LogicPrep's List of Top 10 Commencement Speeches 2018


We've once again made a list of our favorite college commencement speeches this year, and we hope that you gain some inspiration from these wise words. Enjoy!


Abby Wambach at Barnard University

• Here’s something the best athletes understand, but seems like a hard concept for non-athletes to grasp. Non-athletes don’t know what to do with the gift of failure. So they hide it, pretend it never happened, reject it outright—and they end up wasting it. Listen: Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it's something to be POWERED by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on. You gotta learn to make failure your fuel.
• Here’s what’s important. You are allowed to be disappointed when it feels like life’s benched you. What you aren’t allowed to do is miss your opportunity to lead from the bench.
• Because the most important thing I've learned is that what you do will never define you. Who you are always will.

Chadwick Boseman at Howard University

• When you are deciding on next steps, next jobs, next careers, further education, you should rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you need to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.
• I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that’s ultimately proven to have more victory, more glory, then you will not regret it. This is your time.

Chance the Rapper at Dillard University

• We have to erase the fear and stigma behind eclipsing our heroes... We have a responsibility to be not as good as them or live up to their example but surpass them. Even when it seems scary we have to overcome that fear and be greater than our role models. 
• The highest form of respect that we can pay to the people who came before us is to be better than them… To simply copy them would be an insult to their sacrifice… You do a disservice trying to live up to your ancestors, you have to outlive them. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Harvard University

• At no time has it felt as urgent as now that we must protect and value the truth.
• It is hard to tell ourselves the truth about our failures, our fragilities, our uncertainties. It is hard to tell ourselves that maybe we haven’t done the best that we can. It is hard to tell ourselves the truth of our emotions, that maybe what we feel is hurt rather than anger, that maybe it is time to close the chapter of a relationship and walk away, and yet, when we do, we are the better off for it.
• Be courageous enough to say "I don’t know."

Hillary Clinton at Yale University

• Personal resilience is important, but it’s not the only form of resilience we need right now. We also need community resilience. We need to try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves and to return to rational debate; to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable.
• To try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves and to return to rational debate, to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable, to try to recapture a sense of community and common humanity.

Jim Cramer at Bucknell University

• My defeat had yielded to victory. First lesson: it's OK to fail, but it is not OK to quit. You have more strength within you, both physical and mental, than you know, but use it more wisely than I did, please.
• Your classmates are your safety net, these warm souls of the Class of 2018 surrounding you, those who shared classes, or dorms or sororities, or fraternities or service work or clubs and teams with you. Remember there your stumble is just a pothole in the road for your seated neighbors to help you fill.

Mindy Kaling at Dartmouth College

• I was not someone who should have the life I have now, and yet I do. I was sitting in the chair you are literally sitting in right now and I just whispered, “Why not me?” And I kept whispering it for seventeen years; and here I am, someone that this school deemed worthy enough to speak to you at your commencement. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, but especially not yourself. Go conquer the world. Just remember this: Why not you? You made it this far.

Oprah Winfrey at University of Southern California

• The problem is everyone is meeting hysteria with more hysteria, and we just are all becoming hysterical. And it's getting worse. What I've learned in all these years is that we're not supposed to match it or even get locked into resisting or pushing against it. We're supposed to see this moment in time for what it is. We're supposed to see through it and transcend it. That is how you overcome hysteria, and that is how you overcome the sniping at one another, the trolling, the mean spirited partisanship on both sides of the aisle, the divisiveness, the injustices, the out and out hatred. You use it. Use this moment to encourage you to embolden you and to literally push you into the rising of your life.

Ronan Farrow at Loyola Marymount University

• You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community, and I hope that in that moment you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle—and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.

Tim Cook at Duke University

• Fearlessness means taking the first step, even if you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd. If you step up, without fear of failure… if you talk and listen to each other, without fear of rejection… if you act with decency and kindness, even when no one is looking, even if it seems small or inconsequential, trust me, the rest will fall into place.

How to Reduce Your Testing Anxiety

What if I told you that you can improve your performance on any test and reduce test-related stress and anxiety in as little as 30 seconds? Fortunately, this is possible and goes by the name of mindfulness. Mindfulness simply refers to the level at which you are present in a given moment. In other words, mindfulness reflects how well your attention is harnessed to experience the world. Studies have shown that those who practice mindfulness exercises can expect marked improvements to their cognitive and physical performance as well as health benefits associated with stress and anxiety reduction. 

Almost every mindfulness exercise contains some sort of meditative element. When you first think about meditation, you might imagine that you need to sit with your legs crossed in a lotus pose isolated on top of a mountain or in the wilderness somewhere. Although that sounds like a great locale for some mindfulness practice, the conditions for meditation aren’t nearly that prohibitive. Mindfulness exercises can be practiced pretty much anywhere and take a wide variety of different forms. 


Things like going for a walk, eating, and even breathing all fall under the meditative umbrella. The key element is a focus on allocating as much mental bandwidth as possible to the task at hand. If you are going for a walk, try your best to orient your thoughts towards what is happening around you. What colors can you pick out in the world around you? What do you smell and see? How does the ground feel beneath your feet? Allow the stimuli of the outside world to encompass you and override your thoughts about that upcoming test or interview or what notifications you have on your phone. If you can detach from those routine stresses and mental processes for 1 second, 30 seconds, 5 minutes, or an hour and hone in on your current surroundings you will have actively practiced mindfulness.

It doesn’t matter if you are 3 months away from a test, trying to cram information the night before, or even sitting at a desk with the test in front of you. There are definitive benefits to dropping what you are doing, closing your eyes, and taking a few measured breaths. In through the nose, hold, out through the mouth.  Chances are you will feel calmer and be better prepared to tackle the task at hand than you did before you closed your eyes. Not a bad trade-off for 30 seconds of your time.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness or mindfulness exercises, there are a plethora of resources available online. YouTube has tons of guided meditations if you have a little bit of time to invest. Google searches will yield step-by-step instructions for a seemingly endless number of exercises. Alternatively, I’m always available at the front desk here in Armonk to chat!

Jesse Kolber Foundation Launch A Success!

On May 31, 2018, we celebrated the launch of The Jesse Kolber Foundation with an event & silent auction in Armonk, NY. 

We are thrilled to announce that The Jesse Kolber Foundation raised over $80,000 at the event!

Click here to see all photos from the event.

LogicPrep is thrilled to partner with The Jesse Kolber Foundation in honor of the late Founder of LogicPrep. If you were unable to attend the launch event but wish to donate, click here.

Understanding the Role of Demonstrated Interest

It’s June, AP and final exams are in the rear-view mirror, and summer is on the horizon. Time for summer romance! Here’s how it’s going to work—summer is a great time to fall in love with college(s), and what’s more, to show the love. Thought of as a new relationship, it’s easier to understand why it might be in your best interest to do so.

 Murilo demonstrates his interest in NYU Stern!

Murilo demonstrates his interest in NYU Stern!

Think of it this way—during the school year, you’re focused on classes, your GPA, sports, activities, leadership, standardized testing, etc. You’re pursuing your academic and extra-curricular interests and all the while wondering, “will colleges want me?” But increasingly, colleges and universities, even those who do want you, are wondering— “but will you matriculate?” The admission process is its own peculiar courtship, and summer is a great time to reflect on the rituals that can result in proposals (ahem, offers of admission), and to plan accordingly.

One way to express your interest in a particular college of course is to consider applying “early” (action or decision). The proliferation of early admission plans (e.g. Early Action, Restricted Early Action, Early Decision I or II) is one method colleges use to hedge their bets, “we are interested in you, but will you say yes?!” and thereby manipulate “yield” (the percentage of admitted students who matriculate). But sometimes, much earlier in the courtship process, colleges are looking for signs. Even when college admission representatives are circumspect on this topic, you should know that many colleges are tracking your “demonstrated interest”. It’s worth finding out whether your top prospects do so, and if so, summer is a great time to start that relationship.

How will I know?

Sometimes college admission offices or websites are upfront about the extent to which they track interest demonstrated by prospective students throughout the undergraduate admission process. But all colleges and universities disclose this information when they complete The Common Data Set, “a collaborative effort in the higher education community to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all in a student’s transition into higher education”. In addition to providing a useful snapshot of enrollment and programming available at a college or university, Section C of the Common Data Set is devoted to First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission Data and Data Element C7 specifically ranks the “Relative importance of each of the following academic and non-academic factors in first-time, first-year, degree-seeking (freshman) admission decisions. At the very end of this data table, schools indicate where “Level of applicant’s interest” (in the institution) ranks in significance on a scale from “Very Important” to “Not Considered.”

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What can I do about it?

Knowing whether your top prospects need reassurance can help you plan your overtures—whether this means prioritizing campus visits or intensifying your responsiveness to electronic communications. Say you’re determined to attend college in the vicinity of Washington D.C. for example, and you’re planning to visit a few schools, trying to determine where you’ll officially attend information sessions and student-led tours. Google a college prospect, e.g. “American University” + “Common Data Set” and typically you’ll land on the Institutional Research portion of a school’s website, where the Common Data Set resides. In this case, a quick search might reveal the following with respect to the significance of “Level of Applicant’s interest.”

If you find that the majority of your top prospects are somewhat…high maintenance when it comes to showing how likely you are to say “yes!” to an offer of admission, you might consider setting up a separate email account strictly for college application purposes so that you can be sure to carefully click, manage, and respond to intense communications coming from schools that track whether you take the time to show your interest.

As in most relationships, it helps to understand what’s important to your intended! When demonstrated interest counts, dare to compare thee (college) to a summer’s day or better yet, ask yourself, “how do I love thee” and let them count the ways….

Four Quotes for College (AKA What I Wish I Knew Freshman Year)

1. “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” —Oscar Wilde 

I know, I know, it’s a pretty Hallmark card thing to say. But if I had the chance to go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it. No one else is quite like you, which means that how you grow and succeed is a deeply personal thing. The way you study, socialize, and relax might look different from how other people do it. That’s ok! Figure out what works for you. Don’t contort yourself into what you think is most interesting or attractive. Don’t get swept up in what other people are doing. The most successful and magnetic people I’ve met got to the awesome place they are by being no one but themselves. Maybe you don’t know exactly who you will become or what you will do. Here’s an earth-shattering secret: no one does. Being yourself isn’t a static thing, it’s an ongoing process and exploration. If you think you’ve got it all figured out right now, guess what… 

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2. “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change” —Heraclitus 

This isn’t a diss on going into freshman with a clear sense of what you want to do and pursuing it. Some of my friends came to college knowing very clearly that they wanted to pursue art, or medicine, or history, or law. They didn’t change their major halfway through or contemplate hundreds of life paths every time they had to pick a class schedule (like I did). But a lot of my classmates who stuck to a clear path in college are doing wildly different things now than they (or anyone else) expected them to do after graduation. I know art majors who are now in med school, and pre-med kids who are living off the grid and writing award-winning poetry. College (and life) gives us all kinds of experiences we simply can’t predict. You can fight that uncertainty, swim against the current, and exhaust yourself. Or accept that things will shift, not just once or twice, but all the time. That doesn’t mean that every time something is hard or every time you mess up you ditch and run. There are challenges inherent in every field of study, every way of life… but ask yourself: “are these the challenges I want to be engaging with? Does this feel right for me right now?” And accept when the answers to those questions change. 


3. “Do not bring people in your life who weigh you down. And trust your instincts … good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don’t hurt. They’re not painful. That’s not just with somebody you want to marry, but it’s with the friends that you choose. It’s with the people you surround yourselves with.” —Michelle Obama

Fill your life with people and ideas that inspire you to be your best self. Life is hard, don’t make it harder by investing your time and energy in pursuits and people that leave you feeling insecure or empty. We all have doubts and fears, but it is important to not be ruled by them, and watch out when others are picking at your insecurities. Be strong in standing up for yourself, and seek out the people who help you do that -- and who you can return the favor for. Building mutually supportive and enriching relationships will help you succeed in and out of the classroom. 


4. “Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose” —Friday Night Lights (my favorite Netflix binge in college)

College is a big deal! It’s your first shot at curating your own life. It’s an incredible privilege to have so many options before you, but it can also be terrifying, and sometimes paralyzing. What’s the right way of doing this? Who should I be? It’s ok to be nervous, but remember you can’t control everything, and there is no one way of getting through college—or life for that matter. Adjust your game strategy as needed. Keep your eyes open. Find things to love. Faced with an expanding world of uncertainty and possibility, be kind and patient with yourself and others. 


And when all else fails, get a pep talk from this kid: 

Thumbs up for rock and roll! 

LogicPrep's 2018 Summer Reading List

Summer is (almost) here, and you've earned the right to relaxation. Whether you're planning to spend your summer at the beach or you're traveling somewhere new, don't forget to bring along a book. Each year, the LP family (even Marcel, our four-legged team member, contributed this year!) compiles their top picks for the summer, and we're confident you'll find something you'll like from the list below.

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Published in 2015, in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, this book takes the form of an address by Coates to his teenage son about the history and continuing struggle of African-Americans (particularly African-American men) in the United States. For the many of us who have not experienced this struggle firsthand and never will, the book is a necessary eye-opener, and for those who have already considered the struggle deeply, an eye-widener. Coates viscerally brings home the perpetual fear that young black men live in by repeatedly returning the focus to his own body: to his understanding, throughout his own life, that his body -- his life -- could be wrested from him at any time by a system that constantly flexes its power over him and those like him. A powerful reminder that America contains many different worlds for its many different citizens, and that progress depends on a deeper understanding of all of them.

Kurt Vonnegut's sardonic second novel details the doomed martian invasion of Earth as seen through the eyes of Malachi Constant, a fabulously wealthy and lucky man. Constant's epic journey eventually ends on Titan, a moon of Saturn, and is juxtaposed throughout the novel with themes of American aristocracy, fate, and the space-time continuum. Stylistically, it's dark and existential -- similar in style to David Sedaris or Chuck Palahniuk -- but ultimately enjoyable because it makes the reader feel that even if life is random, and we are not in control of our ultimate fate, we have the ability to enjoy each other's company and experience love in many different forms. 

Atlantic writer Derek Thompson’s first book Hit Makers is a nonfiction exploration of the last 100 years of media and the economics and psychology of pop culture. Eminently readable, the argument dances between anecdotes and case studies as varied as French Impressionism and Star Wars, “Rock Around the Clock” and “Lemonade,” and War and Peace and Fifty Shades of Grey. His core insight is actually borrowed from industrial designer Raymond Loewy, whose guiding maxim, “most advanced yet acceptable” (or MAYA), becomes a blueprint for Thompson’s argument that “hits” straddle a precarious line between newness and familiarity. Building on this fairly intuitive core insight, Thompson goes on to challenge traditional narratives about what makes things go “viral,” and makes some interesting claims about the last century’s greatest hits along the way. The book came out in 2016, so it (refreshingly) avoids interpreting everything retrospectively through the lens of the 2016 presidential election, though its theses certainly remain relevant to media today. Of practical interest to anyone with an entrepreneurial streak and general interest to anyone fascinated by media and pop culture, or who’s found themselves wondering why they can’t get “Call Me Maybe” out of their head.

Set in Los Angeles in the midst of the Great Depression, Ask the Dust tells the story of a struggling writer a glimmer of hope during a hopeless time. What I love so much about this book is the how Fante is able to capture the realness and nature of relationships.

A book written in the style of magical realism.

A book of essays about famous animals. From beloved pets of the famous to artistic subjects to explorer apes and world-changing discoveries - I couldn't put this book down!

By now we all know about Elon Musk and the incredible innovations of Tesla and SpaceX but Ashlee Vance tells who Elon is and how he got to the place that he is today. At a time that sustainable businesses and tech are two of the most sought-after fields, we are able to peek behind the curtain and see how two of the giants in this space were built and almost failed on numerous occasions. A must-read for anyone that is interested in the field of business, technology, sustainability, or innovation.

This book is about the incredible adventures of a man who lived in the countryside of Spain and was so obsessed with calvary books that he thought he was actually living in one.

I'm more than a little late to the game, but Americanah provides a fascinating window into some of the subtleties (and not-so-subtleties) of the issue of race in America... all embedded in a captivating personal story. A must-read, even if you're behind like I am!

Like John Irving's more famous works, The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules, The Hotel New Hampshire offers a blend of humor and tragedy in a coming-of-age novel that features both cosmopolitan and uniquely American characters. The eclectic cast of characters made this one of my favorite novels to read in high school, and I recommend it highly to anyone navigating adolescence or simply seeking an engaging tale.

Tells the story of Hannah and Anna, two young girls who face exile in two respective timelines. Hannah's family seeks sanctuary in pre-WWII Germany and Anna's in post-9/11 NYC. The link between the two women is uncovered as this sobering story illuminates two people coping with isolation, loss, and fear during two cataclysmic periods of human history.

This super quick read allowed me to engage thoughtfully in conversations about the current political climate -- not just regurgitating what I heard on the news, but placing today's administration in the context of history and political theory. And it's written so clearly that even an engineering major like me could understand (without falling asleep mid-sentence)!

I initially picked this book up for the thriller aspect but was sucked in by the detailed history of the 1893 World's Fair. An all-time favorite of mine, The Devil in the White City intertwines the rich, exciting history of the Chicago World's Fair and the horror of H. H. Holmes, an American serial killer, who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. A thrilling historical non-fiction novel-- what more could you want?

Tartt's novel is an exciting ride, "a murder mystery in reverse," as she depicts the tale not of who killed poor Bunny, but why? The book follows six friends in their educational journey about truth, beauty, and tragedy. While examining the virtues and vices that fuel ancient philosophies, they may or may not use what they learn in class to justify their actions, and moreover, inspire them in the first place.

This book, by Sheryl Sandberg, is a personal and practical take on how to foster resilience - in yourself and in others - after unthinkable tragedy. It has been a tremendously valuable resource for me and one that I've shared with every member of our team.

Given to me as a gift when I was a pup, perhaps I like this book because I share the same name with the cute shell. Two paws up for this charming book filled with funny pictures!

What is college for? To lead you towards a successful life? A meaningful life? OK, sure, but then what does that mean? Excellent Sheep is required reading for anyone going -- or dreaming of going -- to a selective school. The book argues that the nation’s elite institutions aren't doing a very good job of teaching students to ask the biggest questions about their lives: What are my values? What is my purpose? If you want to use your education to build a self, and not just a resume, then give this book a read.

A delightful children's tale about words and numbers.

Christopher McCandless, son of wealthy parents, graduates from Emory University as a top student and athlete. However, instead of embarking on a prestigious and profitable career, he chooses to give his savings to charity, rid himself of his possessions, and set out on a journey to the Alaskan wilderness.

The main character catches daily glimpses of a couple from the window of her train. She begins to make up her own story lines about the couple and begins to believe that her story is true life. One day, she witnesses something shocking and strange unfold in the backyard of the couple's home. She tells the authorities what she thinks she saw after learning that the woman in the couple is missing. Unable to decipher between her made up story and actual truth, she decides to do her own investigation. Meanwhile, she becomes a suspect, as police start to believe that she may have crossed a dangerous line.

Brilliant account of a 1979 Jailbird.

In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.

This book is a collection of essays that originally appeared in The New York Times. Each essay focuses on a writer's exploration of a location that also inspired a famous author's work. If your favorite part of reading is being transported to a new place, this book will make your imagination soar!

The Common App Essay Question That's Often Overlooked

With June approaching fast, it goes without saying that any high school Junior will soon start to think about — and worry about — the Common Application “college essay.” Last year I wrote a blog post with tips on how to get started. This year, I’d like to talk a little about endings, and while it’s a bit early to be finishing a draft, I hope this ends up taking some guesswork out of the first steps.


The prompt I appreciate most is one that often goes overlooked by my students. This is the fourth prompt, which asks you to describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. “It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale,” the prompt states. “Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

To be clear, it’s not the whole prompt I like, but the “or” part — to focus your essay on a problem you haven’t solved yet, but you’d like to. I suspect students often dismiss this option because it feels like an afterthought, something put there for kids who haven’t done anything but still, by some means or other, need to end up somewhere. Also, I suspect many imagine this prompt would create a dissatisfying end-product: hopes and dreams are fine, but colleges won’t admit you on your fantasies alone.

When I’m not working on college applications, I often help college freshmen on their first or second ever “real” research papers. This inevitably involves some soft anger on the student’s part at the irrationality of learning to write essays one way in high school, only to get to college and learn a structure of essay-writing incompatible with the high school model, but anger turns to confusion when we get to the conclusion, which — welcome to higher education — does anything but close a discussion. “Think of the conclusion as passing a baton from one scholar to the next,” I say, likely echoing their writing seminar professors. “It’s a time to mention the questions your work brings up that are worth exploring but you won’t get to, either because you don’t have the resources or because they’re too vast for one person alone” (or because it’s just an assignment).

The point of this kind of conclusion is that someone else can pick up the threads of your work and run with them — and like that, you build intellectual relationships, weave yourself into an academic community.

When I see the option to write about a problem you’d like to solve, I see the potential for a college-level conclusion, an essay that wraps itself up with open-ended sophistication. As the prompt states, these problems can be of any nature, but they often start with some personal trait or observed truth about the world that’s hard to understand. Some of the most successful essays I’ve worked on revolved around questions like, “I love sports statistics: what does that mean about who I am as a thinker?” Or, “So many people genuinely care about the state of the environment--so why is it so hard to change our habits, and how can we combat that?” Or, paraphrase the central question of my own college essay, “Why do I care so much about making people laugh, and what do I do with that?” Of course, to demonstrate real curiosity in a question of this kind, you’ll almost certainly have to to touch upon things you’ve actually done. But the open-endedness leaves space for your readers — college admissions officers — to pick up the intellectual work where you’ve left off. They know very well the resources their school offers, and they can start to imagine the ways you’ll be able to spend the next four years exploring your unsolved question from many sides.

In short, what I mean to say is that open-endedness is good. Having lingering curiosities can be more valuable than pretending to have all the answers to yourself. So, as you soon begin writing, don’t worry about writing the essay with the grand conclusion. A question, can, and should, lead to more questions. 650 words is hardly more than an intro, anyway, and an acceptance — at the end of it — is an invitation to a beginning.

Changes to the ACT Coming September 2018

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In September, the ACT will be making two changes to the test, one of which affects students with accommodations, one that does not. 

Students receiving an accommodation of 50% extra time will be required to have the time divided proportionally among all of the sections rather than having the option to allocate the additional time as they choose. 

Students without accommodations will see a new 5th section of the test appearing. This will be a short, 20-minute section that will "contain the same sorts of questions as the rest of the test" according to the ACT, although they were not able to say what the topic of the questions would be. This section will be experimental and will not impact students' scores.

These changes will be appearing in the US in September.

As always, if you have any question about this announcement or wish to speak with a LogicPrep advisor, we are more than happy to discuss. Click the button below to reach out today!

You're Invited: Jesse Kolber Foundation Launch Event & Silent Auction

We are thrilled to announce our partnership with The Jesse Kolber Foundation, named after the late Founder of LogicPrep, Jesse Kolber. 

We invite you to join us on May 31st for a launch event & silent auction.

If you are unable to attend the launch event but would like to make a donation, click here.

Advice for the ACT Reading Section

In his last post, Andrew provided some useful tips for the SAT Reading section. To balance things out a bit, I want to offer some advice for the ACT Reading section, where the time pressure (40 questions in 35 minutes!) is even greater than on the SAT (Warning: This passage contains spoilers for LogicPrep ACT Test 32).

When I meet with a beginning student to go over a practice ACT, one of the things that I look at, right off the bat, is the student’s note-taking, the markings they made on the reading passages. What phrases or sentences did they circle or underline? What marginal notations did they make?

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With these beginning students, I usually find that one of two scenarios holds. Sometimes, the student hasn’t made any markings at all. When I see that, it worries me. I wonder whether the student really read the passage. An unmarked page can be a sign that the student simply allowed their eyes to glide over the words and didn’t try to engage actively with the content of the passage. And even if that’s not the case—even if the student read the passage as diligently as they could—I worry that they’re trying to carry too much in their active memories. When they get to a question that stumps them, how are they going to find a way “back in” to the passage they just read?

Other times, I find that the student has underlined just about every word in the passage. This worries me, too. For starters, when the passage is all marked up, the whole purpose of marking the passage has been defeated. How can you find what’s really important when your markings suggest that everything is? And I haven’t even mentioned the time that’s wasted in all that pencil-dragging.

The key is to find a happy medium, and the way to do that is to know ahead of time what you’re looking for. Here are some things I tell students to look for, and to mark, as they read.

For every kind of ACT passage, circle any word you don’t know. “Serendipitous”? Circle it. “Solipsistic”? Circle it. Consider this: If you don’t know the word, chances are good that a lot of other test-takers won’t know it, either. That’s probably why the designers of the test included it there. And if it’s an unusual word whose meaning can be discerned from the context, then it’s quite likely that one of the questions is going to ask you to discern that meaning. If you can anticipate those questions as you read, you’ll save time later.

Relatedly, mark any language that stands out—any phrase that’s especially colorful, or unusual, or that makes you pause so that you can figure it out. If an author describes part of his writing process as “tak[ing] arms against [a] word, or for it”—well, that’s a weird thing to say. Underline the phrase, and take those few seconds to think about what the author means. Again, it’s likely that one of the questions will ask you to do that. So why not get out ahead of the question?

For fiction and humanities passages, keep in mind that many of the ACT’s literary narratives are not linear; what happens in the first paragraph of the passage is not necessarily the first event in the timeline of the story. The ACT loves flashbacks, flash-forwards, and interspersed plot lines, and it loves asking you to put a story’s events in chronological order. When the time of the plot shifts in any of these ways, I put a big “T” in the margin, to mark the shift in time.

For fiction and humanities passages, I also pay attention to, and mark, any expressions of strong feeling. If the main character says that he is “insanely jealous” of something, or if an author tells you that a character clenched her teeth, mark that! The questions will often ask you about what’s going on, emotionally, in a passage.

Finally, for social science and natural science passages, underline any unanswered questions or any questions that are still awaiting scientific investigation. The ACT loves to ask about these; I guess they want to make sure that, once you’re done reading, you’re clear on what it is you DON’T know. I mark these unanswered questions with a big “U” in the margin.

Those are just a few of my suggestions. And they could all be summarized under a more general piece of advice: 

Read actively, and mark the passages selectively to help you in your active reading.

If you see me around, I’d love to hear what you look for and mark as you read. Are there other things I should add to my list?