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Changes coming to SAT test

March 14, 2014

 Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong, cutting obscure vocabulary words and making the essay optional.

Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong, cutting obscure vocabulary words and making the essay optional.

The president of the College Board, David Coleman, criticized his own test, the SAT, and its main rival, the ACT, saying that both had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”

In addition, Mr. Coleman announced programs to help low-income students, who will now be given fee waivers allowing them to apply to four colleges at no charge. And even before the new exam is introduced, in the spring of 2016, the College Board, in partnership with Khan Academy, will offer free online practice problems and instructional videos showing how to solve them.

The changes are extensive: The SAT’s rarefied vocabulary challenges will be replaced by words that are common in college courses, like “empirical” and “synthesis.” The math questions, now scattered across many topics, will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions and proportional thinking. The use of a calculator will no longer be allowed on some of the math sections.

The new exam will be available on paper and computer, and the scoring will revert to the old 1,600-point scale — from 2,400 — with top scores of 800 on math and 800 on what will now be called “evidence-based reading and writing.” The optional essay, which strong writers may choose to do, will have a separate score.

Once the pre-eminent college admissions exam, the SAT has lost ground to the ACT, which is based more directly on high school curriculums and is now taken by a slightly higher number of students. Last year, 1.8 million students took the ACT and 1.7 million the SAT.

The new SAT will not quell all criticism of standardized tests. Critics have long pointed out — and Mr. Coleman admits — that high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores. More colleges have in recent years become “test optional,” allowing students to forgo the exams and submit their grades, transcripts and perhaps a graded paper.

For many students, Mr. Coleman said, the tests are mysterious and “filled with unproductive anxiety.” And, he acknowledged, they inspire little respect from classroom teachers: only 20 percent, he said, see the college-admission tests as a fair measure of the work their students have done.

Mr. Coleman came to the College Board in 2012, from a job as an architect of the Common Core curriculum standards, which set out the content that students must master at each level and are now making their way into school.

He announced plans to revise the SAT a year ago and almost from the start expressed dissatisfaction with the essay that was added in 2005. He said he also wanted to make the test reflect more closely what students did in high school and, perhaps most important, rein in the intense coaching and tutoring on how to take the test that often gave affluent students an advantage.

“It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” Mr. Coleman said Wednesday. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.”

While test-preparation companies said the SAT was moving in the right direction, with more openness and more free online test preparation, the changes were unlikely to diminish the demand for their services. “People will always want an edge,” said Seppy Basili, a vice president of Kaplan Test Prep. “And test changes always spur demand.”

The suggested changes were well received among many educators, but Mr. Coleman’s comments about the ACT drew harsh words from an executive of that company.

“David Coleman is not a spokesman for the ACT, and I acknowledge his political gamesmanship but I don’t appreciate it,” said Jon Erickson, president of ACT’s education division. “It seems like they’re mostly following what we’ve always done.”

Philip Ballinger, the director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Washington, said he admired Mr. Coleman’s heartfelt “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach to improving the SAT and appreciated the effort to tame the test-prep industry.

“It’s absurd, and that’s the nicest thing I can call it, how much test prep has grown and how guilt-ridden parents have become about trying to prepare their kids for the test,” Mr. Ballinger said. “If this helps test prep become learning, not gaming, well, shoot, that’s great. “

Some changes will make the new SAT more like the ACT, which for the last two years has outpaced the SAT in test takers. Thirteen states administer the ACT to all public high school juniors, and three more are planning to do so. The ACT has no guessing penalty, and its essay is optional. It also includes a science section, and while the SAT is not adding one, the redesigned reading test will include a science passage.

But beyond the particulars, Mr. Coleman emphasized that the three-hour exam — three hours and 50 minutes with the essay — had been redesigned with an eye toward reinforcing the skills and evidence-based thinking that students should be learning in high school, and moving away from a need for test-taking tricks and strategies. Sometimes, students will be asked not just to select the right answer but to justify it by choosing the quotation from a text that provides the best supporting evidence for their answer.

The revised essay, in particular, will shift in that direction. Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones. In the future, though, students will receive a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.

The text will be different on each exam, but the essay task will remain constant. The required essay never entirely caught on with college admissions officers. Many never figured the score into the admission decision and looked at the actual essays only rarely, as a raw writing sample to help detect how much parents, consultants and counselors had edited and polished the essay submitted with the application.

The Key Changes

These will be among the changes in the new SAT, starting in the spring of 2016:

■ Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary definitions on the new exam will be those of words commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

■ The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze the ways its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

■ The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

■ The overall scoring will return to the old 1,600-point scale, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

■ Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

■ Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quotation from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

■ Every exam will include a reading passage either from one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 6, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe


Going back to school after break

January 29, 2014


Going back to school after break, like over summer or the holidays, can be hard. You might be sad that the days of sleeping in and having extra time on your hands are over until the next break. Or alternatively, you might be really excited to get back to school, catch up with all your friends and start your new classes.


No matter what you might be feeling, here are a few tips that can help you get back into the right frame of mind to go back to school and get motivated for the new semester or quarter.


How going back to school might affect you

At the beginning of the semester or quarter, it’s not uncommon to feel:


  • Stressed or anxious;
  • Excited to see friends again;
  • Sad or down that break is over;
  • Pressure or expectations-from yourself or others-to perform well in school;
  • Concerned about your course load.


If you’re experiencing these feelings, take time to ease back into school and do things that can help you be less stressed out. For example, even if you don’t feel like it, exercising and eating well can help.


Suggestions for easing the transition back to school


It may help to remember you’re not alone; a lot of other people are just as likely to be anxious about returning to school as you are. Here are some suggestions for making going back to school as stress-free as possible:


Set some goals for the year or even just the semester. A good way to get motivated for the new semester or quarter could be thinking about the things you’d like to achieve. These might be school-related goals, like getting good grades in certain classes, or personal goals, like joining a club or volunteering.


Once you’ve set your goals and subgoals the next step is to put your goals into action. It’s likely that having your goals broken down into smaller steps, or subgoals, will make it a lot easier for you to achieve your goals in the long-run.

Develop a plan of action

Write a step-by-step plan for achieving your subgoals, and ultimately your main goal. This includes planning deadlines for each subgoal and writing down all the “nitty-gritty” small things you can do today, tomorrow, and later on this week in order to achieve your goal and subgoals.

Case study: Liam’s plan of action

My goal: To be a competent soccer player within one year.

How I will benefit from achieving this goal?

  • I love soccer. I will enjoy it.
  • It will help me stay fit.
  • It’s sociable, and something I can do with my friends.
  • It’s a skill, and mastering it would give me a sense of achievement.

Subgoals (specific steps to achieve this goal), plus target dates for each step

  • Ask mom and dad to pay for new cleats as part of my birthday present. Target date: tonight.
  • Join a local soccer team. Target date: by Tuesday, May 2.
  • Practice with Dan (my brother) who is good at soccer, and get him to give me some tips. Target date: regularly, starting May 4.
  • Play at least three times a week (at least two afternoons after school, and once on the weekend). Target date: Starting May 24.

The nitty-gritty (things I need to do this week)


  • Talk to mom and dad about cleats.
  • Talk to Dan about practicing with him.


  • Call the local team coach and find out about membership.


  • Sign up for the team by Friday of next week.
  • Tell Nick and Steve that I want to join them when they play pick up games on Mondays and Fridays once I’ve got my cleats.

Give it a try

Choose something that you would like to achieve. Describe it as a specific goal, and include a deadline for its achievement. Then describe the benefits that you will gain, your subgoals and the steps you need to take this week in order to work towards your goal. You can do this by filling in the spaces next to the following headings:

Plan of action

  • My goal;
  • How I will benefit from achieving this goal?
  • Subgoals (specific steps to achieve this goal) PLUS target dates for each step;
  • The nitty-gritty (things I need to do this week).

Identify the obstacles

Once you’ve defined your goals and worked out subgoals and a plan of action, you’re well on your way. But keep in mind that it’s not always smooth sailing from here.

Sometimes, in spite of the best intentions and thorough planning, obstacles get in the way. Obstacles are the things that can stop you from getting what you want. They can be practical problems like lack of time, or psychological blocks, like fear of failure.

Common obstacles

Here are some practical problems you might face:

  • Not having enough time;
  • Not having enough money;
  • Not having enough knowledge or skills;
  • Stress and fatigue;
  • Parents or friends who don’t approve of your goal.

You might face psychological blocks as well, like

  • Fear of failure;
  • Fear of disapproval or rejection;
  • Lack of confidence in your ability to succeed;
  • Frustration;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Short attention span;
  • Lack of well-defined goal.

Obstacles don’t necessarily stop you from achieving your goals, but they present a roadblock. They challenge you to devise strategies to overcome them.

It’s often helpful to anticipate any obstacles that are likely to arise while you are working toward your goals, and to plan out how you can deal with them.

As an example, let’s take a look at how Casey planned to overcome her obstacles in relation to regular exercise.

Casey’s goal: To exercise at least five times a week.

Casey’s plan for overcoming the obstacles

Possible obstacle: I’ll get bored.

Strategies to overcome the obstacle:

  • Vary my exercise. (For example, try different running routes; run sometimes on the sand at the beach; take an aerobics class at the gym, etc.)
  • Talk to Dad and Sasha about training together in the mornings.
  • Listen to good music while training.

Try it out

List all of the possible obstacles that might get In the way of achieving your goal, and strategies that you can use to overcome them.

  • My goal;
  • My plan for overcoming the obstacles;
  • Possible obstacles;
  • Strategies to overcome them.

Attaining your goals

Focus on the rewards

You might feel motivated if you focus on rewards rather than the pain involved in achieving your goals. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to write down all the benefits you hope to gain.

Try to think laterally when you write your list. Besides the direct benefits of getting what you want, you might also feel the additional satisfaction of being in control, which can increase your self-worth and self-confidence.

Visualize success

Many people know the benefits of visualizing their goals—it’s a technique that many elite athletes use. Focusing on the image of swimming, or running or winning in front of a cheering crowd helps many athletes stay motivated while they’re in training. In a similar way, you can create an image of the things that you want to achieve and use it for inspiration.

Other tips

Be flexible.  There’s never just one way to achieve something. Have multiple options in mind to achieve your goals. It’s important not to put all your eggs into one basket. Investigate and plan other ways to get to where you want to get, whether it’s a college degree, job or vacation.

Get support.  It’s important to reach out and get support from others who can help you achieve your goals. This could be practical support from teachers or coaches, or moral support, from those like friends and family.

Try it out

Setting goals can keep you focused and motivated, and can increase your chances of getting the things you want. You can set goals for different areas of your life, such as your career, lifestyle, friendships, attitudes, interests and health.

In order to achieve your goals, you’ll need to clearly define what you want; set subgoals that you’ll need to achieve along the way, and follow through a step-by-step plan of action.

Perhaps people fail to achieve goals because various obstacles get in the way. Obstacles can be psychological (like boredom or a lack of motivation) or they can be practical problems (like not having enough time, money or support). When setting goals, it’s important to consider the potential obstacles and work out a plan to overcome them.



Get involved. A good way to get back into things at school and possibly make new friends is to become involved in activities or clubs. You may have been overwhelmed during your first semester or first year, or may not have been interesting in joining a club or other activity. Even if you have already made friends on your own, this could be a great time to meet some new people who share common interests with you. You might want to try a sports league, debate team, volunteer activity, student council, or fraternity or sorority. Now that you are settled into college and might feel more comfortable exploring your school’s social scene, it could be fun to get more involved.

Break the ice. It’s possible that you will find yourself in classes with people you don’t know. Other people often feel nervous about making new friends or being in a situation with strangers. Try breaking the ice by asking someone in your class to hang out after class, have coffee or join a study group. You may have gotten used to your classes and classmates in the previous semester or quarter, so you’ll have to introduce yourself to your new classmates to feel the same this semester.

Don’t stick to stereotypes. It’s often easy to identify different groups at your school: common stereotypes are jocks, hipsters, business or international students, for example. However, interacting with anyone (no matter what group they hang out with usually or what stereotype you think they fit into) can help you expand your circle of friends and become more open-minded.          

ImageExpress yourself. Expressing yourself can help you keep in touch with how you are feeling. It can also help you release a lot of tension that you might be carrying around. Sometimes, when people lose touch with how they feel, their feelings burst out in situations or ways that are embarrassing or inappropriate.

Everyone needs some time alone to reflect on feelings. Being able to express how you feel might help you make better decisions about what is right for you now.

Ways of expressing yourself

Finding out the best way for you to express yourself can be rewarding. You might find that you enjoy expressing yourself in a particular way, like painting, playing a sport, singing, drumming or even yelling into a pillow. If you don’t know which way works best for you, try some of the following suggestions.

Write about how you feel. Writing can be a useful way to explore your feelings. Some people keep diaries or journals, while others just write down whatever comes into their head at a particular moment. You might want to write a story about what is happening in your life now or make up a story based on some past event in your life. Writing poetry works for some people, too.

Play a sport.  Playing sports lets you express yourself in a physical way. There are plenty of opportunities to yell or curse or feel elated when things go well. Team sports allow you to express yourself with others and use your mental and physical energy.

Draw or paint. Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, drawing and painting are useful ways of expressing yourself. You might just want to experiment with abstract lines, sketches or colors.

Sing, play music or shout. Singing along to your favorite songs or playing a musical instrument is another way of expressing yourself. Sing in the shower or in your car. If you play an instrument or sing regularly, you might want to start writing your own songs or music to express how you feel.

Dance.  Dance is a form of self-expression, and you don’t have to be a ballerina to do it. Put on some music at home or go out and dance as much as you like in whatever way you like.


Have something to look forward to. Sometimes it can be helpful to plan ahead so that you have something to look forward to. It can change your mindset completely. You may want to plan to catch up with friends after school or do something special over the weekend. And there’s always next break to look forward to!




Grading Basics in the U.S.

October 9, 2013

The first month of school has come and gone. It has been a whirlwind of activity—flying countless hours to the U.S. and not only meeting your family for the next 10 months, but also moving into their home in an unfamiliar city, state, and country. And now, now you are attending a new school, which has a system that you have never encountered before. To ease the stress, let us remind ourselves of resources that we may refer to in order to ensure a successful transition into a school in the U.S.

Grading Systems        

There are two basic types of grading systems: Rank-Based Grading System, often referred to as grading on a curve, and a Criterion-Referenced Grading System.

                Rank-Based Grading System:

                Students are in competition against one another, and a certain percentage of students will be   assigned to each grade in the class.

A (Excellent)

Top 10% of Class

B (Good)

Next 20% of Class

C (Average, Fair)

Next 30% of Class

D (Poor, Pass)

Next 20%

F (Failure)

Bottom 20% of Class

                Criterion-Referenced Grading System:

                Grades are based on individual performances on a set numeric scale, which is usually 100 points.

A (Excellent)

95% – 100%




90% – 100%

B (Good)

85% – 95%

80% – 90%

C (Fair)

75% – 85%

70% – 80%

D (Poor)

65% – 75%

60% – 70%

F (Failure)



For more details on each grading system, check out the U.S. Department of Education website.


Q. What am I being graded on? A. Use your resources!


At the beginning of the school year, each teacher provided you with a syllabus for their class.  A syllabus is an outline of the class, which includes: course description, requirements (exams, homework, participation, papers, etc.), evaluation/grading rubric, course calendar (due dates), required materials (books), etc.  The syllabus is an important document to hold onto during your course of study and will often be referenced as the course progresses.

Student Handbook

It may seem that the student handbook your school provides has an overload of information. However, it is a very valuable source about anything and everything school-related. The handbook will have information including, but not limited to: athletic requirements, attendance requirements, dress code, grading system, transportation, etc. To specifically find information on grades, turn to the Table of Contents. In the Table of Contents, you should see a section titled: Homework, Testing, Grading or something very similar, which will direct you to the appropriate page. If the school did not provide a physical copy of the handbook during orientation, there will be an online version on the school website.    


Be confident, proactive and go outside of your comfort zone to communicate with your teachers. Lee Seedorff, a faculty member at University of Iowa, stated in an interview on international students in Voice of America, that his, “number one suggestion would be: always seek out sources of help. Whether it’s talking to your professors or your teaching assistants if you are struggling in a class, talking to our office, your academic advisor.”

Teachers will expect you to participate and offer your thoughts and opinion on the topic of discussion. In Faculty Focus, Krishna Bista offers her perspective as a former international student , “it was hard for me to believe that my classroom speaking activities were graded.” Teachers are not necessarily concerned with you providing the correct answer. They want to see that you are offering some type of insight on the issue, putting forth effort, and are motivated to do well in your academics!

If you do not fully comprehend an assignment, the grading process, or cannot find the information in your syllabus or handbook, be sure to approach your teachers. Teachers are often available immediately after class for a couple of minutes and would be more than happy to provide clarification on a particular assignment. Perhaps you want to meet with your teacher for a longer period of time— schedule an appointment during their free period or after school.


There is no need to become overwhelmed about entering a new school. Be sure to use your available resources to their full extent— they were given to you with reason!







Bista, Krishna. “A First-Person Explanation of Why Some International Students Are Silent in the U.S. Classroom.” Faculty Focus. Accessed October 9, 2013.

Guest Post. “Helping International Students Through: 5 Questions with International Student Advisor Lee Seedorff.” Voice of America. Accessed September 19, 2013.

“Structure of U.S. Education: Education and Assessment.” U.S. Department of Education Accessed September 19, 2013.