Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    International Office Director

A Lesson from a Course in Wills, Trusts and Estates

Karl Schellscheidt -

In law school, I took a class called Wills, Trusts and Estates. A couple of weeks before the final, the professor explained the format of the exam. It was simple. Thirty multiple choice questions worth one point each. There was a catch, however — one full point off for each question answered incorrectly.

The professor then warned the entire class about students in the past who wound up with negative raw scores because they answered more questions wrong than right. Dismayed by the draconian format, one of my classmates raised her hand and asked the professor why there was such a harsh penalty for each wrong answer. His response went something like this:

When you are practicing as an attorney one day, you better know the difference between (a) when you know what you are talking about and (b) when you do not know what you are talking about and need to do some research. If you do not learn the difference between those two things, you will wind up the defendant in one malpractice suit after the next. I score final exams the way I do because I want you to start thinking about this issue now, not when it is too late.

Knowing the difference between when you know what you are talking about and when you do not is an interesting and important concept — one, unfortunately, that is rarely discussed in schools. I cannot begin to count the number of students I have worked with over the years who have no clue when it comes to knowing how much work it takes, and what it feels like, to honestly and truly understand a given concept or topic.

Knowing the difference between “real” understanding and “kind of” or “sort of” understanding should be taught in schools and made an explicit part of SAT preparation. Why?

1. Because it is essential to ensuring both a positive test experience and a maximum SAT score; and
2. because it is critical to achieving professional success later in life.

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