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Test Prep 101


Test Prep Columns by Neil Bernstein

Test Prep 101 #1:  The SAT and ACT are not going away
Neil Bernstein, Salem News, September 30, 2016

Each year, critics of the SAT and ACT herald the growing number of colleges, especially selective colleges that no longer require the SAT or ACT. Many students and parents ask, “Is it still necessary or important to take one or both tests?”

The short answer is yes. The longer answer has three parts:

  1. Information you may not know
  2. Prospects of opting out of the tests
  3. Benefits of taking the tests

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Test Prep 101 #2:  4 ways to ‘skin’ CATS
Neil Bernstein, Salem News, October 21, 2016

The SAT and ACT have four ways to skin CATS. And your students are those CATS ‒ College Admissions Test Students. And the testing agencies are indeed adept at wielding the testing scalpel.

In order to get a spread of scores (the best being a “bell” curve), it is necessary to cause students to give incorrect answers and to skip questions. In short, it is crucial to keep students flummoxed.

What are the four ways to skin CATS?
‒ Knowledge
‒ Skills
‒ Reasoning
‒ Timing

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Test Prep 101 #3:  The SAT vs. the ACT ‒ neither is easy
Neil Bernstein, Salem News, November 18, 2016

Students and parents offer a recurring refrain when referring to the SAT and ACT: “I like this test better than the other one.” Or, “This test is easier for my student than the other one.”

Like and dislike is a personal matter, and many students seem to prefer one of the tests over the other. Their preferences may reflect something they heard, or it may reflect the differences between the two tests. Fair enough.

Similar results

Conversely, and in spite of everything mentioned in the rest of this column, the great majority of students do not fare substantially better on one test than on the other.

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Test Prep 101 #4:  The new SAT and the new scores
Neil Bernstein, Salem News, December 9, 2016

OK, your student received his or her new SAT scores. Congratulations, and good luck understanding the scores.

Getting the scores is actually the easiest of the tasks. Just log into your student’s account, go to the scores page, and click on the “DOWNLOAD REPORT” box. You now have a 2-page PDF. More details are available on the web pages, but the downloadable report is sufficient for most purposes.

The most important scores are the “Section Scores”: “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” (analogous to the old “Verbal” score) and “Math.” These scores are each presented on a scale of 200-800. The sum of those scores is the “Total SAT Score,” on a scale of 400-1600.

So far, they seem to be quite similar to the old scores, but presented on the old scale of 1600 (circa 2004). These are, however, scores of a different scale.

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Test Prep 101 #5:  Upping the content difficulty on college admissions tests
Neil Bernstein, Salem News, January 20, 2017

Both the SAT and the ACT have significantly increased the level of difficulty of their respective math sections. Also, since the recent changes in the SAT, most of the substantial content differences between the tests, especially those in math, have been eliminated.

However, the ACT has recently further upped the ante in math. It now includes more tricky questions, more geometric reasoning questions and an occasional statistics, matrix or sequence question at or above the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) level.
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