How to Start SAT Prep in 8th-10th Grade

Whenever students take the PSATs – whether it’s PSAT 8/9 taken as early as fall of 8th grade, or the traditional PSAT/NMSQT taken in October of junior year – the scores and tests are posted on the student’s College Board account within two months of the test. That’s a great study tool for the next step – the SATs. Or the ACTs. I strongly recommend all students review their PSAT results, going over the questions they got wrong using the online tools, redoing them and then looking at the correct answers and explanations. It’s good to do that before too much time goes by so it is still instructive and students remembers more of what they were thinking when they did the test originally.

Eighth grade and freshman year are early for formal test prep: Students have not yet been taught all of the math skills tested, particularly for the ACT. In reading and writing, the difficulty of the test passages and vocabulary is high for younger students. Nevertheless, students can and should begin to build skills specific to the tests. 

Here are 3 specific actions 8th -10th grade students can take to build a solid foundation for the SAT and ACT:

1) Add a daily regime of challenging periodical reading, starting with The New York Times or other sophisticated daily newspaper. (News aggregate newsletters are not recommended because it is important to build skills in sifting through the material and choosing for oneself.) 

– Read at least 10 minutes/day: short articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post are ideal.

– Read a sampling of the top stories and at least read the headlines – especially in those topics that are more difficult, e.g. politics. 

– Then read whatever topic in the paper interests you and also the opinion pieces (editorials, reviews of movies, etc). Movie reviews can be fun and easy for students to relate to if they’ve seen the films. This type of writing is very helpful in building vocabulary and rhetorical skills and comprehension.

2) Start a formal regimen of vocabulary-building, 1-2 new words/day. Many students find the free Visual Vocab CORE app a great way to start! Other excellent vocabulary building tools include the Sadlier Vocabulary Workshop series and SAT-level word lists at Majortests.com.

3) Use official CollegeBoard practice PSATs to build math skills, tackling only those topics that are within range of subjects you’ve learned in school. Rather than tackling an entire timed section in Math, do individual problems, reviewing the answers and explanations afterwards. Advanced students may want to purchase PWN the SAT Math text to get a head start on test math – and take advantage of the challenging quizzes offered to textbook owners. 

When should students begin their test prep in earnest? Summer between sophomore and junior year is the best time to do a formal course or tutoring program, continuing at a lesser pace or with a break during junior year, depending on when tests are scheduled. That is the time, as well, to choose between SAT and ACT. Much earlier than that, students really haven’t studied enough of the material that is on the tests for the comparison to be valid.

NYC Secondary School Prep and Admissions Workshop is March 9

Special announcement for New York City families about to embark on the middle school and high school admissions process:

I am producing and participating in a terrific roundtable workshop – just for parents – on New York City public and private school admissions. I’ve produced similar events for The Brown Club in previously, and they are always extremely popular and helpful. This year, we are doing it in workshop format rather than panel discussion in order to really maximize attendees’ opportunities to interact directly with the experts.

Please share this event with friends who might be interested. It is open to the public but all tickets must be purchased in advance – and they are going fast!

The Brown University Club presents a workshop with school answers for families:
“Getting in! Solving the NYC Middle and High School Admissions Puzzle”

Parents of NYC students: Applying out? Confused about competitive middle school or high school admissions? Perplexed by public versus private school priorities? Mystified by the matrix of mandatory tests?

Then do not miss The Brown University Club’s terrific workshop on Saturday morning, March 9. Our experts will share their best tips and and answer your questions personally, on the spot. This is an extraordinary opportunity to tap a range of top expertise and plan ahead so your child makes the right school fit. Our experts include the director of admissions of a top independent school, the head of the Parents League of NY, a top admissions coach and former admissions director, a former top DOE official who now advises on admissions, and a test prep guru!

Get tickets HERE now: This roundtable participatory workshop will sell out fast!

No, ACT and SAT grammar is not dead

With the redesign of the SAT in 2015, many students rejoiced at the prospect of a revised Writing test: no more grammar, they thought! Actually, their celebration was premature. There still is plenty of grammar in the SAT Writing test – up to one-half of all the questions test grammar rules directly. The remaining half test usage, idioms, vocabulary in context, organization and understanding of the text. Similarly, the ACT English section – which has not changed in over 20 years – tests plenty of grammar, usage and punctuation. So strong grammar skills are still required.

The good news is that the grammar, usage, punctuation skills and knowledge tested on both these exams is quite circumscribed and thus predictable. Students who master this material can devote more of their time and focus to the content and context questions, which often require careful analysis – analysis that those caught up in grammar dithering don’t have time for.

For a fun introduction to some common grammar rules tested on both these exams, check out my Grammar Bloopers. I’ve collected over 30 grammar errors from popular publications (whose editors should know better!) and assorted advertisements (that get away with it because they can). Click through to the end or jump to Blooper answers and explanations at any point. 

Master these, and you’ll smile knowingly when you encounter one of your new grammar facts on the test. But be forewarned: you are likely to become of one of those who sees the grammar errors where others do not. Have you found some of your own? Great! Email the links to me and I’ll add them to the collection!

Reminders for the night before the ACT

OK, students is it – ACT this weekend. I know you may be nervous, but don’t be: If you are a junior, this is early in the game and you can consider this test a practice test. Seniors, you’ve probably got some “keeper” scores for your composite and Saturday’s test gives you a chance to raise one or more of them. For everyone, it’s just win-win.

Juniors (and seniors who think you might take the test one more time): you should bring a notepad and as soon as the test is over, instead of rushing out of the hall, stop and jot down whatever you remember RIGHT AWAY. Once you leave the room or the building, it will be much harder to recall. Note any math topics that were new or hard, science questions that were surprising, reading passages that were difficult due to topic or style and whatever else you can think of.

* Did you guess on a lot of questions in the Math? What kinds of math questions gave you trouble?
* Did you run out of time on the Reading or Science – and if so, on which passage?
* Can you recall any vocabulary words that you were unsure of?

On the way home, continue to try to recollect what you missed and JOT THEM DOWN. This will be a real help in guiding your study for the next test, should you choose to retake it.

Your checklist to get ready for exam day:
– Review your techniques and the test format overall, but stop studying for this test by Friday afternoon or early evening, at the latest. No cramming!
– Collect all your test day essentials by late afternoon on Friday:
– a half dozen sharpened #2 pencils
– fat eraser to cover the answers in Reading section!
– calculator with fresh batteries and some backup new ones for your pocket just in case
– tasty, energizing and filling snack and beverage (Energy drink or other caffeine-containing drink ONLY if you usually drink it for school or study. Don’t try anything new on your body for test day.)
– ticket for the test, ID
– wristwatch for pacing!
– Get a good night’s sleep!  <– This is the single most important thing you can do to raise your scores!
– Set a couple of alarm clocks so you can’t possibly oversleep and won’t have to worry about doing so.
– Make sure you confirm – by looking at your ticket – where you will be taking the test, know how to get there and allow enough time in order to get there a half hour EARLY. If you are hoping to get a seat standby, definitely be early so you can be first in line.

In the morning:
– Eat breakfast, then take a few minutes to do one easy problem in each section of the test from a textbook – even a problem you’ve already done is ok, just to warm up before you go.
– Dress in layers in case it is too warm/cool in the test center.
– Pack tic-tacs (take them out of the noisy plastic case, put directly into your pocket), chewing gum or other surreptitious snack that you can pop discretely when your attention flags.

At the test center:
– Try to get a seat that has a minimum of distractors around it (other students on all four sides, windows, fishtank, etc)
– Don’t let others distract you even during break time. They’ll all be talking about how some question was hard, or whatever. Ignore them! You will be in YOUR ZONE, focussing on eating your snack, and psyching yourself forward – not reliving the past!

Remind yourself: You did great work preparing for your test and you are going to be rewarded with great scores and soon enough you’ll get to choose your next adventure – your college! (And know that wherever you go to college, your dedication to preparing for this exam will serve you well.)

Good luck this weekend!

Don’t confuse SAT “Student Answer Service” with “Question and Answer Service”

Here’s a sample of QAS, showing Reading section results.

The College Board offers two different post-SAT services that have confusingly similar names but are very different in value. Everyone should order QAS, but most students should NOT order SAS.

For students in the US and Canada, Question and Answer Service (QAS) is offered in October, March and May. It costs $18 and may be ordered from the College Board website at the time of test registration or within five months after your test date. Internationally, it is only offered in May. Student Answer Service (SAS) is offered worldwide for every administration of the SAT that does not offer QAS.

Until recently, both of these services were on paper and took up to eight weeks after the exam to be sent to students, often too late to be used as a study tool for the next SAT. Now, most students access these digitally through their College Board accounts and they may appear as soon as SAT scores are available, just three weeks after the test.

What’s the big difference between QAS and SAS? Question and Answer Service (QAS) is a tremendous resource, giving students access through their College Board account to a computer-based version of the entire test they took, showing a hyperlinked answer key with their answer choices noted, the correct answers and difficulty levels, types of question for each – just like the online PSAT review (minus the answer explanations). Students can – and should!– go back into the test pages to rethink and redo those questions they got wrong. Then click on “View Answer” to see if they got it this time and analyze their errors. This is a fantastic tool to learn from your actual tests, instead of just being handed a number. The QAS is so useful, that I recommend students plan their test schedule to include QAS dates whenever possible.

sample QAS for a Math question

The Student Answer Service (SAS), on the other hand, is almost laughably useless. It gives you everything that the QAS supplies – except the test questions! That’s right: just answer letters marked correct or incorrect. The only reason to order this is if you have located a pirated copy of the test, in which case you could cobble together your own makeshift QAS from knowing which questions you got wrong based on the SAS. It would only make  sense to order this if you have found a copy of that test after the exam.

I’ll be posting follow-up articles on how to leverage your QAS to best advantage and use QAS dates to guide your testing schedule. Be sure you subscribe in order to be notified when those articles are posted.

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Why apply Early Decision, Restrictive Early Action or Early Action?

Top colleges and universities are receiving a record volume of applications on a yearly basis. With a limited number of seats in each entering class, the consequence is an appallingly low admit rate. Take Cornell University – perceived as one of the easiest Ivies to get into. Just seven years ago, its admit rate was 16.2% and now it hovers at just over 10%. In that same period, Harvard’s admit rate went from 5.9% to a record low of 4.59%. If the trend holds true, the class of 2023 and beyond may face stiffer competition among the single-digit club of elite colleges and universities.

Applying early to a binding program such as Early Decision (ED), Restrictive Early Action (REA) or a non-binding Early Action (EA), is the best way to hedge your bet and increase your chance of getting into one of these illustrious schools. The advantage is HUGE! It’s a known fact that the admit rates are more generous in early admissions than regular, with some two to three times higher than the regular decision admit rate. For Harvard, the rate was even more extreme at 14.5% in EA yet only 2.43% in regular decision. What’s important to know is early admissions program are a tool for colleges to confidently admit those who qualify academically and have a profound love for the school. In the words of Dean Fitzsimmons of Harvard, ‘early admissions is the new normal’ in which Harvard over the past several years has offered admission to 950-960 students, well over 60% of their expected enrollment of 1500 first-year students. Harvard is not alone in leveraging its early admissions program. Princeton is expecting to enroll close to 1300 students for the class of 2022, with 800 admitted from their REA.

Clearly, an admit rate in regular decision of 3-5% is something you should avoid if at all possible. Applying early can increase your odds of acceptance very significantly. Remember, students with 4.0 GPAs and perfect SATs are in plentiful supply at these schools. Differentiating yourself through quality involvement in and outside of school, articulating your passion for learning and succeeding via the supplemental essays, and committing to your college choice in the early admissions process are key to defying the ridiculous odds of getting into an Ivy-Plus institution.

This guest post was written by Solomon Admissions Consulting, an international college admissions consulting company based in New York, which helps applicants apply to and be accepted by colleges, MBA and MD programs, and private schools.

NYC Public High School Admissions Success – FREE WEBINAR –

Are you a New York City parent, middle school student or counselor? Don’t miss this free presentation from NYC school admissions über-expert Maurice Frumkin on Wednesday, August 29, 2018, 7-8 pm.

NYC Public High School Admissions: Fall 2018 Keys to Success

Topics will include:

  •  Your summer is over – now what?
  •  Timeline:  What to expect and when, and how to keep track!
  •  Myths vs. reality
  •  Applying to specialized & selective high schools, and the SHSAT
  •  Practical next steps to put in place immediately
  •  Changes for this year
  •  Key resources you should be using
  •  Leveraging your school counselor
  •  How to avoid round 2 & appeals

   (content subject to change)

About Maurice:
Maurice Frumkin is President of NYC Admissions Solutions and former Deputy Executive Director of High School Admissions with the NYC Department of Education (DOE). Maurice has counseled hundreds of families on the HS admissions process, and while with the DOE he supervised the SHSAT administration and trained and supported dozens of school counselors throughout NYC on all aspects of the HS admissions process. Maurice is a frequent lecturer at schools and PTA meetings across the city.

Register at https://bit.ly/2KSf2HI    Capacity is limited – register now!

Bad PSAT scores? Here’s what to do

1) First, don’t despair! Go over your PSAT results in depth. Don’t focus on the scores; those are just your starting point. Go to the College Board website and follow the links to review your results in detail. That’s how you learn and improve!

Analyze your errors: Were you rushed? Did you lose focus? Were there math topics you haven’t learned yet? Was a reading passage too dense?

2) Plan your study time in order to make substantial score improvement – at least two hours of prep every week until your SAT. Once a month, take a full, timed practice test and then analyze your results, learning from your mistakes.

3) Take advantage of College Board and Khan Academy resources by registering for a free account on Khan Academy and linking it to your College Board account and test scores to get free personalized practice for the SAT.

4) Build your SAT power using great study tools. The Official SAT Study Guide from the College Board has sample SAT exams written by the writers of the real SAT – with full explanations for every question, both in the book and on the College Board website. For more practice tests, The Princeton Review, Kaplan and Applerouth offer good facsimile SATs. For Math, get the terrific PWN the SAT: Math. For a comprehensive list of the best study resources for both SAT and ACT, here‘s a full, annotated list.

5) Finally, there’s one more thing to do: Check out the ACT. You may find it a better fit. Download and print the official ACT practice test on the ACT website. Take the test under timed conditions in one sitting, using the bubble sheet, and without distractions. Compare your results and consider which test you can most improve upon – not just which score was better now.

Whichever test you choose to take, you can thank your bad PSAT scores for the wake-up call. Now is the time to start your test prep in earnest.

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6 Classic College Application Essay Errors

Admissionscheckup.com Stephanie Klein Wassink

December is college application season and although we all know you meant to get your essays done last summer, if you are like most seniors, you still have at least a few left to go.

I recently reached out to Stephanie Klein Wassink, Brown University grad and founder of AdmissionsCheckup.com, for her college essay tips. AdmissionsCheckup is a unique application review service that offers students a fresh eye for their applications and essays after the usual editing and review is done.

Here are a handful of Stephanie’s key cautions to keep in mind when writing and reviewing your essays:

1) Overusing the word I: There is no “I” in team….so overusing it simply comes across as arrogant. Vary your sentences, choose another topic or make sure you are attributing your success more broadly, beyond “I.”

2) Being Boring: Admissions officers can and do skim essays. If you had 2,000 applications to read, who would you prefer to admit? Someone who almost put you to sleep, someone who made you realize that you read the same paragraph seven times or someone who captivated and held your interest while showing you his experiences? Boring is an uphill battle and the kiss of death combined.

3) A Plethora of SAT Words: Consider the fact that your reader has not taken the SAT in the last 5 (or more) years. Keep the vocabulary accessible. Nothing bothers an admissions officer more than reading an essay that doesn’t sound like a 17-year-old wrote it.

4) Bragging: I once read an essay about a student who had seen five of the seven wonders of the world. Impressive right? No, not impressive at all. It said more about his parents’ bank account than his actual accomplishments. Bragging just doesn’t come off well.

5) Another School’s Name: This one is obvious, but happens more often than you think. Here is a trick I like to tell my students: before you submit your application, read your essay from the last word on the page forward to the first. It will make catching the wrong name much easier. It is also a good idea to wait a day or two before submitting, and read it again.

6) Regurgitating your Resume: The application provides a place for you to list and describe your activities. If you list them in your essays, you are wasting a valuable opportunity to show the admissions officer who you are. The whole point of the essay is to tell the admissions officer something they would not get by just reading your resume.

For more application tips from Stephanie and AdmissionsCheckup.com’s team of former admissions officers, visit her blog at admissionscheckup.com.

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My May SAT scores were bad – Help!

May SAT test results are in. Unfortunately, maybe you – like plenty of other students – woke up Thursday morning to disappointing news. Despite studying hard and doing better and better on your practice tests, you scored low on the real one. How could that happen?

The reality is that this test is a very long, stressful challenge and the experience of the real one is different from one taken at home, even under timed conditions. However, if you’ve made progress in bringing your scores up in home practice, you CAN translate that into real test improvement, too.

When you get the full 10-page SAT score report from the College Board, go over it in depth to analyze your weak areas. If you haven’t already ordered Question and Answer Service from the College Board for the May exam, do so right now. It costs $18 and takes 6-8 weeks to arrive, but it will provide you with a copy of the May exam, the answers, and your specific errors. It’s a tremendous study tool to help you work on optimizing your time, boning up on weaker math skills, honing reading comprehension, etc.

Now, summertime is here and you are free from the stresses and time constraints of other courses and tests and so you can really push your SAT skills. You can take the test again in August or October – even November (which is probably not too late for Early Decision, but call the admissions offices of any schools you are considering for ED to confirm.) For Regular Decision, even December is an option. Check out all the dates here – and remember to coordinate them with any SAT Subject Tests you need to schedule.

Or how about trying the ACT? About 10% of students do better on one test than the other. Maybe the ACT is the one for you. You can take the ACT in September and be done, too. Here’s the ACT calendar.

Having the luxury of multiple additional test dates to retake the SAT or switch to the ACT is just the start, though. If you want to raise your scores, retaking the test alone is not enough.

Plan on a serious, regular regimen of SAT or ACT study this summer, putting in 1-2 hrs of study time on a daily or near daily basis. If you can’t study all summer, make that 2-4 hours a day for at least three weeks, preferably a month. Treat test prep as a full-time course. (It certainly is more important to your admissions than any actual full year course you took in high school!) Make sure to take a full practice test once a week and review your results, analyzing your errors, redoing mistakes or questions you guessed on. The more comfortable you get with the timing and the stamina needed for a full, timed test taken in one sitting, the better you’re likely to do on the real one.