Admissions Tip: Making the Grade with GPA

Jeffrey J. Selingo: “A recent survey of college admissions officers found that nothing carries more weight in deciding which applicants to accept than high school grades. Why? Research shows that a student’s high school grade-point average is consistently a better predictor than test scores of a student’s likely performance in college. It’s not just about whether those students will get good grades in college.”

“Grades matter in college admissions because they are a signal of a student’s effort, grit and determination … But it’s not only applications with all A’s that rise to the top of a pile in an admissions office. Officers look for students who challenge themselves by taking courses outside academic areas where they are strongest. They want applicants who are interested in studying engineering to also have taken a full slate of English courses in high school, even if they struggled at times.”

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Stress Test: How Brain Chemistry Affects Scores

The Washington Post: “Many a student has looked on in dismay as some ‘slacker’ who seems to barely engage in school rocks the SAT, leaving more-studious and high-achieving classmates slack-jawed or teary … As it turns out, some people underperform with more pressure, while others overperform. Depending on how the brains of different students process stress and brain chemicals such as dopamine, it is indeed like taking different tests.”

“… One of the best solutions for worriers is as simple as more practice, with some stress … Moreover, both the SAT and ACT allow kids to know and control their scores. The College Board allows score choice, which nearly all colleges follow, permitting kids to submit just what they want. And many colleges ‘super-score,’ giving kids the benefit of their best score and sweeping aside scores from an off day. Similarly, the ACT even allows students to delete scores permanently from their record, giving students ultimate control of their scores.”

“Another way to decrease a sense of threat is to visit FairTest, the website of the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, to see the more than 1,000 colleges that are test-optional.”

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Holy Polynomials: SAT Advanced Math Tips

US News: “The Passport to Advanced Math subsection of the SAT, which includes 16 questions out of 58 total, or 28 percent, is perhaps the most complex part of the math section. While this can be intimidating to students, taking the time to study and ensuring you know your formulas will help you greatly … One thing worth noting about Passport to Advanced Math is its emphasis on equation simplification … For success on Passport to Advanced Math, you must know how to move variables within an equation without making errors, as well as the rules for the quadratic equation. You should also be comfortable with factoring before you sit for the SAT.”

“While you may be very comfortable solving equations or expressions in certain forms, you should also be prepared to move between different forms fluidly. To practice this fluidity, you can do something as simple as setting aside 10 minutes each day to work with equations and expressions in multiple forms … Get comfortable adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing polynomial expressions. The addition or subtraction of polynomial expressions is relatively easy – you simply combine like terms, such as 2x and 5x or -1 and 3. When dealing with subtraction, it is important to remember to reverse the sign in each term prior to adding the expressions; for example, -10y would become 10y.”

“For multiplication, remember to use the FOIL method – first, outside, inside, last. You should also ensure that you multiply each term in the second polynomial by each term in the first polynomial … When working with exponents in Passport to Advanced Math, remember that when simplifying expressions, you either need the same base or the same exponent in most cases. It can be helpful to recall that the ‘core’ exponent rules follow a similar pattern … For division, if the bases to be divided are different, but the exponent is the same, you divide the bases before raising them to the exponent. If the bases and the exponents are different, you calculate each term separately and then divide the results.”

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Dis-SAT-isfaction: More Schools Go Test Optional

Money: “If standardized tests fill you with fear, you’re in luck. Students are no longer required to submit SAT and ACT scores to apply to a growing number of colleges — and not just ones you’ve never heard of. In the past few years, high-profile schools like the University of Chicago have joined test-optional mainstays like Bates College in changing their admissions policies to favor a more holistic review process.”

“Test-optional advocates argue that the exams aren’t good measures of students’ college readiness, can unnecessarily increase the stress around college applications, and don’t accurately predict success. And colleges that have nixed their SAT and ACT requirements benefit, too. They typically get more applicants and become more diverse after going test optional.”

“FairTest keeps a running list of more than 1,000 test-optional schools. In most cases, applicants can choose to submit their SAT and ACT scores if they think it will improve their applications — they’re simply not forced to.”

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ACT & SAT Math Scores Don’t Add Up

The Washington Post: “Scores on college admission tests for the Class of 2018 are sending warning signs about math achievement in the nation’s high schools.Forty-nine percent of students in this year’s graduating class who took the SAT received a math score indicating they had a strong chance of earning at least a C in a college-level math class, according to data made public Thursday. That was significantly lower than on the reading and writing portion of the tests: 70 percent of SAT-takers reached a similar benchmark in that area.”

“Among those who took the ACT, the share showing readiness for college-level math fell to the lowest level in 14 years — 40 percent. That was down from a recent high of 46 percent, according to ACT data made public last week.”

“The SAT scores gave the fullest picture to date of results from the revised version of the test launched in 2016 … The average score on the SAT was 1068 out of a maximum 1600, up slightly from the previous mark of 1060. This year’s national average for the reading and writing section was 536 out of 800, and for math it was 531.”

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How to Manage Time on ACT Math

US News: “Students taking the ACT have just 60 minutes to complete 60 questions on the math section. It is therefore understandable that test-takers may fail to answer all the questions in the allotted time frame, or that they might feel compelled to unwisely rush through them. For this reason, it is key for students to understand how to successfully manage their time on the ACT’s math section. Here are tips on how you can make the most of your 60 minutes.”

“Identify weak areas via practice tests and determine how much time to allot to each concept. Your most problematic concepts should be identified as you use ACT practice tests. Some online practice tests even categorize questions by concept, so it should be simple to maintain a list of which areas you struggle with most … Predetermine which functions to complete by hand vs. on a calculator. When used wisely, a calculator can save you valuable time on ACT math problems and serve as a quick way to verify your answers. When overused, however, dependence on a calculator can waste time and cause careless mistakes.”

“Develop a system for marking questions. Students should immediately fill in the corresponding answer bubble when they feel confident about their solutions. While some students may wait until the end of a section to fill in their answer sheets, this method can result in more mistakes. However, when students are unsure about a question and would like to return to it later, they should mark that question with a symbol.”

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Colleges Abandon Standard Test Essay

Washington Post: “One by one, major schools this year are dropping their requirements for prospective students to submit an essay score from the national testing services. Princeton and Stanford universities last week became the latest to end the mandate, following Dartmouth College and Harvard and Yale universities. Those schools are dropping the requirement because they wanted to ensure that the extra cost of essay testing did not drive applicants away. Others have resisted requiring the essays because they doubted the exercise revealed much.”

“Fewer than 25 schools now require the essay scores, according to some tallies, including nine in the University of California system. Brown University, as of Friday, was the lone holdout in the Ivy League … A longtime skeptic of the timed-writing exercises, Charles Deacon of Georgetown said he never considers the essay scores when reading applications. ‘Just didn’t make any difference to us,’ he said.”

“But Janet Rapelye, Princeton’s dean of admission , said she finds the scores helpful and sometimes reads the essay that yielded the score (colleges can view them) when she wants to know more about an applicant. ‘It’s actually a very good test,’ she said. But the university dropped the requirement, she said, out of concern that testing costs or logistical issues would deter some students from applying.”

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The ‘Moneyballing’ of College Admissions

The New York Times: “Nearly all colleges … make use of two metrics to gauge student quality: cumulative high school grade point average and composite score on the ACT … But research has shown that these metrics are imperfect: They are less predictive of student success than alternative measures that are equally simple to calculate and whose use would lead to a better incoming class.”

“Consider grade point average. Students whose overall G.P.A. is a result of doing better later in high school … are much more likely to succeed in college than students with the same overall G.P.A. who did better early in high school … A paper in The Journal of Public Economics … shows that an additional G.P.A. point in 11th grade makes a student 16 percentage points more likely to graduate from college, whereas an additional G.P.A. point in ninth grade makes a student only five percentage points more likely to graduate from college.”

“Something similar is true of ACT composite scores … college admissions offices are giving equal weight to each of the four subtests. But in a 2013 paper … (provides) evidence that the math and English subject tests are far more predictive of college success than the reading and science tests … Colleges may also be reluctant to adopt these more predictive metrics because popular college rankings … use the old metrics in their calculations. Admissions officers may also lack the proper incentives or feedback … Whether or not a student does well in college is not something you can typically determine until a few years after the admissions decision, and thus admissions officers may not feel that they are blamed or rewarded for student success”

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Board Games: How to Tackle the SAT

“To learn about last-minute strategies for students to boost their SAT scores, Business Insider talked to Chris Ryan, an SAT instructor who got a perfect score on the SAT … ‘It’s like the old Clash song, Should I Stay or Should I Go,’ he says. In other words: Are you going to stick with this question and tough it out, or move on?”

“Test-takers must understand their strengths and weaknesses and leverage that information to decide which problems to spend time on and which ones to pass up. To do this, Ryan suggests practicing what he calls ’30 second starters.’ You set a stop watch to count down 30 second intervals and you start different practice questions. This exercise gives students a good idea of which questions come easily and which ones they struggle on.”

“He also stressed that students shouldn’t be scared of skipping the questions they immediately recognize they will struggle on. Test-takers shouldn’t waste time on their “problem” questions, but they should eventually answer all the questions on the exam … Even though there is technically a quarter of a point penalty for wrong answers, it’s always better to answer them all. Test-takers’ instincts are probably better than they think, and the penalty for guessing shouldn’t stress them out, according to Ryan.”

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SAT ‘Subject’ Tests Fall Out of Favor

Boston Globe: “In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the SAT subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II.”

“The shift occurs amid a larger discussion in higher education about the value of standardized testing in admissions. Some colleges, especially less-selective private schools but also such public colleges as UMass Lowell and Salem State, have made the main SAT and ACT tests optional.”

“Although the tests are no longer required at many schools, they are still optional and in many cases recommended, a nuance many college admissions specialists said means students should still take them if they expect to score well … schools like MIT find them useful and have no plans to drop the requirement. MIT officials see the exams as an equalizer, a way to consistently measure students from different high schools. Harvard officials said the same thing.”

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