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  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 addition... read more

Getting Started I took the exam at Irvine Valley College. Unlike most schools, whose administrators post classroom assignments on a billboard, IVC showed up around 8:15, had students stand in the quad, and verbally had students split into separate groups like cattle. Then students ended up having to walk down a confusing pathway to a classroom, where we had to have our IDs checked one-by-one. You can tell which schools have the check-in process down, and which schools need to work on it. IVC is definitely a school that can stand to be more efficient. Once in the room, the proctor had difficulty with the test set-up process. She was unaware of the fact that there were now three components that come with the exam. It used to be that there was just a test booklet and an answer sheet. Now, with the revised exam, there is an essay booklet as well. I don’t think that she was supposed to hand out the essay booklet at the beginning of the administration, especially because... read more

I have taught SAT/ACT prep in the public school system for many years.  On the first day, I ask my students to flip their book over and read the quote that says, "The SAT is not designed to trick you!"  I then have them circle that quote and write "LIE!" next to it.  College Boards are as much about successful test taking skills, as they are about knowledge.  There are so many simple strategies that can easily improve scores by 100 points.    One concept I emphasize is skipping questions.  I had a student's score go up by over 100 points, simply by answering less questions!    You don't have to be an English star to do well on College Boards.  With practice, knowledge, and the right test-taking skills, you can walk in on test day confident, and emerge successful!

As the school year ramps up again, I wanted to put out a modified version of a Memo of Understanding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memo_of_understanding for parents and students. It seems each year in the rush to get through the first weeks of school parents and students forget the basic first good steps and then the spiral downwards occurs and then the need for obtaining a tutor and then the ‘wish for promises’ from a tutor. Pay attention to your child’s folder or agenda book. A student is generally not able to self regulate until well into high school. Some people never quite figure it out. Be the best person you can be by helping your child check for due dates, completeness, work turned in on time. Not only will this help your child learn to create and regulate a schedule, it prevents the following types of conversations I always disliked as a teacher ("Can you just give my child one big assignment to make up for the D/F so they can pass"; "I am going to talk to... read more

The first thing to do when teaching a frustrated student is to listen to, and acknowledge, their frustrations. Let him or her vent a little. If you're working with young children, they probably won't even realize or communicate that they are frustrated. Therefore, the first thing to do is say "you're very frustrated with learning ________ aren't you?" If you are in a group situation, take the student aside to talk to him or her about it so he or she doesn't become embarrassed. One of the best things you can do when teaching frustrated students is to watch them one-on-one in academic action and observe every little detail when they think, write, and speak. Often, students are lacking very particular, previous basic skills. By watching them work, you can identify where they are going wrong and notice common patterns. For instance, I have tutored many algebra students whose frustration stemmed from an inability to deal with negative numbers. Once this problem was corrected,... read more

Ellen's Rules for Effective Time Management, Part 2 3. Know when it’s time to take breaks. Spending a good chunk of time on one subject is good; it helps you settle into a rhythm and lets your brain get into the correct frame of reference for the subject. But there exists a horizon beyond which no progress can or will be made. It’s the point at which your brain has become over-saturated with the current material, and if you continue on you’ll just end up working yourself into circles of frustration. In paper writing, it’s the point at which anything you wrote would make sense to you regardless because you’ve been reading the same few paragraphs to yourself for hours. In math, it’s the point at which you will just end up confusing yourself more and more as you try desperately to work it out. When that moment arrives, you know it’s time to take your break. 4. TAKE BREAKS. I don’t care how much work you have, there’s always enough time for a fifteen-minute break... read more

When beginning to tutor a student preparing for the SAT, there are a couple steps that will lead to greater student success than just working through practice problems.   1. Explain what types of questions will be asked on the exam The SAT is an exam that works by using the same certain types of questions. For example, in the Reading section there will be types of questions that focus on the main idea of a passage or others that ask the reader to compare and contrast two shorter paragraphs. Getting your student familiar with the types of questions that will be used on the exam is a very effective way to practice and avoid any test-day surprises.   2. Identify which questions your student struggles with the most Once you cover what types of common questions are on the exam, you can determine which your student finds the easiest and which need some work. It isn’t helpful to study questions that aren’t difficult for your student, so find the types of... read more

Be Prepared! The night before, collect: plenty of sharpened #2 pencils an eraser a small pencil sharpener (in case your pencils break during the exam) a watch (you cannot rely on the proctor and there may not be a wall clock or it may be on the wall behind your seat) your calculator your admission ticket your identification  directions to the testing center tissues medicine (if necessary) disposable earplugs (if you find the background noise of people coughing and fidgeting distracting)   (https://sat.collegeboard.org/register/sat-test-day-checklist)   (http://www.actstudent.org/testprep/taking/) It may be helpful to collect these items in a clear plastic (Ziploc) bag that you can grab and go in the morning. If you have to search for these items in the morning, you are likely to forget something or become frazzled. Eat a substantial breakfast that will provide you with sufficient energy throughout the test... read more

1. Repeating themselves.    In high school (and sometime beyond) there are unhelpful rules from teachers relating to number of paragraphs, minimum lines per paragraph, and number of quotes per paragraph. Page length, word count, and more fit under this heading as well. Too many times I've seen students try to say the same thing in a different way in order to puff up their writing to hit a word count. It's easier to just think some more about the subject matter!   2. Trying to sound academic (or something).    Many a time I'll talk to a student and ask their opinion about some topic or relevant subject. They'll explain themselves clearly and concisely, and sometimes even with some with and humor. Then, when it's time to write, they start saying things like: "This subject is truly fascinating, as I believe that it is truly relevant for children in our society to become educated about many of these diverse and sundry topics".... read more

Quickly after beginning work as a tutor, I came to realize that parents are the black belts of scheduling. They not only have to keep up with a number of annoying adult responsibilities, but they also have to keep up with their children's calendars. Parents' organizational skills (and possibly their sanity) are put to a very difficult test daily. So, to all my expertly organized parents out there, in this post I hope to let you in on a scheduling detail that often slips through the cracks but can make a big difference in a student's SAT or ACT scores.   One of the biggest obstacles I face when preparing a student for the SAT or ACT is the student's test schedule. Far too often, my student is signed up for two tests that are only a month apart. For example, a couple of my past students have been signed up for an SAT in May and then another in June. This short turnaround gives me very little time to receive the student's scores and prep the student in the areas he or... read more

Almost every college or university requires students to submit an ACT or SAT score.  This score affects not only your admission application but also scholarship opportunities and which classes you will be able to enroll in.  The vast majority of students do little to no preparation work before taking these exams.  They may feel that all their hard work in high school should have prepared them already.  Although this is partially true, it is actually quite easy to raise your score a significant amount by just putting in a little bit more work.  Students can see composite ACT scores raise 5 or more points and SAT scores raise 300 or more points.  Why is this?   1)  Both the ACT and SAT test many of the same concepts repeatedly and by learning these core concepts, you will easily get a higher score.     2)  You will get more familiar with the format of the test and start to see patterns in how they ask questions.  Once... read more

This afternoon, I found myself writing to one of my ESL students: ______________________ Hello, XXXXXX--- I am imagining you and your dog having a fine time at the cabin as I write this. I bet you are in the cabin as well. In the first sentence at the cabin is correct, just as you would say "I am at home" rather than in home. It would also be correct to say "I'm in the house" rather than outside in the yard. When you are at home, the yard is included. When you are in the house, the yard is excluded. With cabin, the same word is used both ways. When you are at the cabin, the exterior property is included, but when you are in the cabin, it is excluded. By the way, while you might be in your yard, you would be on your property. ______________________ Preposition problems are common to all but the most advanced English language learners, including many native speakers. After sending my student this email, I realized the word office... read more

As you may know, I am a big fan of the well-known author and brain specialist, Dr. Daniel Amen. He mentions in several of his books that Physical Exercise is good for the brain. I have read of research studies that showed a clear correlation between IMPROVEMENT in students' test scores in math and science, and their level of physical activity (for example, when math class followed PE class, the students had significantly higher scores). Maybe we should schedule PE before all math classes in our schools. What do you think about that idea? This morning I read an online article on the myhealthnewsdaily site, entitled "6 Foods That Are Good for Your Brain," and another article about how Physical Exercise helps maintain healthy brain in older adults too. The second article, "For a Healthy Brain, Physical Exercise Trumps Mental Workout" was found under Yahoo News. The remainder of this note is quoted from that article: Regular physical exercise appears to... read more

In my experience tutoring students in both essay writing and test prep, one of the most difficult and tiresome challenges for both student and tutor is vocabulary improvement.  Because the ideal way to improve one's vocabulary includes reading a variety of sources over a long period of time, the optimal strategy for vocabulary improvement is often not available to students who have a very compressed schedule in which they must improve.  Many of my students have needed to show marked improvement in vocabulary within 2 weeks to a month, due to a looming deadline, so I have had to get creative to find efficient, effective techniques in vocabulary training.   One of the most important lessons when it comes to vocabulary is that multiple approaches are key.  Students should engage with the material using as many senses as possible.  This means not only reading a word and its definition silently, but also reading them aloud, hearing them read by someone else,... read more

When it comes to standardized tests, the PSAT is often overlooked as an “unnecessary step” in the college entrance process. School guidance counselors steer students toward the SAT and ACT; many teachers mention it in their 6th and 7th grade classrooms. This leaves students and parents alike wondering whether they should even bother taking the PSAT. This article explains the purpose of the PSAT test itself and lists four (4) reasons students should take the PSAT and the benefits of doing so. What is the PSAT test, anyway? First, PSAT stands for “Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test”. In some places, you may see it paired with the NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, as in “PSAT/ NMSQT”. The acronym describes its purpose: to test a student’s readiness to take the SAT, to serve as a practice test for the SAT, and to determine student’s eligibility for National Merit Scholarships. So, contrary to popular belief, PSAT scores DO matter if you want to qualify for... read more

During the school year, my students balance classes, sports, social lives, and sleep. Their schedules are hectic. During tutoring lessons, students often only have time to focus on the immediate assignments at hand in their classes. We usually have little time for test prep unless the student and parent has specifically requested that we focus solely on the SAT or ACT. So, when is the best time to study for the SAT or ACT? You guessed it. Summer vacation.    Many of my students have a summer schedule that gives their school year calendar a run for it's money. However, their busy summers do not contain nearly as many academic activities as their school year schedules. Most have summer sports, camp, or jobs. This is the perfect time to balance those physical and social activities with test prep. In addition, students can learn the ropes of the SAT or ACT better when they are not juggling other classes and tests. Every kind of standardized test is unique and it takes... read more

Tutoring is expensive. But, there are several factors that relate to cost besides here-and-now price. It is the ultimate (sometimes long-term) bottom line that you need to calculate to determine if hiring a tutor is cost effective. But, what does "cost effective" mean? One way of looking at the term "cost effective" is to determine if the value you receive in return for your investment is larger than the investment. For example, if tutoring sessions cost you $100, but you passed an employment test that allowed you to earn an extra $0.50 per hour; then you would see the return for the money that you paid for the tutoring in less than two weeks (based upon your increased hourly rate of pay). Tutoring with that kind of pay back would be cost effective, and the monetary benefit would be easy to calculate. Other pay backs for tutoring might not be as easy to calculate, but equally substantial. For example, if tutoring costs you $200 but enables you to increase... read more

In all of my lessons, I like to ask my students about their interests, and then I tailor the lessons to them! Yesterday my student and I went over Princeton Review's "5 types of Reading Comprehension Questions." These are: 1. Detail, 2.Purpose, 3. Suggest/Infer/Imply/Agree, 4. Vocabulary-in-Context, and 5. Tone/Attitude. We did one of the drills from the book, but I didn't think it would be sufficient practice. Since this particular student loves music, I copied and pasted a music review from Pitchfork.com into a Word document, then wrote my own SAT Prep questions! It went over well; the student said that it was a good exercise because it actually held his interest. He's not a big reader in general, but music reviews are something that he "actually likes to read." So, if you have a student who really loves music, then here's a copy of the Pitchfork article and my questions!   ~Bethany G.

On standardized tests and in your general academic life, you are going to run into long reading passages that at first may seem like a lot to tackle. Let's face it - a long block of unbroken text on a standardized test is not the most inspiring sight in the world!    An effective strategy for digging into these passages with the gusto required for high scoring is to underline and note-take with intensity. Underline the first sentence to get you going, then underline, circle, and mark up the passage to your heart's delight. Let the pencil be your anchor to the text.   In my many years of experience as a tutor, I've found that students don't mark up SAT Reading passages nearly enough. Marking up the text not only keeps you on task and prevents your mind from wandering, but also gives you a personal little "road map" to the text when it comes time to answer questions about what you've just read.   And hey, while we're here - remember... read more

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 will... read more

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