Archive for November, 2009

SAT Study Guides: Article Reveals Numerous Errors in Popular SAT Books

If you can’t trust your SAT book when preparing for your college entrance exams what can you trust? Every year, students on the college admissions journey, face the increasingly difficult task of getting into college—preferably a good one and/or the one they wish to attend.  A large part of the typically stressful process, and what ultimately plays a significant role in getting students into their choice colleges, are SAT/ACT scores. No matter what test prep avenue students and parents choose, most include acquiring an SAT book of some kind for guidance and at-home practice and preparation. And so it is both astonishing and unacceptable to discover that many commonly used SAT guides, like Wiley’s “Mastering the SAT Math” and Barron’s “SAT Math Workbook,” contain mistakes—and not just few, but up to 36 errors! (For more details on these shocking figures check out Fox NY’s revealing article here

These revelations are unfair to all students using these SAT guide books. “As if preparing for the SAT’s wasn’t difficult already, now students have to navigate through the big mistakes made by major publishers,” the article states. Those students who are actually taking the initiative to try to improve their SAT scores on their own are being exposed to inaccurate information; in some cases, the right answer isn’t even listed as an option!

While we’re not trying to scare you, in a way this article reinforces an important point—when it comes to SAT preparation, ultimately, responsibility lies in a students’ hands. That’s not to say it in any way should be your responsibility to fact-check SAT books, but the time, effort, and dedication you put into your SAT preparation is up to you.  So while you unfortunately may not be able to trust every SAT book out there, you can trust that putting the time into taking practice tests and learning the strategies needed to master the SAT will help you earn your best SAT score.

For dependable tips for getting SAT-ready, check out our blog “5 Tips from Harvard Pros on Getting Ready for the SAT” (


SAT Test Preparation: How to Make Educated Guesses on College Entrance Exams

So, on multiple choice tests, the right answer is always there. The obvious problem is you may not always know what that correct answer is.  But in some cases, it’s worth taking an educated guess, especially when you can limit your answer choices. Below are a few things you should know that will help you make educated guesses on the SAT and ACT.


  • On the SAT, there are penalties for wrong answers, so avoid random guessing (that is, guessing when you’re completely clueless as to what the correct answer is).
  • Educated guessing, however, is a good option. You only lose ¼ of a point of raw score for wrong answers, but you earn one full point for each right answer. So on the SAT, it’s statistically advantageous to make an educated guess if you can eliminate 1 or 2 (preferably) answers.
  • If you’re investing time on a question, it’s worth taking a risk and making an educated guess. Don’t waste time working on a problem and then not make your best guess.


  • On the ACT, there are no penalties for guessing/wrong answers, so never leave answers blank!
  • Each answer choice (A, B, C, D etc.) shows up about 20-25% of the time as the correct answer; it’s best to be consistent and designate one letter as your guessing answer.
  • As a strategy for picking your optimal guessing answer (because each answer choice does show up roughly 20-25% of the time), look at your scantron’s bubbled-in answers and choose the letter that appears the least.

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Of course, you never want guessing to be your first option. It’s always best to go into a test like the SAT and ACT as prepared as possible, equipped with strategies to help you solve problems and answer as many questions correctly as possible. But there are always those instances where we encounter tough questions that we just can’t figure out, and wasting time trying to work through them usually isn’t worth it. So in some cases, it’s certainly worth taking your best educated guess.

*For a laugh and how NOT to guess, check out this link:

If you enjoyed these suggestions, and for help being prepared with all the vocabulary you’ll need-so you don’t have to guess-CHECK OUT VOCAB VIDEOS!


College Admissions: Completing Your College Resume (Well)

Like the college essay, the college resume is important because it allows admissions officers to get a more complete picture of you, the applicant. It’s not just your name, the school you attend, or your SAT scores—it’s a glance into what you’ve been doing over your last four years in high school. Be sure to highlight those extracurricular activities that hold a special meaning for you, the athletic involvement that you’ve committed your time to, and/or the community service that is significant to you. If you’re involved in a lot of activities inside and outside of school, this is your time to shine. If you’re not, that’s okay too—you can still make your resume work for you. Elaborate on those activities to which you have committed your time and been dedicated. Below are a few suggested categories of activities to include in your resume. For each category, you should be sure to name and describe the nature of the activity, list your grades of participation, and provide the time commitment involved (in terms of hours/week and weeks/year). You should also mention any honors won or positions held.

  • Extracurricular Activities: Include all of those extracurriculars you’ve given your time to throughout high school—after school clubs, student government, marching band. Don’t forget to mention that year you were elected class president.
  • Athletics:  Be sure to point out all of the athletics you’ve been involved in inside and outside of school—whether it’s your school’s intramural basketball team or your town’s swim team. Even if you’re not going to school on an athletic scholarship, any degree of participation is worth mentioning.
  • Community Involvement: So, maybe you’re not an athlete or overly involved in extracurriculars, but you love volunteering your time for a good cause. Mention any involvement in community service activities, whether it’s volunteering at a local hospital or giving your time to your church.
  • Work Experience: Include any jobs that you’ve had during high school on weekends or over the summer. Whether it’s a regular babysitting commitment or lifeguarding, it’s a time commitment you’ll surely want to make known.
  • Honors & Awards: Be sure to list honors, awards, and recognition you’ve received during high school (for success in academics, athletics, etc.).   

Take the time to make your college activity resume and your application stand out. Include any and all applicable categories, so admissions officers can get a better sense of who you are and what’s important you.


College Admissions: Navigating the Common Application

During the college admissions process, it’s wise to be able to navigate the Common Application (  A good number of the colleges that you’re applying to could accept the Common App, so using it instead of filling out a school’s individual application could save you time and effort.  And when you’re almost certainly stressed out preparing for your SAT, writing your college essays, and gathering letters of recommendation—why wouldn’t you want to save some time and energy? Here are some basic, but useful things you’ll need to know when getting started with your Common Application:

  • General Information: What may seem like the easy part of the application is, in fact, quite simple if you can answer certain questions about yourself and your family. The “Applicant,” “Demographics,” and “Family” sections of the Common App ask some basic information of you. What’s your name? Your address? Are you a US citizen? What are your parents’ names? If you can answer these questions easily, which hopefully the majority of you can, you won’t have much of a problem getting through this first part of the Common Application.
  • Academics: Seeing that you’re in school and applying to college, filling out this portion of the Common App also shouldn’t be too complicated, but there are a few things you should be sure to know before taking it on. The first, is some basic information about your guidance counselor—you will need his or her name and contact information. At this point you’ve probably made your way to the Guidance Office a few times, seeking assistance in the college application process, but in case you don’t have this information, make sure to find it out for before filling out your Common App. You’ll also need to know all the courses in which you’re currently enrolled, and any academic honors or distinctions you’ve received throughout high school.
  • Tests: It’s  college application season, so be sure to know all your standardized test information. Which standardized tests scores will you be submitting to colleges: your SAT scores, your ACT scores, your SAT Subject Test scores (SAT IIs), all of the above? For whatever tests you’ve taken with scores you plan to submit, make sure to: know when you took each test (month/year), and what your scores were (for the SAT and ACT, you’ll need to know the scores for each section as well as your overall score).
  • Activity Resume: A portion of the Common App involves detailing the activities and work experience that you’ve been involved in throughout high school.  The list provided allows you to add up to 7 extracurricular activities. You’ll need to briefly describe your involvement in each activity, list the grades in which you participated, and include the time spent on the activity (in terms of hours per week & weeks per year). Your work experience is to be entered in a separate chart. To successfully enter this information, you’ll need to list the specific nature of the work, your employer, the approximate dates of employment (month/year-month/year), and the number of hours per week working
  • Writing: The writing portion of the Common App is two-part. The first question requires a brief response (of no more than 150 words), and asks you to elaborate on one of your extracurricular, personal, or work activities. You have some options when it comes to choosing the longer essay topic. Some of these options include writing about a significant life experience, an issue of concern or importance to you, a person that has had a significant influence on you, or choosing a topic of your choice.  Because you do have a wide range of options, make sure you choose a subject matter that is meaningful to you; the essay, after all, is your chance to express yourself to admissions counselors.

Good luck getting through your Common Application, and on your college application journey!

If you found this entry helpful, be sure to explore Vocab Videos for standardized test prep and other useful tips!