It’ s not you — it’s the test (or: if you don’t understand it, it probably doesn’t make sense)

Much as I’ve tried to cut back on tutoring to work on my seemingly endless SAT book revisions, I somehow haven’t been able to escape entirely. In fact, I somehow ended up with no fewer than five (!) students taking the ACT this Saturday. It’s therefore entirely unsurprising that I’ve had the same set of conversations repeatedly over the last couple of weeks. (It’s also entirely unsurprising that I can no longer remember which conversation I’ve had with whom and am therefore reduced to constantly asking the...
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The Critical Reader on MarketWatch: test prep on a budget ( more tutoring isn’t always better)

A couple of weeks ago, MarketWatch reporter Charles Passy contacted me about the process of doing SAT/ACT prep on a budget, and we had an impromptu and delightful conversation about the test-prep process and the changes it’s undergone over the last couple of decades. While I’m thrilled to see this site mentioned in his article as a source of free test prep, I also realize there wasn’t room for him to include much of what we discussed. Hence this post. (For the record, I know I’ve been away...
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If you keep getting down to two Critical Reading answers and always pick the wrong one…

Here are some things to consider: Are you going back to the passage after you get down to those two answers? If so, are you looking for key transitions/punctuation marks/ explanations, etc. or are you just aimlessly rereading without a clear idea of what you’re looking for? Do you ever start/stop reading halfway through a sentence? If so, make sure you back up to the beginning of the sentence or keep reading until the end; otherwise, you’re likely to miss important info. Do you confine...
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The devil is in the details

I usually try to avoid clichés. Really, I do. I honestly don’t recall whether I ever had a penchant for them, but any tendency toward employing them in my writing was thoroughly beaten out of my by my 10th grade English teacher, Mrs. Gutmann (who unfortunately, it must be said, failed to make much of an impression on me otherwise). That said, there are times when nothing but a cliché sums up a particular idea just right, the title of this post being a prime example (I...
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Using the introduction to get the big picture (cont’d from previous post)

A couple of days ago, I posted about how reading the blurb before the passage can in some cases allow you to quickly eliminate multiple answer choices to a question — even before you’ve read the passage(s). (If you haven’t read that post, you should consider doing so before you going any further). To refresh you, this blurb establishes that the Cold War is the topic of this Passage 1/Passage 2 pair: The term “Cold War” refers to a period of confrontation from about 1945...
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Why it is actually worth your time to read the blurb before the passage

If you’ve looked at any SAT prep books or taken a class, you’ve probably been advised to always read the blurb before the passage. As I was discussing with Debbie Stier yesterday, however, those couple of lines can seem like a throwaway. People keep on reading them because they know they should, but they don’t really know how to use the information they provide. Truth be told, I never thought all that hard about those little blurbs until recently, when I was explaining to someone...
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Just what makes vocabulary “arcane?”

Here’s one to add to the “critical thinking” lack-of-definition phenomenon. It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’ve been following the news of the SAT overhaul pretty closely; suffice it to say that I’ve read quite a few articles about it lately. In doing so, however, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon: virtually every article I’ve encountered has included the line that the new SAT will eliminate “arcane” words. The authors of these articles almost invariably use the word “arcane.” I’ve seen one...
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The knowledge deficit in action

Occasionally I’ll stumble across a passage that seems perfectly straightforward to me, but that I see students get confused about over and over again. One such passage begins in the following way: Through a friend’s father, Elizabeth found a job at a publishing company. Her parents were puzzled by this. The daughters of their friends were announcing their engagements in the Times, and those who joined the Peace Corps or had gone to graduate school were filed under the heading of “Useful Service” as if they...
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