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Changes to SAT? Stay the Course!

By Robert LeVine

On Jan. 19, 2021, the College Board made a formal announcement that had been leaked a few days earlier: standardized testing is changing.

Effective immediately, SAT will no longer offer the writing portion of the test, and except for some international exceptions, SAT Subject Tests are being discontinued. College Board’s press release stated, in pertinent part:

We are no longer offering the Subject Tests in the U.S. Students in the U.S. will automatically have their registrations canceled and receive a refund. Because Subject Tests are used internationally for a wider variety of purposes, we will provide two more administrations in May and June of 2021 for students in international locations. International students can call customer service to cancel their registration for a full refund if they no longer want to take Subject Tests.

Students can take the SAT with Essay through the June 2021 SAT administration. After June 2021, the Essay will only be available in states where it’s required for SAT School Day administrations for accountability purposes. Students registered for the SAT with Essay this spring can cancel the Essay portion at any time, free of charge.”

What does this mean?

Essentially, in the aftermath of so many standardized tests being cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19, the College Board is making bold statements. First, SAT is not going anywhere; the colleges still want it. Second, since nobody really cares anymore about the essay portion, College Board got rid of section, which will make everyone happier with them. Third, since College Board presents both the AP exams and the Subject Tests, they are now pushing Advanced Placement. Schools must pay for the right to present AP subjects, and students must pay to take AP exams instead of Subject Tests.

If you carefully read the press release from the perspective of what is said, what is not said, how many dozens of people crafted its final language, and how much money is at stake, you’ll see what’s really going on. This new system should be much more lucrative for College Board.

How does this testing change affect college applicants? It really doesn’t.

Each college decides individually how it wishes to evaluate applicants. They know what they are looking for in a prospective student, and they know what they don’t want to see. They develop their own protocols on what is required for an application, and what is not required. They have their own internal evaluation methods. To the extent that the colleges change their processes, those changes are the result of a conscious internal effort to do their job better. To put it another way, College Board isn’t going to tell a university how to do its admissions job.

SAT is still SAT, and it will remain a valuable asset for students who can achieve a good score. The Subject Tests? They are being replaced in importance with AP tests, which always could have been reported. The evaluation by the colleges will be the same, just using different tests.

Our recommendation? Even with the increased popularity of test-optional applications, if you can (safely) obtain a good test score on a standardized test, use it to your advantage! Pursue the best possible scores, then decide whether or not you wish to report them to your favorite colleges. To be strategic, don’t try to decide whether to present a test score until you know what you’ve got.

Please … relax. The admissions system is not changing. It’s just using different puzzle pieces.

Your job is to do your best, not just on tests and grades, but also on extracurricular activities and things that make a difference to the world. Focus on success, not failure. Be the best you can be.

Finally, remember this: the U.S. admissions process is often holistic, with results that are not linear or predictable based upon test results. Do a great job on your admissions essays and get to know your teachers and counselors very well. They can help you achieve your educational dreams.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com


How houses become homes

By Anu Varma Panchal

“I just need one more room.” It’s the wistful utterance of every homeowner I know. An outdoor kitchen, more closet space for Indian clothes, one more guest room to accommodate overlapping sets of parents—most of us have a wish list for the perfect home.

For many, the COVID-19 epidemic provided the perfect impetus to fulfil it. By June 2020, 80 percent of surveyed homeowners had recently started a DIY home project, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Unable to travel or socialize, many who were fortunate to retain their homes and income repainted, renovated and landscaped, pouring time and money into houses they found themselves spending more time in than ever before.

Like much of the American experience, homeownership here offers the possibility of transformation and self-expression. However, for many south Asians, our house of origin is a both a fixed physical navel for this lifetime as well as an abstract concept of where and with whom we belong. “Where is your house?” is a question that also seeks an answer to who your parents and lineage are and what community you identify with—even who your family deity is. In my community, surnames weren’t traditionally as important as the initials in front of your first name that signified which kovilakam (a type of Kerala house) you are from.

Though my nuclear family moved often for my father’s work, my parents somehow transfused each house with the vibe of our ancestral homes. Those old houses we’d visit on holiday felt timeless, their names welded on the gates, their walls hung with photographs and portraits in exactly the same positions, unchanging even though we were a little different each time we visited.

Though I couldn’t quite aspire to recreate this aura, I did have an ideal in mind when we began house-hunting. But as we toted a toddler and preschooler from listing to listing, everything started to blend together and our list of must-haves dwindled. We finally settled on a one-story house within walking distance of the elementary school we wanted them to attend. It will do for now, we told ourselves. Like many young couples starting out, we figured we’d put down temporary roots somewhere while we searched for or built our perfect home.

But as John Lennon crooned, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Nearly 12 years have passed and through a paradoxical combination of inertia and busyness, we just didn’t move. Within our walls, metamorphoses occurred. Our babies shifted from our room to their room to separate rooms. The “toy room” that once looked like a Disney store exploded inside it is now a sedate home office. The swings and slides that stood in our backyard are gone, but the gardenia bushes I planted when we moved in now flower profusely, wafting their fragrance into my teenager’s bedroom.

Though I had a notion in my mind of an intentionally curated house my kids would remember as their family home, this one, it turns out, will be the repository of most of their childhood memories. There’s the oak tree we hung paper lanterns from for our younger one’s fourth Sophia the First birthday tea party; now we hang a hammock from it for her to lie in and read her dystopian novels. There’s the foyer archway I transformed with red brick paper into Station 9¾ when my older Pottermaniac turned 12 — the same archway I recently festooned in fairy lights and tulle for her Sweet Sixteen. Grandparents blew out birthday candles here; new cousins crawled and explored kitchen cabinets. Best friends who appeared for their first playdates in kindergarten can now drive themselves over.

Quarantine and e-learning meant logging more hours at home than ever, which brought with it a new appreciation for the basic gift of shelter and the generosity with which the house expanded to accommodate our needs. We noticed the shifting patterns of sunshine and how many birds and squirrels shared our backyard. We saw more neighbors — and their dogs! — than ever before.

Do I still yearn for that extra room? Of course. And I still subconsciously keep a traitorous eye out when driving around for the “perfect” house. But I understand why a home is such a well-loved thing in our culture that we often name it like a baby and move in under the auspices of religious ceremony. Within it, we are continually transformed. And like everything else — our families, our bodies and by extension, our lives — though we may always aspire to better, we will one day look back and realize the imperfect perfection of what we have now.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com

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