Same idea, different words

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If the wording in an answer choice is too close to the wording in the passage, the answer is probably wrong. This is a bit more true on the SAT than the ACT, but in general, it applies to both tests. It’s so easy to fall for these answers choices… After all, they’re actually right there in the passage. But wait… are they? Normally, these are the answers that fall into the category of “half-right, half-wrong.” Knowing that many...
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Skim the passage, not the questions

Just wanted to reiterate the point: while it’s ok to skim through a passage just to get the gist, at least during an initial read-through, you need to read the questions very, very carefully. If even one word of an answer choice is incorrect, the whole answer is automatically incorrect. It doesn’t matter how much the rest of the answer works; it’s just wrong. A huge mistake that test-takers make is to read both questions and answer choices too quickly. This essentially creates two problems...
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When to take the SAT or the ACT

One of the biggest mistakes juniors make is to take the SAT or ACT in the winter or the early spring –when they’re not truly prepared — just because they (or their parents) have decided they should be done by a certain time. While this certainly does work for some people, the reality is that many others will need to complete most of their junior year in order to really be ready. The skills that the SAT tests cannot be acquired overnight, or even in...
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The writing, not the examples, makes the essay

A lot of students preparing to take the SAT spend a fair amount of time trying to think up examples that will guarantee them a high score. While it is a very good idea to walk into the test with a handful of examples that fit a wide range of prompts, examples – even stellar ones – will only get you so far. I’ve seen kids massacre fantastic examples with sloppy, ungrammatical writing. On the other hand an essay that uses Martin Luther King and...
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The writing, not the examples, makes the essay

A lot of students preparing to take the SAT spend a fair amount of time trying to think up examples that will guarantee them a high score. While it is a very good idea to walk into the test with a handful of examples that fit a wide range of prompts, examples – even stellar ones – will only get you so far. I’ve seen kids massacre fantastic examples with sloppy, ungrammatical writing. On the other hand an essay that uses Martin Luther King and...
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A plug for “The Elements of Style”

Most of my students are astounded to learn that as a high school freshman I was required to memorize Strunk and White’s legendary grammar guide, The Elements of Style. After all, that was the sort of thing students had to do in 1965, not 1995. I was, however, lucky enough to have a teacher who had been teaching since 1965, and frankly, memorizing the “little book,”as William Strunk referred to it, was one of the most useful things I ever did. The Elements of Style...
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Don’t just read the lines you’re given

SAT and ACT Reading Tip: Whenever a question gives you a set of line numbers to refer to, always start a few lines above and read to a few lines below to establish context. One of the most common errors that test-takers make on both the SAT Critical and ACT Reading Comprehension is to read only the lines referred to in the questions. After all, why would you be asked to read those particular lines of the answer wasn’t actually there? Here’s the problem, though:...
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Cross out the entire answer

This is one of those tiny tips that can make a big difference. Whenever you eliminate an answer, draw a line through the whole thing — don’t just cross out the letter, and don’t just put an “x” next to it. Otherwise, it’s very easy for your eye to get distracted. You end up going back and looking at answers that you’ve already gotten rid of. You think you’ve eliminated them, but subconsciously you haven’t done so completely, and consequently there’s a much higher likelihood...
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