The ACT exam is a challenging, national test that measures reading comprehension, English skills and rhetorical techniques in writing. The format is that of a multiple-choice exam with an option essay writing contribution. Each section of the test is timed and call on students to use their knowledge and critical thinking skills. Students can increase their scores by knowing the structure of the questions being asked, test-taking strategies, practice with reading and writing samples, review of Latin and Greek root words, practice with vocabulary builders, critical thinking activities and one-to-one assistance with and experienced academic coach. The earlier the preparation, the better the test scores. Ultimately, students who score well on the exam do well in college.
Successful reading for the ACT requires analysis, critical thinking, multiple levels of reasoning and vocabulary skills. These four can be acquired and developed with practice, study and reinforcement. Students who are taught to read critically, openly and with a background in approaches to analysis often excel on the exam. We know that reading is a life-time skill and often cumulative, but there are skills that can be developed in a short period of time to increase the potential for success. These include: skimming and speed reading for critical information, learning how to follow an author's development of ideas, learning to separate fact from opinion- hypothesis from realization - and zeroing in on the thesis/main idea and focusing on supportive details. A skilled academic coach can make a difference.
The CBEST (California Basic Education Skills Test) was implemented in California to ensure that teachers being certified in the state could meet basic standards in reading comprehension, vocabulary, reasoning skills, writing and mathematics. The test, itself, has proven so successful that several other states have adopted it for certifying teachers from grades k-12.
The 50-question, multiple-choice, reading section calls on candidates to demonstrate an ability to comprehend material from a variety of disciplines and subjects through reading passages, charts and graphs. The questions vary in difficulty and are written to avoid cultural or gender bias.
The 50-question mathematics sections also varies in difficulty, from basic math to aspects of geometry and calculus. Here again, candidates are not required to show their competency in teaching the material but simply to demonstrate a proficiency in math computations.
The two-essay question essay portion of the test calls on candidates to write clearly, precisely and skillfully. Writers are given two separate writing prompts, often open-ended, challenging statements, and must to respond to each in about 20 minutes. Although candidates need to understand the nature of the statement and what is being asked, the test is designed to measure the writer's ability to express himself or herself logically, using all of the conventions of the English language.
As a former reader for ETS and the CBEST exam (written portion), I know first-hand the importance of being able to communicate clearly and precisely on the exam. Each exam is read twice and scored independently by two readers who follow a prescribed matrix. If scored identically, that is the final score for the essay; if there is disagreement, a third reader is called in to make the final decision.
Costs for the test run about $42 and are administered in secure testing centers. The results are used by some colleges or universities for admission into their education programs, by some states seeking substitute teachers and by several states for teacher certification.
Those planning to take the test are well-advised to study sample exams and practice before taking the exams.
I've loved words since I was a child and enjoy instilling that same delight in students of all ages. I've had the good fortune of being able to combine two of my passions (writing and teaching) into careers as a journalist (22+ years with The Oregonian) and a secondary and college teacher.
Strong English skills are rudimentary to good communication. Learning the language is both an art and a craft. The art provides the beauty, creativity and imagination of our expressions, while the craft involves the conventions, the usage and vocabulary for putting our ideas together in a clear and consistent format. They fit hand-in-glove and are essential to good writing. The skills that make us good communicators can be learned and I want to help others who find barriers, frustration and lack of success standing in their ways.
Students whose native language is any other than English often struggle in nearly every academic and social setting that requires reading, writing and speaking. Additionally, many feel self-conscious, insecure and reluctant to step forward and seek help from their school or classroom teachers. Unfortunately, a number of ESL/ESOL students who are bright, insightful and even energetic feel self-defeated because they are unable to express their ideas and insights readily.
Tutoring can help. I've worked with dozens of students with limited English background, experience and success and have seen them blossom quickly when given the right tools. My approach is three-fold: provide each student with the "why" (principles) and the "how" (application) of the English language, offer lots of realistic encouragement and help keep their goals high. I always want my students to acquire the practical skills in writing, reading and critical thinking that will carry them on to the next level and enable them to be life-time learners.
Studies show that one in seven students earn a high school diploma through GED exams and one in twenty college students hold GEDs. My experience shows a much higher number--and it's growing. At least we know that earning a GED has changed the lives of many and it offers an excellent opportunity for those who have left or planning to leave traditional high schools, or are being home schooled. The test is grounded in solid educational theory and includes the range of academic fields, from math and language arts, to history and reading, as well as science and government. The best part of the test is that it is relatively short, comprehensive and achievable. Test takers can concentrate on individual tests, without concern about GPA, classroom attendance or social adaptability. It's pure and simple: tests to measure student's knowledge and skills in specific areas. Solid preparation, especially assisted by a knowledge and experience tutor, can make a difference. I've assisted dozens with GED preparation and know what it takes to succeed.
English grammar (including usage and conventions) when used correctly and effectively can enhance content, style and understanding of any essay or form of expression. In spite of what can seem like complex rules and exceptions, English grammar has a logic format and set of principles that can be learned, if we understand how it all works. There are linguistic clues in the language that can unravel what can seem like for many of us as puzzling rules. Some grammar forms and linguistic oddities can seem like obstacles at time. But, there are also cause-and-effect relationships in the language and consistent structure in sentence and paragraph formation. All of these can be learned, not through memorization of long lists of rules but by studying how sentences are structured and why we read and speak the way we do.
The sum total of what makes us human: our histories, hopes, creations, cultures, aspirations, triumphs and tragedies are all found in literature. It's often as unique and engaging as the writer who experienced or created the short story, novel, play, poem or essay. We each build our experiences with literature as early as pre-school and kindergarten, with stories our family and friends share with us, and we progress into elementary, middle and high school, with stops and starts along the way with trips to the library, bookstore or stories from home. In short, literature is a life-time journey. It's more than just reading skills, although that's an important part of literature; it involves opening one's mind and imagination to other worlds. It means sharing other lives and experiences, often far from our own. It can take concentration, openness and engagement. But, the rewards from literature can be life altering and enriching. Appreciating and understanding of literature is both and art and skill that can be learned and nurtured, especially with someone who cares as a guide.
Proofreading requires accurate knowledge of the conventions of the language, ability to recognize voice and style, familiarity with the AP style manual, an awareness of changing linguistic patterns and close, careful reading skills. All writers need to learn proofreading skills and be able to apply them to their own writings. This not only means developing an ability to read for editing errors but for organization, purpose, rhythm, flow, detail, development and rhetorical surprises. A certain pride should come from successful proofreading.
As a newspaper journalist for over twenty years, I honed my proofreading skills through hard work and learned ways to write successful and compelling articles from documents, interviews and readings. Proofreading was always part of that process. I've learned that all good writers are also good proofreaders. If there is an artistry to writing - and there is a certain aspect that is artistry - there is also a craft. Part of that craft is proofreading, which can be learned.
The PSAT is a great tool, and specifically designed, to give applicants--typically 9th, 10th and 11th graders--preparation for the SAT. It also can help assess a student's strengths and weaknesses in math, writing, vocabulary, analysis and English skills. Those who score well--and scores can be sent to colleges of choice--are often eligible for scholarships and early admission to the college or university of choice. Those who do not do so well have a base line or matrix of skills on which to improve over the following year or years. The PSAT can also reduce test anxiety by offering real practice for taking the SAT exam. Any student who is thinking of a four-year college or university should take the exam. Preparation for the exam can be greatly enhanced with a tutor or academic coach.
Public speaking is essential in nearly every profession, business venture, social group encounter and job interview. As natural as it may seem, many people still deal with anxiety, limited effectiveness and uncertain delivery.
The keys to nearly every public speaking experience include: 1) knowledge of the material or topic; 2) awareness of the audience and what they know and may need to know; 3) importance of body language and gestures; 4) tone and volume of one's voice; 5) listening and providing feedback; 5) organization of the topic and ideas (from opening to closing); 6) ways to gain immediate support and involvement of the audience; 7) recognizing the differences between narrative, expository and persuasive techniques and when best to use each; 8) placing one's audience or listeners at ease; 9) importance of eye contact and physical barriers between ones self and audience; 10) ability to demonstrate confidence and self-assurance.
Successful techniques include: practice before a mirror, feedback from a mentor or objective viewer, recording voice or filming rehearsal, viewing and analyzing effective speakers, studying the subject well, become familiar with the setting and individual comfort zone, step our of the speaker's zone and into the audience zone, learn to add humor or narration as appropriate, practice with a small supportive group, rehearse with others who face similar anxieties, practice breathing and relaxing exercises.
Few successful speakers (even stand-up comedians) can rely on spontaneity. It takes practice, guidance and understanding.
Reading is both a skill and an art. We learn the skill of reading by practicing with phonics, expanding our vocabularies and practicing with engaging stories and texts. It takes work and effort, but the rewards are extraordinary. Once we are able to read proficiently on our own, we find the art of reading. The world of ideas, experiences, hopes and dreams open to us. We need never leave home to travel through time, find adventures in foreign lands, share the triumphs and tragedies of others (real and imagined) and map out our own course for life. In fact, reading unlocks an ever-expansive world and puts no limits on our imaginations and intellects. Reading is not a luxury but a necessity to be an informed citizen of the world. It unlocks the chains of ignorance and enables all of us, from the richest to the poorest, to travel to the furthest reaches of our dreams and ambitions. Best of all, reading can be learned, especially under the guidance and encouragement of a mentor or tutor.
Successful reading for the SAT requires analysis, critical thinking, multiple levels of reasoning and vocabulary skills. These four can be acquired and developed with practice, study and reinforcement. Students who are taught to read critically, openly and with a background in approaches to analysis often excel on the exam. We know that reading is a life-time skill and often cumulative, but there are skills that can be developed in a short period of time to increase the potential for success. These include: skimming and speed reading for critical information, learning how to follow an author's development of ideas, learning to separate fact from opinion- hypothesis from realization - and zeroing in on the thesis/main idea and focusing on supportive details. A skilled academic coach can make a difference.
SAT writing calls for answering a multi-leveled question concisely, precisely and creatively in less than half an hour. A daunting task, perhaps? It is the tool through which many colleges measure potential success in composition and academic classes. In fact, many studies have demonstrated that the SAT writing exam can demonstrate critical thinking skills, an ability to use rhetorical techniques and a reasonably accurate measurement of a writer's creativity. The responses are scored by two readers using a precise matrix (I know as I was an SAT essay reader for 8 years).
But, there are ways to prepare: learning how to examine the question or prompt quickly and accurately, organizing thoughts and responses in a short amount of time, exploring various levels of responses (literal to symbolic) and adding touches of creativity. Those who approach the exam with a positive attitude--that the exam will measure what I know and how I know it, rather than what I don't know--have much higher scores.
I currently teach writing and literature at Portland Community College and tutor in the college writing lab. I have worked with dozens of students who have recently taken the TOEFL exam. I also worked for Education Testing Service for 8 years and was a reader for the written portion of the TOEFL and know what skills are needed to succeed and how to teach them. I have tutored teens and adults in reading, comprehension, critical thinking and developing good listening skills.
Writing is a combination of art and craft. The art of written expression represents the ideas, experiences, knowledge and style of the writer. The craft is represented by the form of expression, including grammar, usage, rhetoric forms and organization. They go hand-in-glove. Writing is unique to human beings: it is the way we record our histories, experiences, knowledge, dreams and ideals. Although culturally explicit, writing is universally a human need and unique characteristic. Schools have long recognized the importance of writing by making it the foundation of education, starting as early as preschool. All that is meaningful, all the best and the worst, and all that makes us human beings can be found in writing. All of our critical thinking, analyses, inventiveness and aspirations are found in our writing. We may spend a lifetime learning the skills and nuances of writing, but it is well worth the journey and effort.