SAT Verbal

A Letter to High School Students Who Don't Read

Dear High Schoolers,

Here’s the problem: you probably don’t read. Ok, actually, you don’t read at all. If you’re trying to get better at standardized tests, unfortunately, Instagram is not going to help you. Scrolling through nonsense on your phone does not count as reading, even if you’ve traded every spare minute of your life staring at Twitter.  

Here’s the solution: read something-- anything that’s more than one page long. I’m not asking for much, but let’s consider how much I’ve read this summer and then compare it to how much you’ve read this summer. We can then compromise on how many pages you are going to read so that you can become a faster reader and score higher on your tests. Perhaps they weren’t the best books I’ve ever read, but I’ll run you through them here just so you have an idea of what people who read, do. 

 Roger caught reading at our annual retreat

Roger caught reading at our annual retreat

The first book I read this summer was called American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. It is a quick novel, just 465 pages, and I don’t recommend it unless you’re into fantasy and nonsense. Not the kind of nonsense on Elliot Tebele's Instagram, mind you, but well-written nonsense. The story is one of the old gods vs. the new; the old Norse and native American gods are getting old and can’t compete with the new gods of media and television. A war is taking place in the American psyche and you are on the front lines. I will not mention that this is now a TV show because you’ll probably just stream it and continue to read nothing.

Next up was Love and Other Pranks, by Tony Vigorito. It's a silly love story nestled in a silly caper to expose the lies and deceit of a new-age guru charlatan. The guru is a horrible person and hoards money that he gets from his congregation. His former student decides to take revenge with a lot of laughing out loud along the way.  

And then there was The Dark Tower, by Stephen King, a modern-day Lord of the Rings epic. While a bit more R-rated, this story follows a cloaked mercenary through a series of adventures that are typically weird. These books are also well-written nonsense but in my defense, we are up over a thousand pages of nonsense that I’ve put on my summer reading list so far.

For the nerdist types, the last book I'll mention is The Dragons of Eden, by Carl Sagan. This book takes the reader on a journey of scientific discovery beginning at the brains of the dinosaurs. Reptile brains are small and consist of a spinal cord and a small nub at the end called the R-complex (much like the human medulla oblongata). It is thought that much of our instinct is present in this area and only through the advent of the cerebral corpus have higher order animals developed the ability to think clearly. The problem is that having a cerebral cortex does not guarantee that you, my friend, are thinking clearly.

Please, I implore you, use your cerebral cortex for more than cat videos and learn something for crying out loud. Let's compromise on you reading more than a few pages of an actual book every day. If for nothing more than to improve your ACT or SAT score. But remember, Instagram and Twitter pages don't count.

Sincerely,

Roger, Instructor (and concerned citizen)

What Happened with the June SAT?

People are fired up about the June SAT.

When the College Board released SAT scores last week, many students noticed something off: they missed the same number of questions as on previous tests, but their scores were lower. In some cases, students answered more questions correctly only to see their scores go down.

How is this possible? Well, unlike most high school grades, the SAT scores that get reported to colleges are not "raw" scores that directly reflect the percentage of questions answered correctly. Instead, they are “scaled” scores out of 800 in each section. This scaled score is what allows colleges to compare a score that a student received in May in Brazil with a score received in October in Florida, or a score received by an applicant this year with a score received by an applicant last year.

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There are minor variations in difficulty between one test form and another, so the scale used -- commonly called the test's "curve" -- changes slightly from test to test. In one typical test, missing 5 questions across the two math sections might lower a student's score from a "perfect" 800 to a 760. In another, the same number of errors might only lower the score to a 780. The College Board calls this process test equating, and it's based on test statistics, not on individual performance.

This kind of "equating" -- and the frustration it can cause students -- is nothing new. So why are people so upset about the June SAT? Two reasons: First, the curve was the steepest by far since the new SAT was first administered in 2016. According to some students' score reports, missing the same number of questions resulted in scores as many as 90 points lower than in previous test administrations. A gap that large raises alarms: while equating works well between tests with only a slight variation in difficulty, it doesn't work well when some tests are substantially "easier" than others. The frustration over the curve is felt particularly strongly among high-scoring students since a test with a steep curve fails to distinguish meaningfully between content-based errors and a small number of careless mistakes.

Second, four items were removed from the Verbal side of the test (two from the Reading section, and two from the Writing and Language section). The test is designed to be able to provide an accurate score even when some questions are deemed flawed after the fact and removed from consideration; still, having four items removed on top of a steep curve for an "easy" test has left many students feeling like the College Board's June test was simply unfair.

What can be done?

The College Board has released a statement affirming that scores are accurate, so don’t expect any adjustments to the test's scale or scoring. Instead of focusing on this one test, students should remember that standardized testing is a long game. Most of our students take the test multiple times in part because the tests -- as well as individual performance -- can vary from day-to-day. The ultimate goal of testing is to present colleges with a score that reflects your hard work and your abilities, and it's difficult for any one test to indicate more than just your performance on a single day. This is a big part of why many colleges "superscore" the test, taking the highest score from each section across multiple tests. Even rising seniors still have several opportunities to take the test again, including August 25 (registration deadline July 27, late registration deadline August 15), October 6, and November 3.

The June test was unusual -- and with all the outcry, you can be sure the College Board will be working even harder to ensure consistent test difficulty in the future. But under normal circumstances, "equating" makes the tests more fair, not less. If you're well prepared and one test section feels harder than usual on test day, you should expect the curve to reflect that. And if you unexpectedly finish a section earlier than usual, be sure to take that opportunity to double check for careless mistakes.

Three Tips for the SAT Reading Section That Will Help You in College, Too

When the College Board redesigned the SAT in 2016, the reading section got a big overhaul. One of the changes was an increase in text complexity: the new SAT doesn't just test the kind of texts you've seen in high school, but also texts that resemble what you might see in college.  

And whether you're a voracious reader in your spare time or haven't picked up a book willingly in several months, college reading can present all kinds of challenges. Often, college courses will assign large amounts of reading each week -- several articles, even a full-length book -- without giving much direction about which sections are most important or what the professor expects you to glean from each text. One of the toughest lessons to learn in college is that reading is no longer one-size-fits-all.

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While a standardized test hardly replicates the kind of reading you'll do in your actual college courses, studying for the test presents an opportunity to develop critical reading skills that you can use in college and beyond. Without further ado, here are three tips for the SAT reading section that will help you in college, too:

 

Tip #1: Do a Little Pre-Reading

Reading something cold is a lot harder (and slower) than reading something when you've been given some context and clues about why you're reading it. But on the SAT, no one introduces a text to you before you have to read it. So, it pays to take a moment and orient yourself before diving into the passage.

Each passage starts with a citation, which includes, at the very least, an author, title and year. These are important cues that warrant reading in and of themselves (you'll read a passage from 2016 with a different set of expectations than a passage from 1816, for example). But for the trickiest passages, you'll often find a brief explanation of what you're about to read.

This information, when given, is usually very helpful in contextualizing what otherwise might have been a very confusing excerpt of a text!

Similarly, it can be helpful to skim the question stems for tidbits of information and hints as to what's important before you read the passage. On the SAT, I like to group the "evidence" questions together with their pairs before I dive into the passage.

These tend to be difficult question about critical moments in the text, so priming myself to key ideas in the passage helps me to really notice the most important moments in the text. Plus, it's not at all obvious when a question is about to be followed by an "evidence" question (I've even seen the evidence question come after a page break!), so grouping these two questions together can help you to get both answers correct more quickly and efficiently.  

How can this help you in college? Well, orienting yourself before you start can be extremely helpful when doing your readings in college, too. If your professor doesn't introduce a text before assigning it, don't be afraid to introduce it to yourself. Wikipedia and Sparknotes may not be the best source for your papers, but it's only smart to use them to set yourself up for better reading, more focused note-taking, and more success.  

 

Tip #2: Read with a Purpose  

Reading is reading, right? Wrong: strong readers adjust their reading strategy to each reading task.  

On the SAT, the passages are short, and they are chosen and excerpted for a reason. In the nonfiction passages, you're not just reading for information, but for an argument. A good author will motivate their argument (suggest why a reading public would be interested in their claims), state their claim, and then develop it. On your first reading, your task is to skim for these key moments, and then flag them so you can return to them while answering the questions. Having this purpose in mind can help keep you from getting bogged down in details, which you can always return to if a question demands.

In college, most readings aren't one page long. However, their different forms still provide clues for how to read them with purpose. Textbooks have subtitles, chapter introductions and summaries. Nonfiction books might have prefaces that comment on a book's history and impact. Excerpts from larger works that your professor has scanned and assigned have been selected for a reason -- so look for the kernel that led your professor to select it in the first place. Reading should be dynamic and purposeful, rather than just a passive process of absorbing information.

 

Tip #3: You Can Read Faster Than You Think You Can

We learn to read by sounding out words out loud, so it's only natural that we keep hearing the words we read in our heads. The thing is, our brains can read and process written information much faster than we can make all the sounds in our heads.  

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But when I'm not paying attention, I still tend to catch myself "vocalizing" every word I read. Sometimes I want to do this -- say, when I'm first starting a book, getting a feel for an author's voice, or just plain reading for pleasure. But on the SAT, this isn't necessary. Learning to skim, for me, was mostly a process of letting go of this habit of "hearing" every word I read.

Not only can skimming in this way save you time, it can help you focus on what's most important in a text and avoid getting sidetracked by every aside and detail. This applies outside of the SAT as well: recognize when you're reading primarily for sound or for style, and distinguish this from when you're reading for key argumentative turns or for content. Learning to adjust the pace of your reading can help you be attentive to the level of a text that you are most interested in.  


 

There you have it! The most important thing to remember is that being asked to "read" something can mean a lot of different things. Try becoming aware of your own reading tics and habits, and start playing with your reading strategies. Be sure to let us know what you notice!  

Learning a New Language?

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When I was 10 years old I moved to a foreign country where I didn't understand a single word of what anyone was saying. It was a shocking experience as I never expected to be in a reality where everything was so familiar and unknown at the same time. The first time I went to school in this new place I struggled a lot to understand others and to be understood. That was the moment I realized how important communication and languages are. Here are some tips that I certainly used as I ventured into this new world.

 

Everyone starts at zero

Just like a baby who’s learning how to speak, you’re going to say a lot of silly things when learning a new language, so just get over it and throw yourself out there! 

Don't be afraid of making mistakes. Achieving your goals requires failing and learning from mistakes. 

Learning a foreign language is not so different from when you learned your native one. You need to listen and repeat the same sounds you’re hearing, making connections between words, feelings and moments, just as you used to do with your parents right after you were born. 

 

Phonemes

Have you ever noticed that who speaks more than one language seems to have more than one voice? This happens because every language works with different phonemes, sounds, and tones, so our voice needs to adapt to them. 

For instance, Brazilians have trouble pronouncing the ‘th’ sound in English (found in words like ‘think’ or ‘thumb’) and Americans have trouble saying the ‘ão’ sound found in words such as ‘pão’ or ‘macarrão’ in Portuguese.

In order to correctly pronounce new phonemes, you need to pay attention to how native speakers move their lips, tongues and more importantly to their voice intonation/cadence.  

 

Conversation is Key

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I commonly hear that the best way to learn a new language is to move to a foreign country, and this is true, but I also know people who lived outside their native country and never learned a thing. So what’s the secret?! It’s simple: TALK

Research has shown that our brains record information that involves human experiences and feelings much easier as opposed to just memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules by heart. So in order to actually learn a language, you need to engage in conversations, talk to new people and you’ll learn something new every time you do it. 

 

Reading is very important

Either for work, school, or personal interest, reading is probably one of the things we do the most on a daily basis, so it’s very important that you dedicate lots of time to read during your learning process - It will help you to understand grammar and to learn new words and expressions. 

 

Listen and Repeat

It’s important that you never feel ashamed to ask “How do you say..” to someone, and when you do, try to use it a few times right away. Note it down, and try to repeat it again after a few hours, and then the day after. With practice and repetition, it's likely that you'll remember the next time.

 

Learning Stages

According to a study by the University of Portland, there are 5 stages to learning a new language: 

  1. Silent/receptive - During this time, new language learners typically spend time learning vocabulary and practice pronouncing new words
  2. Early production - Language learners typically acquire an understanding of up to 1,000 words. They may also learn to speak some words and begin forming short phrases, even though they may not be grammatically correct.
  3. Speech emergence - By this stage, learners typically acquire a vocabulary of up to 3,000 words and learn to communicate by putting the words in short phrases, sentences, and questions. 
  4. Intermediate fluency - At this stage, learners typically have a vocabulary of as many as 6,000 words. They usually acquire the ability to communicate in writing and speech using more complex sentences. This crucial stage is also when learners begin thinking in their second language, which helps them gain more proficiency in speaking it.
  5. Continued language development/advanced fluency - It may take up to 10 years to achieve full mastery of the second language in all its complexities and nuances. Second language learners need ongoing opportunities to engage in discussions and express themselves in their new language, in order to maintain fluency in it.

 

Although learning a language may not seem very rewarding or satisfying at first, I personally think that it is only through communication that we will actually be able to evolve and grow as individuals. Nowadays, the world has become a sort of modern Pangea that’s all connected. Why not take on the adventure of understanding one another? 

Improve Your ACT Score by Practicing This Skill

A lot of students starting out the ACT or SAT prep process freeze up when it comes to the reading section. They'll say, "I'm just not a fast reader," or "not a good reader," or "I don't remember what I read." Often, they're already better readers than they think they are ... but there are ways to get even better.

Reading is a skill you practice and improve at throughout your whole life. The more you do it, the better you'll get at moving quickly and absorbing what's on the page ... and you'll also get good at recognizing what your brain needs to hold onto, and what's less important. So here are some tips to maximize your reading skills, not just for the test but for life -- which, of course, is what it's all about.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE 

As with anything in life that you want to be good at, it all comes down to practice. Results don't show up overnight but over a sustained period of dedicated application. And the best way to build practice into your life is to ...

 

MAKE IT A HABIT 

If you just say to yourself, "I'm gonna practice my reading this week -- I really mean it this time," the week is likely to come and go (again) without you ever cracking that book. But if you say, "This week, on Monday through Friday from 7:00-7:30 pm, I'm going to sit in my favorite chair with [book that I'm really excited about] and try to get through X number of pages," your odds of actually doing it go way up. Best of all, before long it becomes second nature: instead of having to force yourself to sit down at the same time every day, you'll find it feels strange NOT to.

 

PICK SOMETHING YOU LIKE 

The best way to keep yourself practicing anything is to find the joy in it, and reading is no different -- so choose something you think you'll like. When I was going through a Stephen King phase in high school, I had a teacher scoff, "It's like chewing gum for the mind ... there's no substance!" Maybe, maybe not, but who cares?! It doesn't have to be "great literature" ... it just has to be fun!

 

GET A READING BUDDY 

Find someone who wants to read the same book, and challenge each other to get through chapters so you can talk about it, the same way you would about Game of Thrones or anything else you love. Even better: do it together, in the same time and place, so you can really hold each other accountable.

 

SEE, DON'T HEAR

Many people, when reading, hear themselves actually saying the words in their head as they go along ... meaning you're only reading as fast as you can talk, which is a fraction of the speed you're actually capable of. This is called "subvocalization," and you want to train yourself out of it. Instead of hearing or listening to the words, try to visualize what the words represent, and suddenly the book will become a fast-paced movie in your mind.

 

"CAST" THE STORY WITH YOUR OWN PEOPLE AND PLACES.

This is similar to the memorization technique called a "memory palace." Here's how a memory palace works: in order to memorize something -- say, items in a long list -- you envision yourself walking through a familiar environment, such as your house, and "placing" the different items at locations in the house. The premise is that, by linking these new items with places that are familiar to you, it will create associations that you can hold onto. The same idea can work when you read. If a new character is introduced, maybe imagine that she looks like your second-grade teacher, and it might be easier to remember the things she says because she has a familiar voice. If the book takes place in some grand mansion, maybe it can look like that art museum from that class trip last year, and you'll remember that the first scene in the book happens in the room with your favorite painting on the wall.

 

Whatever you do, recognize that your "inner reader" will really kick into gear when reading is not a chore, but a pleasure. If you've never liked reading, I can practically guarantee you it's just because you haven't found the material you click with or the reading habits that work best for you. So if this sounds like you, keep looking ... and keep reading!

How to Stay Sharp Over the Summer

As the school year winds down, students are understandably looking ahead eagerly to the summer break. Regardless of where you are in your high school career, keeping your mind sharp over the summer is essential.

For freshmen, your sophomore year will offer a more challenging course load, sometimes featuring your first AP classes. It is crucial to build on the success you established your first year or turn the page and start anew if you struggled.

For sophomores, junior year will be seen as the doorway to college acceptance since you will likely be taking ACTs and SATs for the first time, along with juggling your busiest course load of high school.

Juniors who have finished with the SAT or ACT still have the rigors of college applications and a challenging fall semester to look forward to, while those who have not finished with the tests will have to gear up again for the fall exams.

And even for the seniors who are already accepted into college, I would remind you that the level of comprehension necessary for college courses far surpasses that of high school classes.

With all this in mind, I recommend that students do their best to avoid the trap of summer complacency, which can make starting the new school year all that much more painful. You should all pursue intriguing, unique experiences over the summer, but there are simple steps you can take to keep your mind functioning at a high level.

For most students, the most important step is to read consistently at a high level. Some of you are ambitious enough readers to tackle full novels, in which case you should check out our summer reading list here.  For those of you who feel overwhelmed by the commitment of a novel, challenge yourself to read one article each day in a publication such as The Atlantic, Popular Science, Scientific American, The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal. These publications are written at a level similar to or above that which you will usually find on the SAT or ACT.

For those of you trying to get ahead on your SAT or ACT prep or make a strong final push for the fall exams, I would strongly recommend a consistent review of the English rules and math equations, as well as steady practice with your past mistakes. Even 10 to 15 minutes of work each day can make a significant impact on your readiness at the start of the next school year.

So challenge yourself to stay sharp and keep yourself ahead of the curve this summer!

 

-Jamie K, Test Prep Advisor & Instructor

These children's books should be included on your summer reading list

Did you know that children's literature can offer the same benefits that other literature or art can offer and can help students to learn key skills that are often found on the ACT/SAT Verbal & Reading sections? Not only that, but children's books can also make reading enjoyable for the array of students who walk through the LogicPrep doors. Whether English is your second language or you are just trying to strengthen your reading comprehension and grammar skills, children's books can help and encourage reading for pleasure.

The books below are pieces of literature that I read many years ago and still resonate with me today. So much so, that I think every student and adult should read and re-read them again and again!

"Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White

I first read this book in 3rd grade, and it was the first book that ever made me cry.  It's an all-time classic, and I love the way E.B White uses humor and straightforwardness to teach about the world, love, and especially friendship through the relationships of a girl, pig, and spider.

 

 

 

 

 

 


"The Giver" by Lois Lowry

Jonas, the main character, lives in a futuristic society that has eliminated choice; there is no color nor much emotion. Just is different and is extremely caring and shows concern for his family and friends. After being chosen as the new receiver of memories, his world drastically changes and he has to stand up for what he believes in. When you break this book down and look deeper than the surface, it's absolutely AMAZING and contains a great use of imagery and suspense. This one can be read over and over and over again.

 

 

 

 

 


"Amber Brown is not a Crayon" by Paula Danziger

I loved, loved, LOVED this book series. "Amber Brown is Not a Crayon" is about a spunky 3rd grader named Amber Brown who finds out her best friend is moving away and deals with all the crazy emotions that come her way while in elementary school. Honestly, what Amber goes through is relatable to any student regardless of their grade. 
 

Say hello to our newest instructor!

Introducing Elizabeth!

From English to Science to Italian, Elizabeth has you covered.

Elizabeth, who goes by "Bits", graduated Cum Laude from Princeton with a degree in French and Italian Language and Literature, accompanied by a minor in Theater. Her thesis work, an original bilingual play, perfectly married these two interests and was awarded the American Legion of Italian Scholars Merit Prize her senior year. A storyteller at heart, Bits seeks to help develop students' unique narrative voices in their writing. In her free time, she can be found penning sketches at UCB, watching any and all documentaries, making short films, or holed up in a coffee shop with her journal.