Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scaled SAT Math scores and raw scores

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Understanding your SAT Math Score and how it is derived is critical to scoring high.  

When I began playing organized soccer I caught the very first ball kicked to me. I thought I did well and was confused when my coach yelled at me and the opponents got possession of the ball and a free kick. Catching the ball was natural to me, but not a great strategy for a fullback in soccer. Likewise,some test strategies that work well in school back-fire on the SAT because the SAT has a different set of rules. It is difficult to win with out knowing these rules.

The scaled score on the SAT is the final score we receive.

This score is curved and ranges between 200 and 800 for each section of the test. 500 is the national average (50th percentile) for a specific test section and date nationally. The scores that we see are derived from a raw score. The average of the raw scores is assigned a 500. You cannot score below a 200.

The SAT raw score determines the final scaled score.

As such, it is the score that you should focus on. It is calculated by giving 1 raw point for each correct answer and subtracting ¼ raw point for each wrong answer on every multiple choice question. No points are lost in the Student Produced open-ended section of the Math, so it is best to guess if you don’t know the answer in this section. Do not guess on the Multiple Choice questions unless you can eliminate three of the choices because they are definitely wrong. Otherwise, guessing leads to lower scores.
In school, if an answer is blank, it is wrong. So it is better to guess than to leave an answer blank. While this is a good strategy in school it is a bad strategy for the SAT. It is better to leave a blank and not give away fractional raw points. After all, there is an 80% chance that a guess is wrong. 
This means that a guess is far more likely to hurt your score than to help it. Don’t ever guess out of five multiple choices and keep practicing. Questions? Contact WaveLength and we will be happy to answer.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Low SAT Math scores for good Math students

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Why are my SAT Math scores so low even though I am a good Math student?

High school math courses rely heavily upon homework. It is doled out daily, done mechanically by rote, and very few, if any of the problems are word problems.
This is why so many students fear Physics and Chemistry classes. They may not realize it, but those classes and life after school are word problem based. The most common misconception about the SAT Math section is that it is primarily about Math. It is not. It is roughly 90% word problems, and as such, it is primarily a reading comprehension section. Math is secondary.
Chemistry and Physics should be easy classes because they describe the world as we experience it. We have so much first hand knowledge from our first breath to our drivers’ test, that physical sciences ought to be intuitive. In contrast, analyzing the poetry of Walt Whitman, learning a foreign language, or writing an essay about democracy and the helots of ancient Greece should be far more difficult than understanding gravity, friction, or acidity. 
The inherent difficulty is in the words. Our Math and Science teachers take for granted that high school students know how to read a word problem. Teachers lack the time to address this critical step because they must teach new formulas and concepts in order to give their students the requisite knowledge they need to pass their impending quizzes, tests, and exams.
Students learn to read narratives at an early age. This is a different skill than reading a word problem. Word problems don’t have a back story or character development or even a denouement. The plot never thickens because it never exists. 
Word problems are a set of instructions like a manual that tells us how to assemble a doll house. Insert tab A into slot B. Check! Onto the next instruction. Ultimately we assemble information into equations.
I have developed a method for reading word problems once to conclude with the correct answer. This is vital, because if a student has to read a word problem two, three, even four times before answering, they are essentially taking 90% of the test as many times. They will not finish the section in time. It is also likely that they won’t be sure if they are answering the question correctly or even understand the question being asked.
I would love to tell you more about how I teach this technique and what it entails, but it is so simple that every student learns it well and any teacher could teach it. I am sure you aren’t the only one reading our blog. 
What I can tell you is that vocabulary plays a part and I have developed a list of SAT Math vocabulary that is complete and concise and all of it is found both in the SAT and the Skinny, WaveLength’s SAT study Guide
After students learn my word problem method they have far more time to take the test and actually think about the Math. This relieves stress, minimizes careless errors and mental fatigue, and ultimately raises SAT Math scores to reflect or surpass school Math grades. There is an added bonus to all of this. Student Science grades will inevitably rise with out extra studying. 

Read more about the ripple effect of our lessons and programs on our website under,
Testimonials. Or for more details about our Math vocabulary and word problem method, Contact Us. Read carefully and keep practicing!

Here is an article that I happen to find fascinating: One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don't

Saturday, March 2, 2013

When in doubt, do I Guess or Skip on the SAT?

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Guess or Skip? How and where we invest our time directly affects our SAT scores.

Time is the one resource we are given and we must make the most of it. If there were no time limit, everyone would score higher in every section. It would be way easier to think carefully with out the duress of the clock. It is critical to use the limited time we are given wisely.

All the Math sections of the test start with the easiest questions and become gradually harder until the hardest questions at the end of the section.

A correct answer is worth the same 1 raw point whether it is an easy, medium, or hard question. That is why it is important to slow down and make sure you score on questions you know how to do. Do not waste time on hard questions. You can still get a great score with out them. Easy questions have best rate of return for the relatively small amount of time it takes to do them. There is a limited number of easy questions, so it is important to recognize them as an opportunity to build a strong score.

Scoring is similar to earning $100 for completing a quick and easy task or a difficult time consuming task. If either task is done wrong the penalty is $25. The choice is clear. Slow down and make sure you get all the easy $100 opportunities with out owing $25 for your efforts. With the remaining time, decide which of the harder tasks you can complete and don't worry about the ones you don't get to. There is no reward for completing a whole section, only for accumulating as many raw points with out giving any back. The SAT Math section has 54 total questions. If I skip the harder half of each section and use my extra time to focus on the easier first half of each section, I essentially have twice the time to execute the first half. Slowing down and focusing on the first half of the test is the best way to get them all right. By skipping the harder second half I did not give back any of the points I earned. My raw score is a 27 for the Math. This is about a 500-520 scaled Math score. Not bad for only doing half the test. I never scored in the 50th percentile for doing half of my History test perfectly while omitting the rest.

Once I know that I am not making any silly mistakes, I begin to take on more of the test. My next goal would be  of each section, then ¾ and so on. Never attempt more questions until you are sure you are not needlessly giving points away.

It is best to get two or less questions wrong…

A total of two wrong on the multiple choice in any of the three sections on the SAT means that a ½ a raw point will be subtracted from the raw score. For example, a raw score of a 30 would then become a 29.5. Raw scores are rounded to whole numbers. This means a 29.5 becomes a 30 and no points were lost. If three mistakes were made the 30 would become a 29.25 which would then be rounded down to a 29.

When skipping problems, mark them on the test with a symbol that let's you know whether you want to attempt it later with your remaining time. That way you don't have to waste time rereading every skipped problem. I like to use a star to revisit a problem and a question mark to avoid a problem. I know that feeling good is important to performing well. I do not think, "I should know how to do that" when I skip a problem. Instead, I think, "Glad I caught that giant waste of time and effort early. Now I can use this extra time to make sure I get easier problems right." Be your own biggest fan and keep practicing. Contact WaveLength if you want to learn more about this and other test strategies. Keep practicing and good luck!