out of schools in this area. –Varun<br />It depends where you want to get accepted to. If you really do want an answer, the only way to get a concrete response is to look at college websites and look at their quartiles, medians, etc.<br />Also, you got an ace up your sleeve?In other words, do you have really unique achievements and/or life experiences? Do you have a wide variety of activities? The more you have that’s not related to grades or the SAT, the more it looks like you value other things, which is fine, respectable, which also makes a good candidate. But, if you sacrificed sports for SAT studying, your score “better be higher.”<br />
  32. 32. Retaking the Test<br />Yeah, it’s sad. No one wants to have to do it.<br />There are a number of reasons why students at Lynbrook want to retake it:“My parents don’t think it’ll cut it.”“It’s just a mediocre score. It’s not a safe score for ___ University.”“I think it’s a pretty average (or below average) score for Lynbrook.”“I did consistently better on practice tests.”<br />Yeah?<br />
  33. 33. Retaking the Test<br />“My parents don’t think it’ll cut it.”Are your parents admissions officers? Do they work for College Board or a college counseling agency?. If you do feel comfortable with your score and do not want retake, say so, spend your efforts on something else (better), and apply to those colleges anyway knowing you’re more than your score. Unfortunately, if they want you to improve that 2270, they’ll sign you right up for that Saturday morning and you’ll have to respect their wishes. It’s tough, but there are some things they have say over, but at the very least, don’t let them tank your self-confidence, because most parents have a very limited perspective that typically reflects the throw-more-money-at-it-until-you-get-it mentality.<br />“It’s just a mediocre score. It’s not a safe score for ___ University.”As previously mentioned, be sure to look up the statistics for the institution you’re talking about. The harsh reality as a Lynbrook student is that admissions will expect higher numbers from you, and typically, the crowded public schools will be more consistent in selecting applicants by scores, whilst private schools are typically more holistic.However, honest opinion—do you know if – University is the best and only place you can advance your life forward? Rather, you want a place that wants you, not a place that might accept you if succeed in trying to satisfy their norms. College experience is something that is unpredictable, so don’t adopt a mentality working towards an experience you might not get at ___ University anyway.<br />
  34. 34. Retaking the Test<br />“I think it’s a pretty average (or below average) score for Lynbrook.”Unfortunately, you lucky kids go to a great high school that encourages high achievement, yet makes it harder to stand out. Admissions officers will compare you to your FUHSD peers. Somebody’s got to be at the top. The discrepancies between the percentiles is slim, but they’re still there. Know this, but don’t let it get to you, because there’s little you can do about your friend standing just half an inch taller.<br />“I did consistently better on practice tests.”This might be the best (or the most valid) argument for retaking, because this reflects the student’s personal opinion that his/her potential was not fully realized. It’s one thing to face disappointment, but it’s another thing to feel strongly that you can improve. That’s a good sign, but do be wary of how you practiced. Did you take legitimate practice tests and tried to simulate the testing conditions? Be realistic. If you are so upset, maybe you shouldn’t have taken so many practice tests. ;]<br />
  35. 35. I’m still not happy with my scores!<br />Other words about post-exam decisions:<br />If you studied extremely diligently and well for the first exam, and you know you did, then take the second one with ease. Make sure above all that you are rested and relaxed.I studied way less during the time between my two SATs, and improved 130 points, which I attribute mainly to calmness, peace of mind, and luck.<br />There’s nothing on this second one that you don’t know already, so never, ever, sacrifice your summer or that weekend or that club officer position to study more.Don’t do anything with the indirect intention of sucking up to college admissions. They don’t want to see you spend your time trying to look good for them. You might end up quitting something you enjoy, something that defines your character, for a mild improvement in a score that hundreds of other students have already. Don’t spend excessive effort trying to excel at something everyone else has on their application.<br />Okay, having to take the SAT three times really sucks. Maybe try the ACT?I regret not having taken the ACT. I personally feel like I wasted so much time preparing for the SAT. I got what I wanted, but the ACT could have cost me a lot less in time and energy. The ACT material is a little more complex (in math and science) than the SAT, but the questions are a lot more direct. And the exam is briefer and less strenuous. So consider before signing up for the umpteenth time.<br />
  36. 36. Closing Remarks<br />If you never caught on, I hate standardized tests, mainly their social impacts and the trend of inflation that makes it more stressful for you kids to study more, enroll in prep classes, post piles of books on your Facebook profile—really just because every other classmate is doing it, and it’s the very least you can do to keep up.<br />Don’t get me wrong—I had fallen into the trap of consistent studying, thinking I was going to get that score and get into A, B, and C in return. I guess I got that score. But did I get A, B, and C? Nope, and now the SAT is a laughable (embarrassingly so) topic. By all means, set goals for yourself, and respect the exam’s importance on your applications. (Don’t ever sound disrespectful on college applications. You have better things to do.) But life is not as consistent as the essay graders’ penchants for reading examples about the Civil Rights Movement or Shakespeare. (Hint.)<br />I think you will discover for yourself how much the SAT means to you. And when you’ve hit the last hour you want to spend on it, you’ll know that any more time you spend on it will inhibit you from being true to yourself.<br />Don’t complain about the hours-long exam. We all gotta do it. So respect the rules, kick butt, and move on.<br />Best Regards,<br />Betsy Tsai<br />
  37. 37. THANK YOU!<br />From your Compass Point Mentors<br />Brandon Liu<br />Harvard<br /><br />VarunPemmaraju<br />UC Berkeley<br /><br />Kavya Shankar<br />Harvard<br /><br />Betsy Tsai<br />UC Los Angeles<br /><br />