Should juniors take the old SAT?

July 19th, 2015

Karen Berlin Ishii top test prep tutor for ACT and SAT international online in New York City

In March 2016, a “redesigned” SAT will replace the “new” SAT that has been in place since its last redesign in 2004. Heralding the rollout of this exam, the “redesigned” PSAT will be offered in October 2015 to all sophomores and juniors. Many students are justifiably reticent to take the newest iteration of the SAT: It’s an unknown entity that no one has yet studied for, there are few test prep guides updated for it, college admissions officers have no experience interpreting its scores, and students don’t want to waste the prep they’ve already done for the current exam. Many students are considering taking the last administration of the current SAT in January 2016 as a junior – or even a sophomore – in order to avoid having to face the newer test.

For most of these students, however, it would be a mistake to try to take the last current SAT in January and plan to be done with it. Almost no one who takes the SAT at the beginning of second semester junior year is achieving his best score. And that score will be measured against the scores of seniors who will take the exam a half year later – after another semester and a summer’s worth of prep, as well as personal and academic growth. For the vast majority of students, January scores can’t compete. What should students do? For those who can’t bear to face the new SAT, the ACT is a reasonable option; that test is changing only a little in the essay section. And there are plenty of good study tools for the ACT.  The only students who should consider taking the January 2016 SAT as their final one are those who are likely to earn very high scores. For everyone else, check out my upcoming articles on the redesigned SAT on how to choose between that test and the ACT and how to prepare for whichever of the two you choose.


SAT Strategy Tips – including some secrets!

February 17th, 2015

Karen_Berlin_Ishii_SAT_prep_tutor_New_York_10.27.12Until a few years ago, the SAT was known as the “S.A.T.”, its letters standing for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” In 2004, however, the test makers removed the periods and officially declared that “SAT” doesn’t stand for anything – admitting that the SAT is not an aptitude or intelligence test: It’s just a test of how well you can take the SAT.

So what does it take to do well on the SAT? Intelligence is helpful, of course, but intelligence – even when paired with knowledge – is insufficient without strong test-taking skills and strategy. Here are some key tips for SAT success.

1. Do plenty of timed practice SAT exams. Take at least four full, timed SAT exams, each one in a single sitting, before you take the real SAT. Use real SATs from the “CollegeBoard Official Guide to the SAT” and take each one under test-like conditions using the bubble answer sheets, timing yourself precisely for each section. Then go over your results, thoughtfully analyzing your errors and adjusting your pacing for next time.

2. Plan to take the SAT in January of Lower Sixth year, treating it as a practice test. Take it again in May, ordering “Question and Answer Service” when you register. This will provide you with a copy of the exam test booklet along with your annotated answers, a great study tool for next time. Finally, take the SAT in October of Upper Sixth. Most universities will select your best score from each of the three test sections over the range of all the tests you take, so it is definitely in your best interest to take it again in the fall (especially if you’ve used the summer to study).

3. Remember that each question – whether easy or hard – is worth only one point. So spend more time on easy questions than hard ones, ensuring that you don’t lose points by rushing through the easy ones in order to make time for harder questions (which you are more likely to get wrong, even with more time, anyway).

4. In Math, be alert to the twist, that aspect of the question that you don’t expect. Maybe you are solving for x, but the answer requires you to use x to complete one more equation. Make note of whether the question asks for any integer or a positive integer, only. Watch out for questions which specify “must” versus “may”.

5. In Critical Reading Sentence Completions, remember that the questions go from easy to hard. Easy questions have easy answers and hard questions have hard answers, right? So if you are stuck between two choices in question #8 (the last one on the page, and thus definitely a hard question) choose the harder word – even if you don’t know what it means. That’s more likely to be right.

6. Resist the urge to automatically cross off answers that contain words you don’t know. Train yourself to put a little squiggle mark in front of those words and only deal with them once you’ve eliminated all the others you can.

7. For Writing multiple choice questions, don’t trust your ear to judge what sounds right; everyone has an ear! If that’s all it took to get a high score, everyone would score high. Instead, learn the rules of grammar that the SAT commonly tests and be on the lookout for errors in those areas. Learn to pair up the subject of a sentence with its verb. Know when to use “who” versus “whom.” Be alert to the difference between a comma and a semi-colon. And remember: The word “being” is almost always wrong.

8. Build vocabulary drills into your daily life, spending 5-10 minutes twice a day to learn and review new words. Carry a few paper flashcards with you to school or use an app for digital flashcards that you can bring up on your cellphone. Practice the words you learn, saying them in sentences, using them at home and in your schoolwork. Over the course of six months to a year, you can make a substantial difference in your word power that will help you on this test and far beyond.

9. On the SAT essay, choose your side and pound away at your point. Don’t equivocate; be bold and emphatic. Have two strong examples with lots of details that all support your point. Aim to write two full pages because a long essay is, by definition, a good essay. Throw in a bucket of those big words you’ve studied (especially near the beginning when the reader may still be reading, rather than skimming, your essay). Be descriptive, lively and interesting. If you can’t remember details, make them up, because facts do not count.

Use the SAT error “penalty” to leverage partial knowledge. If you can eliminate one answer choice, you should guess. Just don’t let a hard question steal time that you could be using to get other, easier questions right.

Enjoy preparing for your SAT! Treat it as a challenge: the math a puzzle, reading an opportunity to build word power and comprehension, writing multiple choice a game of “Where’s Wally?” and overall a chance to hone your skills in making thoughtful decisions fast. As you engage, you’ll find you start making real progress.

About the Author:

Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, is a New York City-based tutor with over 25 years’ test prep experience. Karen teaches students internationally via Skype for the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, GRE and TOEFL exams.

Learn more about Karen at or contact her directly at

This post was originally published by The US-UK Fulbright Commission for their newsletter. Find it here.


January SAT students: Don’t forget to order Question and Answer Service

January 5th, 2014
Looking back at your past test performance, you can see your progress!

Looking back at your past test performance, you can see your progress!

Juniors who are taking the SAT in January have the first opportunity of the year to order Question and Answer Service from the College Board. This service is only offered three times a year – January, May and October – and is a tremendous study aid. You are taking the test so early in the season because you intend to learn from your mistakes and do better when you retake the SAT in May and in the fall, right? That should be your plan. Any student who plans to take the SAT mid-junior year in order to be done with it is making a mistake. Think about it: How would you fare competing at this time of year against seniors in, say, English composition or math? Probably not so well – and for a good reason; they are a year older, wiser, more experienced, more mature (yes!), and better educated than you are.

Use that simple arithmetic to your advantage by leveraging this early season test experience to hone your test-taking skills and lower your stress in the real test environment. Think of the January SAT as a terrific practice test. If you order Question and Answer Service ($18 from the College Board) before your test date, you will get it the soonest, about 5-8 weeks after you take the test. You’ll get a fresh copy of the actual test you took (including all the possible essay questions) and an annotated copy of your answer sheet, comparable to the score report you received from the PSAT.

How can you best benefit from your Question and Answer Service results? Note the questions you got wrong and then retry them in the test booklet, without first verifying what your answer was before or what the correct answer is. You might have a clue what you chose before, but this still gives you the opportunity to rethink your answer. Then check the answer key to confirm. Do you find any trends in your errors? If you consistently make mistakes in author’s tone or vocabulary in context questions on Critical Reading, or Sentence Completion questions that are labelled Easy or Medium (1, 2 or 3 in difficulty out of 5), then bone up on the skills you need to effectively attack these kinds of questions. If you are missing idioms or run on sentences, review your grammar basics. In math, focus first on making fewer careless mistakes on the easy questions; easy answers are worth just as much as hard ones! Then address any weak math knowledge or technique areas. You should know all the formulas given at the front of the math sections by heart, for starters. Build your skills in areas you are found lacking using this great tool, and see your scores improve in May.


Upcoming events and resources for USA university-bound students in UK and Europe

September 14th, 2013

Karen Berlin Ishii, Jilly Warner

American high school students and their families are well aware of the many steps and challenges in the US college preparation and application process. For US students living abroad – and even more so for international students who don’t attend American schools – the process can be particularly difficult. In the UK, students typically don’t start their college process until senior year, while American students start their SAT or ACT studies and their college list and visits by the middle of their junior year or earlier. There are fewer opportunities abroad to take the SAT and many students haven’t even heard of the ACT. School systems in Europe rarely offer the array of extracurricular activities and community service that stateside students know are favored by American college admissions officers. Good SAT and ACT test preparation tutoring and textbooks can be hard to find, and European schools do not prepare students for the kinds of multiple choice questions and pointed essay skills demanded by these tests.

Fortunately, there are some great resources for students, if they do a little research. The Fulbright Commission is very active in London, offering free courses and seminars for students and their school advisors to educate them on the American college  process. In the fall, the Fulbright Commission in London presents its US College Days, a big 2-day fair to which dozens of US colleges and universities send their representatives, and independent college counselors and test preparation companies offer free advice. Students can talk with college admissions officers and shop for SAT tutoring or courses. For students In Paris, the AAWE, an association of American women living long-term in France, publishes a guidebook to higher education in France and abroad, a must-have book for American expatriate families in the country. The AAWE also sponsors the big CIS Paris College Day fair, this year on September 29 in Paris. The Fulbright Commission in Paris has information for students in both French and English. Visit their website here.

In London, FOCUS, “a community for expats by expats” offers resources and information. The September/October 2013 edition of their print magazine features an article on US college preparation, “Choosing an American University Education.” In September and October, several introductory presentations and workshops on SAT preparation and the US university process will be offered in London and Paris by College Goals Educational Consultants and Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Prep, including a presentation for students and parents, “Preparing for an American University Education” in both cities, and several SAT prep mini-courses and a Boot Camp intensive course in London during the October half-term. For families who cannot make it to Paris or London for these events, College Goals’ consultant Jilly Warner will be travelling to Geneva, Switzerland; and Karlsruhe, Germany, too. Families may contact College Goals for more information.

Here is the information about upcoming presentations in London and Paris:

Preparing for an American University Education
from and Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

SAT Sunday Mini-Course in London
from Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Sunday, September 29, 2013 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

from and Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Monday, September 30, 2013 at 7:00 PM  and Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM (GMT)
Paris, France

SAT Boot Camp London!
from Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM – Friday, November 1, 2013 at 5:00 PM (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

SAT Tutoring London 2013
from Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
September 22 – 29  and October 26 – November 3, 2013
London, United Kingdom



A great new workbook for college application essay writing

August 27th, 2013

Carol Barash's "Write Out Loud" workbook for the college app essays

College application essays are notoriously challenging. Students are advised to “be themselves,” write naturally, and show who they really are. Simultaneously, they must somehow make a unique impression, revealing magical personal qualities that render them special, shining assets to the college. Students struggle to describe their signature experiences – the big game they won, the big game they lost, their emotionally moving community service or the science fair prize. It’s a depressing project, indeed.

Write Out Loud,” a new guide to the college application essay, takes a very different approach – shaking up the equation, and in so doing, guide students to write terrific essays. The book is based on the “Story to College” essay writing workshop program created by author Carol Barash. Barash, a graduate of Yale and Princeton, had two seminal experiences in the evolution of her program: As faculty advisor at Rutgers University, she read and evaluated thousands of college applicants’ essays and came to know all too well the difference between the uninspiring average essay and the rare gem. She could also relate, however, to the middling efforts: As a high school student, she had been told that she wasn’t much of a writer, either. It was a challenge that she took on, discovering in the process what makes writing real, powerful and evocative. For the past few years, Barash has been sharing those lessons in her workshops and online in a Udemy course. Now it’s all in the book, too.

“Write Out Loud” is different from most college application essay how-to’s. For one thing, it’s big, like an old-school magazine: tall and wide. That’s because it’s a workbook designed for students to write in, advancing through exercises of introspection and discovery as they read. Unlike a typical essay collection organized by theme, this book puts students through a series of organized writing workouts that build skills, and more importantly, understanding. Instead of advising students to appeal to colleges’ supposed concepts of the ideal candidate, students are taught through the book’s activities to better understand what makes them special and what they themselves value. These often overlooked points are actually the keys to a true and moving essay and meaningful college choices.

The workbook guides students through the range of essays they have to write for their college applications, not just the big one. Barash emphasizes the importance of the shorter essays that many colleges include in their Common App supplements and how to prepare to answer them thoughtfully. The guide has short discussions of other aspects of the college process including financial aid, college visits, test taking and prep, interviews, and even a basic grammar guide.

For students who seek quick results, this guide provides strong tips which will open their eyes to the clichés and “scripts” they’ve likely been leaning on – and show how to go beyond them. For those who are serious about writing great college essays and willing to open up to the challenge, the book is likely to make a real difference in their college essays and teach them writing skills that will also serve them in college and beyond.


Applerouth’s awesome new ACT textbook

March 30th, 2013

applerouth_02Standing out with the irreverently snappy title, “Get Your ACT Together: The Fabulous Guide to the ACT,” Applerouth presents its first ACT textbook with a bang. The bright cover features bold colors and smiling Scooby Doo-like cartoon characters. Is it all just a little too cute? Maybe. Is the book any good? Surprisingly perhaps, but yes!

Now that the ACT has surpassed the SAT in absolute number of test takers as more and more states are using it as a graduation requirement or for other standardized assessments, it’s high time for the publication of more and better ACT study resources. Until now, students have been limited to the usual suspects – The Princeton Review, Kaplan and Barrons – and the test maker’s “The Real ACT Prep Guide.” Unlike the College Board’s “Official SAT Study Guide” with ten real tests for practice, the ACT people only offer five practice tests. Like the College Board though, the makers of the ACT offer no more than a few pages of instruction in their book, which means that serious students will have to supplement it with a real textbook to guide them in test-taking techniques.

Applerouth seems intent in blowing the roof off the staid and scary atmosphere that infuses most test prep guides. Staid because the material is dry and boring. Scary because, well, these tests count a lot in competitive college admissions. Applerouth’s textbook has BIG type, lots of silly cartoon illustrations, corny mnemonic tools to remember key points, and a lot of excess white space. For some, the approach may seem juvenile and the silliness may be off-putting. At its heart, however, is an excellent teaching tool.

The book is organized by test subject: English grammar and rhetorical skills, Math topics, Reading, Science and Essay. Each one consists of a comprehensive approach to the knowledge base needed for the test and, most importantly, techniques to approach the questions. In the reading section, for example, the text introduces “the Sparrow” with a large cartoon of a bird representing the simple, unflashy answer and how to spot it. In the very time-pressured Science section, Applerouth walks students through the techniques of putting your finger on the graph as you find it mentioned in the question, with question and passage texts highlighted and grayed out to demonstrate the reading and skimming process. It’s almost like having a tutor by your side to advise you. As a test prep tutor of many years’ experience, I was surprised and gratified to see that Applerouth uses many of my favorite techniques, too, and shows students very clearly how to approach the passages and the questions. There are helpful arrows and explanations to all the lesson questions, and smart reminders in the margins, comparable to Barrons’ and The Princeton Review’s, but much more fun, and thus, memorable.

The book has its flaws, too. For more advanced students, it is probably too basic. Students already scoring above 30 in Math or Science should check out The Princeton Review’s “Math and Science Workout for the ACT” or Barron’s “ACT Math and Science Workbook.” And unlike The Princeton Review, Applerouth does not offer explanations to the answers in the practice tests. Furthermore, this expensive book ($29.95 on Amazon, compared to $13.59 for The Princeton Review’s ACT textbook) has only two full practice tests, while The Princeton Review gives two in the textbook plus one extra online and Barron’s has three in the book, itself. As a first edition, there are quite a few typos and other annoying errors. Most egregiously, on its inside cover the book touts “A World of Online Support.” There is, however, no online support at all. Applerouth says they are planning all that, but the promised “more fabulous materials” do not exist; the link on the textbook cover leads to a page promoting their tutoring services. It amounts to shoddy, deceptive advertising and is a major failing of this publisher.

On balance, though, this is a fun textbook and for those who don’t mind spending a little more, a useful tool in ACT prep that will help most students raise their scores. I’m a convert: I’ve chucked my old favorite, The Princeton Review, and have now adopted this book as the new companion to “The Real ACT Prep Guide” for my ACT students in New York and around the world. So far, everyone likes it, finds the material engaging, and is picking up points as a result.


New watch aids pacing on the SAT and ACT

March 23rd, 2013


A boy, a test, a watch: That’s the combination that made for success on the ACT – and a deceptively simple business idea.

Students have always struggled with time management on the SAT and ACT, but amazingly – despite the vast variety of stopwatches and timers on the market – no one has made one that was silent and allowable for use on these tests. When high school student Jordan Liss took the ACT, though, he decided to change that.

“This has been my vision since I took the test three years ago,” says Jordan, now a student at the University of Michigan. “It’s always been about me knowing how to do it the right way. I knew how the watch had to be designed based on my own test prep, using the training I had, using the textbooks and my test experience.” Like most students, Jordan didn’t start out using a watch to pace himself. He used his cellphone as a timer when practicing at home, but at the test site, no cellphones are allowed. Students may or may not be able to see a clock on the wall, and the proctor won’t be giving detailed timing notices.

But pacing is critical on the exam. The science section of the ACT, for example, has seven passages with complex experiments, graphs, tables and text. Students are expected to digest the material and complete thirty-five questions in thirty-five minutes – that’s a brutally slim five minutes per passage, including bubbling in the answer sheet. For students caught on a difficult question in an early passage, time is up before they reach the later passages.

Testing Timers is the first and only timer acceptable for use on the real tests.

Testing Timers is the first – and so far only – timer acceptable for use on the official SAT and ACT tests.

Jordan’s watch, Testing Timers, is a terrific tool for SAT and ACT prep and invaluable on the exam, itself. With a dedicated model for the SAT and a separate one for the ACT, the watch allows students to choose the test section by name and length, start timing, pause if desired, and go back to regular watch at any time. One of the cooler features of the watch is a digital running stitch border around the digital time that indicates time remaining. For some sections of the test, it is divided by passage number, which is extremely helpful on the ACT, in particular, where speed is a major factor in the test’s difficulty. Jordan says he came up with the unique feature as he was at gym, working out. Describing the epiphany, he says, “I was on the elliptical, wondering how far I was on my workout, when I suddenly realized that’s exactly what I needed for my watch! That was the last thing I put in the watch when structuring the conceptual design.”

One point that Jordan emphasizes is that students should do their timed drills and practice tests using the watch; don’t save it for test day. Before bringing the product to market, he shared it with high school students studying for the ACT and “wasn’t too surprised to hear students talk about raising their scores.” He advises students, “If you practice with this watch and you raise your score, I’m not surprised. Don’t sit in the kitchen eating your dinner, watching TV, using your iPhone to time yourself. Practice like it is the real test; keep pace.”

The Testing Timer watch is a unique and very helpful tool for test preparation and at $40 it is reasonably priced. It’s simple to use and the manual is even on the website, always convenient for the wired generation. Check it out and see if it helps your pacing on the test.


College Board reports intriguing SAT trends

October 27th, 2012

Karen Berlin Ishii preps students in New York City and Internationally online via Skype. Karen teaches TOEFL, SAT and ACT Math, Reading, Verbal sections, Science, and the college application essay.

The College Board’s annual “SAT Report on College and Career Readiness” is interesting reading for teachers and other education professionals. It’s no surprise to find that the report praises the College Board (its author) for its test’s fairness to all students, generous charity in granting fee waivers to low-income students, and awesome validity in predicting college success. In between the self-laudatory puffery, though, some striking trends can be gleaned.

According to the report, among SAT takers in the class of 2012, 45 percent were minority students, the largest minority contingent ever, and a huge jump up from even recent years. This percent was almost the same for public as private schools, suggesting minorities are proportionately represented in all kinds of schooling in this country, a positive trend, on the face of it.

As the number of minority students taking the test has sharply risen, so has the percent of test takers for whom English was not exclusively their first language, now 28 percent. And a huge 36 percent of all SAT takers reported that their parents’ highest educational achievement was a high school diploma or lower.

So, clearly, more and more students from an ever-widening range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are taking the SAT, thereby indicating their goal of attending college. A generation ago, students’ horizons were much more likely to be defined by their parents’ highest academic achievements. Today, a high percent of students see college as the next step after high school.

Since the increase in student participation in the SAT – 1.66 million in the class of 2012 according to the CollegeBoard – reflects such a huge leap in diversity of background, one might wonder how that change might be reflected in the scores. With so many test takers coming from homes where resources for test prep are not easy to come by or English is not the first language spoken, wouldn’t the overall test scores show a decline? As noted by Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program, in a statement on the report, interpretation of this data really is a task for those with a “deep and abiding interest in psychometrics.” However, it is interesting to note that despite the rapidly evolving demographics of the test taking class, scores have remained relatively stable, with Math quite constant for at least the past five years. Critical Reading and Writing scores have dropped a few points, but still a shallow decline in the context of the vastly increasing range and number of students for whom this test is now accessibie and within real aspirations.

One statistic from the report does raise concern: the high percentage of students who did not achieve the “SAT Benchmark.” This benchmark, as explained on page 22 in the downloadable report, measures the probability of a student’s achieving a first year college GPA of B- or higher, based on the student’s SAT scores in high school. As documented in the report, there is a strong correlation between SAT success and college success (which college admissions officers must also believe is true since they rely heavily on these test scores in admissions decisions). Among the class of 2012, only 43 percent achieved the benchmark. So, it follows that over half the students did not do well in their freshman year of college, and that is presumably related to the statistics on page 10 of the same report, showing the much lower college retention rates of students with low SAT scores.

All these statistics and more in this report raise as many questions as they purport to answer, and some of the questions are big: Should so many students be taking the SAT and aiming for college? Are more students also preparing for careers that do not require college testing? Does the SAT measure the right aptitudes and achievements for the skills students need to be successful in college and beyond? What should be done to help and guide the students who are NOT achieving SAT Benchmark results in college – a majority of the test takers? These are big, controversial and thought-provoking questions, indeed. The first step to grappling with them is to study the data.


Basics plus logic equals SAT math success

September 9th, 2012
SAT prep, ACT tutoring, New York test prep, tutor New York, college test prep

Write in your test booklet to keep alert, avoid simple arithmetic errors, and help visualize the answers.

At first glance, the SAT math section may appear impenetrably mysterious: a blend of obscure and long-winded word problems bubbling in a stew of algebra and geometry, with the occasional question on permutations or other odd challenges bobbing to the surface. In reality, the math tested is quite basic; most of the actual math knowledge required to score high on this test is covered in the first semester of high school (or even middle school) algebra and geometry courses. Here are some tips for achieving top math scores on the SAT.

• Know algebra and arithmetic basics cold. Be able to quickly reduce fractions, move from fractions to decimals to percents, work accurately with positive and negative numbers, and simplify expressions with one and two variables.

• Memorize basic formulas. Yes, the test does have a row of formulas at the start of every math section – that should serve as a heads-up that you’ll indeed need to use them, not that you should flip back to that page each time you do. Knowing these formulas by heart means, too, that you will instinctively recognize which ones you need to use and be able to apply them without losing precious time or focus.

• Be nimble. Get good at using those formulas that you’ve memorized so you can switch from area to perimeter formulas for rectangles or circumference to area for circles. Many problems require more than one operation.

• Love brackets. It’s better to over-organize your order of operations than take shortcuts that might encourage you to make an error.

• Think radii. Geometry problems often can be cracked by recognizing that an additional radius can be drawn, a line whose length – and relation to a given radius – you already know.

• Think 180 degrees. Triangles, of course, come to mind, but also straight lines. If you see a straight line, you know the total number of degrees radiating from a point on it and can often use that knowledge as a key to the solution.

• Be a quick-change artist with exponents and radicals. Know how to manipulate exponents from negatives to fractions and be comfortable multiplying and raising exponents to exponents. When you encounter an equation with a radical on one side, square both sides to get rid of it.

• Bone up on question types you can count on appearing. These include word problems involving distance (typically one person travels at one speed while the other drives at a different speed to the same destination), ratios (bags of colored marbles, classrooms with variable numbers of boys versus girls), inequalities, number lines and averages (mean, median and mode: know one from the other).

• Remember that absolute value means both positive and negative. These questions can be tricky when in the form of an equation set between unequal signs. Review these.

• Be alert to the classic trick in rate and cost problems. Many start with a given amount (first day’s cost, first minute’s rate). Eliminate answer choices that do not start with that figure and also calculate the extended answer on the basis of n minus the first amount.


Strengthening your skills in these basic areas will yield points on the SAT. Do math sections in the College Board’s big blue book, checking your answers. For those you get wrong or take too long to solve, be sure to study the explanations. Find them in Tutor Ted’s SAT Solutions Manual or, for Tests 4-10, online at Khan Academy (see key to using Khan Academy SAT answers with this resource). For any areas in which you recognize a weakness, pick up help from Barron’s SAT Math Workbook or great online resources for math basics such as Purple Math or West Texas A&M University’s Virtual Math Lab.


10 dos and don’ts for college applications

July 8th, 2012

Good organization is crucial in the college application process!

College applications can quickly become an overwhelming task: so many details, unyielding deadlines, and so much at stake. Here are some key tips to enhance your applications and make the process go more smoothly.

1. Do check spelling, grammar, punctuation, dates – and have at least one teacher, counselor or parent go over it all, as well.

2. Do start out organized. Use a calendar or chart dedicated solely to your college applications and note due dates for all materials, letters, tests and any actions you must do. Check the calendar daily to plan, remind yourself of deadlines, check off completed tasks. Here‘s a checklist to print out and get started.

3. Don’t stop there. Keep a separate folder for each college and each essay. For the essays, rename every draft by adding a numeral to the file name so you keep track of changes. It is very helpful to review older drafts of an essay, as original ideas may get lost in the editing process. Keeping track of your drafts allows you to reconsider original ideas and find the happy medium between diamond-in-the-rough and overly polished cliché.

4. Don’t forget your online presence. Most importantly, clean up your Facebook page. Review which posts and images are viewable by whom. Ask friends to de-tag you from all photos which you would rather admissions officers not see. Get a mature, clearly identifiable email address for college correspondence (your_name or similar) then be sure to check it daily.

5. Do follow directions. If the essay is limited to 500 words, try to write about that much, but not a word over. While updates to the Common App may correct the problem of over-limit responses getting cut off, don’t take the risk. Admissions officers generally do not look kindly on candidates who cannot follow their directions, either.

6. Don’t send extra letters of recommendation or non-traditional application items (multimedia presentations, artwork, cookies, etc) unless you know that they will be welcome. Find that out by asking the admissions office directly.

7. Do keep records of all correspondence with the colleges and note names and dates of telephone contacts.

8. Don’t forget to ask for the business cards of your interviewer and tour guide, as well as any faculty you spend time with during your college visit. Send each a thoughtful, but short, thank you email. (A letter sent by snail mail is not necessary – post is so 20th century!)

9. Do take time to think about and write your application essays, starting your first drafts in the summer before application season. Give each essay ample attention. That means at least several drafts each.

10. Don’t neglect the short essays in which most colleges require you to sing their praises specifically. Do your research: Before you even visit the college or have an interview, find out what is special about that school and then leverage your interview and/or campus visit to learn more. Use that knowledge to write a smart, thoughtful reply that shows that you care and have a good reason to choose that college. Colleges want to admit students who understand and want them, too.

With organization and focus, you’ll gain control over the application process and be happier with the results. Once that last envelope is sealed and you’ve clicked “send” on the final application supplement, breathe a sign of relief. You can now enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve presented yourself to your best advantage and made the best choices for your goals.