Why apply to Antioch College

Why apply to Antioch College interview with Cezar Mesquita

Several months ago on The Education Doctor Radio Show, we met with the Executive Director of Colleges that Change Lives, Marty O’Connell.  The Colleges that Change Lives is an esteemed group of 40 colleges around the US known for their life-changing success with students.

During that interview, one of our listeners emailed a question about Antioch College. Please check out that podcast to hear what Marty had to say about Antioch’s membership in Colleges that Change Lives. Our listener from Chicago may have asked her question based on some of the happenings at Antioch over the past couple of years.

Well, now in 2012, just a short time since then, there is a different story streaming from the Yellow Springs Ohio campus. Cezar Mesquita, who is Antioch’s Dean of Admissions, joined us for The Education Doctor Radio Show to provide some insight on why Antioch is such a hot application. His leadership appointment was announced in the summer of 2011 after a nationwide search. Prior to this role, Cezar had served at College of Wooster (where I first met him), at Doane College and the University of Denver. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska and his master’s degree from the University of Alabama. We were delighted to have him share all the buzz at Antioch over this past year.

Below are excerpts from our show or you may listen at the link above:

Antioch History:

Dr. Pamela:     . . . I wanted to start out because we may have some listeners that are unfamiliar with the news that was coming from Antioch prior to when you joined seven months ago and I think that just hearing a little bit about the history of the campus will help them appreciate what is happening today.  If you can please share with us a little capsule about what was happening at Antioch College two years ago.

Cezar Mesquita:  Absolutely, the news coming out of Yellow Springs back in 2008 was not good.  It was when the University has effectively managed the college.  I feel like I need to even go back a little bit prior to that.  Antioch College actually was the starting institution in the 1950s established by a group of Christian abolitionists.  Eventually, the Antioch College model changed when we incorporated the very widely known cooperative education piece. This is now in the 1940s or so when they decided to incorporate learning theory to practice where students from Antioch would go and have full time working experiences incorporated during their learning.  That model took a whole lot of interest nationally and we fast forward now to the 1960s and 1970s where it grew up to several satellite campuses around the country.  Folks thought, “Hey, let’s propagate this model nationally.” So there were nearly 40 campuses nationwide in its peak, in what was then known, Antioch University.  Throw a couple of law schools in there and some graduate programs.  What happened was that model became unsustainable, so a series of mismanagement issues along the way caused the university of the College, which is now managing the entire institution, to focus more on graduate programs, adult learner programs, and degree completion programs and invest less in the traditional liberal arts residential college here in Yellow Springs.  In 2008, the decision came from the University that they would cease operation of the college altogether.  Now you have a group of alumni who are absolutely fervently passionate about their institution and who absolutely refused to let their alma mater die.  Between the year of 2008 and 2009, the alumni went on a huge fundraising campaign to raise millions and millions of dollars to buy back the campus from the University.  So in 2009, an exciting announcement came where Antioch College reopened its doors with the goal of enrolling and recruiting a class for the starting term of Fall 2011.  Last year, we greeted our first new inaugural class, again an institution that is 162 years old, a new inaugural class of 35 students who joined Antioch College for the first time since the closure in 2008.  It has been a very, very exciting time indeed.

Antioch’s Current Freshman

Dr. Pamela:. .Tell us about this current freshman class.  You have 35 students there now?

Cezar Mesquita:  We have 35 students and last year’s application season was very, very unique as you can imagine.  The college is starting anew. We do not yet have an accreditation from the higher learning commission. We are in the process of a multi-year, multi-phase accreditation process right now, so in many ways, we needed to provide an incredible experience for students with incredible incentives. So what happened was, we decided to come out with this campaign, which has now been extended where every admitted student at Antioch College for the first four inaugural classes will be given a free tuition fellowship.  What happened last year is that these students applied from everywhere. We had students and adult learners, students in their late 20s, students from outside Ohio from as far away as Florida and Seattle.  35 students selected Antioch College.  We made sure that we selected students who could do the academic work as well as we’re a social fit with our institutional values.  This was very, very important, talking about the element of fit.  These 35 students joined us and started the class anew.  Six full-time faculty members and a cadre of several administrators who are helping deliver the experience for this new class.

Free Tuition at Antioch – So what?

Dr. Pamela:     I want you to talk a little bit more about fit. That is something I am very passionate about sharing with my families.  I talk about in terms of three key areas, which you describes, the academic fit, the social fit, and the financial fit.  I think the financial fit for you is the fact that it is free for those students who are there.  Can you talk a little bit about those different areas of fit for the students that are there in terms of what their experience is like?


Cezar Mesquita:  Again, those things are so incredibly intertwined as a student and his or her support system, parents, mentors and peers will be going through this process.  At some point, they need to talk about those three things as well as others, but those three things will probably rise to the very top.  What is the academic experience like, what is the community experience like, and what is the value that we will be associating with our resources in order to make this experience a reality for students and for the family unit?  So that is huge.  From the financial side, in many ways, it was relatively an easy call, if you will, where the college and again this has been extended now for the next three years, where the colleges are to invest a significant amount of its resources to take the financial consideration out of the question, i.e., we want students to be looking at Antioch and take the consideration of financial affordability out of it so they know they will be investing in you.  Each college and university out there will have different resources in order to extend to prospective students, and each student, again with his family unit, will have to be discussed, okay, what are the expectations as far as our investment during school, after graduation. What kind of choices are we talking about when you speak of, perhaps an average indebtedness of $25,000 a year, which is the national average right now of graduating from your institution.  So families need to have that very conversation.  And they will be having that conversation somewhere along the way.  So at Antioch, we decided, at least for that side, we decided to move that to a second plane and focus on the first two, which is so incredibly important.  Again, the students over here are coming to an academic experience where they will be working with a very small student to faculty ratio. They will be very, very well nurtured and cared for as well as the preparation in the classroom. And a high level of expectation in a rigorous liberal arts environment, but in true Antioch College fashion, we will be pushing the envelope.

How we are doing it this year is Antioch is delivering what we call the Global Seminars Series, where we are coming from the premise that the way in which we live in the world today is unsustainable and we will be prompting students and faculty members to take this five global seminar series, that will focus on the issues of food, water, energy, health, and government.  The idea here is to really propose that these students talk and discuss and break down misconceptions and barriers towards the designing of sustainable solutio0ns to address those five issues.  Again, Antioch has always been on the progressive front and now we decided to fast forward our element to the 21st century and again, having this cadre of students and professionals and teachers and professors to help devise the solutions. That is on the academic side.

How to improve your ACT score (even on the retakes)

In tonight’s podcast of The Education Doctor Radio show, we focused on the ACT.  (If you will be taking the SAT as well, please check out these prior shows on the SAT math and SAT I.) We discuss specific strategies and tips that students can use right away as they prepare to do well on this Saturday’s upcoming test.

Jim Meany, Founder and Director of Insight Tutors in Greenwich, CT, joined our show again. Jim, as you may recall from our SAT show, started his tutoring career over 25 years ago as a physics tutor. He earned his bachelors and masters from Stanford in Biology and an MBA from USC. What I found so exciting about having Jim with us to discuss the ACT is that he does subject matter tutoring as well. One of the myths that Jim debunks in our podcast is that you really don’t need to “know science” in order to do well on the science section of the ACT. Check out our podcast to find out what you do need!



Dr. Pamela:     I am here with Jim Meany of Insight Tutors of Greenwich CT, pronounced by some as Green-wich.

Jim:                 That is correct. We often have to make that notice, particularly for people who are out of the area.

Dr. Pamela:     Jim, thank you so much for joining us again today.

Jim:                 You are very welcome. I am really happy to be back so soon.

Dr. Pamela:     We are going to get started.  Jim, similar to our coverage of the SAT, I would like to jump-start our discussion providing some immediate tips for seniors who may be retaking the ACT and I want to start there because one of the things that a lot of families may not know is that for some colleges, you can continue retaking the standardized test until the day of enrollment.  Those colleges often use the score to determine merit aid. Even though the kids may apply to be retakers, this will also be great for first-time takers.  If you can just start us up as a warm-up if you will for some overall strategies for students who are taking the ACT.

Jim:                 Sure, absolutely.  I will repeat something that I said the other day and I think the most important tip I can give folks is to have the right mindset going in and to look at these tests very much as an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the rest of the applicants and I know that probably comes across as heresy to the average high school senior, but it really is an opportunity for you.  Regarding the ACT specifically, one must know that there is no guessing penalty on the ACT which means that a blank answer and a wrong answer are treated the same in terms of the fact that it does not either add points or detract points from your final score.  What that means is on the multiple-choice part, you do not want to leave anything blank.  If you find yourself running out of time at the end of a section and you are not going to be able to finish, be sure to simply guess, not even an educated guess, but just guess on the final answers and you might be able to pick up a couple of extra points right away.

Dr. Pamela:     Is there any particular answer between A, B, C, D, or E that one should guess at?

Jim:                 Everyone has tried to figure that out and I am sure there is a Ph.D. in statistics somewhere out there who probably has a better answer than I do but the one that I always go with, when in doubt, Charlie out.  So, that would be going with C but on the ACT, the answer choices go A, B, C, D, F, G, H, and J.  The one that I would not guess probably is the no change.  I don’t know really.  You can mix them up and get creative.

Dr. Pamela:     That seems even riskier because then you may choose all the wrong ones but if at least you know one of them would apt to be correct.

Jim:                 When I guess, I do pick one.

Dr. Pamela:     Did you have another tip you wanted to share with us before we get into talking about the specific sections?

Jim:                 Yes, again, we mentioned the other day about the need to warm your brain up mentally before you leave for the test. That means doing a couple of basic questions from each section that you have done before. The other thing I would do so we are not simply repeating tips is very conscious of the different time allotments on each section in the ACT.  It is not consistent. The English test is 45 minutes with 75 questions. The math is 60 minutes for 60 questions.  You really want to get in the mindset for adjusting your pace and being conscious of your pace as you go through the exam.  It is like any kind of undertaking, you want to psych yourself up for it and you also want to look at it, you know it is just another day at the office, especially for repeaters.  I have been through it before, I have seen it before, and the test format and structure are not going to change. The specifics of the questions might change, but this is not something that is brand new to me. You know it is absolutely a review test.  There should be nothing on there other than the passages and the words that you have not seen before, so you really want to go in with that confident kind of attitude.

Dr. Pamela:     Okay, Great.  Let’s start out with breaking out the sections that are covered on the ACT and the first one is the writing.  Let’s talk about that with some particular strategies that you would recommend for the writing section.

Jim:                 One of the beauties of the ACT that people like is that there are four multiple-choice sections. They always go in the same order. Once you are done with a particular content area like writing, you are done with it.  It doesn’t throw another two or three sections at you as the SAT does.  Specifically, on the writing skills test, one of the aspects of it that I think is attractive is that they test your command of the English language in the context of short passages. There are more contextual clues potentially on an ACT writing section than in the stand-alone SAT, grammar questions.  A good way to handle it, one good tip that I have is that you can approach it one or two ways, you can quickly read the passage in its entirety.  I find that a little cumbersome and then go back.  One thing you want to do is you will notice there are two different kinds of questions, one where a section is underlined and one where you will have a number inside a box.  The underlined parts refer to specific sentences so you want to handle those as they come. The ones within the box have more to do with the passage as a whole.  So sometimes, especially when they appear at the end of a passage, you want to be sure you have read the entire passage because it is often, “where should we put this sentence, did the passage accomplish what it set out to accomplish, that sort of thing.  Adjust your method as you come across those different kinds of questions.  The other aspect is, paradoxically, sometimes you find the passage interesting and you are going to spend more time with it and savor the moment and read for interest and you really have to consciously avoid that drive or that impulse.  Unfortunately, we are not reading for interest here. We are reading to get questions right or answers right on the test.  It is nice if it is a passage of interest because you will probably be more comfortable with it but you have to resist the temptation to slow down and really enjoy the passage and savor it.

Dr. Pamela:     Jim, let’s go right into talking about the math.  I know in our first series on the SAT we didn’t cover the math as much because we actually do have a podcast that focuses only on the SAT math, but I do want to spend a little bit of time talking about it with the ACT math.

Jim:                 First of all, I will say that a lot of students find the ACT math a little more approachable than the SAT math.  There are 60 questions in 60 minutes, so it is really easy for those mental math maniacs out there to figure out that you have about a minute per question.  The questions generally go from easier to harder.  A difference in the ACT is that you will have trigonometry on it.  So you do want to be sure to bring your calculator to this test for figuring out a basic sign, co-sign, that kind of thing. Another aspect of the ACT that I find kind of interesting is that it tends to go a little more into Algebra 2 and that sort of thing and students sometimes finds that intimidating but really when it gets into the more involved equations, you can often look at the question as a more basic substitution question because they will give you the equation for instance and basically what the question might require is that you simply plug in a value for the variable.  Those couple of aspects of it I want people to be aware of.  Some people think it looks a little more intimidating than it actually is.  Also, on our ACT math, you will notice that there are quite a number of word problems on it but once again the word problems tend to boil down to be something a little more basic than you have initially thought.  Those would be some of the pieces of guidance that I would offer for the math section.

Dr. Pamela:     When you say more basic than you thought, can you clarify that a bit more?

Jim:                 Sure. For instance, I am looking at a problem now that is a geometry problem. It is about a right triangle, which by the way know your right triangles, your 30/60/90, your 45/45/90, your 3/4/5 and your 5/12/13 because they love to test you on that.  It is 20/60 so it is about a third of the way through the test and they ask which of the following is true about a certain angle in the triangle and the answers involve sign, co-sign and tangent and really it is the one angle and all you have to do is work your way around the triangle and plug and chug.  It is actually 5/12/13 triangle as I look at it.  You really don’t need to calculate it because the answers in terms of fractions, the one side length over the other.  Another example that I could offer, some of these guys look like they have a paragraph worth of information in the question set up and it really boils down to, can I just generate an equation to represent the information and then solve for that equation.

Dr. Pamela:     Jim, you were writing about the writing and math section.  Now we want to move into talking about the reading comprehension section.

Jim:                 I make them all interesting in one way or another but I am a rabid reader and love it because it takes me somewhere else but again on the test I have to focus on the fact that we are looking for points.  But yes, I do like this section.

Dr. Pamela:     Great, have at it.

Jim:                 One of the things that I particularly like about the reading comprehension section on the ACT is its consistency. By that I mean, it is always 35 minutes and 40 questions, it is always four passages and they always go in the same order, starting with prose fiction, social science humanities and my personal favorite natural science.  It is very, very consistent which allows pick the order in which you would like to attempt the passages and the questions.  One aspect of the ACT that might be helpful to some of the retakers is that the ACT started out generally as an Achievement test, whereas the SAT started out more generally as an aptitude test, so the ACT and this is particularly true in reading comprehension, might be a little more straight forward. What I mean by that is to do well on the reading section does not require quite as much inference drawing and reading between the lines on the ACT as it does on the SAT. While the questions for an ACT passage do not go in as much order as they do for the SAT, the answers tend to be lifted a little more verbatim off the page.  I know someone will take me to task for that but I said a little more verbatim, not absolutely verbatim.  They tend to be not so much more obvious but more apparent.  The retakers and first time takers really want to watch for that.  In fact, that you can use to your strategic advantage in taking the exam.  One reason that I mentioned that I really like the natural sciences is that they are typically very well organized.  You might have one or two theories presented.  Let’s say you have two theories presented, Theory A, Theory B, compare and contrast and then conclusion as to which theory might be more supportable.  Those guidelines can really help you navigate your way through the passage.  Reading comprehension can be a challenge no doubt and there is always a time pressure but it is a very manageable challenge.

Dr. Pamela:     Now following up on the Natural Science on the reading comprehension, let’s talk about the science section.  I would think that this section gives students even more grief than the math sometimes.

Jim:                 It can and there are science phobes among us and a science lover.  I am crazy about science. I love science. The funny aspect of the ACT science and I don’t mean to go against my host word because that would be very rude, to dispel maybe a little bit of fear.  Yes, if you need content anywhere, it would be in the science and the math.  Math in terms of the principals and science in terms of the biology, chemistry, physics and earth science principals.  However, the dirty little secret is that the science test is almost more of a reading comprehension test than it is one that requires a lot of in-depth science knowledge.  One of the skills that you need to do well in science is to be really adept at reading charts and graphs.  That is how they present most of the information. Also, if there is a term, like say a bomb calorimeter, which is one of my favorites, you don’t need to know what that is because they will define that for you. They will give you a definition of bomb calorimeter as a device that allows you to measure the energy content of a substance.  So do let the science and science test scare you.  Yes, you do need to understand and have a basic foundation in science but again, it is as much as a reading comprehension type of test and in organizing the information kind of test as it is elucidating the genetic code or some such thing.

Dr. Pamela:     It is almost like a misnomer in a sense but that is great.

Jim:                 It is a bit of a misnomer except that if you look at it as a reading comp passage, all the passages have to do science.  That is one way to look at it.

Dr. Pamela:     In our last few minutes, we will talk about the essay.  That is optional for students, but I know that I encourage students to still do the writing so they can keep their options open for the colleges that may require it and Jim, you would agree with that as well that students generally should do the writing portion as well?

Jim:                 Absolutely. And that is for exactly the reason that you say.  Not all schools require the writing section or even will look at it on the SAT, however, you don’t want to be late in the game and see a school that maybe you hadn’t thought about before that does require the writing test and all your testing is done and now you are caught not able to apply to that school. I am very much a fan of putting as many resources in your basket as you can.  I would strongly encourage people to take the writing test as well.  Another reason for that, and another appeal of the ACT is that you get 30 minutes for the essay whereas the SAT allows you only 25 minutes.  It is the same 1 to 12 score, and by the way you want to be 10 or above if you can.  You have three pages on the ACT for your essay and two pages on the SAT and then maybe the biggest benefit of all is that personally I find the prompts on the ACT essay much more relevant for high school juniors and seniors than those often found on the SAT.  What I mean is, instead of finding the one we talked about the other day on the SAT which is, is there always a however, the great philosophical wondering, you will get questions on the ACT like should there be a dress code within a high school?  Should seniors have special privileges within a high school and what senior is not wondering about where he will park his or her car if he or she drives to school? Another good one that I have seen, (and of course they don’t repeat) but it is the spirit of it.  Another good one was should high school be extended to five years?  I think and this is only anecdotal evidence, I think that the ACT tends to pick topics that are more top of mind for the test takers than the SAT might do.

Dr. Pamela:     You make me want to go back and retake the ACT myself.

Jim:                 If I only knew then what I know now.

Dr. Pamela:     What would be a couple strategies that you would give to students around doing well on this writing portion?

Jim:                 A couple things I would say, the prompt says in your essay, take a position on this question.  There is no right or wrong answer.  It is how you present your answer.  Two common myths I want to dispel as long as we have the chance.  1)  Longer is not necessarily better.  It is very easy as a reader to spot fluff.  If a word is not developing your essay, can it.  It will not help you.  2) The other very common misconception is that people will say that you need a historical reference and you need a literary reference.  Categorically not true.  If you have one or two and can use it for the essay, perfect.  But you don’t want to be constrained by that misinformation because all you are going to do is sit there and stress if you can’t think of a relevant example.  All it says on the ACT is use specific reasons and examples to support your position.  It does not say use a literary reference and a historical reference to support your position.  What the graders are looking for is sophisticated analysis, relevant examples, good development of those examples and they grade the essay holistically so they are looking at the whole package.  Those would be some of the suggestions that I would make.

Dr. Pamela:     I think those are excellent.  Jim, I want to thank you so much for joining us. We have come to the end of time but that is a great show and I appreciate you sharing and I certainly want our listeners to know that you will be having a web site coming up soon and I will definitely post that information on my site and link to it and if they have any further questions, they can always direct them to our radio at Compasseducationstrategies.com email address and we will get it over to you.  Thank you so very much Jim.




Timely strategies and tips to Ace the SAT

This show is the first of our two-part series on standardized testing.  The second show in this two-part series on standardized testing focuses on the ACT.  There’s no mistaking that the SAT is a very different test from the ACT. The SAT has its roots in intelligence/aptitude tests. Students can benefit from knowing how to take this test before the test day.

Jim Meany of Insight Tutors in Greenwich, CT joined our show today to share some timely and timeless strategies and tips that will help students do well on the SAT. Jim started his tutoring career as a physics tutor, earned his bachelors and masters from Stanford in Biology and an MBA from USC (which Stanford alums affectionately referred to as the University of Spoiled Children!) Jim has over 25 years of tutoring experience and has led Insight Tutors for over 10 years. Please check out the audio podcast or transcript below!



Dr. Pamela:     Thank you so much again for joining us.  We are excited to have you on the air and I know the seniors who are listening are excited to hear from you because there is an SAT that is coming up in the next couple days.  I want to jump right in and ask you what are some strategies for seniors that are retaking the SAT.

Jim:                 It is a really good question. Given that it is late in the game for the seniors with the test this Saturday, they might think all is lost but not necessarily. The SAT and standardized testing, in general, is a huge opportunity for those to embrace it as such.  One thing that seniors can do is to go into the test with that mindset.  This is yet another chance for them to differentiate themselves on their application and while they may not have the time or taken the time to prepare as they might have wanted to, there is still some stuff they can do or actions they can take in the next couple days.  One is to adopt a certain perspective about the undertaking.  That is, while the SAT and the ACT are very important Metrix and I genuinely believe they are very important Metrix that unfortunately sometimes are used improperly, they are only one aspect of a multidimensional holistic application.  If they can keep that in mind, I think it will help to allay some of the anxiety about going into the test. It is an important aspect of your application.  It is not nearly the most important aspect except in very rare cases and that perspective will help them a lot.

That being said, in terms of what they get down and studying actions they can take, they can still pull up a prep book, make sure they understand the directions going in, because directions don’t change and your time on the test is too precious to be reading directions, you want to jump right into the first question.  They can be sure on test day morning to warm up before the exam.  It is just like any athlete does before an athletic event, if you are going to be exercising your brain for the next four hours; you want to warm up your brain. By that, I mean taking a couple of easy math questions that you have done before, that you know the answer to so that you don’t get stumped and don’t get freaked out. Work through those questions.  Get in the mode in thinking mathematically.

Take a look at maybe a short reading comp passage that you have done before so that you are warmed up and ready to tear it apart when you get into the test set.  Maybe look at an essay that you have outlined, that sort of thing so that you are not using the time during the test to warm up.  Again, that time is way too precious.  To use another athletic analogy and I don’t mean to overuse them, on your very first test question, you want to be at race pace.  You don’t want to be climbing that hill to get to race pace.  You want to be able to hold that pace through the exam. It is kind of a marathon more than a sprint.  While your energy will lag and soar during the exam, you want to keep that constant high energy level throughout the exam and not let down until they call time on the last section.  Those are some of the ideas that I would have for our seniors out there.

Dr. Pamela:     Now one of the things, Jim, in terms of what you said right after adopting a perspective and before the warm-up, you mention taking a look at a prep book. Are you suggesting doing that between today and tomorrow, the night before, or doing that the morning of?

Jim:                 Both. What I would do, you know, standardized tests traditionally are not tests that respond well to cramming.  I am not suggesting a mega cram session as I am sure you are familiar with your Stanford case.  What I am suggesting is, I am not even suggesting sitting for a full-length practice test because by now you should have done that and if you are repeating the test you know what it is like to sit still and focus for over four hours. That would not be a good use of one’s time.  However, what would be a good use would be to handle a couple of passes under timed conditions, maybe a math section, and go into it, especially for the seniors, go into it with an understanding of where your strengths lie. That is where you are going to get your points this Saturday.

Don’t worry so much about the stuff that is still not familiar to you or still not easy to accomplish. That is going to only slow you down on test day.  Maybe an hour a day, just ultimate familiarity and then test day morning, you are sure to have your ride arranged, you are sure to have your admission ticket, your number 2 pencils, your calculator, fresh batteries, etc.  Just take 10 or 15 minutes, even in the car on the way if you are being driven, not if you driving please, but if you are being driven and do a couple of practice warm-up problems.  I think you will find, if you follow that, paradoxically, you will be in the test center, ready to go and you will be upset at all the other people who forgot their number 2 pencils or don’t know where to go because you will want to jump into the test, seize it as an opportunity and you will want to show the test makers just how adept you are at taking their test.

Dr. Pamela:     That’s a tip I should have known for the GMAT too.

Jim:                 You make a very valid point.  A lot of the standardized tests are variations on each other.  We have the SAT and ACT for college admissions.  We have the GRE which I loosely refer to as SAT for grownups. We have the GMAT which has problem-solving and a little twist on problem-solving called Data Sufficiency, but it also has critical reading as well as critical reasoning, the LSAT has logic games, everyone’s favorite and critical reading. There is no math on the LSAT for the math folks out there. They are often different birds of a slightly different feather but very related.

Dr. Pamela:     So Jim, let’s talk through the sections of the SAT and what students need to know to do their best on test day.  Can we talk through the sections?  Which section do you want to start with?

Jim:                 We might as well start with the first section which is the difference from the ACT.  On the SAT, you sit through the essay first.  The ACT if you take the essay, comes last, but on the SAT you are presented with a prompt in which you are going to write a response in 25 minutes.  I would like to tell people, the prompt is where it is at. You want to look at the wording that they use, for instance, I am looking at one right now in one of the sample tests and the question is, “Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?”  One thing I will mention about the SAT versus the ACT, the SAT started more as an aptitude test.  It tends to be a little more esoteric.  You see this, especially in the essay.  My all-time favorite SAT essay prompt is, “Is there always a however?”  I am sitting there thinking, I didn’t know I was sitting for my PHT in philosophy trying to answer “Is there always a however?”  Back to the point at hand here.  “Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?”  I see very important keywords there.  Knowledge, what do we mean by knowledge?  Is it didactic knowledge, mathematical knowledge, knowing one’s self; is it knowledge of an event coming up?  Burden, what do we mean by a burden?  Does that mean something bad is going to happen?  Are we going to have to pay damages, are we going to feel guilt, that kind of thing.  Benefit. What kind of benefit are we talking about?  Are we talking about the financial benefit, benefit to one’s self, society, etc?  You can see that if you key in on the keywords, you can generate your thought process pretty quickly.  One other tip I will give the students who are taking the test on Saturday, you will notice that with every SAT prompt, there is a box of short paragraphs, maybe three or four sentences above it that often is a quote from someone in the past.  This one starts with “Knowledge is power.” Which is a very interesting statement.

One mistake that students make is they think they have to repeat that part of the prompt in their essay and that is wasted space. The readers have that prompt right in front of them, you only have a limited amount of space anyway and that doesn’t do anything to move the line forward in terms of your test performance. What you want to use that for is to stimulate your thought process. As an example, knowledge is power, what kind of power?  Financial power, personal power, military power, and then it goes on to say in agriculture medicine and industry for example. Three very different yet related entities and that is where you go to generate your examples. Medicine.  Is knowledge power?  Yes, if I know how to cure cancer, I have the power to make people’s lives better.  Industry.  I will give you a contra example.  Knowledge is power.  What if it is insider trader knowledge?  Is that power or does that confer power to someone else like the Securities and Exchange Commission to indite you?  So, I love essays.  It allows you to go in many different directions. There is no right or wrong answer.  Your 1 to 12 score depends a lot on how well you present your ideas. Believe it or not, there is great freedom to write the essay of your choice, as long as it satisfies certain guidelines.

Dr. Pamela:     That is really good information.  Insightful.  Let’s talk about the other sections.  One of them I know which gives some students grief, particularly one of our international students right now, the reading section. The verbal section was a little bit more challenging.  What strategies do you have for students on that particular section of the SAT?

Jim:                 We have a couple that we can mention.  One thing I will mention first, is they mix up the order of the sections on the SAT. While a practice exam may have presented the reading comprehension section right after the essay, your test might have the math section and that can vary within a room even.  You don’t want to be worried about what if I get math first or what if I get verbal first because you want to have the mindset of “I can handle whatever they want to present to me and do a good job on it.”

Regarding the verbal section and the critical reading section.  For students for whom English might be a second language, this can be a challenge. There is no denying that. Colleges I believe also look at the TOEFL exam, Test of English as a Foreign Language, in part of their assessment. Again, you are not necessarily dead in the water if verbal is not a strong point of yours.  A couple of tips that anyone can use on the verbal, is absolutely the first thing you want to do within any section is to turn your pages to the end of the section, do not go beyond the end of the section but you want to have any idea of how many passages are there, are there the dual passages, the compare and contrast packages, is there one short passage and one longer passage and I am getting beyond the two short first paragraph passages.  You want to get the overall view of the sections so you will know better how to marshall your resource of time and distribute that.  It always starts with the sentence completion.

A lot of people make the mistake regardless of what is their primary language at home, at looking at the answers first to try and fit the answers back into the blanks. That is the kiss of death.  Believe it or not, the test makers don’t necessarily have your best interest in mind.  They will write answers to confuse you. What you want to do instead, is you want to cover up the answers with your hand or your grade sheet and read the sentence looking for contextual clues. You want to think about, “Well if I were writing the test, what word would I put in the blank?” It could be something as basic as, “I would put a positive word or a negative word.”  Then you go quickly without dwelling on any one answer until you have seen all five you go quickly through the answers to say, “Yes, that word might fit.  That works pretty well.  Then, before you move on, you re-read the sentence with your choice in it and if it works, you circle the answer in your book, which you should do on all the answers and then transfer it to your grade sheet either one at a time or by the page, which I think creates much greater efficiency. That would be a suggestion I would have for the sentence completion.  Handling the essays, I say absolutely, that would be a classic wrong answer on reading comprehension because it is too extreme, but you want to consider previewing your questions first. That tells you what the author thinks is important in the passage.  That tells you what the passage is about and it can give you a leg up on your analysis of the passage.

You do not want to pre-read the answers for two reasons.  1)  Four out of five of them are wrong.  2)  You don’t have the time. Another very important tip I can give to students is that pick the answer that best fits it.  You want to go after the reading comp section with the understanding that four of the answers are categorically wrong and one of the answers is categorically correct.  I know that sounds extreme but what that does is that keeps you from arguing with yourself, well this could be the right answer, that might be the right answers, which one do I pick.  No, four of them are wrong and one of them is right and it is a huge confidence builder and it is a huge speed builder if you will. The other aspect that I mentioned, that we cover here at Insight Tutors is these tests are written to a formula. The sections are written to formula, the right answers are written to a formula and the wrong answers are written to a formula.  Learn to recognize the wrong answers.

If I have a minute, I will just run through the five or six that they want to be on the lookout for, would that be okay?   The one answer that I alluded to before is the answer that is too extreme.  If I tell a client I never make a mistake in front of a client, it is pretty easy to prove me wrong.  I have to mess up once.  But if I say I generally don’t make mistakes in front of a client, it is much harder to prove me wrong so be very wary of answers with “all, always, never or none” in them. Sometimes they are right but most of the time they are not.  The answer is half right or half wrong.  It starts out looking good and the end is a variance and the test makers do that because they know you are nervous and know you are in a rush and you see the promising beginning, circle it, and move on and they have trapped you.  Look for the answer that is the exact opposite of what you want.  This shows up particularly true on tone questions and questions where there is dialogue. They give you the answer that speaker B would have said instead of speaker A.  Especially the answer that is the wrong point of view or the wrong part of the passage.  On the SAT, the questions generally go in order with the passage.  The answer is a “wow that is funny” answer.  Where did that come from, totally unrelated to the passage that you can eliminate and “Wow that is funny, close in cousin, the one that corrupts the details.”  They know you have seen the words before but they might reverse cause and effect and then finally the one that makes an unwarranted comparison.  It might be a science passage about two theories. One of the answers says, “Well Theory A is more believable than Theory B” and nowhere in the passage was that stated or even suggested.  I just ran you through a couple of hours of tutoring right there.  Those would be some of the suggestions on how to handle a reading comprehension section.

Dr. Pamela:     Those are great.  We only have a couple of minutes left so I don’t want to take another break but what I do want to do is if you can give us a snapshot or two really good math or quantitative strategies that students can use.  We did a show earlier that focused just on the math but I would like to hear from you what you suggest to your students.

Jim:                 Scan the math section first and go to the easy questions.  By easy, I mean the ones that are easy for you.  Although the questions generally go in order from easier to harder, that is a statistical thing, it is not necessarily relevant to your test-taking ability.  For example, if you like geometry and you are nervous about the math section, go through and do all the geometry questions first after you have reviewed the section.  The other tip I would offer is the calculator 99 times out of 100 is a hindrance.  Do not rely on your calculator.  If you are using it for guess and check, you have forgotten what the question was after you have gone through all the guess and check.  By the way, they will put answers in there that are correct answers to the wrong questions. Again, they have trapped you. I would suggest doing the questions that you like the best first and not relying too heavily if at all on the calculator.  They will give you problems that involve exponents of 2 to the 99th, I will you a really basic one divided by 2 to the 98th and if you are punching 2 to the 99th into your calculator you will exceed its capacity anyway.  The answer is 2 to the 1st.  2 goes into the 99 minus 98.  It took you five seconds to figure that up and now you have built up a surplus for the harder questions that you will want to do at the end. Given that you have a little bit over a minute per question in general, if you save 55 seconds on one question, you now have over 2 minutes to do a really hard question.  Those are two suggestions I would have.

Dr. Pamela:     Thank you, Jim, for joining us.  I want to thank those that are listening as well.  You can always e-mail additional questions that we can share later and post those answers up for you.  We will be doing part 2 on the ACT so look for the announcement there. Bill will come on and tell you more about how to stay connected with us.


If you’re taking the SAT this weekend: Read this

In the last week, I’ve received several calls from parents who are worried about their son’s or daughter’s preparation for the SAT. My first response is to allay their fears that this one test will doom their teen’s future admission to college. While it’s true that these standardized test are reviewed in the college admissions process, it is only one of several factors considered. (Sigh! Thank goodness it’s not the only one, right?)

There is a growing number of test-optional colleges. If you don’t test well but you do write well, those colleges should be considered.

If you’re still reading this post, you’re probably already registered for Saturday’s SAT exam, so I’d like to offer you this invitation:

Please join me on BlogTalkRadio this Thursday, December 1 at 9 pm EST

We’re hosting the first segment of our two-part series on standardized tests, which will focus on Last Minute Tips and Strategies for the SAT. My guest will be Jim Meany of Insight Tutors in Greenwich, CT. Jim has over 25 years of tutoring experience. He is a graduate of Stanford University and University of Southern California.

If you have any questions for Jim, you are welcomed to send those to radio at compasseducationstrategies.com.


P.S. Jim will join us again next week to discuss the ACT!


Taking the SSAT: How to interpret the score reports

It’s the season for secondary school admissions so we continued our conversation about the SSAT, on The Education Doctor Radio show.

I met with some parents just today to discuss secondary school admissions. They are considering both day and boarding schools for their son. Given the number of college preparatory independent schools around the country, their son has a lot of opportunities to select from varied schools that could be a great fit for him. I visit independent schools around the country and in fact this week, I’m visiting some wonderful boarding schools in western CT. In all my campus visits, each school is different. However, the application process is a common denominator. All the schools require some form of standardized testing. For many of those schools, it’s the SSAT.

Last week, we had Aimee Gruber, Senior Director of Outreach for SSATB join us to talk about the SSAT, what it is, and how to take it. We covered some great tips and strategies, so I highly recommend that you listen to that SSAT podcast as well. Our show is only a half-hour each week and there was more that we didn’t get a chance to cover.

Today’s show is, therefore, part two of the SSAT! Aimee returned this week to discuss how the schools use the SSAT, interview questions that every student should ask about how the SSAT scores are used as admission criteria. Then finally, we discuss how to interpret the SSAT score report. As we discussed in last week’s show, the report to schools is different from the report to families and you will hear from Aimee just how different and what it means for the student applicant.

The first test administered this year will be coming up on October 15 (which happens to be the same day as the PSAT). The PSAT as we mentioned last week is offered by College Board, while the SSAT is offered by a totally separate organization. Interestingly, we found out in last week’s show that ETS who created the SAT also developed the SSAT. Later in the show, we talk about those similarities and what the SSAT score reports can tell you about the SAT.

How to interpret SSAT score reports

logoPlease join The Education Doctor Radio show on October 6 at 8:00 pm EST as we meet with Aimee Gruber of SSATB.

This is part two of our discussion on the SSAT. You can listen to part one here. In this episode, Aimee will explain how schools are using the SSAT score reports in their admissions processes and what students and parents need to know about these reports. Remember to have your reports ready as she will highlight all the sections of this report. What does the national percentile really mean? Or another question for her will be . . . What does the SAT (yes, College Board test) predictor on the report tell us?


You may listen online at this link. Questions may be emailed to radio@compasseducationstrategies.com.


Tips from UChicago on Calming the Selective Admissions Frenzy

Our show today was an extension of our conversation from last week with Dr. Denise Pope. Dr. Pope leads the Challenge Success project at Stanford University and she shared tips for our listeners about managing and recognizing stress. The top stressors for students . . . and keep in mind that stress starts as early as 3rd grade then continues into college . . . are

  • Academics
  • Grades
  • Testing (ACT, SAT, AP)
  • College admissions

Because my firm does work with students who are applying to college, you know I’m seeing some elevated stress levels right about now. The Common Application was released on August 1, the first ACT is offered this Saturday on September 10, many seniors are returning to school with 2 or more AP courses, the SAT is offered on October 1 which many students are studying for, especially if they’ve decided to retake the exam for a better score. So all the high stressors, academics, grades, testing, and college admissions are like a perfect storm for high school seniors.  Stress has so many other ill effects that students and parents do not need right now. The aim of all our shows is to bring families strategic and practical information that supports their educational success and this episode met that goal.

Our guest today is a seasoned admissions professional with 10 years at the University of Chicago, Colin Johnson. (Aside: It’s a small world because she and I lived on the University of Chicago campus at the same time. She was a graduate student when my husband was a graduate student there. With all the people on the Hyde Park campus, we didn’t meet then. I actually met her during my tour of the campus this summer. Although I know the campus fairly well from having lived there, I still wanted to go through a full tour and presentation from the vantage point of current families who are considering the university. It was quite an informative tour and session because there have been a number of changes at the University of Chicago. And quite frankly, I knew the graduate community when I lived which seems to be quite different from the undergraduate community.)  My guest, Colin Johnson is the Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Chicago. She talked with us about admissions at a selective institution such as hers as well as provided some actionable tips for students and their parents on calming the stress of admissions frenzy!

Click here to listen to an interview with University of Chicago admissions

You can also hear more from Colin Johnson next week as she meets with students during the Diversity Day at College Week Live event on Wednesday, September 14 from 6 to 7 pm.

University of Chicago Admissions on The Education Doctor Radio

Many visitors come to my site through searching for admissions information. In the last several months there’s been a surge of inquiries on University of Chicago. More specifically, visitors have been Googling the phrase “how to get into University of Chicago” which has landed them on my blog postings.IMG_0274

In response to this interest, I will interview Colin Johnson, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions for University of Chicago. She will bring 10 years of experience in that office to our listening audience. Please listen live or call into the show at 1 pm CST (2 pm EST) at this link:

Interview with University of Chicago Admissions

I announced this exciting conversation earlier to my current high school seniors and on my Facebook community. Please “Like” my page to get future show announcements in advance. If you are unable to join then, you are welcome to send a question to us by email. We will post the podcast at our site here tomorrow.

What’s the purpose of a Gap Year? . . . Inquiring minds want to know

A few weeks ago we had a radio show on volunteering abroad during a Gap Year. A gap year as we described then is a break in formal education, usually between high school and college where students continue learning through a cultural immersion, volunteer opportunity in the US or abroad, deeper skill development in their sport, arts, language, or academics.

It’s a time of reflection and maturity. More importantly, it is a period of purpose and intention.  Purpose and intention – those words are important when it comes to even considering a gap year. As I speak with families around the country about the possibility of a gap year, these questions come up again and again . . . what’s the point of a gap year? Will this hurt my chances of college?

We answered those questions and more in our show. Our guests know the Gap Year experience very well. Robin Pendoley of Thinking Beyond Borders and Kathy Cheng of Dynamy visited The Education Doctor® Radio Show. They also co-direct USA Gap Year Fairs! We were honored to have them both on the show to share their expertise and give our families some new insight about gap years programs and when they may be a viable option for college bound students to consider. Believe me . . . there are far more college-bound students who can benefit from a gap year experience that enter freshman year anyway. (I certainly wish I had known about it. . .could have saved my first semester transcript and all the wasted effort changing majors! :-))

Click to listen to Thinking Beyond Borders and Dynamy discuss the Purpose of a Gap Year for College-Bound Teens

Volunteer abroad during Gap Year: Is this an option for College-Bound Students?

In my travels around the country, I talk with a lot of families who are curious about the term “gap year.” It’s a term that originated in Britain and has made its way over the pond in the last 3 decades or so.

What exactly is a gap year?

It is a break in formal education, usually between high school and college where students continue learning through a cultural immersion, volunteer opportunity in the US or abroad, deeper skill development in their sport, arts, language, or academics. It’s a time of reflection and maturity. More importantly, it is a period of purpose and intention.

A gap year is not a vacation, nor a year of hanging out for the sake of hanging out.  The purpose and intentional aspect of a gap year is important because it suggests that the gap year is most effective when it’s planned in advance.

For many incoming freshmen who decide to defer their matriculation to  college, the colleges will grant deferred admission if you outline your plans for how your time will be spent during the gap year. For students who want to have a more competitive application for college, they may apply to college during the start of the gap year and the applicant must state how their gap year time is being spent. So having a plan for how the gap year will be structured is critical for college-bound students.

On our radio show today, we spoke with Andrew MacKenzie and Anna Walker of Africa and Asia Venture in Britain. Gap years have been popular in Britain for many years and their program has been around since 1993! Their program offers opportunities for cultural immersion and volunteer experiences in Africa, Asia, and The Americas.

Several of the topics covered in this discussion included:

  • Benefits of participating in such a program
  • Deferred admission vs. applying to college during their gap year
  • Trends in students pursuing a gap year
  • And of course . . . safety and security measures that families must consider prior to any cultural immersion or volunteer abroad opportunity

You can listen to this podcast on volunteer abroad gap year programs and learn Anna’s tips on travel insurance and resources that families must consult when vetting these programs!


Our radio show is broadcast regularly on blogtalkradio. Please join our Facebook page for show updates. You may also send show topic suggestions or guest ideas to radio at compasseducationstrategies dot com.