Shorter is better

Since this rule applies somewhat differently to the SAT and ACT, I’m going to discuss each test separately. SAT (Fixing Sentences) Always check answers in order of length, starting with the shortest one. In general, the correct answer will be the shortest answer that is grammatically correct. While the right answer won’t always be the shortest option (although it often will be), it’s highly unlikely to be one of the longer options – at least until the last few questions of the section, where all...
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Faulty comparisons, last three Error-ID questions, especially #27

One of the astonishing things about the SAT Writing section is how utterly and completely predictable it is. Not only does the it include the same errors over and over again, but it also tends to put the same errors in the same places. Take the infamous faulty comparison, in which a person is incorrectly compared to a thing, and which usually goes something like this: Incorrect: Though widely read in the eighteenth century, Samuel Richardson’s writings are far less popular among modern readers than...
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First the passage, then the questions

One of the first things my new students usually ask is whether they should read the passage or the questions first. My response: always, always the passage first. Here’s why: the vast majority of reading questions on both the SAT and the ACT are highly context-based. That is, you need to have a sense of the general argument or idea being presented in order to understand how a particular detail or piece of information fits into the larger picture. It’s really difficult to see how...
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Three passages, not four: managing time on ACT Reading

The single biggest problem that I have observed among ACT-takers is that they never have enough time to finish the entire Reading section. 40 questions in 35 minutes is a lot, and if you’re a slow reader, then it can be a disaster. One possible way of handling that problem: skip one of the passages. If you know you generally hate Prose Fiction, plan to skip that passage; if Science is usually awful, skip Science, etc. If you don’t have a preference, skim through the...
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Why is SAT Reading different from other kinds of reading?

The kind of reading the SAT asks you to do is probably unlike any other kind of reading you’ve ever been asked to do. It’s almost certainly different from the kind of interpretive reading you’re asked to do in English class. For starters, the SAT is a test about arguments, not a test about literature, and your own personal interpretation of the texts you are asked to read matters not one little bit. In fact, the only thing that matters is the author’s intention: what...
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In cautious defense of the SAT

There’s a lot of controversy over what the SAT actually measures — and, in fact, whether it actually measures anything at all. Although the test was originally conceived as a form of IQ test, the notion that it is actually capable of measuring innate scholastic ability has essentially been debunked, as has the notion that it can successfully predict a student’s ultimate success or failure in college (the only thing it has been shown to correlate with is freshman college grades). So the question remains...
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Getting from 650 to 750+ on Critical Reading: suggestions for high scorers

For students who are already in the 650-700 range on Critical Reading, attempts to boost their score into the exceptional (750+ range) can be an exercise in frustration. Since reading comprehension comes easily to them naturally, most have never taken the time to truly analyze their responses and instead rely on instinct, answers that “feel right,” to get them through. In my experience, however, there are a couple of factors that typically separate relatively high scorers from exceptionally high scorers, and those factors have absolutely...
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A tip for SAT takers: don’t fight the test

One of the most-common issues that many SAT-takers face, particularly in Critical Reading, is the seeming randomness of many of the answers. While I do agree that the College Board occasionally does in fact come up with a set of answers choices that are uniformly awful, this is actually a pretty rare occurrence. I say this because I have had countless conversations with students about why their (incorrect) answer was truly the right one, or why such-and-such answer could not possibly be correct. While I...
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