High school students' SAT scores improve thanks to two free programs run by UC Berkeley volunteers

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--Few tests make high school students wince more than the SAT. The dreaded test, which many high school juniors will take May 1, is required for admission to most universities in the country.

Several commercial services offer classes that prepare students for the test. But many can't afford the $700 to $1,000 fees.

Two University of California, Berkeley, student groups are helping to level the SAT playing field for thousands of economically and educationally disadvantaged high school students from the Bay Area and beyond by providing them with free SAT preparation programs.

And each group has grown from the inspiration of a handful of Cal students in the mid-1990s into large, galvanized units with hundreds of UC Berkeley student volunteers.

Cal Students for Educational Outreach (CSEO) began in 1996 with just two volunteer tutors from UC Berkeley and two high school students. It now boasts a legion of 200 volunteers and serves about 4,000 high school students a year - many of them actively recruited by CSEO volunteers - with its Saturday SAT I workshops in Berkeley, Modesto, Oakdale, San Jose, Salinas, Oakland and San Francisco.

"Our program is made specifically for students from low-income areas who rarely have the time or the money to invest in more comprehensive programs," said Chris Bing, a UC Berkeley senior who is CSEO's executive director and co-founder. "We teach them basic test strategies so they can raise their scores and improve their odds of getting into a top-notch college."

On Saturday, April 24, at UC Berkeley, CSEO will hold its largest one-day workshop ever, with 1,000 students already registered to attend. This session is very popular because it falls one week before the May 1 SAT test date, giving students a chance to cram in some last-minute strategies before the big day. The outreach program also offers several workshops to help students with the PSAT, the SAT II and the college application process.

Students who participate in the program's Saturday SAT I workshops get an intensive overview of the test's format and structure. They leave the workshops armed with a few quick strategies, knowledge of what to expect, and confidence - something simple that often makes a big difference in a student's performance.

"Understanding how the test works is half the battle," said UC Berkeley senior Mary Lai, CSEO's co-founder and one of its curriculum directors. "When students are familiar with the structure of the SAT and know the basic techniques to answer the questions correctly, they can go into the test with the confidence they need to do well."

On average, students who participate in CSEO's SAT I workshops raise their score by 68 points - not bad for a day's work. Students who want more practice are given a packet of long-term preparation materials and can attend future workshops.

On May 8, the program will take a huge, new step, holding its first workshop at UCLA under the new name University of California Students for Educational Outreach. These UC Berkeley students are working with volunteers from UC Davis and UC San Diego to establish similar programs in Sacramento and San Diego for the fall 1999 semester.

Another UC Berkeley student-run SAT program, the People's Test Preparation Service (PTPS), provides an eight week, after-school SAT preparation course at high schools in Berkeley, Oakland and El Cerrito. The service was one of 18 organizations nationwide to win the 1998 President's Service Award, the nation's highest honor for volunteer groups.

"We target the students who are told they should take woodshop or home economics instead of college track honors and AP classes," said Michelle Loya-Talamantes, programs coordinator for PTPS and a UC Berkeley sophomore. "We're often the first people to tell these students if you want to go to college, you can."

The program recruits its volunteers from a class at UC Berkeley called "Deconstructing the SAT" offered through the Democratic Education at Cal, or DE-Cal, program. DE-Cal allows UC Berkeley students to teach their peers courses on topics they find relevant.

Four tutors then are assigned by PTSP to each of the seven high school sites it serves - two volunteers to help with the verbal portion of the test; the other two to assist with math. High school students get four hours of training each week and are able to raise their SAT scores, on average, by 100 points. One student set off bells at the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, when he added 270 points to his previous score after taking the PTPS course.

"We want to get as many students as possible involved and to get them all thinking about the college process," said UC Berkeley senior Kaori Yamamoto, PTPS executive director. "A lot of the students we see don't think college is an option because they can't afford it, so part of every class time is set aside for asking questions like what's it like to be at college and how much does it cost."

In addition to the eight-week SAT prep classes, PTPS provides training to other UC Berkeley recruitment and retention centers like the Raza Recruitment Center and the Black Recruitment and Retention Center, teaching them how to run their own SAT preparation classes and providing them with teaching materials. The PTPS also holds an annual Practice SAT Day at UC Berkeley that gives Bay Area youth a chance to take a practice SAT under authentic, test-like conditions.


Note: Reporters are welcome to attend CSEO's Saturday workshop. UC Berkeley volunteers mentioned in this press release are available for interviews.

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