Admissions prep for seniors

Hi seniors (and juniors),

 

I thought you may be interested in the student feedback to me, your teacher, as this successful student prepares to enter the Ivy-League world of University of Pennsylvania!  This is Sammy X from Hong Kong:

Dear Mr. Watt,

As high school draws to an end, I have begun to go around the school thanking all my teachers. You too were once my teacher.
One of the greatest “miracles” I’ve experienced as a student has been my path in English. To tell the truth, I struggled at English in middle school and was worried that it would become a problem in high school. Four years later, I can confidently say that I excelled in my high school English classes. Whatever it was, something between middle school and high school drastically changed the trajectory of my English education. My mom and I have always speculated what it may have been. Perhaps I just got smarter? Maybe it was because in high school [my] grades actually counted towards [my] GPA, towards the competitiveness of [my] college application. Maybe I was just more driven? After much reflection, I realise the impetus for this great change may have been your literary service. I did, after all, start in 8th grade [see his portfolio here], right before high school – right before this great change.

[I’m] not gonna lie, four years ago there were times when I wondered why I enrolled in your class. Sometimes, I spent late Friday nights catching up on the work you assigned. I frequently woke up early on Saturday mornings to squeeze in a few more chapters of Tolkien. At some points, it was difficult. As a young and naïve middle school boy, sometimes I wished I could spend my Saturday afternoons playing soccer. Four years later, I’m so glad I didn’t. You influenced me in a way that I did not have the capacity to appreciate as a young boy. Now I do.

The above can help younger students to get an idea of the stakes of early study with MWLS: the earlier you begin study, the better! Thanks Sammy!

 



BRIAN W

 

Brian’s response to Charles East’s account of his relationship with Welty can be read here.

Notes on “Discovering Eudora Welty” by Charles East

“Discovering Eudora Welty” is a memoir written by Charles East on how his life was influenced by the writings of Eudora Welty and Welty herself. In the beginning, East talks about how Eudora Welty’s first short stories had influenced his life. Then, as the author moved on toward college, he became more and more immersed in Eudora Welty’s life and stories. For example, on page 426, the author writes about how a couple of Welty’s stories, “Lily Daw and the Three Ladies” and “A Piece of News”, took him by “surprise” and “astonished” him. The Author then goes on to provide information of how Welty’s current status affected his college life at LSU. Then, the memoir transitions into the author’s adult life after graduating from college. This is the part where the author actually gets to meet Eudora Welty for the first time. East met Eudora Welty on the Millsaps campus, in the early 1960s. The story goes on to summarize and analyze Eudora Welty’s “Goat Castle” story. In Part II of the reflection, the author goes on to talk about how Eudora Welty has influenced his life. During this period the author read many of Welty’s books that contained her short stories, and even “One time, One Place”, a series of photographs published in 1971. The author also attended many talks and lectures given by Eudora Welty herself. Finally, the author got a unique one-on-one chance to talk to Eudora Welty about her writings and real-life experiences. Charles East’s memoir about Eudora Welty really opened up my knowledge of Eudora Welty’s life outside of her writing and allowed me to glimpse the life of someone who is really passionate about writing stories, just for the pleasure of it.



NATHALIE N

Nathalie Ng is in process of writing her final assessment paper on Eudora Welty, during which time she reads and writes commentary on previous students’ Welty essays. This aids the process of finding a controlling idea or thesis that sparks the writer to produce a highly original essay of her own.

 

 

Commentary for Helen Liu’s Narrative Voices of Eudora Welty

In her essay, Helen Liu demonstrates some of the narrative voices used in writing: omniscient narrations, selective omniscient, dramatic monologue, multiple narrator, interior monologue, third-person limited and letter/diary entry form. These different voices “determine how much of the story and its characters the reader is exposed to,” and each have a unique way of expressing a story because of the different points of view. After analyzing some of Eudora Welty’s various stories, Liu has “reduced Welty’s stories to three levels of control in the information release of the narrator for the insights and emotions of the characters: tell all, tell most, or tell some.”

To start off, Liu gives an example of a selective omniscient story, “A Worn Path.” She made an interesting observation as to why Welty chose selective omniscient for this story, stating that “like a little bird perching on her shoulder, the reader gets a close view of her mien and personality.” Liu also notices that because Welty had a “keen sense of Phoenix Jackson’s weaknesses,” she chose this voice to better allow these “weaknesses” to shine through. If the story was told from Phoenix Jackson’s point of view, the readers might not have been able to see her weaknesses or physical characteristics, but instead would have been able to take a look into Phoenix’s mind and see what she was thinking. As Liu makes clear, what narrative voice to use is an important decision writers make – perhaps the most important.

Next, Liu examines the narrative voice used in “Livvie,” which is told in omniscient. Liu says that even though using the omniscient voice helps the piece in “a clear and entertaining way,” she felt that “the narrative voice felt rather unvaried and characterless since it did not reveal any of the character’s inner thoughts and emotions.” I agree with Liu on this, because as readers we could not sympathize with Livvie nor take a deeper look into Solomon’s past. Liu says that she thinks the story “would have been more interesting if it were told from a character’s point of view… because the readers can get a sense of the characters’ thoughts and feelings.” However, I think it the story would be more enticing if it was told from a diary entry form. This form, like first person narrative, gives the character a more realistic and human feel. I would like to know what Livvie was feeling when Ms. Baby Marie visited the house and asked to see Solomon sleeping, or how Livvie felt about Solomon’s death and about Cash.

Liu also looks at the narrative voice used in “The Whistle,” which is told in third person limited. This means that the narrator only knows the thoughts and feelings of one character, while the other characters are only described and presented externally. Liu explains that third person limited is a good choice “… since the main idea of the story was for the readers to feel the depressing mood and the pain and hardships that were faced in the story.” Using third person limited also reduces the cluttering of thoughts readers would have if the story focused on all of the characters’ thoughts and emotions.

The final piece that Liu selected was a story told in dramatic monologue, “Why I Live at the P.O.” The dramatic monologue in this story makes “readers feel as if they were involved in the story,” because readers can sense the tone in which the narrator speaks. Liu says that despite this voice creating a “perfect humorous piece,” readers will side with Sister in the story, because the story is told from a biased point of view. This makes readers unable to judge the right and the wrong in the story, because the narrator is probably telling the story to favor herself.

Liu concludes her essay by restating the three levels of control of information release: what she calls “tell all, tell most, and tell some.” Welty’s stories have covered all corners of the map of narrative voices, from omniscient to dramatic monologue. Liu says that Welty used different narrative voices in her stories “to her and the reader’s benefit.” No matter the perspective in which the stories are told, “all of her fiction pieces had a great flow and enlightened the readers with their exciting twists and turns. In the end, points of view are decided on one general question: to tell or not to tell?”



The New SAT

Vincent Chang responds: 

 

The article was very informative concerning the new format of the test compared to the soon-to-be-old test. I took the SAT last year, and my response to the changes is based partially off of my experience. I think it is good that the reading/writing section no longer tests vocabulary, because I found that I never used the vocabulary under normal circumstances. I like the change towards vocabulary that is more likely to be used or other definitions of a word – it assesses the test-takers ability to understand the meaning of words in context, a product of consistent reading rather than vocabulary memorization. I am not sure of my opinion on the change to the math section; I think the broader variety is beneficial in creating a wider range of scores because it requires many more courses to be taken. I am not in favor of the revised math problem format because it requires much more reading than before. I saw a short clip somewhere (Facebook I think), which compared the number of words between the math problems of the old and new test and concluded that the math section required much more reading. I think this change takes the focus off of math and puts it onto reading comprehension and puts non-native English speakers at a disadvantage. The switch to four answers rather than five is neither good nor bad, and no longer penalizing for guessing is debatable. I think the old method of penalizing for wrong answers was good at judging how much the test-taker actually knew, but it discouraged guessing even if a choice could be eliminated. It is good that the College Board is attempting to shift the test away from being “test-prepable” and towards a better foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi students,

 

Please read this insightful summary from the NY Times on the new SAT, which debuts in March, 2016!

 

Note that reading wide and deep is a requirement for success!

 

 

Everything You Need to Know About the New SAT

By ERIC HOOVER

 

OCT. 28, 2015

 

 

The new SAT will soon arrive on a wave of bold promises. The College Board has said its redesigned admission test would contain “no more mysteries.” Instead of being a riddle to solve, it would correspond with high-school curriculums and better reflect what students have learned.

 

The pitch sounds good. But is it true?

 

In the spirit of good prep, let’s review what we know so far. The new SAT, which debuts in March, will look a lot different from the current version. Instead of three sections, there will be two: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Each will be scored on a 200-to-800 scale. There will no longer be a penalty for guessing, and the odds will be better (the number of possible answers will decrease from 5 to 4). The now-required essay will be optional.

As for content, the revamped test draws heavily from the Common Core — math and reading benchmarks adopted by most states. Those standards emphasize evidence-based interpretations of texts, vocabulary used in college and careers, and depth-over-breadth math skills. And yes, although the exam will not be the mirror image of the ACT, the two are about to become much more similar.

The changes get mixed reviews. Some testing experts who’ve studied the College Board’s sample questions describe them as more relevant and less gimmicky. Others foresee problems, especially for those who struggle with reading.

“The new SAT will align better with what kids are learning in school,” said Ned Johnson, founder of PrepMatters, a test-preparation service in Bethesda, Md., and co-author of “Conquering the SAT.” “But if you haven’t gone to a school that’s prepared you well, the test isn’t going to serve you well.”

Although the SAT is evolving, not all of its stripes are changing. Test-taking savvy is still going to make a big difference when students pick up those No. 2 pencils. So let’s take a closer look at some of the changes — and why they matter.

First, the reading section won’t be so “recondite,” because obscure words like that are disappearing. The test will no longer ask students to complete sentences. Now they will have to derive the meaning of widely used words based on context. Test takers should expect to see words that can be used in different ways (“measured,” “disposed”). Instead of recalling a definition from vocabulary flash cards, they’ll have to read prose passages carefully to choose an answer.

How should students prepare? By reading often and diving into various kinds of texts, especially nonfiction, tutors say. That’s more a long-term strategy than a quick test-prep trick. Habitual reading can also help on the writing section, which will demand prolonged concentration. To answer questions about grammar, punctuation and usage, students will have to wade through extended passages relating to history, humanities and science.

What’s true of the writing section is true of the new SAT in general: There’s much more to read. “The most fundamental change is that there are many, many more words,” said Aaron Golumbfskie, education director for PrepMatters. “If you don’t read well and happily, this test isn’t going to be your friend.”

Even the math section will require more reading, with fewer questions based on equations and more word problems. Some prompts will present the same type of real-world situations that the Common Core emphasizes — “The recommended daily calcium intake for a 20-year-old is 1,000 milligrams (mg). One cup of milk contains 299 mg….” Mr. Golumbfskie describes the math section as “tighter in focus.” The current test covers a lot of ground, with a question or two on each topic; the new one will drill down into a few key areas. Geometry is fading out. Algebra is stepping up: Prepare for linear equations and inequalities, and systems of equations in two variables.

The addition of more-advanced math, such as trigonometry, means the test will cover material from a greater number of courses. That will make it more difficult for students to take the SAT early. Some questions will require knowledge of statistics, a course relatively few students take in high school. And because one math section will prohibit the use of a calculator, students who use them in class may want to practice tackling calculations with pencil and paper.

After getting through all that math, test takers who opt to write the essay will have a much different assignment than they do today. The prompts, which will look familiar to those who’ve taken Advanced Placement English, ask for a critical response to a specific argument. In: analysis. Out: writing about your personal experiences. For example: Read excerpts from a 1967 speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and explain how he used evidence, reasoning and/or stylistic elements to support his argument that American involvement in the Vietnam War was unjust.

As much as any other modification, the new essay captures the spirit of the new SAT, which underscores the importance of evidence. Questions throughout will require students to cite specific examples that support their answers. No longer can they get by on writing skills alone.

With all the new stuff to consider, it’s easy to forget about what’s not changing. At 3 hours 50 minutes (with the essay), the SAT is still a long, exhausting test. Besides measuring what students have learned, it will measure how they perform under pressure in a high-stakes situation — just like the old model.

Adam Ingersoll, a founder of Compass Education Group, a California test-prep service, said the College Board has made the SAT more resistant to the beat-the-test strategies his industry is known for teaching: “The mysteriousness of the test — they are actively trying to bleed that out.”

But maybe not completely. While poring over sample questions, Mr. Ingersoll spotted the same “trap doors” — questions designed to distract or confuse and to enhance the test’s difficulty — that he finds in the current version.

Colleges use the SAT to sort applicants, and a wide distribution of scores helps them do that. “You can’t have all students getting a 750,” Mr. Ingersoll said. “It needs to be a benchmark of students’ achievement, but that is at odds with selective colleges’ need to have a test that sorts and ranks. These quirks and trap doors make the test perform the way it needs to.”

So the big question burning up the web: Which version should I take? The answer could come down to timing. Students have just three more chances to take the current SAT — the last testing date is Jan. 23.

One advantage of sticking with the current version: It’s a known quantity, and plenty of review materials exist. Those who were happy with their PSAT scores might want to take the soon-to-be-old SAT, which would look familiar to them. “There’s not a test-prep tutor anywhere who could look a family in the eye and say, ‘We can do as good a job for you on the new SAT this year,’ ” Mr. Ingersoll said.

Most students take the SAT for the first time in spring of their junior year. Those who don’t want to rush might decide that the new test, though less familiar, fits their schedule better. But remember this: The first cohort to take the new SAT, in March, won’t get their scores until after the next test date, in May. That’s about double the current wait time.

The second question everyone is asking: Is the new test harder? No, several test preppers insist, though some students might stumble over the longer reading passages, the deeper dive into math and questions that require multiple steps to reach an answer. Those concerns could drive many students to take the old test — or the ACT.

Some expect that the new SAT will be even more challenging for the disadvantaged. By weaving more tightly into high-school curriculum, the test would seem to best serve students at high-performing schools, with the strong teachers who prepare them for state standards, as well as affluent students with access to test prep.

“There’s a new body style on the Chevrolet, but it has zero to do with performance — the engine’s the same,” said Jay Rosner, the Princeton Review Foundation’s executive director, who tutors low-income and underrepresented minority students. “It’s going to generate the same hierarchy of scores that exists now.”

 

Eric Hoover is a senior writer covering admissions at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

 



NICHOLAS N

Nicholas has written some insightful feedback for Oliver Betz‘s personal essay on his life as a high-pressure solo pianist. Oliver attends the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in NYC, and has trained at Juilliard. Betz has played over 30 concerts in Europe and the United States.

I think this personal story is effective because the structure evokes feelings in the reader. This story has a very sudden introduction, a lot of description in the body and a sudden ending.

Through this story, I could tell that that the author did not provide any background information – instead, he dived right in to the events that happened. The introduction started off with “I was second on the program for the Schubert trio and last for the Mozart Quartet on the program. Having to enter the stage quickly, I felt like I was just dumped into sizzling water.” I think that this part was very effective because it makes the piece more engaging. Additionally, getting straight to the point makes the reader want to just rush in to the details of the essay. Thus, the reader is engaged at the beginning of the story. Additionally, all the other paragraphs start this way. The lack of transitions and connections between the different paragraphs makes the reader want to know more about the next paragraph, which is usually not really related to the previous one. For example, “I wouldn’t let people down, but I seemed to have lost my enthusiasm” directly changed into “We arranged ourselves in the specific order…”. The effect of this is that the reader is constantly being told about new things and the reader would like to know more.

Secondly, I think that this piece of writing makes the reader feel feelings because it is written in a first person perspective and it is how we imagine things. For example, “I pressed down the middle A ivory key and the tones that came out of the string players made the hairs growing out of my brain stand up.” This is really effective because we can all relate to this hyperbole, as it sometimes feels this way when we are especially nervous or on edge. Additionally, instead of just addressing that he felt nervous, he went deeper and told us how he was affected physically. The effect of this sentence makes the reader feel more attached to the essay and makes them feel like they were playing the piano. Furthermore, instead of narrating his experience, he focused more on the small details instead, such as “He was smiling sheepishly as if he were telling a lie so I knew he wasn’t being serious.” These types of details add more to the atmosphere of nervousness and anxiety and it also makes the reader flow through the whole story like a dream or a simulation.

In conclusion, I think that this piece is very effective in terms of detail and structure. However, I think that the only thing that needs to be improved is the background information. I think he should give more background information because in my opinion, the reader is a bit naïve about what is going on and he/she needs to read on to get the story. Unless that was his point all along?

 


 

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