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How the Class of 2016 and 2015 should approach the SAT

by Mark Greenstein & Ivy Bound’s Senior Instructors, November 2013

            The difference between a “1600” top SAT score and a “2400” owes to the addition of “Writing” in 2005.  The SAT has a 2400 as a top score, whereas 1600 was the top SAT I score through January 2005.  The 800 “new” points are really the addition of a one hour “Writing” test.  The “Writing” aspect is three sections of a ten section SAT:
1) a 25 minute essay, evaluated by two humans,
2) a 25 minute multiple choice section testing error recognition, sentence
improvement, and paragraph improvement
3) a 10 minute multiple choice section testing more sentence improvement.

            Some students do not need to prep for the Writing.  The University of California Schools, and about 60 other colleges will scrutinize the SAT I Writing scores for this year’s applicants.   All but two of the colleges scrutinizing Writing are among the most competitive “top 100” universities (as ranked by US News, about 50-60 National Universities, and 50-60 liberal arts colleges).  Among colleges evaluating the Writing scores, this component is just as weighty as the Reading and the Math.  Among liberal arts colleges, the Writing is often MORE important than the Math.  

            Thus our general suggestion regarding prep for the Writing depends on your situation.  There are exceptions to all rules, but with a lot of experience behind us, and good knowledge of college admission requirements, here is a general plan for students with the following expectations:

Class of 2015 seeking a Top Tier liberal arts college: prep for the Writing unless your PSAT/SAT score is 760+ ; plan on taking three SAT Subject Tests in the subjects of your choice.

Class of 2015 seeking a Top Tier math / science program: prep for the Writing unless your PSAT/SAT score is 760+; take three SAT Subject Tests; include Math Level 2 and at least one science.

Class of 2015 with the time / commitment to do everything possible to assure the best admissions / scholarship opportunities:  prep for the Writing irrespective of your PSAT score; take at least three SAT Subject Tests, more if on a good day you can score 700+.

Class of 2016 seeking a 4-year college but otherwise undecided: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and perhaps Writing. Prep when you have the most time; consider 3 – 4 weeks in the summer as a “part time job” doing SAT Prep.    Be prepared to prep for Writing. Take the SAT in the fall if your target colleges change “upward” or if the same colleges alter their standards for the class of 2016.  Take SAT Subject Tests or AP tests in the subjects where you are strongest.

Class of 2016 seeking a top tier college: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and Writing.  Especially if you have a busy academic-year schedule, consider starting by Summer 2014 so as to be ready for the October PSAT, and the November, December, or January SAT. 

Class of 2016 seeking an athletic scholarship: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and Writing.  Start by summer 2014 so as to be ready for the October PSAT, and the November, December, or January SAT. 

Class of 2016 seeking a 4-year college but otherwise undecided: prep for SAT Math, Critical Reading, and perhaps Writing. Prep when you have the most time; consider 3 weeks in the summer as a “part time job” doing SAT Prep. 

 

HOW IVY BOUND PREPARES ITS STUDENTS:

For SAT, Ivy Bound Test Prep offers private tutoring, semi-private tutoring, and classes.  All students receive binders of strategies and practice materials; all receive practice tests licensed from The College Board, and all are invited to group “Test-and-Review” sessions at no charge.

Classes for Math and Critical Reading (“CR”) generally run 35 - 45 hours over 11 – 14 weeks. Tutoring for Math and CR generally runs 20 – 30hours, more if starting PSAT (or SAT) scores are below 500 and less if starting PSAT scores are 680 or above.  Students should plan to begin 3 – 5 months prior to their target SAT date, and know there is nothing wrong with starting earlier, so long as the student has had a semester each of Algebra and Geometry.

Ivy Bound’s Writing prep is 10 - 12 hours of class (8 – 12 hours is the likely time commitment if doing private tutoring), and includes Ivy Bound instructors evaluating six essays submitted by the student.  While Ivy Bound focuses on ACT and SAT test prep, many students find that a byproduct of the Writing prep is improved essay and grammar skills for their English classes.

Ivy Bound instructors happen to like the section as an academic exercise.  Writing remains the most “coachable” of the sections.  Ivy Bound’s students tend to make dramatic gains in a short time.  The fast-paced single essay is the element of standardized testing most replicated in colleges at exam time.  Unfortunately, the majority of colleges have not embraced it, and to our knowledge none has used the writing section for what it does best: capture a student’s creativity, thoughtfulness, and expression devoid of adult help, which polished application essays don’t do.

Because some students do not need Writing prep, Ivy Bound generally keeps the courses separate, and charges less if only doing Math and CR.  Students who wish to add ACT prep receive an additional book and binder for the ACT “Science Reasoning“ , the one section that is unlike any SAT test.

Ivy Bound’s success rate is very high.  Last year’s score increases among diligent students again exceeded 170 points (Math + CR, based on a previous SAT or PSAT) and we look forward to more members of the Class of 2015 and 2014 joining in similar success.