Test Prep is Life Prep

I sometimes use the phrase, “Test Prep is Life Prep.” I say this because though the primary part of my job is teaching my students the material and tricks they need for SAT and ACT domination, there is a second, just as important job: coaching them through the mental / emotional / academic challenges they encounter in preparing for these tests. A word or two about that.

In the attached video, Bill Hader is explaining the audience reaction to one of his sketches on SNL. They didn’t get it, and they were angry about it. Many of my students come to me with the same kind of anger towards the SAT and ACT. They don’t get it, and they’re angry about it. My job is coaching them in transforming that anger into curiosity. We learn MUCH more quickly when we’re curious, and it’s a lot more fun.

One thing that often helps is to start by transforming their anger at the College Board (makers of the SAT) and ACT.inc (makers of the ACT) into empathy. They have an incredibly tough job. Here’s how I describe it:

Harvard comes to the SAT and ACT and says, “So check it out. We’ve got 40,000 applications and we can accept 2,000 of them. Most of them have 4.0 GPAs or above and plenty of extracurriculars – debate club, science club, scrabble club, saving cats trapped in trees club… We need some help. Any way you can take these 40,000 kids and spread them out on a spectrum based on some test that measures the basics – reading, writing, math, reasoning, etc? We promise not to use ONLY that score to decide who to accept, by the way. It would just help to have an additional measure.” And the SAT and ACT say, “We’re on the job.”

In that context, my students can see that even though it looks like the SAT and ACT are TRYING TO TRICK THEM, what they’re really doing is testing their reasoning abilities, how careful they are, and how much of the material that they’ve been taught they either remember or are willing to spend the time to re-learn.

I call that my “empathy for the SAT and ACT” lecture, and I deliver it almost every day to one student or another. I have no allegiance to the SAT and ACT – I don’t own stock or anything (they’re both nonprofits anyway), but it does usually help to see things in the broader context. Either that, or my students are just patient while listening to me lecture, in which case I’m teaching them patience – another important skill when it comes to the SAT and ACT!

Remember, 10% off all Test Prep packages when you enroll in January!

How the Online Whiteboard works for Skype sessions

I do almost all of my Test Prep over Skype these days using an online whiteboard. In the video below I show how I’d explain the following SAT Math problem:

“A company that makes behind the scenes videos on movie sets purchased new camera equipment for $39,000. The equipment depreciates in value at a constant rate for 15 years, after which it is considered to have no monetary value. How much is the camera equipment worth 5 years after it is purchased?”

A) $13,000
B) $19,500
C) $26,000
D) $36,400

Remember, 10% off all Test Prep packages when you enroll in January!

Stem-and-leaf Plots

Interesting little factoid about the Math sections of the SAT and ACT – they both love testing your understanding of obscure STATISTICS concepts. The accompanying picture is of a “stem-and-leaf plot” that was used in an ACT problem recently. How it works is the “stem” is the tens part of the numbers, and the “leaf” is the units or ones part. Here are the numbers from the stem-and-leaf plot in the picture, written in full:

37, 38, 43, 45, 46, 47, 52, 54, 55, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 70, 71, 72

Make sense? Now, though stem-and-leaf plots are a pretty handy way of writing and comparing data, teachers routinely skip the stem-and-leaf unit in their classes (I know I did when I was a Math teacher!) which obviously makes it tough for students to get the right answer to questions that have stem-and-leaf plots! That’s why students need Test Prep pros like me. 😉

How Cork can Increase Your Test Score

One of the most common reasons students miss questions in the SAT W & L section / ACT English section is that they don’t read far enough BEFORE or AFTER the indicated portion. Take a look at an example:

“There, during the boat’s successful journey on the Douro RIVER, IN THE COUNTRY OF PORTUGAL, Pollack’s dream was fully realized.”

Which of the following should go in place of the portion in ALL CAPS:
B. River, which is a river in Portugal,
C. River in Portugal,
D. River,

Now, If you ONLY look at this sentence, choices C and D look equally good (most of my students who get this one incorrect choose C.) However, look at the sentence in the context of the previous sentence:

“In 2002, the company that had donated thousands of corks to Pollack’s project sponsored the vessel’s launch in Portugal. There, during the boat’s successful journey on the Douro RIVER, IN THE COUNTRY OF PORTUGAL, Pollack’s dream was fully realized.”

See?! If you look at the previous sentence as well, you can see that choice C is wrong because it’s REDUNDANT. The author just told us we were in Portugal; it would be redundant to say it again. Choice D is, therefore, the correct answer because it’s the only choice that doesn’t repeat “Portugal.” See how RIDICULOUSLY EASY this problem is when you read just a little more?! That’s my job – making the test RIDICULOUSLY EASY for your kids!

By the way, the passages on the ACT and SAT are super interesting. This one is about a boat made fully out of used wine corks – an actual boat that this guy John Pollack built! I’ve included a photo of it.

Using The Semicolon

Today we have a tip for the SAT Writing & Language Section and the ACT English section.


The semicolon has a few uses, but the use that the SAT and ACT most often test for is it’s ability to separate two independent clauses (an independent clause is something that can stand alone as a sentence.)

Here’s an example:
Jane went to the beach; John went to the movies.

The SAT and ACT will often test you on this, so if you’re given the option of using a semicolon, make sure there’s an independent clause both before and after the semicolon!

Remember, every Test Prep package is 10% off in January!

Time to Think Test Prep

Just think – your student could be celebrating an amazing score on the ACT or SAT before Spring Break! Upcoming ACT and SAT test dates are February 8 and March 14 respectively. Now’s the perfect time to start prepping!

Roaring Improvement

One of my students just went from a 27 to a 34 on the ACT – the equivalent of going from a 1280 to 1500 on the SAT!!!

I have space for a few more clients – sign your kids up / tell your friends. I work almost exclusively online now, and I either have or have had students from all over the world: Hong Kong, Moscow, Puerto Rico, and all over the continental US. Thanks to everyone for spreading the word!