Subject Test

The Other Half of the Test, and How to Master It

We all know there is a lot of material to learn on the path to mastering the SAT or ACT – formulas, grammar rules, reading strategies. But there is another skill to master: the mind game.

During the nearly four-hour test, pacing, endurance, and fatigue become huge factors in our mental performance. These hurdles make up the mind game: the psychological prowess needed in partnership with the material to maintain rigorous concentration during the test’s unique conditions. Rather than being learned in a lesson, these skills come from building the muscle of focus. And like any muscle, it needs to be trained. 

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Training is not something that happens over night – at our second trip to the gym, we don’t run a marathon. Instead, we take active steps to train this muscle during our practice.

Practice. Interesting word, that. What do we know about practice?

We are taught that practice makes perfect. This is not true. An aspiring pitcher who practices by bowling the baseball probably isn’t going to be very successful, even if they practice all day every day.

The truth is: Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

This means when we prepare for the test but do not exercise the mind game, we are making permanent the limited focus and energy we are bringing to our practice. That is why it is so important to push ourselves to improve focus during all of our SAT/ACT practice.

There are steps we can take to train our focus and improve our mind game when we study for the tests:

THE ENVIRONMENT

Just like test day, your practice space needs to be distraction free. Find a quiet space, preferably with as few people around as possible. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. If kid brother is always practicing his air guitar and mom always has an endless number of phone calls, tell your family “Hey, I’m going to be studying for the SAT/ACT at 7 tonight, can I have an hour of quiet-time in the house?”

Most importantly, put your phone away. In another room, preferably. Practicing with it buzzing at the other end of the table is going to make permanent that little voice in your head wondering what your friends are texting you. It won’t be there on test day, so get it outta there.

Or better yet, head to LogicPrep anytime, and we’ll set you up in a distraction-free study space or an empty room. We’ll even hold your cell phone behind the front desk for you.

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THE BODY

Given the intensity of high school, it is understandable that sometimes SAT/ACT homework happens later at night than we might want. But attempting these endurance-based tests when we’re losing our energy to stay focused is bad practice, and builds bad mental habits. If you feel yourself losing steam, it might be best to call it a night and start up again in the morning.

Hunger can be just as distracting as tiredness. Stock up on brain foods to snack on before you begin your SAT/ACT practice, like nuts or berries. Just like with our phones, we do not want to make permanent the state of distraction that an empty stomach brings.

THE MIND

You know the feeling when you’ve read the same paragraph for the third time but still can’t remember what it is about? That’s your mind’s signal telling you that your focus is temporarily low and needs a little reset. There’s no use reading it a fourth time – we don’t want to make that mental state permanent. Instead, take a micro break. Try moving your body: walk up and down the stairs or do ten jumping jacks. Use this moment to wipe your slate clean and return to the question at hand as if it’s the first question you’re working on today. Slowly, our mental muscles improve, and we can reset and focus by simply taking a deep breath. But until then, note when your mind is drifting, and take active, physical steps to correct it.

In order to build the mental muscles required for staying focused during these large tests, it is important that you study in test conditions. Remember, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

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)

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? 

The Do's and Don'ts of SAT Subject Tests

DON'T believe everything you read online

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Most college's websites purport that SAT Subject Tests are not required, but rather "strongly recommended." And, while it's true that your application will be considered complete and evaluated regardless of whether you submit Subject Tests or not, these subject-specific evaluations are not as optional as many students think.

Colleges' choice to use the word "recommended" instead of "required" leaves room for ambiguity, and with good reason. While admissions officers highly value the chance to compare applicants' prowess in individual subjects, they also know that they come from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. Not all students can afford the hefty fees of taking and sending multiple standardized test scores. Not all students have time, between working after school or taking care of siblings, to do their schoolwork and study for additional tests. Not all students have sufficient guidance to even be aware the SAT Subject Tests exist. Admissions offices want to make room for all types of students, including those whose lives may not allow for additional standardized testing. However, if personal and financial barriers are not an issue for you, then Subject Tests are not really as optional as they may initially appear.

 

DO read up on each school's requirements (or "strong suggestions") for Subjects

Many schools have specific requirements for individual majors: Business applicants should take one Math test, Engineering applicants should take one Math and one Science, etc. Be sure to check each college's website for their Standardized Testing Policies to make sure you can meet all of the requirements!

 

DO strategize when to take which Subjects based on your AP classes

Most Advanced Placement examinations (which are administered by the College Board, the same company that is responsible for the SAT Subject Tests) include a multiple choice section. There is a lot of meaningful overlap between the AP multiple choice and the Subject Test multiple choice. The question format and overall strategy is slightly different between the two, but studying the content for one will prepare you well for the other.

Many students who are eager to get started on Subject Tests look to take the Biology exam at the end of their freshman year biology course. To these students I say: be wary and take one of the CollegeBoard's online practice tests before signing up. Non-AP courses don't have a nationally standardized curriculum, and there's no guarantee that your school's coursework will cover all the topics that appear on the Subject Test.

 

DON'T take more than 5 Subject Tests

When asked how many tests each student should take, Grace, one of our College Advisors and former Stanford Admissions Officer warns not to overdo it. "Admissions officers know these exams cost money and take up a lot of time, so there's no need to take ten SAT II's just to show mastery of content. I'd say most students are fine with just two to three, max five. Remaining areas of their application (extracurriculars, summer activities, research work, etc.) are other ways they can show 'mastery' of experience and content that often tell a more interesting story than a one-day exam does."

 

DO take a good look at the Subject Tests offered on each test date

They're not always the same -- particularly when it comes to foreign language tests. Some dates specifically offer the test with listening, while others only offer it without. But don't worry -- colleges don't prefer one test over the other! Just make sure you're studying and preparing for the right one.

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DO take a look at both Math Subject Tests

The College Board offers two Math Subject Tests: Math I and Math II. Math I is for students who have taken two years of Algebra and one year of Geometry. Math II covers the same topics as Math I, "with the addition of trigonometry and elementary functions (precalculus)."

I often have students who claim that their Math skills aren't strong enough to merit even glancing at the Math II. Instead, they only focus on the Math I test. However, if you have completed a pre-calculus course, I strongly suggest looking at both exams, and sitting for a practice test in each, before making up your mind. When I was in high school, I took both tests, back to back, on the same day -- but because Math II is generally curved more generously than Math I, I ended up scoring 60 points higher on Math II. Don't count yourself out for one before trying both!

No Time, Time Management Techniques

So you’ve been studying for the ACT on top of completing school assignments, playing sports, and dealing with all of the “extras” of being a high school student. Before you know it, the test is two weeks away. If you’re anything like me, you have the best intentions for time management, but can’t seem to find enough hours in the day for free time (or sleep for that matter). Fear not! Over the course of my educational career, I’ve compiled a list of what I call “no time, time management” techniques that have helped tremendously, allowing me to approach standardized tests in the college prep process and beyond. Here are a few of the most successful:

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Active downtime 

This sounds counterintuitive, but when the 3 pm wall hits and you’re tempted to reach for the caffeine, try to get up and do something that will make you sweat instead. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain that are great to lift your mood, release stress, and renew your focus. Even if exercise isn’t your thing, it doesn’t have to be intense. A simple walk and some sunshine away from a stuffy study space will do wonders for your focus when you return!

 

Write your schedule down

This was a groundbreaking concept for me even as a 22-year-old in college. If I wrote down what I was supposed to be doing or studying in each part of the day, I always managed to get it done with free time to spare. This will also help you track when your brain works best for certain things. For example, I write well in the morning and horribly in the afternoon, so I read after 3 pm. If I hadn’t been in the practice of writing down and adjusting my schedule accordingly, I would probably still be murking through writing assignments at night while getting nowhere.

 

Apply the 10-day rule

As a chronic procrastinator who lacks discipline, this one is my favorite. I always admired peers who could follow a sleep schedule religiously, but I never managed to achieve this. A friend once told me that I did not have to pressure myself to be like them, but instead I could implement a strict bedtime in the 10 days leading up to a standardized test (or college finals). I tried this once and found that on test day I was up naturally about two hours before test time, and by the time I had my pencil in hand, I was fully alert and awake. I did way better on that test than the one I stayed up all night cramming for. This worked so well, I transferred the method to college finals with great results!

 

I hope these few small changes are useful in the course of college preparation and beyond. To me, time management does not have to be a huge lifestyle overhaul, but can instead be a small set of changes that lead to lasting habits and results.

5 Quick Tips for Avoiding Careless Mistakes on ACT or SAT Test Day

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1. Read the question carefully the first time through

This one seems obvious, but many students rush through the question, only to waste time after trying to sort through what the test really asked them to find. Take your time reading the question on your first attempt. If you understand what is asked of you, be thorough in working to the correct answer. If you are confused, don’t get emotional or frantic - just guess quickly and move on.

 

2. Remember to focus only on the question you are working on

Many students become so frustrated by and fixated on questions that they can’t solve that they lose their focus on subsequent questions. Avoid thinking about your score or your goals within the test. Take a deep breath when you are stuck or distracted and move forward - the only thing you can control is the question directly in front of you.

 

3. Predict an answer before looking at the answer choices.

Most students will do this naturally on the math section, but it works just as well on the other sections of these tests. If you predict an answer before looking at the choices on the reading, you should be able to sort through the answers more quickly. On grammar, identifying the error before you look at the answers will similarly help you select the correct choice more quickly and effectively.

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4. On math, quickly re-read the stem of the questions before choosing an answer

When many students get to the moment when they have solved for the value of a variable or a measurement, they immediately look to the answers to see whether it is there. Try to fight this instinct, and go back to the stem of the question instead. This tip can help you avoid the classic mistake of selecting the answer that gives the value of y instead of x or the area instead of the perimeter. 

 

5. Pace yourself

If you have taken enough practice tests, you should have a good sense for your timing on these tests. If you have to push yourself to move quickly in order to finish a certain section, then you have to be a bit forgiving with yourself and understand that errors due to miscalculations or misreading of the text will be inevitable. However, if you consistently finish a section with extra time, force yourself to slow down and fully reason through each question.

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.