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Study Tips and Strategies

English Review of Finding a Place to Write

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One way to build good writing and studying habits is to find a good place to write and do homework.  Not all writing and homework can be done at school, so it is important to find a place without distractions, where students can go to the same place each day, keep necessary tools together, and notice what works best to help work go together smoothly.

A Place without Distractions

Most students have a hard time writing if the place they choose is too distracting.  An interesting movie or TV program, unfamiliar music, or friends who want to talk can break concentration.  Some people need silence, especially if it is difficult to get started.  Others need background music to keep the process going.

Choose the Time and Place

One way to build good writing and study habits is to choose the time and place, and try to make it the same time every day, or close to every day.  That way, there will be enough time to develop a writing idea, find examples, and write and polish the draft enough times to have a finished product.  Most students and writers cannot write a polished paper on the first try, and need time to revise their work.


Gather Tools

Gather writing tools together in the place you choose for writing and studying, so you won’t have to waste valuable time hunting for a pen that has enough ink, your English textbook, a dictionary, your writing notebook, or the charger for your laptop.  If the place you choose is not at home (such as the public library), have a place for your tools that you can take with you, such as a briefcase or backpack.  You can also have a smaller notebook with you at other times to jot down ideas or descriptions.

Be Prepared to Change

During the time you are writing or studying, if you find something that is not working, be prepared to change things to make them work better for you.  Maybe the music you are listening to while you write is too loud, so it is distracting, or you’ve forgotten your textbook in your tool kit.  Turn down the volume on the radio or change the station, find your textbook, and keep writing.  It is always better to revise what you have written than stare at a blank page.

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ACT Science: Data Representation

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The ACT science exam does not require students to have in-depth understanding of biology, chemistry and/ or physics. It simply tests students on how to read and analyze  scientific passages.

One of the passage types for ACT Science is data representation. Students will be asked to analyze tables, bar graphs, scatter plots, pie chart, histograms and various curves. These passages are easier to work with because they require a lesser amount of reading. As such, students are encouraged to work on questions associated with these types of passages first.  They can be simple to work with if attention is paid to detail.

Here are a few quick tips to conquer data representation questions:

  • Read the questions before you read the passage: this will allow you to hone in on important details while reading the passage.
  • Check title, axis-labels and legends for charts and graphs: oftentimes more than one graph will be presented to analyze different information. At such times, axis-labels will determine which graph to use.
  • Pay attention to the units: the chart axes may be labelled in millimeters while the question is asking for meters.
  • Interpolate or extrapolate graphs to find missing information: use a general trend to find unknown information.

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Deciphering Meaning from Reading Passages on the SAT and ACT

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Questions about longer reading passages on the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests tap students’ abilities to find and use meaning from what they read.  These skills are important to college success, as students are expected to read and understand textbooks in unfamiliar subjects.  Students are expected to extract the main ideas from what they read, distinguish between fact and opinion, recognize the author’s point of view, and summarize the passage, along with other skills.

Reading for Main Ideas

Most often, the main ideas in a reading passage will be in the first few sentences of a reading passage.  Multiple-choice questions will give alternative statements of what the main idea might be.  Read all the alternatives carefully before deciding on the best answer.  One alternative might be too brief to contain enough information, while another might ask for a conclusion or opinion, a third might give more information than is necessary,  and the correct alternative will give enough information to decide on the main idea.

Distinguishing between Fact and Opinion

Even fairly short passages will contain a number of supporting facts and some opinions, as any event is open to interpretation.  Opinions will ask the reader to draw conclusions from the supporting facts rather than merely stating those facts.  Opinions ask the reader to draw inferences as may not be supported within the text,

Recognizing the Point of View

Many of these questions ask readers to recognize the tone of the passage.  Does the author believe the research is valuable or does the author believe the research is a waste of time?  Is the author pessimistic or optimistic about the outcome of the research presented?  If it is a historical article, is the author on the side of the winners or the losers?

Summarizing the Passage

Normal reading passages on standardized tests are relatively brief, so the summaries are no more than a sentence or two long.  They  restate key points , and cover the entire passage rather than just one section of the passage.  The best alternatives focus on the big picture rather than one section.

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Proofreading for Parallel Structure on the SAT and ACT

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Overview:  What Is Parallel Structure?

Parallel structure in writing is a refinement technique in which verbs, subjects, and clauses are made similar.  It is tested on the ACT and SAT in grammar questions, as it is a feature that adds impact to writing.  Often, phrases that mean the same may not be parallel.

Checklist:  Are Verbs in the Same Tense?

Parallel verbs in each clause should be in the same tense.  For example, parallel verbs are “He came, he saw, and he conquered” not “he came, he saw, and he will conquer. ” Similarly, if helping verbs are used in one clause, the same helping verbs should be used in the other clauses.  “She may gather enough support, she may raise enough funds, and she may win the election,” rather than “she may gather enough support, she raised enough funds, and she will win the election.”

Checklist:   Is the Subject the Same in All Clauses?

In order for clauses to be parallel, the subjects should remain the same.  “The corporation will sponsor the fun run, the CEO will speak at the breakfast, and they will wear T-shirts advertising the event” is unclear and not parallel.  In order to make the structure parallel, one way to recast the clauses is, “The corporation will sponsor the fun run, its CEO will speak at the opening breakfast, and its employees will wear T-shirts advertising the event.”

Checklist:  Are the Same Types of Clauses Used?

More subtly, parallel clauses need to have the same structure.  A sentence like “The building manager will choose the maintenance projects that they think will make their properties more attractive” has two clauses that are less parallel than the recast sentence “The building manager will choose the maintenance projects that will make their properties more attractive.”  Sometimes it is a matter of eliminating unnecessary words in order to clarify the structure.

Checklist:  Is the Punctuation Parallel Between Parallel Clauses?

If clauses are parallel, they should be separated with the same type of punctuation.  For the most part, they will be independent from one another.  For example, in the sentence “He came, he saw, and he conquered” all the clauses are separated by commas.

Recognizing Appropriate Sentence Construction in Reading Passages

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Overview:  Why Sentence Construction?
Some test questions in the English/grammar portion of the SAT, ACT, and other tests ask students to read a passage and find the best way to rewrite it, whether by combining sentences or correcting sentence fragments.  The reason questions like this are asked is to test students’ ability to apply their editing skills and the rules of sentence construction.  They are expected to read quickly and choose combinations that do not change the overall meaning of the passage, between alternatives that may or may not preserve meaning and formal, standard usage.

Is the Sentence Complete?
Every phrase presented as a sentence must be capable of standing on its own with a subject and verb, expressing a complete thought.  Sometimes the verb might precede or follow the subject, and sometimes a form of to be is the main verb.  Also, check to see if two or more sentences have been joined incorrectly as comma splices, presented without punctuation, or otherwise joined when they should not be.

What Are Phrases?
Phrases are groups of words that act as a unit without a subject or verb contained in them.  One type of phrase is the prepositional phrase, which will give more information, but will not contain the subject or verb.  A prepositional phrase such as “to the moon” contains a preposition, an article, and a noun.  If it were elaborated further, as “to the airless, many-cratered moon” , it would still be just a phrase.

What Are Clauses?
Unlike phrases, clauses act as a unit, but they do contain a noun and a verb.  Independent clauses are tricky because they can stand by themselves as separate sentences.  Subordinate clauses add meaning, but they could not necessarily stand as separate sentences, even though they contain subjects and verbs.  For example, “When the moon rose over the horizon” is a subordinate phrase that contains a subject and verb, but it could not be a separate sentence.  Sentences with vague antecedents like “this” and “that” are usually also incorrect alternative choices unless other words in the sentence clearly state the relationship.

What Is Sentence Repetition?
One strategy to use when choosing answers from alternatives is to watch for repetition of words and phrases in consecutive sentences, as repetition can be a signal to combine sentences.  The best way to combine sentences may eliminate the repetition by using a phrase or clause, or by making the subject or verb compound, while still preserving meaning.  A sample illustrative passage might be , “Many people enjoy attending summer music festivals.  There are festivals for almost every type of music, from rock to jazz to classical. ”  An acceptable alternative might be, “Many people enjoy attending summer music festivals, which exist for almost every type of music, from rock to jazz to classical.”

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SAT and ACT Reading Comprehension: Using Sentence Context to Identify Meaning

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Overview:  Sentence Context Adds Power
Skilled readers use the powerful tool of sentence context to approximate the meaning of unfamiliar words, when the meaning is not apparent from prefixes, roots, and suffixes.  It is a largely unconscious process, and can help students taking the SAT, ACT, or other tests choose the correct answer from alternatives.  By using the context of words around it, students can identify the part of speech, verb tense, number, and choose synonyms.

How Do We Recognize the Part of Speech?
Usually, readers can identify the part of speech that the word should be, even if the word itself is not recognizable, or if the space is left blank.  When readers are reading at their highest skill level, they can substitute words with high accuracy, even when every fifth word is left blank and the blanks occupy many different parts of speech.  Students taking the test can often eliminate alternatives because they would not fit.

Clues to Tense
Often, test developers leave clues to when action takes place.  If the question asks students to choose the correct verb form from a variety of alternatives (some of them do), look within the passage to help determine the correct form.  Pay attention to the context, even if some of the words are unfamiliar.  For example, in a test passage about how the coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland developed her vocal techniques, the writer might use a sentence like, ” The late Joan Sutherland possessed a high degree of stamina and was able to sing long phrases at full voice while she moved around the stage.  Director Franco Zeffirelli   (   ) that  in the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.”   Suppose the word exploited were unfamiliar.  Readers would be able to use the past tense of the word possessed, as well as the clue to the past in referring to her as “the late”.

Clues to Number and Quantity
Another way students can use context clues is when the missing word refers to number, quantity, or another form of specific adverb or adjective.  For example, “One of the most famous pieces of music in the opera Lucia di Lammermoor is the ().  In the passage, six characters sing interweaving points of view.”  If the word “Sextet” were unfamiliar,the reader could use the clue of “six characters.”

Choosing Synonyms
By using clues within the reading passage, students can choose synonyms from the alternatives presented.  For example, “Although Joan Sutherland’s earliest voice training featured standard roles for a Wagnerian soprano, her later () included many unusual bel canto roles.  Many of those works had not been performed since the Golden Age of Opera in the late 1800s.  The correct alternative, “repertoire”, could be chosen from clues about the different types of roles that she performed.

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Test Prep Academy is the premier test prep and private tutoring company for college-bound students. Our highly qualified test prep tutors deliver one-on-one personalized instruction that fit our student’s busy schedule.

How to Read Math Questions on the SAT and ACT

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Overview: A Different Style of Reading
Reading math questions on the SAT and ACT takes special attention to exact detail, following directions precisely, and watching for key words.  It is a different type of reading than students usually do in other sections of the test, such as reading comprehension or vocabulary sections.  The “plot” of a math question has a beginning, middle, and the solution provides the end.

Attention to Detail
Other sections of the SAT or ACT may ask for the main ideas, interpretations, or points of view in a selection.  Usually, comprehension of the entire selection doesn’t hinge on a single word or detail.  However, successful solutions to math problems depend upon attention to detail.  Questions like “1/3 is 1/4 of what number?” and “What is 1/3 of 1/4?” do not have the same solution.

Following Directions
Filling in the answer sheet correctly, as well as working the correct section in the time limit given are more obvious examples of following directions, but there are also some special symbols on some math problems. The goals of those problems are to test skill in substitution and logical reasoning.  Those questions require suspension of disbelief, as well as following directions.

Watching for Key Words
Words such as exactly, at most, at least, fewer, and between refer to quantities.  If an answer to a problem is “nonnegative”  it can be zero,  but is the answer is positive it cannot. Make sure all quantities in the question stem are accounted for when solving the problem.

Watch for Unnecessary Information
Math problems on tests, as well as math problems in homework, sometimes contain information that is not necessary to solve the problem.  Sometimes this information is within the problem itself, and sometimes it is in the alternative answers.   For example, suppose the statement given on a math question is “Union Station has exactly 5 gates”.  One of the alternatives is “South Station has 7 gates.”  Since nothing else in the question was about South Station, it is unnecessary information.

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Do You Have Enough Information to Solve the Math Problem?

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Overview:  Common Strategies

Some math problems on the SAT and ACT  present an equation or series, and then give a number of alternative solutions.  Like all problems of that type, only one answer is correct.  However, besides numerical solutions, there’s an additional choice: usually labeled (E)  Not enough information is available to solve this problem.

Enough Info for Geometry Problems

Often, there is a figure included, not necessarily drawn to scale.  Adjacent, complementary, or corresponding angles may be labeled.  Also, check to make sure similar triangles are not buried in other figures.  Practice solving geometry problems long before the test is given, in order to detect the information hidden in such figures.  Test questions will ask for applications rather than complicated proofs.

CSI for Arithmetic

Investigate the alternative answers that contain numbers.  That way, a cumbersome algebra problem can be turned into arithmetic.  If the alternative is right there, there is enough information, especially if the problem is a difficult one.  More practice on such problems long before the test will help the investigator spot the hidden clues to the answer.

Algebra Alternatives

Alternative answers to algebra problems on the SAT and ACT test thinking and reasoning skills as much as student knowledge of algorithms.  Students solve algebra problems during math homework by repeating strategies and solving the same types of problems.  However, the math questions on standardized tests focus on reasoning the correct answer, no matter what way it is solved.

Is That Your Final Answer?

In reality, there are very few problems on the SAT or ACT with not enough information available.  When the math problem is difficult, it is tempting but often incorrect to choose that choice.  Most of the time, there is more information to go on than the student actually needs.  The question stem sometimes will contain irrelevant information, especially if there is a figure included.  Read the problem carefully for all instructions, key words, and hidden clues.

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Focus on Speed and Accuracy in SAT and ACT Math

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Overview:  Using the Test Itself
Everyday math homework emphasizes solving the same type of problems over and over again, and following specific steps to solve them.  By contrast, the SAT, ACT, and other standardized math tests give a range of answers to problems.  Determining the correct answer is a matter of speed and accuracy.  On many questions, one of the alternative answers is correct. and the other alternatives serve as a distraction.  Since the tests are timed, it is important to go from problem to problem, work quickly and accurately, and use the time that is available.

Draw a Diagram or Picture
Standardized tests often have separate answer sheets.  Therefore, students  have a place to draw a quick sketch of the problem on scratch paper in order to clarify what is being asked.  Sometimes that strategy will be all that is needed to determine the correct alternative from among the many possible answers.  If it is a strategy that is used often in solving problems, it might be helpful on the test.  For example, if the question were “What is the least integer greater than -3.2?” and the alternatives were a) -3.3 b) 0 c) -3.0 d) 3.1 e)1.8, drawing a number line would help to find the answer and eliminate the alternatives.

Substitute and Solve
In order to eliminate alternatives,  try substituting some of the answers given in the problem stem to see if they make sense.  Then math problems can be solved without using complicated formulas that take time and extra steps.  Sometimes alternatives can be eliminated by thinking logically about the problem.  If there are 60 students total taking Algebra 1, and there are 8 more girls than boys in the class, how many boys are there in the class?  The alternative “30” can be eliminated, because then the class would be evenly divided.  The alternative “34” can be eliminated , as there would be more boys than girls.

Use Properties and Postulates
Careful attention to math properties and postulates sometimes makes the answer stand out from the rest.  For example, the Distributive Property can be used to solve a long, complicated fraction such as 12(16-8) -8 (16-8)/4 by simplifying it to (12-8)(16-8)/4 or 4(16-8)/4, cancelling out the 4/4, and giving the answer as 16-8 =8.

Make It Real
There are two reasons to make it real.  First, unless the test directions say differently, all answers will be in real numbers, not imaginary or complex numbers.  Second, sometimes the problem is easier to see when small numbers, such as 2 for x and 5 for y are substituted.  In that case, an algebra problem can be turned quickly into simple arithmetic.

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Grammar Questions on the SAT and ACT

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 Overview:  Error Analysis
Essay questions on the SAT or ACT ask students to write on demand.  Besides producing  essays that are logical, focused, and readable, students are expected to have few or no grammatical or spelling errors.  In addition, other parts of the test provide specific questions to see how well individual students can identify common spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and other grammatical errors.

Spelling Errors
Although writers tend to rely on the spell-checking features, test examiners expect students to catch spelling errors on standardized tests.  It is also a good practice to catch them when proofreading, as the spell check feature misses spelling errors when the misspelled word turns out to be a real word in the incorrect context.

Capitalization Errors
Make sure all proper nouns are capitalized, and all common nouns are not capitalized.  These types of errors can be caught quickly, especially if only one word in a longer proper noun  is capitalized.  Suppose the sentence prompt was ” the Golden gate bridge”.  In that case, the correct response would be “capitalization error”.

Punctuation Errors
When two or more items are listed in a series, such as “paper, pencils, paint, and scissors” it is correct to use commas to separate the items.  Correct punctuation marks need to be at the end of every sentence.  As readers tend to add their own closure to sentences, it is easy to overlook punctuation errors.

No Error
Although “no error” is an option at the end of every short passage, it is not always the correct choice.  While working through the test questions, justify the other answers first.  Do not get bogged down in what the passage means, if the questions are limited to spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.

Do you need to know more about how test questions on the SAT or ACT are scored? Learn more about how we are assisting thousands of students each academic year.

Test Prep Academy is the premier test prep and private tutoring company for college-bound students. Our highly qualified test prep tutors deliver one-on-one personalized instruction that fit our student’s busy schedule.

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