Monday, December 29, 2014
Dear Mr. Bradshaw:
I am a junior planning to take the SAT in January. I have been a straight-A student since first grade. I expect to score well on the test since math and English are my favorite subjects. However, I am getting two different opinions on how much or whether I should study for the test. My guidance counselor says my grades indicate I am a good test taker so I shouldn’t need to prepare. My older sister at the University of Chicago tells me I should study hard in preparation for the test. Who is correct?
The median score for the entering freshmen at Notre Dame last year was 2,150/2,400. Scores for the most elite colleges are higher. The scores for entering freshman at Harvard and Stanford last year ranked near 98 percent at 2,300. While the numerical differences between Notre Dame and Harvard are small, they may determine your chances of getting in.
Here is why.
Two hundred seventy-five points separates Boston College from Yale.
Two hundred twenty-five points separates New York University from Columbia.
Two hundred points separate USC and Stanford.
Have I got your attention?
Your counselor is right. You might be a good test taker. And studying for the test will not necessarily guarantee you’ll score better compared with someone who didn’t study for the test. You’ve invested 11 years in your education. Are you willing to take that chance? Here is an unvarnished fact: Studying for the SAT will get you better scores than you would have gotten without studying.
The key to understanding SAT is that it doesn’t necessarily test the knowledge that you learned in high school. It’s more like an IQ test. It asks theoretical questions not based on prior knowledge. You must glean information from a given set of facts in much the same way as on law school examinations.
This is called convergent vs. divergent reasoning. It is not how many possible answers can you come up with, but to arrive at a single right answer! You are looking through the facts with a microscope, not a telescope. It can be pretty daunting if you have not encountered this kind of reasoning before in a test.
It works like this. There is a story. There is a question. There are the five possible answers. Only one answer is correct. The other four answers are not correct. Three of which are fairly easy to spot assuming you have a strong vocabulary.
The painful choice is the answer that is almost correct — painstakingly, agonizingly almost correct. You think it is the right answer but it’s not, really. There is a nuanced piece of information that you missed. You argue with the test and slavishly defend your answer over the right one. You finally figure it out but it is too late. The test is over. That was the right answer but I missed it!
Not everybody has the ability to score a perfect score. Everyone can improve their score through concentrated preparation. The more you prepare, the chances are the better you will score.
My advice is to take a prep class. Study like your future depends upon it. It may very well.
Your time is valuable. Be smart. A tutor who scored 650 in CR isn’t qualified to help you crack the 750 barrier — the new 720 compared with five years ago. Remember that you are in a race with other thoroughbreds and can’t afford to waste time. You are preparing for first place, not second place.
How should I study? Like it’s Marine Corps boot camp. No TV, music, munchies.
Most students have never studied this hard. It’s like losing weight and going to the gym every day. Miss a day and it take two days to make it up. You want to raise you score by 300 point? This will work.
The SAT is like nothing you have ever studied before. I tutored the test for 15 years. After a lapse of a few years I recently took the test and was shocked that I missed a few questions. It brought back all the memories of everything I hated about the test! The subtleties are maddening.
If I couldn’t get a perfect score without studying, how can you?
Gerald Bradshaw is a resident of Crown Point and is the CEO of Bradshaw College Consulting.
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