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There is help for Entrance Exams

Glen Heinrich-Wallace Park Record Intern

As the calendar shifts from January to February, college-bound High School seniors across the country let out a collective sigh of relief. The tests have been taken, the recommendations gathered, and the applications sealed and sent. All that remains is the agonizing wait for an acceptance letter.

But as the seniors anxiously await their fates to be delivered by return mail, the juniors are, or at least should be, launching themselves into the fray of college admissions.

Almost all colleges recommend that a potential applicant take one of the daunting standardized tests, either the SAT or ACT, in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year.

This double testing serves a dual purpose. The first is to act as an insurance policy against some of the variability of testing. Those who only take the test once run the chance of falling victim to any number of happenstance hindrances, ranging from a bad night’s sleep, to a catching a cold, to missing one bubble on the scoring sheet and innocently botching an entire section.

The second is that a student’s score almost always rises after first exposure.

There are also other options for those who wish to improve their scores. While many high schoolers simply saunter into the testing center with their No. 2 pencils, trusting to their education and the freak winds of chance, it is strongly advised that test takers prepare themselves beforehand.

It was James Bryant Conant, a president of Harvard, who in the 1920s pioneered the idea of a test that would predict success at the college level. After passing through a testing phase itself, the SAT began to be administered to students seeking scholarships to Harvard. Soon the other Ivy League schools followed suit and by the 1950s almost 400 top schools required the test for admission.

One of the many myths that surrounded the early SAT, and to a certain extent still exists today, is that the test is uncoachable. For years students were told that the test judged latent intelligence and was unaffected by education, and that all they could do to prepare was be life-long readers. In 1981 John Katzman proved this to be false.

Katzman formulated the first program proven to increase a student’s score on the SAT. In 1984 he published his first book, The Princeton Review’s guide to "Cracking the SAT."

"The SAT is a skill, and like any skill, it can be mastered," reads the introduction to the 2006 edition. Since the original publication, this philosophy has launched industry. Students looking for a leg up on either of the big tests can find a bevy of information in a variety of media.

The most readily available of these resources is the Internet. There are a large number of sites devoted to preparing students for the tests. Among them is http://www.testprepreview.com , which provides free access to problem sets from the tests’ various sections, but does not give explanations about why an answer is correct or incorrect.

Still competing with cyberspace are the good, old-fashioned books themselves. There are three main companies that provide test prep books (Barron, Kaplan, and The Princeton Review) as well as newcomers to the market such as Spark Notes.

Of these, the Princeton Review provides the most practical, clearly stated advice and explanations. There are a variety of these books available at the Park City Public Library, but because the full experience includes writing in the book, purchasing your own is probably a better option.

Perhaps the most effective option is to take a professionally instructed class. There are a number of locations both in Park City and Salt Lake City that provide these classes. Locally, Educational Advantage offers an after-school class at their campus on Bonanza Drive.

Class sizes average 5-6 students, meet for one hour twice a week, and focuses on students weaknesses by matching them with instructors strengths. They also offer one-on-one classes.

In the valley there are two Kaplan testing centers, one in Salt Lake and one in Provo. Kaplan guarantees an increase in a students test score: if the score does not improve, the student is enrolled in another class free of charge.

Another option is Higher Ground Learning, which provides both group classes and individual tutoring similar to that provided by Educational Advantage. The main difference is that their curriculum was custom made by one of their tutors, who drew from his experience instead of from the books mentioned above.

All in all, there is no good reason for the juniors who are now beginning to face the trial of college admissions not to take advantage of one of the options available to them, be it online, in hardcopy, or in a classroom.


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