If you’re a tutor who regularly encounters students with reading problems and would like to have more tools to help them, Breaking the Code, the reading-instruction group I co-founded, will be holding a workshop on Saturday-Sunday 2-4:30pm, May 15-16, 2021 (via Zoom).
We’ll be covering a variety of exercises designed to strengthen letter-sound understanding and to improve speed, accuracy, and fluency. These are tools that can be used with students of any age, not just beginning readers, and that can go a long way toward remediating high-school aged students who habitually guess, switch, misread, insert, or omit words.
If you are interested in participating, please email us a brief description of your background and interest at email@example.com.
Attention international students: if you are planning to sit for the IELTS, I have created a new page covering 25 of the top grammar concepts necessary for success on the Writing portion of the exam. While you will not of course be directly tested on them, you will absolutely be expected to integrate many of them into your Task 1 and Task 2 essays. And if you want to have a shot at a Band 7 score or higher… you need to have a pretty solid grasp of them.
This material is also available as a free PDF download. If you’d like the super-condensed version, I’ve also posted a two-page “cheat sheet” (free as well).
Also: I am releasing an almost 150-page downloadable ebook covering this material, plus a lot more, in much greater detail. This is not a traditional grammar book but rather a practical guide designed to systematically target the areas of greatest difficulty for ESL students (based on an analysis of more than 100 sample essays by IELTS candidates).
At every point, the book emphasizes contemporary usage favored by native speakers and discusses nuances rarely addressed in traditional language classes.
Among other things, it covers:
- Articles (it is almost impossible to overstate their importance)
- Major tenses and how/how not to use them
- Vocabulary for common IELTS Task 2 essay-topic categories
- High-frequency preposition-based collocations
- Use of transitional words and phrases (i.e., linking devices)
In addition, all example sentences are based on the types of statements typically used in the IELTS Writing and Speaking tests.
And please note: If you are applying to college in the United States and are planning to take the TOEFl, most of the material is applicable to that exam as well.
Read a preview.
I am happy to announce that The Critical Reader AP® English Literature and Composition Guide is now available on Amazon.
The book is aligned with the redesigned (2020) Course Description, including the updated 6-point essay rubric, and covers the multiple-choice reading as well as the three essays. It also features many passages drawn from the same works, or by the same authors, as texts that have appeared on previously administered exams.
-A complete chapter on each major concept tested
-Numerous sample questions covering both poetry and prose, and accompanied by detailed explanations
-Nine sample student essays (three for each question type), with in-depth scoring analyses
The question of when to use a comma with so vs. so that vs. so…that isn’t normally tested on any standardized test I’m familiar with, but I’ve noticed a lot of confusion about it in various people’s writing recently, and so I wanted to address it here.
Essentially, the issue is that while all three constructions involve the word so, they’re actually three different types of conjunctions, and that in turn affects how they are punctuated.
So… (pun intended), here goes:
1) So by itself – synonym for therefore
So is a coordinating (FANBOYS) conjunction that serves to connect two independent clauses (complete sentences). Like the other FANBOYS conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or & yet), so must follow a comma when it is used this way.
Incorrect: The skin is located at the interface between our body and the outside world so its cells can respond to many different kinds of stimuli.
Correct: The skin is located at the interface between our body and the outside world, so its cells can respond to many different kinds of stimuli.
2) So that – synonym for in order to
So that is a subordinating conjunction that separates an independent clause from a dependent clause.
When the independent clause comes first—as it virtually always does in this case, for stylistic reasons—a comma should not be used because it creates an unnecessary and unnatural break between the parts of the sentence.
Incorrect: People who spend long hours in the sun are encouraged to wear long-sleeved clothing, so that they limit their skin’s exposure to harmful rays.
Correct: People who spend long hours in the sun are encouraged to wear long-sleeved clothing so that they limit their skin’s exposure to harmful rays.
3) So…that – used to indicate extremity/cause and effect
So…that is a correlative conjunction (word pair), used with an adjective. Again, using a comma with this construction creates an unnecessary and awkward break.
Incorrect: The sun at the beach was so strong, that we were forced to leave only two hours after we had arrived.
Correct: The sun at the beach was so strong that we were forced to leave only two hours after we had arrived.
Over the past few weeks, the test-optional dominos have continued to fall, with Harvard grudgingly deciding to consider applications from students who have faced exceptional obstacles in taking the SAT or ACT, and Princeton even more grudgingly following suit. As of now, the Ivies seem pretty clear about the fact that these are one-year policies only, and that applicants applying in the fall of 2021 and beyond will be expected to take the tests as usual.
At other other selective colleges, however, this year’s policies are part of a multi-year test-optional trial period, and so I think it’s worth taking a hard look at the implications of these policies in a non-Covid context, and to ask who really benefits from them. (more…)
If you’re looking to publish a test-prep or subject-specific study guide, or if you just have a great idea for a general education-related book, The Critical Reader may be able to bring your work to market.
We’re looking to expand our book offerings and are currently seeking manuscript submissions in the humanities and social sciences, with particular interest in the following areas:
- AP® Exams, especially Human Geography, Government and Politics, Psychology, Spanish Language and Culture, and World History
- English as a Second Language, including TOEFL® and IELTS® preparation
- Phonics-based reading instruction
Other subjects will also be considered, though, so this should not be treated as an exhaustive list.
As an established player within our market, we are able to offer a traditional publishing model: you don’t pay us—we pay you. We can also offer support throughout the publication process, including editing, formatting, and cover design.
Please click here for submission guidelines.
So it’s official: The University of California—the country’s largest public university system, serving several hundred thousand students—has voted to phase out standardized testing.
The SAT and ACT will be optional for freshman applicants for applicants in 2021 and 2022; for 2023-4, test scores will be used only for out-of-state-students and to determine scholarship awards; and will be eliminated completely in 2025. If a new, UC-created exam is not ready by that point, then no exam will be considered.
This is obviously a major shakeup in the testing industry, although not a completely unforeseen one. Historically, there has been tension between the University of California and the College Board, with discussions of abandoning the SAT dating back to the early 1990s. More recently, there has been considerable speculation about whether the UCs would continue to require the SAT or ACT essay. Since last winter, however, additional pushback against the use of standardized testing has ramped up. (more…)
I was recently invited to do an interview about SAT vs. ACT Reading on the “Tests and the Rest” podcast, which is run by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin and covers a wide range of issues related to standardized testing and college admissions. (This is actually the second time they’ve had me on; my previous interview, in which I discussed SAT vs. ACT grammar, can be found here. I’m not sure when the new interview will air but will post something when it does.)
I had a great time chatting with Amy and Mike, and as I looked at my notes, the thought popped into my mind that in all my years of running this blog, I had somehow neglected to devote a post to that particular topic. It also occurred to me that perhaps I’d actually done such a post and simply forgotten about, but when I went back and checked, it turned out that I had in fact never devoted an entire post to that particular topic. So I’m putting it up now. (more…)
The electronic version of my AP® English Language and Literature guide is now available on Amazon.
My and Larry Krieger’s mini-guides for the condensed 2020 online AP tests are now available!
Because of a technical issue that resulted in the print version of Larry’s book being delayed on Amazon by nearly a week, Larry asked me to post the entire book as a free PDF download on this site. Click here to access it (do not add to cart; scroll down and click on the link in the description).
If you would like to order a print copy, the book is now available on Amazon as well.
Unfortunately, Larry realized that he would not have enough to time to complete the AP Psychology guide and decided to let that project go.
For logistical reasons, I decided to combine the English Language and English Literature sections into a single print book which, as of 4/25, is available only on Amazon.
I’m currently in the process of trying to get the manuscript formatted so I can make the book available in electronic form. I’m hoping that will happen by mid-week.
I’m also currently trying to determine whether The Critical Reader will be able to stock the book as well, given delayed shipping times.
I’ll post an update as soon as I have more information.
In the past few days, the College Board has released important information regarding the 2020 AP exam schedule.
Tests will consist of free-response questions only; last approximately 45 minutes each; and be administered online from May 11-22nd, with additional makeup dates in June.
After some discussion with my SAT vocabulary book co-author and APUSH expert extraordinaire Larry Krieger, I’m happy to announce that we’ve decided to release condensed (approximately 50-page) AP guides that specifically target the 2020 online exams. We’ll aim to make them available within the next 2-3 weeks, sooner if possible.
Our current plan is as follows: I will be covering the AP English Language and Literature exams, and Larry will be handling APUSH.
The 2020 dates and questions for these exams are as follows:
- AP English Literature (May 13, 2pm EST): Prose Analysis essay (on the full exam, Free-Response Question #2)
- AP English Language (May 20, 2pm EST): Rhetorical Analysis essay (Question #2)
- APUSH (May 15, 2pm EST): Modified DBQ with 5 sources (Question #1)
Exciting announcement: www.breakingthecode.com, the new site that I’m co-hosting with my colleague Richard McManus of The Fluency Factory, is finally live (pats self on back for setting up and designing a website entirely from scratch, with only a minuscule amount of help; to my tech people, you’re awesome, but apparently I’ve learned a thing or two in all my years of wrangling this site into shape).
So the good news is that I’ll finally get out of everyone’s hair about little-kid reading problems—even though, for the record, they tend to turn into big-kid reading problems—and stick to writing about testing and admissions-related topics (well, mostly).
Kidding aside, Richard and I really want this to become a major resource for people involved in reading instruction, whether out of personal or professional interest. Richard and his tutors do phenomenal work getting kids who’ve fallen behind in reading back on track. (more…)
A couple of weeks ago, as soon as it became clear that there was no way the spring SAT and ACT testing schedule could proceed as normal, I started wondering how the Coronavirus pandemic would affect the trend toward test-optional admissions policies.
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than an Instagram announcement popped up stating that Case Western had decided to go test-optional for students applying in the fall of 2021. At Case, the policy currently applies to those applicants only; policies for future classes will be determined next winter. Tufts has also announced a similar policy involving a three-year trial period.
From what I understand, it seems likely that the pandemic will consist of multiple, overlapping waves of outbreaks in different regions over a fairly extended period, rather than occurring in one single massive wave, and so it would not be at all surprising if these policies were ultimately extended. (more…)
3/24 update: International shipping is not available. I’ve just been notified that Amazon, which prints our books, is not currently shipping orders outside the United States. Because international orders must go through Amazon rather than from our regular warehouse, we unfortunately unable to ship abroad.
As of today (3/23/20), delivery times for *most* Critical Reader books remain unaffected by the novel Coronavirus. Our storage and shipping facility is still open and operating normally, and orders should continue to arrive in approximately 5-7 days.
The only exception is the recently released updated AP English Language and Composition Guide. This item must still be sent from the printer, which is currently experiencing delays. Please allow 10 days for shipping.
We will post an update if there are any changes.
To everyone: please take care and stay safe.
As regular followers of this blog may have noticed, I’ve recently been focusing heavily on issues related to phonics and the teaching of reading. I realize that these topics are in some cases only tangentially related to the test-prep and college admissions process, but I haven’t had anywhere else to post my observations… until now.
My colleague Richard McManus, a reading specialist and the owner of The Fluency Factory in Cohasset, Massachusetts, have decided to join forces and start a new website. Titled “Breaking the Code,” the site is dedicated to exploring the issues surrounding the teaching and learning of reading. (more…)
A number of years ago, an acquaintance enlisted me to help her search Craigslist for a sublet in New York City. This is a daunting task under the best of circumstances, but in this case the difficulty was compounded by the fact that my acquaintance was not a native English speaker—in fact, she did not speak much English at all—nor was she particularly internet savvy.
As someone who had spent a fair amount of time on Craigslist looking for apartments herself, I was well-versed in the various scams that flood the site and adept at the spotting the markers for them: TOO MUCH CAPITALIZATION or too much lower case. Word salad, word soup… Or wording that just somehow seemed “off,” in some vague, undefined way.
My acquaintance, on the other hand, was entirely at sea: she would call the numbers listed and be told that the original rental no longer existed but that she could be shown other, pricier options; or that she would have to hand over exorbitant amounts of money for a deposit, and so on.
I eventually got very frustrated trying to help her. She was oblivious to clear warning signs, and she went running to look at apartment after apartment that just obviously wasn’t going to pan out. (more…)
Attention! This post has moved.
It can now be found at: https://www.breakingthecode.com/10-reasons-three-cueing-system-msv-is-ineffective/
The updated version of The Critical Reader: AP® English Language and Composition Edition is now available.
The guide provides a comprehensive review of all the reading and writing skills tested on the revised 2020 version of the exam. It includes a complete chapter dedicated to each type of multiple-choice reading question; a new multiple-choice writing section; and a section devoted to the three essays, with real student samples and detailed scoring analyses based on the new College Board rubric.
Click here to read a preview.
Please note: The primary changes involve the elimination of vocabulary-based, multiple-answer (I, II, III), and rhetoric questions from the reading section; the addition of a multiple-choice writing section; and a switch from a 9- to a 6-point essay-scoring rubric (essays themselves remain the same).
If you already have the 2018/2019 version of this book, we recommend supplementing it with rhetoric questions from SAT Writing and Language passages, ACT English passages, or the Fixing Paragraphs section of the pre-2016. Click here for examples of real essays scored according to the new rubric.
As I alluded to my previous post, the U. Wisconsin-Madison cognitive psychologist and reading specialist Mark Seidenberg has posted a rebuttal to Lucy Calkins’s manifesto “No One Gets to Own the Term ‘Science of Reading’” on his blog. For anyone interested in understanding the most recent front in the reading wars, I strongly recommend both pieces.
What I’d like to focus on here, however, are the ways in which Calkins’s discussion of phonics reveal a startlingly compromised understanding of the subject for someone of her influence and stature.
In recent years, and largely—as Seidenberg explains—in response to threats to her personal reading-instruction empire, Calkins has insisted that she really believes in the importance of systematic phonics, a claim that comes off as somewhat dubious given the obvious emphasis she places on alternate decoding methods, e.g., covering up letters, using context clues, etc. (Claude Goldenberg, the emeritus Stanford Ed School professor who helped author the recent report on Units of Study, also does a good job of showing how Calkins attempts to play to both sides of the reading debate while clearly holding tight to three-cueing methods.)
That’s obviously a problem, but I think the real question is even more fundamental: not just whether Calkins truly supports the teaching of phonics, but whether she understands what phonics is. (more…)