Twins see college in future; but first, the SAT

Saturday, December 05, 2009
Nashua Telegraph

By Michael Brindley

Twin sisters, Mariana and Ana Maria were born in Colombia and moved to Nashua nine years ago. Having gone though the ESL program as children, they have made an effort to take higher-level, challenging courses. They both have an interest in cosmetology. Their goal is to go to college together and one day open a hair salon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the next in a series of stories following four Hispanic students through their senior year of high school. They are among a growing diversity of students in the Nashua school district. The stories will focus on the students, the schools and the larger community.

NASHUA – The immense blue book sitting on the table inside the school library served as a reminder of the test facing Ana Maria and Mariana Espinal in less than 48 hours.

It was Thursday afternoon at Nashua High School South. The twin sisters would be at Nashua High School North early Saturday morning to take the SAT, a test that could determine which colleges they are accepted to.

The test has become a rite of passage for high school students who are looking to go on to post-secondary education.

The sisters stayed after school Thursday to get in some last-minute studying.

The test is administered by the nonprofit College Board, which also happened to have published the test’s preparatory study guide the Espinals were using, named “The Official SAT Study Guide.”

Fortunately, they didn’t have to buy the book, an 889-page behemoth. Ana Maria said they borrowed it from a friend, who had borrowed it from a friend. And they’ll pass it on next to someone who needs it, she said.

“My friend said it worked for him, but you have to study really hard,” she said.

Among the sections in the book are identifying sentence errors, algebra and functions review, approaches to passage-based reading questions and a section titled simply “The Essay.”

The test has changed over the years. In 2005, the name of the exam was officially changed to the SAT Reasoning Test and was altered to include a writing section, in addition to the math and English sections. Possible scores now range from 600 to a perfect 2,400. Analogies were also dropped from the test.

Ana Maria admitted she was nervous heading into Saturday.

“I don’t think I’m going to do so good,” she said. “I choke on tests.” Both girls said they were confident in the English and writing sections, but said math could be a problem.

Sitting with a group of friends, they got tips from those who have already taken the test. Erica Frasca told them it’s better not to answer a question if you have no idea what the answer is because you lose points for wrong answers, but not for questions that aren’t completed.

The Espinals are applying to Southern New Hampshire University, Saint Anselm College and Nashua Community College. They plan on attending the same college to study cosmetology and business with the goal of one day opening their own hair salon.

As the test has changed over the years, so has its relevance. Colleges and universities are placing less emphasis on it when deciding whether to accept students, said Steve Soba, director of admission at Southern New Hampshire University.

Research has shown that SAT results are not an effective tool when trying to predict success at the higher education level, he said.

“There are students who have come here with very high SAT scores, and they’re gone in a semester,” he said. “There are other students who we’ve taken big chances on and they come in here and set the world on fire.”

Although some higher education institutions have gone so far as to make the SAT optional, Soba said Southern New Hampshire still requires applicants to take the SAT or ACT. Soba said there have been discussions about whether to make it optional.

“Especially this year, it’s becomes much less important to us than it has in the past,” he said. The most important factor when it comes to deciding whether to accept applicants are their high school transcripts and whether they show the students have taken rigorous courses and challenged themselves, he said.

The twin sisters have made an effort take more higher-level courses this year and said they are doing well, getting all A’s and B’s. Report cards were handed out students for the mid-point of the semester in recent weeks.

The university also considers other factors, such as extracurricular activities, and encourages applicants to visit the campus for an in-person interview, Soba said.

“Sometimes when you have a chance to look them in the eye and meet them in person, it could certainly turn the tides,” he said.

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