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teachers' guide: secrets of the sat


While the vast majority of students do not compete for elite schools like UC Berkeley and Harvard University, the issues presented in the FRONTLINE film "Secrets of the SAT" provide rich material for discussion with all college-bound students and parents. This guide will help you design workshops that not only empower students with information about the SAT and admissions, but also enable them to seek out schools that will best reflect their own interests and abilities [see Figure 2, "Compete for the Elite?"].

FRONTLINE has adapted the original one-hour film and created a series of enhanced video clips, each of which looks at an issue related to the SAT and the college admissions process. Discussion questions and activities, usable with either the full-length film or the clips, are provided to help you stimulate discussion and reflection on the role of the SAT in your students' college education.

Workshop Goals

  • To explore the SAT and help workshop participants better understand the history, purpose, and utility of this test;
  • To raise questions about how the SAT's use in college admissions affects racial, gender, and economic diversity on campuses;
  • To empower students from diverse backgrounds with information about the factors that influence performance on the SAT;
  • To encourage school and family dialogue about expectations and realities of today's college-bound students.


  • High school students planning to go to college and their parents.

Compete for the Elite? [Figure 2]

Many of today's leaders do not attribute their success to education at an elite university. You are no doubt familiar with the following people who took a different path to personal and professional success.

General Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the highest ranking African-American officer in U.S. history, was born in New York on April 5, 1937, the son of Jamaican immigrants. Powell's father worked as a shipping foreman and his mother was a seamstress. Powell attended public schools in the South Bronx and earned a bachelor's degree in geology from the City College of New York (CCNY). After serving two tours in South Vietnam where he earned two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, a Soldier's Medal, and the Legion of Merit, Powell obtained an MBA from George Washington University in 1971.

Oprah Winfrey, television talk-show host, actress, and producer, was born January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi. After a troubled adolescence, she moved to Nashville to live with her father, Vernon, a barber and businessman. She entered Tennessee State University in 1971 and began her career in broadcasting in Nashville. After gaining national attention for her Oscar nominated performance in The Color Purple, Winfrey secured her own nationally syndicated talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. She later gained control of the program and started Harpo Productions. With the 1999 debut of Oxygen Media, Winfrey ensured her place as one of the most powerful and wealthy people in show business.

Stephen King, the "King of Horror," was born September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. King's father disappeared when he was only three years old; with his mother and older brother, King moved around a good deal, finally returning to Maine in 1958. King graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 with a degree in English and in 1974 published Carrie, which became a best seller and a hit 1976 movie. King followed up on the success of Carrie with an astonishing run of best-selling short stories and novels. All together, he has sold more than 100 million copies of his books worldwide and has become the richest writer of all time.

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