Monday, December 20, 2021

86 Holiday Gifts Just for You

No matter what you celebrate this holiday season, wouldn't you like a gift? 

Well, what about 86 of them? 

Time to open your gifts: here is a list of 86 colleges with test-blind, test-free or score-free admissions policies for Fall 2022 (or beyond). 

That's right. Over 80 schools won't consider SAT or ACT scores in their process of admission including all campuses of the UC system, California Institute of Technology, Dickinson College, and many other excellent schools. 

What great gifts. If any of these schools are your dream schools, then don't stress about SAT and ACT prep

Instead of spending the time, money and energy gearing up for standardized tests for these schools, spend that time, money and energy working on the things these schools value, namely GPA, academic rigor and extracurricular commitments. 

Happy Holidays from CROSSWALK! We wish you all a stress-free holiday season. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Maximize Test Prep This Vacation (with Minimal Work)

Attention Juniors: I know you are stressed from the last several months of school. You are ready for a break. And the last thing you want to do is study over Christmas vacation. 

But if want to open up opportunities for college admissions and merit-based aid, you may want to spend a little time preparing for the SAT or ACT. Just a little. 

So while you get lost of rest and relaxation this vacation, try this simple eight-day plan that only takes about eight hours in total in order to maximize your test prep over Christmas break with minimal work: 

Day 1: Find your goal score. Look up 3-4 schools you are interested in and find out their testing policies and, assuming they are test-optional or require a test, what SAT or ACT score you need. Determining this score is the first step in understanding what you need to do. Estimated time: 15-20 minutes. 

Day 2: Take a practice test. Download a practice SAT or ACT directly from the respective websites and print it out. In one sitting, to take the entire test cover to cover per the exact instructions and timing. Estimated time: 3 hours. 

Day 3: Score the test. Using the instructions from the test websites, score your test. Calculate your scaled score according to the instructions and compare it to your goal score from the Day 1 activity. Figure out the incremental number of correct answers you need to achieve your goal score for your next test sitting. Estimated time: 1 hour. 

Day 4: Identify your weaknesses. Review the practice test and document each question you missed and why you missed it. Review your results and see if there are any themes. Try and uncover your weaknesses, like vocabulary-in-context questions in reading or word problems in math. Estimated time: 1 hour. 

Days 5-7: Attack weaknesses. Research how to get better at your weaknesses. Find a vocabulary list to study. Look up math content on Khan Academy. Practice reading passages. Get better at those things that are weakest. Estimated time: 30 minutes/day or 1.5 hours in total. 

Day 8: Register for the real test. Check your calendar and find the test day most convenient, as in the least stressful time, for your to take the test. Estimated time: 30 minutes. 

If you follow this eight-day plan, you will be armed with the data from a practice test, a goal score and an idea of things you can work on. Ultimately, this plan will maximize your test preparation over Christmas break with minimal work. 

It's not a complicated plan and if you do all of the steps, your total time investment would be roughly eight hours. Not bad, right? I know you can carve out just eight hours in a two-week vacation. It will be worth it. 

And if you want, sign up for CROSSWALK's Winter Test Prep series starting in February. If you execute this vacation plan AND take CROSSWALK's six-week course, you will be on your way to maximizing your test score to increase your chances for college admission and merit-based aid.     

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

So Many Thanks

During this week of Thanksgiving, there are so many thanks to share.

Thanks to the Salinas Unified School District for helping me host a six-week SAT and ACT prep course this past fall. 

Thanks to York School for making me a part of their inaugural York Summer Bridge program and their fall test prep program. 

Thanks to South County Cal-SOAP for inviting me to offer support to their strategic planning and student programming. 

Thanks to Stevenson School for allowing me to help their students navigate the testing landscape. 

Thanks to our many CROSSWALK families who entrust us to help guide and tutor their students. 

Thanks to Independent Counselors, like Marisela Gomez of Inspired and Jane Catanzaro of College Advising Services for the referrals and support. 

Thanks to the many hardworking college counselors in the Monterey Peninsula area for helping our high school juniors and seniors plan for beyond high school. 

Thanks to my family for putting up with my dynamic schedule as a tutor. 

And thanks to anyone who I failed to mention who helped me and CROSSWALK over the years.

Indeed, a time to give so many thanks. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

The Hardest Part of the SAT and ACT

On the SAT & ACT, what is the hardest section? 

Are historical passages or science-based passages more difficult

Are word problems or data interpretation problems more challenging

Truth be told: It depends

Determining the difficulty level of particular questions or sections on the SAT and the ACT all depends on the student. Some students find the Reading section the easiest while others think it is Math. Science passages, for some students, are easier than history passages. And some students hate word problems and would rather graph parabolas. 

However, none of these questions really get at what makes the SAT and ACT hard. 

You see, the hardest part of the SAT and the ACT is the length of the tests. Both tests are three-hour mental marathons that require tremendous focus, rapt attention and intellectual endurance

What makes these tests hard is that students need the mental stamina to critically think, problem solve and navigate the hours upon hours that is the testing experience. 

If you are gearing up for the SAT or ACT, make sure to work on your mental stamina. Take regular full-length practice tests so that you can practice sustaining your intellectual energy for the entire test. Work on building up your stamina and keeping focused for all three hours. 

It's not a content thing; it's a stamina thing. Those with the mental fortitude to sustain their intellectual focus for the whole time will be the ones who achieve their goal scores.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

What Makes an "Honors" Student?

Full credit to one of my mentors for this post. Though he has been retired now for several years, his perspective on what constitutes an honors student still resonates today. 

When assessing whether or not a student was qualified for an honors or AP course, he would drill down to three characteristics: willingness, aptitude and interest. 

Willingness is the desire or eagerness to do extra work. Most honors courses require students to go above and beyond the regular course content. Thus, an honors student must be willing to do extra. 

Aptitude is the ability or the natural inclination to excel academically. To be an honors student, one must have some natural ability already. This can come in the form of a variety of skills like critical thinking, reading, reasoning, logic, public speaking, etc. 

Interest is passion for or great curiosity in the subject matter. Honors students have a keen interest in the material and seek out opportunities to learn as much as they can. They are sponges who yearn for more. 

But here is the best part of these characteristics: an honors student need not have all three. Instead, according to my mentor, as long as the student had at least two of the three characteristics, then that student could very well excel at the honors level. 

Simple yet elegant: an honors student is one who is either willing and apt, apt and interested, or willing and interested. 

Students: if you have two of those three qualities, then consider yourself an honors student. 

And if you lack more than one of these characteristics, then maybe the honors level for a given subject is not for you? And that is okay. You need not be a high-achieving honors student across all academic disciplines. 

Unfortunately, so many families and students push the honors track because they see that as the path to college opportunities. Yes, academic rigor can help your prospects. But if you lack the aptitude, the willingness and the interest, why force it? 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Take a Practice SAT

On Saturday, the team at CROSSWALK will proctor a full-length practice SAT test as part of our six-week program for students of the Salinas Union High School District. 

Practice tests are hugely beneficial in test prep for obvious reasons. Namely, students get to experience the time management and mental endurance needed to take on a full-length SAT. 

After all, the SAT and ACT are not much more than mental marathons. And the course of these particular marathons are the exact same every time. Sure, the questions might vary, but the directions, content, sections, order, and timing are all the same. Every time. E-v-e-r-y t-i-m-e

So it can only help to practice a test marathon to see how you do. 

Following the practice test, the students in our program will score their performance and analyze their own results. The scoring and analysis is a crucial step in identifying strengths or weaknesses as well as understanding how many more correct answers a student needs to target in order to achieve a goal score. 

So if you are preparing for the SAT or ACT, be sure to incorporate at least one full-length practice test in your preparation. 

Shorter practice sets, like the ones on Khan Academy, are helpful. But there is nothing like a full-length practice test to assess your mental stamina. 

Download full length practice SATs right here. Or find a full length ACT to practice here

As always, if you need help, contact CROSSWALK.  

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

3 Compelling Reasons to Start a Study Group

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." -Helen Keller 

When facing a challenge, would you rather go at it alone? Or with a team of like-minded individuals focused on a common goal? 

Individuals can accomplish great things but just about anything is easier with a team. 

Especially learning. 

With study groups, learning is enhanced. Consider these three compelling reasons why a study group is a great way to learn: 

1) Increased knowledge: Several brains are smarter than one. With a study group, students can leverage the knowledge and perspective of their team members. So instead of one brain doing all of the thinking, several brains can do it. 

2) Increased motivation: When working with a team, students can be more motivated to complete tasks. As the team focuses on its learning goals, individuals can be motivated to contribute to the team more than they would be just working on their own tasks. 

3) Increased accountability: Since the team relies on its individuals to move forward, team members are accountable to their group and not just to themselves. The added layer of accountability means students are more likely to accomplish their tasks since the team expects them to do so. Individuals can often procrastinate but when one is part of team, procrastination is selfish and therefore less likely. And if the study group keeps a calendar or regular meetings, members can easily focus on the tasks that need to be done. 

The curious thing with all of this is that many students are afraid to create their own study groups. Sometimes students are eager to work with a group but often I see students afraid to admit they need help from a group. Perhaps in our ultra-connected, social media-dominated and information-at-your-finger-tips world, students think they can solve all of their problems by themselves. 

Yet the fact is undeniable: a study group is a very effective way to learn more, accomplish more and achieve academic goals. 

Sure, there are drawbacks of study groups. Sometimes team members don't contribute. Sometimes it is hard to schedule meetings. And sometimes personalities take over the group. 

So assuming you can find a group of like-minded individuals focused on a common goal, why wouldn't you at least try and get a study group together? Gather a group to complete tasks, review material, take practice tests or otherwise focus on study goals. Treat it like a book club: invite people interested in the subject matter, schedule regular meetings and make the meetings enjoyable. 

If you need help creating a study group or otherwise finding ways to be more successful in your learning, contact CROSSWALK. We specialize in learning, tutoring and test prep for all types of learners. 


Thursday, September 16, 2021

SAT/ACT Prep for Salinas Union High School District

CROSSWALK is honored to host a six-week SAT/ACT test prep program for all Salinas High School students in the Salinas Union High School District. 

This program will be conducted via Zoom for six consecutive Saturday mornings from 9am-12pm starting Saturday, September 25th. 

Here is an overview of the classes:

  • 9/25: SAT/ACT Overview and Testing for College Admissions 
  • 10/2: SAT/ACT Reading Strategies for Success
  • 10/9: SAT/ACT Writing and Language Strategies for Success
  • 10/16: SAT/ACT Math Strategies for Success
  • 10/23: Practice SAT
  • 10/30: Scoring the SAT, Study Tips and Next Steps 

In this program, students will learn key strategies, practice multiple test sections and determine how to achieve a goal score. What's more, students will understand how testing fits into the current COVID and test-optional landscape of college admissions so that they can create a plan to maximize their college admission goals. 

This program is paid for by SUHSD for high school students in the district. Students are not charged for this course. 

If you are a student in the SUHSD district, ask your principal or college counselor for the flyer and sign up information. Or contact CROSSWALK directly right here

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Bad and Good of the SAT Experimental Section

My students from the recent August SAT reported that they received an experimental test section at the end of their SAT. While the experimental section is not a new phenomenon, I was mildly surprised to hear that all of my students--who tested across a variety of testing locations--received the extra section. 

For some context, the SAT pre-2016 always had one experimental section on the test. In the old days, there was no indication which section was the experimental so students had to put forth their best effort on every section. 

Post-2016, the College Board still included an experimental section in the SAT with two key differences: 1) it was reserved for only those students who opted to not do the essay and 2) the experimental section occurred at the end of the test so students knew which section it was. 

Today, this section continues to exist for the simple reason that the College Board wants to test out the difficulty level of their questions. Test takers are thus lab rats for the College Board to dissect the results. 

Going forward, it seems that the experimental section is here to stay for all students for three reasons: 

  1. The essay is permanently eliminated so now all students can do an experimental section. 
  2. With fewer test takers in the last 18 months due to COVID, the College Board needs more data.
  3. Both the test-optional or test-blind movements are in full force, so the College Board is scrambling to find ways to make the SAT more relevant. 

With this, there is both bad news and the good news.  

First the bad: 

  • Fatigue: This section comes at the end when most students are exhausted and ready to leave the testing room. 
  • Content: There is no way to predict if the experimental section you receive is a reading, writing and language or math section. 
  • Scoring, part I: Students might be led to believe that the results of this section could impact the overall score (see below for the good news on this one). 
And now the good: 

  • Scoring, part II: Scores on this section truly do not impact your overall score. They just can't. They are experimental sections and different students get different ones so using scores on these sections for all students would de-standardize the whole thing. Meaning: do not stress about it.
  • Test order: Unlike in the old days when students didn't know which section was experimental, today students will know that this section will be the extra fifth section after the four typical sections of reading, writing and language, math (no-calculator) and math (calculator). 
  • Test reliability: Your performance on this section will help make the test more reliable in the future. That may not be good news in the present but in the long term you would help overall scores be a better measurement of test success.
So my advice to students is the same as it would be in other parts of the test: relax, problem solve, remove any stress and do your best. 

After all, you are not defined by a test score so why would you be defined by an experimental section? 

If want more advice on experimental sections, or the SAT and ACT in general, contact CROSSWALK today. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

5-Day SAT Prep Plan

Many students will be taking the SAT on Saturday, August 28th. 

That's in five days.

At the end of summer. 

Talk about getting back to school! 

If you are in this situation, and you want to perform your best on test day, consider this very brief and easy 5-day test prep plan:

1) Don't Stress: Followers of this blog and all my students know that, say it with me, "stress is the enemy of test performance." So first and foremost, don't stress! There are so many reasons to NOT stress and the main one is that most schools will remain test-optional for this upcoming year (and beyond). Since test scores are not as meaningful as GPAs, transcripts, essays, letters of recommendation and the other key components of the application, then don't stress! 

2) Practice a Section Each Night: Starting tonight (Monday), practice one section each night. Do the reading tonight, writing and language tomorrow night, math no-calculator Wednesday night and finally the math calculator section Thursday night. But don't worry about scoring your practice, unless you are curious. Just practice the section like you would on test day meaning against the clock. This is no time to try out new or crazy strategies (that usually don't work). Just get into the rhythm of the test, read the directions (so you don't have to on test day) and rehearse your performance. 

3) Take Care of Yourself: Since the goal is to wake up on Saturday as fresh and focused as possible so that your brain can work at its maximum power, you need to take care of yourself all this week. Eat well, get plenty of sleep, and do whatever you need to do to ensure that you wake up on Saturday rested, stress-free and mentally firing on all cylinders. Self-care goes a long way, especially when it comes to standardized tests. 

4) Chill on Friday Night: The night before the test is the night to simply chill. Relax, watch a movie, hang out with friends or family. Just don't any test prep. Remember: the SAT is a mental marathon. A marathon runner does not run a marathon the night before the race so you shouldn't either. Perhaps you could organize your testing materials the night before, like get your calculator ready, your pencils sharpened and your testing identification all set up. Otherwise, do nothing! Chill out and relax. 

Really, with only five days left the key is to familiarize yourself with the test and take care of yourself. That's it. That's the plan. 

You can't go back in time and do a bunch of practice tests so why start now? Just relax, review each section of a practice test and then see how Saturday goes. 

You might be surprised: a summer off from school might actually help you stay calm and relaxed on Saturday. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

How Musicians Become Good Test Takers

Make no mistake: successful test-taking is simply a skill. 

To learn a skill takes dedicated practice

And since musicians are well-versed in practice, they can become good SAT or ACT test takers. 

Most skilled musicians know how to push through difficult learning. They understand that learning comes in fits and starts. A new melody or a new 8-bar progression is not mastered in one sitting. On the contrary, mastery is achieved through repeated attempts.

Learning a new skill is also about embracing humility. Musicians understand that their successes are a direct result of their failures. Fail first, fail often and then succeed. 

Really anyone who has worked diligently to practice and perfect a new skill, like musicians, has the ingredients to be successful test takers.

So approach your test-taking goals with measured, consistent and ongoing practice. It need not be stressful. Just the routine of doing the regular practice: read, take practice tests, analyze performance, improve weaknesses, repeat and repeat.  

Like a musician, prepare for your performance (i.e. test day) with regular and ongoing work to build the skill of test-taking. Become a musician with your SAT or ACT preparation and you will deliver a fantastic performance. 

And if you need any fine-tuning, CROSSWALK is here to help. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

3 Games to Identify Correct Reading Comprehension Answers

Reading comprehension is the one section of the SAT and ACT that has changed the least. Read a passage, answer questions and demonstrate that you can understand the details of the information presented. It's a skill that is useful for any reading, and most importantly on standardized tests. 

Despite the long history of this component of the SAT and ACT, many students still struggle with it. In my experiences as a test prep tutor, I have seen hundreds of students fail to pinpoint the precise detail in a passage that matches to the correct answer.  

Which is why I teach my students these three simple games they can play when attacking the answer choices: 

1) Flipping Game: Usually, a student tries to find a correct answer by matching the words from the answer choice to the words in a passage. However, in the Flipping Game, students are taught to flip this script and do the reverse. In other words, instead of initially going to the passage to match the words in the answer, students focus on the words in the answer choice first and mentally craft some text that could match that answer. Once the potential text is crafted, then the student attacks the passage to see if that is indeed what is written. 

For example, let's consider a question like, "What it the primary purpose of the first paragraph?" with an answer choice like, "To list the characteristics of the main character." In the Flipping Game, I would have students forget the passage for a moment and instead consider the answer choice and craft a "list" of "characteristics" in their heads. Armed with a "list", students then go back to the passage to see if the list they crafted matches the list in the passage find. If they find a similar list, then this is a possible answer choice. If not, eliminate it. 

2) Isolation Game: Whenever answer choices have multiple parts, students can play the Isolation Game. This game is all about attacking only one part of the answer. When you attack just one part of the answer at a time, you can eliminate wrong answers more quickly and get to your correct answer more accurately. 

For example, consider a question like, "Over the course of the passage, the main focus shifts from a ...." On these questions, every answer will have two parts: a summary of the first part of the passage then a summary of the second part. And each answer choice is separated by a "to" like "...general discussion of the narrator's personality to a story about how that personality changed." In this situation, I teach students to avoid worrying about the whole answer and isolate just one part of the answer. By focusing on only one part of the answer,  wrong answers can be identified faster which makes finding the right answer easier.  

3) One Word Game: Similar to the Isolation Game, the One Word Game is about attacking pieces of the answer. However, in this game, the strategy is to focus on one individual words. The meaning of each individual word is massively important. Students can eliminate wrong answers simply by identifying one or two words in an answer choice that do not match the passage. 

For example, let's imagine there is a paired passage in which the task is to read two shorter passages and compare and contrast them. A typical question for this task will be, "The authors of both passages would most likely agree with which of the following statements?" Play the One Word Game by looking at each individual word in an answer choice. And if the answer choice is, "History has proven to be very accurate", then every word must be what the authors would agree on. The word "very" in this answer choices presents a question: do both authors agree that it is "very" accurate? If yes, then this is a possible correct answer. If not, then eliminate. The devil is in the details on this as each singular word is meaningful. 

In sum, these three methods are not so much games as they are approaches to answer choices. Play one or all three depending on your questions and answer choices and you can get closer to the correct answer much faster. 

Finally, a shout out to York School and their Summer Bridge program for motivating me to write these games down for the CROSSWALK blog. We are in the middle of a great three-week  test prep program and I am thankful for those students who inspired me to document what we worked on in class. 

If you need test prep help or tutoring for academic subjects, either in person or online, contact CROSSWALK today. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

"The Inequality Machine" -- Book Review

Goodness gracious: The higher education system in the United States is not broken; we need a new system. 

And if you don't think we need a new system, then you should read The Inequality Machine: How Colleges Divide Us by Paul Tough

Before reading this book, I already knew that our higher education system favored the wealthy and connected. Just watch Operation Varsity Blues to see how the rich have gamed the admissions process. But after reading it, I now realize that these same inequities dominate not just the admissions process but all phases of the college experience: from applying all the way through graduation and beyond. 

Tough lays out an irrefutable case in his book that colleges allow the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The hope of achieving upward mobility through a college degree is just a dream that enrollment managers sell to keep their tuition revenue stable. 

It's a pretty dark conclusion especially from a personal standpoint as my children will soon enter the college admission process. Yet it is hard to argue with the facts that Tough lays out: 

  • Both rich and poor students, who attend the same colleges, achieve similar levels of success. However, rich and poor students are not attending the same colleges: the rich are attending the most elite schools while the poor are not. 
  • Many outreach programs to level the playing field have been successful, but on such a small scale that the results are difficult to measure. 
  • The College Board has marketed its efforts to make test prep more equitable yet there has been little change in the fact that SAT scores go hand-in-hand with income, education and race of the parents. 
  • Even if admitted to elite colleges, lower income students and students of color feel isolated and alone. The culture of many elite colleges fail to support lower income or racially diverse student bodies. 
  • As much as colleges profess equity and inclusion, they still need to admit a large proportion of wealthy students in order to make the university solvent. 
  • Graduation rates for students of color and low income students pale in comparison to white or wealthy students. 
Despite these harsh realities, Tough also presents some optimism. He tells of the 10% Rule that has made the University of Texas system more diverse. He shares a successful intervention program at Georgia State to target potential dropouts. And he shows how colleges can create study groups and community outreach to help lower income students who are unprepared for the rigor of college. 

Most importantly, he lays out a case that the United States has historically supported education in ways that could be replicated to decrease inequalities. For example, the GI Bill was a way we got more students into colleges. And the bottom-up initiatives by U.S. citizens from 1910-1940 created a culture around the importance of high school. 

Ultimately, Tough calls for a change. He argues that, "If you create an economic system in which achieving financial stability depends on obtaining a product that costs a lot of money, social mobility will inevitably decline.” And since the pandemic of 2020 further exposed the vast inequities in the system, "Change can’t come soon enough."

So if you agree with Tough that "Our collective public education benefits us all," then now is the time for change. Let's look at each step of the college experience--from considering college attendance, to applying, to accepting an offer, to financing the education, to graduating and to entering the work place--and revamp the entire process to make it more open to more students regardless of race, income level or background.

Yes, we have some work to do. But if we truly believe that education is a path towards upward mobility, then now is the time to make sure that path is inviting and welcoming to all.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Unintended Consequences of UCs Dropping SAT & ACT?

Hallelujah. Finally some clarity in the state of California: The University of California system recently announced that the SAT and ACT will no longer be a factor in admissions decisions. 

And this isn't even a test optional thing. This is a no test thing. 

While the decision may just be a way to settle a lawsuit, it represents a major shift to the entire college admissions process. 

Followers of this blog know that CROSSWALK has long understood the inequities of the SAT and ACT. Though our specialty is test preparation, we know that these tests favor the wealthier and more educated segments of the population. Simply put, it has not been a fair way to assess student potential. 

So California, it's time to celebrate.

Or is it? Might this decision actually hurt California? What will be the unintended consequences

To assess the possible downsides of this move, I raise the following three questions: 

1) Will removing tests make it harder for California's high school students to get into top state colleges? 

Since UCs decided to go test optional last year, there was a major increase in applications (take UCLA, for example). As a result, admissions rates went way down. Now that UCs will go test blind next year, won't applications increase more? And admission rates decrease more? Add in the fact that UCs love to accept full pay, out-of-state applicants and the unintended consequence may be that our California high schoolers may have less of a chance to get into top UCs. 

2) Won't this decision actually make California high schoolers less competitive for out-of-state colleges?  

As long as the SAT and ACT are not required for UC admission, fewer high schools in California will offer test prep or support for SAT and ACT. Since states like Georgia and potentially Florida maintain their SAT and ACT admission requirements, this would mean that Californians will have to work harder to find test prep resources if they want to apply to schools in those states. 

3) Will this make college more accessible for all? 

The cynic in me says that even as test scores are removed, the privileged pockets of our society will still figure out ways to gain access to selective colleges. The inequities in our higher education system are enormous. So if the objective of removing the tests is to level the playing field, won't the rich just find another strategy to deploy? GPAs may become the new test score (the rich can afford tutors). Essays are certain to have heavier weight (the rich can afford essay editors). Demonstrated interest could be a more significant measurement (the rich can afford visits and trips). 

Ultimately, I applaud California's decision. It is certainly a move in the right direction to make college access more equitable, even if it is in response to a lawsuit. 

But I also wonder about the unintended consequences. I don't propose we return to the rampant use of test scores but I fear that this move will ultimately represent very little change overall. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Maximize the ROI of Your GPA

GPA is the most important factor in college admissions. Since more universities are adopting test optional policies, GPA is gaining even greater weight. 

As such, students should invest time in their GPAs. Investing time to improve a GPA will pay off. Literally. 

But how much will it pay off? 

To answer this question, let's determine the ROI, or return on investment, of the GPA. 

ROI is a calculation to measure how much an investment yields in return. It's a simple comparison of the initial cost of the investment to the final value of the investment. For example, purchase $100 worth of stock today, and if the value of that stock turns into $125 in the future, your ROI is 25% in ([final value - initial value]/initial value x 100). 

Calculating the ROI on GPAs is the same math, but since GPAs are not measured in dollars, we have to make some assumptions: 

  • Assumption #1: Investment = Time. The initial "cost" of an investment in a GPA is not money, but time. Assume that our initial investment, then, is all about time. 
  • Assumption #2: 1 Hour = $20. This second assumption takes a bit of a leap, but hear me out. If time is the investment, a student could choose to spend time studying, working, gaming, watching Netflix, swiping through social media or other. Of all of these, working is the one that yields money. And if the student chooses to work, like babysitting, mowing lawns or getting a part time job, we assume here that 1 hour would pay about $20. Likely less, but maybe more. So let's go with $20. 
  • Assumption #3: Higher GPA = More Merit Aid. This next assumption is actually a fact: the higher a student's GPA, the more scholarship opportunities and merit-based aid are available. However, each college or scholarship program looks at these numbers differently. So the assumption we will make here is that each 0.1 increase in GPA will offer $1,000 more in merit-based aid. In other words, a student applying to a competitive school may get no aid with an unweighted GPA of 3.5, but a similar student with an unweighted 4.0 GPA could earn $5000 a year in aid.  
  • Assumption #4: More Study Time = Higher GPA. Again, this assumption is generally true; if you study more, your grades will go up. But to make this work for our calculations, we are going to assume that one more hour of study time per week will boost the GPA by 0.1 points. This may not be a perfect correlation, but useful nonetheless for our calculation. 
With these assumptions in place, let's see what the ROI on GPA is for a typical student. Imagine Darnell, a freshman in high school with a 3.0 GPA. As Darnell thinks about sophomore year, he decides to dedicate five more hours a week of study time to his homework (1 hour per class). With 30 weeks in the school year, that's 150 extra hours in total. So Darnell's initial investment of 150 hours equates to $3,000 (150 x $20). 

If Darnell does this, his GPA would jump from a 3.0 to a 4.0. And if he maintains this same GPA his sophomore, junior and senior years, he could finish high school with a 3.75 GPA. This would mean he could qualify for $7,500/year in merit-based aid or scholarships. 

Thus, his ROI would be 150%

OK, yes, there are more assumptions to Darnell's situation but hopefully the point is clear: generally, any investment in GPA will be a positive ROI. Or more concretely: time invested in GPA improvement will literally pay off. 

Perhaps Darnell needs a tutor to ensure that huge GPA jump. No fear here because the investment would still pay off. Even if he decides to spend $100 a week in tutoring, his ROI would still be 25%. Not even Warren Buffett, the "Oracle of Omaha", can sustain a 25% ROI! 

So maximize the ROI of your GPA but putting in the time. And invest in productive time. Spend an extra hour organizing content, create online flashcards, reread material, look up alternative sources or perspectives, research ideas more, review past tests or find other ways to learn more about what you are studying. 

And if you need a tutor to help with this, CROSSWALK is here to help. 

Study time is worth the investment. Maximize the ROI of your GPA with the investment of time. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

"Better Off After College" -- Book Review

Big thanks to Sabrina Manville and Nick Ducoff of Edmit for their succinct overview of paying for college in their book, Better Off After College: A Guide to Paying For College With More Aid And Less Debt.

This book is perfect for parents and students embarking on the heavy question of how to afford college. 

My favorite aspect of the book is how it is organized. Manville and Ducoff start with the basics of college pricing in the chapter called "The Big Picture." From there, each subsequent chapter is a timeline of what families should know and do from pre-high school all the way through college. This flow allows families to jump into the book at whichever point they need the support and determine the steps necessary to pay for college. 

This book is truly bursting with useful information. Here are some of the key points that hit home for me:

  • While the published price of college has gone up dramatically over the years, the net price (as in the price paid after discounts and financial aid) has remained about the same over the same timeframe. 
  • The word "financial aid" continues to mislead families as loans are usually offered as part of the aid package. 
  • Parents and students alike should understand the R.O.I., or return on investment, for the money they spend on college. It's rarely a good idea to take on tremendous debt even if the brand name university is the dream school. 
  • When taking on loans, a good guideline is to take no more in loans than the student would earn in income in their first year out of college. 
  • There are a variety of ways to manage college costs including choosing an affordable school, making sure the student graduates in four years, taking out manageable loans and appealing financial aid awards. 
In all, this book is a straightforward take on what is an increasingly complex decision. 

Perhaps my only criticism of this book are the anecdotes. Sprinkled into the factual and helpful information are vignettes of student and family situations. However, many of these stories lack deeper context and raise more questions than answers. I understand the goal was likely to demonstrate a concept with a real world story, but the stories are too limiting and leave the reader (or at least me) wanting to dig deeper to understand more. 

That said, this is a great guide for anyone seeking greater understanding of the finances of college. Students, parents, teachers and counselors will all benefit from reading this, keeping it on your bookshelf and dog-earing key parts for future use. 

Edmit is doing tremendous work in the college affordability space. I am grateful they have produced this book and I love the detailed information they have about colleges on their website:

Friday, April 23, 2021

SAT Dress Rehearsal

If a student of mine is preparing to take the SAT in a couple of days, we do an activity I call a "SAT Dress Rehearsal." Essentially, it is a test walk through: we pull up a practice test and go through it page by page reminding the student about     timing, strategies and approaches. 

It's a stress-free activity that really helps students understand what test day will be like. And after doing this same activity with many students over the years, I finally recorded one I did with a group of students last night. 

Check it out here: 

Bookmark this video and watch it a few days before you take the test. Do your own "Dress Rehearsal" along with this video and be prepared for test day

And don't forget that I am hosting my online summer SAT & ACT Test Prep Workshop series starting June 22. Sign up or get more information right here

CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for academic tutoring and test prep. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Summer is Coming: Sign Up Now for Test Prep

Yes, the test optional movement is here to stay. 

Even so, many highly selective universities are now revealing that the majority of admission offers during this last cycle are going to students who submitted test scores. Boston College reported that 61% of admits submitted scores. Colgate was similar at 60%. 

As a result, students who want to maximize college admission and financial aid opportunities should still take the SAT or ACT. Even if their dream school is test optional. Remember, it is an option to submit a you can still take it to see how you do. 

And since summer is the sweetest time to prepare for the ACT and SAT, CROSSWALK is here to help. 

Sign up now for CROSSWALK's Summer Test Prep Program, a data driven and stress-free approach to SAT and ACT improvement. This six-week course is just what any rising junior or senior needs to master key strategies, manage time and achieve a goal score

Led by Brooke Higgins, instructor and founder of CROSSWALK, all classes are held remotely on Tuesday evenings from 6:00-8:00pm pacific time starting June 22nd. 

And a free bonus exclusively for summer students: a FREE Score Analysis. Submit an official or practice SAT, ACT or PSAT score to CROSSWALK and Brooke will provide key insights and ways to improve so that the student can keep moving towards his or her goal score. Summer students can do this before, during or after the program. 

Also, like all CROSSWALK courses, financial aid is available. Contact Brooke directly for more information on financial aid or any other test prep and tutoring questions. 

Since 2002, CROSSWALK Test Prep & Tutoring remains a trusted resource for GPA, test score and academic support.  

Monday, April 5, 2021

Household Income, SAT Scores & Essay Content

The relationship between SAT and ACT scores to household income is well-documented. Even the most ardent supporters of standardized tests cannot dispute the fact that higher scores are tied to higher family income brackets. 

Which is a big reason why the test-optional movement was gaining steam even before the pandemic. 

So without test scores, essays are gaining greater importance in the process of college admission. It's a logical result: in absence of test scores, college admission counselors are weighing college application essays heavier. 

But what if essay content is also related to household income? What if a student's word choice, punctuation and structures were also connected to household income? 

Turns out, there is indeed a strong relation. Essays, like test scores, are related to household income. 

In a new paper from Stanford CEPA (Center for Educational Policy Analysis), researchers concluded that "essay content is strongly related to household income and SAT scores." By reviewing 60,000 undergraduate applications and 240,000 essays, Salinas native AJ Alvero and his team at Stanford revealed that "essays have a stronger correlation to reported household income than SAT scores." 

This is big news. The Wall Street Journal just issued an Opinion piece about the same. 

But what does it mean? 

On one hand, this shouldn't be much of a surprise. Elite and selective institutions have likely flagged essays with targeted vocabulary or niche topics for generations. If the crew team needs a coxswain, then any essays about coxswain experience would likely receive special attention. 

On the other hand, we should be outraged. Here is hard evidence of yet more inequities in our higher education system. Access to elite and selective colleges is only for those in higher income brackets who can pay to prepare for the SAT/ACT or craft perfect essays?

Sure, I get it. Enrollment management is a business decision. In order for colleges to keep their doors open, they need to cater to some full pay students. 

But if we truly believe that higher education is a means towards upward mobility, we may need to reconsider why household income is so closely related to test scores and essay content. What do we value when we assess student potential? What should we value? 

As colleges grapple with these questions, CROSSWALK is here to support all students, regardless of income. Financial aid, and pro-bono programs, are available for all tutoring, especially test prep. 

Share this with someone you know that could benefit from academic support no matter what adjusted gross income they have. Let's be sure all students have a path to college. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Why Take the SAT/ACT If It's Optional?

Thanks to organizations like The National Center for Fair and Open Testing and folks like John Boeckenstedt, the test-optional movement in college admissions was growing long before the pandemic. 

And now that schools were forced to go test-optional due to the pandemic, this movement is here to stay

So if taking the SAT or ACT is optional, why do it? Applying to college is already overwhelming and stressful. Why add any more to your plate, especially since the SAT and ACT are mental marathons? 

Consider these three highly compelling reasons to still take the SAT or ACT: 

1) Test scores can influence admissions to selective schools: Even though we are not quite at the end of this current admissions cycle, early data shows that test scores are impacting college admissions to selective schools

2) Good test scores can mean more merit-based financial aid: Historically, a good test score meant more merit-based financial aid and there is no reason to suggest that the future will be any different. A college counselor colleague of mine reminds me that "Every 100-point increase on the SAT can mean $10,000 more in aid." This may be a slight oversimplification since the amount of aid obviously depends on both the student's profile and the school under consideration. Nevertheless, the math doesn't lie: higher test scores means more merit-based aid opportunities. 

3) Submission is optional, but you can still take the tests: For schools that remain test-optional, the option is for the student to submit a score. In other words, a student can still take the test and then, depending on the results, opt to submit a score. So you may as well take the test to see if the score is competitive. If the score is competitive, then be sure to submit. And if not, then simply don't. 

In all, the test-optional movement benefits both students and colleges. Students can now take the test stress-free but they should still take the test. Even post-pandemic, more admissions offers and more financial aid will go to students with higher test scores. 

So exercise your option! You have nothing to lose. 

And if you need help preparing for test day and exploring all options, contact CROSSWALK, the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for academic tutoring and test prep. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

March Madness by Cost of Attendance

The annual NCAA basketball tourney will soon tip off. And so begins the scramble to fill out brackets and predict a winner. 

But instead of picking winners based on rankings or records, what if you picked winners based on the Cost of Attendance (COA)

Thanks to the folks at Columbia Threadneedle Investments--with whom I have no individual connection nor experience doing business with--you can do just that. 

Check out the March Madness bracket based on COA they put together here

Fun and games aside, understanding COA is a key step in college planning. Yes, COA is rising and has risen dramatically over the years. But so has merit aid, particularly aid tied to academic achievement like GPA and test scores

So as you diligently fill out your bracket for March Madness, be sure to apply that same diligence to your GPA and test scores. 

And if you need help with your GPA or test scores, contact CROSSWALK. We offer tutoring in all academic subjects as well as small group and private test prep for the SAT and ACT

Friday, March 5, 2021

Test Optional Here to Stay

If you haven't heard the news, ACT CEO Janet Godwin recently wrote in the company's blog that the test optional movement is here to stay. Further, she offers that the growth of test blind is "unlikely." Read her post right here

The reactions to this announcement are mixed. 

On one hand, the good news is that more schools will allow students to have the option to submit test scores. This means that the stress around the SAT and ACT will be reduced since students will have the choice to take and/or submit test scores. Followers of CROSSWALK know that we have long been proponents of the stress-free approach to testing. 

On the other hand, the bad news is that the test optional movement seems to benefit colleges and universities more than the students. Due to the pandemic, most if not all schools went test optional for the past admissions cycle. As a result, the more competitive schools saw increases in the number of students applying. This increase in applicants benefits these schools in three significant ways: 1) schools get to choose from a wider selection of applicants, 2) more applications means more revenue from application fees, and 3) increased applications means a lower admission rate which helps the school's rankings in the U.S. News and World Report. 

So what is the end result of test optional remaining as an ongoing policy? Probably no different than the past. Early indications are that more admission offers, and potentially more financial award offers, are going to those who submit test scores. 

The data point to track will be the difference between admission offers or financial aid awards for test takers versus non-test takers. But that data point (realistically) may be too soon to tell and (cynically) potentially buried or massaged by the colleges keen on keeping application submissions up. 

As long as the SAT and ACT remain a path towards more admission and financial aid, CROSSWALK is committed to providing stress-free approaches to test preparation

Our upcoming Spring Test Prep Series starts March 16th and financial aid is available. Sign up and get more information here

CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's resource for academic tutoring and test preparation. Contact us here for more information. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

"The Price You Pay for College" -- Book Review

Simply put, The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make by Ron Lieber is required reading for any parent navigating the finances of sending a child to college in the United States. 

This book thoroughly digs into the details of college costs, financial aid, merit aid and how to balance the financial decisions of paying for college with the goals and aspirations of the educational experience. While it may be most useful for families with younger children, all families with children will find a lot of practical information. 

For example, some of my favorite nuggets are: 

  • College tuition has gone up but so have the discounts
  • Financial aid may be need-based but merit aid is a marketing tool that colleges use for all students to lure all them away from competing schools. And there is much more merit aid than athletic scholarships. 
  • If you were to save just $75 a month over 18 years in a 529 plan or similar, you could save $25,000 towards the cost of college.
  • Consider the cost of college as a series of fractions: save 1/3 before your child attends, pay 1/3 while the child attends and borrow 1/3. This fractional approach can take away some of the fear of affording college. 
  • Financial aid offers, including merit aid offers, can be appealed with some professional communication and persistent outreach. 

In addition to this practical information, the most helpful parts of this book might be the questions posed to its readers. By distilling the college experience into three primary objectives--learning, kinship and credentials--Lieber raises a litany of questions that families need to answer early in the college planning process to help evaluate what they can expect to pay and what they can expect in return

For example, since the "student:faculty" ratio is such a popular metric in marketing colleges (and thus subject to manipulation), Lieber recommends that families clarify this metric by asking, "What percentage of class time is spent in smaller classes?" 

Or when considering the return on investment of paying for a residential undergraduate experience, parents should ask, "How residential is the campus? As in, how many students live on campus and how long does it take to walk across campus?" 

And my personal favorite: "How does the university measure student learning?" 

Lieber does not answer these questions for the parents. Instead, he lists them so parents can be become more informed and aware of where their money is going. Some families might be willing to pay extra for a small, liberal arts, residential experience while it may make more sense for other families to pursue the community college route with a defined plan (which Lieber provides). 

In addition, Lieber cites numerous books, blogs, podcasts and resources that are sure to help families navigate the "biggest financial decision" they will make. 

While readers may finish the book with more questions than answers, the questions are personal and all parents should take the time to answer them in order to maximize the value of the cost of college. 

Perhaps the only criticism I might humbly offer is the format: the content might be easier to digest if the nuggets, facts and questions were listed in bullet form. But that is just a personal preference. The book is easy-to-follow with direct and succinct points. 

In sum, Lieber does a fabulous job of framing the balance between what families pay and what they can or should expect. If saving for college, paying for college or just college in general is anywhere in the future for your child, pick up this book and make lots of notes.

With two teenagers myself, this book spoke to me personally. And it's not just about the money. It is about what that money can buy when it comes to a university experience. 

Many thanks, Mr. Lieber, for your insightful take on college financing and the value behind it. I am more equipped to continue this journey and more prepared to have frank conversations with my teenagers about college and its costs. 

And if you wish to access more merit aid by improving your GPA or SAT/ACT score, contact CROSSWALK today. CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for academic tutoring and test prep. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

SAT Essay is Eliminated

Big news from the College Board: the SAT (Optional) Essay will be eliminated after the June 2021 test

And the College Board will no longer offer SAT Subject Tests effective immediately (though international students can still take them in May and June of 2021 but not beyond). 

The writing was on the wall for the SAT Subject Tests. Over the past several years, fewer colleges required these tests. And some estimated that only about 10% of all test takers also took SAT Subject Tests. 

However, the elimination of the essay on the SAT is a major shift. Not since the current SAT format was launched in 2016 has the College Board made such a bold change to the testing experience. 

For students, this is huge. There will no longer be any need to prepare for the essay. This will save students time, money and energy in test preparation. 

As for the College Board, the assumption is that the cost of administering the essays did not yield the benefit. Consider that the College Board had to hire and train hundreds of essay readers. With revenue down because of COVID-19, it is safe to say that this is a likely a cost-cutting measure. 

Besides, as much as the SAT Essay scoring system was standardized, scores were assigned by different individuals thus making any true standardization virtually impossible. 

So win, win for all. Right? It would sure seem so. 

Yet maybe the losers in this are the students who wanted an opportunity of an essay or a subject test to demonstrate proficiency. Or maybe colleges, like those who used test scores to supplement other rigorous academic assessment, will need to find some other metrics

The question now is: what will the ACT do? Drop the essay too? Or will with the ACT Essay (also optional) serve as a unique point of differentiation between two very similar tests? 

Follow news about the SAT and ACT by connecting with CROSSWALK, the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for test prep and academic tutoring. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost" -- Book Review

In "Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost," author Caitlin Zaloom pulls back the curtain on the world of college financing. Zaloom delivers an eye-opening look at the policies and procedures in place for families who are considering how to pay for college.  

Zaloom's central argument is that the challenge of college financing has reshaped the middle class experience in the United States. The middle class, as Zaloom defines for the purposes of her book, are those families who are too wealthy to receive major financial aid for college tuition yet not wealthy enough to pay for the full college fare. Parents in this class have the culturally engrained belief that an investment in college is a moral obligation to provide for their children. 

As a result, Zaloom argues, these families organize their entire lives around how to pay for college. They start saving early in their children's lives, then sign for loans to pay for college, and finally continue to pay for college loans well after the child has graduated. 

Zaloom cites the rising cost of college as a major challenge for these families. In addition to this obvious point, Zaloom points out many other obstacles that middle class families encounter when deciding how to pay for college. For example, most middle class families don't typically talk about finance openly. Also, Zaloom details how the U.S. government has shifted the burden of college financing from grants to loans over the last several decades allowing the banking sector to leverage great influence on families. She then identifies how financial instruments like 529 plans favor a small segment of the middle class: those who are financially savvy. And she points out that financial aid models are not accounting for more modern familial structures. 

Zaloom ultimately balances anecdotal stories of several middle class families around the country with facts from her own research and other historical data. She presents ironies, inefficiencies and downright inequalities in the U.S. model and calls for a new way to approach college financing. Zaloom offers the Australian model, which calculates student loan payments based on income earned after college, as one way to lessen the burden of college debt. 

This book is not a playbook for families trying to figure out how to pay for college. It is not a ranking of the best 529 plans or a strategic guidebook to getting financial aid. So if you are looking for a book on on how to pay for college, this is not your book.

However, this is a book for you if you want to understand the "Student Finance Complex," which Zaloom defines as policies linking  families to universities, government programs and financial institutions. Or if you want to understand "Enmeshed Authority," which Zaloom explains as the paradox parents face in both engendering independence for children while also providing ongoing financial assistance even after college to pay student debt, then this is your book. 

In all, "Indebted: How Families Make College Work at Any Cost" is informative, illuminating and enlightening. Personally, I hope the players involved in the "Student Finance Complex," like the universities, banks and government institutions, take a long look at Zaloom's findings. The system is creating great stress on many families. 

And we see this at CROSSWALK. Some families hire us to prepare their children for the SAT and ACT because they know that improved test performance can be a way to access merit-based financial aid. While this strategy is proven, it can create undue stress on some families.

While reading this book, it is hard to not be cynical. Does the United States really care about educating our middle class? As Zaloom asks, do we value higher education for the opportunity it can provide? Or is it just about the money?