FAQ

TRENDS IN TESTING AND ADMISSIONS

Because you can’t use SAT/ACT at all, and admissions demographics have become highly politicized, it’s getting harder. You have to do great in school, describe a host of meaningful pursuits in your Activities List, and write four 350-word essays that provide articulate and thoughtful expression of your character and passions.

The UCLA and UC Berkeley Engineering programs, in addition to being extremely competitive, are all-or-nothing, meaning that if you aren’t accepted to engineering then you won’t be accepted to the campus at all. Choice of major matters, including choosing campus-by-campus for UCs. Most UCs make it nearly impossible to switch majors into STEM. This prevents people from gaming the admissions system by declaring a less rigorous major and then changing it. However, you can declare a different major within STEM, such as Civil Engineering rather than Mechanical Engineering, and then transfer (within the school) later.

The UC doesn’t publish its admissions statistics for each regular undergraduate major, but it does publish them for transfers. This provides some guidance:

https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/about-us/information-center/transfers-major

Also see SuperTutor on this:

 

 

 

Most applicants still submit their scores. Test-optional colleges don’t get any less competitive. Their representatives, when parents and students come to visit and inquire as to whether they should submit their scores, say things like “submit them if you’re proud of them”. This implies a cutoff point below which you shouldn’t be proud and above which a score would seem to make you shine. For those students who choose not to submit scores, the burden of judgment shifts instead to their essays, transcripts, and extracurricular activities. Only if you’ve done fantastically in all other areas can you realistically compete as a test-optional applicant.

The UC system has, for now, but this hasn’t made it any easier to get in. If history is any guide, standardized tests will evolve—in name, format, timing, content, and being computer-based rather than paper-and-pencil. But considering that competition for university admission continues to rise, they seem unlikely to go away. Coming out of the pandemic, many colleges are tending back toward requiring exams. See 5:24 from this discussion at Ilumin Education:

Successful college admissions will now require even more legwork on the part of the applicant. This includes a roster of activities and personal interests, articulated through essays that clearly state your goals. Applicants will need to research universities and connect the majors and tracks offered with their own academic and intellectual interests.

Many students will likely try to stand out by pursuing advanced projects on their own—such as authoring a published paper, working in the founding of a non-profit or company, or some other impressive undertaking beyond the scope of school. For example, applicants intending to study design, architecture, fine arts, or performance are expected to have a portfolio that shows what they’ve done thus far. Here are a couple helpful YouTube videos on the subject:

 

It depends on a variety of factors and it’s generally hard to say without trying both exams. Since the contents largely overlap, many highly-motivated students take both. It’s most common for students to take the SAT first and then also take the ACT. When you come in for a consultation, I will show you in detail how the tests compare. SAT/ACT Chart: https://blog.prepscholar.com/act-to-sat-conversion . Since you have to take the PSAT in 10th grade, most of my students begin with the SAT in mind, most likely for the December test in the middle of junior year. After that, if they want to pursue the ACT, they may do that exam as well. Math makes up about half of the SAT but only about a quarter of the ACT. Since Math is more teachable, this generally makes the SAT more likely to improve through fundamental academic instruction—that is, explaining and drilling specific and discrete types of problems.

Timing tends to be tougher on the ACT—especially the Reading and Science sections. So if you are granted extra time on both the SAT and ACT, then you should probably focus on the ACT. (Note that the application process for extended time is separate.) You can get a feel for the timing by trying one of the timed computer-based tests for free here: https://pages.act.org/cbt-for-international.html .

The new policy of ACT section retakes has been postponed.

The College Board considered implementing, in 2019, a single number attached to every test taker’s score reports that would approximate his or level of privilege. This was to be based on a suite of factors that included, among other things, the percent of students receiving free lunch at the student’s high school, the percentage vacancy of real estate in the local area, and the median family income of local residents. The system, originally called “Adversity Index”, was changed in name to “Environmental Context Dashboard”, and then changed again to “Landscape”. It still has obvious problems. For example, the child of a single parent barely scraping by and living in a small apartment would receive a high “privilege score” if he or she happened to live in a wealthy town. Conversely, well-off parents could theoretically send their children to less competitive high schools, or even move to less affluent areas, in hopes of gaming the Landscape to their advantage. According to the College Board, the Landscape is not an adversity score, but rather “simply helps admissions officers better understand the high schools and neighborhoods applicants come from”. The information will be broadly available to colleges later in 2020, with the added promise that students and families will soon be able to see their own Landscape data. For more information see: https://pages.collegeboard.org/landscape

Questions about Basics and Logistics

I focus on teaching the content of exams—for example, the actual individual topics of mathematics and grammar—rather than just tips for taking the test. There is no substitute for this old-fashioned learning, and meeting one-on-one means that instruction will be efficient and customized. A “crash course” or short-term group class, while better than nothing at all, does not compare to detailed instruction from an experienced private tutor.

Absolutely not! We all have different skills and personalities. If you’re ready to pay attention, I will teach you and guide you to colleges where you fit.

There is no package and no upfront cost. You pay only for my time, plus a flat fee to take each proctored exam (usually Saturdays at 9AM). You receive a monthly invoice and most people pay via Venmo, Zelle, or Paypal.

While I don’t profess expertise in a large number of individual colleges, I can help you assemble a balanced list of Reach, Target, and Safety colleges. I can also draw on a large pool of previous students to show you examples of a completed suite of college essays. 

We establish a standing 75-min weekly appointment time and repeat unless there is a conflict. In some cases—such as when a student begins the process late—we may meet twice per week.

Yes. If you want to get a top-notch SAT or ACT score, you have to do a lot of practice. Most outstanding students do multiple hours of work each week in addition to our weekly meetings. Then the most demanding time commitment comes when they complete full-length practice tests on weekend mornings in addition to continuing with weekly meetings.

Mainly just the willingness to focus and the desire to improve. And your TI-83 or higher calculator. I have designed my own instructional materials and refined them carefully over the years. I have also carefully archived a large number of official SAT and ACT exams that I share with students digitally. You should always use the real, actual exams from previous years to practice, rather than materials from Kaplan or Barrons or Princeton Review etc.

It varies widely, but I’ve seen diligent students improve by several hundred points on the SAT. Often just the experience of sitting for practice tests and then reviewing them entirely goes a long way.

No, but it is rare for students not to improve meaningfully—in both understanding of the content and confidence in test-taking—over the course of months of weekly meetings and completion of several timed practice tests.

We have periodic family Zoom sessions to discuss the whole process. You will also see the corrected and scored tests results in a shared Google Doc folder. This is professional service based on personal commitment, and parents of previous students will tell you that I kept them informed clearly and effectively oversaw the entire undertaking. 

Yes! I have taught adults—often previous high school students—to take the GMAT and the GRE, and to apply for advanced degrees. I have taught younger students (middle school) to prepare for the exams to apply to private or religious high schools (SSAT/ISEE/HSPT). I have even taught troubled teens under house arrest to achieve their high school equivalency certificate (CHSPE).

I commonly tutor Calculus AB and BC, as well as providing exam preparation for AP English, AP US History, and AP Spanish. I also assist adults with résumés, cover letters, statements of purpose. If you have an academic project, I will let you know whether I feel my expertise qualifies me to help.

Calculator programs can come in handy, especially QUADRATIC. See a guide here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfVdPfxrmpwnt

 

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