A test of their future

Students say that SAT can be daunting, but understand its importance.

By: Cahsa Caponegro
   The Scholastic Assessment Test can be a harrowing three and a half hours for any high school student.
   The test often determines a student’s college career and a good score can sometimes be the ticket into an exclusive university or college.
   On the other hand, a low SAT score can limit the list of colleges a student can attend. It also can mean a rejection letter from a student’s first choice.
   "The SAT was originally set up as a measuring stick between other students," said Princeton High School Director of Guidance Jim Riordan.
   Although many universities and colleges claim they don’t put too much emphasis on SAT scores, Mr. Riordan said the test is still an important factor in a student’s college search.
   "The National Association for College Admission Counseling in their 2000 survey still had the SAT as one of the top two criteria for college admission," said Mr. Riordan.
   The SAT score is a combined total of math and verbal sections, each of which is worth a maximum of 800 points. Often colleges look at a composite score, which combines a student’s highest verbal score with their highest math score.
   To achieve a high composite score, students often take the SAT a number of times.
   The test is generally taken when students are in the middle of their junior year. They may then re-take the test as many times as they like.
   In the Princeton school district, which is where the majority of Cranbury students attend high school, 96 percent of students take the SAT. The average Princeton High School student scores 617 in math and 605 in verbal for an impressive combined average score of 1,222 out of 1,600.
   "I think this score is a reflection of PHS itself that shows the caliber of the students, teachers and parents," said Mr. Riordan. "It is this combination that drives PHS to be number one in the state for SAT score."
   Mr. Riordan said he does not believe that the high average at PHS places additional stress on students taking the SAT.
   "I don’t think the pressure differs from school to school," said Mr. Riordan. "It’s inherent across the board for all kids taking the SAT."
   Students often prepare months in advance for the standardized test.
   Before taking the SAT’s in March, Cranbury resident Radha Yamarthy stocked up on preparation books and took a Princeton Review course over the summer.
   "The course really did help," said Radha, a junior at PHS, whose score went up over 200 points after taking the review course.
   Planning to pursue a career in medicine, Radha said she hopes to end up with a score above 1,500 on the SAT.
   "I came pretty close to that," said Radha about her score on the March SAT.
   She said she plans to keep studying and take the test for a second time in June.
   "I’ll just go through my books again and take practice tests," said Radha. "One book I have, ‘The Ten Real SAT’s,’ has been most helpful because it includes real tests from past SAT’s."
   Another Cranbury junior at PHS, Matt McCarville, enlisted the help of his former eighth-grade math teacher Linda Penney.
   "I saw her for an hour once a week for about two months to review," said Matt, who also received assistance on the verbal portion of the test from Cranbury School English teacher Judy Ulinsky.
   Matt said he also used SAT preparation computer software that helped him review for the test.
   "The software has games with math problems designed to help you out with SAT scores," said Matt.
   Matt took the SAT for the first time in January and then took it again earlier this month.
   "I was happy with my score," said Matt, who said he scored around 1,400 on the test. "But I took it again because statistics say 50 percent of student’s scores go up when they take the test again. I figured I would spend more time studying and see what happens."
   Matt said he was much more comfortable when he took the test a second time.
   "I was definitely a lot less nervous this time," said Matt. "There was no night-before anxiety."
   To help students prepare for the SAT, PHS offers an SAT enrichment course in the evening. In addition, Mr. Riordan said the school guidance department and PTO is starting up an SAT preparation course for the summer.
   "This will be our first time running this course," said Mr. Riordan, who said the summer course will cover test-taking strategies as well as aptitude review. "The response so far has been just phenomenal."
   No matter what type of course or preparation book a student use to study for the SAT, Mr. Riordan said the effectiveness of these materials are dependent upon the commitment of the student.
   "Each course has a guarantee that they will raise a student’s score by 50 or 100 points, but it is the commitment of the student itself that will improve scores," said Mr. Riordan.