7 skills you need to get an 800 on SAT writing

If you google “get an 800 on SAT writing,” you’ll probably come up with a couple dozen hits that make it seem as if getting a perfect score is merely a matter of learning a few simple rules. Now, if you have an outstanding ear and a solid basic knowledge of grammar, that could indeed be the case. But given that the average score for the Writing section (487) is actually lower than the average score for either Reading (497) or Math (513), that’s clearly not the norm....
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Will trumpet players get a leg up in Ivy League admissions?

From “Yale Students Campaign for All That Jazz:” [Yale University Director of Bands Thomas C. Duffy] said he had encountered a shortage of qualified trombone and trumpet students, a situation he observed at other Ivy League schools trying to muster a big band. While he offered to lend music to the collective as it tried to reconstitute the jazz ensemble, he said he would be “stunned” if they could sustain 17 top-flight section players throughout the year. Hmm… Tuba players have always been in short supply,...
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There is no “battle” between skills and knowledge

But claiming that there is apparently makes for a good headline. Knowledge and skills are intertwined; unless schools start acknowledging that critical thinking can only result from detailed content knowledge, conversations about what’s ailing American education will continue to be an exercise in nonsense. The fact that anyone can use the phrase “knowledge-based learning” in a non-ironic way creeps me out to no end. What’s next? Word-based reading? Number-based math? Language-based speech? I don’t believe Common Core is really going to change many things here. It’s a set of skills; it does not...
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Answer to yesterday’s question of the day

Imagine my surprise this morning when I went to post the answer to today’s question of the day and lo and behold discovered that I had somehow neglected to post the answer/explanation to yesterday’s question. Oops. So if you did my question about volcanoes and sightseers and couldn’t figure out why the explanation talked about octopi, I sincerely apologize for the confusion. (And if I do something like this again, please don’t hesitate to tell me.) If nothing else, I at least now have the...
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SAT/ACT grammar tip: no semicolon before “and” or “but”

Shortcut: semicolon + and/but = wrong  If you see an answer choice on either the SAT or the ACT with that construction, cross it out and move on. Why? Because a semicolon is grammatically identical to a period, and you shouldn’t start a sentence with “and” or “but.” The slightly longer explanation: In real life, semicolon use is a little more flexible, and the choice to use when can sometimes be more a matter of clarity/style than one of grammar. It is generally considered acceptable to place a semicolon...
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Don’t overlook the ACT

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, I’m often a tutor of last resort. That is, people find their way to me after they’ve exhausted other test-prep options (self-study, online program, private tutor) and still find themselves short of their goals. Sometimes very, very far short of their goals. When people come to me very late in the process, e.g. late spring of junior year or the summer before senior year, there’s unfortunately a limited amount that I can do. Most of it is triage at...
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Redesigned SAT answer keys are now available

In case you haven’t seen them, they can be downloaded https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/practice/full-length-practice-tests The basic formula for determining scaled scores is simple enough (count how many you got right, convert to a raw score, and multiple by 10); however, if I hadn’t witnessed some of the College Board’s recent antics, I sincerely would have thought that the subscore charts were some kind of parody. If want a definition for convoluted (assuming you’re taking the SAT before March 2016), this pretty much sums it up. Just looking at those charts gives me...
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