Great article about tutoring in Korea

 

On a wet Wednesday evening in Seoul, six government employees gather at the office to prepare for a late-night patrol. The mission is as simple as it is counterintuitive: to find children who are studying after 10 p.m. And stop them.

In South Korea, it has come to this. To reduce the country’s addiction to private, after-hours tutoring academies (called hagwons), the authorities have begun enforcing a curfew — even paying citizens bounties to turn in violators. (See pictures of Seoul, the world’s most connected city.)

The raid starts in a leisurely way. We have tea, and I am offered a rice cracker. Cha Byoung-chul, a midlevel bureaucrat at Seoul’s Gangnam district office of education, is the leader of this patrol. I ask him about his recent busts, and he tells me about the night he found 10 teenage boys and girls on a cram-school roof at about 11 p.m. “There was no place to hide,” Cha recalls. In the darkness, he tried to reassure the students. “I told them, ‘It’s the hagwon that’s in violation, not you. You can go home.'”

Cha smokes a cigarette in the parking lot. Like any man trying to undo centuries of tradition, he is in no hurry. “We don’t leave at 10 p.m. sharp,” he explains. “We want to give them 20 minutes or so. That way, there are no excuses.” Finally, we pile into a silver Kia Sorento and head into Daechi-dong, one of Seoul’s busiest hagwon districts. The streets are thronged with parents picking up their children. The inspectors walk down the sidewalk, staring up at the floors where hagwons are located — above the Dunkin’ Donuts and the Kraze Burgers — looking for telltale slivers of light behind drawn shades.

At about 11 p.m., they turn down a small side street, following a tip-off. They enter a shabby building and climb the stairs, stepping over an empty chip bag. On the second floor, the unit’s female member knocks on the door. “Hello? Hello!” she calls loudly. A muted voice calls back from within, “Just a minute!” The inspectors glance at one another. “Just a minute” is not the right answer. Cha sends one of his colleagues downstairs to block the elevator. The raid begins. (Read about South Korean schools going paperless.)

South Korea’s hagwon crackdown is one part of a larger quest to tame the country’s culture of educational masochism. At the national and local levels, politicians are changing school testing and university admissions policies to reduce student stress and reward softer qualities like creativity. “One-size-fits-all, government-led uniform curriculums and an education system that is locked only onto the college-entrance examination are not acceptable,” President Lee Myung-bak vowed at his inauguration in 2008.

But cramming is deeply embedded in Asia, where top grades — and often nothing else — have long been prized as essential for professional success. Before toothbrushes or printing presses, there were civil service exams that could make or break you. Chinese families have been hiring test-prep tutors since the 7th century. Modern-day South Korea has taken this competition to new extremes. In 2010, 74% of all students engaged in some kind of private after-school instruction, sometimes called shadow education, at an average cost of $2,600 per student for the year. There are more private instructors in South Korea than there are schoolteachers, and the most popular of them make millions of dollars a year from online and in-person classes. When Singapore’s Education Minister was asked last year about his nation’s reliance on private tutoring, he found one reason for hope: “We’re not as bad as the Koreans.”

In Seoul, legions of students who fail to get into top universities spend the entire year after high school attending hagwons to improve their scores on university admissions exams. And they must compete even to do this. At the prestigious Daesung Institute, admission is based (diabolically enough) on students’ test scores. Only 14% of applicants are accepted. After a year of 14-hour days, about 70% gain entry to one of the nation’s top three universities. (Read “Asia’s Latest Miracle.”)

From a distance, South Korea’s results look enviable. Its students consistently outperform their counterparts in almost every country in reading and math. In the U.S., Barack Obama and his Education Secretary speak glowingly of the enthusiasm South Korean parents have for educating their children, and they lament how far U.S. students are falling behind. Without its education obsession, South Korea could not have transformed into the economic powerhouse that it is today. (Since 1962 the nation’s GDP has gone up about 40,000%, making it the world’s 13th largest economy.) But the country’s leaders worry that unless its rigid, hierarchical system starts to nurture more innovation, economic growth will stall — and fertility rates will continue to decline as families feel the pressure of paying for all that tutoring. “You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho tells me, “but Koreans are not happy with it.”

South Koreans are not alone in their discontent. Across Asia, reformers are pushing to make schools more “American” — even as some U.S. reformers render their own schools more “Asian.” In China, universities have begun fashioning new entry tests to target students with talents beyond book learning. And Taiwanese officials recently announced that kids will no longer have to take high-stress exams to get into high school. If South Korea, the apogee of extreme education, gets its reforms right, it could be a model for other societies.

The problem is not that South Korean kids aren’t learning enough or working hard enough; it’s that they aren’t working smart. When I visited some schools, I saw classrooms in which a third of the students slept while the teacher continued lecturing, seemingly unfazed. Gift stores sell special pillows that slip over your forearm to make desktop napping more comfortable. This way, goes the backward logic, you can sleep in class — and stay up late studying. By way of comparison, consider Finland, the only European country to routinely perform as well as South Korea on the test for 15-year-olds conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In Finland, public and private spending combined is less per pupil than in South Korea, and only 13% of Finnish students take remedial after-school lessons.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2094427,00.html

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MCAT being changed to attract “nicer” people?

From the Jefferson Prep blog:

 

The Medical College Admissions Test is being changed to include more questions about social and behavioral sciences and ethics, according to the New York Times. Experts are apparently concerned about doctors who have a poor bedside manner and want nicer people to apply for medical school.

It sounds like a nice idea, in theory, though I would rather have a doctor who actually knows what’s wrong with me and can treat my ailments instead of a really nice doctor who is incompetent. If I’m dying, I’d prefer that someone like Dr. House of FOX’s TV show “House, M.D.” were my doctor, even if Dr. House is a real SOB with a criminal record. Some real life doctors rival House in that department, actually, at least judging by the files I saw when I was covering hospitals years ago, but some of the doctors with dicier records were also excellent physicians.

Like most people, I’ve seen my share of doctors over the years. Some I liked, some I didn’t; one rivaled Dr. House for tactlessness and a brusque manner, though he was also smart as a whip and the guy you asked for if what you had was really serious. He told you flat out “You’re fat and you’re going to die if you don’t lose weight.” His partner in the practice, a kindly family doctor type, said mildly, “You might want to consider losing a few pounds.” I wonder how many people lost the weight to avoid getting skewered by the first doc’s sharp tongue.

On the other hand, years ago I saw another doctor I considered so rude that I told the clinic I wanted to schedule my next appointment with any doctor except that one. Other people apparently made the same choice since he seemed to be the only doctor on staff, other than the new ones just starting out, who had slots open. I decided to take my chances with one of the new doctors and was happier with the choice, both in terms of the level of care he provided and in his bedside manner.

I think the greater problem with doctors and bedside manner is that they simply don’t have much time to talk with patients. Go to the doctor and you get to sit in a waiting room for 15 minutes to half an hour, then spend 5 minutes, at most, being examined and questioned by the doctor about your ailment. Time is money and the general practitioner has to see as many patients as possible in a day. When they’re that rushed, it’s probably hard to care about bedside manner. That’s a problem that may well become worse when health care reform is fully implemented.

If it’s a routine checkup, I’ll pass on seeing Dr. Jerk and go for Dr. Nice Guy. The problem is that you don’t always know when something is serious. It would be ideal if doctors could be both good at what they do and nice in the bargain and if they had more time to spend with patients.

Changing the MCAT to include more touchy-feely questions may mean nicer people get into medical school, but I’m not sure if they’ll be better at treating ailments or if it will solve the other problems with the health care system.

http://www.minotdailynews.com/page/blogs.detail/display/791/MCAT-being-changed-to-encourage-nicer-people-to-apply-to-medical-school.html

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MCAT being changed to attract “nicer” people?

From the Jefferson Prep blog:

 

The Medical College Admissions Test is being changed to include more questions about social and behavioral sciences and ethics, according to the New York Times. Experts are apparently concerned about doctors who have a poor bedside manner and want nicer people to apply for medical school.

It sounds like a nice idea, in theory, though I would rather have a doctor who actually knows what’s wrong with me and can treat my ailments instead of a really nice doctor who is incompetent. If I’m dying, I’d prefer that someone like Dr. House of FOX’s TV show “House, M.D.” were my doctor, even if Dr. House is a real SOB with a criminal record. Some real life doctors rival House in that department, actually, at least judging by the files I saw when I was covering hospitals years ago, but some of the doctors with dicier records were also excellent physicians.

Like most people, I’ve seen my share of doctors over the years. Some I liked, some I didn’t; one rivaled Dr. House for tactlessness and a brusque manner, though he was also smart as a whip and the guy you asked for if what you had was really serious. He told you flat out “You’re fat and you’re going to die if you don’t lose weight.” His partner in the practice, a kindly family doctor type, said mildly, “You might want to consider losing a few pounds.” I wonder how many people lost the weight to avoid getting skewered by the first doc’s sharp tongue.

On the other hand, years ago I saw another doctor I considered so rude that I told the clinic I wanted to schedule my next appointment with any doctor except that one. Other people apparently made the same choice since he seemed to be the only doctor on staff, other than the new ones just starting out, who had slots open. I decided to take my chances with one of the new doctors and was happier with the choice, both in terms of the level of care he provided and in his bedside manner.

I think the greater problem with doctors and bedside manner is that they simply don’t have much time to talk with patients. Go to the doctor and you get to sit in a waiting room for 15 minutes to half an hour, then spend 5 minutes, at most, being examined and questioned by the doctor about your ailment. Time is money and the general practitioner has to see as many patients as possible in a day. When they’re that rushed, it’s probably hard to care about bedside manner. That’s a problem that may well become worse when health care reform is fully implemented.

If it’s a routine checkup, I’ll pass on seeing Dr. Jerk and go for Dr. Nice Guy. The problem is that you don’t always know when something is serious. It would be ideal if doctors could be both good at what they do and nice in the bargain and if they had more time to spend with patients.

Changing the MCAT to include more touchy-feely questions may mean nicer people get into medical school, but I’m not sure if they’ll be better at treating ailments or if it will solve the other problems with the health care system.

http://www.minotdailynews.com/page/blogs.detail/display/791/MCAT-being-changed-to-encourage-nicer-people-to-apply-to-medical-school.html

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ACT or SAT?

An excellent NYTimes op-ed on the subject which baffles many families

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/education/edlife/guidance.html?pagewanted=all

FROM the moment I gave birth, I began to gird myself for the difficult questions that tiny, nosy people might one day ask. I prepared answers worthy of a White House press secretary to address such subjects as teenage sex (“never heard of it”) and drug use (“mild decongestants only”).

The New York Times

 

Education Life

Go to Special Section »

So I was ready when my daughter, a junior, cornered me in the kitchen the other day.

“Mom, can I ask you a question?” she asked.

“Sure, anything,” I lied.

She had heard from her teachers that some students score higher on the ACT and others on the SAT, and so she was wondering how I had decided which test to take, and did I think she should follow the same strategy.

I considered possible answers. The last time I was exposed to the horror of standardized testing was in 1979, when I vaguely remember rolling out of bed early one Saturday to frantically root around for two No. 2 pencils to take to a test center, where I nodded off during a particularly boring passage in the reading section.

“Wouldn’t you rather hear about my underage drinking?” I asked.

A generation ago, taking a standardized test was a no-brainer: it was mainly a matter of geography. In the Midwest, students took the ACT. If you lived on the coasts — or were applying to a highly selective college or university there — you took the SAT.

Now, with some Ivy League schools rejecting nine of 10 qualified candidates, applicants are looking for any edge to improve their chances. Many, particularly those in traditional SAT territory, are taking both tests and submitting the higher score or both scores. In the last five years, the number of ACT takers on the East Coast has risen 66 percent, and on the West Coast 46 percent, according to ACT Inc.

But not everybody has the time or money to prepare for both tests. And the truth is, most probably don’t need to. While the tests have distinct personalities — the ACT is curriculum-based, while the SAT is aimed more at general reasoning and problem-solving skills — spokesmen for both say their formats favor only one type of student: the one with a good grasp of material taught in rigorous high school courses.

Similarly, colleges swear they don’t prefer one over the other. “Since it’s a choice you can make, it has the feeling of being a significant choice, fraught with implication, but I don’t think it does matter,” says Marlyn McGrath-Lewis, director of admissions at Harvard College. “Either is fine with us, and we don’t have a feeling that either favors students with any particular profile.”

Still, some college counselors believe otherwise. In the absence of quantitative studies, they suggest asking yourself a few questions.

1. Which format feels right?

You can take predictive tests (the PSAT and PLAN) sophomore year and extrapolate scores you’re likely to get on the SAT and ACT. The practice tests cover much the same material as their respective cousins, which they imitate in style and content.

Experts recommend that if your school gives both, take both.

“Take each test in as realistic conditions as possible, with no distractions, timing yourself,” says Scott Johns, a Peterson’s product manager. “Your score is a benchmark, but also think about how you felt about taking each test. Did you understand the format? Did one experience cause more stress than the other?”

2. How long can you sit without fidgeting?

If you have a short attention span and difficulty maintaining focus, the ACT may be for you, says Marybeth Kravets, a college counselor in suburban Chicago and the “K” in the K & W college guides for students with special needs. The ACT lasts two hours, 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes with the optional writing test). The SAT lasts three hours, 45 minutes.

Similarly, counselors say that students with learning disabilities that make it difficult to process information may do better on the ACT. “That’s because the ACT questions are more knowledge-based and straightforward,” says Scott White, director of guidance at Montclair High School in New Jersey. “The SAT is more nuanced, puzzlelike, trickier.”

Both cover English and math, but there are notable variations in content. For instance, in measuring verbal skills, the SAT focuses on vocabulary whereas the ACT concentrates on grammar, punctuation and syntax. And if you want to avoid science and trigonometry, stick with the SAT, which has neither.

3. Overachiever or underachiever?

College counselors say they see two groups of students, with distinctly different approaches to learning, who may score markedly higher on one test or the other.

“The bright underachievers who are bored and get through school using one quarter of their brains will do better on the SAT, because you just need good reasoning skills for that,” says Mr. White. “And the overachievers, I don’t want to call them grinds, but they’re the ones who get the highest grades in the toughest classes because they work really hard, will do better on the ACT.”

Mr. White’s theory was echoed by several counselors who responded to a comment he posted in August on the Web site of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. Cigus Vanni, a school counselor at Cherry Hill High School West in New Jersey, was one who agreed. In a phone interview, he elaborated on the “grinds”: “There’s a cluster in the middle — the kids who would be average to above-average types of kids, the subgroup who don’t have the intellectual flash of the really tippy-top kids but who work really hard in school, and these are the kids who do better on the ACT. They are compliant with school, willing to go the extra mile, ask the extra question, do their homework. And for them, the ACT is much more like just another school-based test than the SAT is.”

In his experience, he says, differences in scores are not consequential for students at either end of the test-taking spectrum. “The great test takers are great test takers, no matter what instrument they’re playing. And the kids at the other end, who consistently get 350s on the SATs or 11s on the ACTs, they’re not going to do better no matter which test they take.”

4. Girl or boy?

The observation has been made that boys surpass girls on standardized tests. But the ACT gender gap has narrowed. Boys from the class of 2007 scored 21.2 on average, with girls just behind at 21 (the equivalent of 1500 on the SAT, according to the Princeton Review formula).

But boys as a group do better on the SAT, according to data published by both testing companies: 1037 for the class of 2007, compared with 1001 for girls.

That doesn’t mean that every boy should take the SAT and every girl the ACT. But, says John Katzman, chief executive of the Princeton Review, “Girls tend to fit pretty well into the group of high achievers, who get good grades and do well in school, who also do well on the ACT.”

He adds: “I sometimes give the advice that if you were to flip a coin, just go with the SAT if you’re a boy and the ACT if you’re a girl, in part for that reason.”

The test makers’ statistics also indicate that members of minority groups score better across the board on the SAT than on the ACT. But that can be explained, Mr. Katzman says: Top students in all ethnic groups tend to take the SAT, while some Midwestern states require all juniors to take the ACT, thus lowering the mean.

5. Which do you think you’ll do better on?

You’ll probably live up to those expectations — especially if you are a girl or a member of a minority group. The reason is a phenomenon called “stereotype threat,” identified more than a decade ago by Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson after they discovered that individual test scores changed with the test taker’s sense of confidence.

“Women and minorities feel stereotypes in our society — that they don’t have the same innate academic abilities as men and Caucasians,” says Professor Steele, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. “So if they are taking a test that they have been told is difficult and then they experience frustration in the middle of it, that makes the stereotype relevant to them and they perform dramatically worse.” But, he says, if you believe you will do well on a particular test, your performance is less likely to be impaired by difficult problems.

I told my own daughter, a good test taker who possesses what appears to me to be a magically endless supply of freshly sharpened pencils, that I would recommend either test for her, so long as she follows my final bit of parental advice.

“The real trick,” I said, “is to stay awake.”

 

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Our new logo!

Our new logo!

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Important Test Taking tips for MCAT Students

Test Day Tips

We have a number of procedures that are designed to protect the exam as well as make the test day as efficient as possible, so that you can spend your time focusing on your exam. Following these Test Day Tips will help make your MCAT exam experience as good as it can be:

   
Bring proper identification

There are three important things you need to know about identification:

  1. The name on your identification (ID) must match exactly the name you entered in the registration system prior to the registration deadline. Please refer to our Registration Tips and the MCAT Essentials  for more information.
  2. Your ID must include an expiration date, signature, and photograph. The ID must be current.
  3. It must be a major form of ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. If you do not have either of these types of identification, you most likely will be eligible for a state-issued ID card, usually obtained from the Department of Motor Vehicles (even if you do not drive).

Please refer to the MCAT Essentials  for more information.

If you believe your ID meets our requirements but the Test Center Administrator does not accept it, please call us right away, while you are at the test center at 202-828-0690. We have a very limited amount of time during which ID issues can be resolved on test day.

Be prepared for the check-in process.

Arrive on time.

Arrive 30 minutes prior to the scheduled exam start time. If you arrive much earlier, don’t be alarmed if the test center is not yet open. If you arrive after your exam start time, neither the Test Center Administrator nor a MCAT staff member can allow you to test. The Test Center Administrator will do his or her best to check in all examinees within the 30 minutes. However, due to the individual nature of the check-in process, you may not begin testing precisely at the scheduled start time.

In fact, this is not unusual and many examinees may wait an additional half hour or more before starting the exam. This also means that examinees may be working on different parts of the exam or taking breaks at different times.

Special note about clothing: The Test Center Administrators may ask to inspect head coverings or other clothing. They may even ask you to remove some items, such as baseball caps and overcoats. Please see important details in the MCAT Essentials  .

Tell the Test Center Administrator if you need help. Administrators are available to assist you in the event that you have technical problems with your workstation. Please raise your hand to get their attention if you need it.
Respond to the Non-Disclosure Agreement. The Non-Disclosure Agreement is a short statement and we provide you with five minutes to read and respond to it. Five minutes should be plenty of time but if you take a break at this point, five minutes most likely will not be long enough. So please take the time to respond to this screen within the time limit. Otherwise, the system assumes that you do not want to test and we will not be able to give you another chance to respond and you will not be able to test that day or receive a refund.
Do not use the Escape (Esc) key Pressing the Escape key on your keyboard during the Writing Sample section of the exam will result in the deletion of all the text you typed since the last time you pressed the “Save” button. This text cannot be recovered, nor can we provide additional time for you to complete your response for Richard.
Respond to the Void screen. At the end of the exam, you will be presented with an option to score or void your exam. We cannot reverse your selection once you have submitted it. Another important note is that, as with the Non-Disclosure Agreement, you will have five minutes to respond to this question. However, unlike the Non-Disclosure screen where your answer will default to “no” should you fail to respond, the Void screen will default to “yes, score my exam.” We cannot change this.
Adhere to break policies. Accessing study materials or using cell phones during breaks is absolutely prohibited.
If you have a concern, let us know.

We want to hear from you if you have a concern or complaint about your test day experience. If you would like an investigation and response from the AAMC, you must contact us within ten days of your test date, by fax or regular mail. We regret we cannot accept complaints by e-mail.

You should also ask the Test Center Administrator to file a report. While we do not respond to these center reports (you must write to us separately for a response), we do use them in our research when we receive an examinee complaint.

We do not investigate complaints received after the deadline, most especially complaints received after scores are released. However, we still appreciate the feedback to help us improve test administrations for future examinees.Jefferson Prep.

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New TOEFL centers for international students

The purpose of TOEFL® iBT resource centres is to enhance outreach to test takers as well as keep institutions, advisors, agents, teachers and others informed of the latest TOEFL programme updates. The new centres provide services in France, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Middle East, Poland, Taiwan, Turkey and Vietnam. More TOEFL iBT resource centres are expected to open later this year.

The services provided to test takers at TOEFL iBT resource centres include:

• Attending top student fairs
• Conducting student seminars
• Providing in-language customer support
• Distributing the latest TOEFL materials

Services will also be provided to agents, advisors and teachers. These will include providing TOEFL brochures, conducting seminars for agents and advisors, and Propell professional development workshops for English-language teachers.

Interested in any of the services our TOEFL iBT resource centres offer? Visit our website to find a centre near you.

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