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Category: Standardized Test

Insider’s Guide to Admissions: Standardized Tests

SAT, ACT, IELTS, TOEFL, APs, AHH! No that last one wasn’t an acronym but it was an attempt at capturing the frustration and confusion students experience as they go through the complicated and sometimes overwhelming process of applying abroad.

This Insider’s Guide to Admissions is here to give you guidance and direction. This particular article is covering Standardized Tests – what are they, how are they different and who needs them.

SAT: For applicants to the US, the SAT has become a bit of a household name. However, the SAT recently changed evolving into the New SAT. This New SAT has a few cosmetic changes (e.g. scored out of 1600 now instead of 2400, doesn’t have negative marking any more) and some content changes (e.g. no more Writing section). It basically consists of two sections – English and Mathematics. Internationally, the test is offered six times a year – January, May, June, October, November and December.

Pro Tip: While the essay is Optional, don’t skip it. A number of colleges require them including the University of California colleges (UCLA, UC Berkeley etc.)

ACT: An alternative to the SAT, the ACT has been gaining popularity in India of late. While SAT is out of 1600, ACT is graded out of 36. Unlike the SAT, the ACT covers three basic areas – English, Mathematics and Science. The science section in ACT is easy to master, unless you completely hate science. In that case, the New SAT is your savior! Anecdotally, English is easier on the ACT while Math is not really harder but faster. The test is offered six times a year – February, April, June, September, October and December.

Pro Tip: Whether it’s the ACT or SAT, plan to give your first attempt in Grade 11. Most people take 2 attempts to get their idealized score.

Choosing between the ACT and SAT: Let me make one thing very clear, SAT and ACT are equally accepted in universities abroad. If you want a competitive college application, you need high test scores. And if you want high test scores, you need to take the right test. Most importantly, you should focus all your efforts on taking one test. So, you really need to choose between SAT and ACT, and that too well in time because time is precious. Ideally, you should take a Diagnostic or Practice Exam in each one of the two exams. Compare the scores and then decide. Check out our blog post on this for more tips www.collegecore.in/blog

Pro Tip: SAT and ACT not for you? You’re not the only one. In fact, there are a number of universities that are going SAT-independent, eliminating the requirement to do the tests. Check out the list on FairTestPrep.org

TOEFL / IELTS: TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) as the names suggest, are tests to gauge your command over the English Language. These tests are Visa Requirements for the most part. TOEFL is more popular with U.S. and Canada while IELTS is what the U.K. colleges prefer. Requirements differ by colleges – some colleges specify that if you have over 650 in the SAT English section the requirement is waived, others waive it for U.S. Citizens living abroad while still others will require it no matter what. The test is offered fairly regularly. You should check the official websites for the dates.

Pro Tip: ETS, the TOEFL organizers have begun offering a free online course to study for the test. While on the other hand, the British Council, the IELTS organizers often hold in person workshops to train you for them.

While we’ve covered the major ones, a few other tests you to keep in mind:

PSAT & Pre-ACT: Say you’re in the Ninth or Tenth grade, and you have your sights set on the United States of America as your intended college destination. You have all the plans to get yourself ready for the mad rush of Grade 12 but why not start earlier? The PSAT or Preliminary SAT offers the opportunity to get a head start on the preparation for the standardized tests. Moreover, the most competitive summer schools often request the PSAT or the SAT as a part of the evaluation. The test is only offered in October each year.

The Pre-ACT is new, in fact it only was announced in 2016. Its function is similar to the PSAT and like the ACT is an alternative to the SAT, the Pre-ACT is an alternative to the PSAT. It’s yet to come to India though. Read more about it on the ACT website.

SAT Subject Tests: While the SAT and ACT focus primarily on English and Math, the SAT Subject Tests are subject specific. SAT Subject Tests are available in 20 subjects (12 are in various languages), and allow a student to be able to show their academic strength in specific subjects. Some universities require Subject Tests, others recommend them, while still others don’t want them at all. Sometimes, universities will require specific tests depending on the major you’re applying for. For example, Engineering majors are often required to give the Physics and Math Level II SAT Subject Test.

APs: APs or Advanced Placements are the ‘New Kid on the Block’ at least in the Indian Standardized Tests landscape. The exam takes place in May each year and is offered in a number of different subjects – 37 subjects as of 2016 – so you can show your interest in Psychology or Economics which is not offered as a Subject Test. It’s graded from 1 to 5, 5 being the highest. The results of these exams are widely accepted and since they are considered “college-level” are used by colleges for college credit AFTER a student has been admitted. However, for Indian students applying from a curriculum that doesn’t offer APs in school, the results are not considered for admissions. Check out more on specific pros and cons and whether you should take APs on our blog www.collegecore.in/blog

Should you give the PSAT?

psat-image-2

Say you’re in the Ninth or Tenth grade, and you have your sights set on the United States of America as your intended college destination. You have all the plans to get yourself ready for the mad rush of Grade 12.

The timeline has been set and you are working your way up, taking one step at a time ensuring that you have not nothing left when the time comes. Goal in sight, engines at the ready….BUT WAIT! What do you mean you won’t start till later?

Heard about a test called the PSAT?

“Now what is that?” you wonder. You thought the standardized tests were to start by Grade 11. There are so many tests you are worried about and you so wanted to keep the test-taking to the minimum. You already have enough stress and now this!

The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT. It is an exam that assesses problem-solving skills and subject matter learned in high school in two areas: English and Math.

It happens once a year in October and Grade 9 or 10 is the best time to take it. (Note, you can take it in Grade 11 as well but this counselor recommends using Grade 11 for the SAT / ACT attempts rather than PSAT) Conducted by the College Board, which administers the SAT, this exam is very useful for students in preparing then for SAT and other similar multiple-choice standardized tests for admission to foreign or Indian universities.

“But wait, will it only ‘help’ me prepare for the SATs? Then I don’t need it. I will anyway join some coaching institute in Grade 11 for this purpose”

Before you jump the gun and make a decision, let’s list down the benefits first:

1) The PSAT Score Report provides very detailed and meaningful feedback about a student’s strengths and weaknesses in the skills tested on the PSAT. So, even before you walk into your first SAT Prep class, you know what you need to focus on!

2) You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT. This helps you perform better on standardized tests like the SAT / ACT since they aren’t part of the Indian Education system.

3) Students can see how they performed compared to other students who took the test. Which is an excellent Reality Check!

4) Get started with My College QuickStart and Student Search Surveys to create a SAT Study Plans and learn more about colleges. You know it, and we know it, it’s never too early to start.

5) Creates a competitive application to Summer Schools! While the Benefits of Summer Schools is a whole other post, however, it’s important to note that for the most competitive summer schools, PSAT or the SAT is often requested as part of the application!

There, you see, having access to such powerful tools at an early stage can help students plan for college more systematically. Most of all, taking the PSAT will definitely help to reduce SAT anxiety.

In fact, the success of the PSAT has encouraged the ACT to announce the Pre-ACT. Its function is similar to the PSAT and like the ACT is an alternative to the SAT, the Pre-ACT is an alternative to the PSAT.

Aren’t you glad you got to know about it well in time? And the proof that taking the PSAT pays off is already out there: the CollegeBoard found that the students who took the PSAT scored 145 points higher on the SAT than their peers who skipped the test. So go, get started!

5 Takeaways: Simplifying the Application Process Workshop

IMG_1749

Earlier this week, as it is tradition, we had panelists from our soon to be College Freshmen class give their words of wisdom to the class of students applying this year and starting college Fall of 2017.

And so, a HUGE Thank you to the Class of 2020 Panelists who came to give their Words of Wisdom to the Class of 2021 in our “Simplifying the Application Process” Workshop at the CollegeCore Office!

Our Panelists were:

– Aditri Bhagirath – Carnegie Mellon University

– Anahita Sehgal – UCLA

– Ananya Mittal – Princeton University

– Aryaman Sethi – University of Chicago

– Rishab Srivastava – UC Berkeley

– Shankar Salwan – Northwestern University

– Shivam Bajaj – University of Southern California

– Simran Arora – Brown University

ICYMI: We had pages and pages of notes but since we can’t share them all, so see below for 5 Key Takeaways from our students.

1) Make a Balanced University List:

Balanced2

Enthusiastic parents and ambitious students may say “Ivy League or nothing else” but be realistic about it.

Dreams are dreams for a reason. You may feel right now that you want to apply to all the Ivies even if you have no chance of getting in, but each rejection hurts a lot. You need targets and safeties to balance that.

And we mean targets too. Applying to 8 Ivies and 1 safety like Drexel isn’t good either. What if you only got into Drexel? Would you go there?

Plan out Early Action and Early Decision as well but understand where it gives you an edge versus where it may be better to apply Regular Decision.

2) SAT / ACT Tips

SAT

The sooner you finish your SAT / ACT testing the better. Plus a reminder to Self-Study. No one can teach you to take the SAT, you have to put in the effort. The tutors have tips and tricks and ensure practice. Remember you are taking the test and not your tutor so the effort has to come from you in the test and before the test.

But don’t put too much pressure, the SAT / ACT isn’t the be all and end all. An excellent SAT score won’t save you if your school grades aren’t there. Remember, the SAT is a reflection of one day of exams and not of four years of prep like your grades. So balance your efforts.

3) Get cracking on your Essays

Start soon. You may write one CommonApp essay or you may write three. The most difficult part is starting. Remember you’re trying to stand out, so don’t make it generic, it needs to be about something important in your life. Don’t harp about your achievements, the rest of the CommonApp will cover that. Instead talk about challenges and motivations. Don’t be clichéd. If you are talking about a somewhat generic topic (like sports or community service), bring a new perspective like talking about your motivations why rather than narrating what happened. Don’t get too much feedback. Each perspective will confuse you and will be distracting. Do keep your focus narrow. This is a “Slice of Life” essay and a small experience and not story of your entire life. Follow us on Facebook because keep posting the latest essays available.

4) Take Charge of your Interviews

Unlike job interviews, these interviews are informal. They aren’t subject specific and can feel random at times. Prepare the questions but don’t rehearse them otherwise you will sound stiff. Balance. Guide your interviewer: You can guide the interview to discuss things you want to talk about. Suppose you want to discuss your dance and your interviewer chats about Bollywood. This is what you can do.

  • I’m a huge Bollywood dance fan!
  • But my favorite is Jazz which I’ve been learning for the last three years (showing your accomplishment)
  • In fact, I was really interested in the Jazz dance troupe at XYZ college (connecting to the college)

But don’t talk the entire time, let your interviewer talk to and let it evolve into a conversation. Remember to be prepared with questions at the end.

5) Don’t Overdo the Recommendations

There are school recommendation and external recommendations. Each University allows a different number of external though they all want 1 Counsellor recommendation and 2 Academic Teacher recommendations. But just because the college allows more, doesn’t mean you should send more. College Admissions says heavier the file, the faster it sinks. Only send them if they add value and aren’t repeating the same thing over and over.

Mantra of the Day: BALANCE

Balanced

Don’t spend all the time on school, or all the time on applications

Don’t overdo or underdo extracurriculars

Don’t make crazy unrealistic University lists

Balanced3

Make the most of your Summer – Edition 1 (Grade 12 / Rising Seniors)

SummerIsComing1

Temperatures rising and vacation approaches and as much as we want our days to devolve into lazing by the pool and watching Game of Thrones (Season 6 woohoo!) we want to give a few great tips and hints to college applicants. So this, is the first of a Three Part Series on how to make the most of your summer!

This first edition is for our 12th Graders and Rising Seniors. Before you know it, October will be here and Early Decision deadlines will be upon us. Colleges like knowing what you’ve done with your summer, so get yourself up and go out and conquer!

1) Common App essay

Essay Writing

I don’t have to repeat this to the seniors who have already started, but the Common App essay is an essential part of the process. Topics for 2016-17 came out early January  and seniors, if you haven’t already started, get a jump start on your essay! The topics are the same as last year, and are, as always, eliciting personal thoughts, opinions and stories. Whether it’s writing about a time when you stood up in class and challenged a popular opinion on the way a student election was going, or stepped up to become an adult, taking on responsibilities that transformed your perspective, the colleges can’t WAIT to know. A CommonApp essay is never one and done, and the summer is the perfect time to work on your drafts, give yourself the time to work, rework and rework again.

Essay Writing 2

If THIS is how you’re feeling, reach out to us! We’re doing essay brainstorming sessions with our students every week.

Pro Tip: Carry a notebook or start a notes section on your phone. The most fascinating essays we’ve ever read have been inspired at the oddest moments – on a plane when cut off from all wi-fi and external distractions, a student reflected on an illuminating trip to Haridwar or when the metro broke down and a student stepped back to observe the people around him.

2) Recommendations

Summer means school is closed! And while you as students are looking at filling your free time, so are your teachers. Before school closes, you should absolutely request your teachers for Letters of Recommendation – THEY ARE FREE! Remember, your teachers are probably writing letters for dozens of students and in case you’re applying early and hoping that your teacher can get your thoughts in on time, give them time to work on it.

Recommendation

Pro Tip: While it’s a good idea to get a teacher who can comment on your academic readiness for the major you are applying for, it’s more important to choose someone who really knows you. Remember to help your teachers by giving them a copy of your resume or list of activities, maybe even filling out a page of anecdotes reminding them of a time you participated in class, interacted with them on something important (whether inside or outside the classroom) or went above and beyond.

3) Standardized Tests

SAT Koala

The last few attempts of the SAT and the ACT before the Early Deadlines (Nov 1) are upon us. You have two attempts of the SAT (June & October) and two attempts of the ACT (June & September) left to finish up your Standardized Tests and Subject Tests. The summer is a great time to work on them and make sure you nail the exams. If you’re still unsure, read up on the New SAT vs the ACT.

Pro Tip: Both exams are marathons, not sprints. We aren’t SAT / ACT coaches but, as third party bystanders, the biggest mistake we’ve seen students making is not enough full-length tests. When the students tire at the end of three hours, they make stupid mistakes, ruining the effort they’ve put in. Use the summer to do at least 20 practice tests! Then go kick that exam’s ass.

4) Research Colleges

Besides the Common App essay, you will have the much-dreaded Why X College essay, so use the summer to research colleges and finalize your college list. You may not get the chance to go visit colleges (check out our tips if you do) but you can still do your research while at home. This first great resource is the website. No seriously, the website is there for prospective students, so USE IT. Next, check out the college on social media.

Research College Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, keep up with colleges via their social media networks. Just don’t forget to clean up your own.

Pro Tip: Besides primary data, use forums like College Prowler, College Confidentional and Unigo to learn more. Additionally, YouTube is an amazing resource as well, for college virtual tours and general videos to get a sense of the campus.

5) CommonApp Application

Roll Over

Late 2015, Common App announced a new feature – the Common App Rollover! This is a huge change for us all because seniors would otherwise have to wait till August when the new Common App came out to begin their applications. While students still need to wait for the supplements, you can now get a jump start filling out oodles of data in the Common App during your summer. So grab your passport and information and settle in, let’s get this show on the road.

Random Note: We as counselors love the Common App for bringing families together. Confused? Well, every time we sit with a student to help them through the app, we reach a point when they need to call their parents – “Dad, when did you go to college?” The sound of a student reaching out to their parent to learn more about them warms our hearts. And makes us laugh.

6) Activities

Oprah Resume

I wish it was that easy, but ever since Oprah retired, you have to WORK for the resume. Once you start the application, you’ll realize that the Common App has 10 little sections for you to write about your involvement in various extracurricular activities. Depending on the kind of person you are, 10 can either be a lot or too little. This section isn’t easy and can take a lot of time for a few reasons 1) you need to rank your activities 2) you need to condense your experience with each activity into a character limit smaller than a tweet.

If you don’t have 10 activities, the summer is a great time to find some! It could be Community Service or an Internship, or something that sets you apart. But really, you don’t have to cure Cancer to get into Harvard or Stanford, you can find other activities to pique the admissions officers’ interest. Admissions Officers are looking for a few things – Leadership, Depth vs Breadth and time spent – and they use that connect to what you would do on campus.

Pro Tip: Start with a resume so that filling out the sections becomes easier.

7. Online Courses

Mooc

I know I know, you’re sick of hearing about them. But really, MOOC’s have been a boon, allowing students to explore their interests beyond the curriculum. Looking at the rigid CBSE and ICSE curriculums in particular, the classes you attend in school rarely allow you to mix and match across interests or show that you can and will go above and beyond. Thus, online courses are extremely valuable because they allow you to show an array of interests and explore your major in greater detail. Check out Coursera, MOOC List, eDX for a few! Moreover, colleges understand the value too and have been asking you about them. Brown had an essay in 2015 that said – “Please list the courses, including those you may have taken outside your secondary school, that relate to your chosen field.”

Pro Tip: Look for certified courses so that you are able to share them with colleges. You can also refer to these courses in Why Major type essays.

New SAT Concordance Tables Are Out!

See below for a snapshot. For greater detail, check out the College Board page here.

SAT ACT

CONCORDANCE TABLE
 
New SAT Total Score
(400-1600)
Old SAT Total Score
(600-2400)
ACT Composite Score
1600239036
1590237035
1580235035
1570233035
1560230035
1550228034
1540226034
1530223034
1520221034
1510219033
1500217033
1490215033
1480213032
1470211032
1460209032
1450208032
1440206031
1430204031
1420202031
1410200030
1400199030
1390197030
1380195029
1370193029
1360192029
1350190029
1340188028
1330187028
1320185028
1310184028
1300182027
1290181027
1280179027
1270178026
1260176026
1250175026
1240173026
1230171025
1220170025
1210168025
1200167025
1190165024
1180164024
1170162024
1160161024
1150159023
1140157023
1130156023
1120154022
1110153022
1100151022
1090149021
1080148021
1070146021
1060145021
1050143020
1040142020
1030140020
1020139020
1010137019
1000136019