Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quick Update

Wow. I'm really sorry to anyone who was reading this blog on a somewhat regular basis. Let's just say that this semester has been a busy one (let's just say 30 hours of class a week plus extracurriculars doesn't leave a whole lot of time to post stuff on a blog).

However, I'll be off in a week for Thanksgiving break so I'm going to try and get some articles up. Also, In about a month Winter break starts, which means I'll have a month off to give some reflections on this semester (including some mistakes I've made - it's always about learned from the mistakes) and some suggestions for those of you who are in the midst of your college application process.

Again, I apologize for my extended absence. Several of my courses turned out to be more work than I had initially expected (not an excuse, I know). Hopefully some new material will be up within the next week or so.

Monday, September 17, 2007

More Articles Soon

I know I haven't posted in the last couple of days, but I just haven't found the time unfortunately. I'm hoping to get a few articles up this week, but I apologize for not being able to write anything for the last couple days.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Contact Me

My goal for this site is to provide people with information so that their whole college experience is less strenuous. I hope that the articles I am posting provide useful information, but if you have any specific questions feel free to contact me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

SAT Subject Tests (SAT II)

There is another aspect of the SATs that I have not talked about yet and that is the SAT Subject Tests (SAT II).

The subject tests are, as their name implies, a test of your aptitude in a specific area of study. The general areas are English (literature), History (U.S. and European), Mathematics (Level 1 and 2), Science (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), and Languages (Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, and Korean). For more description on each of these areas check here.

The format of the subject tests is a one hour multiple choice exam. Some of the tests have some other supplemental areas to them, such as listening sections for some of the language areas. You can sign up for a maximum 3 tests for one date, although if you can avoid it I would not suggest taking all three in one sitting.

Not all colleges require subject tests – in fact, many don’t. They are generally used as a supplement for the SAT so that colleges can get a better picture of all your abilities as a student. Some colleges will specify that you have to take specific subject tests while others will simply tell you to take at least one or two. You can also use them as a way to boost your academic credentials, especially if you did not do too well on one area of the SAT.

The tests that you decide to take should depend on two things: which ones your colleges require (if any) and which areas you feel you are most qualified in. For areas such as science or history the best time to take the subject tests is as soon after completing the course as possible. This is particularly true if you are taking an A.P. course in any of the aforementioned subject areas. Meaning, for example, if you are a junior who is taking A.P. U.S. history a good time to try and take the subject test on U.S. History would be sometime soon after taking your A.P. exam in May. I found that the SAT subject tests for the courses that I had completed as an A.P. student were much easier than the A.P. exam itself, so preparation for the A.P. exam is very good preparation for the SAT subject tests.

If you don’t have to take the subject tests, though, I would suggest against taking them unless you feel you can do particularly well in any of the subjects. If, for example, you are fluent in Chinese then by all means take the Chinese subject test because this will provide another dimension in your academic resume. However, if you are a 3rd year Spanish student who is getting by so-so in Spanish and who is not applying to any colleges that require SAT subject tests, then why take the test?

In summary, the SAT Subject Tests (SAT II) are just another tool that colleges use to assess you as a student. They’re not nearly as painful as the SAT, but if you can avoid them I would suggest doing so.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Receiving Your SAT Scores

I just want to talk quickly about receiving your SAT scores and what you should do after you have gotten them.

Receiving Your Scores

There are two ways that you will receive your SAT scores. Everyone is sent their scores by mail about a month after the completion of the test, so be on the lookout for them about a month after you take the test. The second way is online. If you have registered online with CollegeBoard you can view your scores about 20-25 days after you have taken the test. To get the exact dates that your scores will be released check here.

Contact Your Guidance Counselor

You should contact you guidance counselor after you have received your SAT scores to make sure that he/she has also received your scores. Normally this is done automatically, but there is no harm in making sure that it happened. This will be important when your guidance counselor is preparing your transcript and writing your letter of recommendation.

To Retake or Not To Retake

This is probably the biggest issue you will face after you have received your scores. If you received the scores that you wanted or the scores that you believe you need to get into the college(s) of your choice then there really is no need to retake the SATs. However, if you did not receive the scores you were looking for there is no harm in retaking the SATs. The only issue is that you will have to pay for them again. However, beyond that you will not be penalized for retaking the exam. In fact, typically you get better at taking the SATs every time. Also, colleges only look at your best scores, even if they were on different tests. So, for example, let’s say you got a 650 verbal but a 400 math on your first try, so you take the SATs again and get a 600 verbal but a 550 math. Your total SAT score will then be 1200 (not including the writing portion). In the end it comes down to what your situation is, but make sure you assess whether or not retaking the SATs would help your chances of getting into the colleges you are applying to before you make your decision on what to do.

Sending Out Your Scores

One of the things that you need to do is send your scores to the colleges that you are applying to. This is not something that you have to do until you have submitted your application, but I figured I’d mention it here. You can send your scores via CollegeBoard.com as another one of the services that they offer. This is important because most colleges require an official SAT report from College Board, so there is no reason not to do it through their site.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taking the SATs

You’ve done everything you can to prepare for the SATs, now it is time to take them. Knowing the material on the SATs, however, is not the only thing you can do to improve your scores. There are also strategies to taking it that you might find helpful.

There are some general rules that apply to all the multiple choice sections of the SATs. The questions are split into what the SATs consider to be easy, medium, and hard (you may have heard the term The Good, The Bad, The Ugly). The questions in each of the multiple choice sections begin easy and get progressively harder. Generally the last 10 questions are the most difficult part of each multiple choice section.

You want to get all (or at least almost all) of the easy and medium questions right. All the questions are weighted the same, so there is no reason to guess at the harder questions if you do not know the answer because you think that they might be worth more. They’re not. Remember, though, that the SATs are, in a certain sense, curved. If there is a question that 99% of the test takers in the country get right (or wrong) it is likely that this question will be removed. Therefore, you want to try the hard questions, especially if you think you can get them right.

Another thing about multiple choice questions is when you should guess and when you should not guess. A right and wrong answer are not worth the same thing on the SATs. A wrong answer in a multiple choice section takes away 1/4 of a point. Therefore, there are certain times when just randomly guessing is to your favor. Mathematically, it is worth it to guess if you can eliminate just 1 of the 4 choices in a question. (When I say mathematically I mean this: hypothetically you have 4 questions, none of which you know the answer to, but you can eliminate 1 choice in all 4 questions. Now you have 3/4 choices for each question. Therefore, odds dictate that you will get 1 right and 3 wrong. Since 1 right is worth 1 point and 3 wrong is worth -3/4 points, you gain 1/4 point over all.) However, personally I will never guess unless I can eliminate 2 choices. This is a personal preference, but I feel more comfortable guessing when I have a 50/50 chance. The thing on eliminate choices, though, is that you have to be absolutely sure that the choice you’re eliminating cannot be correct.

There are also a few specific things for each section that you should know:


In the reading comprehension part of the verbal make sure to pay attention to any words that they underline or italicize. Also, it would be a good idea as you’re reading to underline what you think is the most important sentence in each paragraph. This will help you later on when you have to answer questions. Also make notes of any other items that stick out (odd words, quotes, important ideas, etc.)


Part of the math section is comprised of grid-in questions where you have to write your answer in and then bubble in the corresponding numbers. Never leave these blank. You do not lose any points for incorrect answers on these, so always put something in. Hopefully you have more than just a wild guess, but even if it is just a wild guess write something in the blank.


Writing a good essay is not just about your ability to write. The way the essay writing portion goes is you will be given some type of prompt – many times it is a quote from someone famous or something like that – and you are asked to take a stance. What the SAT graders are looking for, besides your ability to write a good essay, is that you pull in outside resources. They want you to talk about things that are going on in the news, things that you’ve read in other books, quotes from other famous people, etc. They want you to show your ability to converse through writing. Make sure that your essay follows some of the conventions of a typical essay; meaning it has an intro and conclusion as well as body paragraphs that relate to whatever thesis you have decided on. You are not given a ton of time for the essay writing portion so collect your ideas and just start writing.

The most important thing about taking the SATs is to pace yourself, do not panic, and watch your time. I would suggest wearing your own watch, so you do not have to rely on the proctor telling you how much time is left. For the multiple choice sections make sure you answer as many questions as you can as quickly as you can. Don’t waste time on questions you have no idea how to solve. Don’t waste time on reading directions over and over again either. If you’ve taken the SATs or any practice SATs or the PSATs all the directions are the same – there is no need to waste time reading them again. Every second is precious, so don’t waste any.

If you don’t panic, though, and go through each section quickly but carefully and follow some of these tips I’ve outlined then you should do just fine.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Preparing for the SATs

The SATs are a painful, frustrating process that just about anyone who wants to go to college must endure. That is the unfortunate truth, so I can’t help you there. However, I can offer some advice on how to prepare for the SATs because if you prepare the whole experience will be much easier and much more rewarding in the long run.

One of the biggest problems with the SATs is the type of test that it is. SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. It is testing the skills that you should have developed during your time in school. Therefore, if you are coming on this page a week, a day, or the night before the SATs then really there isn’t much you can do besides get a good night sleep before the test. Beyond that, if you haven’t been preparing, then it really is too late. That’s the bad news; let us go on to some more positive information.

I’m hoping that you come on this page (along with this entire site) as a freshman so that you can make the preparation process into something more than just cramming the night before an exam. However, that is not to say that if you are a junior who will be taking the SATs in six months that you should just ignore this. Quite the contrary, there is still a lot that you can do.

I’m going to break this down into the three major sections that make up the SATs:


Vocab, Vocab, Vocab. This is what the verbal section of the SAT is all about. Although with the new version of the SATs the analogy section has been removed, this section of the SATs is still largely a test of how well of a vocabulary you have. Several sections are specifically geared towards knowing the definition and usage of vocabulary words, and the reading comprehension section is also partially based on being able to understand the vocabulary of the articles presented to you.

So what can you do? Well, there are tons of places to find SAT vocabulary words. SAT prep books usually have ready-made flashcards that you can pull out and use. The Internet is a great place to find lists and lists of vocabulary words. I just did a quick Google search and came with these sites:




Now that you have you list of words, though, you need to study them – every day. There is no way you can learn and remember the hundreds, even thousands, of words that you will be exposing yourself to. This is why I say you should start as early as possible. Let’s say you started when you were a freshman in high school, and you decide to learn 1 word a day, just 1 word. By your junior year you would have learned over 1000 new words. Will you remember them all? Probably not, but you’ll have a much bigger vocabulary than when you started. And you should be constantly refreshing yourself on the words that you’ve already learned – this includes using them in regular speech and in writing. The best way to look at this is that you aren’t just learning vocabulary for the SATs, you are also becoming a more articulate person, which will help you throughout your life.

Increasing your vocabulary is the easiest and most effective way to boost your SAT verbal score. You should also read as much as possible. This will help in two ways. One, you will be exposed to even more words. If you are reading something and come upon a word that you don’t know, look it up (yes I know every teacher you’ve ever had has told you to do this – maybe that is because there is a good reason that ever teacher you’ve ever had has told you to do this, though). Secondly, it will get you to start thinking about what the authors are truly saying. The other half of the SAT verbal is all about reading comprehension. It is about being able to read something and understand what the author is trying to say in that body of work. The only way you’re going to be good at this is if you practice, and by practice I mean to read – a lot.


The math section of the SAT is more about knowing what you can and can’t do, as well as knowing how to do what you can do as fast as possible. The SAT Math covers elementary math (adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, exponents, order of operations, etc.) through geometry, algebra, and some statistics. You might be thinking, “Well I’ve taken all those courses, I’m in calculus now, I’m way ahead.” The problem with the SAT Math is not the subject because these are the subject areas that you should have been exposed to by the time you will be taking the SATs. Rather, the problem is the level of detail and the level of understanding of the subject areas that the more difficult SAT questions require for you to answer them correctly.

Unfortunately the only way to prepare yourself for the SAT Math section is to practice, and practice, and then practice some more. This is where I found the SAT prep books to be the most helpful. Yes, the flash cards were nice for the verbal section, but the math problems that they provide along with the explained solutions that they provide are what I found to be the most useful area of the books. If you don’t have access to SAT prep books then go to your old math teachers, and ask to borrow a textbook. If your teacher doesn’t have any, find some way to get your hands on some of your old math textbooks or any other resource you might be able to think of that would provide you with math problems to work on. The Internet, again, is a great source for this. Another quick Google search yielded these sites:




As with the Verbal preparation, this is something you want to space out over long periods of time. Do a little bit every day, or a couple times a week. You do not need to kill yourself with problems every day; in fact, that is a worse way to study than spacing it out over a long period of time. The thing with the Math section is that many of the problems can be solved in many different ways. You need to be able to identify the fastest way to complete the problem. I’ll talk about this more in the Taking the SATs article (I’ll be posting that tomorrow), but if you come on a problem and after reading it are not sure what areas of math that problem covers as well as what strategies you should be using to solve it then you did not prepare well enough. That sounds a little harsh, and it really only applies if you are going for an 800 because otherwise answering every question is not necessary, but that is the basic idea.


The writing section is a new part of the SATs (I’m not sure exactly why it was added, but I’ve heard that it was added because certain colleges in the country were no longer going to accept the SATs as a valid aptitude test unless something like the writing section was added). It is split up into main pieces – writing a short essay and revising grammatical mistakes.

The essay writing portion of the test is probably one of the more difficult things to prepare for. I’ll talk about what exactly you should include in your essay tomorrow when I post about taking the SATs, but the actual preparation for the essay writing section is really based off of your grammatical and verbal abilities. If you can write succinctly and articulately then you shouldn’t have any trouble with the essay writing portion. If you can’t write well, though, the best way to learn is to improve your verbal and grammatical abilities.

The grammatical revision section is all about your abilities to spot grammatical mistakes (whether it be something as simple as there being a missing period to something more complicated such as sentence structure) and know how those mistakes should be corrected. As with all the other areas of preparation I’ve already mentioned, studying grammar rules should be done over a long period of time. If you’re taking English classes in high school you should be exposed to this to a certain extent, but more practice will probably be needed. The SAT prep books as well as sites online would probably be your best review sources.

Other Things

College Board.com – you really should familiarize yourself with this site. These are the people that give the SAT, so there really isn’t any more knowledgeable resource. They can provide you with other tips, as well as with resources such as SAT Prep courses and books. Also, I would suggest having them send you their “SAT Question of the Day.” Doing one of these a day gives you the daily practice that I’ve been emphasizing.

Prep-Courses – I personally have mixed feelings about these. There are a lot of SAT prep courses out there that promise to increase your score by X amount of points, but generally these courses are pretty expensive ($300+ for the more developed ones). If you feel that you really need a course to give you structure and to make you study, then by all means go right ahead. However, from my experience there is little in those courses that you cannot get by buying some prep books and reading articles online about preparing for and taking the SATs.

The Night Before – like I said at the top, the night before you take the SATs the only thing you want to do is get a good night’s sleep. Staying up late – whether to study or to go out and do other stuff – is only going to hurt you. So eat a good meal and go to bed early so you make sure you get those crucial 8 hours of sleep.

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