Prepping for ACT/SAT

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Velict
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Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Velict » Fri Jan 16, 2009 10:11 pm UTC

I'm a junior in high school this year, and with college looming over my shoulder, I'm preparing to take the ACT and SAT tests in the next few months. I'm a pretty decent student, but I find myself wanting to do as much as possible to achieve a near-perfect score on both exams. I'm currently enrolled in a prep class starting next month, but I'm interested in seeing what others here on the fora did, or are doing, to prepare for these tests.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby papayaninja » Sat Jan 17, 2009 1:43 am UTC

I did nothing and got a 2300 on the SAT.

The purpose of this isn't to brag, but to point out that if you feel confident in your standardized test-taking and have traditionally done well, this is no harder. There's just a lot more pressure to do well. Take the prep course, though, maybe it would have been the difference between my score and a perfect one.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby VicPez » Sat Jan 17, 2009 1:48 am UTC

A prep course, while not strictly necessary (I did well without any similar sort of preparation) will help, so be glad for it.

This is gonna sound trite, but the best you can do for yourself is get a good night's sleep beforehand (try for eight hours, even if you're not generally on a sane sleep cycle; it will put you in a clearer frame of mind). If you're reasonably quick with the style of questions they answer, in a normal-to-brilliant mental state, and don't do anything stupid like mix up the questions and bubbles, you should be fine.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby mdyrud » Sat Jan 17, 2009 3:51 am UTC

One of the biggest things in preparing is taking at least one practice test. It gives a good idea of what will be on the test and how long it will take you.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Chai Kovsky » Sat Jan 17, 2009 9:38 pm UTC

I took far more than one practice test--I think I took about 10 or 11. Only one in test-like conditions, but doing them over and over helped me recognize what kinds of questions would be on there and made me more comfortable with them. Grab a copy of College Board's practice tests; they use old exams so they're better than Princeton Review or Kaplan or whatever in predicting what will actually be on the test.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby xiron » Sun Jan 18, 2009 4:43 am UTC

Practice tests are def the most important thing. I would do a few untimed, just to get in the swing of the questions and kind of get a feel for all of the different kinds of questions. Then I'd also do a few timed practice tests so you have a better idea of how you'll do pacing-wise (i.e. if you need to go faster or whatev). It's really important to be able to strike a balance between speed and accuracy, and the best way to do that is by taking a lot of practice tests.

If it's your first time taking them, I wouldn't even worry too much about it. What's more important on the first time is to get a true feel for how the test will work. You can always retake them in your senior year, so look at your first ones as more of practice runs.

For SAT, I'd also do practice essays. My one regret is that I didn't do more practice essays, and proceeded to bomb the essay on my actual test. The worst part was that I had a near-perfect on the multiple choice section of Writing, so a few more points on the essay could have bumped me up to an 800, giving me a perfect overall. I'm still a bit bitter about that haha. So, def practice the essay for that. ACT it's not as important, cause it doesn't affect your composite (I think it's even optional for ACT).

As far as general practice tests, I'd recommend the official College Board book. Also, Barron's makes a book called like
2400 or something like that that that deals with more advanced test-taking strategies and helps out with the harder problems in all the sections of the SAT.

If you want any more tips on specific sections or anything, feel free to message me.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby sje46 » Sun Jan 18, 2009 4:50 am UTC

xiron wrote:Practice tests are def the most important thing. I would do a few untimed, just to get in the swing of the questions and kind of get a feel for all of the different kinds of questions. Then I'd also do a few timed practice tests so you have a better idea of how you'll do pacing-wise (i.e. if you need to go faster or whatev). It's really important to be able to strike a balance between speed and accuracy, and the best way to do that is by taking a lot of practice tests.

If it's your first time taking them, I wouldn't even worry too much about it. What's more important on the first time is to get a true feel for how the test will work. You can always retake them in your senior year, so look at your first ones as more of practice runs.

For SAT, I'd also do practice essays. My one regret is that I didn't do more practice essays, and proceeded to bomb the essay on my actual test. The worst part was that I had a near-perfect on the multiple choice section of Writing, so a few more points on the essay could have bumped me up to an 800, giving me a perfect overall. I'm still a bit bitter about that haha. So, def practice the essay for that. ACT it's not as important, cause it doesn't affect your composite (I think it's even optional for ACT).

As far as general practice tests, I'd recommend the official College Board book. Also, Barron's makes a book called like
2400 or something like that that that deals with more advanced test-taking strategies and helps out with the harder problems in all the sections of the SAT.

If you want any more tips on specific sections or anything, feel free to message me.

Yeah, there are two types of ACT. ACT and ACT with writing. I took ACT(only person in NH who did, it seems like) and got a 29. I did pretty bad on the science section . . .not bad, but I couldn't finish on time, so I had to fill out the rest of the bubbles real quick (you don't get penalized on that on the ACT). It just confused me. I think I got a bad draw on the science questions to be honest. But anyway, I would say be careful on science.
I didn't prep at all. Didn't need to. I think that cnfidence is a huge part of it.
That said, there are huge books for ACT and SAT prep in pretty much every library. They tend to have their own shelf at the end. Pick one of these up, and practice. My sister wasted $50 on hers though, and didn't use it. I just did one of the tests in the back, and did good.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby blackrose » Sun Jan 18, 2009 5:55 am UTC

My school ended up having us take the PSAT as a sophomore, and I figured i could use my time taking "actual" courses rather than test prep courses. If you've generally done well on standardized tests then you should expect the same for the SAT and ACT. It gets easier after the first test, just so that you are comfortable with the process. Colleges only really care about the highest scores that you achieved, so no pressure if you do bomb one completely.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Pit » Mon Jan 19, 2009 4:39 pm UTC

I never took the ACT, but I was the student teacher of a SAT/PSAT/SSHSAT (NY only) prep course.

Although taking practice exams help, it's really hard to gague what's a "proper" score for your own essays. If you are self-grading your essays, take a couple hours off before you go back to it. Also, when doing the exam, write as big and legible as possible. You just about NEED to fill all the pages to get a perfect score, which is one of the bigger issues with the exam (and one of the controversial issues, anyway).

A good way to study words is to read classic novels early on. I don't really believe in "vocab lists" and stuff, so one exercise I did was to have a passage from a novel (with a lot of SAT-type words) be read by the students. Students would pick out the SAT-type words, and tried to use specific ones throughout the class, when it made sense. The person who was able to use the most words, or use words the most times, won a small prize.

Some good books include: Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Scarlet Letter, and most Charles Dickens novels.

Math is kind of simple, since they never go above and into pre-calculus. The main thing about math is that you have to do it fast, and do it right. One problem I saw with a lot of students is that they would write out everything. This is a time waster, and the SAT is really not looking for "show all your work" crap in the multiple choice section.

And, the more shortcuts you find, the better.

The new grammar/writing section is really easy if you break each "possible mistake" down into 9 categories. The hardest category to learn are the idioms, which really have no background "reason" behind them. Non-native English speakers have the most trouble with this. But besides that, it's easy to pick out the mistakes if you say them out loud rather than read them in your head. Reading a lot of books also help here, because you begin to subconsciously pick up sentence structure. It's like, when you can find something wrong in the sentence, and may not know why, but know it's wrong.

Every time you fix a mistake, try to justify the reason why it's wrong (split adjectives, mispelled words, ect). The more you can actually give a name to, the easier it'll be.

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I hope this helped.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby blackrose » Tue Jan 20, 2009 3:03 am UTC

Oh, and on essays, if you line out sentences instead of erase them it is a good way to waste some space. Plus you can put in some fun commentary, snide remarks, or double entendres (line them out too for professionalism) The graders really enjoy some lightheartedness and wit.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby thatguy » Tue Jan 20, 2009 4:19 am UTC

Yeah, I did jack to prepare and pulled two 33's on the ACT (the second time while forgetting my calculator -- DON'T DO THAT!).

The most useful things I can think to do would be
A.) Read anything that looks remotely interesting
B.) On the math section especially, just be a smart test taker. Do what you know, then go back. Guess and check, and work problems backwards.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Generic Protoplasm » Tue Jan 20, 2009 5:15 am UTC

In all honesty the SAT only measures your ability to sit in one place for 4 hours taking an English test.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Pit » Tue Jan 20, 2009 5:43 am UTC

Generic Protoplasm wrote:In all honesty the SAT only measures your ability to sit in one place for 4 hours taking an English test.


well now, it's 6 hours.

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Crossing out is good. Remember, the graders only have like, about 1 minute to read your essay.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Delass » Tue Jan 20, 2009 7:07 am UTC

Everyone has given great advice and I can't really add to it except one thing: take it twice. I know it sucks, and doing it again might be hellish, but it will improve your score, unless you get 2400 the first time.

Oh, and reference xkcd in the essay. I got an 8, and I didnt even finish! :lol:

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Argus » Fri Jan 23, 2009 6:55 am UTC

blackrose wrote:My school ended up having us take the PSAT as a sophomore, and I figured i could use my time taking "actual" courses rather than test prep courses. If you've generally done well on standardized tests then you should expect the same for the SAT and ACT. It gets easier after the first test, just so that you are comfortable with the process. Colleges only really care about the highest scores that you achieved, so no pressure if you do bomb one completely.


I would be hesitant to expect the PSAT scores to be fully indicative of any ACT Score--I took the PSAT in 10th grade, the results of which said I was going to get in the range of 23-26 on the ACT, and I got a 32 when I took it less than six months later in between 10th and 11th grade during the summer examination.



(I've only taken the ACT, so all my advice is based on that) I would suggest just taking the test itself multiple times--I know a lot of people who raised their scores by becoming familiar with the test, and it doesn't matter how many times you take it because you only send the score you want them to see when applying for colleges. I'd also recommend taking it early, just to see how you do on it--I did it for kicks before my junior year even started, and because I got such a high score, I didn't have to worry about that junior and senior year, which can be especially stressful if you push yourself too far back and miss the deadline for submitting to your college or get a less than stellar housing situation because you weren't even admitted until really late.

As far as the math section, I'd recommend boning up on geometry; that's the stuff that I really felt I didn't remember too well.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Fri Jan 23, 2009 11:12 pm UTC

Hi Velict!

I've been working as an SAT/ACT teacher/tutor for almost two years now, so I know a lot about the tests themselves as well as different struggles students have with these tests. Because of this, my post will probably be obnoxiously long. I apologize in advance.

First, the SAT and ACT are different (though they have a lot of similarities), so some students do better on one instead of the other. In general, the ACT is considered an achievement test, meaning it measures what you know and have learned in school, whereas the SAT is an apititude test, meaning it measures critical thinking skills (this is why so many people refer to the SAT as tricky). For your preparation purposes, however, this means one relevant thing: if you score about the same on the SAT and the ACT (here's a conversion chart), you should prepare for the SAT. It is much easier to improve your score on the SAT than on the ACT. So take a practice test of each one (available here for the SAT, but I don't think they have something similar for the ACT online), and move forward from there.

Second, good for you for taking a prep class! I'm not just saying that because it's my bread and butter. Preparing for these tests through a class (as opposed to a book, which many students will buy and not use) will dramatically improve your score. Of my students, the highest score increase was 550 points, but I think my all time average is around 350. However, how much your score will improve will depend on what kind of course you are taking and through which company. Since you've already registered, I'll just ask - how long is your class? How many practice tests does it offer? Who teaches the class? Is there a point guarantee? All these factors are important to consider when enrolling in a practice course.

Third, there is a lot of good advice in this thread (like getting a good night sleep, being careful to bubble in correctly, doing practice essays [this should absolutely be a part of your course. If it is not, try and get a refund!], remembering your calculator, etc.), but there is also some poor advice that I would like to caution you on.

(1)I would ignore the posturing from posters who brag about doing nothing and getting an absurdly high score. Some people can do this, yes, but it is no measure of their intelligence, only their SAT/ACT taking acumen. I've seen many fantastically brilliant students struggle with this test, but I've also seen them tackle their SAT/ACT weaknesses and improve. Your SAT/ACT score doesn't define you, you define it. Don't forget that.

(2) Though it's not necessarily the worst advice, I would shy away from doing untimed practice exams unless you are eligible for taking an untimed exam because of a learning disability. Most students struggle with timing in one way or another, whether it be completing the exam too fast or too slowly. Also, the exam is very long (but not 6 hours long...who told anyone that?), and many students struggle with endurance issues. You should try your best to simulate what the real exam would be like in terms of timing and environment.

(3) Pit, I hate to say it, but i disagree with most of your advice. The SAT has drastically reduced its emphasis on vocabulary since the restructuring, and the ACT doesn't really test vocabulary at all, so learning vocabulary words is not that important. Reading comprehension, however, is insanely important. The best way to practice this though is through actual SAT/ACT reading passages, not novels, and for two reasons. First, these passages are boring and difficult by design, and second, the questions on them are vague and misleading. Reading novels won't teach you how to eliminate wrong answers on SAT/ACT reading. Also, I cannot emphasize this enough, YOU MUST SHOW YOUR WORK ON THE SAT/ACT MATH. These tests are complicated, and often students will make small errors. If you don't show your work, there is no way to learn from your mistakes.

I have oodles of specific strategies you could use, but I won't list them here because I'm not sure what your weak areas are. My company generates score reports that specifically identify weak areas (not just "your score is low in math" but "you consistently make mistakes on functions and rule of 180 problems"), but you can do this identification on your own. Find out your weak areas, and then focus on those. This will save you lots of time in preparation.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby papayaninja » Sat Jan 24, 2009 6:44 pm UTC

Katieesq wrote:(1)I would ignore the posturing from posters who brag about doing nothing and getting an absurdly high score. Some people can do this, yes, but it is no measure of their intelligence, only their SAT/ACT taking acumen.


I'm just telling the OP that he shouldn't stress out too much if he generally has good "test taking acumen." If I were posturing and bragging, I assure you I would do it to people around me who don't care rather than people on the internet who definitely don't care.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby thatguy » Sat Jan 24, 2009 10:31 pm UTC

Yeah, I didn't mean to sound braggish either, just saying if you're in general a good test-taker, you'll do at least 'good.'

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Sun Jan 25, 2009 1:47 am UTC

No worries. Sorry for making an example of you both, but I know how intimidating statements like that can be to a high school student preparing for the SAT. Too many of them believe that the SAT is a measure of intelligence, and I really want to make the point clear that it measures no such thing. Remarks like yours, despite your best intentions, can discourage good students from preparing for fear they just aren't smart enough to score better on admissions tests. It's easier to see this is illogical when you've already made it through the college application process, but for those who haven't, I think it's helpful to remind them.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Pit » Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:20 am UTC

Katieesq wrote:
(3) Pit, I hate to say it, but i disagree with most of your advice. The SAT has drastically reduced its emphasis on vocabulary since the restructuring, and the ACT doesn't really test vocabulary at all, so learning vocabulary words is not that important. Reading comprehension, however, is insanely important. The best way to practice this though is through actual SAT/ACT reading passages, not novels, and for two reasons. First, these passages are boring and difficult by design, and second, the questions on them are vague and misleading. Reading novels won't teach you how to eliminate wrong answers on SAT/ACT reading. Also, I cannot emphasize this enough, YOU MUST SHOW YOUR WORK ON THE SAT/ACT MATH. These tests are complicated, and often students will make small errors. If you don't show your work, there is no way to learn from your mistakes.



As a student who took the SATs less than two years ago, I still feel that there is a major emphasis on vocabulary. In the reading section, I still feel that not having a strong vocabulary is a major disadvantage. The same goes for writing. I've never taken the ACTs, so I wouldn't know.

I don't agree that the questions are vague or misleading at all. Most of them, in fact, are questions about main ideas, what words mean (in context) and what was not spoken about. The only questions that are vaguely confusing MAY be ones that talk about analysis of the passage.

I'm not saying that reading passages won't help, but I felt that reading novels helped me greatly, and helped the students I taught. It was easy for my kids to pick out the main idea, and to get what the author was trying to say, but a lot of students had problems with idioms in the writing section, and vocabulary in both the writing and reading section. Reading novels helped them much more than reading passages, and a lot of them were glad that they could do something in between classes, or on their way home from school, where many of them didn't want to read packets of reading passages on the train home or something.

And, you only need to show your work for the SAT Math Part B. In the SAT Math Part I, writing everything down is a waste of precious seconds, which add up to minutes. The SAT Math section only goes up to Math B work, and all students who take the SATs will have gotten up to at least the Math B level. In fact, most of them have already taken pre-calculus. Finding shortcuts, not writing everything down, seeing easier ways out of the questions will give the student precious and much needed time. In the math sections, a lot of students have problems with time management because they write everything down, because they loom over questions, trying to find the "correct" way to do it, when the correct way for one student is never the same for the other.

Edit - I realized that you talked about reading novels for reading comprehension. I'm taking about reading novels for the writing section, since you pick up sentence structure and idioms better when you've read more books. There is also the very lucky chance that you'll get a passage from a novel that you've read. When I took my SATs the second time, that's what happened to me.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Velict » Sun Jan 25, 2009 2:46 am UTC

thatguy wrote:Yeah, I didn't mean to sound braggish either, just saying if you're in general a good test-taker, you'll do at least 'good.'


I guess it depends on what you define as "good". When I took the PSAT earlier this year without studying beforehand, I ended up scoring a projected 2100-and-change. Most people would call a 2100 good; others would point out that it doesn't get you into the most selective schools. Unless you're able to get a 2400 without any work beforehand, it seems like a very bad call to not prepare for the exam at all.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:17 am UTC

Pit wrote:As a student who took the SATs less than two years ago, I still feel that there is a major emphasis on vocabulary. In the reading section, I still feel that not having a strong vocabulary is a major disadvantage. The same goes for writing

The questions that most directly test vocabulary are sentence completion questions, and they comprise about 25% of the critical reading section. I don't consider that a major emphasis, but perhaps you do. Also, it bears mentioning that these questions are much more accessible to test takers with poor vocabulary skills than the pre-2005 analogy questions. And though a low vocabulary may hinder students on the essay, it's not a limiting factor on the rest of the writing section, which constitutes 70% of the writing score.
Pit wrote:I don't agree that the questions are vague or misleading at all. Most of them, in fact, are questions about main ideas, what words mean (in context) and what was not spoken about. The only questions that are vaguely confusing MAY be ones that talk about analysis of the passage.

Ah, I did not express myself well here. I should have said that the answer choices are vague and misleading. You are correct - the questions are usually general and address author's viewpoint, main idea, etc.
Pit wrote:Reading novels helped them much more than reading passages, and a lot of them were glad that they could do something in between classes, or on their way home from school, where many of them didn't want to read packets of reading passages on the train home or something.

No doubt that close reading of any kind of complicated text will help a student improve his or her critical reading score, and that those with strong backgrounds in literature will perform well in this section. I also agree with your later points that this is a practical (and probably the only way) to learn nuances of English like idiom. However, the SAT tests whether or not you can get the answer choices right, which is inimical to the study of literature (which tends to not have a whole lot of "right" and "wrong" answers, just strong and weak arguments). Just understanding literature isn't enough; understanding the nature of the SAT reading questions and their answer choices is what gets you the points. I suppose I could agree with your line of study if the student had a lot of time on his or her hands, but usually that is not the case.
Pip wrote:And, you only need to show your work for the SAT Math Part B. In the SAT Math Part I, writing everything down is a waste of precious seconds, which add up to minutes. The SAT Math section only goes up to Math B work, and all students who take the SATs will have gotten up to at least the Math B level. In fact, most of them have already taken pre-calculus. Finding shortcuts, not writing everything down, seeing easier ways out of the questions will give the student precious and much needed time. In the math sections, a lot of students have problems with time management because they write everything down, because they loom over questions, trying to find the "correct" way to do it, when the correct way for one student is never the same for the other.

AUUUUUUGH! NOoooooooOOOOOOOoooo! No. Though I agree with you that many students struggle with time management on the SAT, skipping steps and not showing your work is not the way to find more time. If you get the answer wrong, you get the answer wrong, and it doesn't matter if you had no clue how to do it or you just forgot to distribute a negative. So the lesson is to slow down and show all your work so you don't make mistakes. And this goes double for all you hot-shot calculus students out there. The SAT is designed with you in mind, and they will ask for the answer for unusual values (like 4x-2 instead of x) or give odd qualifiers (like all positive odd consecutive integers, instead of just all integers) so you make mistakes. If a student struggles with time on the SAT math, it is better for him or her to skip the last few problems and spend more time working through the earlier ones because the problems are listed in order of difficulty. I know most students resist this, but they should remember that problem #1 is worth just as many points as problem #20, and they are better off working through the problems they are more likely to get right carefully.
Velict wrote:I guess it depends on what you define as "good". When I took the PSAT earlier this year without studying beforehand, I ended up scoring a projected 2100-and-change. Most people would call a 2100 good; others would point out that it doesn't get you into the most selective schools. Unless you're able to get a 2400 without any work beforehand, it seems like a very bad call to not prepare for the exam at all.

210 Is a great jumping off point on the PSAT, but keep in mind that the SAT and ACT are much longer exams and they both have essays. It's hard to say how you will perform on either of these exams until you take a practice exam. But what a "good" score is is completely defined by what school you want to get into and subsequently what scores they generally accept. So really, what's "good" for you might not be "good" for someone else. If a 2100 will get you into the schools you want to go to, then you are pretty well set.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby questioningmrow » Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:25 am UTC

Lots of long advice, which honestly I don't think helps you too much, because you're now a junior. If you have the devotion to go ahead and do all the studying, go ahead. It will help you, and they're mostly write on their advice, though, I will have to directly conflict with one point Katieesq says.

And honestly, it's the only real rule.

Do it fast.

Here's my logic for it. I took the new SAT when it first came out, the first one. I had been given so much SAT tutoring before that it hadn't done a thing for me by the time I took it, mostly because learning the SAT coursework before HS [I started in 6th grade..] just makes you look smart.

But it doesn't actually make you smart. It makes you comfortable. You get comfortable with the phrasing, the wording, the style of questions, and then you answer the question quick and decisively.

Speed is of the essence, because EVERY question is worth the same, with the exception of the Essay. And I can more or less promise you, the questions asked by the SAT are basically Trig questions at the worst, and basic vocab at best. Meaning it's all easy stuff.

Get comfortable, and answer quickly. This doesn't mean guess, this means answer quickly. Because if you finish fast enough, you can do the more important part.

Checking over your answers.

And the reason why this is more important, is this.

Your first gothrough of the section will be hasty, because you wanted to finish it fast, because you KNEW that some of the questions might stick you, and you needed the time, but you didn't want to screw over the other, potentially easier questions that were there. So you went fast.

But you didn't get the ones which were easy wrong, and you gave all the harder ones the proper amount of time needed.

None of the SAT is hard. Honestly, everything within the SAT should be under the level that you're at by that time. The only thing you really need to study, is vocab, because that's the only part that really requires memorization. And even then, you can cheat that out by learning the roots of the words, which makes life easy.

Okay, I'm done.

If you want though, I'm sure there're a few people here whom are willing to help you, and go through this stuff in real time.

I throw it out to you, if you want, when I'm free, I'm willing to skype or whatever to help you in realtime.

Good luck either way. =]

EDIT:: I feel like I should legitimize the fact that the SAT is actually much easier than you'd think.

My GPA at that point was about 81 [Only brought to those grades because I had done gotten about four 100's in computer technology based classes]. I made a 2160, 800 in Math, 700 in Reading Comp, and 660 in Writing Comp.

I had been doing miserable in Math, with only 70's in the NY Math Regents.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Pit » Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:16 am UTC

@Katieesq - I'm not going to c/p the whole thing (don't really want to kill the pages by quoting and over quoting).

I'd put 1/4th of the writing section as a major part of the exam. It's 250 points off the bat. Even the answer choices are not very misleading. At worst, you have two answers that don't make sense off the bat, and that leaves a 50% chance that you'll get the question right. With careful reading, that doesn't even become an issue. And the only time this becomes a major issue is, again, when there is analyzing the purpose of the passage, and that's only with certain types of passages.

I'm not asking the student to completely disregard SAT practice exams, but as a student who had to take an SAT prep book for 4 years around everywhere, I felt that there were ulterior methods to studying for the SAT than taking a thousand page book and prepping for passages on my way to and from school. Even reading a short story a day probably helped me grow comfortable to sentence structure, which naturally made me better at the writing section.

Now, for the math section. There are many parts of your argument that I disagree with:
- slowing down may be great when you check your answers AFTER a prep-SAT, but if you do it during the SAT you waste precious time that could be spent elsewhere. The physical action of writing things down slows the student. If a student can do it in his head, or find a faster, alternative route, I encourage that student to use it.

- Asking for unusual questions and having students overlook it is an issue. But it's not an issue with the calculations. A student could write down the calculations and still have overlooked the 4x-2, because the student didn't read.

- Skipping questions is greatly frowned upon. In fact, the ability to skip questions is more detrimental than it is helpful. "Oh, I don't have to answer this question, it's too hard. I'm not going to even bother. It's not like I'm losing anything." In actuality, that student is losing a point, the point they would have gained getting the answer right. You shouldn't be skipping ANY questions in math, since there is always one CLEAR answer in math, and the math should be simple enough for any junior in high school to learn.

(This is more applied to in the critical reading section than the math) Say two students have 4 of the exact same questions "blanked" by the end of the exam. Student A decides to leave the last 4 questions blank. He gets a 0 out of the 4 questions.
The other student decides to make educated guesses. He knocks out enough answers to give all the questions a 50% chance of getting it right, which is generally how it works in critical reading questions (two silly answers, one seemingly correct answer, and one right answer). In a situation like that, there is a great chance that he has 2 questions right, and 2 questions wrong. This gives him 2 points, minus -.50 for the two wrong questions, leaving him at 1.5, which still gives him more points than Student A.

If you're taking the time to write down all the calculations for question #1, I'd be more worried about the student's general math skills than anything right now.

--

I just also hope no one sacrifices their schoolwork and grades for good SAT score. SATs can only do so much, and colleges do not take SAT scores into account as much as everyone says they do.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Masily box » Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:27 am UTC

Isn't anyone else bothered by the notion of SAT prep courses? They advertise that they just teach to a test. They're a way of gaming the system that you have to pay for; consequently they bias the system in favor of wealthier college applicants. From the individual student's perspective, I'm sure they're effective: they'll raise your score when you retake. But from the perspective of the tests' meaningfulness in general (a pretty dismal prospect to begin with) they're counterproductive. (Not to single you out, Katieesq, or anyone in particular--I've been considering teaching such things to make money, too--but doesn't it seem morally problematic?)

I suppose I've always harbored the secret hope that getting into college would be like Wesley Crusher's entrance exams for the Academy: you don't know what's going to be on the test, or even what is a test. (God what a terrible episode, but I guess it kind of shaped my worldview as a child. Star Trek in a nutshell.)

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Pit » Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:46 am UTC

Masily box wrote:Isn't anyone else bothered by the notion of SAT prep courses? They advertise that they just teach to a test. They're a way of gaming the system that you have to pay for; consequently they bias the system in favor of wealthier college applicants. From the individual student's perspective, I'm sure they're effective: they'll raise your score when you retake. But from the perspective of the tests' meaningfulness in general (a pretty dismal prospect to begin with) they're counterproductive. (Not to single you out, Katieesq, or anyone in particular--I've been considering teaching such things to make money, too--but doesn't it seem morally problematic?)

I suppose I've always harbored the secret hope that getting into college would be like Wesley Crusher's entrance exams for the Academy: you don't know what's going to be on the test, or even what is a test. (God what a terrible episode, but I guess it kind of shaped my worldview as a child. Star Trek in a nutshell.)


Vince (Questioningmrow) and I have lived in SAT prepping schools, and I taught in my prep school for about two years (besides general tutoring of kids in my school during senior year/post graduation). I think for both of us, it was just what we did every Saturday from when we were very young kids. I know I took the job because I didn't really want a job elsewhere, and the kids that were there... well, I've known them for years. As a teacher, I've never found it morally problematic. Even after going to college, I still keep in touch with a lot of my students and try to help them in whatever exams/applications they will be or are having.

Every year, the SAT tries to make it a little more difficult for the SATs to be "prepped for." I think it contributes to why SATs don't count as much as they would (besides the fact that it's just an exam). And I think it should stay that way. The Specialized High School Admissions Exam (SHSAT) for New York City is based off one exam, and you only need to do well in that one exam to get into what are called the best high schools in the city (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech are all top-ranked schools in the nation). I think that's putting too much trust into one exam. At least the college application system is a little more balanced than that.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Poochy » Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:49 am UTC

For the SAT essay, to quote Dr. Les Perelman, English professor at MIT, "I would advise writing as long as possible, and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." The SAT essay is graded mostly on two criteria: Whether or not you're on topic, and essay length. If you fill up the two pages while remaining on topic, chances are you'll get a 12.

I've also found, in my own past experiences, that the ACT is more skill-based and the SAT is more knowledge-based, especially in their respective English sections. Thus, studying vocabulary is likely to help on the SAT, but won't do much for the ACT. For both, practice tests and practice questions tend to help.

And finally, don't stress too much over it, and absolutely do NOT keep yourself up studying the night before you take either one. Stop studying a short while before your usual bedtime the night before, and do something relaxing before you sleep -- say, watch some TV. Basically, don't have your mind on the test as you're laying in bed. That kind of stress will make you more likely to make silly mistakes on the actual test.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:50 pm UTC

Masily box wrote:Isn't anyone else bothered by the notion of SAT prep courses? They advertise that they just teach to a test. They're a way of gaming the system that you have to pay for; consequently they bias the system in favor of wealthier college applicants. From the individual student's perspective, I'm sure they're effective: they'll raise your score when you retake. But from the perspective of the tests' meaningfulness in general (a pretty dismal prospect to begin with) they're counterproductive. (Not to single you out, Katieesq, or anyone in particular--I've been considering teaching such things to make money, too--but doesn't it seem morally problematic?)

I suppose I've always harbored the secret hope that getting into college would be like Wesley Crusher's entrance exams for the Academy: you don't know what's going to be on the test, or even what is a test. (God what a terrible episode, but I guess it kind of shaped my worldview as a child. Star Trek in a nutshell.)


I am definitely bothered by the fact that privileged students have more of an advantage because they can afford test preparation, but that's why I work for a company that offers unlimited scholarships for SAT prep courses. And that's not a selling point that is later garbled by lots of fine print and red tape. Obtaining a scholarship requires some financial documentation and a short essay written by the student on why they'd like to take the class. Also, there are automatic scholarships for students already enrolled in certain programs for disadvantaged students, like AVID. I teach my class out of a middle to low income school, and a lot of my students are funded by partial or full scholarships made available through the company. Even with this, there is still the unfair advantage of private tutoring, which I do as well (and is not scholarship funded...in fact, it's the money from the tutoring that funds the scholarships, among other things).

I guess I'm able to sleep at night because I do reach these scholarships, and my company is dedicated to giving all students the opportunity to take a prep class. But yes, the fact that we use tests like these at all is troubling.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:54 pm UTC

Poochy wrote:For the SAT essay, to quote Dr. Les Perelman, English professor at MIT, "I would advise writing as long as possible, and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." The SAT essay is graded mostly on two criteria: Whether or not you're on topic, and essay length. If you fill up the two pages while remaining on topic, chances are you'll get a 12.

I've also found, in my own past experiences, that the ACT is more skill-based and the SAT is more knowledge-based, especially in their respective English sections. Thus, studying vocabulary is likely to help on the SAT, but won't do much for the ACT. For both, practice tests and practice questions tend to help.

And finally, don't stress too much over it, and absolutely do NOT keep yourself up studying the night before you take either one. Stop studying a short while before your usual bedtime the night before, and do something relaxing before you sleep -- say, watch some TV. Basically, don't have your mind on the test as you're laying in bed. That kind of stress will make you more likely to make silly mistakes on the actual test.


I would agree with everything here. But regarding the essay, I would advise to try not to make up facts, and instead learn to fudge them better (ie, if you don't know the precise date of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, then say it was in the 1960s, or during the Civil Rights era). Also, organization is key on the essay. Your graders are paid by the essay, not by the hour, so it is in their best interest to grade these swiftly. Therefore, it is in a students best interest to make points clear and organized so that it's easy for your grader to give you a 6. And don't forget about your conclusion. It's the last thing the graders read, so make sure it is strong and purposeful.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Sun Jan 25, 2009 6:31 pm UTC

@Pit

It seems to me you are conflating the writing and the reading sections, and I don't know why you would do such a thing. Also, I'm not sure where these 250 points are coming from, as 25% of 800 =/= 250 (but hey, maybe you did that math in your head, right?).

All snarkiness aside, however, I think your point on eliminating answer choices is a good one, and is worth discussing further. Your statistical example of Student A and Student B is a great way to show why it's in a students best interest to eliminate garbage answer choices and make an educated guess. It's absolutely right to say that it's not a good idea to leave a ton of answers blank on the critical reading section.

But here's why the math section is different. Again, the math section is listed in order of difficulty - the first problem is the easiest, the last problem is the hardest. About 91% of high school students get the first math problem right, and about 8-9% get the last one right. This isn't on account of the math being hard, it's on account of the math being tricky. You are correct to say that any high school junior should know the math on the SAT (it only goes up to Alg 2, and even then there are very few problems at that level), but by that logic, why don't all high school juniors score in the 700s? The answer is simple: these problems are designed with details and qualifiers that students aren't used to working with and subsequently make careless errors on. Even if a student makes their best guess on one of these problems, there is still a high likelihood that he or she will miss that problem because it is so tricky. If a student is really struggling for time, it is in his or her best interests to leave these problems to the end and work carefully through earlier problems.

Or, put another way, if you find the answer quickly and easily on problem 1, it's probably right. If you found the answer quickly and easily on problem #20, it's probably wrong. Work accordingly. Writing down your work not only helps you avoid making mistakes, it provides a jumping off point should you have to move on from a problem and come back to it later. Also, deliberately underlining what the problem is asking for (which I group with showing work) allows you to avoid making a careless error. Showing work takes time, yes, but I submit that for these reasons it is time well spent.

I will make one small qualifier to this argument, however. If a student is scoring in the mid 600s to 700s, then he or she should make attempts and guess on later problems. But chances are a student scoring that high isn't all that hard up for time on this section. Still, I think you might simply disagree with me on this method, which is fine. Students
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby questioningmrow » Mon Jan 26, 2009 12:00 am UTC

Er, you stopped at students for some reason.

But here's why the math section is different. Again, the math section is listed in order of difficulty - the first problem is the easiest, the last problem is the hardest. About 91% of high school students get the first math problem right, and about 8-9% get the last one right. This isn't on account of the math being hard, it's on account of the math being tricky. You are correct to say that any high school junior should know the math on the SAT (it only goes up to Alg 2, and even then there are very few problems at that level), but by that logic, why don't all high school juniors score in the 700s? The answer is simple: these problems are designed with details and qualifiers that students aren't used to working with and subsequently make careless errors on. Even if a student makes their best guess on one of these problems, there is still a high likelihood that he or she will miss that problem because it is so tricky. If a student is really struggling for time, it is in his or her best interests to leave these problems to the end and work carefully through earlier problems.


Math isn't tricky. Math is never tricky. In fact, math is so untricky, it's math. It's pure fact. The only "trickiness" of the SAT is the way they word questions. Which means for math, your only real difficulty is just deciphering what they're actually asking. If you can decipher the question in a reasonable amount of time, the effort you put into the first AND last problem should be about the same. Because in the end, they're asking the same question. What screws almost all SAT takers is time, because they waste their time overthinking things. Speed, and comfort with the test. Then understanding and efficiency.

Math requires:
-The ability to decipher the worded questions
-Math up to Trig (Though, I got a 70 in Trig. God knows once again, how the bloody hell I made an 800)
-Time management skills (Honestly what I think is most important. Getting all of them right is more important than getting just one or two right)

Reading Comp requires:
-Vocab
-A comfort level with the kinds of writing that is presented (A quick way, although not perfect, is the "5 minute read" in which you read the first, and last paragraph in full, and the start and end of every paragraph. In order, of course)

Writing
... I did horrible here. I don't have any rights at all to write about this part, so I won't. Lol.

If you need further conformation as to why I believe that speed is more important, I'll throw another example at ya.

I went to Bronx Science, as well did Pit/Jo, and I knew my fair share of smart people. (God, Constantine, I'll always be in pure amazement of your skills) But some of them, although smarter, did worse than me, especially if you took the "old test" (Basically, only counting the first two, Math and Reading) A fair share of my friends were in AP Calc/Statistics while in Junior Year. While I was still in Pre-Calc. And yet, I could do the test quicker, and much more efficiently.

The only difference I could see, is that they "stuttered" in the test taking. They got nervous, or stuck on a question, and then lost time that could have been used to get one question potentially right (in which they could have gone back) and one question right definitely.

---

Now, a final statement. The op of this initial thread hasn't actually seemed to respond to any of our statements, and rather than confuse the poor kid further, let's wait till he/she actually comes back, and actually chooses how he/she would like to study. Because some people need to do things progressively, getting everything in the way that Katieesq would describe.

Or, he/she might be only nervous, and unsure of if what he's doing is right, perhaps doing it my, or Pit's way, skipping questions, working fast and recklessly, but using that time at the end to recheck his/her work.

Idunno. Either way, we should actually wait till the op actually goes ahead and confirms the ideology he/she prefers. It could even be a troll, just stirring things up.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Mon Jan 26, 2009 6:32 pm UTC

Though I have more to say to your post, I think I'll bite my tongue for now, mostly because this is a good point:
Now, a final statement. The op of this initial thread hasn't actually seemed to respond to any of our statements, and rather than confuse the poor kid further, let's wait till he/she actually comes back, and actually chooses how he/she would like to study.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Velict » Mon Jan 26, 2009 9:37 pm UTC

questioningmrow wrote:Now, a final statement. The op of this initial thread hasn't actually seemed to respond to any of our statements, and rather than confuse the poor kid further, let's wait till he/she actually comes back, and actually chooses how he/she would like to study. Because some people need to do things progressively, getting everything in the way that Katieesq would describe.

Or, he/she might be only nervous, and unsure of if what he's doing is right, perhaps doing it my, or Pit's way, skipping questions, working fast and recklessly, but using that time at the end to recheck his/her work.

Idunno. Either way, we should actually wait till the op actually goes ahead and confirms the ideology he/she prefers. It could even be a troll, just stirring things up.


I've posted exactly twice so far; I'm fairly ignorant on the subject of the ACT/SAT, so I don't have much to say on the matter if whatever discussion going on happens to fulfill the purpose of exorcising my ignorance. When it comes to taking standardized tests in general, however, I fall into your school of thought; SAT- and ACT-level math is very simple stuff, and there simply isn't a good reason to write every single problem down when you're unlikely to make an error (and insuring you did not make an error is the purpose of looking over your answers until time is up).

As for things like math never being tricky, however, I have to respectfully disagree. The fact that mathematics is entirely based on logic and certainty doesn't make it simple or "un-tricky". While concepts at this level are extremely easy, it's also quite possible to make a small error somewhere (misplacing a negative sign or messing up simple arithmetic are relatively common examples) and get the entire problem wrong for what is essentially a "stupid" error.

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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:19 pm UTC

Velict wrote:When it comes to taking standardized tests in general, however, I fall into your school of thought; SAT- and ACT-level math is very simple stuff, and there simply isn't a good reason to write every single problem down when you're unlikely to make an error (and insuring you did not make an error is the purpose of looking over your answers until time is up).

You seem to have made up your mind on this one, but I'll give one last pitch for showing work. Take note of the types of errors you make on practice exams, and don't blithely dismiss careless ones. If you consistently make careless errors, slowing down and showing work is the only way to remedy the problem. I find that students aren't nearly as careful when they check over their work the second time around, but perhaps your experiences are different.

As for things like math never being tricky, however, I have to respectfully disagree. The fact that mathematics is entirely based on logic and certainty doesn't make it simple or "un-tricky". While concepts at this level are extremely easy, it's also quite possible to make a small error somewhere (misplacing a negative sign or messing up simple arithmetic are relatively common examples) and get the entire problem wrong for what is essentially a "stupid" error.

Well put.

You said you took the PSAT, right? Have you created a My College QuickStart account? If not, it's another useful way you can prepare for the SAT. My College QuickStart provides online explanations for all the problems you missed on the PSAT and also gives you a breakdown of the types of questions you miss consistently in each section. Furthermore, the site gives you recommedations of how to study for these problems you consistently miss. It's a great place to get an idea of where your weak areas are. You'll need a code to log in, which can be found on your PSAT score sheet.

Beyond that, it's hard to give you further advice without specifics. Many have mentioned areas to focus on, but that really all depends on what your strengths and weaknesses are. Feel free to ask about any specific section, problem type, or even basic things like time management and section lengths.

P.S. I swear I have a personality and am not merely a standardized test talking head (which is what I sound like in this thread).
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Chai Kovsky » Tue Jan 27, 2009 7:18 pm UTC

A few more tips:

-For reading comprehension, in the sections with passages, underline. It will help you to concentrate and consciously make note of the key points in the passage. From my practice tests, pre-underline: 710-ish. On the actual SAT, with underlining: 800. And I sure as hell didn't get any smarter.
-For writing, don't use a 5 paragraph essay. You won't have time. Use a four paragraph essay: Intro+Thesis, Example 1, Example 2, Conclusion.

No offense, Katieesq, but I don't understand how a class or a tutor can help your score if you're already a good test-taker. I had more private tutoring than I can possibly say, and the only thing that bumped my scores on the practice tests were underlining in passages (which I taught myself) and learning how to write an SAT-style essay, the latter of which I learned from my English teacher, not a tutor. I really wanted to get better at the math and had extra tutoring just for that, but my score never improved at all. I mean, I got a semi-respectable 630, and my stellar verbal gave me a decent overall, but I just don't see what tutors can do that would help.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:21 pm UTC

Chai Kovsky wrote:A few more tips:

-For reading comprehension, in the sections with passages, underline. It will help you to concentrate and consciously make note of the key points in the passage. From my practice tests, pre-underline: 710-ish. On the actual SAT, with underlining: 800. And I sure as hell didn't get any smarter.
-For writing, don't use a 5 paragraph essay. You won't have time. Use a four paragraph essay: Intro+Thesis, Example 1, Example 2, Conclusion.

No offense, Katieesq, but I don't understand how a class or a tutor can help your score if you're already a good test-taker. I had more private tutoring than I can possibly say, and the only thing that bumped my scores on the practice tests were underlining in passages (which I taught myself) and learning how to write an SAT-style essay, the latter of which I learned from my English teacher, not a tutor. I really wanted to get better at the math and had extra tutoring just for that, but my score never improved at all. I mean, I got a semi-respectable 630, and my stellar verbal gave me a decent overall, but I just don't see what tutors can do that would help.


Sounds like you had some not so stellar tutors, IMHO. I can only offer speculation, but I know some companies in the test taking industry have high turnover with teachers due to a lot of irrelevant and relevant factors. The industry is huge, and many companies vary in terms of curriculum, pay, training, etc. A lot of tutors are just students themselves trying to make some extra cash and not necessarily dedicated to your success. You might have just been stuck with a really smart but bad tutor, a burnt out tutor, a poorly paid tutor, or perhaps one who was not well-suited for your needs as a high scorer. High scorers are challenging to work with because you can't rely on basic strategies and have to prepare a lot, but that doesn't mean they don't make mistakes or have areas they need to work on. In your case, I would have done a focused review of your math weaknesses, checked if you made careless errors, reviewed specific math problem types you missed consistently, and hand picked the most difficult of these types of problems for homework. I also would have assigned lots of practice tests in a proctored setting. If you are shooting for a perfect or near perfect score, it's the only way to see what you screw up under pressure. I understand your hesitation; private tutoring is a lot of money and some of these methods may be self evident, but I can speak from experience that it does work.

I'm sad that no one taught you to underline as you read the passages; I teach this. In addition, I teach some students to write themselves a 5-7 word summary of each paragraph. This forces students to understand the paragraphs in their own wording, which inhibits time spent going back and rereading. I teach that more time spent with the paragraph initially means less time spent on the answer choices and fewer mistakes.

I'd also like to say that being a "good test-taker" isn't some static skill. You don't come out of the womb with a #2 pencil ready to fill in a scantron, nor do you maintain these skills after years of not taking standardize tests (I'm a great example of the latter, at least before I took this job). True, some people have to prepare much more than others, but under good guidance everyone can improve.
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Chai Kovsky » Tue Jan 27, 2009 9:31 pm UTC

Well, I did tests before I met with the tutors, so the fact that I taught myself to underline isn't surprising. As for test-taking, I'm not referring so much to knowing how the questions work or the tips & tricks as being calm in testing situations and doing about as well as you would in a no-pressure situation. I scored exactly as well on untimed practice tests as I did on the SAT itself and I always did fine on standardized tests since the age of 8. I've never been "taught to a test" in my life (despite spending a significant part of it in public schools) until the SAT. While you don't come out of the womb with a #2 pencil, I don't think being comfortable with test-taking is something that can be taught by some tutor.

With high scorers, I just don't really see how much can be done. What do you teach a kid who's sometimes getting a 780 and sometimes an 800 without any consistent type of problem being missed? At that point, just tell the kid to eat right and get enough sleep before the test and it'll probably be fine.
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Katieesq
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Joined: Wed Jan 21, 2009 9:40 pm UTC

Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Katieesq » Tue Jan 27, 2009 10:21 pm UTC

Ah, now I see what you are driving at a little better. If you are scoring so well that you consistently get between a 780 and an 800, then yes, there is probably very little as a tutor that I can do that a student couldn't do on their own. However, if you consistently are scoring this high, you probably don't need to invest in tutoring. People are imperfect, and even the most adept SAT taker could still bungle a problem. One can't really teach to perfection, and personally, I think it's flawed to try. Call it hokey, but I just want every student to do the best they can, whether that's a 1600 or a 2300.

I disagree that students can't be taught to be more comfortable with test taking. I imagine this must be somewhat hard to understand, as you have grown up with an inherent confidence with standardized tests. For those who don't, demystifying the methodology of these tests, building confidence, and reducing anxiety are important aspects of my work that improve scores and test taking abilities. In fact, having a tutor that you trust and believe in can do wonders for confidence. Many who struggle with test taking have been struggling with it for many years, and this results in a lot of compounded fear that can be difficult to alleviate, especially alone.

Saying all that, I can say that in my two years of work I have had one student who really tried earnestly and did not make a substantial improvement to her score. I still can't say why, but she was a rare case. Also a valedictorian (go figure, right?).
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Chai Kovsky
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Re: Prepping for ACT/SAT

Postby Chai Kovsky » Wed Jan 28, 2009 12:13 am UTC

*Sigh* I really wish you could help my foster-sister. She's a sophomore and she gets such wicked test anxiety. Messed up her ISEE scores twice. She's so smart, I hope her SAT doesn't mess with her.
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kellsbells wrote:¡This Chai is burning me!
Chai Kovsky wrote:I can kill you with my brain.

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superglucose wrote:In other words: LISTEN TO CHAI.
Delayra wrote:Yet another brilliant idea from Chai!

I <3 Pirate.Bondage!


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