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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!

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

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

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

Many parents and students are yearning for the prospect of increasing their point average on SATs. This fall I had many students who were willing to spend long hours pursuing their college dreams. It became apparent that test anxiety was trying to steal their vision of their future. What we found to work successfully was to give them timed SAT tests under similar test conditions. This seemed to lessen their anxiety when the time came to take the actual test. The thought that they understood the timing, the types of questions, reviewed their mistakes and learned from their mistakes all added to great achievement and lower anxiety come test day.

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

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

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

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

What is the best way to improve your SAT Reading score? I find that most students lose points on the Reading section because of the test's challenging vocabulary. As you go through the practice tests, if you find that you are not familiar with many of the words, take the time to write them out on separate flash cards. Then, look them up in the dictionary and write the definitions on the flip side. You can also buy pre-made SAT vocabulary flash cards. Whether you make them or buy them, test your memory with flash cards for about 20 minutes a day.

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

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

Most questions refer back to the text by line number. They’ll say, “David Wright’s comments in Lines 8-12 (“They wanted... baseball) suggest that the reason the Mets picked him was… While lines 8-12 most likely contain the answer, it’s important that we consider the lines in context. A good rule of thumb is to search for the answer not only in the lines they tell you, but also in the previous two lines, as well as the following two lines. So you should primarily check 8-12, but also be aware the answer could be in 6-7 or 13-15. The College Board especially loves to put the answer before the lines they tell you. Since we’ve learned to read to the right and downwards, the best place to hide an answer would be above the lines they told you to interpret.

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.

T. is a young math genius, but his English language skills were lagging when we first met.   It was apparent that T. had very good comprehension, but had great difficulty in organizing his thoughts in English. We worked with the SAT work book for the most part, which is an excellent tool for getting a student to focus and to familiarize him/herself with the exam structure. We also worked on conversation, reading practice, and writing exercises.   We worked for two months every week. He took the SAT twice more, and his English exam score improved from the low 500s to the middle 700s!    Later, I helped T. with his college application process. In particular, he succeeded to write an excellent essay. His grades were very good, but we are sure that the interesting and unique essay helped to get him admitted to ALL five  colleges of his choice. 

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 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

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

I generally start by examining the kinds of questions a student missed on the PSAT, and we make a plan based on the SAT or PSAT score report. I usually need to teach lessons on the most common grammatical concepts covered by the test: subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, misplaced and dangling modifiers, parallel structure, and pronoun case. These five skills probably account for half of the most-missed writing questions. We practice and drill - the only way to get better at something is to keep doing it! For the critical reading questions, I like to have older students do passages from the Advanced Placement exams; they are similar in format to the SAT passages and have slightly more challenging questions. Questions on the SAT are categorized as easy, medium, or difficult, and students generally don't have trouble with the easy ones! Practicing with difficult questions makes them feel more confident on test day. We’ll also examine... read more

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

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