kitchen table math, the sequel: SAT reading vs math

Friday, October 7, 2011

SAT reading vs math

If I had to come up with an artificial number of what constituted truly impressive combined scores on the recentered SAT I, I would say over 1,490 or 1,500. Those are still considered very high scores, ones that are not easy to attain, no matter how bright a student is.

I hesitate to give this example, because, as always, it is not the combined score that matters as much as the breakdown. It is still, as it has always been, more impressive to see high verbal scores than high math scores, since most students at the highly selective colleges will be doing much more writing and reading than math. Verbal ability is still a good indicator of how strong a reader the student is. The ability to read well will ultimately have a bigger impact on most college students than the ability to do SAT I math very well, especially since the level of SAT math is not particularly high. There are many students who do terribly on the SAT I math and yet who manage to get the highest score of 5 on the AP calculus exam. If any math is useful at the college level, it is calculus, not the basic math covered on the SAT I. Therefore, SAT I scores of 750V, 630M would be much more impressive for most highly selective colleges than a 640V, 780M, even though the latter score has a higher combined total by forty points.
A is for Admission by Michele A. Hernandez 1997
From what I can see, this view still holds true (though take my observation with a grain of salt).

I do wonder whether the high-end test prep industry may have actually increased the value of a high Critical Reading score, given that the reading test is the one you can't tutor.

I use the words "can't tutor" because those are the words everyone uses: it is extremely difficult to raise the critical reading score via tutoring, and everyone knows it, including college admissions officers presumably.  Nonetheless, I believe there are tutors who do raise reading scores.*

But it's not easy.

My guess is that college admissions officers at highly selective colleges assume the parents bought 50 points on math, but the reading score came from the kid. 


* I should probably add that C. wasn't tutored in reading. I have confidence in Erica because I've met her and I like her book.

20 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

In our case, the reading score came entirely from C.

I was able to raise his math score a good 60 points myself.

I think he would have picked up another 50 points from tutoring if he hadn't gotten stuck on the one problem. That's my sense of his score on sample tests.

The test prep we did was radically worthwhile; C. is ***so*** much more fluent in the fundamentals as a direct result.

When he took a pre-test in his calculus class this fall, he whizzed through it & got everything right.

That may sound crazy, given that precalculus isn't on the exam, but it's true.

Serious SAT prep-with-mom and with-tutor filled a whole lot of gaps.

Catherine Johnson said...

fyi - the tutor who worked with C. on math tutors all 3 subjects, so we asked him to work on writing, too, to get C's writing score over 700. (His score was 680.)

We also had him work through as much of Erica's book as we could get him to do (VERY resistant to all SAT prep, so we didn't get as afar as we should have).

We're expecting the writing score to move past 700, but we'll see. The first essay he wrote for school this fall had NO errors! None at all!

I attribute that entirely to the tutoring & to Erica's book.

So even if his writing score doesn't move, that was time & money well spent.

Debbie Stier said...

He's resistent to SAT prep?! What kind of kid is he?!!

I have a fill the holes post percolating. As you know, I filled a gaping polynomial hole yesterday. I wonder a) how many more i would have gotten right had I known the difference between squares and FOILing properly, and b) how many other holes I have.

I did know there was a blind spot in the polynomial department though.

Bonnie said...

I find it sad that students at highly selective colleges will be doing more writing than math.

Do you think that holds true even at good engineering schools? MIT? CalTech? Carnegie-Mellon?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

As an engineering professor who has also taught technical writing to engineers, I can say that most engineering students do far too little reading or writing. Many of them think that they can learn things by osmosis in lectures. This is part of the reason for the very high failure rate in the first two years of engineering school.

Engineers end up doing more writing than most professions, and they tend to be woefully undertrained at the task.

Incidentally, the writing part of the SAT is probably the hardest part to do well on by native intelligence, and the most coachable. Being smart and a good reader can make the other two parts pretty smooth sailing.

kcab said...

Do you think that holds true even at good engineering schools? MIT? CalTech? Carnegie-Mellon?
No. Not even with today's increased writing requirements within engineering classes. I did more than most, as my concentration (or whatever it was called) was in writing, but I am sure I read and wrote much less than I would have if attending a selective liberal arts school.

I don't believe that type of score disparity (high CR, mid 600's M) would be seen in as good a light at the top engineering schools though.

Catherine Johnson said...

I find it sad that students at highly selective colleges will be doing more writing than math.

I don't ---

Catherine Johnson said...

Not even with today's increased writing requirements within engineering classes. I did more than most, as my concentration (or whatever it was called) was in writing, but I am sure I read and wrote much less than I would have if attending a selective liberal arts school.

I personally wouldn't want a student majoring in engineering/math/science to be doing huge quantities of writing in college.

Writing is hard, and math is hard; at some point you have to specialize.

JUST MY OPINION, but I'd want engineering students to be doing **only** enough writing to develop a basic proficiency in college/professional level writing.

Catherine Johnson said...

Engineers end up doing more writing than most professions, and they tend to be woefully undertrained at the task.

Interesting.

Why do engineers do more writing than other professionals?

(Not saying they don't - just curious.)

I agree that the writing section is the most coachable. It is so coachable that I think it **ought** to be coached: the writing section tests EXACTLY the grammatical skills most lacking in college students (according to the Lunsford study).

Moreover, having now written a 25-minute SAT essay, I see major value in kids being able to whip off a coherent argument in a very short period of time.

I think the writing section is **extremely** valuable -- and I think every high school in the country should start teaching to that particular test.

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't believe that type of score disparity (high CR, mid 600's M) would be seen in as good a light at the top engineering schools though.

lollll!

Definitely.

(Though I'd be interested to know how engineering schools view the Critical Reading section ---- ?)

Catherine Johnson said...

oh man

we are out of it

C has been getting tons of mail from colleges, and we haven't been paying attention because we were focused on NYU.

So... I'm talking to C. now, and I'm finding out he's had two other invitations to spend weekends at two other colleges: Oberlin & Wash U.

In those cases, the colleges said they would put him up for a weekend, feed him, and (I gather) introduce him to professors.

I knew vaguely about the Oberlin weekend because C. told me about it when the invitation when it came in. When I heard we'd have to pay plane fare, I didn't even bother to read the letter.

Ed talked to a guy at NYU who told him this approach called "avalanche recruiting." A school flies in a group of students they're interested in, puts them up for the weekend, plans activities, with the idea being that the potential candidates will bond and recruit each other both to apply and to attend if they're admitted.

In the case of the weekend he's actually attending, the school is paying transportation as well as food and lodging.

I wish I'd seen those other invitations. C. says he threw them out 'cuz he knew we weren't interested.

I'd love to have at least seen what the Wash U invitation actually said.

Catherine Johnson said...

I HAVE TO GET THE GRINNELL VIEW BOOK POSTED!!!!

notansatcoach said...

I've been able to help some students with the critical reading questions by teaching them to think about the whole passage before they think about parts of it. If they can crystallize in their minds what they have just read, the questions will make more sense. I'm pretty sure one pitfall in critical reading is the natural tendency to fire before you have the target fully in your sights.

I have graded the SAT writing sample several times, and it seems that the highest scores go to writers who can stay focused on their main idea (SAT calls it "point of view") without running out of gas. The more background a student has, the more he can bring to the argument. If the writer relies on personal examples and insights, he might not be able to retain the unwavering focus.

Grace said...

"Moreover, having now written a 25-minute SAT essay, I see major value in kids being able to whip off a coherent argument in a very short period of time."

Boy, it's hard to argue against that.

Debbie Stier said...

I've grown to love writing the essays. I did a few dozen of them over the summer and @PWNtheSAT would "grade" them for me.

They definitely got easier to write and more enjoyable.

The timing was always the scary part for me (i.e. "what if I can't think of any examples AND write the essay in 25 minutes -- which feels like a flash).

SteveH said...

Does the ACT ever breakdown their score into parts. If so, do colleges see them?

SteveH said...

I don't like the time limit. I fuss over everything.


This is an example where they give you a quote and add a comment.


Prompt:
"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value."

Thomas Paine

"Assignment:
Do we value only what we struggle for? ..."


Paine said nothing about struggle. I would spend all of my time arguing the question, not answering it. Actually, I find contrarian views to be easier to define and are more interesting.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Do you mean subtest scores? If so, yes, and the colleges do see them. In fact, we were told that some colleges were starting to take your best subtest scores if you took the ACT more than once.

All of the subtest scores (math, English, reading,and science) go to 36 each. The essay, I think, goes to a top score of 6, but I could be wrong there. They also break down how many you missed in the different areas of each subtest.

The ACT also has a non essay version. There are actually some colleges that don't require the essay.

SusanS

Grace said...

Yes, I know of at least one school that "super-scores" the ACT.

Bonnie said...

Coming back into this late.... There are two reasons I made the comment that it seems sad that students would do more writing at "highly selective colleges" than math.

The first reason is the presumption that "highly selective colleges" = schools where one writes a lot and doesn't do much math. There are many excellent, selective colleges and universities where students do lots of math. I hate the fact that most parents think only of schools like Bates or Swarthmore when they think of prestige schools, rather than thinking of Carnegie-Mellon or CalTech.

Secondly, I think most students graduate from college with an appallingly weak background in math. I don't care if you are majoring in history or communications, you need to have some basic quantitative skills, especially in areas like statistics. And yes, engineers do need to be able to write, but they do get a lot of writing in their gen-ed courses, a lot more than history majors get of math. I also think that the stereotype that engineers and scientists can't write is dead wrong. The problem is, many science and engineering majors do not speak English as a first language, which skews our perceptions. I have found, though, that among native English speakers, my absolute best computer science majors are also excellent writers. Moreover, they are typically better writers than the liberal arts majors that I encounter. I think, quite frankly, that people who excel in computer science are simply bright people who are good at both writing and math. So I am less worried about teaching more writing to the engineers, and more worried about teaching more math to the history majors.