ISEE instructor Terri K. shows you how to find …
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On episode 130, Alexis Avila talks writing tutor Nived Ravikumar, AKA the Statement Guru. Nived took a pretty unusual path to essay educator extraordinaire. Born and raised in Southern California, he became obsessed with movies at a young age. In high school, he became so preoccupied with writing screenplays that he went on to major in Film Studies from UCal Santa Barbara and obtain a Masters from Chapman University (M.F.A in Film Production). Today Nived uses his creative writing talents to help thousands of students all over the world learn to tell unique, engaging college admissions narratives. Nived’s admissions statement philosophy? Tell a great story! Involve readers! Get them to care! On today’s episode Nived will give you his best tips for writing amazing, unique college admissions essays.
Nived’s 4 tips for writing college essays: 1. Don’t cram everything in it. 2. Create a dynamic title to act as your anchor throughout 3. Do a force retype, instead of superficial edits 4. Focus on the “hero’s journey” so don’t be afraid to show your flaws and how you were able to persevere and learn from mistakes.
Nived’s no no’s for writing essays: Don’t be redundant and don’t play it so safe!
Nived’s advice for teens? It’s great to have an idea of your long term goals but don’t be afraid to change your mind while in college and explore other possibilities. Be adaptive!
For another related conversation, check out podcast Episode #72 with Elly Swartz: How to start, write, and revise the college admissions essay
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Alexis talks to the Essay Adviser and author Elly Swartz. Elly is an experienced writer and author of dozens of articles for both The Journal of Legal Ethics at Georgetown University and for Teen Life Media, and has over a decade of experience helping hundreds of students gain acceptance to America’s best colleges, grad schools, and independent secondary schools. Elly received her B.A. with honors from Boston University and J.D. with honors from Georgetown University. Elly’s company The Essay Adviser helps students with the school application process, particularly focusing on the application essay. From brainstorming to editing to hitting send, Elly Swartz offers a custom-designed, personalized approach that best ensures your son or daughter will get into a top-tier school. On today’s episode, Elly talks gives you key tips on how to start, write, and revise a fantastic college admissions essay.
8 Takeaways from this podcast are:
What was your biggest takeaway from this article? Do you have any questions for Elly Swartz and Alexis Avila?
ACT Writing Instructor Terri of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you four tips to writing a high scoring persuasive ACT essay.
1. Before writing, spend some time planning your attack!
2. Present your case in the body paragraph.
3. Anticipate the reader’s doubts in the next body paragraph.
4. Come up with a clear, well-developed conclusion.
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About Prepped & Polished:
Prepped & Polished, LLC is a premier educational services company founded by educators in 1999. Our mission is to provide you with the highest-quality customized learning experience available. We will help you achieve top grades, higher test scores, and meet your academic and professional-related goals. Whether you are looking for in-person or online Tutoring and Test Preparation, we are here to help you succeed. Our caring, dynamic educators graduated from some of the most elite schools in the nation, including University of Michigan, Harvard, Brown, and MIT. They are ready to provide you with the strategies, tools and guidance necessary to ensure academic and professional success. Prepped & Polished proudly serves Boston and its surrounding areas including: Weston, Wellesley, Wayland, Sudbury, Dover, Needham, Belmont, Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Newton, Brookline, Sherborn, Carlisle, Boston
SSAT and ISEE Tutor Terri K. of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you six strategies and one bonus tip for the SSAT Creative Prompt in the SSAT Essay Section.
1. Prewrite your response.
2. Use a clear structure.
3. Decide what point of view and tense you will use.
4. Use effective imagery and vocabulary.
5. Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
BONUS TIP: Do NOT underestimate the power of your writing sample.
Full Word-for-Word Transcription
Tip Number 4: Your story should use effective vocabulary and good imagery.
Your goal is clear, lively writing that uses imagery, which is the 5
senses; figurative language like similes, metaphors, personification; and
well-chosen vocabulary that shows rather than tells. Use exciting verbs to
empower your writing. For example, ‘The pitiful defendant got on her knees
and asked for mercy.’ Substitute ‘asked’ for ‘pleaded for mercy’. Instead
of ‘Linda was scared’, you could write her, ‘Hands were clammy’, or ‘Her
body was quivering like a bowl of Jell-O’. Avoid ‘he said, she said’.
Reveal a character’s tone. ‘He asked contemptuously’, or you could say ‘She
snorted in amusement’. Check for overused words like ‘things’ and ‘stuff’.
Tip Number 5: Use effective grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
When you proofread, look for the two most common pitfalls which are
sentence fragments and run-on sentences. A sentence fragment is part of a
sentence that is punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. For example,
‘On that morning, I sat in my usual spot on the old wooden stool in the
corner of my mother’s kitchen.’ That fragment lacks a subject or verb. We
can correct that by saying, ‘On that morning, I sat in my usual spot, on
the old wooden stool in the corner of my mother’s kitchen.’ Run-on
sentences are two complete sentences that run together as if they are one.
If there’s two independent clauses in one sentence, you must make them into
two sentences separated with a period, joined with a comma and a
coordinating conjunction: And, but, or, nor, for, so, and yet, or connected
with a semicolon.
For example, here’s a run-on sentence: ‘Michael Jordan played for the
Chicago Bulls he was the team’s star player’; definitely a run-on sentence.
Here are 3 ways you could correct that: You could add a period and a
capital letter. You could put a comma and a coordinating conjunction ‘and’,
or a semicolon and have a lower case ‘H’. Then you would eliminate the
problem of a run-on sentence.
The best way to excel on the creative prompt is to read a wide selection of
materials to increase your vocabulary; this will enable you to select just
the right word whenever you need it. Reading your favorite authors empowers
you to improve your writing skills and develop your own writing style and
Here’s a bonus tip for you: Do not underestimate the power of your writing
sample. Schools use the writing sample as an indication of how well you
write under controlled conditions, to estimate your academic capability to
perform in an independent setting, and to compare your performance with
other applicants for admission or with your current academic record. Bottom
line, the essay is often used as the final judgment. I hope these tips
today will help you to write your best creative response on the SSAT. Good
Are you getting ready for the SSAT? Which of Terri’s creative prompt tips did you find most helpful?
Post your tips/comments below.
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“Last year our son had received B- grades on his essays and I knew he could do better. His teachers didn’t seem to help. After P&P, our son received an A three or four times for the remainder of the year in essays for English and History classes. I believe the sessions also improved his writing for his Finals!”
Adam S. Executive Functioning Coach and Study Skills Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to write an essay. He also teaches you how to write an outline and lists steps to writing a good paper.
Five keys to a good paper:
1. Break the paper down into its component pieces, title, intro, body, conclusion, and works cited
2. In the intro, set the scene, give us a hook, state your argument, and forecast your main claims
3. Create your body by introducing your claims, explain how these claims support your argument, and create a smooth transition
4. Write your conclusion, remind us of your best points and restate your thesis. Then discuss what’s the next step in this discussion.
5. List all the sources that you used in the course of writing this paper.
Hey, guys. Adam S. here; Prepped and Polished, South Natick, Massachusetts.
Last time we talked about backwards planning, big picture; how to look at a
big project and think about how to break it down and plan it backwards over
time. Today we’re going to really dive into a pretty common assignment that
a lot of kids struggle with: How to write an essay. For a lot of us when we
first get assigned a paper, we just have these memories of sitting and
looking at a blank piece of paper and a lot of frustrated hours spent
sitting in front of a computer just staring at an empty page. It doesn’t
have to be that way. The trick is to realize that, in a way, every paper
you’re ever going to write is the same but different. Let’s head over to
the whiteboard and I’ll show you what I mean.
Here we are, a scene that’s pretty familiar for most of us, just staring at
a blank piece of paper; no idea what to do, where to begin. How do we even
get started? The lesson that we learned last time is that sometimes it
helps if you can start at the end. What does the finished product look
like? You know a finished paper is going to have a few elements that every
paper you write is going to have. Let’s talk about what those are. First,
you’re going to have a title; every paper has a title, then there’s an
intro, a body, we have a conclusion, and then some works cited or
bibliography. Let’s break these component pieces down a little bit and talk
about what each one of them means.
This basic skeleton is going to hold true for pretty much every academic
paper that you’re ever going to write. Of course, the content will change
based on the topic, but the structure is going to pretty . . . relatively
constant. Let’s talk about what these pieces mean. First is your title;
that could be a page, it could be a header at the top of your paper. It’s
pretty simple. It gives the title of your paper, your name, date, maybe the
class title, and other pertinent information like that. The next thing that
your paper’s going to lead into is your introduction. Your introduction,
regardless of the topic, is always going to serve a similar function. There
are a few main points you always need to hit. The first thing you want your
intro to do is to set the scene. Tell me what you’re going to talk about.
Tell me where I am. Give me some context. Then you’re going to give us a
hook. Why should we read this paper? Why do I care? What’s interesting
about your take on this situation? Then you’re going to state your
argument; this is your thesis. Give me your topic. Then you’re going to
finish your intro by forecasting your main claims.
Every paper that you write is going to have maybe anywhere between 3 and 5,
depending on the length of the paper, main claims to really back up your
argument. Forecast what those are going to be. Remember, you want this to
be pretty concise and to the point. Any good paper is going to start strong
and finish strong, because people remember the first thing and the last
thing that they see.
After your introduction, you’re going to transition into your body
paragraphs. The body of your paper is where you’re going to discuss your
main claims. Each claim is generally going to get at least a paragraph,
maybe a couple of paragraphs, even a couple of pages depending on how long
the paper’s going to be. Each body paragraph should have a few things in
common. They should all start with a topic sentence; that’s where you
introduce the claim that you’re going to talk about. Then you want to
explain why that claim is important to this paper. How does it relate to
your thesis? How does it strengthen your argument? Then you want to give
support; this is where you would include quotations from sources that you
had read. If you’re writing about a specific book, this would be quotes
from the book. If it’s a research paper, these could be journal articles,
even websites. Then at the end you want to transition; you want to set the
stage for moving into your next body paragraph, a smooth transition for
introducing your next claim.
At the end of your body comes your conclusion. This is your chance to wrap
it all up. What do you want to do? Remember, you want to start strong, you
want to finish strong, so you got to make sure you have a strong
conclusion. First, you want to remind us of your best points. Hopefully,
your paper was structured such that you started with your smallest points
and closed with your biggest. You want to go small too big, and then remind
us of the best ones. Then restate your refined thesis. You gave us an
argument at the beginning of the paper. Did your opinion change? Did you
learn anything over the course of this discussion? Then tell us the next
step. What would a future paper about this topic be about? Are there any
unanswered questions? That’s how you want to close out your paper.
Then after your conclusion, your paper’s going to finish with some kind of
works-cited page or bibliography. Your teacher might have different
preferences about what format they want you to use, so make sure you check
about the rules regarding citations. There’s also a lot of great web
resources that make citing works really easy.
Now I want to take a second to talk about the importance of outlining.
Outlining is really important; it’s actually a huge time saver. It might
sound like more work up front, but if you outline well, writing the paper’s
the easy part. All you have to do is connect the dots. Now you know that
this is the basic skeleton of, really, any paper you’re ever going to have
to write. They’re all going to be different, but they’re also all going to
be kind of the same.
For example, let’s say we had to write a paper about our best vacation
ever. We’d have an intro. What’s the scene? My vacation. Where’d you go? I
went to Hawaii. Set the scene; tell me what Hawaii’s like. What’s the hook?
What happened in Hawaii? What’s really exciting? What’s your argument? My
argument is that this was the best vacation ever because . . . then
forecast your main claims. It was the best vacation ever because I surfed,
I learned something, I made a new friend. Then you go and talk about your
claims. Claim 1: I surfed. Claim 2L learned something. Fill in what you’re
going to talk about with details about each point. Then you have your
conclusion. Main points: Great vacation for these reasons. Refined thesis:
I learned that although this was a great vacation, it wasn’t as great for
the reasons that I thought it was. I learned something. My opinion changed.
Then give me the next step, what’s the next discussion about this argument?
Maybe next time this is the vacation I’d like to take in the future. You
plunk those points into this skeleton, and now all you have to do is sit
down and connect the dots and you have a paper.
How do you plan for a paper? What are the basic steps? We talked about the
skeleton and what goes into a paper. How do you break that up over the
course of a week or 2, or 3? There’s some important steps to writing a
paper. The first thing you have to do is research, if necessary, if you
need to research your topic before you write about it. Then you want to
write your outline. Then you want to write your first draft. Don’t hand in
your first draft. It’s really important that you take the time to
proofread, revise, and make edits. You want to give yourself enough time
before the paper’s due to be able to do that. You’ll have a much better
paper in the end. After the first draft, you want to make edits and revise
it as necessary. Then you have your final draft, including your works
All of this is going to take time. That’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 items. If we had 2
weeks to get this paper done, we’d want to backwards plan. Start at the due
date and count backwards. Say you have 10 days between now and then; that
means you can assign 2 days to each of these points. You have 2 days to
research, another couple of days to outline it, a couple of days to work on
your first draft, a couple of days of editing and revising, and then your
final draft is done, no sweat.
Those are the basic steps of writing a paper, a road map of how to get
there. Hopefully, now you can see how every paper is the same but
different. You never have to write your first paper again. If you can
remember this road map, you’ll always know where to begin, where you’re
going, and how you’re going to get there. See you next time.
What is your current process for writing an essay? Which of our essay tips did you find most useful?
By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
When applying to college, you’re likely to hear about “the importance of being well-rounded.” It seems to be common knowledge that colleges look for students who’ve shown interest not only in school work, but in other pursuits, like sports, theater, music, or volunteering. Y
The reasoning is clear. These endeavors challenge you in different ways than classwork does and help you develop sensibilities separate from those you can hone as a student. For my part, I know that four years on the high school cross-country, swim and track teams taught me that even the hardest workouts—the ones that exhausted me physically and taunted me, “you can’t finish!”—were doable; I felt more confident at critical moments, like job interviews, as a result. Hours of practicing the violin, meanwhile, slowly grew in me a reserve of patience developed nowhere else; that came in handy when big school research projects required my long commitment. And I remember my theater classmates, whose work on the stage translated to confidence in public speaking, which I greatly admired.
Colleges want bodies of students who reflect these qualities: determination, confidence, patience. So as you work hard in the classroom (which is indeed critical), remember that the work you are doing elsewhere—as a Scout, volunteer, or lacrosse player—is shaping you, too. Take a moment to reflect on the way in which these activities are impacting how you approach the world; could you sum it up in a sentence?
Deviating slightly, I heard an interesting discussion recently, with respect to what colleges seek as they evaluate student candidates. Though colleges want “well-rounded” classrooms, they do not want well-rounded applicants; that is, students who are “jacks-of-all trades” and masters of none. The advice stemming from this discussion was to focus on a specific extracurricular about which you are passionate in order to reflect your investment in it. (We often do this naturally anyway.)
But focusing on one area—putting all eggs in one basket—is still not the goal; rather, the remaining advice was to layer your passion in diverse ways that guide you toward a greater understanding of it. (For example, if your passion were water color, find a way to explore that interest in your local community, perhaps by leading a class at a local retirement home. Do you like to teach? If your passion were Spanish, get involved in translating websites for local businesses who require Spanish webpages. Do you enjoy applying your skills in the business world?)
Simply put, these kinds of effort in an area you love separate you from the next student.
As you work hard now, in high school, you are likely already taking steps to stand out. This is just another to consider; what’s great, too, is that it involves more deeply pursuing that which you enjoy.
And don’t worry; if you haven’t found your “passion” yet, pursue what you appreciate, whatever that may be. Your motivation for investing time in such activities will fall out naturally when it comes time to articulate who you are in a college admissions essays (or in the world beyond). And all the while, you’ll be cultivating aspects of your character that you will call on for the rest of your life!
Meagan Phelan holds an M.A. in Science Writing from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and a B.A. in Biology from Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. She has freelanced as a science writer and is a Fulbright Scholar. She currently works as a Senior Writer and Editor at AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe risk modeling firm based in Boston.
Is it more important for students to be well-rounded or to be a master of one craft? Do colleges look at both?
You are in high school; undoubtedly, you’ve got more papers to write than you’ll have ’til, well, college. Yup, you’ll be writing late into the night for many nights to come, exercising your writing muscle to its fullest potential.
How, then, to make it stronger? How can you ensure the writing you’ve got to do will be better than it’s been?
In my experience, great writers follow a few simple rules.
Great writers are great readers, too. If you find reading tedious or have trouble making time for it, don’t worry; reading is like distance running. The more you do it, the better you get at doing it efficiently, which often means you’ll like it more. Try setting your favorite online newspaper as your homepage on the internet. Make it a goal to read two articles a day; often times, topics in the news make great topics for papers you’re writing, or for important conversations you need to have during college interviews. Another way to incorporate reading into your daily schedule is to consider your nighttime routine; do you dabble on Facebook, or play games on your phone? Swap out your computer or phone for a book. Read a chapter a night before bed. (It’ll help you sleep!)
2) Put the strongest word at the end of the sentence.
(Which of the following sounds more powerful? The adopted girl realized she could not be at peace until she found her mom, the woman she was related to.The adopted girl realized she could not be at peace until she found her mom, the woman to whom she was related.) It may seem a subtle difference, but it goes a long way to make the meaning of your writing clear.
3) Delete “There is,” or “There are,” any chance you get.
These are filler words that can easily be replaced with a little editing. For example, try changing, “There is a lot to be done around the house today,” to “A lot remains to be done around the house.” Doing so means every word you write is valuable. Makes your writing pack more punch.
4) Ask for feedback.
The only kind of feedback that doesn’t make you a better writer is feedback that is dishonest. Teachers can provide good feedback; you don’t have to only solicit feedback from teachers though. You can submit an e-copy of something you’ve written for school to a local newspaper author (you can often find email contacts of these authors online). You can also submit your writing to teachers at your school that aren’t your teachers, but who focus on writing.
5) When describing complicated (or even simple but lengthy) processes, follow the AB-BC-CD method.
That is, make the last word of a sentence the first word (or concept) of the next sentence, and so on, until the description of the process is complete. Here’s an example: Everyone needs a widget. A widget works because the wire inside it is based on a complex architecture. The architecture allows the wire to perform varied tasks. The tasks the widget can perform include emitting light and absorbing moisture.
Did you find these writing tips helpful? Which tip did you like the most?
“I hired Alexis for my daughters for their college SAT’s and to polish up their essay writing. Alexis’s work with them was thorough and tailored to their needs. The program was terrific and Alexis was a compassionate professional, just what my high schoolers needed. They both were well prepared for their SATs and the essay part. Best of all, Alexis had them ready for these dreaded exams with the confidence and ability to achieve their goals, which they did. Thank you Alexis.”
By Grant Hanada, Tutoring and Test Preparation Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
You should know the essay on the SSAT test does not count toward your score at all. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it. In fact, you should put just as much preparation and effort into your essay as you would for any of the scored sections on the test. All of the schools in which you are applying to will have access to your essay and will most likely use it towards their decision in your admittance. Here are some great tips to help you write the best possible essay:
1. Come prepared
Some people are born gifted writers and can produce masterpieces on the first try, but for the rest of us, we need to go through many drafts to get it right. In order to write a great essay on the actual test, you should practice writing great essays beforehand. So instead of writing a first draft on the test day, you are really writing a well-practiced final draft.
2. Write a great introduction
Think about anything you have ever tried reading: literature books, news articles, magazines, comic books, an e-mail, the back of a book, or even a long facebook wall post. I bet you could tell in the first 2 lines whether or not it was going to be interesting. Maybe you didn’t even finish reading it. That is the same mentality your admission readers will have. Focus on saying something interesting and unique right from the start. Don’t just repeat the question that the prompt asks you. Be creative! Introduce a quote or ask a question to entice the reader to pay attention. Writing a catchy introduction will set the tone for the rest of your essay.
3. Prepare good, flexible examples ahead of time
Almost all the essay prompts are very general and vague. They often ask you to agree or disagree with a statement. Don’t sit on the fence, pick a side! Figure out which side you can write a better argument for. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe the side that you pick. It matters how well you can convey your points to the reader. Since the prompts are general, you can actually prepare ideas ahead of time. Make a list of important people, historical events, current events, or literature books that you know about. Try to choose subjects that are flexible and can viewed as both positive and negative. For instance, the value of the internet is a great subject. It can be talked about positively for all the information we get out of it or it can be viewed negatively when used in ways to hurt people. You can also write about a personal experience (even if you make something up), which is a great way to prove a point and add a personal touch. Having a pre-planned list of subjects will be an invaluable tool on the actual test.
4. Make clear connections
Now that you have come up with a bunch of potential subjects for your essay, practice connecting them to different prompts. It is important to do some research on your subjects and show that you know facts. Use important names and dates or significant events. After writing about the facts, it is just as important to say HOW they relate to the prompt. Be very clear in tying your subject back to the essay topic. Insert the same words that are stated in the prompt into your essay at the beginning and throughout each paragraph to really prove your point.
5. Organization and Neatness count
You should have 4-5 clearly defined paragraphs. You need to have 1 paragraph for the introduction and 1 paragraph for the conclusion. The body of your essay should be 2 or 3 paragraphs depending on how many subjects you decide to write about. Make sure you indent your paragraphs or leave a blank line between paragraphs to clearly show your organization. If you need to cross out a word, draw 1 straight line through the middle of the word. Even though you can’t lose points for not writing neatly, people can get slightly irritated when they have to struggle to read your essay. You don’t want to put your reader in a bad mood, so write as neatly as you can.
Grant Hanada has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology from UCLA, and is currently pursuing his Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University.
Did you find these SSAT Essay tips helpful? Which tip affected you the most?