Fiske Nailing the New SAT

Fiske Nailing the New SAT

by Edward Fiske, Bruce G. Hammond


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402204081
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 07/01/2005
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 8.25(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.04(d)

About the Author

Edward B. Fiske served for 17 years as education editor of the New York Times, where he realized that college-bound students and their families needed better information on which to base their educational choices. He is the author of the bestselling annual Fiske Guide to Colleges and the Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, near the campus of Duke University.
Bruce G. Hammond coauthored the Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College and was editor in chief of The Insider's Guide to the Colleges. He is the author of Discounts and Deals at the Nation's 360 Best Colleges and is the school and college expert at Parent Soup, a division of He lives near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

To hear students talk, you'd think that college admission was all about SAT scores-with maybe a quick glance at a student's transcript and ltters of recommendation. Keenly aware of the hype, colleges are quick to downplay the importance of scores. High school counselors fall somewhere in the middle; they seek to ease student overemphasis on the SAT while believing in their heart of hearts that the SAT is more important than the colleges are willing to admit.

We spoke to several college admission officers to get their views. "The SAT is one factor in our evaluation of academic achievement and potential," says Jerome Lucido, vice provost for enrollment at the highly selective University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This evaluation includes coursework, grades, rank in class (or its many proxies), awards, achievements, and teacher recommendations. We also consider many personal factors. It is clear, then, that SAT plays a much smaller role in the overall decision than students would believe from the rumors they hear, from the rhetoric of the coaching companies, or from the popular press."

If you polled the admissions directors of fifty highly selective colleges, every one of them would probably agree with this statement. While downplaying the importance of the SAT, admissions officers defend its usefulness as one part of the application. In doing so, they walk a fine line. Even the College Board admits that grades in school are the best indicator of college readiness. But the colleges (and the College Board) maintain that the combination of high school grades and SATs is a better predictor than either measure by itself. "The tests are a national measure for all applicants, so it helps to equalize consideration of candidates across a wide national and international spectrum," says Karl Furstenberg, dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College.

David Erdmann, dean of admissions and enrollment at somewhat selective Rollins College, expands on this reasoning: "Our experience is that grading systems, rigor, curriculum, standards, and expectations vary from school to school. Recommendations have the same flaw. The best recommendation for the top student at one high school may have the same praise that might have been heaped on the middle student at another high school. We believe that recommendations typically favor independent school students where the teaching load is lighter, where putting the best foot forward is an expectation, and where the recommendation is generally in greater depth. Essays suffer the same inherent flaw, or can, where the opportunity for assistance is greater. SAT or ACT scores help to level the playing field."

We suspect that many admissions officers would also agree with this statement. Yet if it is true that the SAT is the only universal yardstick-or at least true that admissions officers perceive it to be-that fact strengthens the hand of those who say that the SAT may be more important than the colleges say it is. Public perception of the SAT as a universal yardstick also plays a role. To a greater or lesser degree, all admissions offices feel pressure to maintain high average SAT scores among their entering classes-high scores look good, and scores are a factor in the rankings produced by U.S. News and World Report.

Of course, the colleges would be quick to point out that students who have high scores tend to bring other qualities that make them stand out. Then again, many of the low scorers who get in are athletes or others with special talents.

The gulf in perception that separates those on the high school side and those in college admission offices may lie in how each one sizes up the competition. Top students see themselves as competing against other top students. The student with a 2.5 GPA in a particular high school is not likely to be applying to the same colleges as classmates with a 3.7 or 3.8. Given that students with similar academic records apply to the same schools, what makes the difference? These students all get good recommendations and can generally write a good essay. Today's trend toward grade inflation accentuates the issue. Capable, hard-working students inhabit an increasingly narrow band of grades in the A/A-/B+ range. The SAT is often the only factor that puts meaningful distance between them. A strong student who does not test well may score in the 500s or 600s on each section for a combined score in the 1200s; a student with the same A average who is an SAT whiz may get 700s for a combined score in the 1400s or 1500s.

All this begs an important question: Does the SAT measure real abilities? Or merely test-taking skills? We'll weigh in on this raging debate a bit later. For now, suffice to say that if you're an able student with a strong transcript, your SAT score will determine your fate at selective institutions as much as or more than any other part of your application.

Before we leave the topic of the SAT's importance in admission, it is worth noting that most public universities that are less selective than UNC at Chapel Hill use a different model. With lots of applicants and relatively few admission officers, these institutions tend to rely on test score cut-offs for admission, though there is often an alternate route to getting in for students who do not achieve the requisite scores. The University of Arizona is a typical example. For in-staters, U of A requires that students meet one of the following four criteria for automatic admission: 1.) rank in the top 25 percent of the high school class, or 2.) have a 3.0 GPA, or 3.) a 1040 SAT, or 4.) a 22 ACT. Students who do not meet any of these requirements may be admitted if they fulfill other criteria.

Still other schools create a formula for admission that encompasses minimum GPA and test score requirements. Depending on the formula, it is sometimes possible to compensate for a low test score with a high GPA. Most colleges that use a specific score formula are up-front about it on their websites. Standardized test scores are not necessarily more important at these institutions than at the highly selective places, but at least you know where you stand.

Table of Contents

1. Inside the New SAT -
Goodbye 1600, Hello 2400 -
The New PSAT and the National Merit Program -
How Important Is the SAT? -
What about the ACT? -
SAT vs. ACT: How the scores stack up -
Is It Possible to Psych out the SAT? -
What It Takes to Beat the SAT -
Developing Your Own Approach -

2. SAT Prep Courses: Straight Talk from Students -
The Story behind the Survey -
Eye-Opening Results -
Princeton Review and Kaplan -
Score Increase Claims: A Closer Look -
Why the Myth Won't Go Away -
Students Talk about Their Prep Courses -
The Test-Prep Syndrome -
A Closer Look at the Questionnaires
3. Taking Charge of Your SAT Prep -
When Should I Take the SAT? -
How Many Times Should I Take It? -
Registering for the Tests -
Late Registration and Score Reporting -
Students with Disabilities -
Making Your Own Prep Course -
Beating Anxiety and Time Pressure -
Your Game Plan -
The Zen of Test Day -

4. Writing -
The Essay -
Getting Your Brain in Gear -
The First Paragraph -
The Body and the Conclusion -
The Nitty-Gritty of How to Prepare -
Know Your Audience -
Hitting the Fast-Forward Button -
Keys to Success -
Identifying Sentence Errors -
Verb Tenses -
Keys to Success -
Improving Sentences -
Style and Sentence Structure -
Keys to Success -
Improving Paragraphs -
Keys to Success -

5. Critical Reading -
Sentence Completion -
Keys to Success -
Passage-Based Reading -
Paragraph-Length Passages -
Honing Your Strategy -
Finding the Point of View -
Keys to Success

6. Math -
It's Not about the Math -
Inside the Bag of Tricks -
Taking the Pressure Off -
Grinning Through the Grid-ins -
Oh Yeah, the Math -
The New SAT's Math -
Keys to Success -

7. The Fiske SAT Practice Tests
Practice Test #1
Scoring Practice Test #1
Answer key Practice Test #1
Practice Test #2
Scoring Practice Test #2
Answer Key Practice Test #2
Acknowledgments -
About the Authors -

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