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Preventing Silly Mistakes On The SAT And ACT

The “silly mistake” is quite possibly the most mischievous and irksome of the math demons. It is a sly beast that lurks in the deepest recesses of your mind, emerging only periodically to sully your scores in a most disturbing way. Because of its crafty nature, it is able to lull you into the false belief that your thorough understanding of mathematic concepts will keep you safe from its clutches. But, as I’m sure you know, “silly mistakes” afflict even the most soundly prepared students. What exactly constitutes a “silly mistake?” Here are some common examples for standardized tests: Misreading the question (or failing to read the entire instructions) Filling in the wrong bubble on your answer sheet Making a slight arithmetic error Incorrectly copying down the original problem Turning a negative number into a positive number (or vice versa) I don’t care who you are, what your educational background is, or where you go to school… you have been... read more

Ellen's Choice: How I Feel About the SAT Redesign

A few weeks ago I posted an article about the impending SAT redesign and the changes that have been announced. I mentioned at the end of that article that I'd be posting another one soon with my thoughts on the redesign, once I'd had time to think more about them. Well, this is that article. Overall, I think the motivation for the redesign is good – that the College Board's heart is in the right place and they're acknowledging some of the very real problems that the current SAT has. I'm very happy with their partnership with Khan Academy as well. I'm happy to hear that they acknowledge that students really do need some kind of prep help for the SAT, and that if they're going to force every student who wants to apply to college to take it, they should be offering free prep help for everyone who wants it. Not everyone can afford a private tutor, and money should not be a limiting factor in every student's ability to thoroughly prepare for the test. (That said, I am... read more

Working with a Tutor to Prepare for Your Standardized Test

Having worked with hundreds of test-takers on standardized exams over the years, I have tutored students of all abilities and levels of commitment to their studies. Most students want to know how many hours of tutoring are necessary to achieve the results they desire. While there is no single number of hours uniformly required for all students, for all exams, I do recommend as a rule of thumb that you spend as many hours working on your own as you have spent working with your tutor. To maximize the benefit of working with a tutor for a standardized test, it is necessary to implement, and then practice, the strategies you've learned on your own. Ideally, a student matches the time spent studying independently hour for hour with the time spent tutoring (similarly, university courses typically advise a minimum of one hour of study for every hour spent in class). It is to your advantage to meet with your tutor frequently, and early, enough that the tools you acquire to succeed... read more

Reading Your Way to an Exceptional Vocabulary

As students prepare for standardized tests for college admission, "Vocabulary" suddenly becomes an important subject.  Both the Writing and Critical Reading sections of the SAT reward a strong vocabulary. I try to emphasize to students that having a college (adult) level vocabulary will continue to reward them far beyond a one-day test.     Studying SAT related vocabulary books is certainly worthwhile in the weeks before a test day, but I would like to reach out also to students who are still a few years away from college entrance concerns. The best way to build a rich and useful vocabulary is to read books, magazines, and newspapers that are well-written (e-books and online sources definitely count!) When you read great writing you will not only improve your vocabulary but also your writing and your critical thinking.     Your reading can and should be varied.  Admittedly, I do love literature that has been relevant to... read more

What to Watch out for on Standardized Tests

Hey folks,  I am sure many of you have plans of going to college or finishing up that last hectic year of school.  Well with these endeavors comes not only tests and quizzes created by books and your professors/teachers, but you also have to take nation and statewide test in order to pass and/or qualify for a position in a higher learning institute.  Such tests include the SAT, ACT, MCAT, etc.  What you want to remember about taking these tests is that these tests are testing you ability to locate small mistakes and easy to miss information.  They also want you to understand this material.  You have to be prepared for these easy to miss situations.  For example, I am sure you all have done a math question, felt like you did it perfectly correct only to find out that you actually got it incorrect.  Furthermore, the answer you got appeared as one of the answer choices!  Or you were on the right track to answering correctly, but made... read more

Better Than SAT/ACT Test Prep

The following article takes well known anecdotal evidence and makes it much more real - as if it were a punch to the stomach or whack to the head. Do not let it intimidate you in the least. The issue is not about the money…..and this is the key point! It is not the actual tangible money - it is the BEHAVIOR of how people think and what they do which makes the largest difference. The issue is about EXPOSURE. Money can allow for wealthy families to have their children gain MORE EXPOSURE OVER LONGER PERIODS OF TIME to the material within the SAT and ACT. In reality, anyone can gain more exposure over longer periods of time. The idea of last minute test prep and cramming for these exams is where most families have it all wrong - even those with money. It is about the number of times... read more

The Redesigned SAT: What You Need To Know

The news broke recently that the College Board is once again changing the SAT. These new changes, scheduled to be implemented in spring 2016, represent a pretty large departure from the SAT of the past. The College Board states that this new SAT will “ask students to apply a deep understanding of the few things shown by current research to matter most for college readiness and success.” Here are the changes that will have the biggest effect on test preparation, as I see them: An Increased Focus on Evidence-Based Analysis The new SAT will place a higher priority on analysis based on evidence. In the critical reading and writing sections students will now be asked to support their answers with evidence, including citing portions of the passages. In effect, the new SAT will require students not only to know the correct answer, but to be able to explain why the answer is correct, and point to specific evidence in the passage that supports their choice. The essay... read more

Why are the SAT, GRE, ACT, GMAT, etc., designed to trick students into picking the wrong answer and to make sure many students don't finish on time?

For anyone that is preparing or thinking about preparing for one of the standardized 'high stakes' tests (you know which ones) -- the SAT, GRE, GMAT, ISEE, SSAT, and so on -- there's something you really should know about test development.   But first consider this. Wouldn't it be sensible for tests to discover what your strengths are and what you do well in?  Of course! But who said these tests or the test developers are sensible?  In fact, why should they be?  Here are two things test developers don't want you to know   1) Test developers usually (meaning not EVERY test is created this way, although most are) try to trick students into providing the wrong answer. Huh?    2) Standardized tests are intentionally designed so that many or even most students will not complete them within the given time limit.   Now why would these nice testing companies engage in these practices?  Select the best... read more

Another reason to care about the SAT

Yes, test stress is definitely an issue, and I don't want to be accused of adding to it.  However, in the spirit of cold, hard reality, this article from the Wall Street Journal on use of SAT scores by employers deserves some attention.  Whether you agree with this or not (and the HR department at Google has clearly decided to disagree, for example), there are still many big corporate employers who use the SAT as a convenient proxy for an IQ test, which relatively few Americans have ever taken.  Whether IQ is a good predictor of job performance is a whole other mess that you can put in a college essay if you've researched it, but which you really can't do anything about as a high schooler (or parent of one, unless you're also a Ph.D-level researcher in psychology or management science).   That said, when you break it down, the SAT has a lot in common with an IQ test, and that's worth knowing.  It's best not to really think about it as a test... read more

Is Standardized Testing Effective in Determining Success in College?

Test prep companies have been teaching students how to beat standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT for years. The simple truth is that these exams measure how well you take exams, not your aptitude or your ability to do college work. In some cases there may be a direct correspondence: students who have excellent grades have correspondingly excellent scores. And yet, there is a not-insignificant group of students with outstanding grades and poor scores. Does this mean standardized testing is unreliable? Or that it fails to consistently predict student success? Not exactly, and yes, respectively. Let’s back up for a moment and talk about the single best input for determining college success: the high school GPA. Time and time again a high correlation has been shown between success and engagement in academics in high school (as represented by an unweighted GPA) and performance in college. That’s because the GPA is a many-faceted guage. It samples various different... read more

SAT Prep - How To Boost Your Math Score

So you just took a practice test and you’re devastated by your results. You thought you would net more points, but lo and behold, your score is painfully below your expectations. Your math score is especially poor, but you’ve never been good at math. What is a good plan of action? Let the math score linger at a subpar level while focusing all of your energy on the verbal portion, right? Wrong. First of all, even if you’ve historically done poorly in math, you can easily turn that around with a few months of devoted practice. Second, math is the area where you can see the most marked transformation as far as testing abilities. You can certainly improve your score in the verbal section, but the base of knowledge for both the writing and reading sections is far broader. The English language is highly complex, and it takes most of us a great many years before we learn and understand all the intricacies. Math, in comparison, is much simpler. The rules and terms are... read more

Are You Bold Enough to Hear the Truth? Everyone Can Get 2000+ on SAT

   You probably heard people telling you that "Oh, you can't really improve you SAT score!" That is true from one perspective. According to College Board, the national average improvement on SAT is only 40 points! That is really disappointing considering the fact that the total score is 2400. However, even though this is totally true, does that necessarily suggests that you cannot improve your SAT score? If you are bold enough for the truth, the answer is: no. Because honestly, most students who took the SAT for the second or third time, did not spent enough time and effort studying for the exam. If they did not study, how would you expect them to improve? You cannot just simply take the exam and expect the score to raise by itself.        Although SAT is more of an "ability" test, that you cannot really study, you can still study it and improve your ability and hence, improve your score! Why do I say that? Because... read more

SAT or ACT? It's Easy to Determine

I assume you already know these two exams, so how to pick which one to take? The Best Option (only apply to those who still have a lot of time to prep for the test ex. Freshmen, Sophomore, or Junior who has nothing else to do): Take both test. Do the practice tests (only the ones that are very close to real one) and see which one you score higher. And then, choose the one that you scored higher!    Otherwise SAT -- if you are more into English ACT-- if you are more comfortable with math and science   In addition, because SAT is more of a "reasoning" test that tests your ability, it is more tricky to most students. And for ACT, it is more a straight forward test that test you on certain required topics. But in conclusion, you have to study for it before you take the actual exam. You have no idea how many students mess with these serious exams and ruin their chances of getting into dream colleges.    If... read more

Tutoring Special Needs Children

*Tutors of students with Special Needs can best tutor their students by being aware of legal issues that can impact the education of children with Special Needs. Many of these children have documented disabilities, and/or are students entitled to services under Section 504 and various portions of the ADA (American with Disabilities Act). The students' rights under these statutes often result in a decrease in the amount of homework, and the type of homework that they must complete.   These students may be granted special accommodations to help them complete their homework and take tests. For example, a student with Special Needs may be allowed to use calculators, even when others students aren't, they may get to take tests designed just for them, be entitled to consider different school placements, have the type and number of homework problems adjusted down, and/or... read more

Recommended Materials for SAT Study

  With the wealth of SAT prep materials out there, it can be tough to find the best resources for SAT study. I've been tutoring for the SAT for over a decade, and these are the materials I've found to be the most helpful.     SAT General Study   For all-around SAT preparation, nothing beats The Official SAT Study Guide, published by the College Board. With ten full practice tests, this book contains plenty of study material for all sections of the test. Because the questions are written by the College Board and, in many cases, have appeared on actual administered SATs, they accurately reflect what students will see on test day. (I've never found a test written by a third-party company that comes close to matching actual SAT questions, and I do not recommend third-party practice tests for study.) Working through the questions in this book is the best, most effective way for any student to prepare for the test.   In... read more

What does Lexile mean to you and your child?

Lexile and You Does it seem like you are always hearing that word?  Your child is below his or her Lexile?  They need to be at a 540 or at a 1080?  What exactly is a Lexile and how can you make it work for you?   Lexile is a reading meta-matrix that actually takes reading material and assigns it "value".  The "value" is referred to as its Lexile score or simply as its Lexile.  It is simply a numerical device for charting reading material.  As with all reading values, there are anticipated levels each student will reach at each grade.  You will hear them referred to as benchmarks.  They also have other names and phrases teachers use, though.  Perhaps you have heard expressions like 'just right books', or 'on level', or 'on grade level'.  These are all used to refer to books meeting Lexile expectations.  Not all books are created equal in the Lexile system.  Higher value is awarded... read more

SAT Sentence Completion: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Hey Wyzants,   One of the the ways that I communicate breaking a tie on sentence completion, that is, when my students are down to two possibilities; I tell them "Don't be afraid of the dark!"  I explain that the test has a psychological component and that we should consider the way the average student reacts to unknown words.  Specifically, when a word has been seen before, even if the definition for it can't be formed, it will be preferred to the word that is completely new.  Since, the average person would choose the slightly more familiar, then we should choose the unknown.  

SAT Test Dates - It's Not The End Of The World!

Did you take the SAT on Saturday?  Are you freaking out about how confusing it was, and feeling like you had no idea what you were doing?  Never fear; many people take the SAT's multiple times, and if you get a little tutoring help in between (from yours truly) you can radically improve your score on the second go-around.   Here's the remaining test dates for the 2013-2014 school year:   November 2 December 7 January 25 March 8 May 3 June 7   I recommend you start studying for the SAT at least one month in advance, longer if you plan on going it without a tutor.  If you'd like to work with me for the November or December test cycle, send me an email ASAP.  The sooner we can get to work, the higher your scores will be!

"How should students prepare to go back to school if they only have a few minutes to spare each day?"

The SAT website, found at, has a "Question of the Day" section. They will send these to your email if you sign up, and so with that, one question a day, you're one question more prepared to go back to school.  The specific URL or the "Question of the Day" is Explore the website for even more practice opportunities!

Occam's Razor and SAT Math: Why the SAT Messes With Your Head

The SAT messes with your head. Don't feel embarrassed, it messes with everyone's head. It's designed to. The SAT is a test of your critical reasoning skills, meaning it's actually far more about logic and figuring out the correct course of action than it is about actually knowing the material. This is nowhere more evident than on the Math section. The SAT Math trips up so many students because they expect it to behave like a math test. The truth is, the SAT Math is about figuring out how to answer each problem using as little actual math as possible. It's all about working quickly, and the questions are structured such that they conceal the quick logic and context-based route behind the facade of a more complicated math question. They're trying to psych you out; to make you think the problem is harder than it is. In math class you're taught to be thorough, to show your work and not leave out any steps. On the... read more

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