Announcement: updated editions of the SAT reading & grammar books, and the ACT English book, are coming in September

Announcement: I realize this is coming on the late side (long story involving proofreaders, How to Write for Class, and the Random House permissions office), but I am planning to release updated editions of my SAT reading and grammar books, as well as my ACT English book. 

Now, before you get your knickers all in twist over which editions to buy, here’s what you need to know: 

 

  • If you already have the current editions, you do not—I repeat DO NOT—need to purchase the new ones as well. (So please, please do not bombard my assistant with emails asking whether you should get them.) If you’re taking a test in October or later and aren’t in a huge rush to start prepping, you might want to wait. Although there are enough changes to require new edition numbers in order to avoid confusion, the vast majority of the content will remain the same, and important new material will be made available through my website. 

 

  • The SAT books should be available sometime during the first week of September, and the ACT book should be available somewhere around 9/15-9/20. Exact release dates TBA. 

 

  • The new books will all be aligned with the 2020 SAT & ACT official guides. If you have my current editions but are working with the most recent official guide, I will make available a download of the indexed questions from the new OGs. (This might take me a few additional weeks to get to.)

 

  • SAT Reading: significant updates are restricted primarily to one chapter (“The Big Picture”), plus a couple of new passages scattered throughout.

 

  • SAT Grammar & ACT English: I will be adding detailed explanations for all of the end-of-chapter exercises. You asked for it, you got it. (In case you were wondering why I haven’t posted anything recently, it’s because I was busy writing everything.) If you have the current editions, the explanations will be made available for a small fee on this site. Otherwise, the chapters will remain pretty much the same. 

 

More information to come.  

“How to Write for Class: A Student’s Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Style” is now available!

“How to Write for Class: A Student’s Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Style” is now available!

I’m happy to announce that my first foray into non-test-prep grammar is finally available on Amazon and The Critical Reader.

How to Write for Class: A Student’s Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Style is a comprehensive guide to the concepts students need to know to write effectively for school. Although there is some overlap with the SAT and ACT grammar books (and tutors/parents who remember the pre-2016 version of the SAT grammar book will see some familiar material), it is not aligned with any particular test and covers certain concepts in significantly more depth. Rather than treat grammar as a series of rules to be memorized, it emphasizes the logic behind the English language as well as the relationship between grammar and meaning, and provides answers to burning questions such as “why can’t you end a sentence with a preposition?” (spoiler alert: you can).

The approach taken in the book is also based on the observation that students often find it challenging to apply rules studied in isolation, or in terms of overly-simplified examples, to the more complex sentences they want to include in their own writing. As a result, How to Write for Class makes use of numerous examples from actual student papers, and walks students through the process of constructing the type of sophisticated but grammatically coherent statements that will raise their academic writing to the next level.

Click here to read a preview.

Whole language and the art of “making meaning”

Whole language and the art of “making meaning”

I found myself stuck at home sick today, and unable to do pretty much anything other than lie flat on my back on the couch, I inevitably ended up trawling the internet and somehow found myself on Retrospective Miscue, a blog run by various members of the whole language community (including Yetta Goodman, wife/collaborator of Ken Goodman, the founder of whole language and one of the figures discussed in the article by Marilyn Jäger Adams I posted about recently.)

As I read through the posts, I couldn’t help but notice what seemed like a rather idiosyncratic connotation of the term “making meaning,” and it occurred to me that what scientists and, well, most educated adults understand by it is fundamentally different from what the whole-language crowd—or a certain segment thereof—mean. The two groups are not simply having a theoretical debate; they’re living in two separate universes, one of which is based in reality and the other of which is not. (more…)

Yes, the GMAT does test “so that” vs. “so as to”

Yes, the GMAT does test “so that” vs. “so as to”

Thank you to Soph Lundeberg at Soph-wise Tutoring in San Diego for calling this to my attention.

Soph wrote:

The following Magoosh blog claims the GMAT will not test “so as to” versus “so that,” and furthermore, the two are idiomatically acceptable.

 

 

The solution for #150 is on page 302. Erica’s solution says “All of other options are idiomatically unacceptable” but does not have any further explanation for why A, “so as to escape,” is wrong, whereas the longer construction, “so that she could escape” is correct. If two constructions are acceptable, “shorter = better”, right? 

 

I checked the Magoosh blog post, which claimed that the GMAT would never ask test-takers to choose between “so that” and “so as to,” and something really did not sit quite right about it.” There was just no way I would have bothered to put “so that” and “so as to” head to head in a question unless I’d actually seen the GMAC do so first. (more…)

What does it mean to understand words “in context”?

What does it mean to understand words “in context”?

In the course of my recent research on the phonics debate, I came across an idea that in retrospect should have seemed obvious but that nevertheless seemed entirely surprising when I encountered it—namely, that a reliance on context clues is a strategy employed primarily by poor readers.

Consequently, when schools teach young children to use context clues as a decoding aid, they are actually encouraging them to behave like weak readers. Strong readers, in contrast, rely primarily on the letters themselves to figure out what words are written.

According to Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of Special Education at Southern Connecticut State University:

Skilled readers do not need to rely on pictures or sentence context in word identification, because they can read most words automatically, and they have the phonics skills to decode occasional unknown words rapidly. Rather, it is the unskilled readers who tend to be dependent on context to compensate for poor word identification. Furthermore, many struggling readers are disposed to guess at words rather than to look carefully at them, a tendency that may be reinforced by frequent encouragement to use context. Almost every teacher of struggling readers has seen the common pattern in which a child who is trying to read a word (say, the word brown) gives the word only a cursory glance and then offers a series of wild guesses based on the first letter: “Black? Book? Box?” (The guesses are often accompanied by more attention to the expression on the face of the teacher than to the print, as the child waits for this expression to change to indicate a correct guess.) (more…)

The three-cueing system and its misuses (or: the biggest problem in reading you’ve never heard of)

The three-cueing system and its misuses (or: the biggest problem in reading you’ve never heard of)

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference on the science of reading held by John Gabrieli’s lab at MIT. It was, if nothing else, an eye-opening experience—not always in good ways, but certainly in ways that laid bare the problems involved in implementing broad changes to how reading is taught in the United States.

At the reception after the conference, I happened to be introduced to Nancy Duggan, one of the founders of the Massachusetts chapter of Decoding Dyslexia, an organization that advocates for screening and support for dyslexic students. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned one of the stranger reading problems I’d seen among my students—namely, that they had trouble making their eyes follow a line of text from left to right. Instead, their gaze seemed to dart randomly around the page. “Oh,” Nancy said promptly, “that’s the three-cueing system. Kids are supposed to look at just the beginning of the word and then look at the pictures for context clues.”

I was vaguely familiar with the term, but I had never made the connection between it and the reading difficulties I had witnessed in teenagers. I also confess that I did not know that children were actually taught to read in quite this bizarre a manner, or that the three-cueing system had anything to do with it. (more…)