Important: update on new Critical Reader book editions for the digital SAT

Important: update on new Critical Reader book editions for the digital SAT

I apologize for not having posted an update sooner, but I’v had an unusual number of projects to juggle over the last several months and have only been able to begin serious work on the updated SAT books in the last few weeks. I understand, however, that everyone is very anxious for information regarding the new exam as well as eager to work out a prep plan, and that the earlier international rollout of the digital test has made things challenging for current eleventh graders living outside the U.S. So I’ll do my best here to outline my own timeline regarding book releases here and to provide some interim options for prep materials.

First, the basics. Yes, I will revising my SAT reading and grammar books to reflect the content and structure of the digital test. They updated versions will be completely new editions: 5th edition of The Critical Reader, 6th edition of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar.

The essential content and structure of the books will not change, although they will likely be somewhat slimmed down to reflect the shorter, more focused digital reading and writing sections (two sections, 27 questions each, with performance on the first section determining the difficulty of the questions seen on the second).

I am tentatively aiming to make the books available on Amazon in February 2023 so that they can be used for the international March test, although I cannot guarantee that timeline at this point. I can, however, state with a fair degree of confidence that they will be ready by the summer of 2023, for students preparing for the digital PSAT in the fall.

If the books are not ready by late winter 2023, I will do my best to make a (physical) beta version available for international students only. Depending on the number of copies involved, this may involve some additional production costs. If this ends up being the case, I will post pricing information as soon as I can.

I am also planning to rework the current grammar workbook into a combined reading-writing test book, but that will most likely not be ready until summer or fall 2023.

Where things stand as of now (late September 2022):

As you may be aware, this past summer the College Board released a document with test specifications and sample exam questions for the digital test.

Working from that blueprint, I managed to put together drafts of all the major chapters in the updated Critical Reader, and my initial impressions were confirmed by the full digital practice exam released by the College Board several days ago. As a result, my future work will consist of reworking/reformatting old exercises and explanations to practice questions in previous editions, as well as writing some new ones. (Note: if you want to view the new exam, you will need to create a College Board account and download the Bluebook app.)

Because fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions have been revived, I will also be reintegrating a fair amount of material from the original (2012-13) edition of The Critical Reader.

In terms of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar: a substantial portion of the punctuation and grammar content will remain essentially the same. (There are really only so many ways one can test commas, dashes, and colons!) However, the Diction and Register chapter will be removed, as those question types will no longer appear on the exam. In addition, I will be adding new material covering “note-taking” questions (essentially a form of supporting-detail question; see RW #12, https://satsuite.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/digital-sat-sample-questions.pdf) and will be reworking numerous sample questions and exercises to cover the new “one passage-one question” format.

In the meantime: 

If you are looking to get a jump on ways to prepare for the digital SAT now, my recommendations are as follows.

If you want to use the current (4th) edition of The Critical Reader, focus on vocabulary-in-context, main ideas, inferences, reading for function, extended reasoning, and graphs. Although the format of the new test will be different, the actual concepts tested are essentially the same. Although literal comprehension questions will not appear on the new exam, I would also suggest at least reading through that section: difficulties in this area will make it hard to answer questions that involve more advanced reasoning.  You do not need to worry about paired “evidence” questions at all.

For vocabulary, you may also want to use the original (pre-2016 exam) Sentence Completion Workbook or, if you are very motivated, even GRE Vocabulary in Practice, focusing on one-blank completions only. Fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions on the digital SAT may appear in the context of a short passage (as they do on the GRE) rather than a single sentence (as was the case on the pre-2016 SAT), so there will be considerable overlap between easier one-blank GRE vocabulary questions and dSAT ones. Remember that “hard” words may appear in the passages as well as the answer choices, and that these can involve alternate meanings of common terms.

If you want to practice with short passages and sentence completions, you may also find it helpful to purchase the first edition of The Critical Reader, which features many such passages, in addition to a chapter on sentence completions. Because this version does not include graph questions, you should not practice with it exclusively.

For Writing, you can use the current (5th) edition of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar,  focusing heavily on the chapters on transitions and punctuation, and skipping the material on diction and register. Aside from the fact that each dSAT Writing question will accompany a different passage, the actual concepts tested will be effectively identical, and the current book should leave you extremely well prepared for the exam.

If you do want a trove of single passages accompanied by one question, you can of course also use the Question of the Day archive.

For authentic SAT questions, you may want to work with short passages and sentence completions from pre-2016 exams. You can probably order an old Official Guide for very little money on Amazon, and I would assume that there are still many old tests floating around the internet as well.

And as always, I recommend spending 10-15 minutes a day reading a reasonably serious adult periodical such as the New York TimesThe EconomistThe AtlanticScientific American, and making a list of the words you don’t know. It does not matter how short dSAT passages are if you are missing key vocabulary or have difficulty following a person’s argument!

The bottom is line is that if you’re among the first cohorts to take the new exam, you may need to piece prep materials together for the next few months; however, given what is available for the previous and current versions of the SAT, you can still prep very effectively.

I will be posting updates as my work on the books progresses, so please stay tuned!

Why you can’t punctuate “but” and “however” the same way

Why you can’t punctuate “but” and “however” the same way

Although but and however have the same meaning, they are punctuated differently when used to join complete sentences:

  • but follows a comma and is not followed by any punctuation
  • however follows a period or semicolon and is followed by a comma

For example:

Correct: An increasing number of people at the company bike or take public transit to work, but many employees still prefer to drive.

Incorrect: An increasing number of people at the company bike or take public transit to work. But, many employees still prefer to drive.

Correct: An increasing number of people at the company bike or take public transit to work. However, many employees still prefer to drive.

Correct: An increasing number of people at the company bike or take public transit to work; however, many employees still prefer to drive.

Incorrect: An increasing number of people at the company bike or take public transit to work, however, many employees still prefer to drive.

 

On the surface, the fact that these two words must be punctuated differently might seem odd—the kind of persnickety little rule that tends to give grammar a bad name. However, it actually exists for a reason. (more…)

The shortest answer isn’t always right—but “shorter is better” is still a good rule to follow

The shortest answer isn’t always right—but “shorter is better” is still a good rule to follow

I recently encountered someone who, after many years of hearing tutors advise students to “pick the shortest” answer on ACT English and SAT Writing, decided to see how often that option actually was correct. After going through a bunch of ACTs, she discovered that the shortest answer was in fact correct only a relatively small percentage of the time. She was quite incensed about this fact, and took it as evidence that students should not be encouraged to select their answers based on length.

Now, for a tutor who advises a blunt, just-pick-the-shortest-answer-if-you’re-not-sure approach, this is a reasonable criticism.

Otherwise, however, I think it misses the point.

Fundamentally, “shorter is better” is a general guideline; it is not intended to be an ironclad rule for choosing answers. If the shortest answer were indeed always correct, even just on rhetoric questions, then SAT and ACT grammar would be far too easy to game, and many more students would receive high scores than is actually the case. (more…)

When is an IELTS Enquiry on Results worth requesting?

When is an IELTS Enquiry on Results worth requesting?

It’s not exactly a secret that many IELTS candidates are unpleasantly surprised when they receive their Writing scores; it’s not uncommon for marks in this area of the test to be a full band, or even a band-and-a-half, lower than in the other three sections. Very often, they wonder whether there has been some kind of mistake, and one of their first question is usually whether it’s worth it for them to request an Enquiry on Results (EOR) and have their essay re-marked.

As I’ve written about before, one of the overlooked challenges of the IELTS Writing test is that it is always administered third, after Listening and Reading. By that point, most test-takers are already starting to get tired from the intense concentration required in the previous sections, and shifting into writing mode can be very difficult. If a normally strong writer does take a little while to warm up, it is entirely possible that the beginning of their Task 1 response will not in fact be representative of their overall skill level.

In other cases, a test-taker may get through Task 1 without a problem and then crash at the beginning of Task 2, only to recover partway through their essay. By that time, however, the damage may have already been done. (more…)

4 Canadian universities American students should know about

4 Canadian universities American students should know about

During my post-college/pre-tutoring admin stints in two Ivy League humanities departments, I became heavily involved in the administrative side of graduate admissions and consequently developed a familiarity with many reputable undergraduate programs located outside the U.S.

Over the years, I’ve come to take this knowledge for granted, but I became newly aware of it recently while listening to Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin of Tests and the Rest’s interview with Brandon Miller, an immigration consultant who has helped many American students study in Canada at the post-secondary level. Although the discussion was extremely informative from a logistical and financial perspective—I actually had no idea that U.S. federal loans could be applied to Canadian institutions—there were a handful of schools and programs that I would have liked to hear (more) about, hence the inspiration for this post.

So that said, these are four Canadian universities/university programs that, in my experience, often fly under American applicants’ radar but that deserve a serious look from anyone considering attending college outside the United States.  (more…)

12 skills you need for Band 7+ in IELTS Writing

12 skills you need for Band 7+ in IELTS Writing

Note: you can download this post as a pdf.

This guide covers 12 of the skills whose mastery generally corresponds to a score of Band 7 or above in IELTS Writing. It is by no means comprehensive—writing well in English involves far more than what can reasonably be covered here—but I have done my best to select the top concepts that IELTS candidates find particularly challenging, and that apply at a general structural level regardless of the topic or type of question involved.

To be clear: you do not need to be able to do every single thing on this list flawlessly in order to earn a Band 7 score. There is some room for error. But you must be able to do most of them, and do them consistently, in order to produce responses that contain mostly error-free sentences; remain clear and on-topic throughout; and are sufficiently cohesive and coherent.

Also, please note: The list below assumes that you know how to use standard spacing, punctuation, and capitalization. If you have difficulty with those aspects of English, you need to work on them first (more…)