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PSAT

PSAT scores vs. SAT scores

Complementary Creative Commons Casio Calculator by Boaz Arad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The new SAT debut is around the corner! On March 5th, the official test will be given for the first time. But it’ll seem awfully familiar to juniors who took the new PSAT/NMSQT in October. The SAT and PSAT/NMSQT are the two main tests in the “SAT Suite of Assessments”:

PSAT 8/9
PSAT 10
PSAT/NMSQT
SAT

Since the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT are practically the same test, and since PSAT/NMSQT is a rather unwieldy acronym, the rest of this article will just use “PSAT” to refer to both the PSAT 10 and the PSAT/NMSQT.

The SAT and PSAT tests are very similar in content and structure. The main differences are:

1. The SAT is slightly longer: 3 hours compared to 2 hours and 45 minutes for the PSAT.
2. The SAT has an optional essay, which will bring the total test time to 3 hours and 50 minutes.
3. The SAT is supposed to be slightly more difficult than the PSAT.
4. The SAT is on a 400-1600 scale, whereas the PSAT is on a 320-1520 scale.

That last one is pretty confusing, especially considering statements like this from the College Board website:

The redesigned SAT Suite uses a common score scale, providing consistent feedback across assessments to help educators and students monitor growth across grades and to identify areas in need of improvement.

How can the SAT and PSAT use a common score scale when the highest score on the SAT is a 1600 but on the PSAT it’s only 1520?

The answer, according to a College Board packet is that the tests are “vertically equated.”

If that’s a good enough explanation for you, maybe you should work for the College Board!

Here’s a better explanation. According to that same packet, the score you get on the PSAT is the score you would likely have gotten had you taken the SAT on the same day. For example, if you got a perfect score of 1520 on the PSAT, you would probably have gotten a (less than perfect) score of 1520 had you instead taken the SAT because the SAT is a little bit harder.

The reason the College Board does it this way is a little easier to understand when you consider the first test in the “Suite of Assessments,” the PSAT 8/9. This test will be given to 8th graders. Even the smartest kid in 8th grade probably hasn’t learned much about radians, for example. That kid might get a perfect score on his PSAT 8/9, but if he took the SAT, he’d probably miss that one question about radians and get a lower score. If the PSAT 8/9 was on the same 1600 point scale as the SAT, that kid might get his score report and say, “Only 1440 out of 1600? But I’m the smartest kid in 8th grade!” (As it happens, 1440 is a perfect score on the PSAT 8/9.)

Presumably the verbal questions also get progressively more difficult as we move from PSAT 8/9 to PSAT to SAT. However, the College Board hasn’t released a PSAT 8/9 to the public. Comparing the one PSAT they have released to the four SATs in the Official SAT Study Guide, I can’t tell a whole lot of difference, but presumably the College Board has assigned difficulty levels to questions based on focus groups (test students). Those extra 80 points on the SAT come from the extra questions that were too difficult for the PSAT.

If you really want to, you can read all about the SAT Suite of Assessments vertical score scale here.

PSAT

The PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index Demystified

 

With the October PSAT just around the corner, a lot of parents and students are asking, “What score do students need to get National Merit recognition and/or scholarships?”

Well, it’s a little complicated . . .

First of all, it’s impossible to know exactly what the cutoff is until after the scores are released because the top 3.33% of scorers are eligible for recognition, so the threshold score changes from year to year. Also, because the National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top students in every state, the threshold score varies from state to state.

In years past, students could get a pretty good idea what a qualifying score would be based on the previous year’s threshold score for their state. But this year there’s a new test scored on a new scale. Actually, there are two scales. (I said it was complicated.)

When they announced the new SAT and PSAT, the College Board claimed they would be simplifying things by putting them on the same 1600 point scale. But later, they dropped the PSAT top score down to 1520. They also added a separate selection index score on a scale of 8-38. To make matters worse, the Reading and Writing & Language scores are averaged for the overall score, but not for the selection index score. Simple, right?!

The big picture is a little easier to grasp if you start with the selection index scores. Each section (Math, Reading, and Writing & Language) is scored on a scale of 8-38. (Going from 0 to 30 makes more sense to me, but I wasn’t consulted.) Here are some hypothetical scores:

M: 28
R: 32
W&L: 30

The selection index is the sum of these scores multiplied by 2:

(28 + 32 + 30) x 2 = 180

The highest possible selection index score would be (38 + 38 + 38) x 2 = 228.

Okay, so much for the selection index score. What about the composite score?

The composite score can be calculated by first averaging the selection index scores of the two verbal sections and then multiplying the result by 20. The math Selection Index score is also multiplied by 20. These two scores are then added. For our hypothetical student, we get:

Verbal: [(32 + 30)/2] x 20 = 620
Math: 30 x 20 = 600
Composite: 1,220

The highest possible composite score is 1,520.

Note that the Math score counts for only one-third of the selection index, but one-half of the composite score. Or, in other words, each of the verbal sections counts for 25% of the composite score, but 33% of the selection index. Bottom line: if you’re competing for National Merit recognition, don’t neglect the Writing and Language section. It counts just as much as the other two, and it’s the easiest section to improve.

That’s all fine and good, you might be saying, but what score does a student need to shoot for to get National Merit recognition? What’s the magic number?

As stated above, no one–not even the College Board–knows at this point, but our (fairly conservative) anticipated threshold for National Merit recognition in Texas is 210.

So how many questions do you have to get right on each section to hit this target?

Reading: 42+
Writing & Language: 40+
Math: 39+

Of course, since all sections count equally, if you ace one of them, you’ll have a little more leeway on the other two. As stated above, students tend to get the biggest return on investment on the Writing & Language section since most of these questions test grammar rules that are fairly easy to master. Becoming a better reader or mathematician will require significantly more practice.

Test Prep

Anyone Can Learn Math!

anyonecanlearnmath

Students tell me all the time: “I suck at math.”

I can sympathize. I sucked at math in high school. I hated it. And now I’m a math teacher! I love math! Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me back in high school:

If you suck at math, the main thing you need to understand is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Unless you have an injury in the part of your brain that deals with numbers, you are fully capable of doing math. You are also capable of teaching yourself math.

Your real problem is lack of motivation. You don’t need to feel guilty about that. You just need to recognize that it’s holding you back and decide you want to change. There are a lot of good reasons to want to become competent at math.

First of all, adults who never become competent in math can’t do basic things like figure out a tip or a discount in their heads (it’s pretty easy). They also can’t understand a lot of the information they read. They don’t really know how much more a billion dollars is than a million. They don’t know what it means when the weatherman says there’s a 60% chance of rain. And so on.

Adults who don’t understand math are also more likely to make bad financial decisions because they don’t understand interest rates and can’t accurately estimate their monthly expenses.

An even more fundamental reason you should want to develop your mathematical skills is that, along with language, math is one of the main things that separates humans from animals. The human brain is the most complex, sophisticated object in the known universe. Use it! Any time you actively teach yourself something, you are making yourself smarter, more disciplined, and more independent.

How to Teach Yourself Math

For the most part, mathematical competence is a result of “how-to” knowledge. To learn how to factor a quadratic equation the first time, you have to read about it. But to learn how to do it well, you just have to do it over and over again. It’s the same with music, sports, drawing, and so on.

Mathematical concepts build upon themselves. By the time you’re learning how to factor quadratic equations, simpler operations like adding and multiplying shoud already be second nature. If you have trouble adding or multiplying without a calculator, you probably need to practice some simpler problems. However, there’s nothing wrong with using a calculator, especially for subtraction and division. Just try not to rely on it too much. You shouldn’t need a calculator to take 14% of 100 (or 200, for that matter).

Anytime you’re struggling with an SAT or ACT math problem and you realize you don’t really know how to deal with, say, ratios or percents or functions or whatever, just look it up! There are tons of math websites out there. (Two good ones are Math Forum and AAA Math.) You can also just Google the concept you need help with and look at the top results. Just be sure you do enough practice problems to get each concept down cold.

You can also get an algebra textbook (any one will do), and work through it, skipping anything you already understand. When a concept gives you trouble, work through as many practice problems as necessary to get it down cold. (Of course, this approach requires some discipline, but so does learning any worthwhile skill.)

Remember to always show your work and use proper mathematical notation. For example, if a problem says, “the sum of a, b, and c is equal to 10,” don’t write this:

a, b, c = 10

or this:

abc = 10

The word “sum” means add, so you should write:

a+b+c = 10

No one ever got good at math by using their own personal notation system. Pay attention to details, and you’re much less likely to make mistakes.

Try to set aside thirty minutes to an hour each day to practice math. You will get better at it in no time, and you’ll be glad you did. Not only will your test scores improve, but when you see the results, and see that you were capable of doing it all along, you’ll realize how many more things you can do if you just put your mind to them!

SAT

The New SAT Study Guide

sat study guide

 

The new SAT Study Guide comes out tomorrow. We got an advance copy. Here’s the scoop.

The four tests in the guide are the same four tests available on the College Board website. It’s disappointing that they didn’t release more tests, but it’s nice that everything is basically free (minus the cost of ink and paper). The answer explanations are online too, so if you’re on a budget, there’s really no reason to pay for the book.

If you do pay for it (the cover price is $24.99 but Amazon has it for $17.00), you’ll get 326 pages of instructional material and practice problems, which are almost all taken from the SAT sample questions released back in March, and which are still available, with answer explanations, online.

What you will not find either in the book or online is a one-page answer key for each test. To grade a test, you have to flip through about 45 pages of answer explanations. Not very convenient! So we made up some answer keys to make things easier. You’re welcome!

New SAT Test 1 answer key

New SAT Test 2 answer key

New SAT Test 3 answer key

New SAT Test 4 answer key

SAT

New SAT Practice Tests Now Available

Today the College Board released four new practice SATs—presumably the same four that will appear in the new official guide scheduled for release June 30th.

This is the format:

Section 1: Reading: 65 minutes, 52 questions
Section 2: Writing & Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
Section 3: Math (No Calculator): 25 minutes, 20 questions
Section 4: Math (Calculator): 55 minutes, 38 questions

Total: 180 min, 154 questions

That’s about 70 seconds per question—a little more (8 seconds) than on the old test. As noted before, they’ve also removed the 1/4 point guessing penalty and the obscure vocabulary questions, so overall this should be a less-stressful test.

I’ll be back soon with more info. Right now I’ve got some work to do!

Test Prep

Show Your Work!

show work

Whether you’re taking the SAT, the ACT, or Algebra II, it’s a good idea to always show your work.

Writing things down helps you think! Some students seem to think the proper way to do a math problem is to devise a multi-step plan and then follow it through step by step. If they can’t think of Step 3, they won’t even bother writing down Step 1. People who are good at math don’t do it that way. They write down Step 1 and then start thinking about Step 2. Sometimes I don’t even know what Step 1 is, but I write down something. I’ll even copy down equations given in the problem. It might seem like a waste of time, but it gets the wheels turning.

When you think about it, algebra is pretty simple. There are two basic rules:

  • Combine like terms.
  • If you do something to one side of an equation, you have to do it to the other side.

That’s the gist of it. So if you don’t know where to begin on an algebra problem, start by combining like terms. You’ll probably get somewhere.

Geometry is pretty simple too—at least on the SAT and ACT. The basic rules are:

  • A line has 180°.
  • A triangle has 180°
  • Vertical angles are equal:

equal angles

Most angle problems on the SAT and ACT can be solved with these three rules. So if you’re stuck on a geometry problem, start labeling angles.

Another reason to show your work is that doing so will help you identify your mistakes. Think about it: if you miss a math problem because you forgot to distribute a minus sign, but you didn’t bother to write anything down, you’ll never know what went wrong. The best way to study for any standardized test is to practice frequently and review any problems you miss. You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t know what they are, so it’s important to have a record of your thought process.

Keep your work neat and organized. Try to make it look like the demonstration problems in an algebra textbook. Anyone else ought to be able to look at your work and know what you were thinking. Showing each step may seem tedious, but it’s the fastest way to become better at math. After a while, you’ll see results. Your skills and confidence will improve. Then you can start doing some of the steps in your head, but in the beginning, it’s important to write down everything!

Test Prep

The Secret to Acing the Reading Section

howtoreadabook

Parents often ask for “tips and tricks” to help their students ace the Reading portion of the SAT or ACT. I think they’re looking for something like “The answer to every other problem is C.” Instead, I answer with a question: “How much does your child read?”

A typical response: “Oh, Johnny hates reading!”

Now, imagine if I approached a basketball coach and asked him for “tips and tricks” to dominate on the court. Imagine I also told him that I hated actually playing basketball. “I don’t want to practice. That’s boring. I just want to win games!”

See the problem?

Here is the one surefire “trick” to dominating the Reading section of any standardized test: READ EVERY DAY!

That’s it. Thirty minutes or, better yet, an hour of reading every day will make a difference in a matter of weeks, and a world of difference in a matter of months. Students should choose books (or magazine articles or blogs) that interest them. Everyone is interested in something. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books and articles on almost every conceivable subject, so finding stimulating reading material is just a Google search away. (And if you can think of one book you ever read and liked, you can always look it up on Amazon and check out the recommendations.)

Students should choose material that’s challenging (Harry Potter may be fun, but it will not “stretch” your brain) but not too challenging (Shakespeare will probably just hurt your brain).

I highly recommend National Geographic magazine. Subscriptions are inexpensive, and the pictures are amazing. Flip through a National Geographic and read the captions under the pictures. If anything looks cool, read the whole article.

What are you into? Sports fan? Check out Grantland. Like music? Read Pitchfork or Stereogum. Science Fiction fans will love io9. If you’re a geek, check out Gizmodo. If you’re obsessed with video games, put down the controller for an hour and read Kotaku. And if you want a variety of news, culture, style, and more, check out Slate, The Guardian, or The Atlantic.

If you’re reading on an iPad, Kindle, or other tablet device, you can also quickly look up unfamiliar words. Now you’re building a vocabulary, becoming a better reader, and learning about something you care about. Believe me, there are worse ways to spend an hour of your time!

PSAT

New PSAT Practice Test

Exciting news! The College Board has just released a new practice PSAT with answer explanations.

Just to be clear this is a PSAT, not an SAT. Juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October. But the content and difficulty level should be very similar to the new SAT. The Official Guide for these tests won’t be available until June, but there are plenty of resources for students who want to start studying now (see below).

There are four sections:

1. Reading: 60 minutes, 47 questions
2. Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
3. Math (no calculator): 25 minutes, 17 questions
4. Math (calculator): 45 minutes, 31 questions

Here are my thoughts.

Reading:
Since they’ve scrapped the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, this is really just a reading comprehension test. A couple of the passages have charts, but the questions about them are very easy—similar to the easiest questions on the ACT science section. Two of the passages are old: excerpts from Jane Austin’s Emma and a political piece by Andrew Carnegie. The rest are new: an article about social networking, a science passage about hibernating bears, and a paired passage about bringing back extinct species. My advice: read National Geographic.

Writing and Language:
If you want more study materials for this section, there’s already a book with 375 practice problems. It’s called the Official ACT Guide! That’s right: the new SAT Writing and Language section is almost exactly like the ACT English section. The only real difference is the inclusion of a single graph on one of the passages. Other than that, it’s the same old stuff: relevance, tone, subject-verb agreement, idioms, pronouns, possessives, comma splices, putting sentences in logical order. The questions are even worded similarly to those on the ACT. My advice: take every English section in the Official ACT Guide.

Math (no calculator):
Like I said about the sample questions released a few weeks ago, the math is significantly more challenging than what we’re used to seeing on the SAT and PSAT. These questions look like they came from a Math 1 Subject test—except on this section, you can’t use a calculator! I found myself reaching for my vintage TI-82 so frequently I had to put it in a drawer. I know a lot of students who use their calculators for even the most basic addition; for them, this section will pose a challenge.

Interestingly, the questions are not in order of difficulty. There are four grid-in questions, and both the grid and the instructions are exactly the same as on the current test. Frequent topics on this section are: setting up equations, systems of equations, functions, and quadratic equations—in other words, all the hardest stuff from the current SAT. My advice: take AP math classes.

Math (calculator):
While it was comforting to have the calculator at my fingertips, it was no help on questions like this:

If the equation 110x + y = 1,210 represents the number of free samples, y, that remain to be given away x days after a coffee shop’s promotion begins, what does it mean that (11, 0) is a solution to this equation?

Your calculator isn’t going to tell you that! Many of the problems include graphs, tables, scatterplots, and histograms. (Again, the Official ACT Guide would be helpful; the science section has similar charts and graphs.) There are also several challenging physics problems (e.g. finding the maximum height of an arrow shot into the sky). My advice: take AP physics.

Summary
Compared to the current SAT (and the PSAT that was retired in 2014), the math is more difficult. The reading and writing are, in my opinion, a little easier (mainly due to the lack of obscure vocabulary questions). But don’t panic about the math. Even though it’s harder, students will be scored relative to their peers. (In other words, if it’s harder for you, it’s harder for everyone.) Students who take challenging courses in high school and make good grades should be fairly well prepared. If you’re taking the PSAT in October and want to start studying now, my advice would be to get the Official ACT Guide and the SAT Math 1 and 2 Subject Test Guide (just do the Math 1 tests; Math 2 is very difficult and mainly geared toward students who plan to major in computer science, engineering, or similar fields.)

Note: The answers to the new practice PSAT are all on the last page of the Answer Explanations. (Really annoying!) So just scroll to the end when you’re ready to check your answers. There’s no way to score it yet (scaled scores are based on student performance, and no one has taken it), but you can find your percent correct for each section by dividing the number correct by the total number of questions. Basically, it works just like grades in high school: 90% and above is great; 80-90% is good, and so on.

More Than A Teacher is currently accepting students for one-on-one tutoring for the new PSAT and SAT. If you live outside the Austin area (or just want to avoid traffic), we offer remote tutoring via Skype. Just send us an email to set up an appointment!

SAT

The Most Common SAT Vocabulary Words

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Note: This article is about the current SAT. For info on the redesigned SAT coming in 2016, click here.

There are many books and websites out there that claim to have all the “hot words” for the SAT. One website boasts 5,000 words! Think you can memorize them all? Good luck with that.

As someone who’s spent almost eight years with these tests, I can tell you that these books and websites are not very accurate. To me it looks like the authors did no research at all, but rather just listed as many “difficult” words as possible regardless of whether those words had ever appeared on an SAT.

In any case, the test makers do not tend to use the same obscure words over and over. They don’t want the test to be predictable. Basically, their word bank is the dictionary, and with over 100,000 words in the English language, they’ve got a lot of options!

But there are some words that appear on almost every SAT simply because they are common words. And yet, most high school students don’t really know them. The following words (or close variations) appear on most of the tests in the Official SAT Guide. (I know because I checked; all it takes is a highlighter and a lot of patience.) Consider making flash cards for every word you don’t know.

1. aesthetic (adj.) – related to beauty or art: Taking an art appreciation class can enhance your understanding of aesthetic principles.

2. equitable (adj.) – equal, fair, judicious: The U.S. Constitution guarantees equitable treatment under the law for all citizens.

3. equivocal (adj.) – capable of several different interpretations, especially with the intent to deceive: The congressman’s equivocal answer didn’t really answer the journalist’s question.

4. sentimental (adj.) – expressing or appealing to emotions: The sentimental song brought tears to Mary’s eyes.

5. phenomenon (n.) – a fact, occurrence, or circumstance, especially an impressive one: A complete solar eclipse is a rare phenomenon.

6. nostalgia (n.) – fondness for the past: At the sight of his old uniform, Billy felt a keen nostalgia for his school days.

7. advocate (v.) – to support or recommend: The FDA advocates regular vaccinations for children.

8. rhetoric (n.) – the art of using written or spoken language: The professional speaker was a master of rhetoric.

9. ambivalence (n.) – uncertainty or inability to choose, especially caused by conflicting desires for two incompatible things: The candidate’s conflicting answers reflected his ambivalence on the issue.

10. temperance (n.) – moderation, especially in consumption of alcohol: Rather than accept a second glass of wine, Suzanne opted for temperance.

11. romantic (adj.) – idealistic, impractical, unrealistic: After a week sweating on the farm, Billy began to reconsider his romantic view of agricultural life.

12. elitist (n.) – a snob; a person who considers himself a member of a special class: Chet was too much of an elitist to consider attending the rodeo.

13. deliberate – 1. (adj.) on purpose: He shouldn’t be punished because his actions were not deliberate. 2. (adj.) slow, unhurried, careful: Marvin grew increasingly frustrated at the deliberate pace of life in the small town. 3. (v.) (pronounced with a long “a”) to consider: You should deliberate awhile before you answer.

14. conventional (adj.) – pertaining or conforming to general agreement, ordinary: Placing your right hand over your heart during the Pledge of Allegiance is a conventional demonstration of respect.

15. contempt (n.) – disdain, scorn, hatred, ridicule: The judge handed down the maximum sentence, explaining that he had nothing but contempt for jaywalkers.

16. cynical (adj.) – distrusting the motives of others; assuming that people act from selfish motives: Jerry was cynical about the “free hugs” campaign.

17. anxious (adj.) – worried, distressed, uneasy: Many people are anxious about public speaking.

18. commercial (adj.) – pertaining to business: The preacher complained that commercial interests have tarnished religious holidays.

19. reverence (n.) – a feeling of deep respect or veneration: The architecture student expressed a reverence for Frank Lloyd Wright.

20. integrity (n.) – adherence to moral or ethical principles, honesty: The ethics committee criticized the lawyer for his lack of integrity.

21. subtle (adj.) – not immediately obvious, difficult to grasp: Chef Louis patiently explained that there is a subtle difference between flan and crème brûlée.

22. skeptical (adj.) – doubtful, slow to accept as true: Most scientists are skeptical about the existence of UFOs.

23. lament (v.) – to express sorrow or regret over: The professor lamented the decline of voluntary reading among American high school students.

24. domestic (adj.) – devoted to the home or household: The new father declined the invitation to the poker game, citing domestic responsibilities.

25. anecdote (n.) – a short account of an event, especially an amusing one: Tommy shared a hilarious anecdote about the time he fell into an aquarium.

26. rigorous (adj.) – severe, stern, inflexible, demanding: After studying the syllabus, Henry opted for the less rigorous calculus course.

27. pragmatic (adj.) – practical: Sam wanted to take a hot-air balloon across the Atlantic, but his wife suggested the more pragmatic option of an airplane.

28. inherent (adj.) – existing within someone or something more or less permanently, essential: Many people have an inherent dislike of broccoli.

29. exclusive (adj.) – limiting to only a select few, excluding: It’s an exclusive club; they don’t admit just anyone.

30. evoke (v.) – to call up, produce, elicit, or draw forth: According to the advertisement, this laundry detergent evokes the countryside and spring rain.

31. substantiate (v.) – to establish by proof or evidence: The prosecutor was aggressive in his accusations but was unable to substantiate the allegations with physical evidence.

32. intricate (adj.) – complicated or complex: Wilbur was mesmerized by the intricate pattern in the spider’s web.

33. digress (v.) – to deviate (wander away) from the main topic, to “go off on a tangent”: After rambling for ten minutes about his preference for non-dairy creamer, Dr. Franklin realized he had digressed from the lecture topic.

Of course, the best way to build a vocabulary is to read a lot of books, looking up unfamiliar words as you encounter them. So, if you don’t already, read for at least 30 minutes every day!

Test Prep

The Key to Test Prep Success

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
–Vince Lombardi

The only way to excel at sports is to practice. The same is true of music. The same is true of standardized tests.

Practice has to be done right to be effective. Running in circles holding a football does not count as football practice. Pounding random keys with your fists is not piano practice. But this is exactly the approach most students take when studying for the SAT and ACT.

If you want to succeed on a standardized test, you have to practice, and you have to practice the right way. Here is the right way:

1. Take practice sections from the Official SAT or Official ACT study Guide.

2. Check your answers. Put an “X” by the questions you missed; do not indicate the correct answer next to the problem.

3. Re-attempt every problem that you missed.

Simple as these rules are, most students don’t follow them and therefore don’t get the scores they are capable of. Let’s look at each rule individually and see why these students fail.

1. Take practice sections from the Official SAT or ACT Guide.

The easiest way to fail is simply not to practice. Imagine if the quarterback of your high school football team told the coach that he no longer wanted to practice, didn’t like practicing, found it boring and too hard. Well, he’d change his mind or get off the team, simple as that.

Shoot for one section a day. If you can’t make that but are genuinely trying, you should get five sections done a week, which is close enough. You should start practicing at least two months before the test. There are 80 practice sections in the Official SAT Guide (not counting essay sections), so you’ve got plenty to work with. The ACT Guide has only 20 sections, but they are a lot longer, so if you’ve got more than a month, shoot for one section every other day or break the sections up. (For example, every English section has five passages, so you could do three one day and two the next.)

Also: you should always time yourself according to the instructions at the beginning of each section. If you don’t time your practice, you might be surprised at how much harder the test is when it counts. If you run out of time, go ahead and finish so you get the practice, but make a note of how many problems were left when you ran out of time.

2. Check your answers. Put an “X” by the questions you missed; do not indicate the correct answer next to the problem.

For whatever reason, most students are reluctant to follow this rule. They tend to erase their wrong answers and circle the correct ones, which is pointless.

The point of marking incorrect answers with an “X” only is so that when you look at a missed question the second time, you don’t know the right answer. Which brings us to . . .

3. Re-attempt every problem that you missed.

By attempting the question a second time, you improve some small amount. The more questions you do over, the more you improve. This is the key to improvement.

If you want to play a piece on the piano, you play it over and over again, trying to make fewer mistakes each time. You think about where you messed up, and try not to do it again. This is also why football coaches watch recordings of the games with their players: to identify mistakes and prevent them from happening in the future.

When you attempt a problem the second time, you will often get it right. If you don’t, then look up the answer explanation. The Official ACT Guide comes with explanations. If you’re using the Official SAT Guide, you’ll have to look them up on the College Board website.

You could also get help from a friend or teacher. If you live in the Austin area, you can attend one of our free tutorials.

Don’t look at missed question as a failure, but rather as a learning opportunity. Both the SAT and the ACT test the same concepts over and over. If you encounter something that gives you trouble, chances are good you’ll see it again. So prepare yourself!