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unCommon Summer: SAT Scoring, ACT Essay, Transfer Credits, Gender Issues, and Surfing

Go a few weeks without blogging? Impossible! School may be out, but developments in the college process continue to unfold. unCommon Apps is on assignment with the latest.

SAT Test Converter: Fair Game?

College Board has made it possible for test-takers and college counselors to understand new scores through its SAT Score Converter tool. I tried it out on behalf of a student, and it works. Just input the new scores, and you’ll see what that score would’ve been in the old scoring system.

While I liked the SAT-ACT conversion tab, the ACT organization did not participate in its design. I reached out to ACT for comment and was told, “It is our intent to collaborate with the College Board and other entities to develop concordance tables based on data at the earliest possible date, but we are not intending to develop a converter tool in the immediate future.”

My advice for test-takers remains the same: A student should take both tests, repeating the stronger of the two unless the score is already stellar (allowing that student more time to focus on schoolwork and apps).

ACT Essay: Prose and Cons

Last month, I was counseling a high school student who was planning to retake the ACT. The student had smashed most of the test in May, scoring a 36 on both the Reading and the Science sections. But his essay score was only a 23. How could this new format, which I so liked for its educational value to high school students, disappoint?

Certainly, students in a testing situation are understandably hyped. If they are anything like the young man just mentioned (i.e., math whiz), they jump into writing the essay before charting out the basics, knowing the clock is ticking. When I asked the student whether he had first mapped out his essay, he confirmed my suspicions about having launched into the writing without taking the time to plan.

Students attempting the ACT essay need to remember that:

  1. No topic chosen for the ACT is unapproachable.

  2. Paraphrasing the points of view is invaluable.  

  3. Creating a thesis before attempting the essay is essential.

But wait, there’s more!  Come September, the scoring of the ACT essay will revert back to the familiar 2-12 range. Students will be scored by two readers on four categories: ideas and analysis; development and support; organization; and language use and conventions. Why alienate the customer base?

Gender Issues: Hype or Reality?

Just as we were wrapping up the year at Hudson, College Board released May SAT scores. Overall, I was pleased with the numbers, and my students who had taken the test were satisfied. What I hadn’t heard from those test-takers, who were female, was any notion that they were thrown off their game by questions relating to women. Only through articles in Education Dive and the New York Times did I learn that two items were called into question because of gender bias. According to the Times, “The math question involved a chart showing more boys than girls in math classes over all. The verbal section asked students to analyze a 19th-century polemic arguing that women’s place was in the home.”

Is there reason for concern? I didn’t think so. But the Times told readers, “When people are reminded during a test of a negative stereotype about their race or sex, psychologists say, it creates a kind of test anxiety that leads them to underperform.”

Wondering whether I should check my attitude, I turned to Noodle Pros, specifically executive director Neill Seltzer, for an opinion I could trust. Seltzer, who actually sat through the May exam, recounted a study comparing test-takers who had to first identify their race versus those who did not. He stated, “Groups who had reason to fear that a bad result would reinforce a negative stereotype about their race did substantially worse when asked to identify their race than they did when their race went unrecorded. In another study, students who encountered questions that implied negative stereotypes about their race or gender tended to do worse on those exams.”

However, Seltzer also remarked, “The data, of course, can only reveal differences in performance; it cannot tell us the cause. This is tricky territory, even for the psychometricians and data scientists. The questions are better answered by large data sets than by direct observation and questions that appear to show bias may or may not when all of the data comes in.”

What did College Board find? According to the Times, “No differences in the scores of boys and girls of comparable ability were found on the questions in dispute.” Nevertheless, the Times pursued and published the story.

Significantly, test-prep specialists rather than students pointed out the questions in contention. According to Seltzer, “ … the professional tutors who went in to take the exam in May were there because they see enough SAT students to make it worth their while to be there on a Saturday morning and because they care about their students. That makes them an informed and judgmental group. It is their job, after all, to pick these tests apart. It’s hard to fault them for being critical of an exam that is the source of so much anxiety.”

“You Can Always Transfer . . .”

Transferring is a reality of the college process, and why not? Students’ interests change, as do family finances. That’s why I was pleased to read about the Interstate Passport project, developed by a group called the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and made available to colleges nationwide, providing they are nonprofits. The idea is that students who transfer don’t unnecessarily repeat courses, saving those students time and money. (We’re told that one-third of college students are transfers.) According to WICHE, a “block transfer of lower division general education” is possible.

For Summer Surfers

When it’s too dark for ocean surfing, try the internet! Your student can make waves by locating and applying for scholarships. The latest from Unigo features rewards for original essays on trial by jury, the most important lesson from a teacher, United States-Cuba relations, naval history, or even flavor of the month. (“If you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why?”)

Better Than a Summer Flick

During the spring, I attended Exploring Educational Excellence, a forum led by elite college admissions officers, including Peter Johnson from Columbia. I enjoyed Peter so much that I watched an interview he gave a high school student. Here are important takeaways:

  1. Prestige: “The Ivy League is just an athletic conference . . . You have to look beyond that.”

  2. Rankings: “Those rankings are absolutely ridiculous.”

  3. Personal Essay:  “You don’t have to have suffered in your life to get the attention of an admissions officer . . .What do we not know about you from the application that you would like to add through the essay?”

  4. The Transcript: “What is the degree of rigor of the program?”

  5. Teacher Recommendations: “We read those teacher recommendations incredibly closely. We read every line. We read between the lines.”

  6. Supplements: “Our questions go to our values.”

Thank you, Peter! 

unCommon Apps is on duty even when your student’s school is on vacation. Be sure to email me with questions. Read my blogs on, or follow me @nberler.


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