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Preparing for the SAT

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According to Steven Cruz, president of Omega Educational Consulting in New York City, the SAT or ACT score has considerable weight in a college application and is, in fact, approximately equal in importance to the high school transcript. Although the ratio is an estimate and varies from applicant to applicant, the observation is worth restating: a single exam is equally important to four years of schoolwork. Knowing that one three and a half hour-plus marathon of SAT or ACT questions that are mostly multiple choice and mechanically graded with no partial credit stands to ruin or at best neutralize four years of diligence and impressive achievement in high school classes is enough to make any student sweat.

Even though a few alternative undergraduate institutions have eliminated standardized tests as part of their admissions process, the fact remains that the SAT or ACT scores are critical to the vast majority of college applications, particularly those sent to America's large, prestigious state universities and to the most selective private liberal arts colleges and universities. As Amy Brokl, Associate Director of Admission at Johns Hopkins University puts it, "the... [SATs] are more important than folks want them to be.... It's something that we require. It's something we need." While the merits of standardized tests could be debated forever, their significance for college-bound high school students cannot. And the profits they generate for the private companies administering them almost certainly ensure their continued importance. So, rather than fight the system, perhaps students should be more concerned about using it to their advantage.

I often receive phone calls from a parent devastated that his/her child, who gets top grades in honors courses at one of the most selective high schools in New York City, only scored in the 70th percentile on the SAT. How could such an anomaly occur? Like it or not, here is the short and simple answer: not enough time was spent in preparing for the exam. Just consider how many hours high school students spend every evening on their homework, writing papers and getting ready for classroom exams. Because of the many hours of preparation, they not only learn the material in each of their courses, but also become amateur psychologists, correctly predicting what their teachers are looking for in any given assignment or exam. The SAT and ACT are no different from a semester or yearlong course. They are disciplines within themselves, each requiring a knowledge base, a kind of learned and controlled logical thinking, and the ability to concentrate over an extended period of time that is not fully developed in a standard high school curriculum. Standardized tests demand the same type of intense preparation as classroom work over several years. Contrary to what you may have heard, there is nothing unfair, overly dramatic, or "cheap," about getting ready for them in a programmed and serious manner.

Alex Mallory is the Founder and Educational Director of Competitive Edge Tutoring