Tag Archives: SAT test

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

SAT Time!

scantron_MH900402266Is it really possible to improve your SAT or ACT scores?

If you’re like me and you spent good money on SAT prep classes for your child and you came away unsure about whether or not it was a good thing, know this: any preparation and practice for the SAT or ACT tests is a good thing.  But do those SAT prep classes and programs really help students get fundamentally better or do they only help them perform somewhat better on that exam day?

I’ve been asking everyone I can about what it takes to innately improve SAT scores, and those answers are guesses at best. Practice, practice, practice is the rule. Not very scientific. But neither is any other solution out there. The best we can tell, student improvement comes from more careful and more practiced reading of SAT / ACT questions themselves, and not just from vocabulary or math practice. That helps, of course. But without understanding the questions as fully as possible, without the most comprehension of the questions and the information conveyed, there is no improvement beyond just knowing the answer, which, of course, is memorization and not skill — and skill is what these tests are designed to measure.

At The A+ Club we call this “Question Attack.” In the work we have done with our SAT tutoring students, we have seen some nice gains in scores. Our tutors, either high-level college students or high school teachers, work with students to address their question comprehension. Doesn’t matter if it’s math or verbal — it’s understanding the question, getting information from it is crucial for better performance. Reading can be improved upon, so reading questions more strenuously is a matter of confidence, focus, and practice.

Reading!

To back up our view of reading, I just learned this weekend that students of Latin outperform students of other foreign languages on the SAT verbal tests, and that includes Spanish, French, German, Italian and Hebrew students. See here for The Latin Advantage. The reason for it is simple, in that Latin empowers word comprehension which then empowers holistic comprehension so that students understand more of each question and thereby avoid the tricks built in to the multiple choice format.

SAT questions operate by presenting five possible answers. Of these, generally, two are wholly wrong (although tricky about it), two are plausible in that the question text suggests or references them so that incomplete reading of the question can mislead, and only one is fully or precisely correct.  Try out this Critical Reading: an analysis of right and wrong answer choices discussion post.  Understanding that there is no single strategy or trick to scoring better on these exams, our point, fairly well addressed at this website, is that better scores will result from better reading of questions, including — and especially  — in math. I’m not a math person, and I scored higher in math than verbal. I never understood why until we recently began this investigation: my math scores were the result of careful reading of the questions and not a reflection of my math skills.

Spelling and More Latin

Just now the Wall Street Journal runs a book review of “Spell it Out” by David Crystal, a history of English spelling. It’s fascinating stuff, especially such things as the origin of the “h” in ghost and ghastly. It came from Flemish printers who were hired by the first important English publisher, William Caxton. The Flemish experts knew the printing press better than the English language, so they adjusted some words to look more like their own language, thus the “gh” in some words. They also spelled goose “ghoose, and goat “ghoat,” but those spellings didn’t take. Still, we’re stuck with “ghost.”

Elsewhere, the review of Crystal’s book explains how Latin comprehension helps make sense of English words:

Later, etymology played a part in spelling reform. Mr. Crystal paraphrases the Renaissance attitude: ‘If a word comes ultimately from Latin, let’s see if there’s anything in the Latin spelling that would help fix it in the English mind.’ This is why there is a b in debt and a p in
receipt. A knowledge of Latin helps with other English spellings. If you know that supercilium was the Latin for “eyebrow,” you will spell
supercilious with a c rather than an s at its heart. Admirable ends “-able” because it derives from the Latin admirare; audible ends “-ible” because it comes from audire.

Truly, it’s worth it to spend some time in that dead old, ancient Roman language.

Test Dates

Well, here come the tests, as per the charts below. To help you along, you may wish to take advantage of our 2-hour SAT tutoring special: 50% off for two hours with one of our high-level college student tutors. Normally $40/ hour, we’ll give you two hours for that amount so that you can try it out and see the power of attacking and comprehending questions.  Our college student tutors, by the way, are marvelous. They are caring, motivated, and want to help high school students succeed.

Let me know your thoughts and questions!

– Michael

SAT .S. registration dates and deadlines for 2013-14

Test Dates Test U.S. Registration Deadlines
(Expire at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, U.S.A.)
Regular Late (a fee applies)
October 5, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests September 6, 2013 September 20, 2013
November 2, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests October 3, 2013 October 18, 2013
December 7, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests November 8, 2013 November 22, 2013
January 25, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests December 27, 2013 January 10, 2014
March 8, 2014 SAT only February 7, 2014 February 21, 2014
May 3, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests April 4, 2014 April 18, 2014
June 7, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests May 9, 2014 May 23, 2014

ACT Test Dates in the U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada

Test Date Registration Deadline (Late Fee Required)
September 21, 2013 August 23, 2013 August 24–September 6, 2013
October 26, 2013 September 27, 2013 September 28–October 11, 2013
December 14, 2013 November 8, 2013 November 9–22, 2013
February 8, 2014* January 10, 2014 January 11–24, 2014
April 12, 2014 March 7, 2014 March 8–21, 2014
June 14, 2014 May 9, 2014 May 10–23, 2014