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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

SAT/ACT: Q&A with National Merit Finalists Jana Hillenbrand and Jesse Young

Seniors Jana Hillenbrand and Jesse Young are National Merit Finalists, which are recognitions determined by students who have the highest PSAT selection index scores. Winners of National Merit Scholarships are recognized based on a Finalist’s academic record, information about the school’s curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and a Finalist’s own essay. These two students scored high enough to get special acknowledgment for their test taking prowess. Although test preparation is an individual process for each students, here is a peek into how they succeeded.


 

Q&A with Jana and Jesse

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HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR THE PSAT, IF AT ALL?
Jana: I took the practice test that they hand out to you, but other than that, nothing.
Jesse: Sometime before the test day they gave us a take-home PSAT, which, I think, was exactly the same as the PSAT from two years before. I did a few sections the night before the test, was reasonably pleased with myself, and made sure to get eight hours of sleep. Other than that, I sort of have to attribute getting a good score on the PSAT to the fact that I took basically the same test three years in a row-freshman, sophomore, and junior years- and got better each time.


WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THE TEST?
Jana: Even though it is important to do well and I wanted to do my best, I told myself that I could always take [the SAT] again. If there’s too much pressure, it’s hard to do well.
Jesse: To be honest, I did approach the test with the goal of making the National Merit margin. It is just for practice, but I definitely had that in mind. Otherwise I just tried to stay relaxed and focused.


HOW DID YOU APPROACH THE SAT COMPARED TO THE PSAT? DID YOU PREPARE MORE OR LESS FOR THE SAT? DID YOU TAKE ANY KIND OF PREP COURSE OR USE ANY OF THE RESOURCES WJ PROVIDES?
Jana: I took the SAT more seriously. I took practice tests (on SparkNotes), and a proctored practice test. I identified my areas of weakness- for me it was math- so I got a math book, and a general prep book that had a good math section. The PSAT is important too, but I was more concerned with the SAT because of its impact on college admissions. I didn’t take any official prep course. As far as I remember, the resources WJ provides were only made available after I had already taken the test.
Jesse: A month or so before taking the SAT for the first time I went over to the Davis Library and literally checked out every practice book I could find. I also got a code from the guidance office for the “Official Online SAT Course.” Then, a week before the test, I started studying madly and ended up with a score worse than the PSAT. The second time, however, I just focused on studying for one section and got a significantly better score. So, in short, I’d say use what’s available and don’t kill yourself. On the subject of prep courses, I’m more than a little skeptical of an industry that has sprung up to profit off the misfortune of high school students. Not to be rude, but there are better ways to spend your money, and, at the same time, not funnel it into the Kaplan-College Board Axis of Evil.


WHY DO YOU THINK YOU GOT SUCH A HIGH PSAT SCORE?
Jana: I’m naturally a good test taker. I started reading at an early age, and I think that reading all my life helps me tremendously with the reading and writing sections. (vocabulary, grammar, etc.)
Jesse: I’m pretty sure the whole reason I did well on the PSAT was because I know how to take tests. As far as actual preparation goes, I’ve always sort of liked math, and I have a rather, ehem, brobdingnagian vocabulary, but that’s all secondary to the fact that I practiced enough to get the whole thing down to a science.

 

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE STUDENTS WHO ARE TRYING TO STUDY AND DO THEIR BEST ON THESE TESTS?
Jana: Try to find your areas of weakness and focus on those. It’s easier and more helpful, I think, to try to improve specific areas (ie. math, reading, writing or vocab) than to try to study everything. Find what way of studying is best for you. Use all your available resources: practice tests, prep books, online resources, etc.
Jesse: I’d start by saying the same thing we’ve all probably heard a million times: it’s just a test; it has no bearing on your future; in the long run you probably won’t even remember your SAT score, because that’s all true. And, if you’re really stressed about these tests, it would certainly help to chill out a little. The SAT is a withering institution with a definite shelf life: some colleges have even started the inevitable process of phasing it out. Plus, if you’re taking the SAT, you can take comfort in the fact you can always do it over again, like I did.

 

DID YOU FIND THAT YOUR SCORES YOU EARNED ON THE SAT CORRELATED WITH THE SCORES YOU EARNED ON THE PSAT?
Jana: Yes, in fact they correlated almost exactly. I got a 221 on the PSAT and a 2220 on the SAT.

 

HAVE YOU TAKEN THE ACT? WHY OR WHY NOT?
Jana: I didn’t take the ACT. I took the SAT and did well, so I decided that since schools accept one or the other, I didn’t need to take the ACT in addition.
Jesse: I tried it out, but it was a bit of a waste of money seeing as I didn’t even send my scores to colleges. The fact of the matter is that I was so used to the SAT after all the practice with the PSAT that switching formats all of a sudden didn’t really help, nor produce any dramatic score increases.

 

WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE THE TESTS?
Jana: This is clichéd, but I tried to get a good night’s sleep and I ate a good breakfast. I think sleep is one of the most important things, especially for the SAT. It’s a very long test, and nothing is worse than losing focus because you’re tired or hungry and not finishing a section. In my opinion, sleep is much more helpful than cramming.
Jesse: I think I read the newspaper and ate some delicious pancakes.

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Katie Levingston
Katie Levingston, Online Editor in Chief
Although she seems quiet on the outside, 2010-2011 Online Editor-in-Chief Katie Levingston is bursting with energy on the inside. A former young Parisian in her second year on staff, Katie models her life after certain television shows, namely Gilmore Girls and Friends. She is unnaturally familiar with said sitcoms; she longs for the day when she can eat anything she wants and spend all her time at Central Perk in the Village. Nothing happens to her in real life, it all happens in Stars Hollow or in Monica’s apartment… okay? When she’s not practicing her speed-talking, she plays a mean clarinet in many different musical groups and spends inordinate amounts of time editing videos for the website. Among her most pressing decisions in life are what to order at a restaurant and which scarf to wear that day. She is insanely proud of her thick curly hair when it cooperates. She’s super excited to be a part of the up-and-coming wjpitch.com. Her doppelganger Anne Hathaway says, "Hi!"
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