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Friday, March 30, 2018

Dear Mr. Bradshaw

I am a high school junior and a B and C student. While I do not plan to apply to Ivy League schools I would still like to get into a good university. My PSAT was only average, and I am signed up to take the SAT on May 1. Is there any chance I can improve my scores by taking a prep class? My counselor said studying one or two hours a week is enough. My English teacher does offer a tutoring class in the summer.

In your opinion, how should I prepare for the test?

Signed, Concerned Student

Devote ample study time to SAT



Dear Concerned Student

In my experience, B and C students often benefit the most from practicing for the SAT. I suggest that you take the summer tutoring class. State schools received a record number of applications this year due in part to top students opting out of expensive Ivy League schools to stay closer to home, where it is less expansive. That has pushed up admission requirements and sometimes students with lower GPAs end up having to opt for a lower-level school. Keep in mind, I am writing from "inside" the SAT world. I tutor the SAT. I know many deans of admission and understand how they evaluate students. The admissions office serves several masters and one charge is to look for top students in order to boost the school's rankings. The higher the scores of admitted students the easier it is to attract high scoring students in following years. Many employers also are now asking to see SAT scores and some companies have cutoff scores for potential employees. If you are an average student, doing well on the SAT will give them something else on which to judge you other than grades. So, let's not kid ourselves. You need to know how to take the test if you want to score higher. The key to conquering the SAT is commitment. Keep in mind that studying for the SAT is not like anything you've ever done. Think of it as a chance to get ahead by being more committed than other students. The "rules of engagement" for Bradshaw College Consulting calls for tutorials to start five weeks before the test date. Five weeks out of your life is not too high a price to pay for success.

Students should study a minimum of two hours per day, seven days a week, for a total of 70 hours. That includes one or a two-hour session with a tutor, if possible, each week. They may use any SAT prep book or online course; the College Board offers both. Bottom line, there are no shortcuts; it must be intense immersion, like learning a foreign language. If you're having trouble studying, start by looking at the answers to test questions. You need to figure out why the right answer is right. Yours is not to reason why at this point, but to understand. The way to psyche out a system is by figuring out how the system works. The minute you see something in one of the possible answers that's wrong, eliminate it. It is very hard to write a multiple-choice test. To make a wrong answer sound plausible and wrong, the test writer must make it sound correct, then throw something wrong in it. Look for the wrong word, for a concept that is all of a sudden out of place. If an answer looks great, except for one small thing, it's wrong. The one that doesn't have anything wrong in it is right. You are not looking for the best answer; you are looking for the right answer that is, the "not wrong" answer. Eliminate the ones you know are wrong, then guess among the remainders. It's better than guessing blind. Keep moving through the test. If a question is too hard, come back later. Understand that the test developers sometimes like to confuse people by having five (a) answers in a row

Rules on guessing First, go with your instincts. Second, if you have no instincts, go with the letter you've used last. Third, once you've picked a letter to guess, always guess it.

Keep a study journal This is the only way you will be honest with yourself about how much time you study. Write in it every day and list the number of hours you studied and how many tests you took. I know from tutoring students that if you don't write it down, you likely won't stick to the plan. My biggest fear is that you might end up taking a course taught by people who still are trying to figure it out. If you take a course, be bold and ask the instructor how he or she scored on the test. If the tutor balks at telling you, that should tell you something. Look for tutors who have scored in the 95th percentile.

Gerald Bradshaw is an international college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting in Crown Point.

Tags: Colleges SAT Preparation

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