SAT Registration Warning for Fall 2014 Test Dates!

We have received early notice that there has been a surge of Chinese students taking the SAT in Singapore in October and perhaps into November as well.  For a number of reasons, the test is not administered in China to Chinese citizens so there is a mass migration every test date to take the test elsewhere.  Due to problems with the timing and availability of the test in Hong Kong this October, the open test centers in Singapore for October and November are now full.

What does this mean?  College Board (who administer the test) have stated “We are working diligently to create additional SAT capacity in Singapore to serve students in the country.”  How this will lead to more seats in Singapore is still pending and we will keep updates listed on our website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed – stay tuned.  We at Testtakers are very concerned with this problem and have been tracking the matter closely and has been advocating strongly for students in Singapore to have a chance to take the test.

Note that if your school is a closed test center (SAS, UWC, etc.) count yourself lucky and take the test at your school.  If you aren’t among this privileged few, you will have to take the test at an “open” test center which will hopefully have more seats open up soon.  It might not be a bad idea to register for the December test date just to have that in reserve.  If you want to get pro-active, please contact College Board asking for an update.

Recent News from American Universities...

For those following American university admissions, there have been three noteworthy news stories recently.  Taken in isolation, each might indicate that “top” American universities are getting nearly impossible to get into.  However, when viewed together in context, they indicate that American universities are getting better across the board.  Here are the stories:

1)   The SAT is changing!

Test takers will face a new SAT from May 2016.  The changes were finally clarified with some details on question type and test format, and were hardly unexpected.  The SAT has been losing ground to the ACT for years and the new test is a bit more “ACT-like” at first glance.  The new version will have less arcane vocabulary, more questions on contextual usage and rhetorical style, data analysis, a more straightforward but conceptually more difficult math section, and a longer (optional) essay.  If you or your child is in the class of 2015 or 2016 there is nothing to worry about here as the new test will only come into play for the class of 2017.  If your child is in the class of 2017 then make sure your son or daughter works hard in school, tries to develop a reading habit (Hunger Games is better than nothing!), and do  nothing whatsoever SAT-specific until Junior year.  Worrying about the test before a full version is even released places undue pressure on students and takes away from all the time and energy which can spent doing more interesting and rewarding things.

 2)   Student gets into all 8 Ivy League schools!

A very bright and well-rounded student named Kwasi Enin from Long Island applied to all 8 Ivies and was surprisingly accepted by all of them.  Remember that the Ivy League is just an athletic conference of 8 old schools in the North East, but full credit to this young man.  He was clearly an exceptional student but he also was a varsity athlete, sang, played multiple instruments in the orchestra, acted in school plays, was in student government, and in general epitomizes the type of applicant that top schools strive to attract.  He was in the top 2 percent of the class (not valedictorian) and scored a very strong 2250 on his SAT (not the 2300-plus that parents often think is a prerequisite for any top school).

3)   Stanford admit rate hits 5%

Joined by many peer schools, Stanford was the first large undergraduate college to have a 5% admit rate (5.07% actually, but who is counting decimal places?).  Out of 42,000 applicants, 1 in 20 got in – these numbers are probably worse for students from Singapore as Stanford is perennially a top choice.  What isn’t immediately reported is that the number of applicants four years ago at Stanford was about 32,000.  Top schools haven’t gotten markedly better in the last 10 years, the number of applicants to them has grown tremendously.  It is easier (but still onerous) to apply to American universities and all students are applying to more schools.  Emerging Asia also has its eyes on top American universities; China sent 235,600 students to America in 2012-3, up 29%.  Add to this the American demographic phenomenon of the “baby boomer bounce” and top schools simply can be much more selective than they used to be.  Admit rates are a core component to the silly college rankings that come out each year so it is rare to hear a university telling a student not to apply.  Finally, a US$90 nonrefundable admissions fee paid by 42,000 applicants turns into real money, real quickly.

The good news!

With the SAT changing, news of a student accepted by all 8 Ivies, Stanford (and others) are getting even difficult to get into, what is the good news?  Quite simply, taken together these stories indicate that the American university system is in rude health.  A change to the SAT means that schools will look much harder at other factors during the transition period to the new test and these things you have more control over.  These other factors are clearly what helped Kwasi Enin and the lucky few who got into Stanford and peer schools.  To stand out from the crowd of top GPA and top SAT/ACT students, students need to embrace sports, music, drama, chess club, whatever, to set them apart.  Harvard states that 80% of applicants would do just fine at Harvard, and a good 74% of them aren’t accepted and go to another great school.  As a result of this nearly all American universities have been able to be more selective and the level of student and instruction keeps getting better every year.  Have a look outside silly top 50 rankings at schools that are a good fit and please, do something useful with your life over the summer holidays other than test prep.

(PRESS RELEASE) The New SAT: how it will impact pre-university students in Singapore

April 17, 2014
Singapore
For immediate release:

Introduction:

Yesterday, the College Board released a 208 page document broadly outlining what the new SAT will look like in 2016. The document spent about half its length justifying the changes with a range of studies and surveys and the other half detailing what each section of the test should look like. Tellingly, the changes are justified by the College Board as addressing the perceived failure of American high schools to adequately prepare students for collegiate-level work. How changing the SAT will help address this failing at the teaching level isn’t entirely clear, but the overall tenor of the change it to make the test more “real world” and less esoteric in order to do a better job of predicting university success – one of the core stated aims of the test. Rather than get tied up overly with a debate on the failure of education in the United States and the specific rationales for the changes, we will focus here on what the basic changes are – and how they will directly impact the performance of students in Singapore in the three different pre-university education systems: American High School (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge O level/A level/Integrated Program (A Level).

When and What:

The changes will come into effect with the May 2016 test date. This means that the new test will only directly impact students looking to start university in September of 2017 – high school class of 2017 for those on the North American school year. There will be a certain amount of overlap of scores between the new and old test when the time comes and College Board will publish equivalency tables to aid university advisors and college admissions departments in comparing scores on the two tests.
The biggest change is a reversion to the 400-1600 scoring scale from the current 600-2400. The old Reading and Writing sections are being effectively merged to one section now called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The math will remain with some key changes (see below) and the essay portion will now be optional. The MCQ portion will now have 4 options instead of 5 and students will no longer lose points from wrong answers.

Evidence Based Reading and Writing:

The focus on this section will turn slightly away from vocabulary and grammatical mastery towards reading for context and analysis of rhetorical structure. All of the questions are passage-based with the elimination of sentence completion and the familiar grammar MCQ of the old Writing portion. The passages will cover a range of different disciplines each test and also have a range in perceived difficulty from 9th grade equivalent up to those deemed college-level. The vocabulary-based questions will make up about 20% of the total but all of them will be what we call “vocab-in-context” and are intended to steer away from the traditional esoteric “SAT words” and more towards words with more nuances of meaning – an example give was the different meanings of the word “dedicate” as used by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. The grammar questions are akin to the old paragraph improvement questions and suspiciously similar to those questions on the ACT – with students being asked to improve the grammar of selected sections of passages as well as making changes to improve the rhetorical and logical flow.

  • For AP & IB Students:

Students who do four years of high school English should have no problem with the passages and the focus of questions based on context rather than isolation may benefit students who have a good ear for grammar but don’t know the specific rules. Students who do a science/math heavy course mix in the IB will likely find this section a bit trying. Of course, all students who are bookish and read regularly should excel at this section – as such students normally excel in most things academic.

  • For A Level Students: 

The minority of students who are doing Literature will be well-equipped with the reading skills and knowledge to do well on this section. As the passages will also include history and the social sciences (as well as the hard sciences), students with a background in economics or history will be comfortable with the type of passages they are likely to see. However, students in the pure science stream who do not pursue an active reading habit will generally have difficulty as the level of English in the passages will often be beyond what they encountered in O Levels and their science and math courses wouldn’t expose them to this sort of writing. The vocabulary questions will prove difficult as well as simply memorizing long word lists won’t be nearly as effective as the questions are going to focus on nuance of meaning gleaned from context rather than a strict dictionary definition.

The Essay:

The College Board has finally gotten wise to the prevalent practice in Asia of memorizing canned essays and then just tweaking the intro and conclusion to fit vague prompts. Rather than ask a student’s opinion on something, students will now be asked to analyze the argument of a persuasive passage. Over 55 minutes at end of the test, rather than 25 minutes at the beginning, test takers will be asked to comment on the efficacy of the author’s argument with a special focus on the rhetorical devices used to fully flesh out an argument. Students will have to not only fully understand rather nuanced, high-level passages, but will also have to demonstrate a mastery of commentary that borders on literary criticism. The essay will be scored by English teachers in the States and this score will be reported separately, not aggregated with the Writing score as is the current practice.

While not required for all test takers, the essay will probably be mandated by most competitive universities. The essays will likely be able to be viewed by admissions committees and will provide an unvarnished view of the applicant’s writing ability. This will at least partially address the problem of students seeking undue (and inappropriate) help in “editing” their admissions essays. 

  • For AP & IB Students:

Students in AP Literature or Higher Level IB Literature are going to excel in the essay. Students who aren’t strong readers will have problems in crafting something coherent as they will have issues in fully understanding the passage to be analyzed. The longer time will allow for more thought, and that will be expected to be transmitted to deeper insights on an essay that will be outside of the 4 to 5 paragraph norm.

  • For A Level Students: 

As with the Reading and Writing portion, students who are doing A level Literature will be entirely comfortable with this task as it mirrors what they would have been working on. Those in the science stream will be seriously challenged by this task as it will be entirely foreign to what they have been working on in school and involves thought and deep analysis on the rhetorical level.

Mathematics:

The new math section will not be nearly as much of a change compared to the Reading and Writing. There will be one shorter section where students will not be allowed a calculator, and a longer section where students will be encouraged to use one. The SAT is largely dispensing with the logic and game-type questions in favor of more straightforward math questions with a turn back towards algebra and real-world word problems with concepts such as rates and ratios at the fore. The breadth of the concepts tested is being reduced, but the depth of presumed knowledge is being deepened with an introduction of quadratic equations and trigonometry to the test. Rather than simply solve equations for “x”, students will be asked to generate an equation or even a system of equations which would describe and match a real world situation of applied math. The test taking techniques of Backsolving or Plugging In will still have some efficacy, but not as much as on the current test, though reducing the answer choices to 4 from 5 makes things easier on eliminating obviously wrong answers. Data analysis will get much more emphasis with 28% of the questions involving charts or graphs with real data from scientific studies.

  • For AP & IB Students

Good math students will not have trouble with this section. The concepts are nothing beyond what is taught in a normal 11th grade math class and the elimination of the “weird SAT” math questions now on the test mean that students who are good at solving equations and are marginally numerate won’t have issues. For weaker math students, this section will be more challenging than the current math section. In particular, many students are completely lost without a calculator and the calculator-free section will have many shaking in fright. Students will have to re-master concepts like mixed numerals, long division, and converting fractions to decimals – tasks long since relegated to their friend from Texas Instruments.

  • For A Level Students:

Math and science stream students will excel on this section. Even more so than the old math section, the new focus on more straightforward math with some science-like problem solving will mirror their normal curriculum. For the Arts stream students, there are no concepts beyond what is taught in standard O Level math so our recommendation would be to take the test in year one instead of year two in JC while math skills are still relatively fresh.

Conclusion:

Our thoughts above on the new test should be taken with a large dollop of salt as it is based on the very incomplete data now available from the College Board. Once a full test is released we will be able to comment more fully. The basic summary is that good students will do just fine on the new test and don’t have much to fear, while students in a math and science stream will probably struggle mightily in the non-math portion of the test. We at Testtakers will be fully ready for the advent of the new test. Many of the changes seem to have been motivated by a desire to blunt the effectiveness of SAT preparation, but the planned provision of free SAT prep with www.khanacademy.org seems to contradict that claim. We love Khan, but online learning can only be so effective and there is no replacement for a good teacher in a classroom with excellent materials.

About the author:

Jeremy Craig is the founder and managing director of Testtakers Singapore. He has been teaching SAT preparation since 1993 and has taught nearly 10,000 students over that time. Testtakers is the leading SAT preparation provider in Singapore and works with most of the leading international schools in Singapore and several more in the ASEAN region.

What the new SAT changes REALLY mean for Singaporeans

Our Program Manager, Khalid Barnwell, was asked by a Straits Times reporter what he believed the upcoming changes to the SAT would mean for Singaporean test takers.  Today's Straits Times feature stated the following:

"Mr. Khalid Barnwell, an instructor from Testtakers Singapore, added that doing away with negative marking -deducting points for wrong answers - will encourage students to take more risks in attempting questions instead of leaving them blank."

The overall slant of the article was that the new changes to the test will benefit Singaporean students.

But!  Khalid's actual comments that were sent to the reporter said a little bit more, and it didn't paint as rosy a picture for Singaporeans:

On the elimination of points deduction for wrong answers:

In a way it's nice that points will not be deducted for wrong answers.  In general, based on my experience, students in Singapore are risk adverse, and tend to leave questions unanswered if they do not absolutely know the correct answer, as opposed to those who actually benefit overall from aggressively, yet intelligently guessing.  Since test takers in fact do suffer a penalty for not answering questions due to the Raw Score calculation of the SAT (unanswered questions reduce one's maximum possible score), the fear of having points deducted will go down and as a result lead to students taking more of a chance and in general attaining higher raw scores.  Note, however, that the Scaled Score algorithm will adapt to reflect this effect and will reduce the score boost effect for all."

On the essay:

"The essay will be optional, and that at first glance will be a boon to Singaporean students, who generally struggle with the persuasive essay style that now features on the test.  However it could be the case that certain universities will still ask for the essay, for it serves other purposes than gauging writing ability (it also serves as a way to determine whether admissions application essays submitted are actually the student's essay, or the work of hired application essay writers).  In general, universities in the US (especially the most selective ones) like to have as much information about the applicant as possible, so I wouldn't be surprised if a significant number of schools will still ask for the essay as part of their admissions requirements.  So the gain to Singaporean test takers will increase, but only for those who apply to less selective schools that tend to require less. But for those who are applying to a range of schools in the US with varying selectivity in order to increase their chances of getting into at least one school, they will probably have to do the essay anyway just in case at least one of those schools require it.

Since the essay apparently will focus on building an essay based on provided passages and information sources, students will have an easier time formulating valid arguments and analyses, for they will not have to think of their own examples and references to back up their claims.  This will benefit Singaporean testers who usually struggle in this regard."

On grammar:

"It remains to be seen how much grammar will feature in the test, but if the grammar-oriented questions are eliminated, that will definitely benefit Singaporean testers, who struggle with some of the issues particular to American English and to "SAT English" - concepts that the test likes to include that technically is correct but is not commonly used, even to Americans."

On vocabulary and reading:

"The higher-level vocabulary usage is only minor and won't affect the test that much, for they feature in relatively few situations on the test.  There are many lower and medium-level words that occur frequently on the test and they will probably continue to appear.  The problem for Singaporeans is that many of these words are not used often here and have multiple meanings based on context.  I wouldn't be surprised if vocabulary-in-context questions become more prevalent in the new edition of the SAT, which is bad news for Singaporean testers.

The Reading passages will feature more passages from US History, so those who are not particularly familiar with such passages and their historical relevance will suffer a disadvantage.  This is therefore a potentially significant problem for Singaporeans, who know little to nothing about such subject matter."

On the Math:

"Singaporeans typically perform relatively well on the Math section, and since the scope of the test will narrow in the future, I expect performance levels to increase for Singaporean testers.  Reducing calculator use will have little effect on performance for Singaporeans, for technically Singaporeans don't really need the calculator for the current SAT.  Note that in general the Singaporean students who take the SAT are among the highest performing students academically in the country (as opposed to the population in the US who take the test, which includes a greater cross-section of all students)."

Final thoughts:

"Overall, the SAT has undergone numerous tweaks over the years, yet the need to navigate through the pitfalls and traps that the SAT creators love to include will remain in some sort of fashion.  There are many concepts covered in the test that are and will remain American in nature and usage, and the need for Singaporeans to familiarize themselves with such differences in grammar usage, vocabulary, writing style and, now, cultural relevance will endure.   Those who are familiar with these differences will possess a competitive advantage at the end of the day."

The University Admissions Interview

The admissions interview is an extremely important part of the application process to American universities.  Besides the application essay, the interview is probably the only way to get the university admission office to get a sense of your character, personality, passions and concerns.  Most elite universities make an enormous effort to interview every undergraduate applicant to their school regardless of where the applicant lives.  In Singapore, as in almost every country, applicant interviews to American universities are facilitated through school visits, education fairs and alumni volunteers.  Since competition for top university places is, in general, more fierce in Singapore than in the U.S., applicants located outside the U.S. must place a high importance on making the best impression possible in order to separate themselves positively from their peers.  Here, we highlight a few of many suggestions to make that winning impression and get the most out of your interview.

Know the school:

A university interviewer is aware that applicants apply to many other schools.  However, he or she wants to see that the applicant is particularly interested in attending the university, and for the “right” reasons.  Stating that a school is prestigious is NOT a good enough reason.  Explain why: research the website and hardcopy brochures.  Know the types of majors and courses offered and what departments (faculties) and professors are famous for their research and teaching.  Find out what qualities of the school sets it apart from others.  Even more important, through questions and comments, you should make it clear that you have done the research.

Know thyself:

Hopefully you did a written self-assessment before you even started the application process.  With your self-assessment, researching schools becomes more tailored and less exhaustive.  Do you know which teaching style, academic and extracurricular activities interest you.  Have you thrived in small sized classes?  Enjoyed doing volunteer work? If so, what kind of work?  Do you thrive in situations when surrounded by students with similar or differing backgrounds and perspectives?  See whether the school website and brochures (or third-party analysis of the school) answers these questions.  If not, be sure to raise them during the interview.

Set an agenda:

You should have a list of questions that you want answered, but are not easily found on the school website. All interviewers are closely involved with the school, either as an employee of the school, or as an alumnus or alumna, or both.  They serve as a rich resource of information about the school and can often answer the not-frequently-asked questions you compiled while doing your research.  Most importantly, market yourself as best as you can.  Have a list of core aspects about you that you want the interviewer to know before the interview ends.  Prove to the university that you and your interests are a fit for the school and it’s environment while showing your academic and non-academic uniqueness.  These attributes contribute to the diversity that is sought for and cherished by American universities.  Diversity, a somewhat misunderstood concept, does not refer solely to racial and ethnic identity, but to what you, as a student, can uniquely contribute to the school community.

Be professional:

The interview is casual, but the interaction with the interviewer before and after the interview should not be.  Play it safe and treat the admissions interview process similar to that of a job interview (that means you should groom yourself and dress business casual). Emails written in all lowercase lettering with SMS-style language leave a poor impression.  Any emails to the interviewer should be written with the principles of standard written English.  Check for grammar and spelling mistakes (especially the interviewer’s name!) before sending your message.  Defer to the interviewer as to the place and time of the interview, unless you have a compelling reason. Sending a follow-up message thanking the interviewer after the meeting sets you apart from the others.