Study Tips

Tips for Succeeding on the Spanish Subject Test

For many speakers of Brazilian Portuguese, taking the SAT Subject Test in Spanish seems like a no-brainer. After all, Spanish and Portuguese have upwards of 80% lexical similarity, and the infamous portuñol has long allowed Latin Americans of both linguistic backgrounds to communicate with some degree of ease.

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Yet Brazilians should not think of the SAT Subject Test in Spanish as a cakewalk. There are crucial differences between the two languages that can bring down your test score if you aren't careful. I for one learned Spanish growing up, and after two years of study, continue to find Portuguese both familiar and challenging. While understanding written Spanish may not be difficult for Brazilian students, the SAT Subject Test asks questions about very specific grammar topics -- pronouns and irregular conjugations, for instance -- that require some preparation.

Remember, the biggest difference between Spanish and Portuguese is phonetics. Since you won’t be speaking on the test, don’t fret! Do, however, review these key concepts before jumping into the Spanish test cold turkey:

Articles & Demonstrative Pronouns

Definite articles

Feminine -- La, las
Masculine -- El, los

Indefinite articles

Feminine -- una, unas
Masculine -- un, unos

Note that in Spanish, there are far fewer contractions with prepositions than in Portuguese. Only de and el contract (to “del”).

Demonstrative pronouns also resemble Portuguese, but watch the spelling! None of these will ever contract with any prepositions.

Feminine: Esta, esa, aquella
Masculine: Este, ese, aquél
Neutral: Esto, eso, aquello

Personal Pronouns & Possessives

Brazilian Portuguese is a very colloquial (informal) language, meaning that many of its grammatical rules tend to be disregarded in everyday speech. Spanish tends to retain a more formal linguistic structure even in informal contexts. Pronouns and possessives are one area where this difference is evident. Take a look at this chart:

 *For reflexive verbs  ªIf you’ve studied Spanish, you might be familiar with the pronouns “vos” (common in certain countries in South America) or “vosotros” (common in Spain). Don’t worry about learning either of these for the sake of the SAT Subject Test.

*For reflexive verbs

ªIf you’ve studied Spanish, you might be familiar with the pronouns “vos” (common in certain countries in South America) or “vosotros” (common in Spain). Don’t worry about learning either of these for the sake of the SAT Subject Test.

It might be helpful to review the difference between subject and object pronouns in English (a classic ACT/SAT topic) before jumping into the differences between Spanish and Portuguese. Notice, however, the surface level similarities between the cousin languages.

Subject pronouns are straightforward: we use them to replace nouns that are in subject position, meaning that they come before a verb.

Object pronouns are a bit more complicated. In Spanish, there are three different types of object pronouns: direct, indirect, and prepositional.

Direct Object Pronouns

These replace nouns that are being directly acted upon. For instance:

I met her at the beach yesterday.
Eu a conheci na praia ontem.
(Colloquial Portuguese: Eu conheci ela na praia ontem.)
Yo la conocí en la playa ayer.

Indirect object pronouns replace nouns (usually people) that are not being acted upon directly, but are receiving the direct object of the sentence:

I give him homework after every class.
Eu lhe dou liçāo de casa depois de cada aula.
(Colloquial Portuguese: Eu dou liçāo de casa para ele depois de cada aula)
Yo le doy tarea después de cada clase.

Here, homework is the direct object -- the thing being given -- while him is the person being given that item, hence the indirect object.

Notice that in Portuguese, the difference between the direct and indirect object pronouns is often ignored in everyday speech; Brazilians use subject pronouns no matter the noun’s position vis-à-vis the verb, and they often make use prepositional phrases to avoid using the object pronoun, as shown above. Spanish behaves more like English or French in its retention of the distinction between subject pronouns, direct/indirect object pronouns, and even prepositional pronouns:

This is very hard for you.
Isto é muito difícil para você.
Esto es muy difícil para tí

Moreover, be sure to not forget that genitive pronouns (possessive pronouns) exist in Spanish, as in English and French! In Portuguese, the genitive form is constructed by adding a definite article to the possessive adjective, whereas Spanish has a different form. This distinction is an important one:

This test is mine.
Essa prova é a minha.
Esa prueba es mía.

Essential Logical Connectors

A lot of prepositions, introductory phrases, and logical connectors in Spanish will be familiar to speakers of Portuguese. Some, however, are quite different. Be sure to know the ones that differ most from Portuguese:

Luego – don’t confuse this one with logo! “Luego” in Spanish means “then” or “next,” not necessarily “quickly” or “very soon” as in Portuguese.

ES — PT
Todavía – ainda
Sin embargo – porém
Aunque – embora
Hace falta – é preciso
Ademas — além disso
Pero — mas
Así que — assim que, entāo
Entonces — então, pois

Verb Tenses

In general, Spanish and Portuguese verbs behave relatively similarly in their written form. One major difference lies in the subjunctive. For one, Spanish does not have a future subjunctive; in cases where the future subjunctive is used in Portuguese, hispanohablantes will usually substitute the present or imperfect subjunctive. Sometimes, Spanish speakers forgo the subjunctive altogether, especially when talking about hypotheticals or plans for the future:

“Se for para o Brasil, você precisa visitar o Rio de Janeiro.” (future subjunctive)
“Si vas a Brasil, tienes que visitar Rio de Janeiro” (present indicative)

Overall, however, speakers of Portuguese should be relatively familiar with Spanish verbs. That said, Spanish has a lot of "stem-changing" verbs that complicate mutual intelligibility, particularly in the subjunctive. These verbs behave a bit erratically, changing in spelling and thus deviating significantly from the Portuguese equivalent.

Make sure you know the meaning of these twelve essential irregular verbs. Don’t forget how to conjugate them in the present and imperfect* subjunctive tenses:


Infinitive  / present subjunctive (3rd person sing) / imperfect subjunctive (3rd person sing)
Estar / esté / estuviera
Ser / sea / fuera
Haber / haya / hubiera
Tener / tenga / tuviera
Hacer / haga / hiciera
Poder / pueda / pudiera
Conocer / conozca / conociera
Saber / sepa / supiera
Venir / venga / viniera
Pedir / pida / pidiera
Querer / quiera / quisiera  
Decir / diga / dijera

Note: don’t be overwhelmed(!), but the imperfect subjunctive in Spanish actually has two forms. The one listed above is more common, but you might see the other form on the SAT. All you do is swap out the -era ending for -ese: estuviese, fuese, hubiese, etc.

False Cognates

While context clues and shared Latin roots will help a lusophone tremendously on the Spanish SAT Subject Test, there are lots of false cognates between the two languages. Here are the eight words most likely to trip you up on the SAT Subject Test:

Tirar
BR-PT: to take away, to steal, or to obtain (as in tirar a 36 on the ACT!)
ES: to throw
(quitar is the Spanish verb for “to take away” – but you would not say “quité un 36 en el ACT;” instead, try the verb sacar)

Pronto
BR-PT: ready, done, finished (ES: listo/a)
ES: fast, quickly, right away

Concertar
BR-PT: to fix, to mend, to repair (ES: arreglar)
ES: to schedule

Acordarse
BR-PT: to wake up (ES: despertarse)
ES: to remember

Pasta
BR-PT: folder (ES: carpeta)
ES: pasta (e.g. al dente, primavera, with pesto, etc.)

Sitio
BR-PT: farm, ranch (ES: granja or finca)
ES: site, place

Cena
BR-PT: scene (ES: escena)
ES: dinner

(Des)envolver
BR-PT: to develop (ES: desarrollar), to involve (ES: involucrar)
ES: to (un)wrap (e.g. a package)

How to Solve It

One of my jobs at LogicPrep is to help students prepare for the ACT and SAT. Unsurprisingly, this involves spending lots of time working on, thinking about, and discussing ACT and SAT problems. These are activities some might seek to avoid, reminders of stressful days spent in examination rooms and the fraught process of college applications. While I understand the aversion, however, I do not share it. It is not that I enjoy the cutthroat arena of standardized testing (I do not); it is simply that these tests, while imperfect, represent an opportunity to develop a skill I value deeply in myself and those around me: the ability to solve problems.

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In 1945, Hungarian mathematician George Pólya wrote his short text, How to Solve It, an exploration of problem solving methods drawn from mathematics but applicable in a wide variety of problematic settings. Its introduction lays out the following four-step process, to be used when presented with a new and vexing problem:

1. Understand the problem

Example:
Susie is a rising junior in high school interested in applying to a competitive university, and she needs to take the ACT or SAT. This is a problem for her because she knows little about either exam, has a very busy course load at school, and does not consider herself to be a good test taker. Her older sister Jennifer, always a model student, earned a very high score on the ACT but was still rejected from her top-choice school, and Susie worries this may happen to her.

2. Devise a plan

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Ex. (continued):
Susie decides to meet with a tutor her friend recommends, and she and the tutor plot a course of action together. Since Susie is swamped with schoolwork, it is important she spread out her test preparation as much as possible, so she plans to begin the process the following weekend. She schedules a mock ACT and a mock SAT at a local testing center to determine which exam is a better fit, and she schedules weekly sessions with her tutor to work on relevant math topics, as math is her weakest subject. She aims to take her first official exam in the spring, leaving open the option of taking the test again in the summer and fall.

3. Carry out the plan

Ex. (continued):
Susie finds that the ACT is a better fit for her than the SAT, since she doesn’t mind its strict time limits and actually enjoys the Science section, much to her friends’ disbelief. She and her tutor begin a thorough review of important math topics, including linear and quadratic functions, right triangle trigonometry, and systems of equations. Though she takes a couple of weeks off from her ACT prep for an important soccer tournament (which her team wins), she completes the homework her tutor assigns her and doesn’t lose momentum. In April, Susie performs well on her first official exam, but she decides to shoot for a higher math score and takes the June test as well, ultimately achieving her goal score.

4. Reflect on your work

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Ex. (continued):
When Susie applies Early Decision to her top choice school and is admitted in December, she takes a moment to reflect on her work over the preceding year. Though it is not her style to boast, she feels proud of her accomplishment and is glad she set aside the time to thoroughly prepare for the ACT. Starting early had been a good idea; it made her feel more optimistic about her odds of success and allowed room for unforeseen interruptions to her preparation – her victory in that soccer tournament turned out to be a nice boost to her college application, and an experience with teammates she will never forget.

If Susie could have done one thing differently, it would have been to worry less about her sister’s performance on the ACT and in the college admissions process. Jennifer’s experience was instructive, but it was only one data point in a sea of possible outcomes (and Jennifer’s second-choice school turned out to be a perfect fit for her). Comparing herself with Jennifer was counterproductive, for everybody is different and follows a different path in life. Susie is now more confident in her ability to solve challenging problems on her own, and when faced with life’s next major problem, she will know how to solve it: just take things step by step.

Bounty of the Bard: The Profit of Minor Insights

As many of my students know, I am a self-professed Shakespeare obsessive. His writing – plays and sonnets – might first be introduced in middle or high school as seemingly distant, foreignly-rendered text, but the reality of each line teems with vivid, living and immediate human experience. This experience isn’t something apart from what you, the student, or I, the instructor, might be familiar with – somewhere, in any given line from any work of Shakespeare’s – from the popularly known to the obscure – contains an articulation of every complex emotion that can be experienced: all one needs to do is be paying attention.

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How is this relevant to education practice, or test prep, you might ask? In a larger sense, our shared work toward test prep mastery is centered on self-knowledge and improvement – we strategize around our strength and perceived weaknesses to build a more confident, fully-rendered you (and the human care and reflection built throughout Shakespeare can be a key tenet of that process). 

Let’s look at this in detail: Act I, Scene I of the comedy Taming of the Shrew:

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en.
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.

  Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer in Phylida Lloyd’s 2016 Production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (   Photo courtesy of the Public Theater   )

Cush Jumbo and Janet McTeer in Phylida Lloyd’s 2016 Production at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (Photo courtesy of the Public Theater)

In the very earliest moments of the play, Tranio (the servant of a secondary character, someone to whom, in the larger scheme of narrative, we might pay little to no attention) delivers an invaluable, sharp insight of empowerment. Enjoyment, and sincere investment, is key to effective growth in any capacity – particularly academic. It’s all about finding your point of entry. Perhaps the content is key, and you readily invest in any fictional work; perhaps you’re of a puzzle-breaking mind, and analyzing and breaking the patterns of the test is your tactic of approach; or perhaps, simply, your drive to put in the work is to finish as soon as possible. Success is personal, and honest-to-goodness happiness is key.

And maybe there’s a lesson to be taken not only from the text, but also from the fashion of its use. A kernel of profundity placed within the early lines of a minor character – easy to overlook, and even easier to not give credence to when notice is taken. Shakespeare imbues every character with expansive humanity, whether central or tertiary. There is human use to this – in the attention we pay to people of all stripes who enter within our narrative – and certainly educational use, too. 

There is innate value in detail-oriented attention, and by taking in every aspect of how value is delivered to us, in Shakespeare, in life, and in the testing room, build a stronger, more comprehensive understanding as we move forward. A growing profit, indeed.

My Biggest Regret in College & How You Can Avoid the Same Mistake

Ah, summer. The sunny skies, the green green grass. Beach time if you're lucky, study time if you're ... well, study time. Period.

Some of you are heading back to high school in the fall for another year, inching (or, from your parents' perspectives, hurtling) toward the Great Launch to College. And some of you are making the Great Launch even as we speak, preparing to enter a brand new world, surrounded by exciting new people and exciting new opportunities. Either way, in the short term or the (not very) long term, you are looking toward a time of choices -- what to learn, whom to hang out with -- and in many cases, it will be hard to make a truly wrong choice. You're going to learn a lot, no matter what you do, and learning is the whole point, and the joy.

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I have exactly one regret about my choices in college. In order to fulfill a curriculum requirement one semester, I was choosing between two science classes: one, a notoriously EASY course in electrical engineering, where the main assignment was to create a rudimentary website by the end of the course; the other, a notoriously HARD class on the physics and acoustics of musical instruments. Now, I'm a musician, and I love everything having to do with music. The acoustics class looked so intriguing ... but I thought to myself, "Do I really want to do hard calculus problems again? Wouldn't I enjoy myself more if I gave myself a break and coasted through the semester this time?" And so, like many others, I chose the website class ... and it nags at me to this day. 

 Sound waves from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

Sound waves from Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

I got nothing from that easy class. (Well, I guess I got a lousy website, but even that is long gone.) But I still think about what it might have been like to explore the science of how music, my life's greatest passion, is actually physically made. I look at a rock band, or an orchestra, and think, "I could have learned how all those magical things are happening. How the strings vibrate the air, how the overtones color the sounds of the oboe and the electric guitar, how changing the length of the air column in the flute changes the pitch ..." But I didn't. I ... I chose the road MORE traveled by ... and that has made, if not all the difference, at least enough difference that I still look back at where those roads diverged.

So what I'm saying is: when it comes to the choices between the hard and the easy, remember to push yourself. Don't just float down the river; choose the course where there are rapids to navigate, because the rapids are thrilling and exhilarating, and even if you come out exhausted and bedraggled on the other side, you will remember it with joy and pride.

And you know what else? It's never too late to pick the challenge. We live in a world where we can go back and find those textbooks on musical instruments, and learn what we never pushed ourselves to learn back then. So I think I'm gonna go do that ... gonna head down the rapids I steered myself away from so long ago. See you on the other side.

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. 

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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!

Here’s a Novel Idea: Check Out the Library

I recently discovered this thing called a “library” where they just let you borrow books for
free, and let me tell you, it’s amazing.

For real, though, I’ve been on a library kick recently and can’t recommend it highly enough.
There are lots of books I’ve heard good things about, but sometimes I’m just not sure I want to
commit to buying them and setting aside shelf space for them. Enter the library.

 LogicPrep São Paulo's library

LogicPrep São Paulo's library

I’ve read about two dozen library books in the past year -- novels, short story collections, non-fiction -- that I probably never would have read otherwise. Some of them I’ve researched on
“Best Of” lists, some of them have been staff picks, and some of them have just had interesting
or eye-catching covers. Some of them have been amazing, and some underwhelming. But all of
them have been worthwhile.

We often stress the importance of reading to our students -- it expands vocabularies, highlights effective communication of ideas, and introduces new perspectives. And these are all true! But you can’t read if you don’t have a book, and what I’ve found is that swinging by the library and grabbing something off the shelves increases the chances that in my downtime, I’ll read a few pages of whatever’s on hand rather than scroll through my phone.

So whether it’s your school’s library or your local public library (or even the LogicPrep Library-- available in São Paulo and coming soon to Miami!), I encourage you to stop by and grab whatever catches your eye. It makes it much more likely that you’ll reap the benefits of
reading.

Plus, they don’t even charge you!

Pro Tip: Organization is Key

Have you ever woke up abruptly in the middle of the night with the terrible realization that you have a paper due in 5 hours that you forgot to finish? Somewhere between a group project and your laundry, you neglected to actually write your history paper, even though the research has been done for weeks. It’s in this moment while you’re furiously typing, stealing quick glances at your pillow, that you realize with just a little more organization, this situation could have been avoided.

 

Clear your desk of clutter

That pile of papers on your desk that has been growing taller for weeks is doing more harm than you realize. Besides making it more likely that you will misplace an important paper, physical clutter can actually affect your mental state. Your mind is subconsciously processing the mess making it harder for you to remain focused when it really counts. When you are not focused, you run the risk of forgetting something important. So before you even open a book, make sure your surroundings are clean!

 

Write everything down

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Even with the best of intentions, something will slip your mind. To avoid this, write down everything you need to accomplish the moment it is assigned to you. Your phone can be a helpful tool when it comes to keeping an up-to-date list. Creating a list in your Notes App will ensure you won’t misplace it (or add to the clutter on your desk).

 

Relax

Before you go to bed, take a few minutes to reflect on the day’s events. Quickly review everything you accomplished, upcoming due dates, and look at what is on the agenda for tomorrow.  These brief moments of reflection will help ensure you finished everything you needed to so you can always get a good night's rest.