SAT Philosophies For The Modern Era of College Admissions

1) The SAT is a decent test of skills and knowledge. It is not a great predictor of success after college and is a dubious predictor on in-college success, but since competitive four year colleges have made it a major factor in their admissions decisions and merit scholarship awards, it makes sense for students seeking admissions at highly regarded colleges to prepare for the SAT.

1A) SAT prep should not replace any efficacious part of a high school curriculum or wholesome extra-curricular activities.

2) The SAT is a decent standard to help in college admissions decisions, given disparities in high school quality and students’ choice of courses.

3) Colleges overweight the SAT because other measures, like GPA, moral character, and school competitiveness, are difficult to compare.*

4) Overweighting the SAT gives a great opportunity to high school students who lack strong grades, or are at less-highly regarded schools.

5) Overweighting the SAT means students with good grades and at good high schools have to protect them with a solid SAT (or ACT) score.

6) The SAT is not a measure of FIXED knowledge, skills, or “intelligence”. (Ask any of our SAT students who have raised their scores 200+ points after two months’ preparation.)

7) The SAT is coachable. Almost everyone improves with training. The question is how much.

8) To be blunt, but real: almost anyone seeking a competitive college who doesn’t attempt to master the SAT (or ACT) is gaining time but sacrificing long-term fulfillment. We say this owing to the number of adults who rue not trying harder in high school, and to the trends that elite colleges carry MORE punch in hiring and grad school decisions than ever before.

9) Though we try to make it otherwise, mastering the SAT is not particularly fun.

10) We don’t drag out the learning. A few intensive weeks with us, or once a week for a full semester is all, if you do it right. Consider it a part-time summer job; or consider it an extra honors course for a semester. Test prep has become one of the responsibilities of the college-bound teenager.

10A) We don’t drag out class time either. A semi-militaristic attitude towards promptness and missed classes helps everyone. We offer extra help, and encourage parents to prompt students to use Help Line

11) The best time to study for the SAT is when the student has the most free time, often summer.  The second best time is during a long vacation. The third best time is when the student has a light semester. **

12) All other things being equal, the best time to study is early – the summer before junior year, junior fall, or junior winter.  Do NOT wait to complete Algebra II – the Algebra II needed on the SAT can be learned in a dedicated SAT course.  Holding a great SAT score before senior year makes college visits and college decision-making easier.

13) High school success does not automatically translate to SAT success.

13A) Even for good students, the SAT Math is difficult because it asks familiar concepts in unfamiliar ways.

13B) Even for good students, the SAT Verbal is difficult because asks grammar questions in unfamiliar ways, and demands reading skills many students have never used.

13C) Even for good students, the SAT Essay can be difficult because it asks for impromptu opinion-based essays, with a severe time constraint (50 minutes to assess, plan, compose and edit).

14) The SAT is no longer a socio-economically biased test. It does test things related to American culture, but that is the culture familiar to almost every American high school student. Though the SAT may be unfair to the recent immigrant, colleges tend to assess immigrant applicants by other standards anyhow.

15) Highly-ranked colleges are inappropriate for some students. We simply want every child who might find it appropriate to have all options open. The US News Survey has a highly flawed methodology, but since it is the most-recognized ranking, students seeking competitive colleges should consult it.

16) Highly ranked colleges merit your consideration BECAUSE JOB RECRUITERS and GRAD SCHOOLS value that high ranking. Irrespective of the training students receive at the top-ranked colleges, the imprimatur of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, UChicago, Duke, Stanford, and CalTech carries significantly into the market for the first job, for graduate school, and perhaps even for promotions thereafter. Ask recruiters who unabashedly state that they have discrepant thresholds for interviewing candidates based on their school. Ask Nicholas Lehmann, who said in a PBS Frontline interview – “a good school puts you in the way of more opportunity”.

17) For students willing and able to prepare for the SAT and do their college search early, applying Early Decision is sensible so long as there is no need to shop among financial offers. According to The Early Admissions Game, at some schools the effects of applying E.D. (early decision, which is binding) give an applicant a 34.8 percent boost, which corresponds to a 100+-point [on a 1600 scale] SAT advantage”.

18) The PSAT is worth preparing for if the student needs a strong score for self-esteem, has a decent shot at National Merit semi-finalist recognition or would be greatly aided by a minority recruitment program. Otherwise, the PSAT is a useless test: colleges do not see your scores, and it is not a great reflector of the SAT. It is significantly shorter, with fewer hard math questions, and lacks the essay tested on the SAT. We recommend to most students that their prep time target the SAT, and not be concerned about PSAT. If in early September, you are testing well enough in practice to have a realistic shot at National Merit Finalist, then we push hard on it.

19) Plan to take the SAT at least twice following study. All colleges take the better score, and most (by our survey 95% of competitive colleges) cherry pick and combine the best Math on one sitting with the best Verbal on perhaps a different sitting. This is known as “superscoring”, which is always advantageous to students taking the test multiple times. Thus there is no downside to a second test. However, if you can start early enough to complete your study by the first test, you could be “one and done”, which feels nice.

20) The overweighting of the SAT in admissions decisions has caused anxiety and pressure. The best way to alleviate that anxiety is by being a well-prepared student.

* Since the 2016 change, many colleges are not overweighting the SAT. ACT scores, however, carry a high weight with these colleges.

** Scheduling the SAT Test
We have one piece of advice that far too many students don’t follow, and on this one we know we’re right: START EARLY. Colleges do not penalize an applicant for taking the SAT two or three times. The SAT is not a test that rewards skills acquired only in senior year. The only academic background needed to take advantage of the Ivy Bound course is a semester each of Algebra I and Geometry. Since most students have this by tenth grade, there is nothing wrong with taking the SAT test at the end of 10th grade or the beginning of 11th. We like to see kids sitting on solid SAT scores by winter of junior year. That frees them to concentrate on their academics in junior spring and senior year. It also frees them to take the courses they really want to. Strong scores earned early allow students more fervent participation in the extra-curricular activities. The confidence a strong SAT score bring just may allow the kids to have FUN, which we’re in favor of too.

All other things being equal, if you need to prepare for the SAT, do so when you have the most time. SAT test preparation is work. A good SAT prep class will demand as much time as an honors high school class. Thus, students need to beware of an overload and schedule their prep time accordingly. If it’s during the academic year, avoid committing to a full course of study in the same semester as playing a varsity sport.