Category: Education Blog

It’s that time of year again – the time for PSAT scores to be released and for parents and students to be happily surprised by the results. We observed this phenomenon last year, after the “New” SAT and PSAT were launched in October 2015 (PSAT) and March 2016 (SAT). Seemingly, roughly three quarters of the scores shared with us were what used to be considered “above average,” based on the percentiles listed. But that type of math won’t get you too far on the PSAT, and we wondered why there appeared to be significant “grade inflation” on the PSAT.

After wading through the research section of the College Board (the organization that creates and administers the “SAT Suite of Assessments” which includes the PSAT) website, and gathering our own anecdotal evidence from student score reports, we have concluded that one of the primary issues with PSAT scores lies in the way the percentiles are expressed. A percentile score has traditionally been used to let students know where they stand compared to other test takers. The percentile score showed what percentage of students (0-100%) scored below each individual. For some reason, this definition has now been changed by the College Board. A new set of percentile scores has been created and they are called the Nationally Representative percentiles. They include not just all test-takers, but all possible test-takers, meaning all students in the same grade who did and did not take the test. These percentiles are therefore highly inflated and misleading. When numerous scores of zero are included in the percentiles, those students who do have scores are clearly going to have significantly higher percentile scores. We see a wide range of scaled section scores – from the 600s into the 700s that all have 98th and 99th percentiles associated with them. (Art Sawyer of the Compass Education Group has written extensively about problems with the PSAT scoring in a three part series.)

SAT score reports also contains Nationally Representative percentiles. However, alongside these are the User Percentiles, which only include scores from actual test-takers and are therefore more accurate. Apparently, even these percentiles are higher than they would have been on the “Old” SAT, because they now include students “at or below” their scaled score. Previous SAT/PSAT percentile scores only represented other test-takers below one’s own scaled score, and by including scores both “at” and “below” one’s own scores, the percentiles themselves are increased.

Similarly, the entire SAT/PSAT scoring system has changed, and whereas the median total score on the 1600 point scale used to be a 1000, it is now approximately a 1060. Parents and educators used to the old system are seeing SAT and PSAT scores much higher than expected, not realizing that any comparison between their own scores from high school and their students’ current scores is not really comparing apples to apples.

What’s behind this scoring change? Certainly, we can’t ignore the fact that the ACT surpassed the SAT in popularity a few years ago, and the College Board has been working diligently ever since to reclaim the lead. Consequently, we saw the rollout of the new SAT in March 2016, which featured a number of significant changes, including the elimination of the dreaded “vocab” questions and the dropping of the quarter-point deduction for wrong answers. On top of this, there is now significantly more time per question on both the Reading and Writing sections of the SAT, compared to their ACT counterparts, which makes the SAT more attractive for students who struggle with these sections. These changes, in combination with the inflated scoring system and the especially misleading Nationally representative percentiles—not to mention providing free exams to local high schools—may indeed enable the SAT to win back some of the test-takers it lost to the ACT over the past decade.

What does all of this mean for you and your student? At Sandweiss Test Prep, our typical process has always been to encourage juniors to take full-length diagnostics for both the SAT and the ACT, and then we use the results to recommend one test over the other. As part of this process, we would often spare some busy kids the need to take a four-hour SAT diagnostic if they wanted to use their PSAT scores as a proxy, even though the PSAT is a notably shorter exam. However, we no longer feel comfortable doing this, for the reasons outlined above. Instead, we strongly suggest taking both a full-length SAT and ACT diagnostic in order to determine which test is better-suited to your son or daughter’s skill set. We want to ensure that every student is prepping for the right test for the right reasons.

The jump from middle school to high school is a big transition. As an incoming freshman, not only are you moving to a new school, there may be many new people to meet, and different types of courses and activities available.  This is the first year that your decisions in and out of school, including your academic transcript, actually “count” for college applications and can potentially influence your future.  Although you’re likely not yet starting to think about where you want to go to college, remember that the effort you put forth in and out of school from this point on will help to determine your options.  Here are a few suggestions to help you start your high school career on a strong note:

Extracurricular Activities

Consider what might interest you and join a few school clubs or teams.   If your school doesn’t have a club you want to join, follow your passion and start one!  By doing so, you’ll gain valuable organizational and leadership skills that can really help to set you apart down the road.  Whatever your interests, get involved!  If you’re thinking about pursuing a major or career in technology, perhaps you can join the robotics club; sports enthusiasts can demonstrate teamwork skills by participating on an after-school sports team, creative students can audition for a drama production, join an art club, write for the school newspaper, and/or play in their high school’s band or orchestra.  If you like to be in charge and/or enjoy making decisions, consider joining your school’s student government.  Activities such as these may help you to develop friendships with like-minded students, and facilitate your inclusion in the social group of your choice.  Progressing through the years in some of these clubs can also contribute to your development of the leadership skills that many colleges desire in students they admit.

Challenging Courses and Test Prep

Many colleges view the rigor of your high school curriculum as an important factor in their admissions decisions.  A somewhat lower grade in an honors course can count for just as much if not more than an “A” in a regular-level course.  Now is the time to start challenging yourself!   If you haven’t taken any advanced or honors classes, consider trying one now; keep it up if you’re already on a rigorous course track.  Most schools don’t offer AP or IB level courses to freshmen, but the honors courses can help set you up for success in them later on.  If you need academic tutoring for particularly challenging courses, contact us for help.  We can also help you with SAT and ACT preparation down the road.  But for now, the most important things you can do for yourself, are to develop good study habits, take challenging courses and get the best grades you can, and either figure out your academic and extra-curricular interests or continue to fine-tune and develop the interests you already have.

Make the most of your freshman year both socially and academically, and you’re sure to have a bright future.

Slacking off during the summer may feel like a fantastic way to spend three months, but studies have shown that students tend to lose their learning skills during the summer. By ignoring your studies and entering the school year unprepared, you can significantly harm your standardized test scores and affect your college admissions chances. Here are four ways to boost your test scores during the off-season and before the school year starts again.

Focus on One Test

Not all students respond to either the SAT or the ACT the same way. ACT gurus tend to have great memory retention, reading comprehension, and can sift through detailed information very quickly. Those who score highly on the SAT are strong readers with good vocabularies and are very good at taking tests.

That being said, determining which test you’re more comfortable with isn’t just a matter of identifying what type of student you are. Taking a couple of practice tests over the summer can help you decide which test you want to hone in on and prepare for going forward. 

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

If you’ve taken either the ACT or SAT before and weren’t satisfied with the results, reassess your test preparation strategies before the next go-around. Mix up your process by incorporating quizzes (on your own and with others), verbalizing your questions and answers, and be sure to study in a conducive environment free from distractions.

Don’t stop reviewing and re-attacking the same material over and over again. Even if you feel comfortable with a subject or section, get back into it and try to analyze it from a different angle to make sure you truly understand it. The more ways you train yourself on a subject, the better the results will be.

Make a Lifestyle Change

Test scores have a lot to do with overall health and nutrition leading up to the test day. Summer is a great time to make a significant lifestyle change towards healthier eating, regular exercise, and positive activities. A better overall outlook and active people tend to be more confident, which can help come test day.

Summer is also a good time to develop healthy sleeping habits. Without the rigorous schedules that come with classes and extra-curricular activities, it can be easy to slip into an unhealthy sleep cycle. Rather than staying up late every single night, try and establish a consistent pattern. After all, good sleep will come in handy when your studies begin again.

Enroll in a Test Preparation Course

Private tutoring and test prep classes for the ACT and SAT are available during the summer months, so if you’re getting down to the wire and you’re still worrying about your test performance, you’ll want to explore all your options. A thorough test preparation class led by a talented instructor could be the difference between improving your test scores and being disappointed in the results.

Contact Sandweiss Test Prep to discuss your summertime test preparation options before the school year begins again. Our team has decades of experience in the test preparation field and our students have gone onto successful academic careers in Ivy League schools around the country, so give us a call today!

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The application process is relatively easy – waiting to hear back from colleges about your application is the hard part. February and March are particularly stressful for students who just submitted their applications and are waiting to hear back. Frustration, stress, and pressure put on by your parents probably won’t help your mood, especially since you’re still in school at the time.

Sandweiss Test Prep has helped students through every level of their education reach their goals and we’ve seen firsthand how stressful the waiting around can be. Here are a few things to do while you wait for your college acceptance letter: 

Apply for Financial Aid

January and February are good times to apply for FAFSA aid, even if you’re not actively considering financial aid. Having the acceptance already approved will help safeguard against any potential issues before you go to school. Don’t forget to talk with your parents about financial aid and their status. Don’t put this off, though – FAFSA funding in the State of Washington is awarded until depleted starting January 1st. Other states vary – check deadlines here.

Check Your Status Online

Typically, harassing the admissions department isn’t usually a good strategy. Most colleges have automated systems that allow you to check the status of your application. Remember, everyone else who applied is also waiting to hear back too, so piling on probably won’t get you anywhere. If a university’s website doesn’t specify when letters will be sent, that’s something you should call about.

Update Your Information

If anything’s changed in your address, contact information, financial aid status, or personal life that affects your ability to go to school, you should inform the universities of the changes. Test scores, final grades, and awards or scholarships you’ve been awarded since your application was filed should be sent to each institution to help them make a more informed decision about your achievements.

For more information about preparing for college or the standardized tests required for applications, contact Sandweiss Test Prep today. We offer admissions seminars to help you get into more prestigious or selective institutions and can prepare you for the ACT or SAT.

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Spring SAT/ACT scores are in and members of the class of 2015 should now turn their attention to college applications.

To guide students through the options and tasks they need to complete for college admissions, Sandweiss Test Prep offers in-depth support and admissions counseling at reasonable hourly rates.

Sandweiss Test Prep’s admissions counseling services include student guidance and support for their college selection process as well as help with college applications and essays. According to owner Steve Sandweiss, “I have been helping students with their applications for several years, [and] I can be useful in three principal areas: 1) narrowing the college list; 2) designing a “marketing” strategy for each application; and 3) drafting and polishing the common app and supplemental essays.”

In admissions counseling sessions, students will receive help narrowing their search for the right colleges and learn how to create a good list of schools (including safety schools and ‘reach’ schools). Once the school list has been assembled, students will receive assistance in drafting their essays for both the Common App (used by several hundred colleges and universities) and for the supplementary essays required by individual schools.

To further expand their support for high school seniors this year and in future years, Laurie Gordon, co-owner of Sandweiss Test Prep, is pursuing a certification in college admissions counseling from UCLA. This coursework will provide her with the skills and resources necessary to aid students in finding the “right fit” college.

Although we are in the midst of summer and students may be putting off their application process, it is a good idea to commence this process as soon as possible.

Once school starts in the fall, seniors will be busy with classes, extracurricular activities, and possibly preparing for one more round of standardized testing, so those students who can get a jump on the applications process this summer will be much happier and less stressed than their procrastinating peers.


Sandweiss Test Prep offers extensive college admissions counseling services to students in the greater Seattle area. Contact us to learn more about admissions counseling, or to book your student’s session!

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Did you take the June LSAT? Scores are beginning to come out, and if yours was lower than anticipated or necessary, Sandweiss Test Prep can help with LSAT test preparation classes or tutoring.

Re-taking the LSAT could certainly improve your score. A recent report by the Law School Admission Council shows that LSAT test takers had higher scores after their second time taking the exam.

The study tracked results of LSAT takers from 2006-2007 to the 2012-2013 test periods. The percentages and performance of these repeat test takers are classified by testing administration, test year, gender, and race/ethnicity, however the report is “purely descriptive in nature” and “explanation of the underlying causes of any differences is beyond the scope of this report.” Even if you’ve already taken the test it is important to re-prepare for the second attempt, which is perhaps the cause of second-time test takers getting higher scores than first-timers.

The council’s research found that the average of LSAT scores across the testing years was 151.7 for second-timers, 151 for first-timers, and 149.4 for those taking it a third time. Second-time test takers gained an average of 2.8 points over their first attempt. The test takers involved in this study were not selected to participate in this research; they had chosen to re-take the exam on their own.

According to this table, which lists the LSAT repeat-tester data from 2012-2013, approximately 66 percent of students who re-took the LSAT received a higher score on the second test. Slightly more than 8 percent had no change in score, and 25 percent earned a lower score on the second exam.

The LSAT was implemented in 1948 for law schools to have a standardized method of evaluating applicants. Major changes have shaped the exam’s structure since then, with the most prominent being the revisions to the scoring scale. The highest score achievable is 180 and the lowest is 120. The most current version of the LSAT includes five 35-minute sections that focus on reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning.

You’re probably aware of the changes affecting the legal profession in recent years; fewer law school students are acquiring gainful employment within six months of passing the Bar exam. The exception to this current state is for law students who graduate fromthe top legal schools in the country. Therefore, it is more important than ever to get into the best law schools, because that is where the opportunity is.

To improve your chances of gaining entrance to these schools, you should work with a test preparation service like Sandweiss Test Prep before your next LSAT for a better score.

Click here to register for an upcoming LSAT, which is administered four times a year (next in September). Contact Sandweiss Test Prep to enroll in our summer LSAT course.

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Last month, we recommended summer internships as an excellent option for your student to make the most of his or her summer (Here’s some more reporting on the topic, if you are interested). Today, we would like to articulate some of the best ways for students to find a valuable and fitting high school summer internship, and to gain the most education and experience possible.

Find a Valuable Internship

Research is key to finding internships that will meet student interests and provide adequate learning and hands-on opportunities. Start by asking your student to consider his or her goals with an internship, with some of the following questions:

  • Do you have a specific career or profession in mind, which you’d like to learn?
  • Are there certain skills or lifestyles that you are curious about?
  • What do you like to do for fun, and that can be accomplished in a modern-day job?
  • Are you looking more for education and learning from your internship, or hands-on experience with a job or industry?

After you and your child have a general idea about what you hope to get from your internship, begin researching the possibilities using tools like,, or Idealist. Meet together with your child’s high school counselor to gain additional insight, and consider people in your network whose careers may align with your student’s interests. Click here for some other ways to approach finding an internship.

Gain Maximum Benefit

A good college internship should provide your son or daughter with valuable work experience and training, a real-life perspective on how the workplace functions, and hopefully a boost in the college admissions process. During the course of an internship, ask your son or daughter to make the following items a priority:

  • Take advantage of opportunities to explore various jobs within the business in order to get the most from your experience. If you can, try to ‘shadow’ as many different positions within the company as possible, to learn the full scope of everyone’s job.
  • Consider this a chance to learn everything there is to know about a job that might be turn into a career someday. Remind your child not to sit on the sidelines; if the internship supervisor and other management is open to it, encourage your child to offer his or her own creative solutions and ideas on how to make the job better – respectfully, of course!
  • Ask lots of questions. No matter what type of internship or business your child works for this summer, asking lots of questions and taking note of the answers is going to be vital to the experience and education the internship provides.

If your student works hard this summer in a high school internship, he or she will certainly learn a lot – not just about a particular  business or industry, but also about the adult world and how things work within the workplace.

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