This week’s college admission cheating scandal has a lot of people in social media, online and at water coolers at work talking about all the extraneous steps wealthy parents take to ensure their children get admitted into the best schools.
Whether the uber rich are donating buildings to get their kids into elite schools, or bribing athletic coaches and testing proctors, as this scandal reveals, their actions are a sad reminder to families without extraordinary means that the odds are stacked against them and they are left to figure it out themselves on how to get into the top elite schools.
Bellyitch asked double Ivy League Grad, Test prep and Educational Consultant, K. Mason Schecter, owner of Schecter Academic & Admissions Services, who scored in the 99% of the SAT, ACT, SAT, GMAT and LSAT on the very first try to provide his best insider tips and secrets for parents who are not rich and who might not be able to afford an expensive private tutor or course.
Most of Schecter’s clients come to him for standardized test prep for the SAT, ISEE, PSAT, SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT, and/or school application essay assistance, or both.
He says the recent scandal reminds him of a joke about diversity at American colleges.
“On a campus tour a parent asks a dean about his school’s diversity. The dean says, ‘Our school is incredibly diverse! We’ve got rich white kids, rich black kids, rich Asian kids…’ I can’t fix that problem, but I can suggest some useful resources.“
Here are ten things you need to consider if you want to legitimately get your child in an Ivy League or other competitive school.
1. Practice Entrance Exams on Paper Tests.
While a lot of test prep programs offer digital and online courses and tests, Schecter says practicing on paper is better for preparing for the SAT, ACTs and other high school and private school admissions exams.
While “the GRE and GMAT are fully digital, and the LSAT will become fully digital in 2019, the SAT and ACT are still paper tests, and students should prepare for them using paper,” Schecter explains. “That paper test booklet is your best friend on test day and like any other friend, you need to
spend time with it and get comfortable with it, or else it’s not going to help you very much when you need it.”
He says all of his SAT and ACT students, regardless of location, train with paper tests and pencils.
“Online instruction is fine, but online tests are not,” he adds.
In the end, there is no real formula for scoring perfectly on the SAT
“But there is a process,” he says. “Approach standardized tests like a sport. Learn the skills, get a good coach, and practice, practice, practice.”
2. Read Lots of Books
Get your kids to read books, Schecter advises.
There is no short cutting it because as we’ve seen promoted many times before, reading helps increase reaching comprehension, vocabulary and verbal aptitude easily!
“I had professor in graduate school who told us that our brains need to be fed, and books are meals,” Schecter jokes. “Articles and videos are snacks – you don’t want your brain to live on snacks.”
3. Use the Khan Academy
There are a lot of online resources but one that has been around for a long time and has consistently prepared children for school, and exams is the Khan Academy.
Khan Academy “offers course work and study aids for nearly the entire school curriculum from kindergarten through high school, completely free.”
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Khan Academy – in partnership with The College Board – also offers excellent SAT prep material as well as official tests direct from the source, Schecter adds.
4. Check Out Johns Hopkins Essays That Worked Page
For getting the best essay, Schecter says you cannot go wrong with another free resource from Johns Hopkins University from its “Essays that Worked” page on the college’s website .
“It is one of the best free resources for essay assistance,” he adds but cautions that the gold is not in the sample essays but in the comments left by the admissions officials as to why they felt the essay worked. “The reviewers reveal exactly what they find attractive.”
5. Wait until 10th Grade to Start Doing Practice Tests
A lot of hard core parents presume that their kid needs to be doing practice tests from middle school, but that is uneccessary, Schecter says.
“The SAT and ACT tests do not require years of prep,” Schecter reminds us. “I don’t see any reason to introduce the focus on such exams before tenth grade at the earliest.”
Instead, “encourage your kids to keep up their grades, read books, and pursue the activities that your child seems most likely to stick with throughout high school (and beyond).
“Ninth grade is a tough transitional year for many students.”
6. Practice Learning How to Spot the Wrong Answers, Not the Correct One.
Conventional wisdom would have most thinking their job while taking a test is to find the right answer.
Not so, says Schecter:
It’s helpful to understand how the tests are structured. Multiple choice tests have one simple rule: for every question, all but one of the answers are WRONG.
Why is this useful? Because it changes your job. You don’t have to understand the ‘right’ answer, you just have to locate it – and your first move isn’t to seek what’s right, but to eliminate what’s wrong. There’s an old saying about the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack. If you search for the needle, then it is difficult. Don’t search – burn!
Burn the hay, and the only thing left is your needle.
And now I will reveal one of the great secrets of standardized tests – verbal questions are not complicated. They nearly always ask what the passage says. That’s it! No thinking. Just find the words the question references.
7. Unmotivated Children Must Take “In-Class” Prep Courses
Have your children who are less motivated and less likely to follow through requirements on an online test prep or private tutor enroll in an in-person class.
“For unmotivated students who need someone to MAKE them practice, classes at a testing center are often the right choice,” Schecter reccommends “Why? Because, testing centers make students take practice tests on site. There’s no escape!”
Schecter also recommends that more motivated students get tutors because it’s more efficient, more effective and often less expensive than testing center courses. The students get far.
And in this digital age, a tutor could be half way across the world. Schecter himself has clients in Asia and all over America and tutors kids both in person and online for private school admissions, test and essay prep, and tailors his program for each child.
“My goal is to provide exactly what each student needs, no more and no less,” he says. “Some students require a great deal of assistance, whereas others require very little – so my services are always tailored to the needs of my clients.”
8. Challenge Children with Poor Work Ethic
It is common to see parents pushing their children to achieve a success they envision for themselves, for bragging rights and for all the wrong reasons.
That never works, Schecter says. Instead he advises:
“First, I have to say this is probably one of the greatest mysteries of parenting – and one that I can’t claim to have solved. Given that, I think it’s critical for kids to have skin in the game.
There has to be something of value for them.
Emotions power actions.
If you see a person running, they’re probably running either toward (with passion) or away (with fear) from something.
At some point, kids have to learn that to get what you want, you have to do what you don’t.
Can you dig it?
9. Strive For Balance
We know the stereotype and hear the stories about competitive parenting in Asian countries, cultures and among Asian and foreign immigrant households and the exaggeration on academics while American households may recommend taking a more relaxed approach, while lagging behind the world in reading and math.
The answer lies in the middle.
Schecter offers the activity of jogging to provide a workable analogy.
“If you’re jogging and you’re bored, then you’re not pushing hard enough, whereas if you’re gasping and stumbling then you need to pull it back,” he adds. “That’s where you find the balancing point – between boredom and overwork.”
10. Advanced courses still matter.
Recently, there have been reports that some of the selective admissions grade and high schools were moving away from weighted Advanced Placement, Honors and International Baccalaureate (“IB”) courses.
Schecter says they’re still relevant. Don’t give up on them.
“I favor students taking the most challenging course track that they can handle, regardless of what those courses are called,” he recommends. “Colleges review a student’s curriculum in the same way. The names don’t matter.”
Private tutors range in price and Schecter charges from free to $100- $200 per hour, but at the top range, they’re paying for someone who has been teaching the SAT since 1987 while an Undergrad at Columbia University, who went to the University of Pennsylvania‘s prestigious Wharton School of Business school and worked as a banker and consultant before returning to test prep because he loves “helping others work through a very stressful transition that should really be more joyous.”
You get what you pay for and the results speak for themselves.
Readers can chat with him about reality of testing and college admissions during a free consultation!
And if getting private tutoring is not in the cards or budget for you, start with the very solid tips that he’s shared with out readers here and go from there!
Good luck Parents!