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The Tenets of Productivity: Part II

Contribution by Scott Doty

Part II of BrainStorm’s blog series on productivity–just in time for final exams!Pomodoro Timer

Eat That Frog! In his book by the same title, Brian Tracy discusses this odd axiom: If you start your day by eating a live frog, the rest of the day will only be better than that moment. In the world of productivity, this translates to choosing the one looming task that you’d most like to see evaporate without your doing anything—the one that is awful and you have trouble bringing yourself to get done—and do it first thing in the day. From that point on, everything else is easy sailing and the day is already in the win column.

Use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage. P’s Law says that the amount of work you have to do will expand, as a gas, to fill the time you allot for it… i.e., if you decide you have until next Thursday at 5pm to plant that garden, you will not get it done a moment before that deadline. Use this natural human inclination to your advantage—set far shorter deadlines for yourself on projects that matter, but that don’t feel urgent. Create a sense of urgency, and you will get it done earlier than you had thought was possible.

Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato. Also known as timeboxing, this technique entails using one of those tomato-shaped kitchen ticker-timers as your central prop. You set one for 25 minutes (the optimal amount of time the human brain can focus without fatigue), turn off anything correspondence related (unplug/turn off the phone, close email, etc), and dedicate yourself 100% to just one high-focus task until the timer goes off. When it does, force yourself to let the task be done for now. This form of short-burst, high-intensity mono-focus really helps people who are easily distracted or bored by projects; these people often reward their 25-min sprint with something enjoyable (like a meal or a friendly phone call) before starting their next punch on the Pomodoro.

Craving more tips on packing a greater productivity punch? Stay tuned for Part III (Or go back and revisit Part I!).

Published June 12th, 2014

FinalsFest 2014 – Final Exam Review Sessions

exams

2-hour review classes in preparation for final exams – $25 per class

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Tuesday, June 10th

Spanish (All levels)

Time: 7:30 – 9:30 pm

US History

Time: 7:30 – 9:30pm

Physics

Time: 7:30 – 9:30pm

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Wednesday, June 11th

French (All levels)

Time: 7:30 – 9:30pm

World History

Time: 7:30 – 9:30pm

Chemistry CP/CPE

Time: 7:30 – 9:30pm

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Saturday, June 14th

Algebra I

Time: 12:30 – 2:30pm

Biology CP/CPE

Time: 12:30 – 2:30pm

Geometry

Time: 2:30 – 4:30pm

Calculus

Time: 2:30 – 4:30 pm

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Sunday, June 15th

Biology AP/Honors

Time: 3:15 – 5:15pm

Pre-calculus

Time: 3:15 – 5:15pm

Algebra II

Time: 5:30 – 7:30pm

Chemistry CP/CPE

Time: 5:30 – 7:30pm

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Monday, June 16th

Algebra I

Time: 4:30 – 6:30pm

Geometry

Time: 4:30 – 6:30pm

Chemistry AP/Honors

Time: 6:30 – 8:30 pm

Algebra II

Time: 6:30 – 8:30pm

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 Call 201.84.STORM x2 to register!

Published June 2nd, 2014

The Tenets of Productivity – Part I

Contribution by Scott Doty

Productivity is commonly mistaken for efficiency (doing something quickly) rather than effectiveness (doing the right thing well). When done properly, true productivity represents the synthesis of the two. To be efficient, we need tools for speed and discipline; to be effective, we need to ascertain what vision of our future “best self” drives us. The latter is more important, and more difficult—finding a mentor or hiring a life coach is often a worthy investment to this end. In this multi-part blog post, I’m touching on effectiveness, but focusing a bit more on efficiency—that is, assuming you’ve got a sense of where you want to go, how might you best ensure that you get there?

Feelings, THEN Tasks. People often chase down a to-do list because they believe accomplishing those tasks will make them feel a certain way. One way to live more effectively is to switch the order: Not “I will get these things done, and then feel accomplished,” but rather “I have decided to feel accomplished right now, and will prioritize my day to get things done while already in that positive emotional place.” This cart-before-the-horse technique is sometimes called “resonance,” and is a powerful tool for effecting a mindshift from “hoping for victory” to “already victorious!” People are usually far more productive when in this mindset.

Body and Soul, or Nothing. In essence, this tenet says “Put first things first.” We all know that we struggle to be productive when we feel physically sick or emotionally wounded—and yet we have been taught to press through, to power through fatigue and pain to the Promised Land of “getting things done” ahead. It’s a deception, a mirage. The PL continues to recede in the horizon as more and more tasks get added to our lists, and our cycle of “doing” continues ad infinitum. We need to break this cycle by prioritizing good food, joyful physical motion, worship, meditation, human connection, rest, and everything else that feeds our body and soul. If we gain the world but lose our (body and) soul, we have nothing. Productive people prioritize physical and spiritual health, because they realize that this is the essence of productivity.

Resist the Tyranny of the Urgent. In Eisenhower’s Urgent vs. Important matrix, focus your energies on prioritizing activities in the “Important but Not Urgent” category—this is where flossing, reconciling with a good friend, pursuing our dream of traveling through Europe for a summer, & the like can be found (usually being ignored by hyper-efficient but terribly ineffective you).

Hungry for more productivity hacks? Part II is coming soon!

Published May 23rd, 2014

In Honor of Mother’s Day: Nature vs. Nurture Examined

Super MomContribution by Katie Weigl

This Mother’s Day, be sure to present Dear Old Mom with an extra-large box of bonbons as a token of appreciation for all the blood, sweat and tears she’s poured into raising you. Why? Conflicting studies show that while some evidence supports the effectiveness of Mom’s valiant efforts, there is a possibility that you may just have been more trouble than you’re worth.

It may sound harsh, but professor/author/blogger Bryan Caplan reports that while parents understandably strive to nurture their children to grow into smart and happy adults, behavioral geneticists find little or no evidence that this effort pays off.

In his interview with now-infamous “Tiger Mother” Amy Chua, Caplan argues, “Parents seem to think their kids are like clay, that you mold them into the right shape when they’re wet. A better metaphor is that kids are like flexible plastic–they respond to pressure, but when you release the pressure they tend to pop back to their original shape.”

A 2010 study of 338 children by the Child Development journal supports Caplan’s position. The results of this study showed that children coping with fighting parents acted out more and performed worse in school than classmates whose parents had undergone an intervention to promote a happier home life, touting the influence of a positive home environment on school-aged children.

On the opposite side of the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate is Yale professor Amy Chua, a notoriously stringent mom of two overachieving daughters and author of the memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

“I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised,” says Chua, “and what I see as a tendency in the West to be too permissive and indulgent.”

In Chua’s corner is Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner—today known as the father of behavioral science—whose early experiments produced pigeons that could dance, do figure eights, and play tennis. Skinner went on to prove that human behavior could be conditioned in a similar manner.

The age-old “Nature vs. Nurture” debate runs deeper than the gene pool itself. Based on your own experience, which do you feel is stronger—nature or nurture?

Published May 9th, 2014

To Nap? Or Not to Nap?

Contribution by Katie Weigl

Just say no to naps?

Should you just say “No” to naps?

To take a powernap, or pull an all-nighter? That is the question.

Much of our capacity for productivity is determined by our sleep patterns (or lack thereof), but getting the appropriate amount of rest can be a difficult balance to strike.

So when you’re feeling fatigued, is it best to call consciousness quits for a bit? Or should you simply power through?

Admitted serial-napper and best-selling author Michael Hyatt boasts a daily nap as part of his routine. And he’s in good company! Other notorious nappers include Leonardo da Vinci, John F. Kennedy, John D. Rockefeller and Winston Churchill.

Hyatt touts the benefits of his daily repose, naming improvements such as the restoration of alertness, prevention of burnout, heightened sensory perception, reduced risk for heart disease, and an increase in productivity. (5 Reasons That You Should Take a Nap Every Day)

On the other side of the pillow…er…coin, the Mayo Clinic cautions potential nappers that midday shuteye may not be for everyone, citing drawbacks such as post-nap grogginess and difficulty sleeping at night.

In order to reap the benefits of napping without the potential setbacks, the Mayo Clinic recommends keeping naps short, limiting naptime to the afternoon hours, and taking your naps in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions. (Napping: Do’s & Don’ts for Healthy Adults)

So, where do you stand? (Or lie?) Does a midday nap help you take on the rest of your day? Or just leave you feeling dazed?

Published April 25th, 2014

One For All? The Great Inclusion Classroom Debate

One for all? The Great Inclusion Debate (specialedpost.org)

One for all? The Great Inclusion Debate (specialedpost.org)

Contribution by Katie Weigl

The very word “inclusion” conjures feelings of harmony. Yet the ongoing debate surrounding inclusion classrooms is incongruously dissonant.

The idea of inclusive education is not new. Special education public programs have been available as early as the 1950s. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s began to change the face of special education, and the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifically supports inclusive thinking and practices (NVPIE.org).

But what exactly is an inclusion classroom?

An inclusion classroom environment is one in which gifted and talented students as well as those with learning disorders work side-by-side with mainstream students under the tutelage of one instructor.

“Of the world’s leading countries in education, the top dozen countries—Finland, Singapore, China, etc—all utilize inclusion classrooms,” says BrainStorm CEO, Scott Doty. “Of course, the ideal inclusion classroom is one led by a truly masterful teacher, equipped with all the necessary methods and tools to effectively educate every type of learner in his or her class.”

Sound too good to be true? It might be. Those who argue against the concept of the inclusion classroom have legitimate concerns about the credentials of the teachers at the helms of these inclusion classrooms.

“One issue you can run into with an inclusion classroom is that even the most capable certified teacher may not have any training in nor certification for teaching students with special needs,” says Kathy Acosta, BrainStorm’s Director of Specialized Academic Coaching.

There is the solution of employing a co-teacher who possesses these qualifications, but it raises another debate—if students with special needs get a separate teacher, is that really “inclusion?”

On the other side of the debate, those in the pro-inclusion camp assert that all students—from those with learning difficulties to those on the gifted and talented tract—will benefit from the implementation of a multilevel, multimodality curriculum, as educators in inclusive classrooms are forced to move toward cooperative learning, whole language, thematic instruction, critical thinking, problem solving, and authentic assessment (ASCD.org).

Another major argument in favor of inclusion classrooms is centered on the social stigma of being removed from the rest of the class—for any reason.

“The message that ‘if you’re different, then you have to leave’ may seriously challenge children’s sense of a secure place in the classroom,” writes Mara Sapon-Shevin of ASCD.

Advocates for students with specialized academic needs, such as Ms. Acosta, will continue to champion the cause to further the effectiveness of these children’s education, whether it’s within the context of a inclusion classroom or not.

What do you think? Are classrooms like Caribbean resorts—where “all-inclusive” gets us the most bang for our tax dollars? Or are an effective education system and inclusion classrooms mutually exclusive?

Published April 11th, 2014

AP & Subject Test Prep Classes

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AP exam

AP & Subject Test Prep Classes (for May tests)

Chemistry
In preparation for May 5th AP exam & May 3rd Subject test.
Dates: 4/12, 4/19, 4/26
Day/Time: Saturdays, 12:30-3pm
Price: $275

Calculus AB/BC
In preparation for May 7th AP exam & May 3rd Subject test.
Dates: 4/14, 4/21, 4/28
Day/Time: Mondays 6-8:30pm
Price: $275

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In preparation of May 8th & 9th AP exam and May 3rd Subject test
Dates: 4/13, 4/27, 5/4
Day/Time: Sundays, 5-7:30pm
Price: $275

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Dates: 4/13, 4/27, 5/4
Day/Time: Sundays, 3-5:30pm
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Dates: 4/12, 4/19, 4/26
Day/Time: Saturday, 1-3:30pm
Price: $275

Economics
In preparation of May 15th AP exam
Dates: 4/17, 4/24, 5/1
Day/Time: Thursdays, 7-9:30pm
Price: $275

World History
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Dates: 4/23, 4/30, 5/7
Day/Time: Wednesdays 7-9:30pm
Price: $275

US History
In preparation of May 14th AP exam and May 3rd Subject test.
Dates: 4/12, 4/19, 4/26
Day/Time: Saturdays, 1-3:30pm
Price: $275

European History
In preparation of May 14th AP exam and May 3rd Subject test.
Dates: 4/13, 4/27, 5/4
Day/Time: Sundays, 3-5:30pm
Price: $275

Subject Test Classes (for June tests)

*Classes are in preparation for the June 7th test day

Literature
Dates: 5/11, 5/18, 5/25, 6/1
Day/Time: Sundays, 5-7pm
Price: $275

Biology
Dates: 5/3, 5/10, 5/17, 5/24
Day/Time: Saturdays, 1-3pm
Price: $275

Chemistry
Dates: 5/11, 5/18, 5/25, 6/1
Day/Time: Sundays, 3-5pm
Price: $275

Physics
Dates: 5/5, 5/12, 5/19, 6/2
Day/Time: Mondays, 6-8pm
Price: $275

US History
Dates: 5/3, 5/10, 5/17, 5/31
Day/Time: Saturdays, 1-3pm
Price: $275

World History
Dates: 5/14, 5/21, 5/28, 6/4
Day/Time: Wednesdays, 7:30-9:30pm
Price: $275

Mathematics Level 1
Dates: 5/5, 5/12, 5/19, 6/2
Day/Time: Mondays, 6-8pm
Price: $275

Mathematics Level 2
Dates: 5/8, 5/15, 5/22, 5/29, 6/5
Day/Time: Thursdays, 8-9:30pm
Price: $275

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Published April 1st, 2014

Paying Kids for Good Grades: Does it pay off?

Contribution by Katie Weigl

It’s instilled in us from the time we are children. “Be a good boy/girl and I’ll give you a lollipop.” We see the same principle applied in the workplace as adults. “If you’re good at your job, I’ll give you a raise/promotion.”

So it would seem a no-brainer to offer school-aged children similar incentives for performing well in school.

…Or would it? Cash for grades

The debate—arguably most famously posed by Roland Fryer, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and founder of the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University—is ongoing.

Through his social experiments, Fryer discovered that financial incentives for what he terms “output”—or results—failed across all grade levels and all cities to increase achievement. However, when incentives were offered for improving their “inputs”—factors related to effort, such as attendance and behavior—students demonstrated marked improvement in these areas.

Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the bestseller Freakonomics, spearheaded a similar experiment to test the effects of incentivizing effort, not results.  In Levitt’s study, students were not told of the financial reward in advance; instead, they were informed just as they were sitting down to take their tests. This way, the study measured the success of encouraging students to apply themselves more effectively in the “here-and-now”, rather than prompting additional hours of studying or note-taking ahead of time. Interestingly, Levitt’s study inspired the greatest improvements when students were given a financial reward in advance, knowing that it will be taken away if certain standards are not met.

On the opposite side of the argument, in her article for the National Education Association, Mary Ellen Flannery writes that incentivizing academic performance at all could be detrimental in the long run, especially when it comes to creative pursuits. Financial incentives are considered “extrinsic” rewards, whereas the rewards reaped from learning should be intrinsic. Flannery opines rhetorically, “Isn’t there greater value in reading a good book than a certificate for cheese pizza?”

Still, Greg Toppo of USA Today quotes Gregg Fleisher of the National Math and Science Initiative, who helped launch an initiative to offer urban youth a $100 cash reward for earning passing grades on their AP exams. Fleisher argues “this teaches [students] that if they work at something very hard and have a lot of support, they can do something they didn’t think they could do.”

As with any worthwhile debate, there is no right or wrong answer, and the experts (and the general public) may never agree.

What do you think? Does paying kids for grades pay off?

Published March 27th, 2014

Summer 2014 Programs Announced!

Summer 2014Now accepting registrations!

Call 201.84.STORM x2

 

Summer C2A Tutoring

The same innovative small-group tutoring program BrainStorm offers during the school year with updated hours & packages to suit your summer schedule.

Weeks: July 8th – August 21st
Days: Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday
Times: 10am – 2pm
Pricing: Full Summer Membership – Thunder (Grades K-9): $599 / Lightning (Grades 10+): $699
Weekly Membership –  Thunder: $119 / Lightning: $139

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SAT/ACT Test Prep Courses

SAT Test Prep
Week-long, all-sections SAT courses offered throughout the month of July.
Dates: Monday – Thursday 7/7 – 7/10, 7/14 – 7/17, and 7/21 – 7/24
Time: 2pm – 5pm
Price: $450 (Price includes book & one pre-session simulated test*)

ACT Test Prep
Week-long, all-sections ACT courses offered throughout the month of July.
Dates: Monday – Thursday 7/7 – 7/10, 7/14 – 7/17, and 7/21 – 7/24
Time: 2pm – 5pm
Price: $450 (Price includes book & one pre-session simulated test*)

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SAT/ACT ConquerCamp w/ BrainStorm CEO Scott Doty

BrainStorm CEO Scott Doty is Bergen County’s PREMIER source of test prep & college application coaching. His SAT/ACT ConquerCamps  will prepare your rising junior or senior to conquer these high-stakes tests…and to learn valuable long-term skills in the process!

Dates: Monday – Friday 8/4-8/8, 8/11-8/15, 8/18-8/22 and 8/25-8/29
Time: 9:30am-1:30pm
Price: $595** (includes one pre-session sim test*; additional fee for prep books)
**Sign up by May 15 and save $80!

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The College Application Workshop

In this one-week workshop, college hopefuls will work with a BrainStorm-certified college coach to get a head start on finding great school matches, completing the Common Application, drafting a phenomenal college essay, and preparing for interviews.

Weeks: Monday – Thursday 8/18-8/21 and 8/25-8/28. Tuesday – Thursday 9/2-9/4
Time: 4pm – 6pm (August classes); 6:15pm – 9pm (September class)
Price: $395

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*Summer SAT/ACT Test Simulations

Dates: Every Thursday 7/11 – 8/29 (Available by appointment only on Fridays)
Time: 9am – 1pm
Price: $48

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BrainStorm K-8 Campology

BrainStorm K-8 Campology is a half-day camp that teaches kids academic content through fun & creative activities (Shhh…they won’t even know they’re learning!)

Dates: Monday – Friday 7/28-8/1, 8/4-8/8 and 8/11-8/15
Time: 9am – 12pm
Price: $325/wk

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School Year JumpStart

Get a head start this school year with BrainStorm’s week-long, subject-specific academic JumpStart classes!

Weeks: Monday – Thursday 8/18- 8/21 and 8/25-8/28.  Tuesday – Thursday 9/2-9/4
Price: $150 per subject per week
Time: Four 90-minute classes (August) or three 2-hour classes (September)

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August 18-21 (Monday – Thursday)

10:00-11:30am Spanish

10:00-11:30am Writers’ Workshop

10:00-11:30am Algebra I

11:30am-1:00pm French

11:30am-1:00pm Algebra II/Trig

11:30am-1:00pm Chemistry

1:00-2:30pm Elementary School Math

1:00-2:30pm Geometry

1:00-2:30pm PreCalc

1:00-2:30pm Middle School Math

2:30 – 4:00pm Middle School Language Arts

2:30-4:00pm Physics

2:30-4:00pm Language Arts

2:30-4:00pm Elementary School Reading/Language Arts

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August 25-28 (Monday – Thursday)

10:00-11:30am Geometry

10:00-11:30am Chemistry

10:00-11:30am PreCalc

11:30-1:00pm Physics

11:30-1:00pm Algebra I

11:30-1:00pm French

1:00-2:30pm Algebra II/Trig

1:00-2:30pm Elementary School Math

1:00-2:30pm Middle School Language Arts

1:00-2:30pm Language Arts

2:30-4:00pm Elementary School Reading/Language Arts

2:30-4:00pm Middle School Math

2:30-4:00pm Writers’ Workshop

2:30-4:00pm Spanish

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September 2-4 (Tuesday – Thursday)

4:30-6:30pm Middle School Language Arts

4:30-6:30pm Middle School Math

4:30-6:30pm Algebra I

4:30-6:30pm Chemistry

6:30-8:30pm Algebra II/Trig

6:30-8:30pm Geometry

6:30-8:30pm PreCalc

6:30-8:30pm Physics

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Space is limited. Call 201.84.STORM x2 to register today!

Published March 14th, 2014

New SAT: Fairer, More Predictive & Less Coachable? We Doubt It.

Contribution by Steve Gretz

You’ve probably heard by now: there are changes coming to the SAT in 2016.  Like the 2005 introduction of the current version of the test, this announcement yesterday by College Board is likely to induce a certain amount of anxiety from parents, panic or anger from students, and a healthy dose of posturing from educational institutions everywhere.

Should you be worried?  Not unless you work for College Board.  Let me explain a little bit:

Most of the changes to the test are likely to make it easier to prep for.

www.collegeboard.org

www.collegeboard.org

In what is certainly an effort by College Board to gain back much of the market share the SAT has lost to the ACT over the last decade (the ACT was actually taken by more students than the SAT for the first time ever last year), the test is being changed to reflect many of aspects of the ACT that students find “friendly.”  There will no longer be any wrong answer penalties.  The vocabulary tested will include fewer obscure words with a focus on what the College Board calls “Relevant Words”, and the format will provide more context with which to define the words tested.  Other, non-ACT-like changes should also be welcomed by students.  The newly-optional essay will be based on a prompt that is published beforehand, allowing for more focused practice ahead of time, and will give students twice as much time (50 min.) to answer.  The math will focus on even less content, and while the College Board isn’t saying so in these words, it seems that there will be considerably less focus on Geometry–rarely a subject fresh in the minds of juniors most of the way through a demanding year of Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry.  Lastly–history buffs rejoice!–the newly designed “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” section will always include a selection from America’s founding documents, so those who’ve taken the time to really understand them will be at a distinct advantage.

The SAT is not a good predictor of college success–and that’s good for students.
Yes, you read that right.  The test’s current predictive power is so poor that more and more american colleges and universities (over 25% of 4-year institutions, according to FairTest.org) are simply not requiring it, and many of those who do require submission of SAT or ACT are opting to see it as a factor that can only help students’ chances for admission.  That’s a good situation for applicants: those with great grades may feel less pressure to bring an amazing test score to the table, but the SAT and ACT will still be excellent opportunities for students to differentiate themselves or give an admissions office cause to take a second look at an application with a less than stellar GPA.  The College Board claims that these upcoming changes will improve the test’s predictive power, but that improvement would need to be massive in order to make the SAT’s value as a predictive tool relevant.

If you’re skimming, focus on this: these shifts in the SAT’s focus will mostly be welcomed by students, but will do little to change the landscape of college entrance exams in 2016.

And perhaps even more positively, the new SAT will probably not slow the changes that are already taking place; fewer and fewer students will have their academic futures inordinately shaped by a single test.

That’s a change we can all look forward to.

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