FAQ

Below are some common questions and answers about tutoring and the standardized testing process

What subjects do you tutor?

We tutor SAT and ACT Reading and Writing. We also provide college essay assistance. For students in need of Math/Science tutoring, we partner with Summa Tutors and PWN the SAT.

Do you offer group classes?

We currently provide one-on-one tutoring only.

Do you offer tutoring packages?

We work on a per-session basis only.

Where do your students come from?

We work in-person with students from the New York City area, and via Skype with students from around the United States and abroad.

How do I set up a session? What’s the process?

Please submit an inquiry through http://thecriticalreader.com/tutoring to set up a consultation, and make sure to provide the requested background information.

How many sessions are necessary?

The number of sessions varies enormously and depends on the particular student’s needs, goals, and level of motivation. Some students make dramatic improvements after only a few sessions; others require a year or more. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict at the outset how many sessions a student might ultimately need.

Unless there is a pressing reason for a student to take the SAT in a particular month (e.g. athletic recruitment), we do not generally recommend that students sign up for the real test until they are scoring in the desired range on practice exams. While the desire to finish the testing process quickly is understandable, some students may take more time than expected to reach their goals.

Do you tutor seventh and eighth graders for CTY?

It depends on the student. If you are interested in having your middle schooler tutored for the CTY program, please submit an inquiry to set up a consultation.

How often do you meet?

Usually once a week for either 60 or 90 minutes. Students who require more intensive work can, however, meet more frequently, while those who need help in a limited number of areas and are comfortable working independently can schedule less frequent sessions.

What happens during a tutoring session?

Although the specifics depend on the student’s level and needs, sessions generally consist of working through College Board or ACT problems with an eye toward applying various concepts, methods, and strategies. While a tutor will usually spend part of a session going over homework, there is an equal emphasis on teaching students how to handle challenging material, both intellectually and psychologically, when they encounter it for the first time.

Our grammar methods reflect those presented in the The Ultimate Guide to SAT® Grammar and The Complete Guide to ACT English. Each new concept is explained, solidified, and practiced before a new one is added. As tutoring progresses, students are taught to combine and apply concepts in progressively more complex ways.

For vocabulary, we emphasize the importance of identifying and using key words in sentence completions to make logical predictions about missing words and to work through answer choices logically and systematically; we also teach students to use common prefixes/roots in order to make educated guesses about the meanings of unfamiliar vocabulary.

For reading, we focus on teaching students how to determine key elements such as main point and tone; to pay attention to important points in the text in order to understand how arguments are structured; to use transitions, key words, and punctuation to locate important information quickly as well as understand its purpose; and to use the patterns inherent in the test to rapidly identify answers likely to be correct and incorrect. At each step, the focus is on finding ways to reduce information down to its simplest terms possible in order to avoid becoming trapped by confusing wording.

We use only official College Board and ACT material for practice tests, supplementing with targeted exercises and readings  as needed.

Do you assign a lot of homework?

Do you deal with anxiety issues?

We understand that managing anxiety is a major part of standardized test-preparation; we also believe that confidence is a result of competence. As students become more adapt at solving problems and understanding how to navigate the test as a whole, their anxiety tends to diminish accordingly. That said, we also spend an exceptional amount of time working through material with students and teaching them to manage their reactions in the moment. When students practice working calmly, they are far less likely to have their nerves interfere on the actual test. [/gdlr_tab

We understand that high school juniors are juggling many competing demands and adjust our expectations accordingly. In the initial stages, we prefer that students spend time between sessions focusing on a limited number of concepts as opposed to simply taking test after test. Once students are comfortable applying the necessary concepts on their own, we assign single sections, then two, gradually working up to full tests. In the weeks leading up to the exam, students should plan to take a full practice exam before each session.

Do you offer a guarantee?

Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee any particular increase. There are simply too many variables for us to make any promises in terms of improvement.

Does online tutoring work? How is it different from in-person tutoring?

Yes, online tutoring can be enormously effective. Online reading tutoring is most effective, however, when students already possess solid fundamental comprehension and writing skills and simply need to work on test-taking skills. For that reason, we do not generally recommend short-term online tutoring for students scoring below the mid-600s in Critical Reading on the SAT or the mid-20s in Reading Comprehension on the ACT. For SAT Writing/ACT English, we can work  online with students at all levels.

What differentiates you from other test-prep companies?

A few things. Simply put, major tutoring chains adopt a one-size-fits-all approach and focus on teaching strategies geared toward the average student, whereas we focus equally on developing both underlying and test-specific skills and are able to tailor our methods specifically to each student. Our specialist model also allows tutors to focus only on their area of expertise — you will never have to worry about a tutor teaching their weaker section.

What are your rates?

For medium term and long term tutoring, rates range from $175-$250/hr. depending on the tutor. Separate rates apply for short-term work (2-3 sessions) with Erica. Please note, however, that availability is extremely limited.

General FAQ

What are the SAT and the ACT?

The SAT and ACT are standardized, multiple-choice examinations given to students applying to colleges and universities in the United States. They are offered both within the United States and internationally.

Traditionally the SAT has been taken by applicants on the east and west coasts and from outside the United States, while the ACT has been taken by applicants in the midwest and south. Over the last few years, the ACT has become increasingly popular both nationally and internationally; in 2012 the number of ACT-takers surpassed the number of SAT-takers (1.8 million to 1.7 million).

Do colleges prefer the SAT or the ACT?

Neither. Although it is true that many East Coast schools had a preference for the SAT in the past, that is no longer true. All schools now have an official policy of accepting both exams and viewing them equally. Applicants should submit whichever score is higher (for a conversion chart, please see: http://www.act.org/aap/concordance/). At the most selective schools, acceptance rates for students submitting on the ACT are comparable to those for students submitting the SAT. Students do not gain any advantage by submitting scores from both tests but should instead focus on the one they are more likely to do well on.

What are the differences between the SAT and the ACT?

The SAT lasts for approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes. It consists of alternating Critical Reading, Mathematical Reasoning, and Writing (two multiple-choice grammar sections and an essay). Sections 1-7 last 25 minutes each; Sections 8 and 9 last 20 minutes; and Section 10 lasts 10 minutes. The essay is always Section 1, and multiple choice grammar is always Section 10.

The ACT is slightly shorter at about 3 hours and 30 minutes and consists of four sections always in the same order, with an essay at the end: English (45 mins.) Math (60 mins.), Reading (35 mins.), Scientific Reasoning (35 mins.), and Essay (30 mins.) Unlike the SAT essay, the ACT essay is technically optional, although most selective colleges require it.

Overall, the SAT has a more abstract and academic style, while the ACT is more straightforward and concrete. The SAT emphasizes logic and reasoning, while the ACT emphasizes speed.

On the verbal side, the SAT directly tests more sophisticated vocabulary than the ACT does; it also focuses more heavily on the ability to understand how arguments are structured as well distinguish between multiple points of view. In contrast, ACT Reading is more concerned with literal comprehension; the primary challenge is speed. SAT multiple choice grammar strongly emphasizes agreement, tense, parallel structure and modification, whereas ACT English focuses on punctuation and includes “rhetoric” questions testing diction, style, and passage/paragraph organization. For more in-depth comparison, see this SAT vs. ACT Verbal Comparison Chart.

In term of math and science, the ACT tests more advanced concepts (trigonometry vs. algebra II on the SAT) and includes a Science section, which has no SAT equivalent.

Despite their differences in style, there is nevertheless a good deal of overlap between the two exams. Although the ACT was created as a “curriculum-based” exam, it does not directly test factual knowledge but, like the SAT, requires that test-takers apply their knowledge to unfamiliar situations.

How are the SAT and the ACT scored?

The SAT is scored out of 2400; subscores for Critical Reading, Math, and Writing are each given out of 800. The essay is scored out of 12 (two readers assign it scores of 1-6) and is combined with the multiple choice grammar score to produce a single Writing score.

The ACT is scored out of 36, with subscores of out 36 given for English, Math, Reading, and Science. The composite (overall) score is the average of the scores for the four section. The essay score is given both separately and as a combined English/Essay score. It is also scored out of 12 (two readers assign scores of 1-6).

How do I know which test I should take?

The best way to know is to take a practice test of each (full PDF exams can be found on the websites of the College Board and the ACT). If there is a significant score difference, take the exam you scored higher on. If your scores are comparable, focus on the one you felt more comfortable with.

In general, students who strongly favor the SAT tend to have strong vocabularies and be comfortable reading college-level material. Among students whose SAT and ACT scores are comparable, slower readers may also find the SAT’s pace more to their liking.

Students who strongly favor the ACT usually fall into two categories: those who consistently have trouble getting past the first couple of sentence completions but who are otherwise relatively solid readers; and strong readers who have good but not extraordinary vocabularies and who excel in math/science. Those in the former group may struggle to score above the 500s on SAT CR but achieve a high 20s score on ACT Reading, while those in the latter group may struggle to score above 700 on SAT CR but achieve a mid-30s ACT Reading score with relative ease.

When should SAT/ACT prep begin?

It depends. A highly motivated student who has mastered all the necessary skills may only need a few days to a few months sometime during junior year. At the other extreme, a student scoring in the low-mid 500s at the end of sophomore year and aiming for the 700s may have to study consistently for a year or more in order to obtain the desired scores. In the middle, a student starting off in the mid-500s and aiming for the low-mid 600s might achieve that goal in a three or four months.

In general, it is a good idea to begin looking at the SAT or ACT during the summer before junior year in order to feel comfortable by the time the PSAT/PLAN is given in October. A student who is already scoring very well should consider taking the January SAT, while one who clearly needs more time should spend junior year studying and plan to take the test for the first time in the spring.

While prep for Writing and Math can be effective before the end of sophomore year, Critical Reading can be very challenging — most freshmen and sophomores simply do not have enough experience reading texts at the level of those on the SAT for strategy-based preparation to be effective. Students who begin formal test-prep too early often burn out, becoming frustrated and ultimately scoring lower than they would have otherwise. That said, it is never too early to begin building fundamentals.

Is it true that the ACT is easier than the SAT?

It depends on whom you ask. A student who excels in math and science but struggles in English will probably find the ACT easier than the SAT, whereas a dedicated reader with an enormous vocabulary but only so-so math and science skills is likely to consider the SAT an easier test.

About a third of students score better on the SAT, a third score better on the ACT, and a third score the same on both.

Is it true that the SAT is an intelligence test?

No. While SAT scores have been shown to correlate with IQ scores, SAT scores are generally quite malleable and can be improved with preparation. The SAT was based on IQ tests and conceived of as an “aptitude” test, but the College Board no longer claims that it fills any such role (the acronym “SAT” no longer officially stands for anything). Many of the skills the SAT test can be improved considerably with practice.

Isn’t doing well on the SAT just about knowing the right tricks?

No. Tricks and strategies can help, but they are in no way a replacement for fundamental reading, writing, and math skills. While it can certainly be useful to know about the kinds of answer choices that tend to be correct on particular kinds of questions, as well as about common passage structures and themes, there are many exceptions, and the test cannot be gamed by tricks and strategies alone.

Around 1.7 million people take the SAT each year. Of those, only about 50,000 score above 700 in Reading and Writing, and fewer than 10,000 score above 750. If there were an easy way to game the test, those figures would be much higher.

I am/my child is a straight-A student/takes lots of AP classes? Why didn’t I/he score well?

There are a number of reasons that a student with strong grades can have difficulty achieving a high score on the SAT or ACT. In some cases, lack of familiarity with the test format and inadequate preparation/anxiety can in some cases lead to scores significantly below what such a student is capable of obtaining. In such cases, scores typically improve with practice, sometimes very rapidly.

That said, however, many American high schools do inflate their grades, and schools vary enormously in curriculum and rigor — a straight-A student at one school may in fact have weaker skills than a B-student at a more rigorous school. It can also be helpful to keep in mind that scores are based on international percentiles. Students do not simply compete with their classmates and others in their state or region but with all other juniors and seniors taking the exam around the world. A student who is academically accomplished by local or regional standards may be less so when compared to a much larger peer group.

In addition, many of the English/Reading skills tested on the SAT and ACT are not explicitly reinforced in American high school classes, even ostensibly advanced ones. Many high schools do not give regular vocabulary tests, and fewer offer grammatical instruction or insist that students study rhetorical forms such as euphemism, irony, and understatement. Critical Reading is fundamentally about how arguments are structured, and about how elements such as word choice help to convey an author’s particular point and attitude. Students who have been taught to read only for meaning, and to respond primarily on a personal level, may be extremely unaccustomed to reading this way. Passages are taken primarily from contemporary works of adult non-fiction and may be quite sophisticated in tone and content. Recent topics include the body/mind debate, brain plasticity, modern art, and method acting — topics that are rarely discussed in high schools and that few 16 or 17 year-olds are familiar with unless they have read extensively on their own.

Isn’t the SAT more coachable than the ACT?

No. ACT English and Math are generally very straightforward, and with competent, targeted instruction, most students can make substantial gains. While conventional wisdom holds that ACT reading is immune to the kind of strategy-based prep common for the SAT, the reality is that many of the same strategies work for both tests. There are also ACT-specific strategies, primarily involving timing, that can boost a solid reader’s scores very significantly. In addition, there is a substantial reasoning component to ACT Reading that is often overlooked, and a student who possesses the necessary skills can often learn to use logic-based strategies to improve their scores.

If I take the ACT, do I still need to take SAT IIs?

It depends. Most schools do not require that applicants who submit the ACT also submit SAT IIs, although a few very selective schools (e.g. Princeton) do ask for them. If you are applying to schools that do not require SAT IIs but believe that you can do well on them, you should sign up for them regardless; additional high scores will only help your application. If you are planning to take an AP exam in a subject, for example, you should probably take the SAT II as well (assuming you feel well prepared for the AP exam). If the material is sufficiently similar, you won’t have to study twice. You should not, however, take significant time away from your schoolwork to prepare for non-required SAT IIs. Many applicants to very selective schools are accepted with only the ACT.

What is score choice? Is it the same thing as superscoring?

No! Score choice and superscoring are not the same thing.

Score choice means that you decide which scores you want to send.

Superscoring means that a college only looks at your highest scores from multiple sittings of a test.

Both the SAT and the ACT have score choice for most colleges. Nearly all colleges superscore the SAT, and some superscore the ACT.

For a list of colleges that superscore the ACT, click here.

For a complete explanation of score choice and superscoring, click here.