Over the years, I have recommended that many of my students consider applying to the University of Toronto. After all, it is one of the most highly ranked universities worldwide, and is closer to Ohio than many schools on the East Coast of the United States. I had the opportunity to visit the city of Toronto and its university for the first time this past week, and I was greatly impressed with everything I saw. Toronto is a highly educated, cosmopolitan, thriving metropolis. If you are a resident of the greater Toronto area and you are interested in having us teach a class in ACT or SAT test preparation, please email our company at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to come to an arrangement. If we are not able to come to Toronto in person, we can conduct online classes or tutoring via Skype.
For anyone taking the ACT in 2015, it is important to be aware of a couple of major changes to the test format that have taken place.
1. The ACT Reading is consistently having one “comparative” reading section, in which there are two smaller passages (Passage 1 and Passage 2) instead of one larger one. The two passages are about a similar topic, yet have different perspectives. Students typically have to answer 7 questions about the individual passages, and then answer 3 questions comparing the two passages. Fortunately, the ACT has placed all the comparative questions at the end of the series of questions (e.g. questions 21-27 about the individual passages and questions 28-30 are comparative.)
The Reading passage with the comparative passages has consistently been the Humanities section. The only publicly released example of an ACT comparative passage can be found here:
I have an example of a comparative passage in my ACT Book with Barron’s Educational Series.
2. The ACT Science Section has had 6 passages instead of 7 passages on both the February and the April ACT in 2015. If you would like to see a sample of what this looks like, you should order the Test Information Release for the April ACT, as there are currently no publicly available examples of this different format. This shouldn’t affect your approach to the science too much, other than as far as pacing, you should spend about 6 minutes a passage instead of 5.
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I am thrilled to report that I finished my manuscript for the new Barron’s Strategies and Practice for the New PSAT/NMSQT this past week. This was the most challenging professional task I have ever taken on, given the very short amount of time and the minimal information available about the new PSAT. Fortunately, I am quite pleased with the 85,000 word final product and I look forward to using it with my students this spring.
I started writing the text in February after signing my contract with Barron’s. There was just enough information available at that time to create a body of practice and review materials. I carefully reviewed the College Board test specifications for the new SAT and PSAT, as well as the practice questions they released. It is fortunate that the new PSAT and SAT are more like the ACT than they were in the past, since I have great familiarity with the ACT having written the most recent Barron’s ACT Guide.
Just a few days before my April 1 deadline, the College Board finally released a full-length sample PSAT. I had to make a few tweaks to my book materials, but all in all my original materials were very well-aligned with the practice PSAT.
The new PSAT book will feature a number of things that will make it extremely useful for students preparing for the 2015 PSAT:
–Several hundred practice questions, representing the equivalent of over 3 full-length PSAT tests.
–Comprehensive answer explanations to every question, including explanations of why incorrect answers are wrong.
–Extensive strategies and content review.
You can check out the new book here:
Please contact BWS Education for any of your tutoring needs as you prepare for the brand new 2015 PSAT and 2016 SAT.
What should students do to prepare for the new PSAT?
1. Read widely and deeply. Students should read texts from a variety of content areas, from world literature to natural science, to become familiar with the types of materials they will encounter. The PSAT reading will not be difficult for most students to finish, so they should focus on learning to read well rather than read quickly.
2. Learn grammar fundamentals. Many students have not had thorough training in grammar. The new PSAT will expect students to thoroughly understand proper punctuation, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, and a host of other topics. Since grammar is often not taught in depth at many schools, students may want to review independently.
3. Brush up on algebra and statistics. There is very little geometry and trigonometry on the new PSAT. If someone is trying to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, they will want to study geometry so they can be prepared for the handful of questions that will arise. If someone has more moderate goals, they can emphasize algebraic and statistical fundamentals.
I am currently writing the new Barron’s PSAT Guide, so I have become very well-versed in what the new PSAT will look like. Here is my concise summary of the major changes coming to the PSAT this fall:
Current PSAT Vocab: Students need to spend countless hours memorizing obscure vocabulary words that they will probably not use again.
New PSAT Vocab: Students focus on deciphering the meaning of words based on context clues. The potential words are ones that are more widely used in professional settings.
Current PSAT Math: An emphasis on pure mathematical reasoning, with many problems more akin to IQ test questions than ones that students are very likely to encounter in the real world.
New PSAT Math: A major shift towards practical word problems, data analysis, statistics, and algebra. The mathematical concepts are ones used in a variety of careers, both STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and non-STEM ones.
Current PSAT Guessing: There is a quarter point guessing penalty for missed questions. (If students answer a question correctly, they earn a full point; if they omit it, they receive zero points; if they answer incorrectly, they lose a quarter point). In my tutoring experience, the guessing penalty drives students nuts as they spend inordinate amounts of time trying to determine whether they should answer a question or leave it blank.
New PSAT Guessing: There is no guessing penalty–simply answer every question. Students can devote their mental energy to the problems presented instead of wasting it on trying to decide whether to answer.
Current PSAT Theme: The current SAT is more a test of pure problem solving skills, with not much of a focus on practical applications.
New PSAT Theme: No one will be able to justifiably say that there is nothing useful or practical being evaluated on the new SAT. It has writing passages from career fields, lots of real world mathematical word problems, and reading passages from the great historical & political documents of the U.S. and world.
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When I was in college, I remember talking to someone who went to Oxford University for his undergraduate degree. The way that he was taught really struck me as being so different from what I was used to in the American system, yet clearly more helpful.
At Oxford and Cambridge, students often go through a tutorial system or “supervision” system. Instead of having large classes with lots of students, they meet in groups of 1-3, have in-depth discussions on topics, and are required to write essays on a weekly basis. The former student to whom I spoke said that he was required to read an essay he had written out loud to his professor each week, and the professor would give him a wealth of constructive criticism.
Contrast this approach to writing education with what we do in the United States. Even at the best colleges and high schools, students usually have one major paper a semester. The feedback they receive is almost always based on the final product, rather than on the writing process. Students’ consumption of writing feedback is often limited to looking at their paper grade and then throwing the paper away.
If students are supposed to improve their writing skills, we should emulate the educational model of Oxford and Cambridge and provide high quality, in-depth feedback on a regular basis. If you are interested in working with one of our writing tutors to create a individualized program to vastly improve writing skills, please email us at email@example.com.