kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/2/11 - 10/9/11

Saturday, October 8, 2011

the college admissions process

Do you ever get the feeling that there's something going on that we don't know about?
Timothy Fenwick, Jr. in Diner

MSMI Saturday Session: Singapore 1 & 2

I just returned from MSMI's Saturday Session on Singapore Math 1 & 2, hosted by our very own Allison Coates.

Turnout was great and lots of important material was covered, with a particular focus on the importance of NUMBER BONDS.

I'm looking forward to next month's session on grades 3 & 4, which should be pretty bar model intensive.

Thank you, Allison, for a very useful and informative session!

Unemployed and $87,000 in student debt . . .

Maybe he should be occupying his university in addition to Wall Street.

Read more at Cost of College.

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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steven Jobs, part 2

my neighbor, Steve Jobs

(via Reformed Broker)

Steve Jobs, RIP

He brought the magic.

highly selective colleges

Here's what I've learned. Not earth shattering, but not completely obvious, either.

First of all, highly selective colleges, at least some of the time, are in competition with each other. In recent years Ed interviewed a boy who was accepted by two Ivy League colleges; his parents then negotiated a better financial package on the strength of the second acceptance. Speaking hypothetically, Harvard doesn't want its admits going to Yale, and Yale doesn't want its admits going to Harvard. (I'm not saying those were the colleges involved in this case.)

Second, one department or area inside a highly selective college or university may be faring better than another. That is to say, one department may be losing a disproportionate share of admits to another highly selective college or university than other departments are losing. I gather admissions departments track these things.

If that's the case and your child is interested in that area, he or she might have a better chance of being accepted than the global admit rate implies.

I don't know whether this information is "actionable," but I think it might be. For instance, it might be possible to find out figures on the number of majors a department has had going back over the past 10 years, say. If the department has seen a drop in majors, it is probably looking for students. (Obviously, academic departments don't make admissions decisions. Nevertheless, it appears to me that colleges want all departments to have students.)

I suspect college magazines may have useful information to share as well. Retirements of famous professors, for instance. When a well-known professor retires, the department loses a drawing card.

Another thing to look for: new programs being developed. It strikes me that new programs might imply a higher admit rate early on for interested students. And new programs will almost have to pull majors away from other departments, which may shift the odds for students headed towards those departments as well.

No other thoughts at the moment.

Dartmouth testing profile for perfect scores

Critical reading - 800
8.2% of applicants have 800 CR
32.0% accepted

Writing - 800
9.4% of applicants have 800 on Writing
30% accepted

Math - 800
16.2% have 800 on math
18.7% accepted

source: Dartmouth College Undergraduate Admissions

I wonder if there's a case of left-digit bias in these scores.

first-serve Debbie and death-march Cathy

As an aside: Cathy is my real name, the name I grew up with. I changed to Catherine when I was hired to teach at UCLA at age 27, I think it was. I looked the same age as my students, who called professors by their first names, so I switched to Catherine and have been Catherine ever since, except in Illinois, where everyone I know calls me Cathy.1 Ed calls Illinois "Cathy-land."

Anyways, I am lollling reading Debbie's SAT post this morning:
"Not sure if those were the words that inspired my unplanned, last second, impulsive shift in strategy -- but I took SAT #5 in 2011, all in first-serves. I was aggressive. There was not one iota of perseveration in my game that day....I had a blast and enjoyed every second of the experience. I distinctly remember thinking as I colored in those first bubbles with that deliciously soft and perfectly sharpened #2 pencil, "This feels soooooo good."
Of course, I already knew this. Saturday afternoon, 2pm or so, as I was sitting at my kitchen table (where else?) in a stupor, Debbie called and said, re: the SAT we had both taken that morning, "Did you love it!?! I loved it!!!!"

Debbie is the single most enthusiastic person I have ever met in my entire life, and I say that as a person of extremely high enthusiasm myself. I have so much enthusiasm - my real name is Cathy !! - that until I met Debbie, I was the most enthusiastic person I had ever met in my entire life. Now I'm number 2.

Which brings me to: did I enjoy it?

Taking the SAT: did I enjoy it?

Answer: No.

I did not.

Not one bit, except for the guaranteed peace and quiet during the timed test sections: as a person working at home, I can see the value in having your own personal time-and-space proctor enforcing silence and an appropriate seating arrangement in 25-minute increments. I've always thought I needed an assistant, but I was wrong. I need a proctor.

The SAT, for me, was not a tennis match. Not that I've ever played a tennis match.2 Where tennis is concerned, I am apparently a permanent taker of tennis lessons, not a player of tennis games.

The SAT, for me, was more like a death march, which seems to be what it is for a lot of actual high school juniors and seniors.

A death march to, I dunno, SUNY New Palz, maybe.3

1 Well, everyone I know except for people I know through ktm.
2Debbie, btw, is an extremely good tennis player. Not that she will tell you this.
3 The only thing I know about SUNY New Palz is that's the college Anthony Weiner attended; I hope I'm not hurting people's feelings, and I'm very sorry if I have.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Harvard Admissions Meeting

This might go well with the discussion on getting perfect SAT scores. I realized from the SAT averages of Ivy League schools that they must go way out of their way to accept students with (relatively) lower scores. That's why many students with top scores don't get in. A friend of mine was in charge of an open meeting, sponsored by our state's Harvard Club, that talked about Harvard and the admission process. It also included a discussion by some current students from our state.

It started with a 20 minute video presentation that seemed to go out of its way to talk about how Harvard students are really just regular people - not some sort of elite. Well, they are elite regular people. That's the community they are trying to put together, and above a certain level of grades, other things become much more important.

So here is the issue. What does Harvard look for in a student? They don't want kids to apply just because it's Harvard or an Ivy League school. But after the meeting, I can't say that I know the answer to this question. They want a well-rounded school, but the admissions officer for the state claimed that each student can be "oblong". If you don't know what you want to concentrate in (they don't call it a major), then why would you want to go to Harvard? Because it's an Ivy League school? The admissions officer said that all Ivy League schools are different, but she didn't explain how Harvard might be different than Yale. It seems to me that if you made a case about wanting to be part of the work being done in one specific department at Harvard, that wouldn't be enough. Since most students don't know what they want to concentrate in, that's not really part of the admissions equation. They don't want you to apply because of their name or because it's an Ivy League school, but what else is there? They will decide if they want you based on their needs, not your needs. One of my grandfathers went to Harvard and one went to Yale. Why? Because one lived in CT and one lived in MA.

Someone once told me that the reason to go to an Ivy League school is for the people you'll meet and for the opportunities you might get. I realized when the students spoke that they were just talking about undergraduate courses. They were still figuring out what they wanted to concentrate in. Do they transfer to another Ivy League school when they figure it out? No. They wait for grad school.

In music performance, the goal is to find the best teacher to work with. You don't just blindly apply to Juilliard or Curtis. But then again, name, connections, and opportunities matter. It seems that the top schools want it both ways. They recruit based on their reputations, but students are supposed to pretend that it doesn't matter.

It's a "Math Flavored" Test

That's what PWNtheSAT told me after I screamed on the top of my lungs for the umpteenth time because I'd fallen again for some deception in the "Math Section" that wasn't even "math."
"Does that make you mad?" he asked.
"YES," I screamed.
"Good, then don't let them do that to you again."
And then he told me to think of the Math Section like shrimp flavored Ramen Noodles: there could be some shrimp in there, but really it's a lot of other "stuff." "That doesn't mean it's any less hard," he clarified, "Just different."
Not sure if those were the words that inspired my unplanned, last second, impulsive shift in strategy -- but I took SAT #5 in 2011, all in first-serves. I was aggressive. There was not one iota of perseveration in my game that day.
Last Saturday morning, at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, NY -- I discovered my inner "don't mess with me" self.
No idea what this means for my score, and thank god this doesn't really count for anything. I am very curious though, as to how this "backwards-Debbie" plan worked out, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I woke up the next day just a little bit scared.
Here's what I know for sure:
I had a blast and enjoyed every second of the experience. I distinctly remember thinking as I colored in those first bubbles with that deliciously soft and perfectly sharpened #2 pencil, "This feels soooooo good."
I will also say this: Every day I'm less sure about what, exactly, the SAT is testing. More and more it feels like a test of how not to be messed with -- especially the math (and least of all the writing).
And if that be the case (and I do believe that be the case), I'm going to highly recommend a book that I've highly recommended before: PWN the SAT Math Guide.
From the introduction:
"The SAT is not a math's full of booby-traps, misleading diagrams, and intentionally difficult phrasing. Even questions that look a lot like straightforward algebra questions are put there not to see if you can do the algebra, but to see if you can spot the shortcut that lets you avoid the algebra.
.....Taking the SAT like you'd take a regular math test is like bringing a knife to a gun fight......
.....The SAT is a test, above all, of how good you are at taking the SAT......

Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Cross-posted on Perfect Score Project

Monday, October 3, 2011

death by calculator

So on Saturday I took the SAT, all 4 hours of it: another supposedly fun thing I'll never do again!

Over on College Confidential there are, currently, 65 pages of my fellow test-takers debriefing each other re: the Critical Reading passages.

How is management different from handling? jpegslayer wants to know. I don't recall management being a choice on the Ella Baker passage,* but I do recall, dimly, selecting handling.

Also, there's a protracted debate over vehement vs caustic and emphatic vs disparaging. I have no memory of vehement vs caustic appearing anywhere on the test (apparently I was in a trance for parts of it), and I chose emphatic over disparaging.

People thought the Fleece passage was HARRRRDD (Akil found it here), which it was. Hard and odd...pretty much hard because it was odd. Odd and truncated, which made the thing odder still.

Question: was Fleece urbane or eccentric?

Answer: he was eccentric. I say he was paranoid, too, but the College Board and I may not see eye to eye on that one.

As to the rest of the test, C. and I both had math calamities, sad to say. C. choked on the one hard section of the three: got stuck on an early problem, lost track of time, and ran out the clock without even having read 5 of the problems, let alone tried to answer them. Classic, and so frustrating.

My own difficulties were self-inflicted.

I started down the path to ruin on Tuesday, when Debbie told me about the math frac function on the TI-83: PWN says you have to have it! Well, if PWN says you have to have it, then you have to have it because PWN knows everything about the SAT. (Really. He does.)

Trouble was: I didn't have it. A TI-83, that is. I have a lowly TI-36 I've been using for years and know so well I can practically touch-type the thing.

So I called Ed at NYU and asked him to pick me up a TI-83 on the way home. He said he would, but for some reason or other he didn't, which meant one less day to get up to speed on the TI-83 assuming he managed to get one on Wednesday.

He did, but it was sealed inside one of those monster pressure-sealed jobs that are impossible to open, and I didn't get around to dealing with it 'til the next night - Thursday - when the plastic proved so tough I actually cut myself with the scissors I was trying to jam through the packaging. In hindsight, that was a sign.

By the time the TI-83 was finally liberated from its packing and I had staunched the bleeding, it was 8:30 or so, and I was in no mood. At which point it emerged that C. didn't know anything about the math frac button(s) and couldn't show me how to use Debbie stopped over on the way home from her daughter's back to school night and spent 10 minutes explaining the thing.

That left one day - Friday - to practice.

In my defense, I did try reminding myself that one day of practice on a calculator with a different keyboard, different functions, and different locations for the same old functions (different notations, too) was not going to overwrite 5 years of practice with my trusty TI-83: I know this! I am a science writer, for god's sake! I write stuff about the brain! Stuff about the brain and learning and memory!

But I just kept thinking: math frac. Got to, got to, got to have math frac.

Oh, man.

Long story short, I got to the test, took the first math section, the hardest of the three (well, four in my case since my experimental section was also math) and stumbled and tripped over one problem after another when I couldn't remember where the Enter key was (or even that there was an Enter key), or which side the Power key was on, or how you do square roots on the TI-83 (hit the 2nd key; square root key is on the left, not the right) or exponents (use parentheses), etc., etc., etc. And since working memory can hold only 3 or 4 things at a time, plus or minus two, and "where's the Enter button?" counts as one (at least), I'd have to forget some key part of the problem I was trying to solve in order to clear enough mental space to remember how to work the calculator, so then I'd have to re-read the problem to re-remember whatever I was remembering before I had to forget that to remember the calculator, and then when I was done re-reading and re-remembering the problem, I might discover I had now re-forgotten how to work the damn calculator, which meant I would have to re-forget the problem to clear space to re-re-remember the workings of the TI-83 ----- aaaaaauuuugggh! Stuck in an infinite forgetting and remembering loop! Help! Help!

I switched back to my old calculator for the other three sections, and things went much better.

Later, hearing the story, Ed said, "I was afraid of that."

* The Ella Baker passage made my eyes bleed.