Archive | July, 2012

Blue Book Explanation Guides

30 Jul

I’m happy to announce a new project I’ve undertaken for SAT Study Guide. This one is a response to frustration that I experienced myself while studying for the SAT in high school. It’s also a problem that has come up for many of my students while practicing problems for the SAT.

If you’ve ever worked out of the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Study Guide – or, the blue book – you have probably experienced this phenomenon. You complete a practice test, or a practice section, and you flip to the part that shows you the answers. You’re going along, happy to see that you’re getting a lot of them right, and then you come across one that you get wrong. You look at the problem again, and now you know what the answer is, so you think you should be able to figure out why that’s the right answer. 

Problem is, you can’t.

You might study that problem for 10 minutes or more, but you cannot for the life of you understand why the answer is what the blue book says it is. Maybe you even assume that they are giving you the wrong answer (they aren’t), or that it’s just a waste of time to keep trying to understand this one question (it isn’t). Either way, you eventually give up, and move on, and just chalk that problem up as something you might have to go without really understanding.

That’s where my new project comes in. Starting soon, I will be releasing Blue Book Explanation Guides for the second edition of the CollegeBoard’s Official SAT Study Guide.

Every problem, every section, every test.

Never again will you have to wonder why an answer is what the blue book says it is. Not only will these be a supplement to your practice of the SAT, I’m hoping that they will couple as instructional aides in helping you study for the SAT. My explanations will be clear and concise, and will go through each wrong answer to explain why it is wrong. For the math problems, I will show you the easiest way to work out that problem and reach the correct answer.

You’ll have no excuse for skipping a problem as something that you just aren’t going to be able to figure out. Lucky you, right?

SAT Study Timeline

27 Jul

For anyone who isn’t entirely sure where to start with studying for the SAT, how many problems to practice, or where to look for help, I’m currently creating a full-blown SAT Study Guide. It’s going to include:

  • day-to-day instruction on what topics to practice
  • homework assignments focusing on the lesson of the day
  • 2 week timeline for getting ready for the SAT

What’s more, this study timeline is going to be used in conjunction with my Critical Reading, Writing, and Math Guides. That doesn’t mean you have to purchase one or any of these guides to succeed on the test, but the timeline is going to follow the instruction I provide in these guides.

Speaking of the guides, I’m a little bit over halfway with my Critical Reading Guide. It’s already over 20 pages of information. It breaks down the Critical Reading Section into every possible type of question you might see on it, and includes practice questions, how-to videos, and homework assignments to boost your skills in each area. I’m hoping to have it released in no more than two weeks, which I think is pretty good timing for the October 6 SAT that’s creeping up. Keep checking in for it – there will be a special deal for it for those who buy it on its release date!

The Essay (Part 1)

25 Jul

I was among the first group of college applicants to take the “new” SAT – the one scored out of 2400 rather than 1600 – and by far, the biggest concern for me and all of my friends was this essay. Now we had to write an essay for this test? Wasn’t it already bad enough with just multiple choice? How are they even going to score an essay??

Well, like anything else on this big bad test, there is a pretty straightforward approach to cracking the essay. Yeah, it can be the scariest of sections, and yeah, it sorta sucks that you have to start with it right off the bat, but after reading this (long) post (and subsequent posts on the same topic), you’ll be a master of this section, too!

First, let’s understand how the essay the fits into the test. It falls under the Writing section of the test, and makes up 30% of your overall Writing score. The other 70% comes from your multiple-choice questions. Each essay is graded by 2 people, and they assign it a score of 1-6, making the highest possible score for your essay a 12. This post is going to give you a quick and dirty formula for scoring that 12.

The essay will always be the first section on the test, and it will always feature a short prompt followed by your actual “assignment.” I tend to skim over the prompt, and sometimes even ignore it completely, because the question that follows the “Assignment” heading is the important part. It usually asks a broad, open-ended questions, and the scorers are grading you based on your ability to take a stance on one side of the argument and defend it effectively. 

The essay often feels extremely rushed, but it’s important to take a minute or two to jot down 3 ideas for your paragraphs. Basically, you should try to construct a 5 paragraph essay – intro, example 1, example 2, example 3, and conclusion. Let’s break these down and take a look at each section.


Don’t make your introduction anything too glitzy or glamorous. If you can think of a cool hook to tie into your argument, go for it, but if not, just get right down to the meat of the matter. Take a firm stance on one side of the argument. Your intro doesn’t need to be anything more than 3-4 sentences, but make sure you take a stance early so the scorers will know what you’re trying to say. End the intro with your thesis statement, in which you take your stance and briefly mention your 3 examples. It might look something like this:

(As/Unlike) the prompt states, (take your stance here), which is shown by examples such as (historical example’s relevance to my position), (literary example’s relevance to my position), and (personal story that relates to my position).

You want to mention your 3 examples, and well as give a really quick synopsis as to how it strengthens your argument. Don’t just say  that you’ll discuss World War II, say that the Allied Powers banding together during World War II demonstrates the importance of uniting for a common good (or whatever the prompt is asking about).

Now let’s look at your main body paragraphs.


It’s important to have 3 strong body paragraphs. This is where you will really develop your argument and relate it to your examples. There is no set rule as to where to draw your examples from, but I tend to recommend choosing 1 example from history, 1 example from a novel, and 1 example from my personal life or current events. Obviously, these are up to you and are subject to change depending on your argument and what areas you’re comfortable in, but I find that there are some examples which can pretty much be used for almost any prompt the SAT will throw at you for example. World War II, for instance, has so much depth to it that you are sure to find some aspect of it that you can tie in to your thesis. It might be wise to spend 30 minutes or so brushing up on WWII or other big events in history to have at your disposal. Other big history examples might be:

Revolutionary War/Civil War/WWI/WWII/Cold War/Vietnam War
Slavery in the US
JFK assassination

Anything you learned in history class is fair game. And it doesn’t just have to be US history – pick something you’re familiar with!

Next, I like to have an example from a book to have ready. Again, there are certain books which can pretty much speak to any theme or argument that the SAT might feature, and most of those books are classics, the kinds you might be reading in English class. Think of something you know well, and be as specific as possible to clearly state how the book relates to your argument. Don’t make anything up from the book, but if you feel like your argument might be a stretch, just be confident and go with it. The scorers care more about how you support your argument than how perfect your examples are.

Finally, I like to end with a personal example (the reason I go in this order is because I start with my strongest and end with my weakest example, which usually ends up being a personal story). I was a master of BS in school, so I had no trouble making up an event that related to my argument. In fact, it really doesn’t matter if you are making up your story, too, if that’s what easier for you. Again, make sure to tie it directly back to the prompt. I like to land on the side of being heavy-handed with relating my examples to my arguments – I feel like this is more effective than being subtle since a grader won’t spend more than 2-3 minutes reading your essay anyway.


This is usually the easiest part of your essay. It can be no more than a sentence or two that wraps up your argument, and essentially restates your thesis with a nice air of finality to it. Phrases like “in conclusion” and “as the above examples have illustrated”‘ can be peppered around as you see fit.

A Few Other Things…

  • Keep an eye on that time! Make sure you don’t get caught in the middle of your third paragraph or anything like that. That would be big points off! (Practice timing yourself to get a feel for how quickly you should be moving.)
  • Mix up your sentence starters (variation shows more skill as a writer, and since your scorer isn’t spending a ton of time with reading your essay, an easy way to show mastery of writing is to change how you start your sentences)
  • Length does matter. You might think it’s the best essay in the world, but if it doesn’t even touch the second page, you won’t get a good score. Get as close to filling the given space as possible, without spilling over.
  • Handwriting and grammar matter, too. Not a ton, but make it legible, and try to leave a minute or so to give your essay a once over to see if you made any glaring grammatical mistakes.

I think that about does it for now. I’ll have another post about the essay in the future, but for now, start practicing with the basic design I suggest. I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments section. Good luck!


Misplaced Modifiers

20 Jul

Misplaced modifiers are a trick the SAT throws at you at least 3 or 4 times on a test, generally in the improving sentences portion of the Writing Test. Basically, all a misplaced modifier is is a sentence which attributes action to the incorrect person or thing. 

Here’s a fairly morbid example:

Walking down the street, the bus hit the dog. 

Upon first glance, this sentence might seem to make sense – it’s talking about a bus hitting a dog on the street. However, because of the misplaced modifier, this sentence is technically saying that the bus was walking down the street, rather than the dog. Instead, the sentence should read:

Walking down the street, the dog was hit by the bus.

Occasionally, the SAT will do this with adverbs, as well. These tend to be a little trickier, but the same logic applies. Look here:

I almost watched the entire movie.

Again, this sentence might seem to make sense (and sounds like something we’d say all the time), but watch for the misplaced modifier! The word “almost” is supposed to be modifying the word “entire”, but instead, it’s currently modifying the word “watched.” A corrected version of this sentence would say:

I watched almost the entire movie.

Got it? Try this SAT test question to see for sure (taken straight from the College Board’s website):

Underestimating its value, breakfast is a meal many people skip.

  • (A) Underestimating its value, breakfast is a meal many people skip.
  • (B) Breakfast is skipped by many people because of their underestimating its value.
  • (C) Many people, underestimating the value of breakfast, and skipping it.
  • (D) Many people skip breakfast because they underestimate its value.
  • (E) A meal skipped by many people underestimating its value is breakfast.

Did you catch it? The original sentence is incorrect because it states that breakfast underestimates its own value. While I think that breakfast is capable of many things, it is certainly not capable of thinking for itself. Answer (D) is the only choice which eliminates this problem while not committing any other errors. (B) contains verb problems and that unnecessary and clunky “their” thrown in. (C) doesn’t need to have a verb ending in -ing, and (E) is worded in a less direct and passive way.