Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Clinching a scholarship via the SAT

The reason I am writing this is mostly to shed light on the heavy shadow of ignorance among students who wish to obtain a scholarship to attend university in America and expect to do so via other exams apart from the SAT. There was one of them right here under my nose who desperately wanted a scholarship and thought Cambridge A level exams should do the trick. He spent nine months studying for the Cambridge course and failed to get even the required grades that should be okay for a scholarship. All of this happened because we did a postmortem on many of the results that came in recently.

Let me state it categorically that it is near to an impossible thing for any candidate to expect to get a scholarship with the A levels even though he or she had scored three straight A’s. What the A levels would do for you if you scored three straight A’s is get you into one of the Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, MIT and the rest. In the year 2002, there were many A level students in the UK that scored an average of A, A, B in the three subjects. That did not get them anywhere near those schools, and most had to settle for schools with a lower pedigree. What the A level tells the admission officer is that you are not an academic green horn mostly because the A level curriculum is a rigorous one, almost as rigorous as the ones in most universities. In Nigeria, if you have a good Advanced level result, you could qualify to resume as a second-year student in any of the faculties of your choice. In fact, most Canadian schools now require that Nigerians must come with an Advanced level result because that is the one way to gauge a candidate’s academic potentials. I have not seen any case therefore, where a candidate’s straight A’s have gotten him scholarship into any American or Canadian university.

To get a scholarship to a good American university, you would have to score very good points in the new SAT. The new SAT- it was introduced about two years ago when it was beginning to be obvious that a lot of the candidates were failing the exams because they find it hard to grapple with a module in the exams known as’ Analogy sets’. As a consequence of the presence of those analogy sets, we found out that this exam was not a true reflection of a candidate’s abilities mostly in the verbal component of the exams. What the College Board did (and I agree with them absolutely) was to introduce an essay writing component that effectively and efficiently neutralizes the deficiencies in assessing a candidates true potentials in the SAT exam. The College Board also introduced a new component in the Math section-Algebra II.

It is the verbal component of the SAT and how the candidate can use it to clinch a scholarship that concerns me. I have been a teacher in that environment for about five years and I suppose this should qualify me as somebody who knows what he is talking about. The verbal component of the new SAT has three sections and they are sentence completion, critical reading and essay or composition writing. Any student that has written Jamb here should be familiar with the first two-the name ‘sentence completion’ represents those types of questions that require candidates to complete sentences with the proper grammatical structures on the basis of vocabulary, lexis and logic. There is nothing ‘critical’ about ‘critical reading’. Once, I asked a student mine what he thought ‘critical reading’ meant. He responded that a critical reading passage should be read critically. No, you should not do so. The exam is a timed one and if you spend all of that time reading a passage ‘critically’, you would have no time left to attend to other parts of the verbal. Critical reading is an ordinary comprehension passage that should be attended to the way any normal comprehension passage should be attended to-read the passage first, get the message, go to the questions and go back to the passage using the time-tested methods of skimming and passage scanning. It is very important that the candidate be conversant with the rudiments of literature, politics, and government of the United States, history, Geography, Sociology, Economics and some elements of law. If the candidate is a little familiar with any of these topics, the two reading comprehension passages are as good as already in the bag.

Answer all of the MCQs (multiple-choice-questions) on the SAT and do very well but this does not guarantee you a scholarship. Your essay it is that most likely gives you a scholarship or prepares you for scholarship. I have seen a great many students whose essays were good and who had full scholarship of $40,000.00 for their four year university adventure. The reason the College Board introduced the essay component is that it gives them the opportunity to assess the candidate’s overall psychological, physiological, mental and academic strengths and weaknesses. The word that aptly describes this is the German word, Weltanschauung; the candidate’s world view. The Math, the sentence completion, the critical reading, the algebra, all of these do not say much about you to the College Board. These are subjects that you mastered much later and much closer to your life as a young adult. What about those things that influenced you in the formulation of your view of life? Where and when were you born and what things happened then? Which primary school did you attend and what were the activities that you were engaged and engaged you? What was your parentage like? Now, don’t get me wrong here. The College Board is hardly directly interested in these matters but is indirectly interested in how these matters have influenced and molded you as the unique person that you are. If you hand write an essay-not with the computer-it is easy for them to determine your personality. It would be easy to know whether or not you can cross your T’s and dot your first person singular in the lower case. To put it very clearly, the essay is a psychological tool with which the College Board assesses your personality and your morphology. So take it very seriously if you are gunning for a scholarship now or in the near future.

Three assessors examine the essay independently over twelve marks and take an average score based on their individual scores for an essay. The areas they are mostly interested are word choice or vocabulary, sentence structure, organization of the essay and idea development. Let me attend to all of these very briefly before I conclude. ‘Word choice’ is about registers and how appropriate the candidate has deployed them; sentence structure is about how the candidate has ensured that he does not have one sentence structure (like the simple, compound, complex) as the dominant type of structure in the essay. Let us say that there are twenty sentences in paragraph one: the opening sentence most times is expected to be a simple sentence and there should be at least three simple sentences used together with the compound and complex. If you have done this, your paragraphs should be relatively organized in such a way that develops your idea(s). But the most important way to develop you idea(s) would be to cite, cite and cite examples.

What I have always told my students is that it is almost impossible to teach them how to write essays if they do not read and are familiar with the subjects that were mentioned above. They should just be a little more sensitive to their environment and to the world around them more than the other guy. They should listen to CNN, BBC, and VOA. They should listen to local television stations as well. In addition, they should read magazines, newspapers not because it will help them in the SAT, but that being a little interested in what goes on around them certainly is one very good way to prepare for university. I hope those who are preparing for life in university in the US read this and adjust their mode of study and preparation accordingly.If there is anyone you know who needs a little help with his SAT essays, tell him to get in touch with me. My email is