Monday, June 15, 2009
Given the sheer number of SAT tutors out there, it's easy to become overwhelmed. With dozens of tutors claiming Ivy League pedigrees and perfect/near perfect scores, it can be hard to know who is truly capable of raising your child's scores and who is simply a hack. Below are some general guidelines you may want to take into account when looking for a tutor.
1) High scorers are not automatically great teachers
Scoring well on the SAT and teaching someone else to score well on the SAT are two entirely different skills, and possession of one does not necessarily imply possession of the other. Many people who score very well on the test have virtually no idea how they did so -- and anyone who has never had to dissect the exam and develop specific techniques for working through various kinds of questions will most likely be unable to explain to someone else how to develop those skills. In addition, a tutor who has always taken their critical reading/reasoning skills for granted and who has always been surrounded by other people with similar abilities, may be unsure of how to deal with a student who has never had the opportunity to develop certain basic competencies. A good tutor should be able to deal with any given student at the student's level. They should also be able to explain fundamental concepts, as well as their direct application(s) to the exam, clearly and effectively -- tutors who teach only tricks are unlikely to raise students' scores very much, and students should never feel uncomfortable asking for clarification. A tutor should also have some ability to connect with students on a personal level; the more comfortable students feel, the faster they will improve.
2) Choose a tutor based on what they can do for you, not just on what they've accomplished personally
A tutor should ideally have a track record of improving students' scores over an extended time period of time. It's very nice to be able to say that your child's tutor has a Harvard degree, but unfortunately that doesn't mean they'll be able to get your child into Harvard. If you can't look past a tutor's pedigree, you may be selling yourself seriously short. The best math tutor I've ever met -- one who's been tutoring the SAT for years and who routinely helps students raise their scores well over a hundred points -- is a brilliant teacher who graduated from Brooklyn College, and he has helped many, many students at top high schools gain admission to Ivy and Ivy-caliber schools. In the end, it doesn't matter where a tutor has gone to school if they are not capable of communicating material in a way that students can understand.
3) Advanced degrees don't really matter
Again, what's important is that a tutor know the test cold -- most of what a teacher learns in an M.A. or Ph.D. program will have little to no relevance in terms of teaching SAT skills. The material is at an advanced high school/beginning college level, and anyone beyond that level who can explain it effectively can be a good tutor.
4) Brand-name test prep companies are not all they're cracked up to be
While companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review have a good deal of the test-prep market cornered, the quality of their teachers varies drastically. In general, tutors are only required to be able to score a 650 or above on each section (whereas many independent tutors have scored in the 770-800 range) and must follow a standard script. There is little room to deal with the various strengths and weaknesses of particular students, and in fact, most tutors are actively discouraged from doing so. In addition, many of their materials do not adequately reflect the nature or the difficulty of the questions on the real SAT. If you are considering going through an agency, find out how much freedom tutors have in implementing their curriculum and what kinds of materials they use. Even agencies that boast significant average score improvements often emphasize a one-size-fits-all approach from which tutors are not allowed to deviate, and which may or may not work for a particular student.
5) Use the College Board book (8 Real SATs) only
Any tutor who uses books such as Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron's, etc. and who is unable to point out the flaws in the questions/model exams does not know the SAT well enough to be tutoring it and may very well waste students' time (and your money) covering material that will not actually appear on the exam
6) Most tutors are better at explaining either Verbal or Math, even if they have top scores in both
Many can fake it in their weaker section, but the best will admit that they're simply not qualified to teach both. You're much better off hiring someone who truly specializes in each area than you are hiring someone who has a less than 100% ability to explain certain concepts. If you're paying a lot of money, you deserve to get someone who knows the material cold.
7) Tutoring sessions must occur on a regular basis
A couple of sessions here and there won't work for a student who needs to raise their score by 100+ points per section. Skills must be consistently built and consolidated over an extended period of time.
8) Tutoring is a joint effort
60-90 minutes per week with a tutor by itself is not enough. Students *must* be willing to practice on their own in order for their scores to rise. A competent tutor should not be held responsible for a student's failure if the student has failed to put any substantial effort into improving.
9) Be aware that tutoring companies often pay their tutors only a fraction of what they charge their clients
Tutoring companies, particularly the larger ones, routinely keep 50-75% when their tutors are the ones doing all the work. Eliminating the middleman is cheaper for everyone.
Posted by SATVerbalTutor. at 3:14 PM
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Although the SAT has traditionally been the preferred exam on the coasts and the ACT the preferred exam in the Midwest, this situation has been altered somewhat over the past few years. More and more students on the East Coast are choosing to take the ACT, either in addition to the SAT or as a replacement. Though the ACT has acquired a reputation for being an easier (or at least a more straightforward) test than the SAT, the reality is not so black-and-white.
While some students may clearly favor the ACT over the SAT or vice-versa, many students do in fact perform about the same on both. In any case, students who have significant issues with the underlying verbal skills that are tested on both exams -- drawing inferences, understanding relatively sophisticated prose and academic writing, identifying main ideas, and applying correct usage and punctuation -- will find both exams extremely challenging, even if the ACT Reading Comprehension section may include more questions based on factual information included in the passages. Likewise, students who read constantly and possess exceptional grammatical and analytical skills will probably find both exams equally manageable. Students in the middle, however, may find it useful to take both exams, see which one suits them better, and then focus on preparing for the preferred test.
The ACT, for those who are unfamiliar with it, contains four sections:
1) English (Approximate equivalent of SAT Writing)
45 minutes, 75 questions testing grammar, mechanics, usage, and rhetoric
60 questions in 60 minutes; unlike the SAT, contains trigonometry
3) Reading Comprehension (Equivalent of SAT Critical Reading)
35 minutes, 40 questions (4 passages, 10 questions each)
Passages always appear in the same order: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, Natural Science
35 minutes, 40 questions
Deals primarily with the interpretation of data in the form of graphs and charts; no outside knowledge is expected.
Scored 2-12 (2 readers, each of whom assigns a grade from 1-6)
Unlike the SAT essay, the ACT essay score is not factored into the overall score.
Scoring: Each multiple-choice section is graded on a scale of 1-36. The overall composite score is the average of the four sections rounded to the nearest whole number. Thus, if a student scores 25 English, 28 Math, 26 Reading, and 30 Science, the composite will be 27 (27.25 rounded down).
The ACT is score choice, and students have full discretion in deciding which scores to send. Only composite scores can be sent, however (i.e. students cannot send only the English or only the Science section of a test), though most colleges will consider students' highest score on each subsection. So if an applicant scores 25, 27, 22, and 29 on Test 1, and 26, 28, 21, and 27 on Test 2, his or her scores will be considered as 26, 28, 22, and 29.
While it is generally true that the ACT is a less deliberately tricky test than the SAT, it is not necessarily easier -- the pitfalls are simply different.
The English portion tests many of the same concepts as the SAT Writing section, although the presentation most closely resembled SAT "fixing paragraphs." Five passages are given, each with 15 questions testing both grammar and rhetoric (transitions, sentence order, paragraph order, inserting or deleting relevant information, style and tone).
While many of the grammatical concepts covered overlap with those covered on the SAT (comma usage, subject-verb agreement, sentence fragments, gerunds, antecedent-pronoun agreement), the ACT does place a stronger emphasis on punctuation (colons, dashes, and apostrophes) and the use of transitions such as In addition, Although, However, Moreover, Nevertheless, etc.
In general, the biggest hurdle that ACT-takers face on the Reading Comprehension section is speed.
Unlike the SAT Critical Reading, on which passage lengths vary, each ACT Reading passage contains approximately 75-100 lines (the equivalent of an SAT long passage) and is accompanied by 10 questions. And unlike SAT questions, which are placed in chronological order of the passage, ACT questions are ordered randomly. The first question, for example, may concern information mentioned in line 65 and the last question information in line 10. In addition, questions often do not include line numbers, a technique that often forces students to spend significant amounts of time hunting through passages in search of relevant information.
In order to complete the section, students must complete each passage/question set in 8 minutes and 45 seconds -- a length of time that many students find simply too short. When considering SAT vs. ACT, students should take into account the speed at which they read. Slow readers are likely to confront significant timing issues regardless of how perceptive they may be, whereas fast readers who remember facts easily are likely to find the material relatively easy to manage.
While the makers of the ACT have been trying to bring their Reading Comprehension questions more in line with the kinds of reading questions on the SAT, in general ACT questions are still more generally oriented toward locating specific details or facts than toward making inferences about information not explicitly stated in the passage or about the function of particular pieces of information (although these kinds of questions certainly still do appear).
There are two differences between the SAT and the ACT essay. First, students have 30 minutes to complete the ACT essay as opposed to 25 minutes for the SAT essay. While this may seem like a minor difference, in reality it affords many students the chance to write a full conclusion and develop all of their points more fully.
Second, ACT essay questions tend to be more specific and concrete than SAT essay questions. While the SAT asks students to reflect on abstract ideas or moral values such as the value of community or the nature of heroism, ACT questions often focus on the kind of issues that high school students are likely to encounter, e.g. "Should schools implement a dress code," or "Should students be required to maintain a C average in order to obtain their driver's license?" Students are therefore automatically limited in their use of evidence, whereas SAT students can support their arguments with virtually any literary work or historical event. While it is therefore more difficult for test-takers to walk into the test with a set of pre-formed examples, it is also much easier for them to think up examples or evidence on the spot.
Posted by SATVerbalTutor. at 1:37 AM