Deadline to Register for March 12th SAT is Tomorrow

The deadline to register for the March 12, 2011 SAT is tomorrow, Friday February 11. If you miss the deadline, late registration is available until February 15, 2011. Register online at collegeboard.com.

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Some Colleges Opting Out of the SAT ‘Score Choice’ Option

I recently answered the question "should I cancel my SAT score?" with information regarding the upcoming Score Choice option on the SAT. To refresh, the SAT used to require that all scores from every test administration be sent to colleges. With Score Choice, students are permitted to send only the scores of their choosing to colleges. In other words, they may choose to send only their top combined score, and the university would never see the lower scores.

However, this idealism seems to have changed.

It has now become clear that colleges can opt out of Score Choice, and require that applicants report every SAT score. Newsweek has indicated that Stanford, Cornell, Pomona, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California will demand all scores. Other schools, including Harvard and the University of Chicago, say they will honor Score Choice. Many more, such as Yale and Princeton, say they have yet to decide.

This may be disappointing news for several students who believed Score Choice to be the cure of test taking anxiety. However, remember that the playing field has not really changed. Just because certain schools are requiring all reports does not mean that having lower scores will necessarily preclude you from admission; colleges still view the entire application -- scores included -- in totality. All this means is that when you decide to take the SAT, you should be ready for it.

For tips to succeed on the SAT, make sure you check out my SAT tips section.

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Should I cancel my SAT score?

Good luck to all of the students taking the SAT today! To commemorate, I would like to answer the most common question I am asked on test day: should I cancel my SAT score?

The answer is easy: probably not.

You should definitely not cancel your score immediately after the test. Though you do have the option to request a score cancelation form from your proctor, never do this unless the reason you want to cancel your scores is that you threw up on the test. Otherwise, wait to see how you feel tomorrow. You have until the following Wednesday at midnight to request that your scores be canceled, so you should wait until the pressure of the test is off before trying to make this important decision. The exact procedure to follow is outlined on the College Board website.

So now it's Sunday or Monday and the initial stress after the test has passed and you still want to know if you should cancel your score. The answer is unsurprisingly still: probably not.

You likely did better on the test than you think. We tend to be an awful judge of our own success, and you may end up pleasantly surprised with your score. And even if you did do poorly, who cares? Universities now expect that students will take the SAT 2 or 3 times. One bad score on your record will probably not hurt you, especially since most colleges are happy to consider only your highest composite score. And if you canceled your scores, you would have to take the SAT again anyway, so there's no real incentive to even do so. You may as well take a chance and see what you got.

Plus, starting for the class of 2010, students can report only their highest score to colleges without needing to submit all of their other scores. The admissions officers will not even know about this bad test.

But now lets say you have read all this and you still want to cancel your scores. Sometimes cancelation is appropriate. Go through the following checklist and, if all the conditions apply, you may be a good candidate for score cancelation:

  • You are not a student of 2010 or beyond (i.e. you are a senior and will graduate before 2010).
  • You have some objective reason for knowing that your score suffered in some way (e.g. your calculator died in the middle of the math, you realized too late that you mis-bubbled an entire section, or you had some emergency during the test that prevented you from completing one or more sections). "I just don't think I did good" is not a valid reason.
  • You have contacted the colleges you are most interested in and confirmed that they consider all of your scores in their admissions decisions (e.g. they do not consider just your highest score and instead average all of your scores).

Only if all three of these situations apply should you consider canceling your score. Otherwise, wait it out and keep your fingers crossed.

Want to know if you're a good candidate for score cancelation? Leave a comment below.

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Should I take an SAT Prep Course?

College Board Official SAT Study GuideIt's March, and many students are starting to think about the SAT and ACT examinations. Reader Timothy P. wants to know some ways to get prepared:

My GPA isn't as high as I'd like it to be, so I really want to do well on the SAT. I have some friends that took a prep class and really liked it, and other friends who took a class and said it didn't help them at all. I sort of want to take one just in case, but all of them are really expensive. Could I just buy a book and practice on my own, or do I have to take a prep course? Or maybe hire a tutor? And which company is the best to use?

Hi, Timothy. The answer to the question, "do you have to take a prep course" is easy: No, you definitely do not need one. But "should you" is a different question entirely and is based on you personally.

Everyone responds differently to test preparation. Students who score in the mid-to-low range of test scores prior to class sessions tend to benefit the most from classes. Students in the highest and lowest score ranges tend to benefit the least, but can still get help from one-on-one tutors. Larger test preparation companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan have guaranteed score increases, often about 200 points. But remember that some of this score increase comes simply from practicing the test. You might also increase 200 points on your own.

It's important to evaluate yourself as a student. Do you tend to be strongly self-driven and can easily commit to spending at least 8 hours a week working on the SAT without slacking at all? If not, helping you to overcome this is one of the biggest advantages of an SAT prep course. Because you have a teacher, a specific meeting time, and assigned homework, you're much more likely to keep up with your practice. But if you feel that you can be self-motivated, you may be fine without paying for a class.

The best thing to do is to pick up a book like the College Board's own Official SAT Study GuideOfficial SAT Study Guide, which runs about 20 bucks on Amazon. The College Board is the company that makes the SAT, and their book includes several practice tests for you to work through. Try to practice under realistic conditions (i.e. limit yourself to the correct time limits, and go through an entire section without an break). Then, grade your test and review not only the questions you missed, but also those that you skipped, guessed on, or struggled with. Then, for questions you simply cannot figure out, turn to your particularly bright friends (an SAT collaborative study session is a great idea, nerdy as it may make you feel), or ask an experienced professional. There are many forums all over the Internet to answer your questions, and I also will help with any problem you have. Just contact me.

If you run through a few of these tests and you don't see yourself improving, or if you are finding it difficult to maintain focused and to set aside time to study, then you're probably a good candidate for a prep class. You don't necessarily need to spend thousands on one of the big names; a small, local company will work as well since they'll also keep you on track. But if you need help, the largest names tend to offer the best -- or at least the most consistent quality -- service.

Again, you never have to take a prep course. If you can study on your own and see improvement from your repeated practice tests, the $20 booklet will be enough. Scour the net for SAT tips (like those found right here on my own site: standardized test tips) and you should be fine. But if you ever feel like you need extra help, prep courses tend to be good investments for most students. Good luck!

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Why You Can’t Buy ’10 Items or Less’ and Other SAT Grammar Errors

Reader Carly F. wrote me in response to the article, Top 11 Grammar Mistakes the SAT Hopes you Make to ask about another common error:

I heard that when grocery stores say "10 items or less" that that's actually wrong. Is that true? And if so, what should it be?

Great question, Carly.  And believe it or not, this is a grammar question that I have seen pop up on the SAT writing section several times.  The correct answer is that the sign should say, "10 items or fewer."

The general rule is that if you can count the things you're talking about, you should use the word 'fewer'.  If you can't count them, use 'less'.  Since we can count 'items', we should say "10 items or fewer."   The same is true for the opposite words 'greater' and 'more'.

Don't be confused by the rule about counting.  The distinction is this: we may be able to count cups of coffee, but we can't count 'coffee' itself.  So we  say, "you should drink less coffee" or "you should drink fewer cups of coffee."  Likewise, while we can count grains of sand, we can't count 'sand' itself.  "This beach has less send" or "this beach has fewer grains of sand" are both correct.

This rule also applies to 'amount' and 'number':  "If the amount of studying you do is high, you will score better on your SATs and get into a larger number of colleges."

'Fewer' and 'number' are words that we use so infrequently in the English language that they may as well not exist.  But while these distinctions are now archaic and known only by the staunchest of grammarians, the SAT will expect you to know the differences.  Earn those easy points by remembering these rules.

Thanks again, Carly.  This grammar rule has been added to the common SAT grammar errors article.

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Top 10 Most Common SAT Grammar Errors

Do you know the difference between a compliment and a complement? What about when it's appropriate to act discreetly versus discretely? Do you know whether to ask a counselor or a councilor about the correct usage of who and whom? The SAT will expect you to know all of these grammatical distinctions, and studying a quick list of the 10 most common errors is a great start and will help you to earn a few more points on the multiple choice writing section.

For the list, explanations for each term's correct usage, and tips on how to remember which word is which, proceed (or is it precede?) to my newest article, Top 10 Grammar Mistakes the SAT Hopes You Make.

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