Alexis Avila talks about how test preparation is …
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By Rosie Colosi, Essay Expert, Prepped & Polished, LLC
You brush past the curtain as you walk onstage, the floorboards creaking as your nervous feet propel you forward. You feel the heat of the spotlight as it hits your face. Your throat dries and your palms sweat as you prepare to sing. You open your mouth and…and…
If you are applying to a theater program, this scenario probably strikes excitement instead of fear in your heart. You yearn for a life upon the wicked stage and desperately hope to gain admission to a top-notch program that will equip you for a successful career in NY or LA.
But before you see your name in lights, you need to see your name on an acceptance letter.
You must go through the regular college application process, score well on your tests, and complete a performance audition. And of course, you must write an essay convincing the admissions committee that you are the next Kristin Chenoweth or Norbert Leo Butz.
Hate writing? No problem! Here’s the pot of gold at the end of Finian’s rainbow: The audition skills you have acquired on your theatrical journey will help you in your essay writing process. Read on…
1. Pick the right song
If you’re an alto, you wouldn’t sing “My White Knight” from Music Man for an audition. If you’re a tall leading man, you wouldn’t sing “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. You would choose a song that suits your voice, personality, and appearance. Do the same thing with your essay. Pick a topic that is important to you, that means something, that tells the reader who you are. You know how voice coaches are always telling you to “sing what you love”? Well, write what you love. It’s that simple.
2. Practice, practice, practice
You would never audition for a lead in the play after listening to your audition song once, right? You’d listen to the song, find the sheet music, sing it in your room, and maybe even rehearse in front of a coach or friend. Incorporate those good habits into your writing process. Don’t submit an essay you typed in a hurry one afternoon. Allow ample time to write, revise, edit, adjust…then share with a writing coach, a trusted friend, or a supportive teacher. Outside perspectives will help perfect your ideas.
3. Hit all the right notes
It’s every performer’s worst nightmare: prepping to sing a glorious, operatic high note…but a clunker comes out of your mouth instead. To prevent that, we aim to sing right in the center of the note, we set specific breathing patterns, count note values—and all of that’s even before we add emotion. Similarly, the mechanics of grammar, spelling, and sentence structure must be on point in your essay. Misspelling a word in your first sentence can be as detrimental as singing that clunker, so do your homework on your writing mechanics—don’t just rely on spell check.
4. Be confident
You might shout to the rooftops that you’re best singer that ever lived. Or you might downplay your talent to strangers. Find some middle ground between these two extremes. Your essay should tell your dream college that you’re pretty awesome, but bragging will rub the panel the wrong way. It’s a fine, fine line between Kate Monster and Lucy T. Slut (I’m not being crude; it’s an Avenue Q reference!), so balance confidence with humility.
5. Keep breathing
You can’t sing unless you breathe. And you certainly can’t write unless you breathe. The college application process can get hugely stressful and overwhelming, but hyperventilating never helped anyone. A little dose of butterflies in your stomach can be a good thing for performers, and you may get similarly excited and scared about college, but channel that energy into your work. Do a few breathing exercises from your voice lessons before you sit down to write. Seriously. Some extra lip trills never hurt anyone…and they might even help you write your way into Carnegie Mellon.
Rosie Colosi, college essay expert and creator of Write With Rosie, earned an M.A. in English Lit from Boston College and a B.A. in English Lit from SUNY Geneseo. She has written 12 nonfiction books for Scholastic Inc., and she has performed on stages from Alaska to Athens. Most recently, she played Mrs. Claus in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes in New York City.
Are you applying to theater schools? How is your theater program essay coming along?
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By Meagan Phelan, Writing Tutoring Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
Imagine you’ve made your college football team. Years of practice in high school and grueling summer training paid off, and you get the chance to play—even to start. When you step out onto the field though, you listen halfheartedly to the quarterback’s calls, sprint just enough to avoid breaking a sweat, and steer clear of tackles.
This may sound absurd. Who would work so hard to make a team, and then disengage, once on it?
But the truth is, getting accepted to college is much like making a team and it is not uncommon for students to apply the same unenergetic approach to learning, once in the classroom. Perhaps this is because the opposite approach—an intentional, intellectually curious one—also takes hard work and practice.
When you get to college, be it this fall or in a few years, you’ll have a chance to take as much from your experience as your discipline will allow—and to stand out from among your peers in the process.
One of the best ways to achieve this is to think actively about what you’re reading when you’re doing work for a particular class. Read it aloud, if that helps, or break up the reading by tackling half a chapter and then asking yourself, “Why should I care about what I just learned?” Or, “How does this information advance what I knew about the topic?”
Chances are, if you can articulate the importance or novelty of the topic you’re studying, you are grasping the bigger picture. And if you are grasping the bigger picture, all the little details—the anecdotes in the chapters you’re reading, or the ones your professor will bring up in the classroom—will “stick.” You’ll be able to recall them later because they support an idea that’s familiar to you.
This kind of engaged participation is particularly key in the classroom; while your classmates may be tempted to snooze after a late night in the library, or text, if you can be disciplined enough to focus on the professor’s lecture, you’ll make your life much easier—and stand out. (I’ve personally had professors approach me and acknowledge that my attentiveness was noticed and appreciated.)
The more engaged you are in the classroom, the less you’ll have to fret about studying. That’s because staying engaged is a sure way to know what material the professor’s most excited about, including some of the deeper, more nuanced points that are likely to be incorporated on a test.
While your college classmates try to answer questions with filler material when in a pinch, you will be positioned to answer test questions directly, and again, to incorporate the subtleties that attention to the lecture revealed.
It takes effort to sit up straight, to hang onto a professor’s (most) every word, and to avoid distractions, but the benefits are a better relationship with that professor, a better grasp of the material, and more efficient studying. Though it could take time, you will also achieve recognition by your classmates as a leader.
Being engaged doesn’t apply merely to homework, reading, classroom presence and test taking. Students who stand apart also pay special attention to the notes and feedback professors take the time to write on their papers and projects. It might seem like extra effort to keep those materials and to take the time—amid all else you have on the go during college—to “study” those pieces, but adding them to your study repertoire will help you identify your weak spots, to avoid them going forward. In this way, you can make progress without the professor having had to call you out on your repeat errors, a process which can be discouraging.
As you go through all this, remember the instruction that ties it all together, the glue in the engaged student’s skeleton: Ask questions when you don’t understand. Whether it’s a professor or a teaching assistant, or even an older student pursuing the same major, find someone you can sit with and pepper with questions. And stand ready to do the same for the younger students who will follow you. Not only is this process important for an engaged collegiate experience; it’s one you’ll see over and over again in every aspect—investing, home maintenance, parenthood—of 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. Meagan is the Science Press Package Director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
What other ways can you engage in college? Any other tips you’d like to share?
By Terri K., ISEE Test Prep Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
The ISEE has a Verbal Reasoning section that contains 20 sentence completions. These questions are designed to test a student’s vocabulary and reasoning ability. Each sentence completion item consists of a sentence with one missing word or pair of words followed by four potential answer choices. The student is the “detective” who must decipher the clues and select the correct word or pair of words that most appropriately completes the context of the sentence (keeping the sentence clear, logical, and consistent in style and tone). Sentence completion questions are arranged in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest. (Tip: Sentence completion questions come after synonym questions in the ISEE Verbal Reasoning section, but you can choose to do these questions first if you find them easier to answer).
Here are some tried and true tips and elimination strategies that will help you to more quickly attack and master the 20 sentence completions, since you only have approximately 30 seconds for each question:
1) A Strong Vocabulary: First and foremost, a strong vocabulary is an essential skill for the ISEE sentence completions. The best way to prepare and to strengthen vocabulary is to read all types of material as part of your daily routine. Take the time to look up unfamiliar words that you encounter and to make flashcards. Making connections with words helps to remember them (include definition, sentence, root, history, and even a picture, synonym or trigger word as a memory aide).
2) Look for Familiar Word Parts (Roots, Prefixes): Knowing roots of words is a great aid in figuring out correct answers. Again, looking up words in the dictionary and adding roots to your flashcards will make a huge difference. For example: the root MOR (or MORT or MORS) means death in Latin. Now, even if you do not know the definition, you can more confidently guess the meaning of words such as mortuary (dead bodies are kept in a mortuary), mortician (prepares dead bodies for a funeral), immortal (cannot die). Other common roots are sub (under as in subterranean or submarine), extra (beyond – as in extraterrestrial), terra (Earth – as in terrain), geo (earth, ground as in geology), mar (sea as in maritime), anima (spirit as in animated), mal (bad as in malevolent).
3) First Step – Read the sentence to get overall meaning; cover up answer choices until you find the clue(s) in the sentence: Mentally fill in the blank(s) with your own answer that makes sense. Then, find the answer choice that is closest in meaning to your own answer. You might be surprised to find the exact word that you had in mind. Select that as your answer. If the word you thought of is not a choice, look for a synonym of that word. Eliminate any that are definitely wrong; it is often easier to eliminate wrong answer choices than to pick the right choice. If you still have choices left, guess among the remaining possibilities. Sometimes it is enough to know that the blank requires a word that means something good (positive) or something bad (negative). Note: To assist you in finding the right answer among the answer choices, one-word answers are listed alphabetically and two-word answers are listed alphabetically by the first word.
Always ——-, the journalist actively questioned the relevant viewpoints on both sides of the issue.
When reading this sentence, you might recognize that the journalist is fair and unbiased. “Impartial” (choice C) is a synonym for fair.
4) Signal Words: There is almost always a word that obviously points to the correct answer. These signal words are clues that can aid you in figuring out what the sentence actually means.
– Support Signals – look for words/phrases that indicate that the blank continues a thought developed elsewhere in the sentence (examples: and, moreover, in addition, furthermore). A synonym or near-synonym should provide the correct answer. Example:
Mr. Jones is an intelligent and ——– teacher: his knowledge is matched only by his concern for his students.
(choice A) caring is the answer, a synonym for concern.
– Contrast Signals – look for words/phrases that indicate a contrast between one idea and another (examples: but, although, however, even though, despite)
Although much of the worst pollution has been ——- in the United States, traces of many toxic chemicals still ——-.
(A) discussed . . . escape
(B) eliminated . . . persist
(C) exaggerated . . . remain
(D) foreseen . . . arise
(choice B) is the correct answer. “Although” is the clue that indicates a contrast and signals you to look for words with opposite or different meanings (eliminated, persist).
– Cause and Effect Signals – look for words/phrases that show that one thing causes another (examples: because, since, for, therefore, as a result, due to, though).
Because Martha was naturally ——-, she would see the bright side of any situation, but Jack had a ——- personality and always waited for something bad to happen.
(choice C) is the correct answer. “Because” is the clue that indicates cause and effect. Note: The word “but” indicates a contrast between Martha and Jack’s personalities.
5) Take One Blank At A Time: Double-blank sentences can seem daunting, but they are actually easier because they supply more clues. After you read through the entire sentence for meaning, insert the first word of each answer pair in the sentence’s first blank. Does it make sense? If not, you can eliminate the entire pair. Next, check out the second word of each of the remaining answer pairs. Both words must make sense when used together.
The skydiver was ——- to survive after his parachute operated ——-.
(choice D) is the correct answer. It is the only choice where both words make sense.
6) Eliminating/Guessing: Even if you can’t eliminate any choices, you should guess. There is no guessing penalty on the ISEE. Never leave a question blank. Of course, eliminate before you guess using the strategies that you have learned. On sentence completions, you are looking for the best answer, so use the clues that must be there, in order for the question to have one answer that is better than the others. If you only have a minute left and you are not yet done, fill in all remaining sentence completions.
Summary – 6-step strategic plan to answer sentence completion questions:
– Read the sentence to get the overall meaning.
– Look for clue words that show how sentence parts are related.
– Use the clue words to anticipate the answer based on the relationship indicated.
– Read the answer choices and select the best one.
– Check your answer by reading the sentence with your answer choice in place.
– If you still cannot determine the best answer, eliminate answer choices that clearly do not make sense. Then guess from among the remaining answer choices.
Which level of the ISEE are you getting ready for? Did you find these tips helpful?
Terri graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Connecticut, with a dual degree in Education and English. She has 15 years of teaching and tutoring experience as a licensed teacher (Grades 5-12). Terri works with students from elementary school through college, and serves as an incredible resource when it comes to preparing for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, MCAS). em>
By Steve R., AP US History and SAT Subject Test Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
The AP United States History exam is a challenging one, and it can be intimidating to study for. Here are five tips to help you figure out where to start, and to help you put things in perspective as you try to tackle this test.
The exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions (for which you have 55 minutes to complete) and a free-response section. This section consists of two essays (about 70 minutes to complete both) and a Document-Based Question, or DBQ (about 60 minutes to complete).
1. Focus on the 19th and 20th centuries
Over 80% of the multiple choice questions are likely to be on the period of 1790-1980. Only a few questions will deal with American history post-1980, and a chunk will deal with 1789 and before. If you’re prioritizing your study time, don’t expend too much energy on the colonial period.
2. Practice DBQs
The Document-Based Question will ask you to interpret 10-15 documents and answer a question based on your prior knowledge and those documents. Be sure to practice interpreting documents before you take the AP exam. Be sure that you’re an expert at determining the APPARTS of an historical document (APPARTS stands for Author, Place and time, Prior knowledge, Audience, Reason, The main idea, and Significance). Doing well on the DBQ will really bump up your score.
3. Don’t stress out about getting every multiple choice question right
Although doing very well on the multiple choice section will really benefit your score, having outstanding free response and DBQ essays will ensure an excellent score. The essays are graded on a scale from 1-9. These essays, especially the DBQ, are weighted heavily in your score. For instance, consider this: if you average a 7 on your essay questions, you can still receive a 5 on the AP exam if you answer only half of the multiple choice questions correctly (averaging a 7 is tough but doable). Do plenty of practice essays in preparing for the AP exam, and always think about how you would put what you’re studying into an essay.
4. Best prep books: Kaplan and Barron’s
As I mentioned in my post called Five SAT US History Insider Tips, the best test prep books for AP United States History are Kaplan and Barron’s. Just like for the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History, Kaplan’s study guide is comprehensive, and Barron’s is very readable. Both will be great for making PERSIA charts, which I explained in the previous post as well.
5. Answer every multiple choice question, even if you have no idea
Unlike on the SAT Subject Test in U.S. History, there is no penalty for wrong answers on the AP U.S. History exam. Even if you have absolutely no idea, mark an answer to each and every multiple choice question. There’s no down side to doing so, and who knows, you might guess right!
Steve R. holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, where he majored in History, African and Afro-American Studies, and Politics. He earned departmental honors in History, and his senior thesis, Black Jesus in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2011. He currently works at Brandeis University in Development and Alumni Relations, where he helps to run many of the University’s Annual Giving programs. Steve has experience tutoring AP, SAT, ACT, United States history, and writing, and he has helped students with their college admissions essays. –
Are you taking the AP US History Subject Test? Any questions or additional tips you’d like to share?
Josh Ochs of Media Leaders interviews Alexis Avila Founder of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts. Alexis list his favorite seven tips for teens preparing for the SAT Test.
Tip 1: Take Advantage of Free SAT Material on the Web
Tip 2: Buy the Official College Board Study Guide
Tip 3: Understand the SAT Format
Tip 4: Don’t spend too much time on Sentence Completions
Tip 5: Skip around a little on the math fill-in section
Tip 6: Wake up early Saturday morning for two months
Tip 7: If you get stumped, circle the question, then move on
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Full Word-for-Word Transcription
Josh: Hello and welcome to Media Leaders. In this video we want to
show you seven SAT tips for teens. I’m honored to have Alexis Avila, the
founder of Prepped and Polished with me today, Alexis welcome to the call.
Alexis: Thanks for having me Josh.
Josh: Well it’s an honor to have you here. Let’s jump right in to the
good stuff, you’re going to walk us through seven tips for people that are
taking their SAT. Can you tell us what you’re going to teach us?
Alexis: I’m going to teach you how to take advantage of free stuff so
you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for tutoring. I’m going to tell you
about buying a key book for SAT. Walk you a little bit through the SAT
format. Talk a little bit about sentence completion, just some insider tips
on the math fill-ins. How to wake up early, you know really get primed and
ready. And also lay a cool strategy for an SAT.
Josh: Sweet. Walk us through the first one.
Alexis: All right. So SATs, you’ve got to take advantage of free stuff
out there, okay? There’s a lot of free stuff that you can study with. Khan
Academy.com, great videos to help you with problems that are found in the
old official college course study guide. CollegeBoard.org go to it
immediately, sign up for the question of the day, have it delivered to your
in box, SAT problem, free, again. Quizlet.com, you want to practice your
SAT vocab, you don’t have to buy books in the book store for that, go to
Quizlet.com, it’s all free. Free SAT vocab, practice and take quizzes.
Josh: Great resources. Walk us through the next tip?
Alexis: Okay. So you’ve got to buy the official college board study
guide whether you work with a tutor or independently. It has the most
realistic practice tests possible in this book, there’s ten of them. And I
recommend that you get through as many practice tests as possible. And make
sure that you time yourself when you take these practice tests. And if you
want to get explanations for the questions found in the SAT official
college board study guide, purchase Tutor Ted’s SAT Solution Manual, it’s
not perfect but it’s pretty much the only one out there, the only book out
there that actually has an explanation for each question found in the
official college board SAT study guide.
Josh: That’s super helpful. Walk us through the next one.
Alexis: Okay. Understand the SAT format, okay? This is what I do with
all my students to get them feeling confident and knowing what to expect.
First, section one and section ten are always the same section. Section
one, essays, section ten, short grammar writing section. The next level of
predictability is found in section eight, nine, and ten. Those are always
the shortened versions of the critical reading math, and like I said
section ten is also a short grammar writing section. Section two through
seven, not as much predictability but guaranteed in those sections your
going to find two critical reading long sections, 25 minutes, two math long
sections, 25 minutes, and one long, 25 minute, writing grammar section. And
then you’ll have one experimental section.
Also, know the nuances within each section, and learn how to pace for
them. So for example, the two long critical reading sections, one of those
long critical reading sections has eight sentence completions as opposed to
five sentence completions on the other one. So there’s a different kind of
pacing structure that you should learn. So that’s what I have to say about
the SAT format. I could go on forever about it.
Josh: That’s good to know. Take us on to the next one.
Alexis: Okay. Get to the critical reading. So don’t spend too much time
on those sentence completion questions folk. Why? It’s simple, it’s math,
there’s 19 sentence completions versus 48 reading comprehension questions.
If you get complacent and smug, and take your sweet old time doing those 19
sentence completion questions you’re going to have five minutes left to do
all that reading. You don’t want to be in that pickle. So trust your gut,
study your vocab, get through those sentence completion questions
relatively fast so you can have ample time to do the reading questions.
Scan the questions first when you at the critical reading, scan the
questions first, mark up the passage that answers the specific question on
the fly as you’re reading, it’s like an open book test. And the at the very
end, answer all the general questions, answer those last. It will make
sense because you can only answer general questions once you have the full
scope of the passage.
Josh: Wow, that’s really helpful. Walk us through the next one?
Alexis: All right. We’ll skip around, here’s a little insider technique
for you. Skip around on the maths fill in, the long 25 minute math fill in
section, where you have eight multiple choices and then ten fill-ins after.
Why? Because on the SAT you want to answer all the easy immediate questions
before you tackle the hard ones. Well the order of difficulty goes from
easy to hard, from one to eight multiple choice, and then they get easy
again. So I recommend that you do the first five or six multiple choice
questions, just take a quick glance at number seven and eight multiple
choice which are the hard ones, and if they’re too hard just circle them
and go right to those easy fill-ins, take care of those, and at the very
end go back to those last two multiple choice questions.
Josh: I love it. That’s really helpful. Very counter intuitive. Walk
us through the next tip?
Alexis: Yep. Okay. Well this is kind of like another tip, I really
believe that kids have to develop a routine going into the SAT. So I
recommend you wake up early for at least two months before, each Saturday
leading up to the test. Up to two months before that. The key is to build
your confidence. It’s to build a consistent study program if you want to
get your confidence going up. So you want to wake up early for two months
so you get used to doing SAT problems early in the morning. Again, now
while you’re waking up Saturday, I want you to eat a good healthy breakfast
devoid of fatty foods. Find a quiet study area free of distractions. Have a
nice stop watch so you can pace yourself. And waking up early means go to
bed early too.
Josh: So smart, very true. Walk us through the next tip?
Alexis: Okay. Stumped? Circle the question. The tip is basically this,
the SAT is a marathon, it’s not a sprint, which basically means that you
want to keep moving at a nice steady pace, you don’t want to cram and
agonize over question number one. If you can’t answer it you circle that
question and you keep moving. If you spend more than a minute on a problem
it’s probably a good indicator that you’re kind of going about the problem
the wrong way. You circle that problem and then you keep moving to the next
question. Answer as many questions as you can, and then at the very end
with a fresh set of eyes you go back to the questions that you circled
along the way, tackle those, that’s the way to go.
Josh: That’s super helpful. well walk us through what you’ve taught
Alexis: Okay. well I basically taught you to take advantage of all the
free SAT material on the web, you know you don’t have to spend a gazillion
dollars on SAT preps, there’s a lot of free stuff out there. And if you do
spend a gazillion dollars on SAT prep, fine, but also take advantage of the
free stuff. Buy the official college board study guide, that is basically
the number one and number two key resource you can buy. Everyone uses it,
buy it. Understand the SAT format. I don’t know about you but I feel more
confident when I know what to expect going into game day. Understand the
SAT format. Don’t spend too much time on sentence completion questions,
because there’s more, the lion’s share of those questions in the critical
reading section are critical reading questions themselves. Skip around a
little in the math fill-in section. Take care of the easy and medium
questions first. And then wake up early Saturday morning for the next two
months leading into the test so you get accustomed to what it’s like to
work your brain with multiple choice questions early in the morning. And
finally, if you get stumped circle the question and keep on moving, the
test is a marathon not a sprint.
Josh: Wow this has been really helpful. Alexis, thank you so much for
joining us today.
Alexis: My pleasure Josh. I’m humbled. Thank you very much.
Josh: Thank you. And those of you that are watching this video, click
the links below this video and in the area below, and you can learn more
about Alexis and his company Prepped and Polished. Thank you everybody for
being a part of Media Leaders. Have a great day, and as always, keep it
light, bright, and polite.
Are you preparing for the SAT? Which tip do you find most helpful?
Post your tips/comments below.
By Terri K., SSAT Essay Writing Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
The SSAT includes a writing section which may be administered either before or after the multiple-choice sections of the test. Students are presented with a choice of two prompts (one essay, one creative) from which the student will choose one. You will have 25 minutes to plan and complete your writing sample which can be up to two pages.
Your essay is not scored by SSAT. Instead, a copy is sent to each of the schools that receive your score report. However, do not underestimate the power of your writing sample. Schools use your writing sample as an indication of how well you can write under controlled conditions, so approach the writing piece with this in mind. Schools use your scores to estimate your academic capability to perform in an independent school setting, to compare your performance with other applicants for admission, or with your current academic record. So, bottom line, the essay is often used as the final judgment.
Here are 10 tips to help you to be more successful on the writing portion of the SSAT:
Each essay question consists of a topic (short phrase, proverb, or question) and an assignment (usually to agree or disagree with the position taken). There is no right or wrong answer.
1) Stick to the topic: So many students go off on tangents instead of discussing the topic. Rephrase the question in your own words to make sure you understand what it is asking you. You may be creative in your approach, but you need to take a clear position and support that position with specific examples from your own experience, the experience of others, current events, literature, or history. Although you do not know the topic ahead of time, you can be prepared. Prior to the SSAT, think about meaningful personal experiences and observations, favorite literature, as well as current and historical events that interest you. Read some editorials – a great way to learn how good writers give opinions and provide examples. You will be relieved if you can apply some of this information on test day.
2) Have a plan for your essay: 25 minutes is not much time, so you need to budget your time in order to complete your essay. You will need to write more than a short paragraph. A great essay lacking a conclusion will not be viewed favorably. Contrary to what many students think, planning your essay makes the writing process easier, faster, and more organized. Allow 3-5 minutes to decide on your stance, brainstorm two to three examples that support your thesis, and make a brief outline for 3-5 paragraphs. You probably will not have time to write a 5-paragraph essay. Allow 15 minutes to write your essay as neatly and legibly as you can. Allow approximately 5 minutes to revise and proofread your essay.
3) Show – don’t tell: Rather than explaining why you believe a statement is true or not, use relevant examples that illustrate the point that you want to make. Preferably, use examples other than from your personal life. Reading the newspaper on a regular basis will give you material for good supporting examples for your essay while improving your vocabulary.
4) Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure: When you proofread, check for two of the most common errors: sentence fragments and run-on sentences.
Complete sentences have a subject and verb and make sense when standing alone. Example: On that morning I sat in my usual spot. On the old wooden stool in the corner of my grandmother’s kitchen (fragment-lacks subject and verb). Correct: On that morning I sat in my usual spot, on the old wooden stool in the corner of my grandmother’s kitchen.
When two independent clauses appear in one sentence (run-on), they must be joined with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), with a semicolon, or made into two sentences separated by a period. Avoid monotony by varying the rhythm and length of your sentences.
5) Word choice: Check for the overused words – “things” and “stuff”. Replace words that do not add quality to your essay with more detailed, advanced academic vocabulary. Use exciting verbs to empower your writing. Also, check for pronouns (him, her, they, it) that have no antecedent. This error makes an essay very confusing.
6) Legibility: Remember that people who are not familiar with your handwriting will read what you write. Try to write or print so that your writing is legible to those readers. Admissions officers read many essays, and if your writing is difficult to decipher, it may not be received as favorably. Edit carefully, just putting one line through a word or phrase that you revise.
1) Pre-write your essay: The creative essay prompt is open-ended. For example, the prompt “And then she came in the door…” could be the beginning of an essay about almost anything you choose. Your essay could be about a friend, sibling, teacher, mother, detective, etc. Other examples of creative prompts are:
– “He couldn’t believe they wanted his help…”
– “The silence was deafening…”
– “He was hanging on by a thread…”
Again, the possibilities are endless. Try writing a creative essay in advance that could be adaptable to a variety of prompts. Do some research on a favorite subject or think about an accomplishment that you would like an admissions officer to learn about you. Hopefully, you can adapt this idea to a creative prompt on test day.
2) Writing a story: If you use the creative prompt to write a story, start with some tension and immediacy (the unusual, the unexpected, an action or conflict) to grab the reader’s attention. A good story has a conflict, a climax (when the rising action of the story reaches its peak) and a resolution (conflict is resolved). In 25 minutes, it is difficult to provide a complete resolution, so you want to reveal that the characters are beginning to change or are starting to see things differently.
3) Words/Imagery: Your goal should be clear, lively writing that employs imagery and well-chosen vocabulary that shows rather than tells. For example, instead of writing that Linda was scared, you could write that her hands were clammy or that her body was quivering like a bowl of jello. Instead of writing that John asked the question nervously, you could write – “Where are you going?” John stammered, staring at his sneakers. Make it riveting! Avoid he said, she said. Reveal a character’s tone; for example, “….she snorted in amusement…” or “…he asked contemptuously…”
4) READ, READ, READ: The best way to improve writing skills for either prompt (essay, creative) is to consistently read a wide selection of materials: newspapers (especially editorials), all types of literature, magazines, etc. Reading increases your vocabulary so that you can use the right word just when you need it. Reading books by your favorite authors empowers you to improve your own writing by developing the language you need.
Is your student taking the SSAT? What was your favorite SSAT essay tip?
By Steve R., US History SAT Subject Test Instructor, Prepped & Polished, LLC
Preparing for the SAT Subject Test in United States history can be a bit daunting. There are so many details, dates, people, laws, and trends in American history that it’s almost impossible to know where to start.
There are 90 multiple choice questions on the Subject Test, and you have 60 minutes to answer them. Here are five tips to help you prioritize your preparation and master the Subject Test format so that you’ll be sure to maximize your score.
Here are five US History SAT Subject Test Tips:
1. Focus on American history since the Constitution
Though the subject matter covered by the United States History SAT Subject Test can go back as far as the Pre-Columbian period, about 80% of the questions will deal with American history since 1790. Specifically, 40% of the questions will come from the period of 1790-1899, and another 40% will come from 1899-present. Though you should thoroughly review pre-1790 material, set it as a low priority in your review.
2. Best prep books: Kaplan and Barron’s
The Kaplan test prep book for the U.S. History Subject Test is very detailed and comprehensive, and is great if you’re being exposed to the material for the first time. The Barron’s prep guide is a bit less comprehensive, but it’s much easier to read and flows very nicely. It’s perfect for someone who has already taken an AP United States history course and is looking to review.
3. PERSIA Charts help a lot with review
As you go through your review book, you should make a PERSIA chart for each unit. PERSIA stands for Politics, Economics, Religion, Society, Intellectual, and Artistic. As you read each chapter, place key terms into the appropriate section of the PERSIA chart. That way, you have a handy tool to review each chapter and concept, and everything is already in context of era and topic. Also, political and social history typically make up 55%-65% of the questions on the test, so focus on those areas of your PERSIA charts.
4. Don’t wait until the last minute to start test prep
Even if you’ve taken a rigorous AP U.S. History class, give yourself at least two months to prepare. The SAT Subject Test in U.S. History is very detail-oriented, and details you covered in class in October may not stick in your brain until May. Give yourself plenty of time to review each chapter and era carefully, make PERSIA charts, and review those a few times. Take plenty of practice tests to get your pacing techniques down. As a reminder, there are 90 multiple choice questions and you have 60 minutes to answer them. The best way to get faster is to practice, so make practice tests a big part of your preparation!
5. Only take educated guesses
If you’ve taken the SAT, you know that there is a penalty for wrong answers. The same applies to SAT Subject Tests. There are 5 answer choices for each question, and generally speaking, if you can eliminate 1 of them, you should take a guess. If you can eliminate 2 or 3, then definitely take a guess. If you have taken U.S. History in school, and you have prepared rigorously for the Subject Test, then you have at least been exposed to everything that is going to be on the test. You know more than you think you know, so don’t be afraid to take educated guesses!
Steve R. holds a B.A. from Brandeis University, where he majored in History, African and Afro-American Studies, and Politics. He earned departmental honors in History, and his senior thesis, Black Jesus in the Twentieth Century, was published in 2011. He currently works at Brandeis University in Development and Alumni Relations, where he helps to run many of the University’s Annual Giving programs. Steve has experience tutoring SAT, ACT, United States history, and writing, and he has helped students with their college admissions essays.
Have questions about the SAT US History Subject Test? Any other tips you’d like to share?
Alexis Avila Founder/President of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts brings aboard guest teacher Dabral of ACT Quantum to help students avoid a typical exponent mistake made on the ACT Math section.
To sign up for the ACT go to The Official ACT Site
To further strengthen your exponent rules, check out this video, Avoid These Four Common SAT Math Exponent Rule Mistakes
Alexis: Hi, everyone. Alexis Avila, of Prepped and Polished LLC., here at South Natick, Massachusetts. On the ACT math section, it’s easy to make careless mistakes if you’re not careful. My friend and special guest Dabral, from ACTQuantum.com, based in California, going to explain to you a typical problem students often miss on the ACT math section involving exponents. Dabral, take it away.
Dabral: So, here, I want to give you an example of a common type of exponent problem that shows up on the ACT and, sort of, the temptations that students have in terms of simplifying it. So, I’ll start with this first piece here, two X cubed to the power of four. And so, here, we are raising each of these components to the fourth power. So, this is equivalent to two to the four times X cubed to the fourth. And here, two to the four, that’s just 16 and, to understand this really means I’m going to multiply X cubed four times. And that is equivalent to having a set of 12 X’s. So, this is really the same as X to the twelfth, or in other words, so, we’re just adding the exponents.
So, the rule when you have – this is what’s called power of power – is that you multiply. So, this is X to the power of three times four, not X to the seven. Common mistake in terms of adding those. So, that expression is 16 times X to the 12. And, also, the rule that I used here where I distributed that exponent comes from if you have two numbers raised to the power of M. This is A to the power of M times B to the power of M. Because, really, this means that we have M of these expressions and collectively, that means, ’cause it’s multiplication, we can change the order. that we have MA’s and MB’s. So, that’s what we’re doing here. Now, if we look at the second piece of this is two X four to the third. That, again, we do the same thing. Two cubed times X four to the third. Now, that is eight. Then, again, we get, here in this case, X to the 12.
Now, if you go back to the original expression, it’s made of some of those two terms. So, we’re looking at 16 times X to the 12 plus eight times X to the 12. Now, again, here, a common temptation would be this is 24 times X to the 24. None of that applies. You can’t just add these exponents. In fact, a better way to think about this is to factor X to the 12 and then this becomes 24 times X to the 12. I think a common temptation for these types of exponent problems is if you’re given X to the ten plus X to the ten, that’s not X to the 20. Instead, think of factoring X to the ten, in this case, this would be just two times X to the ten. Or, another type of example, is X to the ten plus X to the eleventh. It’s best to handle it by factoring X to the ten. And you can’t really just add this and say this is equal to X to the 21. So watch out for those temptations.
And then, just to summarize, sort of, the operation we did here, is that we have X cubed to the four is same as X four to the third. So, here, really, it doesn’t matter where the exponent is. And this is equal to X to the 12, not equal to X to the seven. That’s the common one you want to watch out for. And to summarize here, this original expression we started is equivalent to 24 times X to the 12, which is answer choice D.
Alexis: Thank you, Dabral. That was really helpful. If you have any further questions, you can email me at Alexis@PreppedandPolished.com and also be sure to visit my friend Dabral’s site. Has wonderful explanations to ACT problems. That’s www.ACTQuantum.com. Good luck on your ACT test and I’ll talk to you soon.
Are you ready for the ACT Math Section? What exponent rules trip you up the most?
Alexis Avila Founder/President of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you how to avoid careless ACT Science mistakes.
Pace yourself well, read the ACT questions carefully, and re-arrange the tables if needed.
To sign up for the ACT go to the Official ACT Website
But this is not a fluctuating graph. This is a linear graph because if you start with the least amount of change of water temperature, it’s the potato at 2.7 degrees Celsius. And then you work your way to the egg, 5.6 Celsius and then to bread and then the cheese. So if you notice the output, the heat released for the smallest change in temperature is 3.2 kilojoules. So it’s like about right here. And then you go over to the egg, 5.6 degrees Celsius is the change in water temperature. It renders 6.7 kilojoules.
Then you go to the next food source, which is the bread at 8.3 degrees Celsius, and
it renders 10 kilojoules heat released. And then finally, the highest degree of water
temperature change is the cheese at 14.1 Celsius rendering 17 kilojoules of heat released.
You have to put the graph back into order from least to greatest change of water temperature and then see what the outcomes are. And clearly, this is a linear relationship between the two. Go with choice G.
So remember, guys. Half the battle to doing well on the ACT Science is pacing yourself well and reading the questions really carefully, rearranging the tables if needed. So I wish you good luck in your ACT test, and I will talk to you soon.
Are you ready for the ACT Science Section? What other questions or comments do you have about last minute ACT preparation?
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