Category Archives: Studying Skills

SAT Test Essay strategies & approaches: rhetorical analysis, logic & how to write a great essay!

Michael reviews the SAT Essay section, instructions & requirements, approaches and strategies, how it is scored and general strategies & approaches for rhetorical analysis.

In the first of three videos, Michael reviews the SAT Essay rhetorical analysis and how to approach the text and identify rhetorical and persuasive techniques. This video reviews general strategies and approaches and applies them to Essay Practice Test 1:

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How to Build & Apply History Knowledge to SAT Test Reading Section Historical Passages

Here Michael reviews strategies for approaching SAT Reading section historical passages by building core historical knowledge around dates and themes of major wars

By remembering dates of MAJOR WARS, students can easily contextualize SAT Reading passages as either before or after a certain war and, thus, historical themes and perspectives.

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How to approach the SAT test Writing Section: modeling approaches & strategies on practice test 10

Michael reviews general SAT Writing section approaches and strategies and punctuation and grammar rules, then models them on a passage from the College Board SAT Practice Test 10

Michael works through the 1st two passages of Practice Test 10 (questions 1-11. 12-22) with a live demonstration of actually taking that test on each passage:

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How to Approach the SAT test Reading Section: Modeling approaches & strategies on practice test 1

Michael models SAT Reading section techniques and strategies on a passage from the College Board SAT Practice Test 1

Michael works through the fourth passage of Practice Test 1 (questions 32-41) with a live demonstration of actually taking that test/ passage:

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How to improve SAT test scores: Attack the Question!

When developing test-taking skills for standardized tests such as AP, ACT, and SAT tests there are usually two approaches:

  • Strategy no. 1: Improve on content knowledge & skills.
  • Strategy no. 2:  Employ test-taking strategies, such as skipping, annotating, anticipating answers, and elimination.

That’s all good and well, but there’s no single method to apply to every question. So what else can parents do to help students improve on standardized tests?

  • Strategy no. 3: Attack the Question

The Test Knows more than you?

This third approach emphasizes treating questions as sources of information, looking upon questions as giving, not taking.

All too often I hear from students that the test “knows more” than they do. What they’re saying is that they don’t trust themselves, and they end up second-guessing themselves or, worse, choosing incorrect answers simply because they don’t know the meaning of a word in it.

These students are not looking a the question as a source of information. They’re letting the question take — and not making it give.

So a very first place for improvement is to look upon…

Test Questions as Information

Effective test-takers will use information in the test, especially the questions. Questions are to them guidance and not an impediment.

Even the most basic question contains information:

Why is the sky blue?

Before answering the question, let’s see what it tells us:

  1. The sky is blue
  2. There is a reason for that.

Okay, great, but so what?

Well, that information is actually quite useful — if we look upon it as information and not a judgment about what we know or don’t know about the sky being blue.

If I don’t know what the sky or blue are, well, maybe here’s an opportunity to engage in a good skipping strategy.  Sometimes you just don’t know.

But just because I don’t know the direct answer, by looking at the question as a source of information I can begin to apply that information to something I do know:

  1. The sky is… the atmosphere.. it’s made up of, oxygen and other gasses, and clouds…  and clouds are water… sunlight bounces off the atmosphere…
  2. Blue is…  a primary color… blue light is high on the color frequencies…
  3. There is something about the sky, the color blue that combines to make the sky blue.

Having considered the information in the question and identifying what I know about it, I can now better employ our Strategy no. 2 of anticipation and elimination.

Just as importantly, since I have considered the question carefully, I will be less likely to be fooled by the possible wrong answers, many of which are designed precisely to mislead the student based upon an incorrect association with a word in the question. Thinking over the question deliberately helps me avoid that trap.

Attack the Qualifiers!

Once we get past the idea that the test “knows more than I do,” we can approach it as a useful instrument. Here Question Attack is essential.

Let’s go back to our question, “Why is the sky blue?”  Of course a standardized test will ask a more complex question,  but it’s never more complicated than a series of qualifications that limit or define a simple question, such as,

Why is the sky a lighter blue on the horizon than straight above?

First, we find information in the question

  1. The sky is blue
  2. The blue is lighter on the horizon than straight up
  3. There is something in the horizon that makes the sky a lighter blue.

Our simple question has now been qualified to a certain distinction, i.e., the difference between the color blue on the horizon and above.

Standardized test questions will always bring in some type of qualifier that defines the scope and purpose of the question. The effective test-taker will identify that qualifier and sort the information in the question according to it.

Typical qualifiers are “determiner” words such as “most,” “more,” “some,” etc.  Sometimes it comes in a prepositional phrase, such as “during the summer months…”

Again, possible wrong answers frequently tempt the test taker into making an incorrect association with a word or idea in the question, especially the qualifiers. By identifying the question qualifiers, we are less likely fooled.

Regardless the form, effective Question Attack will identify the qualifier and discern its impact on the information provided in the question.

Questions as Answers to Other Questions

If questions contain information, then it is likely that information will be used or repeated elsewhere on the test. We won’t notice it, however, if we’re looking at questions as a challenge rather than as a source of information.

This approach is less useful in SAT and ACT tests in which the textual material is random, however, on subject tests, such as AP tests and SAT subject tests, there will always be redundant information. The effective test taker will be aware of how to apply information in one question to answer another.

On the math side, it works the same, as math questions are often different forms of similar concepts, especially in the use of theorems or equations.

On the SAT and ACT tests, careful readers of test questions will identify repetition of required skills and concepts.

For example, in the SAT Writing section, a commonly addressed skill is appropriate use of semicolons, colons, dashes, and commas.  While the textual source will be different, the same concept will be tested multiple times.

For example, from the College Board Official SAT Practice Test 2, we find two questions at opposite ends of the Writing section on use of these punctuation marks:

It took me by surprise, then, when my favorite exhibit at the museum was one of it’s tiniest; the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

Her goals were straightforward, however: reduce waste, maintain and perpetuate knowledge and skills, and strengthen community.

If we compare what these questions are measuring, it helps remind us of the grammatical rules at work. In both sentences, we find  dependent secondary clauses, i.e., they do not stand as full sentences, which requires subject + verb. Therefore we know we are working with a list or example to extend or explain the first clause.

Whereas the first sentence is more straightforward in that the second clause provides an example (a list of one) to support the first, by remembering that rule, we can see through the more complex second sentence, which also provides examples or a list to support the first clause, only confused by inclusion of the unnecessary adverb, “however.”

Now that I have identified the concept or skill being measured, i.e., what punctuation mark sets up a list, and seeing multiple examples of it, I can better select the correct answer, which in both cases is a colon (only without the “however” in the second).

Slow Down, Be Thoughtful, Identify Question Expectations

Question Attack prevents the test taker from jumping straight into the possible answers, a fundamental mistake I see often in students. The temptation is to get through the test, so taking the time to consider the question seems annoying or unnecessary. It may also seem wasteful of time.

Actually, Question Attack preserves time, because it clarifies question expectations before getting lost in the wrong possible answers, which then throws the test taker back into the question for clarification — and wasting time.

Question Attack develops awareness, context, and allows for better application of prior knowledge.

In a next post, I will address effective strategies for elimination, which can only be employed upon careful consideration of the question itself.

Attack that Question, and raise your scores!

– Michael

Do Smartphones make students dumb? Parents, how to teach your children to avoid distractions & use the cell phone off button

Tap, tap, text, text, click, click…  Are cell phones taking students from merely distracted to dum, dummer, dummest?

I suppose it depends on what “dumb” is.  If dumb means instant access to vast sources of information that don’t require memory recall to access, that’s hardly stupid. And if dumb means webs of instant connections for help, sharing, and getting things done, that ain’t so dumb, either.

BUT… dumb is as dumb does, so if these marvelous little devices are getting in the way of student productive academic outcomes, then we’ve got a problem. Continue reading

Time Travel pt 2: Navigating the Now & the Later

Procrastination is a disconnect between the NOW and the LATER. Overcoming the urge to procrastinate requires reconnecting with our own future. “Time Travel” can help bridge the NOW and the LATER.

In Time Travel part 1: Ben Franklin & Managing the Now old Ben gave us some great advice on the consequences of delay.  Ben was an incredibly productive man whose pursuits and accomplishments spanned science, literature, politics, and business.  Good for him.

But how can we mortals get a little piece of Ben in our lives? Continue reading

Time management is Time Travel, pt 1: Ben Franklin & Managing the Now

You may delay, but time will not.

– Ben Franklin

By “time management” we usually mean prioritizing, using time effectively, getting things done instead of putting them off.  Except that we all “manage” time — it’s a matter of how well. If done properly, the rewards are large — and costly if not.

Ben Franklin put it more succinctly:

Remember that time is money.

So let’s get a new, good start on this “time management” job of ours and break into its essential parts to see how well it can pay. Continue reading

Getting Gritty: can academic “grit” be taught or is it a personality type like John Wayne?

Do we all have an inner John Wayne, or is grit unique to the gritty few?

Is grit a product of circumstance that reveals it or do we need to bring grit to the scene? I’m thinking it’s a little of both, but it’s certain that some of us are “grittier” than others, and each of us in different ways.

Academics are newly concerned with “grit,” or “resilience,” as long term success requires the ability to get past challenges and set backs.  In fact, students who overcome failure and keep steady towards a long term goal are understood to be better prepared for higher level academics and life in general than students who never faced failure at all. Continue reading