At Streamline, Holistic Prep is Successful Prep

At Streamline, Holistic Prep is Successful Prep

Streamline emphasizes establishing where the student is coming from, and tailoring our instruction to the unique needs of the student. Streamline has a three-tiered pyramid approach to math problems on the SAT and ACT

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Test Prep Before School Starts

Test Prep Before School Starts

Summer is thought of by parents, students, and teachers alike as a time for rest and relaxation, free from the stresses and commitments of the academic year. However, for students entering the junior year of high school, it is also a window of opportunity to begin SAT and ACT test prep. 

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College Admissions Boot Camp – Stand Out Among the Competition

If you’re a parent with a rising senior applying to college in the fall, you may be looking ahead with some trepidation. With gossip swirling about the horror stories of kids with stellar GPAs and test scores not getting into their first, or for that matter, third choice , it may leave you shaking your head about your child’s chances at Penn, Michigan, and UVA (and even UMD!). You might even be the kind of parent who refuses to buy into the rat race, telling people you’ll be fine with whatever school your child gets into, yet you know that if it’s not Maryland, the price tag is minimally $40k (and probably more). If you take the approach that your child can overcome the admission obstacles by applying to 20 schools you’re in for a long fall and winter application season.

In short, college admissions isn’t what it used to be, but it doesn’t have to be a roll of the dice. Streamline Tutors and College Match Plus are co-sponsoring an admissions boot camp, August 14-16, to help students know with reasonable certainty where to apply to college and how they can put their best foot forward in their applications.

“Our boot camp has a few important goals for students,” says Ian Siegel, CEO of Streamline Tutors. “The first is to conduct an admissions-committee style review of a student’s academic credentials and extracurricular activities. Based on the evaluation, a student receives a rating which is compared to enrollment selectivity data from 2500 competitive colleges. This enables us, based on students’ geographic, size and other college preferences, to provide them a targeted college search list with reasonable reach, 50-50 and safety schools where they have the strongest probability of admission. This evaluation system goes a long way to ensure students do not under or over reach for colleges while helping families plan successful and efficient college visits, information sessions, and the like,” adds Ian.

According to Siegel, boot camp faculty also will help students complete a polished draft of the major essay for the Common Application and/or the Coalition Application (e.g., the University of Maryland now accepts the Coalition Application). Strategies for how to write compelling college essays including supplemental essays required of many competitive schools also will be covered during the three-day admissions boot camp. “All other things being equal—such as a student’s test scores and GPA—the essay can make a positive difference in the admission decision,” explains Siegel. “Our goal is to give students an edge by helping them tell authentic, interesting stories about themselves that go far behind what an admission person learns through the student’s high school transcript or list of extracurricular activities. If 10-15 percent of applicants write essays that hit the ball out of the park, we want our students to be in that group.”

Siegel stresses that the admission boot camp will only take 10 students to ensure staff can provide students quality, highly personalized essay review and college search guidance. So help your teenager unpack the mystery of and get a leg up on the college search and application process by calling Streamline Tutors to learn more about the admissions boot camp.

Early Admission: A Strategic Move to Consider

Early Admission: A Strategic Move to Consider

Deciding whether or not to apply for early admissions can be challenging. Should you commit to a single school through Early Decision? Does early admissions really make a difference in your overall chances of being accepted? Here’s what you need to know.

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ACT vs. SAT: Which One Should You Take?

ACT vs. SAT: Which One Should You Take?

The truth is, colleges don’t prefer one test over the other. Both the ACT and SAT are similar in terms of content but differ in pacing and style. So, it’s important to pick the one that puts your best foot forward – and focus only on that one.

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Too Late to Apply for Accommodations on the SAT and ACT?

Too Late to Apply for Accommodations on the SAT and ACT?

In many cases, parents don’t even realize their students have a learning difficulty. They might just assume their student is a “poor test-taker,” without realizing there’s a legitimate reason why. Learning difficulties can be hard to detect, especially when high levels of intelligence mask underlying struggles with attention or processing.

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I’m not happy with my SAT score!

I’m not happy with my SAT score!

With junior year creeping to a close, those who aren’t happy with their scores face a challenging array of questions: Should I jump ship on the SAT and try my hand at the ACT (or vice versa)? Should I sign up for a class? Seek out a private tutor? Switch tutors? Give up?

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Applying to College? You May Want to Delete Your Facebook Account

A life without Facebook might seem incomprehensible to some, but high school seniors applying to college would be wise to consider it, if only temporarily. As cited in the Huffington Post, more than 80 percent of college admissions officers use Facebook and other social media sites to get a second look at an applicant. Unless the applicant’s a recruited athlete, whose Facebook or Twitter profile might get a coach’s cursory glance at any point of high school, now is the time when a student’s Facebook profile may come under scrutiny.

Of course, deleting a social media account may seem like overkill. Why not just delete any potentially negative content? Or even change the account name so that the profile is harder to find? These steps may be sufficient, but I wouldn’t take the chance. After all, if admissions officers find the hopeful college applicant on Facebook, they won’t necessarily encounter the best representation of the student, nor the one so thoughtfully put together in the application; they may see a much more limited side, one that tends to encourage flash judgments, rather than careful review.

Another reason to drop Facebook: It provides a distraction when grades matter most.  Seniors need to have their best academic performance yet. Even if applying Early Action or Early Decision somewhere, admissions offices will frequently request first quarter grades or, if not available, may even call the counseling office to check on how an applicant is doing.  The level of competition often forces officers to search for reasons to reject applicants, especially at the most selective institutions.  Don’t allow Facebook to be cause for a red flag.

So how do you delete a Facebook account? It’s not too difficult. Access account settings, click on “security” on the navigation bar, and select “deactivate your account” at the bottom of the page. The link will lead to another page that asks the reason for leaving. Just indicate a temporary absence. After you’re admitted into college and ready to join the Facebook world again, you simply sign in on Facebook’s homepage, and pick up right where you left off.

Just be grateful admissions officers can’t gain access to that Snapchat account.


Making Your College Application Stand Out--Focus on What Makes You Unique

(Post also found on the Baltimore Fishbowl here:

It used to be that GPA and SAT scores dictated where a student would be accepted into college. Now high scores and top grades only get a student considered at selective colleges and universities. The admissions office at Harvard, for one, reports that over 70 percent of its applicants are more than prepared to succeed there.

On the other hand, I have been told by admissions insiders at several large universities that applications with numbers that aren’t up to snuff are read by part-timers who only suggest a second look to admissions when other intangible aspects of an application appear especially unique and impressive. In other words, they stand out.

The take away? Academic and standardized testing records are a great resource for formulating a college list, but, aside from safety schools, they are far from a guarantee of success in admissions.  Extracurricular profile, application essays, and letters of recommendation have become the de facto means of differentiation in a pool of otherwise very similar, competitive applicants.

So, as you meet with your junior’s college counselor this spring to craft a college list, think beyond whether each school is a good fit and consider whether your son or daughter’s application will stand out among applicants at a given school. Let’s take a look at each facet of the application to give you a head start on how your college-bound student can improve his or her chances, beginning with the extracurricular profile.

There are three primary ways in which admissions officers evaluate an applicant’s extracurricular activities (ranked according to level of importance):

1. Level of commitment: How long has your student been involved? How has his or her leadership roles expanded? What has he or she accomplished?

2. Uniqueness: How different are your child’s activities than those of other Baltimore students? Is your child a trail blazer, or does he or she simply follow the crowd?

3. Ripple effects: More time devoted to extracurricular activities means less time to study. Admissions officers take this into consideration, too.

What does this mean for Baltimore students? Well, lacrosse players come a dime a dozen, so unless your child is recruited, that shouldn’t be a focal point. That goes for all sports, actually. Like it or not, sports are the most common activity and also consume the most time, which, from a college admissions perspective, would be better spent exploring passions in more unique ways.

If your student doesn’t have a list of activities that would stand out on an application, consider this summer as the perfect opportunity to try something different. The college application essay also affords applicants a unique opportunity to shine—a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. According to Yale’s dean of undergraduate admissions, the essay is “the one part of the application where [applicants] completely control the voice, and that makes it a really valuable document for us.” Unfortunately, relatively few application essays make a difference because they succumb to clichéd themes and insights. I remember speaking with a Vanderbilt admissions officer who said that fewer than 10 percent of essays make a positive difference; the rest remain either a neutral or negative contributor to an applicant’s chances.

In my experience helping students gain admission to the most selective colleges and universities, I’ve found that effective essays tend to fall into one of three general categories: the “overcoming a challenge” essay, the “I’m unique” essay, and the “pursuit of a passion” essay. Of course, essays that fit these categories can all go horribly wrong. The challenge essay can be whiny or culminate in a clichéd insight. The unique essay can focus on attributes that are too clearly a product of wealth. The pursuing a passion essay can lack the extracurricular experiences that make the essay’s claims compelling and credible. In short, I can’t stress enough the time and effort that need to go into writing the best essay possible.

Finally, teacher recommendations are one of the least discussed yet most important aspects of an application. I address this at length in one of my previous posts about making teachers your best advocates, but I want to emphasize how teachers are uniquely positioned to reinforce other aspects of a student’s application in a compelling way. For example, a future engineering major whose application essay focuses on the challenges of creating a robot with a team of classmates might have a physics teacher discuss the student’s insightful and enthusiastic contributions in class. In fact, the most successful applications are those whose facets build on one another to create a thematic unity.

Sound like a lot for a high school student to accomplish? Of course, it can all go away with an eight-figure donation to a beloved college or university. I’ve seen that work, too. Otherwise you might want to hire some outside help.

An Exercise in Critical Reading: Why the SAT Will Change in 2016

Please read the following post carefully, as you would an SAT passage.  Critical reading questions — consistent with those found on the current SAT — will follow!


In his speech March 5 announcing an overhaul of the current SAT, College Board President David Coleman owned up to criticism that the current SAT reinforces socio-economic inequality because the wealthy have greater access to quality test prep than the poor.  He also conceded that the current SAT is out of touch with today’s middle and high school curricula and explained that the new test would better reflect what students learn in class.  According to Coleman, these changes represent the “College Board’s renewed commitment to delivering opportunity.”

The last changes took place in 2005 when the College Board altered the test from a 1600-point to a 2400-point test by including an entirely new section, the writing section, comprised of a 25-minute essay and 35-minutes worth of questions on grammar and usage.  Today, the writing section has taken the most heat, including from Coleman himself, who says that the essay portion fails to test useful skills.  And this is where the irony begins: College Board was saying the exact same thing about the old 1600-point test in 2005 when it eliminated analogies and introduced the writing section in the first place.

The irony continues when you take a closer look at what the College Board really is—a monopoly.  Whereas the ACT may be attracting more test takers recently, the College Board has cornered the market on SAT Subject Tests, AP tests, and the lesser known CLEP tests, which are subject-specific standardized tests administered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities nationwide.  In fact, AP testing alone accounted for more than half of the College Board’s hundreds of millions in revenue back in 2012, whose share,because of College Board’s lobbying efforts, has likely increased since then.  In other words, due to its breadth of standardized test offerings, the College Board is a very profitable nonprofit.

So why change the test?  After all, doing so is expensive, and, like many businesses, the College Board loves cutting costs when it can.  (In 2007, for example, the public finally discovered that the College Board recycles questions and even entire tests because of the expense of creating completely new ones.)  Well, just as in 2001 when the University of California system was considering opting out of the SAT requirement entirely, the SAT is again under threat.  After a slew of small liberal arts colleges went “test-optional,” Wake Forest became the first top-30 university to follow suit.  More recently, a study published last month examined the difference in collegiate performance between those who submitted scores and those who didn’t at test-optional schools.  The study found a negligible difference in average GPAs between the two groups.

Backed into a corner about the waning legitimacy of a product so closely tied with its brand, the College Board hired as president David Coleman, a man who was previously the major architect of the Common Core curriculum.  For educators, this event might feel somewhat dystopian: one man is not only controlling what children learn in class but is also helping an organization turn a massive profit by testing the same material.   Good thing “[Coleman’s] heart is in the right place,” as MIT professor and SAT critic Les Perelman told The New York Times.

While announcing the SAT changes, Coleman proclaimed with a smile, “This is a sad day for test prep companies,” implying that the new test would be more difficult to coach, or professional test prep would be rendered useless because of the free tutorials that the College Board’s new partner, Khan Academy, would offer online.  The underlying assumption in his statement, of course, is that all test prep is the same, that it relies solely on teaching students test-taking “tricks.”  Any company that takes results seriously knows this is far from the truth.  Personally, I spend more time identifying and filling in the gaps in students’ knowledge and then I focus on fine-tuning their analytical abilities before even diving into the strategies that I, like others, have accumulated by studying the test for years.

And that’s the thing about standardized testing: it’s standardized, meaning certain patterns will underlie each test so that scores fall into reliable ranges that colleges can count on to tell them something about applicants AND bright, motivated tutors can pick apart to help students perform better on the test.

The only statement made by Coleman that I would resoundingly agree with is that, aside from the essay, the current test, although socially unfair, is a decent test.  Many questions on both the critical reading and math sections, for example, test a student’s ability to translate something concrete into an abstract idea or vice versa.  Other questions test a student’s understanding of how an author constructs an argument and its rhetorical effect.  Even the arcane vocabulary in sentence completions isn’t so bad: it tests the capacity to break down words into roots and prefixes — the building blocks of the English language — and then use these limited tools to make educated guesses.  To me, these skills are important, and students scoring at the highest levels on the SAT truly have a greater capacity to solve problems creatively and distill information to its bare essentials.

Perhaps the SAT isn’t reinforcing inequality so much as it is highlighting it.  The simple fact is that there is a gross disparity in the educational systems across the country, which makes standardized testing an easy way for colleges to differentiate thousands of applicants from different high schools with similar GPAs.  A lasting way to level the playing field would be to invest more in teachers on a massive scale, pay them competitive wages so the brightest and most innovative would enter the profession, and give them the freedom to circumvent this stunting standardization of education that’s going on today.  Until then, test prep tutors will continue to push students past what they think they’re capable of within the confines of a standardized testregardless of how much the SAT may change.

1]  In the context of the passage, the author’s attitude toward the quote at the end of the first paragraph (“College…opportunity”) could best be described as:

A)     Emphatic

B)     Appreciative

C)     Caustic

D)    Critical

E)     Skeptical

2]  The second sentence of the third paragraph (“Whereas…nationwide”) serves to:

A)     Dispel a misconception

B)     Reinforce a claim

C)     Provide a rationale

D)    Disprove a theory

E)     Define a term

3]  In paragraphs 3-5, the author uses all of the following rhetorical strategies, EXCEPT:

A)     Euphemism

B)     Sarcasm

C)     Rhetorical questioning

D)    Paradox

E)     Irony

4]  The second and third sentences of the fifth paragraph (“For…Times”) refer to the idea that:

A)     Too much power vested in one individual is dangerous

B)     Education is more efficient when standardized

C)     Only those with good intentions are worthy of authority

D)    Educators focus too much on dystopian societies

E)     Good intentions should be met with higher profits

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