Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pink Flowers, Gray Day

This year's amaryllis is called Aphrodite. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Redesigned SAT - Reading and Writing & Language

The reading section of the New SAT is similar to the ACT in that the student is given a passage to read then asked multiple choice questions. The passages are chosen from the areas of US and World Literature, History/Social Studies, and Science. Questions from the Literature section tend to focus on characters’ emotions and relationships. Answering questions from the non-fiction sections is often facilitated by focusing on topic sentences and the themes that are described in the first and last paragraphs. Vocabulary is tested with reading comprehension and by questions that refer to word usage. “As used in line 2, emulated most nearly means…”

The Reading Section of the New SAT differs from the ACT in three main ways.

1. The reading passage often includes a graph and one question that relates to it. The graphs are relatively straightforward and do not require advanced math skills. My tips on rapid data analysis are:
  • Read the title of the graph to determine the subject.
  • Read the labels on the axes to see what is being compared.
  • Read the units on the axes to discover if the graph presents measured values or percent change.
  • Bar graphs compare values to each other. (yearly rainfall in five major cities)
  • Pie graphs present parts of a whole. (fraction of entering freshman who are English majors)
  • Line graphs relate what was measured (y-axis) to what was varied (x-axis). (how ambient temperature changes over time)

2. The non-fiction passages may be a paired-passage set. (These sections are similar to what I call the Dueling Scientists sections of the ACT.) Two opposing viewpoints are presented, and students need to differentiate between them. In a time-limited testing situation, it’s easy to forget who said what. The best way to approach these sections is:
  • Look at the questions before reading the passages. Write “1” by questions that pertain to the first viewpoint, “2” by questions that refer to the second viewpoint and “both” by questions that compare the opinions.
  • Read the passage that states the first opinion. Answer the questions that relate to it.
  • Read the passage that states the second opinion. Answer its questions.
  • Answer the questions that pertain to both sections.

3. A concept question may be followed by related question. First the student is asked about a major theme of the passage. The next question asks which quotation best proves the answer to the previous question. These double-jeopardy questions are problematic because, if the student answers the first question incorrectly, there is little chance of getting the second question right. Also, to save space, only the beginning and ending of the quotes are given in the question, so the student must take time to look up the quotations by line number.

The Writing and Language Section of the New SAT is similar to the English section of the ACT. Students need to know rules of grammar and punctuation. Review the differences between sentences and phrases, subject-verb agreement and comma use. Some questions relate to writing style, such as eliminating redundancies. Often the student is asked to arrange the sentences in a paragraph in the correct order. Occasionally this section also includes a graph. 

As in my discussion of the math section, I cannot list every topic that may be tested. The best approach is to study a test-prep book or download practice tests.

My post on the math section of the Redesigned SAT can be found here

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Redesigned SAT - Math

This year Michigan is switching from the ACT to the Redesigned SAT for the free college entrance exam offered in schools. I’m not bragging when I say I can do every problem on the ACT. The students I tutor work through sample tests and ask for help on the problems that stymie them. Even so, I had to prepare and review to complete the math sections of the New SAT.

To prevent surprises on Test Day, this post discusses some general differences between the math sections of the ACT and the Redesigned SAT. For a complete list of the topics tested on the SAT, see a test preparation manual. Some older editions are still floating around, so get one that says “Redesigned SAT” or “New SAT.” Practice tests can also be found online.

The SAT allows students more time for each problem. On the ACT, students have 1 minute/problem. On the SAT, students get 1.25 minutes/problem on the No-Calculator section and 1.45 minutes/problem on the Calculator section.

The math section is divided into calculator and no-calculator sections. The no-calculator section includes 20 questions. The calculator section has 38 questions.

A Ti83 or Ti84 calculator is necessary to complete the calculator section. (For the ACT, a simpler calculator such as one from the Ti30 series is sufficient.) Students should know how to use their graphing calculators to: enter scatter plot points in lists and graph these points, fit regressions of curves and lines, enter equations, find zeros of polynomials, enter exponents (both fractional and negative), take roots, calculate trig functions and other standard mathematical functions.

The SAT tends to have more multi-step math problems.

Math tends to be more advanced on the SAT. The ACT covers Algebra I and Geometry with four trig problems. The SAT focuses on Algebra II. For example, on the ACT students must recognize that y = x2 + 5 is the equation of a parabola, while on the SAT, students must understand how to transform functions. A review of factoring polynomials and solving quadratic equations will not go amiss. The SAT includes fewer geometry problems, although some proofs are required. Students should review the criteria for proving congruence of triangles. Familiarity with SOHCAHTOA (a mnemonic for the trig functions that is taught in geometry) will see students through half of the trig problems on the ACT. For the SAT, students should also be familiar with the unit circle and the difference between degrees and radians.

Some math questions on the SAT are not multiple choice, but instead require that the student enter a numerical answer. This approach makes guessing impossible. Before Test Day, students should read this information on how to grid in numerical answers.  

The calculation of some problems requires the solution to the previous problem. If the student gets the first question wrong, it is improbable that the second question can be answered correctly. Most educators agreed that double jeopardy questions are poor testing technique. I hope future iterations of the test remove this type of question.

Some questions require that the student find two separate values and add them, even if this sum has no mathematical or physical meaning. For example, after finding the Cartesian Coordinate (x,y), the student may be asked for x + y, or after calculating time and distance, the question may ask for the sum of time and distance.

There are numerous “trick questions.” The student should read the problem and underline what the question is asking. After the calculation is complete, the student should double check what the question asked. For example the student has calculated profit, and the question asks for percent change.

I highly recommend students work practice tests before Test Day. Numerous tests can be found online. Here is a link to the College Board sample tests.

In future blog posts, I’ll write about the other sections of the Redesigned SAT. Each post will include links to the others. 
Reading and Writing & Language