Enlighten Your Mind. Light Up Your Scores.

Edison Prep Blog   

12/12/16 - What Can a Sophomore Parent Do This Year to Ensure a Smooth SAT/ACT Preparation Process?
11/25/16 - UGA 2016 Early Action Musings: An Update of Our Popular 2014 Blog Post
06/28/16 - ACT Reverts to Old Writing (Essay) Scale of 2-12, and the Overall State of the SAT and ACT Essay
06/12/16 - Understanding the New SAT's 1600-point score scale
12/20/15 - 
The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part 3: The New Essay's Tough Scale, Science Section Changes, and Score Release Delays
02/01/15 - 
Be Careful What You Wish For: The Cautionary Tale of the New SAT for March 2016
11/20/14 - The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part II: A Follow-Up With Additional Data
07/14/14 - The Unpublished Changes to the ACT
05/13/14 - All About UGA: Ruminations from the 2014 UGA Admissions Process
07/07/13 - 10 Tips for SAT/ACT Preparation and College Admissions: Summer 2013
06/05/13 - "What's Your Number?" (AKA "How many questions am I allowed to miss for School X?")

04/26/13 - Curve Ball: Why Hitting a Standardized Test Home Run is Becoming Harder
03/23/13 - An Admissions Case Study: Vanderbilt University's Mind-boggling Class of 2017
07/17/12 - A Student's Perspective: The value of Hard Work and Practice Volume for Increasing Your SAT/ACT Scores  
07/06/12 - New SAT Registration Procedures are Challenging: A Primer on Navigating the Heightened Security Procedures 
05/07/12 - Standardized Testing is Anything But Standardized 
02/10/12 - Instilling A Student’s Passion for Achieving a Higher Score on the SAT/ACT
12/10/11 - 
Report from the Front Lines: Taking the December 10th ACT
07/15/11 - 
The Great Opportunity and Great Peril of a High Starting Score on the SAT and ACT
06/01/11 - College Planning: The Early Bird Gets the Worm
02/25/11 - College Admissions and the Writing Section: Thoughts from a Former Admissions Officer

What Can a Sophomore Parent Do This Year to Ensure a Smooth SAT/ACT Preparation Process?
December 12, 2016
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger

Around mid-November each year, Edison Prep begins hearing from some of the earliest sophomore parents as to when they should start the SAT/ACT preparation process for their students. While no student should begin tutoring during sophomore year, there are still important, meaningful steps that should be taken during a student’s sophomore year to minimize stress and avoid pitfalls during what is a very time-crunched junior year for most students.

Three Ground Rules for Designing a Smart Junior Year SAT/ACT Testing Plan:
1. Well-designed testing plans should give students a very high probability of being done by the June test of junior year at the latest. Senior year test dates are entirely valid, but are ideally avoided because the majority of senior-year exam dates are not valid for some Early Decision, Early Action, and scholarship deadlines. Just as importantly, waiting until senior year increases household stress.
2. Students should plan to take a “one-two punch” of back-to-back test dates so that they take (and finish!) the test while they have momentum. It’s not unreasonable for most students with typical starting scores and typical score increase goals to knock the test out by taking it twice, if meaningful timed tests/practice homework occurs leading up to those two test dates. Large gaps between official tests leads to atrophy; those hours spent knocking off the rust could have been spent pushing the score higher instead!
3. Students who are in lower-level math classes (e.g. are taking Algebra II during junior year) should wait until second semester junior year to take the test. Most students in Pre-Cal or above will have 90%+ of the relevant SAT/ACT math information that they'll ever receive/need by Oct. 1st, if not before.

Specific Steps to Take During Sophomore Year:
1. Between January and April of sophomore year, have your student take a full-length mock SAT and mock ACT on two separate days. Do not waste your student’s time on the increasingly-popular, abbreviated “combo SAT/ACT comparison tests” that are often offered at schools or other firms and claim to quickly diagnose which test is a better fit. These “combo tests” are half-length, are full of inauthentic questions made up by the tutoring companies themselves, and due to a terribly small sample size of questions, are unreliable, volatile and about as accurate as simply flipping a coin. When the SAT/ACT is worth the same as three entire semesters of a student's GPA during the college admissions process, it is worth taking just 6.5 hours to make sure you are pursuing your student's naturally stronger test. We certainly do not enjoy grading twice as many bubbles for prospective students, but it’s the right thing to do to avoid wasting students’ time and parents’ money. More info on signing up for mock tests is at the bottom of this post.
2. If a student is exceptionally busy and can’t do two different mock test dates, we can always compare his/her Sophomore PSAT scores to a real, full-length mock ACT. For about 80% of students, there’s an obvious winner when the Sophomore PSAT and mock ACT scores are compared.
3. A student can then compare the exam dates for his/her stronger test (SAT/ACT) against his/her extracurricular time commitments/conflicts during junior year in an effort to select the most conducive test dates. Because of exam-date conflicts or an overloaded portion of the year (e.g. a sport plus 4 AP classes), many students find that they don’t have 6 or 7 possible testing plans to choose from, but just 1 or 2.
4. Having these mock test scores in hand during late sophomore year allows you to make intelligent plans for your student’s junior year. We typically build our tutoring calendar for the entire next academic year by May 1st and, like all tutoring companies, we simply fill our calendar for group classes and 1-on-1 on a first-come, first-served basis.

Common Roadblocks to Taking the SAT/ACT on Various Test Dates:
As you will see below, virtually every SAT/ACT test date has logistical difficulties for a meaningful portion of students, and the list below doesn’t even include personal events (e.g. weddings, religious holidays, college visits, etc.)
1. Aug. SAT and Sept. ACT: Difficult for students who are gone all summer (e.g. camp counselor), or who have mandatory football camps.
2. Oct. SAT and Oct. ACT: Often conflicts with cross country meets, homecoming, and some schools’ Fall Breaks when people frequently go on college visits.
3. November SAT: Often conflicts with state cross country meet and a few homecoming dances.
4. December ACT: Takes place the second Saturday in December, so it’s somewhat close to finals (not a big deal in reality, since students are ideally preparing for months leading up to the test versus cramming).
5. February ACT: Often conflicts with the state swim meet.
6. March SAT: Always conflicts with spring break for most private schools (common exceptions: St. Pius, Wesleyan, Weber).
7. April ACT: Often takes place at the end of spring break for public schools and the remaining private schools. Also conflicts with a fair number of proms.
8. May SAT: Always takes place the Saturday in between the two weeks of AP exams.
9. June SAT: Takes place 1-7 days after most schools' final exams end. A big challenge if students are going out of town and/or can't be convinced to study over Memorial Day.
10. June ACT: Most students who are camp counselors have already left town, or family summer vacation conflicts. Note: You can take the test anywhere in the US! Summer camp or travel plans don't have to ruin the June test date!

Case Study from a Class of 2018 Parent:
One of our clients from this year gave us permission to anonymously use her son’s story. She emailed us around Thanksgiving of her student’s sophomore year and asked about taking mock tests, while joking that she realized she’s "super early." Her son took a mock SAT one weekend and a mock ACT the next weekend. The ACT ended up being his stronger score by a landslide. There are six ACT test dates during junior year to play with: September, October, December, February, April, and June. This student had conflicts that immediately eliminated multiple test dates. Her son couldn’t do the April test because of a school service trip during spring break, and the state swim meet knocked out the February date. Another obligation knocked out the September test date. Thus, while this student was an early, Type-A planner, when it came down to it, he had just one intelligent runway allowing him a "one-two punch" with which to prepare: taking the October and December ACTs.

Given that students usually begin their preparation about two months before the test, had this student waited and taken mock tests sometime after late August of junior year, he would have had some very tough choices to make (pursuing his weaker test (i.e. the SAT instead of the ACT), skipping the state swim meet, dragging standardized testing into senior year, or other suboptimal options).

How do I sign up for diagnostic mock SATs and mock ACTs?
A full list of our upcoming mock SAT/ACT exams is continually updated at the following link: www.edisonprep.com/pages/diagnosticmocks.html. Mock tests are free and take approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes. Students bring pencils and a calculator. An email RSVP is required to hold your student's spot. 

What else can I do to get informed?
1. Like Edison Prep’s Facebook page. We post relevant info and links on test prep, financial aid changes, and admissions strategy on a weekly basis.
2. RSVP for one of our info sessions on the SAT/ACT, college admissions, and scholarships. A full list of upcoming info session dates is always at the following link: www.edisonprep.com/pages/infosession.html.

Email us at edison@edisonprep.com or call us at 404-333-8573!

UGA 2016 Early Action Musings: An Update of Our Popular 2014 Blog Post
November 25, 2016
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger
Back in May 2014, we posted our original "All About UGA: Ruminations from the 2014 UGA Admissions Process" blog post, which has attracted more than 500% as many views as most of our other blog posts. Therefore, since UGA's Early Action Admits were released this past Friday, we wanted to update our original post with additional data and commentary.

UGA is a school of particular interest to many of our clients, so we continue to do deep dives into its admissions trends and maintain a repository of UGA admissions data. Below is some information that should be of interest to all families that may have students applying to UGA in the next few years.

1) The number of admits via Early Action continues to rise.
The table and graph below show interesting trends from 2012-2017. The number of EA admits has grown from 5,700 for the Class of 2012 to over 8,000 for the Class of 2017.

While 2014-2016 Early Action admits appear to be flat, that's only because the UGA press releases used vague notations of how many EA applicants were admitted: "Some 7,500/Almost 7,500/More Than 7,500." Early admits have grown by 41% in the past five years, while academic statistics such as average GPA/SAT/ACT/AP/IB have continued to grow simultaneously. This is a testament to the growing strength of the UGA applicant pool.

More specifically: 
  • The average number of AP/IB/Dual Enrollment classes of those accepted has steadily risen by about 0.5 AP classes each year, from 6 to 8.
  • The average ACT score has risen by about a half-point per year as well, both at the bottom end and the top end. Important Note: UGA focuses on just the English and Math sections and de-emphasizes the Reading and Science sections. 
  • The average SAT has risen as well. (Hard to draw too many conclusions given the data available, e.g. average vs. median vs. middle 50%).
  • The GPA for the bottom 25% of admitted students has grown from 3.74 to 3.91, while the average GPA has risen to 4.03. (Note: UGA recalculates students' GPAs to count only core classes and adds extra points for AP/IB/DE classes.)

Full statistics for admitted students for both Early Action and Regular Decision from Nov. 2011 - Nov. 2016 is as follows:  

Note: For a high-res version of the above table, please click here.

2) Superscoring is still having an increased impact on SAT/ACT score averages.
Just 4,777 students in Georgia got a single-day ACT score of 30 or higher last year, yet 30 was only the 25th percentile for those accepted into UGA via Early Action (meaning that 75% of students scored higher than this), and over 8,000 students were admitted via Early Action. How is this possible, especially given that not every high-scoring applicant even applies to UGA?

Yes, some students submitted an SAT score (though many fewer than normal, due to the tumultuous SAT switch for the Class of 2017), but a huge contributing factor is that UGA "superscores" both the ACT and SAT (combines the best section scores from different dates). It's a real game-changer. Savvy parents, counselors, and students understand the power of superscoring far better than they did back in 2012, driving average SAT/ACT scores at virtually all schools that superscore upwards. Also, remember that both parents and students tend to fib about their scores; fewer than 1,000 students earned a single-day 34, 35, or 36 last year in the entire state of Georgia (about 2-3 per county), and some of those weren't even students -- they were Edison Prep's own tutors taking the test to stay on top of their game!

3) Academic rigor continues to be far more important than extracurricular activities.
Back in April 2014, Senior Associate Director of UGA Admissions David Graves posted a quote on the UGA Blog that we still sincerely wish were included at the top of every UGA mailing: "When parents or students say that their schedule is already so busy with other activities that it is tough to handle challenging courses...instead of dropping rigorous courses, maybe an activity could be dropped."
We tell students daily that no one has ever been ever rejected for having too low of a "play practice score," but millions of applications are rejected each year for low GPA, low rigor, and/or low SAT/ACT scores. Activities matter if and once your core academic metrics are in the right ballpark. Fun Fact: 95% of students admitted to UGA in 2013 had at least one AP class. Avoiding that AP goose egg is crucial!

4) Applying via Early Action remains paramount.
As the bar graph above shows, a larger than ever number of students is admitted via Early Action. The UGA Admissions Blog goes to great lengths to explain to commenters that it is not easier or harder to be admitted EA vs. RD; it’s just a different timeline. As you can see in the table above, the academic stats for the full admitted pool vs. EA-only are relatively similar quantitatively, which just further strengthens the argument for applying early.

It is likely that if the statistically high-flying UGA Honors College applicants were removed from the rest of the EA pool, the resulting EA vs. RD stats would be near identical. What we can definitively state is that, by all means, unless you think that your statistics are so poor that you'll be rejected during Early Action, apply during Early Action. As the table above illustrates, approximately 2/3 of the total annual spots are already gobbled up via Early Action. Therefore, students should try to compete while a reasonable number of spots still remain. Doing so implies trying to finish up standardized testing by June of junior year at the latest so that students can apply via Early Action (though EA applicants are still allowed to submit the Sept. ACT score and the Oct. SAT score for Early Action).

5)...But couldn't I get rejected via Early Action?
Historically, only 4-7% of Early Action applicants get rejected. About 1,000 got rejected this past week out of the 15,614. The vast, vast majority of EA applicants who are not admitted are deferred, not denied.  From 2012-2017, we've tutored 3,500+ students who applied to UGA and who hailed from over 90 high schools and over 25 Georgia counties. When comparing notes with our brain trust of 6-7 local college counselors, we realized that it has been several years since any of us has personally had a student rejected via Early Action, including students who had 0-2 APs, under a 3.3 UGA GPA, and/or lower than a 24 on the ACT. Furthermore, applying early is a relatively low-risk endeavor because any student who was close to gaining admission via EA who might benefit from having one extra semester of grades and/or a better SAT/ACT score would also be a strong enough applicant to at least get deferred. 

6) If you are deferred via Early Action, write the essays!
Ironically, the Early Action applicants who get deferred who were *painfully* closest to getting in are also often those who are most likely to lose hope. They may not even bother filling out the essays that are required to complete the application for Regular Decision. Write the essays! It's a small task. As Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take!"
7) Closing Thoughts:
Remember that while SAT/ACT is important (the second strongest factor), a high GPA combined with a rigorous curriculum will always be the single most important factor for admission. Keep up that GPA! Additionally, if UGA is on your student's list, we'd highly encourage you to regularly read the UGA Admissions Blog regularly. UGA has one of the most responsive and high-touch blogs of any college admissions blog in America; David Graves does an amazing job.
Feel free to email us with questions at edison@edisonprep.com or call us at 404-333-8573! 

Note: The immense amount of longitudinal data that went into this blog post is sourced at our UGA Statistics Repository Page


ACT Reverts to Old Writing (Essay) Scale of 2-12
June 28, 2016
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger

Earlier this week, the ACT announced that beginning with the Sept. 2016 exam, it will be reverting to the tried-and-true familiar essay score of 2-12 that was utilized from the inception of the ACT essay until June 2015.

The ACT has finally conceded that the new essay scale of 0-48 raw points that is then scaled and converted to a 36 point score “created confusion” for students, parents, and admissions officers, which would be an understatement. Oddball stories of students receiving a top 0.5% Composite scores but only a 13 out of 36 on the new essay scale were not just occasional, but the norm, and the change was heavily covered by the media and in our blog post from last year. Beginning with the Sept. 2016 ACT essay, we are now back to the old 2-12 scale that we all know and love.

We truly appreciate the ACT’s responsiveness to criticism, since most of the critiques of both the SAT and ACT from the higher education community (e.g. the SAT’s steadfast refusal to release enough practice tests for the New SAT) usually fall on deaf ears.

The new essay format remains the same; only the scale and score calculation are changing.

The new essay format debuted just 9 months ago in Sept. 2015. In the new format, students must directly respond to three pre-authored perspectives on a current social issue, rather than take one side of a binary question. This format stays the same, and the content in our ACT Essay Guide will not change, other than adjusting the scoring scale information.

The new essay format will continue to have four equally-weighted subscores (Ideas and Analysis; Development and Support; Organization and Clarity; and Language Use). Each of the two graders will continue to assign a score of 1-6 on each of the four subscores, which will then be summed and divided by four to create a 12-point score, and rounded up if it ends in 0.5 or 0.75. More information on how to convert Writing scores taken during the 9 months of the 36-point scale from Sept. 2015 to June 2016 is located at this link.

As a reminder, on the 2-12 essay scale, the scores of 10, 11, and 12 combined are only 2% of all scores. The vast, vast majority of the nation gets a 6, 7, or 8 out of 12. Getting to an 8+ (top 16%) is an important and reasonable goal for the majority of test-takers if they write multiple practice essays.

Is the essay going to eventually go away entirely?

Some tutoring firms and high school counselors are of the opinion that the essay should go away for both the New SAT and ACT, saying that it lengthens the exam and increases the cost of taking the test, both of which are true statements. The Writing section is also the section for which ACT’s own internal research has the least reliability / most volatility.

Why does it still exist then?

Some universities that still choose to require the essay may be doing so for a valid (albeit disconcerting) reason. Last year we had a conversation about test prep, the New SAT, and the ACT essay with one of our college admissions officer contacts who works at a top 25 university. Speaking for himself, off the record, he said the following: “Most colleges like ours that still require the essay publicly talk about high-minded ideals of ‘pedagogy’ and ‘seeing the real student,’ but if we’re all being honest, most of the colleges that still require the essay usually require it for one reason and one reason alone: validation. The optional essay section is the only legitimate writing sample from the actual student that is not potentially ghostwritten by parents or fancy independent college counselors. The ACT/SAT essay is, and will always remain, the least important section of the overall score. We look at it as a checkbox of sorts signaling ‘good enough, we get it, you can write.” 

We wholeheartedly agree, and his claims are borne out by the hundreds of students we’ve seen who’ve gotten into great schools with tip-top composite ACT scores but mediocre essays. The US News & World Report Rankings only use the 36-point ACT and 1600-point SAT scales. The essay score is not measured, and as Peter Drucker always says, “what gets measured gets managed.”

With fewer than 20% of schools still requiring the essay, the essay remains a concern only for the students who may apply to those schools that still require it, which tend to be the most highly-ranked universities. For example, well over 70% of the top 30 universities still required the ACT essay as of June 2015, which was when we last did a full audit of the US News Top 50 Universities. One of the most current lists for which colleges still require the essays is this one, but checking with your prospective colleges individually is still warranted in this time of great change as more schools continue to drop the essay requirement each year.

A link to the full ACT press release can be found here.

Email us at edison@edisonprep.com or call us at 404-333-8573! 

Understanding the New SAT’s 1600-point score scale
June 12, 2016 (and heavily revised on June 25th, 2016)
By: Silvia and Brian Eufinger

Note: This blog post was originally published June 12, 2016, but was heavily heavily augmented with additional data when the College Board released full percentile data for the new test on 6/24/16.

Since the May SAT scores came out earlier this month, we wanted to write a detailed blog post that can help address students’ and parents’ questions about their May scores: “so what does this actually mean?”

Let’s start off by mentioning innocent mistakes #1 and #2: 
1. Parents and students should not attempt to create a new 1600-point score by multiplying the old 2400-point score by 2/3; it will provide a very inaccurate score conversion due to the shape of the curve, the lack of the essay impacting the New SAT score, and a multitude of other statistical reasons.

2. Parents should never make comparisons between the Old SAT score out of 1600 and the New SAT  Score out of 1600. While they are both out of 1600 the curves are very, very different.  

Big changes to the New SAT score scale, the shape of its curve, and how score percentiles are reported:
1. The Old SAT had 5 answer choices. The New SAT has only 4 answer choices.

2. The Old SAT took off points for incorrect answers. The New SAT has no such guessing penalty. Thus, students who now randomly guess (A) do not lose points and (B) have a 1/4 chance instead of a 1/5 chance of randomly getting it correct on top of that! As a result, the SAT curve is no longer shaped like a broadly-shaped gumdrop but more like a witch’s hat that is more heavily concentrated on the right side of the spectrum.

3. The Old SAT had an average of 500 on each section. With fewer answer choices and no wrong answer penalty, the average New SAT score zoomed from 998 all the way to 1084 (an entire standard deviation!). The National Merit Commended cutoff score has also dramatically jumped from a long-standing score of 200-203 all the way to 209.

4. Under the New SAT, a robot who just randomly guesses now earns a score that is hundreds of points higher than it would have earned by randomly guessing on the Old SAT. Virtually half of the entire "New SAT" 1600-point score spectrum is below the score a robot  would earn by randomly guessing. Getting 25% of the questions right (guessing) earns you a score of 780 out of 1600 on Official New SAT Practice Test #4.

5. On the New SAT, the true college-bound score spectrum (starting 6-7 questions below the average and ending at the point where < 1 student per room hits that score) is not 1600 points, but just 380 points (from 1030-1410). The vast majority of college applicants will be playing in a tiny range of 370 points, not 1600 points. While the 1400-1600 range seems very broad, it represents just 6% of test-takers. On average, less than one student per test site will hit a 1520+.

6. In a bizarre twist, these changes actually make practicing for the SAT even more important. Because students may have good days/bad days from test to test and because of the new hyper-compressed score spectrum of just 380 points, we now live in a world in which each additional question is usually worth 7-8 points and in which Stanford’s SAT average will likely only be 100 or so points above UGA’s Early Action average. As much as students used to stress over 40 points on the Old SAT, 40 points on the Old SAT were rarely the sole reason for a college’s denial. On the New SAT, however, 40 points will likely be the size of the score gap between UGA's Early Action average and Georgia Tech's average!

7. Dueling percentiles: Parents will notice that new score reports have two sets of percentiles: "Nationally Representative Sample Percentile" and "User Percentile."

Here's a sample:

"Nationally Representative Sample" -- Do not use this number in any way when analyzing your student's scores. These are made-up percentiles that attempt to estimate what percentile your student would be if, in theory, every high school student in the whole U.S. were forced to take the test, including those who do not take the test / might drop out / will not go to college. It's fake unicorn data that makes everyone look better than reality. The average score for this pool of test takers is a 1019 out of 1600.

"User Percentile" -- These are the real percentiles based on students who actually take the test and will be applying to college. These numbers are what the admissions officers will be looking at. As you can see from Table #2 at the bottom of this post, this User Percentile number is often much lower than the Nationally Representative (unicorn) percentile.  The average score for this pool of test takers is 1084 out of 1600. 

7. This blog post is written to emphasize to parents that while the New SAT scale is out of 1600, the "actual college bound student score range" is really only about a quarter of that range. Preparing for the tests (whether ACT or New SAT) remains as important as ever.

8. The above changes may make many parents question if their students should just take the ACT instead. The answer is "maybe." Students should always take a full-length, real mock test of both the New SAT and the ACT and pursue whichever test they perform more strongly on. The downside to the ACT remains the fact that a substantial portion of America cannot hope to finish the test; for students who can't finish dozens of questions on the ACT, the SAT tends to come out as the stronger score when the student takes diagnostic mock tests. For students who finish the ACT without any problem, the ACT is often the stronger score. A full list of our upcoming diagnostic mock tests is always located at this link

For those of you who are more visually-inclined, we created two very helpful side-by-side comparison graphics for Old SAT vs. New SAT with commentary in the last column! 

Table #1: The New SAT Percentiles:

Note: Since a normal bell curve would have 3 standard deviations on both side, this illustrates how heavily tilted to the right the curve is. (1084 avg + 193 *3 std dev = 1663, which is far above the max score of 1600.)

Table #2: Comparing Percentiles for the New SAT and Old SAT:
As you'll see from the table below, for any given score, the percentile difference for the Old SAT ranges from the same to up to 12% higher than the New SAT. The New SAT scores are inflated due to the elimination of the wrong answer penalty and the change to only 4 answer choices instead of 5, creating a hyper-compressed curve with an "actionable" range of just 380 points.

Please call us at 404-333-8573 or email us at edison@edisonprep.com. Thanks!  

Sources and Notes:
1. Old SAT Percentile Data 1 and 2 
3. College Board Master Conversion File for Old SAT/New SAT/ACT
4. The ACT has come out and said that they do not endorse this grid, but since the ACT hasn’t put out anything of its own and since seniors are applying to college soon, in absence of anything from the ACT, this is likely the exact spreadsheet colleges will all be using.

The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part 3: The New Essay's Tough Scale, Science Section Changes, and Score Release Delays
December 20, 2015
By: Brian

Note: This blog post is the third (and hopefully final!) post in a series about very consequential but under-the-radar changes to the ACT. For the first two parts of this series please see these two links: Part 1Part 2

The continued changes to the ACT may not have been as heavily covered in the mainstream media as the new SAT that debuts in March 2016, but these changes are just as important.

Three additional ACT changes are addressed in this post:
1) The new “Enhanced Writing” (essay) has a radically different scoring scale, and why you shouldn't necessarily worry
2) ACT Science changed its format from containing 7 passages to almost always containing 6 passages
3) ACT is now having perpetual score release delays due to the new “enhanced” essay

1) The new ACT essay has a radically different scoring scale, such that 90%+ of students are scoring far lower on the new Essay than they did / would have on the old-format Writing test that ended in June 2015.

A) Old Format (June 2015 and before): The ACT used to report the essay score on a 0 to 12 scale and calculate a Combined "English+Writing” (ENWR) score out of 36. This ENWR was very easy to do well on since it was weighted roughly 70% via the English section score and 30% via the 12-point essay score. The English section is--by leaps and bounds--the easiest section to score well on if a student practices, whereas only 1% of students used to get a 10, 11, and 12 out of 12 – combined.  Thus, as long as students had a good English score, they could earn a respectable ENWR score even with a mediocre writing sample.

B) New Format (Sept. 2015 to present): The new "Enhanced Writing" score is now reported purely based on the writing sample (essay). The same 12-point scale is now used, but on four separate pillars (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use). The new score is thus out of 48 points (4 pillars x 12 points = 48 points), which is then scaled to a 36 point bell-curved score; you cannot just multiply the 48-point score by 0.75 to get your score. Many of our hardworking students who wished to practice were shocked that only two sample prompts for the new essay were released by the ACT. Six months later, there are still only two prompts, despite public outcry from students and parents.

C) The new essay scoring and score percentiles are radically out of whack with what colleges are used to, so much so that the new essay is virtually worthless. The percentiles and the curve for the new 36-point Enhanced Writing score is highly divergent from both the Old Writing score ( ENWR) from last year and the general Composite scores that students are used to. The New Enhanced Writing score is far more punitive. For example, a 21 Composite score is the national average. Parents are used to that average of 21. However, only 26% of students get a 21 on the new Enhanced Writing score. The national average on the new essay is not a 21...it's a 16.5! Over half of America doesn't even get a 17 on the new Essay, which confuses parents, since on the Composite scale that they're used to, a student with a 17 Composite score wouldn't even be allowed to apply to Georgia Southern, a college with one of the least rigorous ACT requirements in the entire Southeast. Heck, GA Southern requires a 20 (3 points higher!) to even apply for probationary status. Only 1/3 of America hits that 20 on the New Essay.

Look at this chart comparing the percentiles for the Composite score, Old Essay, and New Essay:

Anecdotally, we've seen our Class of 2016 ACT students who took both the old ENWR essay last year and the new Enhanced Writing section this year (80+) match the above grid, with only one student exceeding their prior score from the old format. Other articles have noted the same phenomenon. Luckily, this "straddled year" only impacts the Class of 2016.

D) As a result, the ACT essay is becoming optional at many schools that used to require it: Because of the SAT revision occurring in March 2016, many colleges will be revising their essay requirements between now and the time that the Class of 2017 applies, mostly in the direction of making it optional. However, be prudent and check the websites’ for all of your colleges and/or the database below before opting out of the ACT essay. A continually-updated database of each college’s policy on the new ACT essay is at the following link. UGA will not require the essay for Class of 2017 or later.

2) The ACT Science section will almost always have 6 passages from now on instead of 7 passages that are in the practice material:
While the Science section still has the same 40 questions as before, students need to be aware that beginning earlier this year, the ACT has switched to almost always having 6 longer passages instead of 7 shorter ones. All but one of the publicly-available practice tests have 7 passages, so students need to keep this in mind as they pace themselves on test day or they'll mis-allocate their time.

3) The ACT is now having perpetual score release delays mostly due to the new “enhanced” essay:
The ACT has had major score release delays for all three Fall 2015 exams, mostly due to the complexities of grading the new essay on the new 4-pillar scale, and due to their new calculations of oddball indices like the "STEM subscore" that colleges neither asked for or are likely to use in any fashion for admissions purposes. The ACT has claimed that these delays are due to others things, among them "excessive humidity" (can't make this stuff up).

Whereas the ACT had gotten students used to a snappy 9-day turnaround prior to Fall 2015, many of our students from the October test had to wait over 55 days for scores, including seniors who missed crucial application and scholarship deadlines as a result. The ACT embarrassingly had to ask universities to consider using "screenshots" of students' scores because their essay-based score release delays were making it impossible for colleges to get those scores in time for the Early Action/Early Decision processes. Thus, until the ACT returns to timely and reliable score reporting, our longstanding advice of trying to finish all ACTs by June of your Junior year will be more important than ever.

This is a year of massive change and headaches for the Class of 2017 on both tests, not just the SAT. We'll continue adding new blog posts on this page every few months. Feel free to like our Edison Prep Facebook page where we post 2-3x weekly to keep abreast of current news!

Call us at 404-333-8573 or email us at edison@edisonprep.com

1) ENWR scores (June 2015 and before)


Be Careful What You Wish For: The Cautionary Tale of the New SAT for March 2016
February 1, 2015
By: Brian and Silvia

The College Board just released its first meaningful problem sets of sample PSAT/SAT questions, which is far more helpful than the specifications document that industry professionals scrutinized this past April. The coming March 2016 SAT overhaul, which has been widely chronicled in the media, has finally begun taking shape. (Links to the sample problem sets are at the bottom of this blog post.) Both of us had anticipated heavy overhauls to virtually all aspects of the test (and to our instructional materials), but we anticipated that the math section would require the least renovation. Ratios would still be ratios, and triangles will still have three sides. We could not have been more wrong. While there are intriguing aspects to all of the new question types that were released, math was the one that threw us (and most of our tutoring colleagues on LinkedIn) the most.

Our commentary on these new SAT developments is broken into the three sections shown below:
1) Optimal timeline for Sophomores (Class of 2017) planning to take the tests
2) First impressions of each test section based on the newly-released SAT questions
3) Closing thoughts

1) Optimal timeline for sophomores planning to take the tests:
The answer for most sophomores is simple: most sophomores should aim to either take the existing SAT and finish by January 2016, or prepare for the ACT via a timeline of their choosing. Any ACT date is fine, since the ACT is not being overhauled this year. An ACT date should primarily be chosen based upon when students have time to study. We have always told students that a responsible test prep plan should aim to have a student finish by June of his or her junior year at the latest. The new SAT will only be offered in March, May, and June of 2016 before that deadline, with the October 2016 test being available as the last shot for most schools’ early action deadlines. Given that a fair portion of students need to take the SAT Subject Tests in May or June alongside their AP exams, this gives current sophomores a very tight window with which to succeed on the new SAT, take it twice in order to “superscore” the best section scores from both tests, and be done.

The new SAT timeline is an especially bad “perfect storm” for Atlanta private school students, with all three new SAT dates having significant roadblocks to success. 
March SAT: The March SAT has fallen during one of the two weekends of private school spring break for as long as we have lived in Atlanta.
May SAT: The May SAT takes place 36 hours before AP exams begin. Many students taking APs will rightfully want to spend those valuable last few weeks preparing for AP exams instead of for the new SAT.
June SAT: The June SAT takes place after a fair number of students are away at camp or are involved in summer activities or jobs. Many parents also confide in us that getting their sons/daughters to study for the test after finals, while their friends are wooing them with activities that are more fun than the SAT, is a fruitless endeavor. Additionally, the June test date is usually the day after finals end for the high schools that historically end much later than others (e.g. Weber, Marist).

Scores for the initial March 2016 SAT may not be released until after the May 2016 exam.
Despite shocked outcries from college counselors in the audience at the recent College Board convention in Las Vegas, the College Board has refused to guarantee that students' SAT results from the inaugural March 2016 SAT will be available before students take their tests in May 2016 (more info here). The fact that College Board refused to guarantee it in the face of such withering criticism does not inspire confidence that March 2016 scores will have the swift three-week turnaround we are all used to. Students who take both the March and May 2016 tests will likely be flying blind for their second test.

Is it okay for sophomores (Class of 2017) to take the SAT this May and/or June?
We have always urged students to focus on getting a great GPA freshman and sophomore year and to put all concerns about the SAT/ACT off until after sophomore year is over. We’ve turned away dozens of clients who wanted to start tutoring during their sophomore year. Most sophomores should still wait until this summer to begin tutoring and studying for the SAT if the SAT is their desired test. However, given the abbreviated runway with just four tests during junior year (October, November, and December 2015, and January 2016), we have amended our normal rules for current sophomores who are asking about potentially taking the May and/or June 2015 SAT tests. This might be a good solution for people who are gone all summer and/or who have extreme time commitments (e.g. APs, sports) in the Fall 2015 semester.

2) First impressions of each test section based on the newly-released SAT questions:

The new SAT is intellectually more challenging on all fronts. Frankly, we would be far more impressed with someone who misses zero questions on an SAT test resembling these released practice questions than either the existing SAT or ACT. However, as long as colleges take these tests on an even keel with each other, willingly taking a test that is harder to do well on is not necessarily the best idea. Most students would rather dominate the PAC-10 than flounder in the SEC. One caveat: a sense for typical SAT scoring curves will not be available until June 30, 2015, when 10 fully-calibrated tests are released in the new SAT Blue Book. The new SAT is impressive in the depth of knowledge, synthesis, and fluency that is required from students. While this change ostensibly originates from the College Board’s idealistic desire to create a test that better assesses the skills that students will need to succeed in college, these changes may, in the short term, drive students into the waiting arms of the ACT or the existing SAT. Every year, students flee the very difficult AP Calculus and instead sign up for AP Statistics to fulfill their math requirement. A similar pragmatism will likely be seen in many sophomores who are planning to take the path of least resistance.

The new SAT grammar questions will be presented in the context of short vignettes, not independent sentences as they are today. The section strongly mimics the grammar-in-context format of the ACT. Compared to the existing SAT, students will see far more questions on comma splices, punctuation, redundancy, colons, semicolons, selection of topic sentences, and selection of concluding sentences. When we took the May 2014 test, we had grammar questions as part of our “experimental” section. Our first thought was that these questions were so similar to the ACT as to be borderline copyright infringement. Many of our current ACT grammar strategies will be easily adapted to these new-format SAT grammar questions. Grammar is the section that students should worry least about on the new SAT. As with the existing SAT, grammar will remain the most coachable area for most students.

Many students have been anxiously awaiting the elimination of vocabulary from the new SAT. However, reports of vocab’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Here’s a smattering of vocab words from the sample problems on the College Board’s site: hearth, reverberate, evoke, poignancy, gaiety, ambivalent, reciprocate, vivacious, acute, fleeting, foreshadow, stymied, hyperbole, solemn, diminution, subversion, jurisdiction, astute, bridle, tyrannical, maxim, maladministration, agitate, immunity, inimical, appropriations, petty, idealist, advocate, neutrality, convey, clarify, sabotage, prone, siphon, empirically, edible, and conspicuous. These words came from just 24 sample questions from the new SAT, or less than half of a real Reading test. The new SAT will continue to have more higher-level vocab than the reading passages on the ACT, which occasionally have words like "burnish" or "consternation." 

Some of our students who are diligent vocab-studiers but who are slow readers have commented that they love the vocab-based sentence completions on the current SAT because finishing those questions quickly allows them extra time with which to complete the reading passages. This new format will make timing on the SAT reading passages similar to that of the ACT reading passages.

We have been talking with some of our tutoring colleagues across the US about how students who lack exposure to higher-level literature and/or other pre-existing academic information may fare worse on the new-style reading passages. For example, 1/3 of the sample reading questions that were posted deal with the structure of the U.S. government. For those students at not-so-great schools, those who haven’t taken certain history classes yet, or international students whom we tutor who just came to the country recently, this is a meaningful concern. By comparison, few current SAT passages require outside knowledge or understanding of external topics, and they can often be quite casual/non-academic in nature (such as a passage about a girl who has a crush on a fellow college student who plays the cello in SAT Blue Book Test #5). Finally, several of the questions will make students justify their answer. For example, students will answer a question, and then the next question will ask the student to identify the portion of the passage that helped them answer the prior question. These problems could be "landmines" for top-scoring students, since missing the first question will most likely mean missing the second one. 

Few of the most powerful techniques that work well on today’s existing SAT and ACT, such as plugging and chugging numbers and clever process-of-elimination strategies, will work as effectively on these new-style math problems. These new Math problems are far more theoretical and conceptual than the existing SAT's questions. Students who attempt the existing SAT and fail to finish by January 2016 will experience a rocky transition when beginning to study for the new SAT's math section, which makes picking one of the two tests and running with it the smarter strategy. Some of the currently effective and efficient strategies may in fact be detrimental based on the sample problems we’ve seen thus far. Students who are linear thinkers will be jarred to find that while only 1 or 2 questions per test currently have information that is not used in the problem, a larger proportion of these new problems include information that is not necessary to solve the problem. On the current SAT, knowing that you'll generally have to use all of the information in the question is a powerful strategy; if you are stuck, focusing on the one fact that you haven't used yet is a great way to get unstuck!

Geometry gets whacked:
Geometry makes up 15-18 of the 54 questions on the current SAT, or roughly 1/3 of the test. In the new SAT, geometry is an afterthought, contributing six or fewer of the 58 questions on the new test. Given that geometry is one of the main two subjects students study freshman and sophomore years, this is a big change. The material that constitutes 50% of a student's math curriculum for 9th and 10th grade will contribute to only 10% of the SAT math questions. And the sliver of geometry that's included is tough (sample here, no calculator permitted).

Additional algebra questions take geometry's place:
The College Board calls this expanded 19-question section "the Heart of Algebra." These new Algebra problems are very impressive in that they are more resistant to plugging in numbers (guessing and checking). These problems require students to visualize equations that relate variables to each other within the context of a word problem rather than allowing students to plug and chug. A great example is this problem, in which students are asked to envision the formula for a hotel rate that includes a flat fee and sales tax. On the existing SAT, this same problem might instead ask “How many nights did Aaron stay if he paid $544.73?”
No calculator allowed on 1/3 of the new SAT math test:
One change that the national press has tended to ignore in its coverage is that students will no longer be able to use their calculators on approximately 1/3 of the math test. Many parents underestimate how reliant their students are on calculators for the existing SAT. Tutors will have to spend time teaching students speedy ways to do mental math and refreshing students on how to do long division.

Trigonometry has been added to the new SAT:
The current ACT has approximately eight trigonometry-based questions, advanced material that’s not covered on the existing SAT. The new SAT will include serious trigonometry that many students in advanced math classes don't meaningfully cover until very late in their junior year. Students in some of the middle or lower math tracks might not cover these advanced trigonometry concepts until senior year (if ever). Three sample trig problems are here: Trig Problem #1, Trig Problem #2, and Trig Problem #3. We actually gave Trig Problem #3 to a cherry-picked sample of four of our smartest SAT students who are all scoring in the top 3%. Only 1 of the 4 got #3 correct, which is the same as you’d expect from just random guessing (there are 4 answer choices).

The "Formula Box" that students receive on the test has expanded: 

New math topics beyond just trigonometry: advanced statistics, imaginary numbers, and data interpretation:
The new SAT math topics include items not often tested on the current SAT, such as standard deviation, margin of error, statistical study design, and imaginary numbers (this list of additional topics will grow when we have 10 full tests to analyze in July 2015). Most importantly, data interpretation questions are the single biggest growth area. These questions are very reminiscent of the ACT Science section. Data interpretation on the new SAT is 17 questions versus only 6 questions on the current SAT.

One oddball statistical study design word problem from the new SAT sample questions is shown here:

Some other sample questions include: 
- Another statistical study design question is here.
- A lengthy word problem is here.  
- An imaginary number problem is here
- An advanced data interpretation problem is here
- A healthy paranoia will take place as students are painstakingly measuring and counting precise data points on problems like this one, this one , and this one

The newly "optional" SAT essay will be no more optional than the current "optional" ACT essay. At UGA, Harvard, and 1500+ other schools in the nation, your ACT score is not valid without the Writing component (essay). This will continue to be the case at most schools and your student must take the essay component if they take the new SAT. A few proactive schools like Georgia Tech have already posted about it; other schools will more publicly announce their policies later this year. 

The new SAT essay is moving to an ACT-style grading format, by which we mean that the essay score will be reported as a separate score that is not built into the Writing score, as it is today. The two important changes for the new essay are 1) the length has been doubled to 50 minutes and 2) students may no longer make up facts as they can on the current SAT essay. Components of the essay will be similar to an AP History DBQ essay; students will be given “source documents” that they must respond to when creating their essays. The essay score will be reported on three separate axes of 1-4 points each.

Silver linings:
The new SAT will still have two silver linings. First, the new SAT is still likely to be superscored at over 95% of colleges, while the ACT will continue to be superscored at fewer than 20% of colleges. Second, students will still have 33-42% more time per question than on the existing ACT. The tougher nature of these new questions will somewhat dampen that SAT time advantage, but likely not to the tune of 42%. 

3) Closing thoughts:
Change is always difficult, but planning makes the process go much more smoothly. 

Here are our top three tips:
A) Do not purchase any SAT prep guides for the new SAT until, at a minimum, late Summer 2015. The College Board does not release its new 10-test Blue Book until June 30, 2015, so the audacity of some tutoring companies that have released a new book already, before a single real new SAT test even exists, boggles the mind. The existing SAT has a word for these folks: charlatans. Save your money for the new SAT Blue Book when it comes out on Amazon
B) If you have a current sophomore, consider coming to one of Edison Prep’s free info sessions on test prep and college admissions. We have two this Spring and may well add additional ones since the overhaul has generated more interest from parents and students than usual. A list of info session dates/times and information on how to RSVP can be found here
C) Keep checking this blog and/or Edison Prep’s Facebook page for updates. As the SAT continues to release more test questions and specifications, we will write follow-up blog posts to this one. We are open to being proven incorrect, and indeed hope we are. If something bizarre occurs when the new Blue Book is released, such as students being allowed to miss 4 questions and still get an 800 on math, that could very much change things. The tough problem is that many savvy students can and should be well into their current SAT studies by July 1st when the new SAT Blue Book comes out.  

We’d love to hear your comments and questions! Feel free to email us at edison@edisonprep.com!

Links to sample “new SAT” practice problems: 

The Unpublished Changes to the ACT, Part II: A Follow-Up With Additional Data
November 20, 2014
By: Brian

Note: This blog post is Part II of a two-part series about changes to the ACT. The original post is here

We received three main questions since publishing our original “The Unpublished Changes to the ACT” blog post in mid-July.

They were (paraphrased):
1. Why does the original blog post seem to only focus on top-scorers?
2. Does any of this even matter as long as roughly the same percent of kids are getting a given score as before?
3. Do you have any data to back up the anecdotal claims in the first blog post about test-takers from the coasts and other factors that are warping the top end of the curve?

Our answers are below.

1. Why does the original blog post seem to only focus on top-scorers?
The reason that the original blog post focused solely on the top end of the score spectrum (28+) is that, for better or for worse, Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship has created an era in which Georgia’s two flagship schools require tip-top scores to compete. UGA and Georgia Tech have average scores of 30 (top 5%) and 32 (top 2%), respectively. Thus, the original analysis is highly relevant to Georgians who see UGA and GT as increasingly amazing bargains with the HOPE scholarship and with the national reputation the schools have. Indeed, we saw not just one or two but several of our students this year turn down Ivy League schools for the Foundation Fellowship at UGA or the President's Scholarship at GT. On the other side of the coin rests Georgia Southern, one of the schools with the most lax SAT/ACT standards in Georgia. GSU requires an ACT of 20 to apply even under their probationary admission program. That means that even the most lenient schools in the GA University System are off the table for half of test-takers. The 21-36 range is the only meaningful range to analyze for students hoping to attend a school in the GA University System or the US News Top 50 schools.

2. Does any of this even matter as long as roughly the same percent of kids are getting a given score as before?
Some who emailed us asked us whether the changes matter, given that the overall goal is to have approximately the same portion of students earn a given score or above on each test date. This is a valid question. When you're talking about the 26-36 range, it's not just about content; it's about the intersection of speed and content. With more overly-diligent students taking even more practice tests before taking the real exam, the ACT’s response has been to slowly raise the intellectual tenor of the exam since 2011 to stratify tip-top scorers from each other, especially in Math and Science.  Ethically, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; making the test intellectually harder but then providing a more generous curve minimizes the damage caused by a careless error. However, the new test is not just harder in the “Einstein e=mc^2” sense; it’s harder in the “my brain cannot process this material in such a short amount of time” sense. The intellectual content has gotten more rigorous, while the timing for each section has stayed exactly the same; thus, it’s tougher to finish in time. Top-scoring students need to know this speed differential going in; they are done a disservice by relying solely on tee-ball ACT Red Book tests and then being thrown into the fast-pitch cage on test day. 

The proof of this increase in speed and intellectual tenor is in the scoring scale. ACT Red Book Test #1 Science section has not one, not two, not three, but four “evil bars” (2 point gaps for one missed question), such that a minus 4 drops a student seven whole points to a 29. By contrast, a minus four on what many consider the intellectually hardest Science test ever administered, December 2013, was still a 35--as it should have been. Depending on whether a student's main issue is speed vs. content, allocating time as he or she was used to from the Red Book tests could have resulted in a very different score. Finally, it seems from the 2013-2014 tests that closer to 2-4 questions per test require outside Science knowledge, compared to 0-2 on older tests. Again, something not relevant for middle-scorers, but highly relevant in the upper ranges. The Red Book Test #1 Science example was not cherry-picked, either. The Science section on most other available practice tests (0661C, 0359F, and others) also has three "evil bars."

3. Do you have any data to back up the anecdotal claims in the first blog post about test-takers from the coasts and other factors that are warping the top end of the curve?
In addition to the Washington Post article from the first post and our own anecdotes, we’ve downloaded data from the ACT’s own score statistics site to prove the point. In a moment, we’ll look at some data from the entire USA, Georgia, and some of the higher- and lower-achieving states.

All states are not created equal. We analyzed data from 2010, 2012, and 2013 for the USA, Georgia, and a smattering of high- and low-achieving states. We saw some pretty incredible trends emerge, the most important of which were:

A) High-achievers from the highest-achieving states (read: the Northeast and California) are now taking the test in disproportionately higher numbers. While the overall participation rate in the ACT may not have changed dramatically in the Northeastern states (the same ones that have historically had the highest National Merit cutoff scores in the nation), it is typically the top-scoring test-takers that seek to travel furthest away from home for college and/or apply to top-notch schools, as articles from blogs like The College Solution have covered extensively. Whether the ACT has been growing as a whole in those states is unimportant; what is important is whether a stampede of top-scorers in those states is impacting the top end of the curve. Even if the national percentage of students achieving a given score is staying roughly flat over the years, an influx of top-scorers who formerly would have been purely SAT students can make it—relatively speaking—harder to achieve the same score before said stampede. Students have both tests as options.

B) Data from extended time test-takers was finally included in the aggregate statistics for the first time in 2013.
It’s interesting that while ACT extended time students make up only 4% of the overall test-takers, in the first year that those students’ data began being included with the standard time test-takers, the number of overall nationwide perfect 36’s went up by 48% in a single year. Are 36’s overrepresented by 1,200% in that cohort? Unfortunately, the ACT only publishes the average score data (21.0 average for regular time, 17.5 for extended time). (Page 8, Table 1.7). Thus, those two average numbers aren’t any more helpful than saying the average temperature for Atlanta for all 365 days is 64 degrees.

Three examples of the 2012-2013 shift:
1) In Connecticut, the number of test-takers rose by 359 test-takers, but the number of 30+ scores (top 5% scores) rose by 284. So 80% of Connecticut's net new test-takers would appear to have accrued to the top 5%.
2) In Maryland, only 3.6% more students took it in 2013 than 2012, yet the perfect 36's exploded by 183%.
3) In New York, only 1.0% more students took it in 2013 than 2012, while 33+'s increased 15 times as fast and the perfect 36's jumped by 117% once extended time data was included.

For those high-flying states, we think the dramatic change from 2012-2013 is a perfect storm of two factors: more of the top-tier students studying/taking the ACT in those states and ultra-savvy parents who have perfected the art form of applying for extended time accommodations in much the same way as they navigate the elite pre-school application process.

C) Additional Three-Year Data Analysis (2010 data vs. 2013 data):

Growth in Northeast Dominance:
- New York's ACT test-takers only grew 6% from 2010 to 2013, but their 33+’s grew by 30% (500% as much) and their perfect 36’s grew by 174% (2,800% as much).
- New Jersey's ACT test-takers only grew by 26% from 2010 to 2013, but their 33+’s grew by 59% and their perfect 36's grew by a whopping 386%.
- A student from New Jersey was literally 16 times as likely to get a 36 as a student from West Virginia and over 5 times as likely to get a 36 as a student from Mississippi. This data wasn’t cherry-picked either; had we used the admittedly-small District of Columbia instead, those two numbers would have been 27 times as likely and 9.5 times as likely, respectively.
- Some people might point to the fact that this data could be skewed by the fact that some states (like Mississippi) require all students to take the ACT. If anything, it proves the opposite; even though every student in the entire state of Mississippi takes it and only 1/4 of the kids in New Jersey take it, New Jersey still has far more top scorers with 13% fewer test takers.

4. So now what? 
Students should use the official ACT Red Book for their initial practice tests as they build their foundation, with the knowledge that they are intellectually easier / more vigorously scaled. Then, they should use newer tests for their additional practice. As far as practice goes, four tests are available via www.badtesttakers.com/resources/, and many high school guidance offices have pre-printed ACT packets of the 1267C test on hand. Parents could also ask their guidance offices to order the two newer, fresher tests that are available to high schools. A few proactive guidance offices like Harrison HS in Kennesaw have begun keeping these tests on hand and giving them to students at cost; it's a fantastic idea.

Since many diligent students are not used to potentially not finishing an exam, with these speed changes, more than ever, it's important for students to remember that attitude matters just as much as aptitude. Focus on increasing your speed, getting ones that you're already getting correct more quickly, and allocating your time wisely. 

Feel free to email us with questions at edison@edisonprep.com!

Note: The numerous sources that went into this article are listed below.

ACT test-taker data: 2013 Reports (National and State): http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2013/profilereports.html and
2012 Reports (National and State): http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2012/states.html
2010 Data: http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2010/states.html
2010 National PDF: http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2010/pdf/profile/National2010.pdf
2011 National PDF: http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2011/pdf/profile/National2011.pdf
2012 National PDF: http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2012/pdf/profile/National2012.pdf
2013 National PDF: http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/2013/pdf/profile/National2013.pdf
PSAT Cutoffs by State: http://www.collegeplanningsimplified.com/NationalMerit.html
Mother Lode of Data: http://www.act.org/newsroom/data/ 


The Unpublished Changes to the ACT
July 14,2014
By: Brian

The upcoming SAT changes in 2016 have dominated the mainstream media for the past 6 months. The undiscussed changes to the ACT that have been subtly occurring are equally important; this in-depth blog post covers several facets of these changes.

1) The test has been steadily changing for the past 24-36 months.
Without any formal announcement by the ACT, the ACT has been slowly and steadily changing the difficulty level of its test. If you compare some of the prior released ACT tests from 2005-2010 to ones from 2011-2014, the test is noticeably harder to finish, especially in Math, Reading, and Science. Additionally, the hardest of the hard English questions (the “Rhetorical Skills” questions) have become more time-consuming and less clear-cut. I still take the test each year and wholeheartedly agree with most of our students’ perception of these subtle but very meaningful changes to the ACT. 

There have also been some more blatant changes this school year, such as how four of the past five ACT administrations have had one reading passage that is ripped straight from the SAT Medium Comparison passage format. On this comparison passage, students have two shorter passages to read, with some questions about Passage 1, some questions about Passage 2, and some questions comparing the two passages. No publicly-available ACT in existence contains one of these for students to practice with, and these passages have rattled students who took the ACT cold after preparing on their own. We expect this pattern of one Comparison Passage per test to continue.

The one silver lining in these difficulty changes is that, on the whole, the score curves at the top have become more generous. For example, the December 2013 test allowed test-takers to miss 4 questions on Science and still get a 35, whereas missing 4 on Red Book Test #1 would give a student a 29.

2) These new changes affect test-takers unequally.
These new test changes matter more for some test-takers than for others. It depends on what part of the score spectrum your student is competing in. If your student is in the lower part of the score spectrum (1-24), these changes will have a more limited impact on your student’s score, since those shooting for a 25 or under can afford to have great accuracy on the easier ones that they get to and guess on a few questions that they can’t finish. For example, a student who got a 21 on all four sections on the December 2013 test was allowed to miss 95 of the 215 questions.

Generally speaking, the ACT often remains a far easier test on which to move from a bottom 1/3 score to an average score than the SAT. Lower-scoring students can pick off the easy questions, guess on the rest, and get to where they need to be.

3) How this impacts students at the higher end (28-31):
However, for students looking for a top 12% or better score (28+), this timing change has had measurable impacts. In a world where over 70% of our students plan on applying to UGA and/or Georgia Tech, which have average ACT scores of 30 and 32, respectively, that makes this blog post very relevant and important. Running out of time on 6 or 7 questions per section would mean you’d have to ace the rest of the test to hit a 28+. If you’re shooting for a top 15-20% score or higher, leaving a bunch of questions blank is a killer.

4) How this impacts students aiming for tip-top scores (32+):
When our students see Silvia and me at the testing center, many of them often joke with us “I bet you guys probably finish each section with like 10 minutes left, right?” Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m good at the test--I recently became the first person ever to earn back-to-back-to-back Composite 36s with the June 2014 exam--yet the total time I had left at the end of all four sections combined was less than 90 seconds. I’m fast, but balancing speed and accuracy with these new, harder tests doesn’t allow much time to spare.

The mental mindset we have described to many of our students shooting for 32+ is called “an upbeat, panicked scamper.” Overly Type A students who insist on doing all questions exactly in order will get a suboptimal score. On Math, Reading, and Science, I didn’t answer questions anywhere near the order in which they were asked. I flip back and forth a fair bit to cherry-pick the easy ones, so much so that my proctor for the June 2013 ACT pulled me aside during the break to ask me what I was doing. The chasm between how long the easy vs. the hard questions take is large. The 7 hardest Science questions on the June 2014 test probably took me longer than the 18 easiest ones, and that’s fairly typical.

Many of our students who have tried this scamper method have initially seen it backfire because they don’t realize that they spent 18 seconds deciding whether to do the question or not, which is far too long. Students aiming for 32+ need to manufacture and hone a strong intuition as to which questions are worth doing immediately via large practice test volume. That spidey sense allows students to rapidly make a 2-3 second call as to whether to do the problem or come back later based on which types of questions have troubled them in the past.

The giant differences in the recommendations we’ve just described for various score levels of students illustrate the danger in listening to what a friend says about whether the SAT or ACT is easier. Why not simply take a mock test and find out? Unless you have an uncommon gift of speed, going from a 32 towards a 36 is often a far tougher road than going from the equivalent SAT of a 2120 towards a 2400.

5) How geography has been impacting the ACT:
Part of our theory for why the ACT has been having to make the test harder is that the highest achievers in the highest-achieving areas of the country (the Northeast and California) are now taking the ACT in much greater numbers than before, and these areas have a disproportionate share of the top scores. When we first moved to Atlanta in 2007, we struggled to convince some New York transplants to give the ACT the equal standing it has long held with the SAT at all college admissions offices. One mom (a recent Long Island transplant) had a son whose two diagnostic mock tests showed a top 45% score on the SAT but a top 5% score on the ACT…cold. We congratulated her and said “well, it looks like it’s the ACT for him!” She replied, “I will not pay money to have him tutored for that redneck test.” (???) Things have changed these past 7 years. That conversation no longer takes place. Similar stories abound, including Nick Anderson’s 2013 article in the Washington Post where he states: “The word is out among students that either test is acceptable for college applications. That’s a big change from previous generations, when the SAT was perceived in many quarters as the premier --and therefore “must-do”--test.” 

In Atlanta, we consider ourselves great motivators, and are able to get most of our students to complete one test a week, sometimes two. Our tutor friend in DC frequently has students apologize for only doing three tests leading up to a session.  One only need look at the discussion forums on CollegeConfidential.com to see that our DC friend is not an anomaly.  Doing just part of the ACT Red Book won’t suffice anymore.

6) Practice volume remains paramount at all score levels:
The bottom line is that under this new era of a faster ACT, more practice test volume has to happen. Students need to expect the test they’re going to receive on test day to be far harder to complete than the “cupcake” tests that they’re seeing in the ACT Red Book. Students shouldn’t be lulled into complacency by doing well on Red Book Tests #1-3, which were the actual ACT tests when our current students were in diapers

Silvia and I have long hoped that the ACT would concede that Red Book tests #1-3 are sadly out of date (#4 and 5 are slightly better, from the 2000s) and provide a 4th Edition of the book with 10 real past tests from 2010 to 2014, as the SAT has long done. In the interim, one way to combat this situation is to order the ACT Test Information Release (TIR) service if you happen to take the ACT in April, June, or December. With TIR, for $19, students can order a copy of the test booklet and answer key and have the chance to go over the exact questions they missed before taking it the next time. 

If students were all given unlimited time on the test, five or six times as many students would likely get a 30+. Each question is typically worth an entire point on the Reading and Science sections, so having to guess on 5 or more questions at the end is an instant 4-point hit to that section’s score. In this new era with the test being harder to finish (albeit with a gentler curve), practice volume is everything.

7) Closing thoughts:
It is important to note that, even with fantastic tutoring, with this new amped-up, tough-to-finish version of the ACT, there will remain a meaningful minority of students who stand no real chance of finishing all four sections of the ACT on time (while maintaining accuracy/not rushing). Finding out whether your student is one of these people upfront at the beginning of tutoring, via a mock test, is critical.

Feel free to email us with questions at edison@edisonprep.com!

All About UGA: Ruminations from the 2014 UGA Admissions Process
May 14,2014
By: Brian and Silvia

UGA is a school of particular interest to many of our clients, so we wanted to do a deep dive into some UGA admissions trends that we've observed over the past two years.

1) A markedly larger share of the class was admitted via Early Action (EA) instead of Regular Decision (RD).
The table below shows an interesting trend from 2012-2014. The portion of students admitted via EA has grown from 55% to 65% from 2012 to 2014 while the proportion of the applicant pool that applies EA has remained constant.


2) Superscoring is having an increased impact on SAT/ACT score averages.
Just 3,002 people in Georgia got a single-day ACT score of 30 or higher last year, yet 30 was both the median and average score for UGA. 75% of UGA admits submitting an ACT had a 28+ this year, yet only 5,568 Georgians had an ACT of 28 or higher. But UGA admitted over 11,600 people this year, and not every high-scoring applicant even applies to UGA. How is that possible?

Yes, many students submitted their SAT scores, but a huge contributing factor is that UGA "superscores" both the ACT and SAT (combines the best section scores from different dates). It's a real game-changer. Savvy parents and students understand the power of superscoring far better than they did just 3-4 years ago, driving average SAT/ACT scores at virtually all schools upwards.

Also, remember that people tend to fib about their scores; fewer than 400 students earned a single-day 34, 35, or 36 last year in the entire state of Georgia (about 2.5 per county), and some of those weren't even students -- they were Edison Prep's own tutors taking the test to stay on top of their game! 

3) Academic rigor continues to be far more important than extracurricular activities.
This April, Senior Associate Director of UGA Admissions David Graves posted a quote on the UGA Blog that we sincerely wish were included at the top of every UGA mailing:

"When parents or students say that their schedule is already so busy with other activities that it is tough to handle challenging courses...instead of dropping rigorous courses, maybe an activity could be dropped."

We tell students daily that no one has ever been ever rejected for having too low of a "play practice score," but millions of applications are rejected each year for low GPA, low rigor, and/or low SAT/ACT scores. Activities matter if and once your core academic metrics are in the right ballpark. Fun Fact: 95% of students admitted to UGA in 2013 had at least one AP class. Avoiding that AP goose egg is crucial.

4) Applying Early Action is becoming paramount.
Here’s an academic snapshot of admitted students from 2012-2014:  

The UGA Admissions Blog goes to great lengths to explain to commenters that it is not easier or harder to be admitted EA vs. RD; it’s just a different timeline. As you can see in the table above, the academic stats for the full admitted pool vs. EA-only are pretty similar quantitatively, which just further strengthens the argument for applying early. It's likely that if the high-flying UGA Honors College applicants were removed from the rest of the EA pool, the resulting EA vs. RD stats would be identical.

What we can definitively state is that, by all means, unless you think that your statistics are so poor that you'll be rejected during Early Action, apply during Early Action. Only about 7% of students get rejected via EA (about 1/3 are deferred). We know of many RD applicants who were waitlisted or rejected with far better stats than their counterparts who applied and were accepted via EA from the same high school. As the table in item #1 illustrates, there are fewer spots left during Regular Decision than in years past. Therefore, students should try to compete while a reasonable number of spots still remain. Doing so implies trying to finish up your standardized testing by June of junior year at the latest (though EA applicants are still allowed to submit SATs/ACTs through the October exams).

The UGA Regular Decision rejection stories you heard this year might feel slightly more intense than reality because there are two waves of RD students who are admitted. RD students who applied RD but who had similar (if not superior) academic profiles to the EA admit pool are admitted far earlier (in February). Thus, the only UGA rejections you hear about happen all at once in late March, alongside a much smaller number of late March RD admissions (the second wave).

5) Closing Thoughts:
We've tutored approximately 1,500 students in the past three years from over 60 high schools and over 20 Georgia counties, the vast majority of whom applied to UGA. In those 3 years, we can count on one hand the number who were admitted with scores lower than 26 (ACT) or 1770 (SAT). The inflection points that we tend to see are around a 29 and a 1920.

Planning to be one of those outliers is risky; simply planning and attempting to hit the upper end of that mid-50%, or as close to it as possible, is the smart move.

If UGA is on your student's list, we'd highly encourage you to read the UGA Admissions Blog regularly. UGA has one of the most responsive and high-touch blogs of any college admissions blog we've seen; David Graves does an amazing job.

Feel free to email us with questions at edison@edisonprep.com!
Note: The numerous sources that went into this article are listed here.


10 Tips for SAT/ACT Preparation and College Admissions: Summer 2013
July 7, 2013
By: Brian and Silvia

1. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Your student should be using a TI-83 or a TI-84 calculator on the SAT and ACT, and nothing else. These calculators are very powerful and if used correctly, will allow someone to get a far higher score than he or she otherwise could.  You can get one for $30-110 depending on new vs. used. If you have your pick, the TI-84 Plus Silver Edition is the gold standard.  
The most common calculator alternatives that should be avoided are:
A. The TI-30X: In the gunfight analogy, this is a butter knife. No graphing abilities renders it weak.
B. The TI-89 and TI-NSpire: The main thing that these models "inspire" are low scores. They are unwieldy and loaded down with nested menus that hinder efficiency. And they are so complex and powerful that many of these models are even illegal on the SAT and/or ACT. 
More info on the TI-84 is here.

2. Always sign up for the “optional” Writing section when taking the ACT.  Your score is rendered null and void at many universities (including UGA) if you do not take the Writing (essay) section.  Each year, we encounter a few dozen panicked seniors who got a great ACT score without the mandatory ACT Writing section. Last year, one person realized so late that he ended up having to go to his safety school for a year (one that didn't require the essay) and is just now in the process of attempting to transfer for his sophomore year.

3. Take the test at a familiar location that you’re comfortable at, and at a location that has the highest proportion of students who are familiar with the test. This minimizes disruptions during the test (e.g. the student raising his hand and saying “what’s a grid-in?”) and you’ll usually end up with more experienced proctors to boot. Your tutor can give you good ideas of places to take it at and places to avoid.   

4. Research which schools will “super-score” your ACT scores far in advance. As a general rule, 90%+ of schools will allow you to “superscore” your SAT (e.g. combine the best section scores from different dates), but a little less than 1/3 of schools superscore the ACT. This is a crucial strategic difference for many students, since virtually all students take the SAT or ACT 2-3 times. Knowing this ahead of time helps you plan out which month(s) you’re taking the test and ensures sufficient time before applications are due.  If your schools don't superscore the ACT and you are someone who is particularly volatile on your practice tests, the SAT can be a smarter choice if your starting SAT/ACT scores are similar.  

5. Read our blog post “What’s Your Number?” This blog post has gotten more views than any of our other blog posts...and for good reason! This post analyzes how many SAT questions a student is allowed to miss and still get the average SAT score at many commonly-applied-to schools. The gaps between schools are smaller than you’d think!  Read the "What's Your Number?" blog post here.

6. If your school has Naviance software, get access as early as possible and access the “admissions scattergrams.”  If it doesn’t, use MyChances.net or Cappex.com for the same purpose. These three similar tools show students real data from students who were admitted, waitlisted, or denied based upon their GPA and SAT/ACT score combinations (see below graphic). Knowing these stats as early as possible gives you an easy “gut check” so that you know what stats are required to have a reasonable chance of admission.
Sign up for back-to-back test dates whenever you initially sign up for the first date if you think there's even a slim chance you'll want to take it again. 
For example, many people did not score what they wanted on the May 2013 test for a multitude of reasons (it was a hard test, final exams, prom, AP exams, sports playoffs, etc) and they were kicking themselves that the deadline to sign up for the June test had already passed by the time that scores for May came back.  If the worst $50 you ever "waste" is proactively signing up for an additional test that you don't end up needing to use, that's a great problem to have.  Instead, many of those students now have to study all summer to re-ramp up for the October test -- a gaping 5-month gap in preparation that makes things much harder since people get rusty.

8. Tip for Parents: Once SAT tutoring/studying begins, conduct regular kamikaze vocab quizzes at the dinner table. Students may hate us for putting this tip here, but parents are often shocked when they try this. Vocab is understandably boring, and thus students leave it for last or just simply don’t do it. One mom’s recent text to us said this: “We did a quiz at dinner tonight since he says he's been studying a lot.  He was 0 for 5. The quizzes will now continue nightly. Thanks for the heads-up.”

9. Read through Edison Prep’s older blog posts. We intentionally create blog posts less than 10 times per year to keep the quality of the blogs high and to avoid wasting your time. Not every blog post will fully apply to everyone, but most will contain at least one pearl of wisdom for everyone. Our main blog page with all of the past posts is at this link: http://edisonprep.com/pages/blog.html.

10. Last but not least, realize that the SAT/ACT score is not -- and should not be -- the most important factor in college admissions. Your 4-year GPA and whether you took rigorous classes (e.g. AP, IB) is the single most important factor. SAT/ACT scores are the 2nd most important factor. Each year, we have at least 6-8 times more people who don’t get into School X because of a really rocky GPA freshman and sophomore year that tanked the cumulative GPA than because of a bad SAT/ACT score.  

If you have questions, we're happy to help!  Please contact us at edison@edisonprep.com!

What's Your Number?" (AKA "How many questions am I allowed to miss for School X?")
June 5, 2013
By: Brian and Silvia
The SAT can be a mysterious test, especially if it’s your first time dealing with it.  Students spend over four hours slaving over an answer sheet, and 20 days later a four digit score pops up online.  Students and parents often feel a bit in the dark as to what that score means at commonly-applied-to schools and what those schools’ average scores are.  But even that four-digit score is opaque.  

Today’s blog post aims to boil it down to a much easier concept: 
"How many SAT questions per section does the average student miss at School X? "

We analyzed a recently-released SAT test (May 2011) to see how many questions per section a student can miss if he or she wants to hit a school’s average SAT score.  Take a look: 

Main Takeaways:
1. On an average month, the average student in America misses approximately 52 of the 121 questions (two section) and 69 of the 170 questions (three section).  

2. Most parents don’t expect Alabama’s average to be just 1.9 SAT questions per section away from UGA’s average.  Think of this: the price differential between UGA using the Zell Miller HOPE Scholarship versus University of Alabama’s out-of-state tuition is $92,000.  If a student’s GPA and other statistics are already good enough for UGA, that gap of 11 or 12 SAT questions can be viewed as worth $8,000 per question.  (Often even more than this, since historically, only about 50% of students graduate in 4 years.)

3. The gap between ultra-high-ranking schools and high-ranking schools is not nearly as large as you would expect.  Most parents do not expect Georgia Tech’s average to be a mere 5 questions away from UPenn’s average (an Ivy League school).  They also don’t expect Tulane's average to be 13 questions away from Harvard's average.  

4. You cannot omit meaningful numbers of questions if you are looking at schools in the US News Rankings’ Top 25.  Those schools’ averages are often about 1 wrong/omit per section, so omitting 3 and acing the rest simply won’t work.  “Over-omit syndrome” is very common when we first start with high-scoring students who are aiming for top 1-2% scores.  Omitting 3 questions per section lops off 310 points before the game even begins.

Notes and Methodology:
1. For the calculations above, we assumed an essay score of 9 out of 12, which is very charitable, since a 9 is a top 17% essay score. (Detailed statistics on essay score frequency are located here.)
2. The May 2011 test that we utilized had a more charitable curve than most of the recent tests (see the full spectrum here.)  We did not cherry-pick a terrible test date like January 2013.  
3. For ease of use, we assumed that the student got the same score on each section (e.g. 500/500/500).
4. Data on score averages was gathered directly from university webpages and/or College Board’s “BigFuture” site.  Averages are often not available, in which case the midpoint of the 25th/75th percentile range was used. 

Curve Ball: Why Hitting a Standardized Test Home Run is Becoming Harder
April 26, 2013
By: Brian and Silvia
In year 2000, fewer than half of the top 20 students at the high school of one of Edison Prep’s founders did more than cursory preparation for the SAT/ACT. Many just took the PSAT and then did one practice test the week before the test. That scenario hasn’t been the case for a few years now. Because high-achievers now prepare more aggressively than ever, the top of the curve has stratified even more.   

This means that, compared to those tests from a few years ago, each individual question at the top of the score spectrum (2000+) is worth even more points.  

What’s the problem?
Approximately 20% of America is trying to fit into the top 7% (a 2000+)By definition, two-thirds of those students will fail to reach their goal. 

The top end of the curve is evolving.
The first two tests of the
Official SAT Blue Book -- the gold standard of SAT books and the one almost all test prep companies use -- are the actual SAT tests from Oct. 2006 and Jan. 2007.  The grading grid in the graphic below shows the scores that students who took the test those years got for a given number of questions wrong. Let’s compare the Blue Book test results to three more recent tests from 2011, 2012, and 2013. As you can see, it’s a big difference. 10 to 40 points per section can add up to 100 points or more over the course of the test. 100 points is the difference between Emory’s average SAT score and the averages of some Ivy League schools, and it can make the difference in winning certain merit scholarships.

How much "meaner" was the January 2013 curve than the Blue Book Test #1 that most students use as a starting point?


 Critical Reading Comparison:



Across the board, the January 2013 Critical Reading test was 10 to 50 points more stringent than the SAT Blue Book Test #1 Critical Reading section.  (See some of the cells highlighted in yellow.)  

These tests weren't cherry-picked.  For example, while a minus 1 was 770 on January 2013 Math, it was even worse for January 2012 Math -- a 760.  

By comparison, 2 of the first 3 actual math tests in the Blue Book allow you to miss one and still get an 800...something that has not actually happened since George W. left office! 



How the curve is changing for the top 5% of students:
In the 50+ tests since the SAT was revamped in 2005, we don’t know of one until the January 2013 test where you couldn’t miss one on Reading and still get an 800 (the list of publicly-released curves comports with our data). In fact, the vast majority of the time, students could miss 2 and still get a perfect 800 on Reading.  On the January 2013 test, however, minus 2 was already 770 and a minus 3 was already a 730 (loss of 4 raw points because of the wrong answer penalty).

When top students practice harder, what happens?
The SAT does a process called “equating” to make sure that the specific month a student takes it (March 2013 vs. May 2013) doesn’t affect his or her score.  However, that doesn’t mean that, over time, an ever-larger, dedicated band of Type A students that does an obscene amount of practice can’t cause “lumps” at the top of the scoring scale.  For example, if one month 2% of students aced all of the math questions, could they really make a minus zero something other than an 800?  Some parents will see “680 Math?” and think “My gosh! What happened?”  In January 2013, the answer would be “s/he missed a mere 5 questions out of the 54, or lost an average of 24 points per math question.

“Omitting is Quitting”
Many tutors and SAT books debate whether omitting questions is acceptable if you would like a top 1% score on the SAT.  Our answer is relatively simple: no.

Case Study:
What would happen if a student omitted just 5 questions on each type of question (Reading, Math, Writing) and aced the other 155 that he or she answered?  On the January 2013 test, it would have been a 720 Reading / 700 Math / 700 Writing, or 2120 total (assuming 10 on the essay).  A great score to be sure -- top 3% -- but that’s 280 points of damage just for leaving those few blank!  And since it’s very hard to go 155 for 155, what would that person have gotten if s/he missed just 1 multiple choice question per section that s/he answered? A 1970 -- 670 Reading / 650 Math / 650 Writing.  Or, put another way, a mere 2-3 questions above UGA’s average of 1930.

So how do I get there? 
To paraphrase the old Carnegie Hall joke...“How do you get to Carnegie Mellon? Practice, Practice, Practice!”  We are really good at motivating our students to do homework, yet we’ve only ever told 5 or 6 students to calm down because they were over-practicing.

Are other people really practicing that much?
You don’t have to look hard to find that there are actually Atlanta SAT firms offering 128 hour SAT classes, and ostensibly, they are selling well, or they wouldn’t be around for as long as they have.  Now to be clear: you will never see Edison Prep offer a 128 hour SAT Bootcamp. That’s pure torture and candidly, a bit silly.  We cover all 500 pages of our book in the 24 hour SAT Group Class without too much trouble.   It’s the volume of practice tests and homework outside of our tutoring sessions that doesn’t always happen, and especially for students in the 1850+ range, that’s a grave mistake.

Implications for Tutoring:
The case study above illustrates why we stress to our students that when it comes to earning a 2000+, practice test volume in between tutoring sessions is the most important variable. The most fertile score a student can start with if s/he wants a 2200+ is a 1900.  At the same time, the most dangerous score (where a student might move less than 50 points) is also a 1900, if homework does not happen.  Once you are at a 1900+ (a top 12% score), you’re only missing the hard ones.  “Winging it” will not suffice.

So if your student is a high achiever, know that they are in the danger zone if practice tests and homework don’t happen.  Be vigilant and check in regarding homework progress weekly.

UPDATE - 05/01/13 -- We may be in luck...a 3rd edition of the SAT Blue Book is due in August 2013, hopefully with fresh material!  Supposedly 6 fresh, new tests that will hopefully more accurately reflect the grading curves of recent tests! Link is here.  

If you have questions, let us know -- call us at 404-333-8573 or edison@edisonprep.com!  

An Admissions Case Study: Vanderbilt University's Mind-boggling Class of 2017
March 23, 2013
By: Brian and Silvia

As a company, we hold the belief that empirical, quantitative data should be the main, if not only, source of data utilized to gauge a student's admissions chances and whether a student's college list (when taken as a whole) is overly aggressive, not aggressive enough, or "just right."

How to find out what your chances might be at a given University based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores: 
1. If you go to a private school or certain public schools in Atlanta, Naviance software is available that shows you how past students have fared. 
2. If your school does not have Naviance, you can use proxies such as Cappex.com instead that do roughly the same thing (although not localized to students from your high school).  See a sample graph of what these Naviance and Cappex graphs look like here.

While grades and SAT/ACT aren't the only two variables considered for admission, they constitute the majority of the equation for most schools and give you a solid starting point for where you currently stand at a given school. 

Vanderbilt Case Study: 
Vanderbilt's Class of 2017 Admissions Statistics were released on their blog this morning and make for an excellent case study.

Edison Prep has long told its clients that Vanderbilt University, far and away, gets the least respect of any University in the country when it comes to the sheer difficulty of getting in.  As one of the few elite universities that isn't in a frigid area of the country, every year, Vandy gets more and more qualified applicants who on a quantitative basis (class rank and SAT/ACT scores) far surpass the academic statistics of several Ivy League schools and almost every other school in the US News Rankings.  

Here's the profile of Vanderbilt's Admitted Students in 2017 - Regular Decision:
Regular Decision Applicants: 27,840
Admitted: 3,018 (10.8%)
Average Class Rank: Top 3.39%
Top 10% Class Rank: 95%+ of students were in the top 10% of their graduating class
Middle 50% SAT (Reading): 740 – 800  (out of 800)
Middle 50% SAT (Math): 750 – 800 (out of 800)
Middle 50% ACT: 33 – 35 (out of 36)

What does this mean, in English?
  • At least 25% of admitted students had a perfect score in SAT Critical Reading.
  • At least 25% of admitted students had a perfect score in SAT Math.
  • At least 25% of admitted students had a 35 or 36 on the ACT in a single day (no ACT "superscoring" allowed), something only 126 students in all of Georgia did last year. 
  • Vandy's Middle 50% SAT and ACT ranges are higher than Harvard's (Harvard: 700-800 Reading, 690-790 Math, and 32-35 ACT).  
  • Given that all colleges schools must field a football team, Senators' kids can and will apply, and all the other set-asides that exist, much of that 5% who were not in the top 10% of their class is already spoken for before the admissions game even begins.  Class rank is paramount. 
What does this mean? Should I give up? 
No. This does not mean that people should give up.  Remember, 75% of those admitted did not have 800s on SAT Reading or SAT Math. 

Here are the takeaways:
  1. Students should begin researching their potential college lists early and build a comprehensive college list that includes Safeties, Targets, and Reaches.  Unless your name is Sasha or Malia, virtually nobody can consider a school like Vanderbilt in any category other than "Reach."
  2. In our experience, far more of our students get denied because of poor GPA, class rank and rigor of curriculum than SAT/ACT scores.  In almost all cases, your student shouldn't be touching the SAT/ACT until sophomore year is over.  For students wanting to apply to top 50 schools, freshman and sophomore years should be about one thing: getting great grades in rigorous core courses (e.g. Honors/AP if available). 
  3. That said, waiting until late in junior year to take the SAT/ACT "cold" is a very, very risky idea.  Taking a diagnostic mock SAT and/or ACT the summer before junior year and making a battle plan accordingly is always the wisest option.

Questions?  Give us a call at 404-333-8573 or email edison@edisonprep.com

Source for the above info: Vandy Admissions Blog
P.S.  Hat tip to Michael for the link!
A Student's Perspective: The Value of Hard Work and Practice Volume for Increasing Your SAT/ACT Scores
July 17, 2012 
By: Brian and Silvia

Most of the blog posts on this site are written by our tutors, but this blog post features commentary from three recent Edison Prep students, all three of whom went up +400 points on the SAT, got a top 5% SAT score, or both.  They achieved such heights partially because of tutoring, but just as importantly, they achieved their scores because of their drive, passion, and followthrough. 

Student #1: 
“My SAT prep definitely took a lot of time, work, and effort with many timed practice tests and reviews, but it is all worth it in the end.  It took the whole blue College Board book and the strategy book and then some, but they were such a great use of my time.  Without both the skills and confidence that tutoring and practice volume gave to me, I would never have been able to have improved beyond what I thought as possible.  Keep up your work, and you will be thankful...you will get the score you want and open up the opportunities for the colleges that you pursue.”

Student  #2: 
"The reason my score went from a top 25% score to a top 5% score is because my tutors gave me the studying and test taking skills needed to work smarter in combination with working harder. Everyone has the ability to be incorruptible and unwavering in his/her studying--to take multiple tests per week, to wake up at 430am to complete most of a timed SAT before school, to study flashcards in the car, to miss out on a party or two to get the score they seek. I went through the 10 tests in the Blue Book and 13 or so other tests from College Board, plus other materials during a 3 month period. I combined my tendency to do this with the detailed, individual-specific tutoring I was receiving to achieve a score I can be satisfied with. My sports coaches always say, "Hard work beats talent every time. Talent doesn't work hard." I believe studying harder and studying smarter are mutually required factors for score improvement. I supplied the effort and tenacity, my tutors provided the knowledgability and insight, and the rest worked itself out.  Taking my score from a score that was 150 points lower than UGA’s average to one that’s close to Emory’s average has changed the tone of my application process and the list of colleges to which I can credibly apply."

Student  #3: 
"When my mom first signed me up for SAT Prep, I was apprehensive and unsure of what to expect.  To be honest, who wants to do
school work over the summer?  The SAT is about four hours long, and my first practice test was well below my dream colleges’ SAT averages.  The first thing that my tutor stressed to me was the importance of vocabulary for a top score on the SAT.  He gave me the infamous “Bulb Book” at Panera Bread on Peachtree Rd.  I soon learned that Brian and Silvia had “mined” hundreds of frequently used vocabulary words from practice tests, as well as from past PSAT and SAT booklets.

I’m a visual learner, so I knew that the best way for me to memorize the vocab was to utilize flash cards.  My mom’s hairstylist told her that night that the best way to make vocab cards is to write with colored pens, as the brain retains information written in color ink better than writing composed in simply black ink.  After my first 2-hour tutoring session, I purchased hundreds of lined white vocab cards and a medley of colored pens (and all for under $20).  After my trip to Office Maxf, I was somewhat excited, and I wasn’t sure exactly why.  I’ll never forget my tutor’s advice and motivational support that led me to work harder and devote just a few precious hours of my summertime in order to gain 250+ points.  What I didn’t realize was that the vocab cards not only helped with Critical Reading, but also with my essay-writing skills (my “bomb-dropping skills”).

Who has time to invest in making vocab cards?  I quickly learned that if you try and make cards with silence or music, you will realize that it’s the most boring activity known to man.  The best way to make vocab cards is to:
1.       Watch T.V. while making them
2.       Take frequent breaks
3.       Use different colors
4.       Make cards for words that you don’t know in the Blue Book

For me, the College World Series was on during my card-making binge, which made the process a lot less painful.  Find a time such as a Law and Order marathon, the Olympics, etc. to work on your vocab cards.

After making 950 vocab cards (300 more than the Bulb Book even has), I had spent less than 20 hours, which I would have used for Facebook, Draw Something, Twitter, or other pointless online distractions.  When studying your cards, you should repeatedly go through the deck by taking out the cards that you know until you run out of cards.  Then do it again.  Trust me.  Every second spent on reviewing vocabulary is worth it.  Don’t procrastinate or rely upon other less effective methods of studying.  I only missed one vocab word out of the 20+ vocab-based questions on the real SAT, and I can assure you that the word was not on any of my vocab cards.  The SAT is beatable, and vocab is a huge component."

New SAT Registration Procedures are Challenging: A Primer on Navigating the Heightened Security Procedures
July 6, 2012 
By: Brian

Note: For an easy-to-print PDF version of this blog post, click here.

Thanks to the recent cheating scandal from a Long Island college student who used fake IDs to take the test for high schoolers, the SAT has heightened its testing security procedures for the exams beginning in September 2012.  

Here are the most important changes to the SAT system: 
1. You must upload a digital photo of yourself when registering online.
2. You must specify your high school during registration.  (It used to be an optional field.) 
3. There is no longer a standby option where people who forgot to sign up can "standby" and register the day of the test if some of the registered testers don't show up.  If you do not sign up by the late registration deadline, you're toast.  
4. Test center changes will no longer be permitted on test day.  In general, all "day of" test changes (e.g. from SAT I to SAT II) are now forbidden.
5. Students arriving at the test center without both their photo admission ticket and an acceptable form of photo ID will not be admitted to the test center.
6. Test takers sign a notice at the site that acknowledges the possibility of a criminal referral and prosecution for attempting to take the test for someone else or vice versa.
7. Proctors will check students’ IDs more frequently at the testing sites. IDs will be checked upon entry to the test center, re-entry to the test room after breaks, and upon collection of answer sheets.  They will have a photo roster with students' uploaded photos to cross-check against test takers as well.
8. High schools and colleges will have access to a registration data repository, including the photo you upload.
9. As stated on the College Board's announcement, "High schools will automatically receive scores for all test-takers enrolled at that high school." Many high schools will automatically add all scores to your transcript, whether you want them to or not.  You may have to politely work with your guidance office if you want to potentially remove some of your lower test scores from your high school transcript; not doing so eliminates some of the benefit of the "Score Choice" option whereby you can send just some of your test scores to colleges.

To test drive this new system for our students, Brian and Silvia registered for one of next year's tests.  Here's what we found: 
1. When entering your information on the College Board website, the first 90% of the registration is exactly the same as before.  If it's your first time registering, you will have to enter your academic profile, which is relatively lengthy (around 20 minutes).  If you've already completed that profile, you can move directly into the portion where you pick a test date and testing site.

2. Then comes the new, annoying Photo Requirement:
    • When Brian registered, he failed 3 times before finding a picture that the College Board found acceptable. 
    • The main challenge is that most Facebook photos are NOT a high enough resolution picture to be acceptable.

    • However, iPhone "High Definition Resolution (HDR)" photos appear to work.  (That's the one Brian used.)
    • Choose wisely, since whatever photo you upload will be audited; according to the College Board, “specialized software will verify that photos clearly show the student’s face.”
    • Also, choose an appropriate picture that you would want a college admissions officer to see.  No need to pick a tuxedo photo; just pick one that looks like the "presentable student" that you are.
    • Here’s the screen that you’ll see when choosing a photo:

The full text of the College Board's "acceptable photo" policy is as follows:
1. Your passport-type or wallet-sized photo (sized from 2 x 2 up to 2.5 x 3 inches) must be at least 640 x 480 pixels.
2. Your photo should be a shot of your head and shoulders.
3. Your photo must:
    • Be properly focused
    • Not have discernible pixels or be grainy
    • Be correctly exposed (brightness and contrast)
    • Be taken in full-face view, directly facing the camera
    • Be clear enough so there is no doubt about your identity
    • Not be too dark or too light, with no shadows or glare on your face
    • Not show an outdated "look" for you (e.g., facial hair that you no longer have, a new and different hair length or color)
    • Not show other people in addition to you
4. Your appearance in the photo must match how you will look on the day of the test.
5. Do not wear a hat or head covering that obscures your hair or hairline, unless worn daily for a religious purpose. Your full face must be visible, and any head covering must not cast any shadows on your face.
6. If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device or similar articles, they may be worn for your photo.
7. Sunglasses or glare on eyeglasses is not acceptable in your photo. Glare can be avoided with a slight downward tilt of the glasses or by removing the glasses or by turning off the camera flash.
8. File format must be one of the following:
    • .jpg
    • .gif
    • .png

More info from the College Board and other sites:
1. http://press.collegeboard.org/releases/2012/enhanced-sat-security-measures-announced-2012-13-academic-year
2. http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/03/27/sat-cheating-scandal-involving-emory-student-leads-to-new-rule-about-photo-ids/

Standardized Testing is Anything But Standardized
May 7, 2012 
By: Brian

I took the May 2012 SAT at a local school that we recommend to our students as one of the best.  However, even at the best places, you’ll come across a bad proctor now and again.  The administration of the test in my particular room was appalling, and luckily, I spoke up and had some of the items addressed.  The rest of this post will cover what happened and how to minimize the negative impacts that could happen to you if you’re stuck with a bad proctor.  

The description below is a bit detailed, but is important in order to paint a picture of how badly things can go and what you must do to protect yourself during the test.  

Here’s what happened: 
  • Our proctor had a very lackadaisical attitude from the get-go…simply awful.  
  • The clock was in the back corner of the room so that the back wall so that no student could see the clock without craning his/her neck.  The clock was also behind by an hour (daylight savings time).
  • A student asked if we could move the clock from the wall and rest it on the lip of the chalkboard so that we could all see the time more easily. The proctor said “no, it will be okay, I’ll write a 10 minute warning and a 5 minute warning on the board.”  No one else spoke up.  
  • During Section 1 (the essay), the proctor did not write the start time or stop time on the board as is typical.  She did write a 10 minute warning on the board, which isn’t even in the instructions, just something she sort of made up as she went along.  She proceeded to cut the essay section off 80-90 seconds earlier than she should have.  I hadn’t written down the exact start time down to the second as I usually do, so I had to let it slide.  (e.g. he said, she said…I had no proof.)
  • Therefore, in Section 2, I was immediately vigilant in recording the start time down to the second.  Again, the proctor didn’t write the start/stop time on the board, nor did she give us a 5 minute warning.
  • She proceeded to short the whole classroom 5 entire minutes on Section 2.
  • I immediately knew of the problem, as did a few others, though most students seemed not to notice.  No other students spoke up at first, but three other diligent students who had been timing with their own watch had awkward, knowing looks on their faces that said “I want to approach the proctor, but I’m scared.”
  • As we began the short break that students receive after Section 2, I approached the proctor to let her know that we had been cut off 5 minutes early.  The other 3 students with their knowing looks chimed in in agreement, and in the face of that consensus, the proctor said “let me look into what the best procedure is. Go take your 5 minute break.”  
  • She felt (slightly) bad and said that she would simply administer an extra 5 minutes of Section 2 when we returned from the 5 minute break, and then we’d move straight into Section 3.
  • For most students, not having had those 5 minutes back would have meant 5-6 questions unanswered, or 60-70 points lopped straight off of their scores!  The classroom would have lost over 1000 SAT points.
  • All things considered, the proctor’s solution was the best solution to the problem.
  • During the remaining 8 sections, the proctor still continued to casually time things on her smartphone, and occasionally put the start time (but not end time) on the board.  Even so, she was still usually inaccurate by 30-60 seconds, sometimes in our favor, sometimes not. A tad confusing since most smartphones have a stopwatch/countdown timer function.
  • The “Section 2 Snafu” caused our classroom to then be off-kilter by 5 minutes with the break schedule of most other rooms, so therefore we were treated to pencil sharpener noise from adjacent rooms and hallway noise during other rooms' breaks.  
This situation is not unique.  Based on our student feedback over the years, some degree of “awful proctor syndrome” affects approximately 10% of SAT testing rooms, and those small miscues in test administration add up.

This shouldn’t happen.  It may happen.  So how do you prepare?

How to minimize the chances of adverse events during your SAT exam and deal with them should they happen:
  1. Trust no one.  Bring your own digital watch that makes no noise.  Proctors mess up far more often than they should, given the SAT’s importance.  Nothing guarantees that there will be a clock in your room, that it will run on time and be easily visible, that your proctor will write start/stop times or 5 minute warnings on the board, or that the proctor will time it correctly.  
  2. At the beginning of each section, record the time on your watch down to the second in your test booklet on the first page. (e.g. 9:20:45).  Quickly add 25 minutes to that time and record it right below the start time on your paper (e.g. 9:45:45).  That way, you will know how much time you have during the section regardless of the quality of your proctor.  And if the proctor shorts you time, you have some semblance of proof that the section was mis-timed.
  3. If given the choice of seat, pick one that is in the very front or on the far edge.  Having more space minimizes the chance that someone with long hair will have it draping on your desk, or that you’re behind someone with an unfortunate odor, and it maximizes ease of seeing the board/clock.  It’s also harder to get distracted by someone tapping their foot or other annoying habits of fellow test-takers. 
  4. Try to take the test at a center that has a higher proportion of overly-ambitious students.  Taking it at these locations makes it less likely that you will have other students raising their hands asking clarification questions because they’re unfamiliar with what the test looks like, how to fill in the math grid-in's correctly, or other miscellaneous distractions throughout the exam.  
  5. If odd conditions or misproctoring does occur, you have the option of contacting (609) 771-7710 or testcenter@info.collegeboard.org to make a test administration complaint (ideally within 48 hours).  Doing so may result in the option to retake the test at no charge or other options, depending on the severity of what the College Board finds after investigating.
Avoiding 100% of test administration mistakes reminds me of the famous Wilt Chamberlain quote of “you can’t stop me, you can only hope to contain me!”  You cannot expect to eliminate all bad proctors or annoying co-testers entirely, but being prepared for how to handle such circumstances is crucial for maximizing your score on test day. 

Scenarios like the one above are not covered by SAT books that discuss the Pythagorean Theorem, but knowing how to handle them is equally important to doing one’s best on test day.  Being able to offer this kind of wisdom is why all Edison Prep tutors take the test multiple times each year to keep current and offer salient advice.

Good luck!
Instilling A Student’s Passion for Achieving a Higher Score on the SAT/ACT
Feb. 10, 2012
By: Silvia
As anyone who has come to one of Edison Prep’s parent meetings has heard us say, we strongly believe that student motivation, not student starting score, is the ultimate key to success on the SAT/ACT.  After working with more than 700 students, the most important variable that continues to most strongly predict a large score increase remains the same: a student’s motivation.

When students are able to combine a healthy respect for how much these tests impact college admissions with a healthy understanding of how practicable and predictable the tests are (if they put in the time to study), the stage for success is set.  Once students “get it,” we have very little trouble convincing most of our students to do more than 80 hours of work prior to the test date.  The key epiphany occurs when a student switches from seeing SAT/ACT preparation as a chore to an investment in his or her future.  

Our 2011 results show that the shapes of the score increase graphs for homework completion and number of hours of tutoring look almost identical.  Both are equally powerful factors in increasing one’s score.  Neither one in isolation results in a top score increase.

A Parent’s Role: 
Many parents are familiar with the famous “Tiger Mom” book / Wall Street Journal article from last year that advocated a very rigorous approach to studying and schoolwork.  While some of her methods are questionable, a lackadaisical approach is equally dangerous for those planning to apply to competitive colleges.  However, Tiger Mom Amy Chua makes one point that most people can agree on: “nothing is fun until you’re good at it.”  As a parent, the most important role that you can play is as a cheerleader, especially until the initial score increases appear. Once students' initial skepticism in their ability to raise their score is vanquished, they require far less coaxing and many even assign themselves extra homework. 

How to Motivate Your Student to Care about Studying for the SAT/ACT
1. Help them understand that for college applications, the SAT/ACT has the same weight as multiple semesters of school grades.  Students regularly spend 100+ hours on each class at school, when homework and studying is included. Given that most schools count the SAT more heavily than a dozen or more semester grades, studying for only 6 or 7 hours for the test makes no sense. 

2. Show them the data. Every college publishes SAT/ACT scores for its “middle 50%” of scores on their website. Students at some schools have “Naviance” software that shows them which students from their school were admitted, waitlisted, or denied based upon their GPA and SAT/ACT score combinations, as in the graphic below. Students at schools that don’t have Naviance can still use MyChances.net, colleges’ websites, or the SAT’s own website to see how their current scores stack up.

3. Make them aware that the “Middle 50%” SAT/ACT score range is not a “field goal.”  Many students view the middle 50% range like the image below: “if I’m in between those numbers, I’m good!”  The truth is, if a student is to get in with no special “bumps” (e.g. athletics, parent legacy status, need for diversity (geographic, gender, racial, and otherwise)), he or she should shoot for that right goalpost of the 75th percentile to ensure the best chances of admission.  

4. Encourage your student to brainstorm a college list early, if he or she hasn’t already.  Frequently, students don’t know how their scores compare with colleges’ average scores and assume a given college to be far easier than it truthfully is.  Once they do the research and have that “oops” moment where they realize Dream School #1 has SAT scores that are 350 points higher than their PSAT score, motivation is not as hard to come by.  College tours can also help make the concept of “college” less abstract and can incite a student’s motivation to study for these tests.

5. Make them understand that testing can be as short or as long of a process as they choose to make it.  Edison Prep emphasizes a strategy of “ripping it off like a band-aid”—where students prepare for consecutive tests and don’t unnecessarily drag out the test preparation. It’s neither fun nor healthy to have students drag test prep out for 14 months.  Most of our students internalize the tips above and dedicate themselves to a couple months of very studious preparation, and then move on with their lives.  It’s healthier that way.   

6. Help them make time in their calendars.  Students may need to temporarily take a step back from a few shifts at an after-school job or decide to forgo the spring play to make time for SAT/ACT preparation.  Without time to do SAT/ACT homework, success is hard to come by. One of our favorite quotes to parents is, “No one has ever been rejected because their drama practice score was too low; millions of applications are rejected each year because SAT/ACT scores were too low.”  Sports coaches and drama teachers may bristle at the quote, but it is true. 

7. Strike the right balance between overbearing and aloof. Optimally, parents will periodically check in and ask how homework is going, how the score is progressing, and offer supportive words of advice.  Congratulate them for being self-starters when you see them getting their SAT/ACT homework done early, or when you see them reviewing flashcards before dinner.  For parents who are a little suspicious of homework completion, playfully calling a student’s bluff quizzing the student on some of the vocabulary words in the back of the book can be useful.  

8.  Avoid comparisons between siblings.  There can be a wide diversity of starting score and ending score potential within a given family, and many students internalize anxiety when faced with an older brother or sister who performed amazingly well, possibly without even studying.  An expectation that all siblings will score approximately the same can be detrimental to that student’s self-esteem and ultimately hinder their score increase progress.

9. Avoid this harmful phrase at all costs when in front of your student: “S/he just can’t test well.  Never has, never will.”  Such language reinforces the beliefs that your student may already have and can lead to stress and disengagement.  A parent saying the above quote leads directly to the student saying “why bother?”  If you don’t believe they can do it, why should they? Try replacing that quote above with this one: “All standardized tests, because they are objective, are predictable, and therefore practicable.  So you’ll get there; it’ll just take hard work.”  

10. If you see your student getting frustrated with the test, don’t instantly coddle him or her; let your student wrestle with it for a while.  Most of the students who have obtained the largest score increases hit a Zen-like state of “productive frustration” that ultimately fueled some of their fastest increases.  When students do a large volume of work, have improved a little bit, and can see (when looking at a graded mock test) that most of the items they are missing are of the same type, they will become more engaged and want to attack that area of concern. 

One student we worked with was so consistent with his types of errors that he wanted to throw his test prep materials across the room (despite being an exceedingly polite guy).  Once he internalized the quid pro quo of “if I fix these 8 verb errors, I will get 100 points more on my writing score,” the stage was set.  That frustration led directly to better attentiveness on future verb questions and an eventual top 1% score on the writing section.  

11. Consider agreeing to a score “end zone” with your student: a score beyond which they’ll be allowed to quit taking the test.  Some students don’t want to begin practicing because they are worried that their parents will never actually allow them to stop.  They delay the onset of preparation and thus often end up tutoring well into senior year, which is not ideal.  Having a commitment from parents of “if you can get a score of XXXX, you’re done” can prompt them to start earlier and “rip it off like a band-aid,” as mentioned in #5.  

For motivated students applying to top schools, this is less relevant: they will often assign themselves extra homework at each session. But for the student who just wants to be done already, this tactic is very effective. 

We hope this provides some useful tips as your student begins preparing for the SAT/ACT.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at edison@edisonprep.com or 404-333-8573.
Report from the Front Lines: Taking the December 10th ACT
Dec. 10, 2011
By: Brian

Silvia and I both take the SAT and ACT multiple times each year to keep a pulse on how the test is shifting and to keep current.  Our students’ feedback since last June has been that the math and science sections have been getting noticeably harder, both in content but more importantly speed (difficulty finishing in time).

The ACT has tacitly admitted that they are making the science and math tests harder by recently coming out with the 3rd version of the ACT Red Book that now has 5 tests instead of 3.  If you happen to have this book in your house, you can compare the difficulty and the grading grids of the first 3 tests (the old ones) with the latter 2 (the new ones) and see the difference.

So many insights struck me during and after the test that I wanted to write a blog post while it was fresh and share them with our Edison Prep parents and partners.  

Observations from the December ACT Testing Room: Key Takeaways for Both Parents and Students
  1. Make sure that you take the test with writing (the essay).  Many colleges (including 4 of the 5 most popular schools that our students apply to) will consider your ACT score invalid without an accompanying essay.  I was taking the test at a prominent suburban high school where it seemed many students had received tutoring and had access to information, yet almost 40% of those taking it today did not take the essay. Finding out late in the game that you need to go re-take the ACT because you didn’t do the essay does not make for a stress-free senior year. (UGA) (GaTech) (Auburn) (Emory) (Alabama)
  2. You must use your entire time allotted on each section.  Silvia and I do well on the tests – top 1% scores each time. And we do so because we use all of our time.  You must pace yourself, check your work, skip difficult problems initially and come back later.  Almost half of the students in my room closed their books 5+ minutes early on most sections, with some even finishing 10 or more minutes early!  This is sheer insanity: throwing entire points of your composite score (and potentially thousands of parents’ extra dollars paid in tuition or student loans borrowed) down the drain.  Two composite ACT points can be the difference between paying $100K in out-of-state tuition versus getting the HOPE scholarship at increasingly difficult places to get into such as UGA and Georgia Tech.
  3. Math is now a sprint, not a marathon.  Because math is 60 minutes, students are often lulled into feeling that they have a vast chunk of time in which to do the 60 math problems.  However, if your student is shooting for a 27+ in the math section, finishing will be a difficult task.  The 15 hardest problems on today’s test required a combination of speed, facility with one’s TI-84 calculator, and advanced-level trigonometry and logarithm knowledge that students would have had to memorize beforehand to get those problems correct.
  4. Manage your time by doing the hardest ones last.  Each question is worth the same amount of points.  Therefore, skip hard ones and come back to them later to maximize your total number of correct questions.  For 90% of students—and for Silvia and me—the Science section is the hardest section to finish in time.  The Science section has 40 questions in 35 minutes.  I completed the 32 that I found relatively straightforward first, and circled 8 excruciating ones for later.  Those 8 questions eventually took me 10 minutes to understand and complete.  They constituted 29% of my time but only 15% of the total questions.  Students who complete their questions in strict numerical order will end up leaving many easy ones blank at the end due to stubbornly getting stuck on the 8 or more questions that they found very difficult early on. 
  5. Wear a digital watch that makes no noise.  Because of the sensitive nature of timing for the ACT, having a watch that helps you monitor your time after you finish each passage is a great tool.  However, your watch absolutely cannot make noise during the test or you will be dismissed.  Approximately 15% of my room seemed to have a watch that they were actively using when I checked during the break.  Given that our proctor did not even write the start/stop times on the board as suggested, having a watch was doubly crucial today.
  6. Answer every question since there is no penalty for wrong answers.  While the ACT proctor reminds students of this at the beginning of the exam, students who don’t budget their time wisely may forget to allot time for actually bubbling in their random guesses as the final minute or two is elapsing.  Leaving answers blank is the worst sin on this list, since guesses are simply free points.  If an average student omits 16 questions versus randomly bubbles those 16 blanks in, he or she would gain roughly an entire point towards his or her composite score.  
  7. Buy an actual copy of your test booklet and your answer sheet after the test by ordering the "Test Information Release" for certain test dates.  For the December, April, and June test dates each year, you can order a copy of your test and answer sheet to be mailed to you 6-8 weeks after the test.  This is the best bang for the buck you'll get anywhere in the tutoring world -- you can see exactly what went wrong the first time.  In our experience, less than 10% of people have ever heard of this product, though it shows up at check-out when signing up online.  If you didn't order it in the past, you can order it for approximately 3 months after the fact.

Hopefully this list of tips has been helpful; feel free to print it for your student or forward this page’s URL to others who may benefit from it! (The URL is http://edisonprep.com/pages/blog.html#121011

If you have any questions about SAT/ACT preparation, please don’t hesitate to email us at edison@edisonprep.com or call 404-333-8573.

The Great Opportunity and Great Peril of a High Starting Score on the SAT and ACT
Jul. 15, 2011
By: Silvia

Many students who come to Edison Prep for tutoring assistance are fortunate to start off with a relatively high starting (or “baseline”) test score. Today’s blog post has to do with the special blessing (or curse!) that applies to this subset of students. 

Simply put, in the higher SAT/ACT score ranges, each additional question correct or incorrect has up to 250% of the impact as that same question would have had for someone with a median score.  To make a golf analogy, if a player is already doing pretty well in an ongoing tournament, a couple extra birdies or bogies could greatly change the outcome (winning the round vs. not even making the cut)!

The one key observation we repeatedly see with high-scoring students is this: regardless of the number of hours of tutoring that an initially high-scoring student chooses to do, not completing significant numbers of timed tests (that are then reviewed for incorrect answers) presents the biggest risk of backsliding in one or more sections.  

Once a student gets to the highest score ranges, each additional question can be worth 1 (or even 2 points!) on the ACT and 15-20+ points on the SAT.

An ACT Case Study: The impact of a dozen less questions or a dozen more questions correct
Let’s pretend Rachel has a composite ACT score of 21 (21 English / 23 Math / 20 Reading / 21 Science), or the national average.  Her friend Sarah has a starting score of 29 (a score of 29 in all four sections). There are 215 questions on the ACT.  Here’s what happens to each student’s score with 12 more questions correct or incorrect (3 in each section):

As you can see from the table above, the “backsliding effect” for the higher-scoring student is twice as big – 2.5 points – as that of her lower-scoring friend.  The higher scoring student also goes up 40% more points upon getting a dozen more correct (+2.5 vs. +1.75). 
* Utilized the scoring grid from the recent April 2011 ACT.
College Planning: The Early Bird Gets the Worm
June 1st, 2011
(as featured in The Silberman Team's newsletter)
By: Brian

Many homebuyers work diligently and carefully with their realtors to make sure that they buy a home in a quality school district that has the environment that they want for their children.  The same level of careful planning should go into maximizing those children’s chances for a quality and affordable college education. It is never too early to start planning for college—academically, financially, and otherwise.   

Key Tips for Helping Your Student Shine:
Grades are forever. Colleges will factor all grades earned from 9th grade onwards into admissions decisions. Unlike the SAT and ACT, there is no re-take for that unfortunate grade in freshman biology. Keeping grades up from day one puts your student ahead of the game.

Rigor is key. More than ever, colleges want to see not only that a student has done well, but has also challenged him or herself in the process. Getting a 4.0 with no AP classes would not be as impressive as a slightly lower GPA with AP classes. For example, UGA’s average admitted candidate in 2010 took over 5 AP classes.  Talk to the guidance office to see what  see what options you have for optimizing the rigor of your student's schedule relative to his/her abilities.  

Get involved. Colleges want well-rounded people that can contribute to their student bodies—academically, socially, and athletically. High school activities develop talents and social skills, and are fun! That said, don’t overdo it. A student with passion and depth in a few activities will be favored over a student who is only superficially involved with a dozen or more activities.

Prepare for standardized tests.  Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT account for 25% or more of the application’s weight at many colleges.  Beginning in 2011, earning a 1200 SAT (CR+M) or 26 ACT is also a requirement for the “Zell Miller Scholarship,” otherwise known as the “Full HOPE Scholarship.” These tests are very practicable; many students take advantage of tutoring to increase their scores and chances of admission. 
College Admissions and the Writing Section: Thoughts from a Former Admissions Officer
Feb. 25, 2011
By: Silvia

Edison Prep tutors are frequently asked about the SAT Writing section and whether it counts in the eyes of admissions officers, and if so, whether it is on an equal footing with the other two sections (Reading and Math).

Edison Prep interviewed Jason K. Lewis, a graduate of Washington University in St Louis who has a number of years of admissions experience at elite universities such as Wash U and Columbia University.

Edison Prep:
We hear from parents all the time who believe that "the Writing section doesn't count," yet many admissions offices note on their admissions blogs that they do indeed utilize all three scores in their admissions decisions. 

Jason K. Lewis:
There are several misconceptions about the importance of the Writing component of the SAT exam in the college admissions process, mainly due to the tremendous array of admissions standards at various colleges. 

The Writing section was added in 2005, and many families have older siblings who took the old version of the SAT (before 2005), or have children who applied the first year or two of the new Writing section, when many schools in fact did not yet utilize the Writing section.  "But over the past six years, here in 2011, the vast vast majority of Universities have begun using the Writing score in their admissions decisions in some capacity in their evaluation." 

Simply put, there are very, very few colleges that do not consider the Writing component whatsoever in their evaluation. 

Most colleges use one of two different standards in evaluating the SAT Writing component:
  • those that consider it to be of equal importance as the traditional Critical Reading and Math sections, and
  • those that merely want to see that the Writing score is roughly in-line with your performance on the other two sections (meaning, that it is not an "outlier" when compared to your other two sections). 

Blowing off the writing section under the premise that it doesn't count is a severe mistake; college admissions officers are always looking for reasons to admit a student, so don't give them any reason not to want to admit you. 

Every component of a student's application matters; admissions officers are not "selectively blind"!   Considering that your Writing score will be present in your application, it is always best to put your best foot forward.  The more positive and compelling aspects to an application, the better. 

To be safe, the best bet is to always speak with each individual college you're interested in.  It'll take less than an hour to call and confirm each of your school's policies, or you can find it on their websites. Do not trust Yahoo! Answers or the like for admissions information. 

So, it sounds like the Writing section counts almost everywhere.  But does it count as much as the other sections? 

There are very, very few colleges that consider the Writing component to be more important than the other two sections.  One can contrast this with the Math section, which is commonly weighed more heavily by many math and engineering programs. 

Many large, public Universities employ a mathematical formula when making admissions decisions, due to the lack of manpower when having to evaluate over 50,000 applications. In these types of formulas, a high Writing score can "make up" for weaker scores in the other two sections; conversely, a poor Writing score can hurt your chances.  

Students should consider the type of University to which they are applying, and also consider their intended majors. Some colleges may want to see comparatively higher Writing scores from students with academic interests in English, the humanities, writing, or foreign languages.  On the other hand, many colleges (including highly selective private schools, large public schools, and smaller liberal arts colleges) may make admissions decisions without regard to your intended academic major.  Therefore, it is really tough to say across the board any definitive answer, which is why it's always best to speak with each individual college, and ask for help from your school counselor and your friends at Edison Prep!  

US News & World Report still lists the rankings on the 1600 point scale.  Do you foresee it changing to the 2400 point scale anytime soon?

Well, I'm not privy to behind-the-scenes discussions at the various rankings magazines, and families should always use them, if at all, as a jumping off point in their college search more than anything else.  Personally, just from a data-gathering standpoint, it does seem odd that all three sections are not reported.  It certainly gives the misconception that since only two sections are reported, that colleges henceforth only consider those two sections in their evaluation, which, as we discussed previously, is rarely the case.  It isn't very helpful to students.  I would conjecture, personally, that if the rankings guides' goal is to include information that best serves prospective students, it is simply a matter of when, and not if all three sections are reported.  Either way, students and families can always find the relevant information outside of rankings guides, such as by contacting colleges or asking their college advisors.  Just remember that standardized testing is never the only reason to consider a college, and never the only method by which colleges make admissions decisions.  

Are there reasons to study for Writing beyond just the admissions decision? 

Absolutely.  Colleges want to ensure that students who will grace their campus can express their thoughts in a clear, concise, and sophisticated manner, since nearly every course requires comprehensive written assignments.

There is virtually no academic field where writing is not of some moderate level of importance. The SAT Writing section, as well as the ACT writing section, is helpful to colleges to evaluate these qualities.   Additionally, many schools may use the Writing score (or the essay score) as an alternative to a college placement exam when slotting students into various "tracks" of Freshman English classes.

Any final thoughts?

Bottom line -- don't forget about the Writing score!  As with most things, a good score can only help your application and admissions prospects, and it is always best to have as many positive qualities in your application as possible. 

Additional commentary from Edison Prep: 
    • Since many Edison Prep students apply to UGA, a link to an Athens article about all three sections counting at UGA is here:http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/092008/uga_334391852.shtml  
    • Edison Prep tutors often receive this question: "Given the choice of 600 Reading / 600 Math / 500 Math, or 500 Reading / 600 Math / 600 Writing, wouldn't the former be better?"  We would agree; old habits die hard.  However...
    • The reason why we're confident that writing matters, especially at elite universities, is due to the admissions decisions we've seen from those who have ignored Writing relative to their other scores. One student's parent forbade us from working on Writing, despite the fact that it was by far his lowest starting score.  When he applied with great grades and an eventual 750/760/580 to his list of elite schools, he did not receive the types of admissions decisions from these Top 20 schools that should have theoretically occurred if "only the first two sections count."  
    • There's no reason for such an example to occur, especially given the fact that Writing is the easiest section to improve upon!