18 Dec 2017

Colleges Aren’t Different. The Teachers In Them Are.


In a New York Times article titled, The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion,” Kevin Carey digs beneath the outer-most layer of schools – ultimately finding little in the way of a unified, coherent educational personality. When we peel away the outermost layers of universities, Carey writes, all that’s left are individual teachers – all armed with their own idiosyncrasies. The teachers, not the school, make the education.

Carey likens each teacher, in each wildly different department, to an entrepreneur—bringing to the table his or her very own approach to the education of students. The type of education students receive at U Penn, for example, wholly depends on the individual classes students take, the professors who teach those classes, and the departments those classes are in.

So is a Williams College education unlike a Northwestern one? That depends on the teachers. This understanding of what makes schools different is especially important to keep in mind during the college process; it matters less where you land, and far where you place yourself once you’re there.

On the outside, colleges might give off a distinct personality. But once you strip back a few layers, the outer coherence gives way to radical inner variation. A couple teachers will shape your education, not the school you attend.

If you want to read the whole article, click here.

07 Dec 2017

Choosing the SAT and ACT or to switch tests

You received the scores to your official SAT or ACT and it is not what you hope.  While this situation can be disappointing, is you took the standardized test early in the college application process, you may have time to retake it.

Now the question is should you retake the same one, or consider changing your focus and registering for the other college entrance exam instead?

Considerations to review before you decide.

  1. Avoid unnecessary testing: Taking both test offers no benefit. If you’ve taken a practice diagnostic test in both the SAT and the ACT and your scores are relatively similar, then stay the course and continue to focus on the test you just took or begin to focus on other elements of the college admissions process.
  2. Consider the causes of your low-than-expected scores: Why didn’t you achieve your score goal? Did you struggle with the exam content and format, or did circumstantial elements complicate matters?

Many factors can affect your testing performance, including anxiety, fatigue and illness. With illness, chances are slim that you would face the same challenge twice.

Extra preparation time before your next test date can reduce anxiety and fatigue.

If your poor performance was primarily due to circumstances or a lack of preparation, you should retake the same test. You will have less preparation to do, since you are already familiar with the format. You will also have a ready-made guide to which sections you should concentrate on studying.

  1. Compare test formats: With the recent redesign of the SAT, there is less separation between the two major college entrance exams, but there are still some differences.
  • The SAT has no dedicated science section – though science is included elsewhere on the SAT.
  • The SAT has a slightly different format for its math portion which does not allow students to use a calculator for the entire math section.
  • The ACT and SAT both have a big emphasis on  The ACT has a much larger focus on geometry and includestrigonometry, matrices, graphs of trig functions, and logarithms.
  • SAT reading questions are evidence-based, requiring students to cite specific lines and passages to support their answer choice.
  • The SAT and ACT require identical grammatical and writing skills for the English / Writing+Language sections, and for the essays. Not a single fact or concept is different on one test than on the other. If you learn all the material required for the SAT, you won’t need to learn a SINGLE new thing in order to get a perfect ACT score (and vice versa). It’s all a matter of strategy.
  1. Weigh your time constraints: Learning a new exam format and a fresh set of strategies can be time-consuming. Despite the similar content of the two exams, the different pace necessitates distinct answer-optimization strategies.

If you have two to three months available you have more options than only a few weeks until the next official tests.

In summary… Consider the causes of your poor performance, the differences between your test options and your available time before taking your next step.


24 Nov 2017

10 Reasons to LOVE Standardized Tests like the SAT and ACT

You’re probably adept at rattling off reams of reasons why you hate, hate, HATE Standardized testing.  Everyone does. It’s a grueling, difficult exam with tremendously high stakes. It’s a source of conflict with your parents & competition between your friends. Tutors are pricey, studying is boring, and between school, work, socializing and heaps of extracurricular activities… you don’t have time for this! And to top it all off: Standardized tests are terrible measures of one’s potential to succeed! This test is pure evil!

Or is it?

In this blog entry I will give 10 reasons why the SAT and ACT is not so bad… awesome, even!

10.) For some students, Standardized Tests are much needed second chance. If you’re like me and slacked off during freshman and sophomore years of high school, the Standardized Tests are great ways to demonstrate newfound focus and academic potential to colleges. Coupled with a strong junior and/or senior year transcript, good Standardized Test scores will make you a viable candidate at many universities, even if you messed up parts of your high school career.

9.) Critical reading passages are really interesting! Here, I am going to let you in on a little secret: if you approach the critical reading passages with a focused, open mind, you’ll find that they are super interesting! It’s easy for students to say that critical reading passages are dry and boring–this is an excuse for disengaging from the material and not trying your best. I have NO idea why so many adults reinforce this ludicrous idea. Reading  passages come from recent (good!) novels, present wide-ranging scientific ideas & personal perspectives, and debate important issues. What is boring about this?!

8.) You’re entitled to a treat when you’re done. Twinkies, burrito, day at the beach… take your pick!

7.) Studying for the Standardized Tests teaches you important stuff you don’t learn in school, like good grammar (and, in turn, good writing skills) and how to think flexibly about math, apply strong problem solving techniques and use the math they do know in flexible ways. It asks that students go beyond applying rules and formulas to think through problems they have not solved before” In short, studying for Standardized test math promotes cognitive creativity.

6.) There are lots of available resources to help you prepare. Because so many students take the SAT and ACT it’s fair to say the test has been cracked. Not only are numerous books devoted to divulging essential content and strategies, but Sentia Education is also excited to pair you with an expert tutor, who knows exactly what material you need to know to score your highest.

5.) Misery loves company. You and your friends may grow closer through complaining about taking the SAT, ACT and SAT II Standardized Tests. Also, the fact that the eleventh grade class is simultaneously suffering promotes a feeling of community, a feeling of: I know this sucks, but we’re in this together.

4.) As you practice, you get to see the results of your hard work pay off.
Most students who work with a (good) tutor, or study a lot independently will see a big increase between their first practice test and their final score. Seeing this payoff is fun, encouraging, and will remind you that you can accomplish a lot when you work hard & put your best foot forward.

3.) You have more than one shot to take the test, and colleges will only consider your highest score. So you can relax a little. Unlike most of the exams you take in school, the SAT isn’t a one shot deal.

2.)  Completing the SAT, ACT and SAT II’s are a rite of passage, and an accomplishment that promotes confidence. Throughout life, you will be forced to face scary challenges head-on. As you meet & succeed in the face of these challenges, you will grow more confident in your abilities.

A driving instructor (shout out to Tony from Formula One, best driving instructor ever!) once told me that high school students face two, seemingly insurmountable tasks: the driving test, and Standardized Tests. Completing these tasks means proving to yourself that you can complete these tasks–that you are strong enough to succeed and persevere despite a mountain of pressure. Knowing this about yourself is invaluable.

1.) And most importantly, the SAT or ACT get you into college! Despite all its unpleasantness, these Standardized Tests are your ticket to college–one of the most exciting and challenging parts of life. This is the ultimate reward of the college admissions Standardized tests!

11 Nov 2017

Know the Difference Between a Hyphen, En Dash, and Em Dash

Nailing the crucial difference between these types of punctuation can nudge experienced readers in your favor—something that is incredibly important during the college application process. The hyphen, en dash, and em dash are distinguished by, at most, a few pixels on your screen and their uses are similarly nuanced.

The Hyphen

Used to join intimately linked compound terms, the hyphen clarifies the relation among different words.

Example: “Long-term exposure to tobacco smoke can increase your risk of cancer”

The words “long” and “term” are meant to jointly describe the word “exposure”.

Other Examples: high-risk, free-for-all, eye-opener, all-American

The En Dash

The en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen and it is meant to denote items related by distance or time1.

Example: We are looking for students ages 13–20.

This can also be applied to date ranges and prefixes fixed to proper nouns if they denote a temporal relationship.

Other Examples: April–June, pre–Revolutionary War, 30–50 feet long

The Em Dash

The em dash is the longest of these punctuation marks and is also the most versatile. It works like parentheses to add a thought or an extra piece to the sentence. The use of the em dash is more subjective and is meant to enhance the reader’s experience than to denote a relationship between two words.

Example: I went to the concert—something I thought was a great idea until it rained.

The em dash can replace parentheses, colons, and commas, depending on how you’d like to use them. Keep in mind you shouldn’t be using more than two em dashes in a sentence

Other Example: My brother—the one who originally hated the idea—was totally on board this time around.


Check out these great resources for more details on proper punctuation:



02 Nov 2017



Don’t know whether to take the SAT or ACT?

We’ve been there before. High schoolers across America (and the globe) face this question every year.

An impressive score on either test goes a long way towards helping students get into the schools they want to attend. So, how do you know which test is better for you?

Sadly, there are no obvious answers. The best way to figure out the ACT vs. SAT conundrum is to take a practice test for both. If there is one you feel more comfortable with, then that’s the test you should take.

That being said, a quick comparison between the SAT and ACT, below, might help you understand the major differences between the two. There is also a quick nine question ACT vs. SAT quiz that will – through over-generalization and not very much data – tell you which standardized test is probably better suited to your strengths.

But before gleaning too much from the comparison and quiz, remember that there’s no substitute for taking a practice version of both tests! Happy reading.

What do these tests feel like? A logic and reasoning test A more objective, clear-cut test
How do these tests align with my skills? The SAT is often (not always) better suited for English/History types The ACT is often (not always) better suited for Math/Science types
What about math? Need to know Math up until Algebra II Need to know Math up until Trigonometry
Science? No Science on the SAT Yes Science on the ACT
Big Picture? The SAT requires more analytical thinking and logical reasoning The ACT asks more straight-forward questions and requires straight-forward answers
Where are these tests accepted? Everywhere Everywhere
Is there an essay? Yes, and it’s currently required. *After May 2016, it will be optional. Yes, but it’s optional
Is one better than the other? Should I take both? No, both are equals in the eyes of colleges. And no! You don’t need to take both.   

Still not sure which test to take? Maybe this quick, nine question quiz will help.

21 Oct 2017

Joining 25 Clubs Isn’t The Move: How To Handle Extracurriculars

So you’re in your junior year of high school, freaking out about how few extra-curricular activities you have compared with your friends, and you promptly join 25 clubs. We’re going to stop you right there.

Joining some clubs? Well, that’s a good thing. Colleges like to see that you’re interested in causes, subjects and ideas outside of the classroom. Captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team? Great! Student council member? Awesome!

But when you join 25 clubs in an effort to show colleges how involved you are in the world, their skepticism begins to grow.

Nobody, and by that we literally mean nobody, has the time, range of interest, or empathy to truly care about and be active in so many clubs. You know that. And more importantly, colleges know that.

What they do want to see is a narrative. If you’re interested in writing, college admissions officers should read your app and say:

“Oh, this kid Jimmy loves writing. He’s a contributor to the school’s literary magazine, is president of the school’s Book Club, took a creative writing class over the summer, and won a Scholastic writing award for one of his poems. He’s also on the varsity tennis team and is a Latin Affairs club member, which is awesome. But most of all, he’s a writer.”

Get the picture? Joining a reasonable number of clubs that make sense in the context of your larger interests will make your application more attractive to Admissions Officers. They want to understand who you are. Listing as many random clubs as possible won’t help them do that.

So, join clubs that align with your interests. Be an active member. And make sure the clubs you join create a plausible, compelling narrative.


16 Oct 2017

A (Fallen) Hero: Atticus Finch, Legacy, & The Common App Essay

Since 1960, the year Harper Lee first published To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch has figured prominently in the hearts, minds, and college essays of America’s youth. Atticus – the staunchly principled Southern lawyer (who heroically defends Tom Robinson, a black man unjustly accused of rape) – helped Mockingbird win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961. He stood as a model of moral courage and unflappable resolve in the face of injustice and racism. And now, the literary icon thousands of students have surely written about to help them get into college, is the subject of dismay, confusion, and disappointment.

On July 14, 2015, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, a previously undiscovered Harper Lee novel, Go Set A Watchman, was released to the public. It appears that Watchman was actually a first draft of Mockingbird – a fact which makes the book all the more shocking; readers are confronted with a very different Atticus. The Watchman Atticus belongs to a group closely tied to the KKK, and is thoroughly unwilling to change with the times. What makes this discovery so surprising is that Watchman is set 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird, which begs the question: how could this be the same man? How could this heroic father become as bigoted and backwards as the very people he stood up against in Mockingbird?

In some ways, though, Watchman makes To Kill A Mockingbird, and more specifically Atticus Finch, all the more extraordinary. Mockingbird was written through the eyes of Atticus’ six-year-old daughter, Jean-Louise, who understandably saw Atticus, her father, as a hero among men. His moral failings, therefore, went unacknowledged. But much of Atticus’ actions in Mockingbird, even in light of Watchman’s revelations, still prove heroic; Atticus did defend Tom Robinson, a black man in the South, from an unjust hanging; he did sit outside Robinson’s cell one night with a shotgun to protect him from a violent KKK mob; and, most significantly, he did manage to put aside his archaic personal views when it was called of him. Though in the wake of Watchman, our perception of Atticus may have changed, Lee’s two novels combine to form a powerful message: We can put aside personal beliefs, however strong they might be, to do what is righteous in the end. As such, Atticus Finch’s integrity may even be more praise-worthy today than it was 55 years ago, given the intensity of his troubling convictions. For college-gazing high school students who, until Watchman, were thinking of writing about Atticus on their Common App, maybe there is still something there worth exploring.







10 Aug 2017

Should Class Start-Times Be Moved Up?

The United States has the highest number of students whose learning suffers from sleep.  As reported by the students’ teachers, 73% of students’ learning is negatively affected by a lack of sleep.  Lack of sleep impairs cognitive functioning, and with almost three-quarters of the nation’s students being hurt by sleep deprivation, we need to ask: should we move school start-times up?

Beyond healing and repairing the body, especially with the heart and blood vessels, sleep helps the brain form new pathways for new information.  These new pathways foster memory creation and allow information that was processed throughout the day to be consolidated for future recall.  The effects of not getting the recommended nine to ten hours of sleep a night for teenagers are present after only losing one to two hours of sleep; cognitive ability suffers as if you haven’t slept for a day or two.  The lack of sleep also leads to micro-sleep.  Micro-sleep is the instance in which you appear to be conscious and functioning, yet you cannot remember what you have done for the past few minutes.  For those who drive, you might know it as highway hypnosis, when you go on auto-pilot and may not remember driving from your house to the stop sign down the street.  Dr. Fitzpatrick, a sleep researcher from Northwestern University, describes not sleeping as if “[y]our brain is running on empty.”  Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to brain alterations that cause deficiencies in solving problems, negatively affect decision making, and create issues with controlling emotions.

With all of its downfalls, the lack of sleep is not inevitable and the effects are not irreversible.  Dr. Fitzpatrick explains that “[a]s long you haven’t gone into extreme sleep deprivation, if you go back to seven to nine hours per night, as long as there has been no permanent damage, you can probably restore the functionality of accumulating, processing and being able to recall memories.”  Getting nine to ten hours of sleep a night, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding large meals within an hour of going to bed, and not using computers, tablets, or smart-phones at night can help you get back into the sleeping groove.

Moving school times up would also help with the ever-growing problem of sleep deprivation.  The American Academy of Pediatrics advocated for moving school start-times up to 8:30 am or later for middle school and high school students so they could get 8.5 hours a night.  As students age, they go to bed later and later, with most teenagers going to bed after 10:30pm.  Because of their late nights, teenagers need later start-times.  Younger students, who tend to go to bed and wake up earlier than teenagers, could start classes before older students.

Many high schools start before 7 am, and with students falling asleep as late as they do after an already long day, wouldn’t having a later start-time be beneficial?  What possible downsides do you think a later start-time could have?  Do you think the sleeping habits of students would change, or would they just stay up later, causing them to get the same amount of sleep in the end?  We’d love to know your thoughts, so comment below!

07 Mar 2014

Check out Billy Wheelan on Huffington Post Live!

Today, Sentia Education Managing Director Billy Wheelan participated in a Huffington Post Live discussion on the recently announced redesign of the SAT. The conversation focused on content and format changes, the goals of the College Board, and the impact it will have on parents’ and students’ approach to taking the SAT.

Didn’t get a chance to watch it live? Check out this video and tell us your thoughts. Who will benefit the most from the new SAT? Will these changes pioneer the way towards adaptive test taking? Will a new test more accurately predict students’ potential for college level work?

View the full interview and blog post here!

13 Feb 2014

MIT Admissions Mistake

April Fools came early this year for nearly 4,000 applicants to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In what is now being referred to as an “e-mail goof”, the MIT admissions office accidently sent a mass email to regular decision applicants as well as accepted early action applicants containing an automated tag line that read, “You are on this list because you are admitted to MIT!” For prospective students already accepted through MIT’s early action program, the tag line was simply part of a routine mistake. But for the many applicants still awaiting a final admissions decision in March, those eleven words may have raised false hopes of admission to one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of higher education.

According to Chris Peterson, an MIT admissions counselor, the intended footer of the email sent to applicants still awaiting a decision from MIT was supposed to have read: “You are receiving this email because you applied to MIT, and we sometimes have to tell you things about stuff.” The problem, Peterson explained, was that they had recently combined two lists of students- those who had been admitted early and those still awaiting an official admissions decision. Evidently, the e-mail “footer” from the admitted group was somehow transposed onto all of the e-mails through the office’s MailChimp marketing system.

Since becoming aware of the mistake, the MIT admissions office has apologized to all applicants via their blog, and will be answering any questions or concerns via email. Despite the unseemly gaffe, scores of “hoaxed” applicants, who have taken to posting about the email on a college admissions forum, have been generally accepting of the university’s mea culpa. Time will tell if their forgiveness will extend past official admissions decisions when only 1 in 10 applicants will receive an “official” letter of admission.