Pizza via Flickr: rob_rob2001
Pizza and Breadsticks: Buyer Beware. Both these things are delicious, but be careful, especially late at night when you’re out with friends or studying into the wee hours. These things are killer, and they are The Freshman Fifteen’s evil henchmen. They will also probably make you feel a little sick if you eat too much of them, especially breadsticks.
Don’t Let a Bad Decision Wreck a Whole Day (or Week). If you and your best friend decide that what you need at midnight is waffles with whipped cream and strawberries from the 24-hour diner, and you wake up the next day feeling remorseful, just put it behind you. Don’t let the next day turn into either a punishing gym marathon or a slippery slope of “well, I already ate that, I might as well have pizza AND breadsticks for lunch and make a day of it.” That happened, it was probably pretty enjoyable, and one meal couldn’t possibly have made an appreciable difference in your weight. That was last night, this is now, so go back to trying to make healthy decisions, just like you did before your midnight breakfast.
Superscoring on the SAT has been a hot topic for a while now, so by now you probably know that it has nothing to do with just doing super well on the test (although that certainly doesn’t hurt). With superscoring, schools look at your best scores for each section—critical reading, writing, and math—regardless of whether those highest section scores are from the same testing date or not, and add those three best section scores up into a “super score,” which will be higher than any of the actual scores you got on the SAT tests that you took (unless all your highest section scores happened on the same test/test date).
For students thinking about applying to an independent school, a boarding school, or one of New York City’s specialized high schools, the tests required for application can seem like a confusing jumble. Between the ISEE, the SSAT, and the SHSAT, it’s hard to tell which schools need what, and what the difference is. The SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test) is only for the eight New York specialized high schools that require it, so today, we’re going to focus on the two most commonly confused tests in that category: the ISEE and the SSAT.
SAT Essay and ACT Essay
Many people aren’t sure how to approach the essay section on the SAT Test and the ACT Test. It doesn’t seem as straightforward as the other sections on an SAT or ACT, they think—you can’t drill it with flashcards, the way you can when you work on SAT vocabulary prep; you can’t memorize rules the way you do for SAT or ACT grammar prep, and it certainly isn’t as black-and-white as SAT math prep, ACT math prep, or ACT science prep. In some ways, that’s right—the essay is different than the other questions. It’s not multiple-choice, and all it gives you is a prompt question and a couple blank pages. Instead of being graded by a machine, essays are graded by two readers—usually teachers—who each give a score between 0 and 6. The scores are then added together to form a score between 0 and 12.
However, when you break it down, an SAT and ACT essay is really nothing to be afraid of. The readers are not expecting you to be Shakespeare, they’re not expecting you to be the next great American novelist, and they’re not expecting perfect penmanship. All they want to see is that you’re able to choose a side on the issue they present you with, and write a clear, concise essay that fully supports the argument you’re making. ACT essay prep and SAT essay prep are possible and necessary, and if you do solid prep work, and little structured brainstorming before you start writing, you can write a fantastic essay in the 25 minutes provided. Here’s how:
In your SAT essay prep or ACT essay prep, one of the best things you can do is come in prepared with some great examples. “But,” you may say, “how can I think of examples ahead of time if I don’t know what the question is yet?” Well, that’s true, you don’t, but you do have access to lots of past ACT essay questions and SAT essay questions, and if you take a look at them, in any of your books or online, you’ll start to see some patterns. SAT essay questions tend to take the form of a general question about society or human nature that can be answered many ways, like “Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities of the nation in general?” SAT essay prompts ask you to “Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.” ACT essay questions are a little more specific, and a little more relevant to the life of a teenager, like “Should schools adopt dress codes?” ACT essay prompts ask for your opinion, and ask you to explain it. Both ACT and SAT essay questions give you a lead-in to the question in which they present two possible points of view on the issue, which you can choose from when you start writing.
So, how can you prepare some examples? For the SAT essay, you can start making charts of four or five great examples from history and literature. Books you may have read in school like Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth are great for finding examples because they all have larger themes about society, personal responsibility, and how things can go wrong. Do yourself a favor, and fill out your chart with all the details you might want to have at your fingertips—you don’t want to be struggling to remember who wrote the book you want to use, or mix up the characters names. You can also note down some larger themes from each book, so it comes to mind when you’re thinking of examples.
As far as history goes, write down a few events or people who you know a lot about. There’s no point in trying to use examples that you’re not very familiar with—if you don’t know much about George Washington, it’s not going to help you very much to try to write about him. Instead, look for examples and events you’re knowledgeable about (maybe something you had to write a paper about in school) that reflects larger social themes. Civil Rights Movements, and polarizing characters in history who worked for social change are always helpful examples. Don’t forget recent history/current events—occupy Wall Street, for instance, would be a great example in an essay about taking responsibility for issues in your community, whether you want to argue that that it did work, and you should take responsibility, or that it didn’t work, and you shouldn’t. Just make sure you remind yourself of all the dates and facts beforehand.
Both the SAT essay questions and the ACT essay questions ask for examples about things that happened to you, and while it’s a lot easier to bring these to mind when you’re taking a test than it is to remember a book you read two years ago, it’s worth spending a little time thinking about. Particularly for ACT essays, it’s helpful to think about the question from multiple points of view: yours, maybe your parents or teachers, and perhaps the administration at your school, the local government, or the federal government.
The most helpful thing you can do, at the end of the day, is PRACTICE. When you’ve seen as many of these essays as we have, you realize that in some ways, they all start to look alike, and many of your favorite examples can be used again and again. Practice writing essays beforehand; practice using detailed examples, and developing a point of view. If you put in the prep time, and get used to brainstorming and writing a great essay in 25 minutes, when test day rolls around that essay will be a piece of cak
With extended time becoming more and more common on the SAT and ACT, this is a question that has been coming up a lot. If you’re struggling with the timing constraints of the SAT or the ACR due to slow processing (you can’t read quickly enough to absorb what’s in the passage and then answer the questions in the given amount of time) or working memory issues (you struggle to remember the information you read just a few moments after you read it), you may want to consider getting tested for a learning difference.
To do so, you’ll need to meet with a licensed neuro-psychologist who can run you through the full range of tests in order to determine if your issues warrant any testing accommodations. (If you need help finding a neuro-psychologist, feel free to contact us—we would be happy to suggest a few with whom we’ve worked in the past.) The testing process is intensive, and sometimes takes several days to complete, so some neuro-psychologists will run a “screen” (about half of the tests) to determine whether or not completing the testing process is justified. If it is, they will then run the remainder of the tests, and write a comprehensive report (these reports usually take several weeks to turn around).
This report should feature all the data from the testing process, along with a biographical case study of you as a person and as a student (including the reason you came in for testing), and make specific conclusions about your learning profile. Most importantly, if you do deserve testing accommodations, the narrative of the report must unquestionably support an absolute need for accommodations. In the conclusion, the neuro-psychologist must make a specific diagnosis as to what learning disorders you may have, and designate an industry-accepted code for the disorder (such as “315.0 Reading Disorder,” “315.2 Disorder of Written Expression,” “315.1 Mathematics Disorder,” or “315.4 Developmental Coordination Disorder”).
The entire process, from initial testing to receiving the finish report takes at least two weeks, if not three or four, and beyond that, the college board can take ten weeks to process and respond to your application (the ACT is a bit quicker, at about six week). So, if you’re considering the possibility that you might qualify for testing accommodations, it’s a good idea to get started ASAP!