Will the Slipper Fit?

By Ryan Fisher.

When studying for the ACT, and especially the SAT, vocabulary often finds its way to the front of student’s minds. This is probably a little unwarranted, as the importance of vocabulary on both of the tests is somewhat overrated. Additionally, building vocabulary in a short period of time is difficult, and is really something that should be cultivated through extensive reading. Still, as a test prep tutor I do realize that vocabulary is important to my students, and this forces me to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about words.

The word that I have been thinking about a lot lately is “Cinderella”. We are all probably quite familiar with the folk tale, which has been known in written form for nearly 400 years. So why is it so prevalent in my mind today? The main reason is that my girlfriend took me last weekend to see the Kenneth Branagh Disney re-make/update. (I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited about going, but it was actually much, much better than I expected.)

The other reason, and the one that leads to the idea of word use, is the annual March staging of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Most of us fill out a bracket, always looking for that “Cinderella” squad that will enchant us all. You cannot watch a single game of the tournament without hearing the word Cinderella mentioned on multiple occasions. While watching the movie last week I was reminded that the title character’s name was actually Ella, and the “cinder” was added as a derogatory term by her step-sisters. But very rarely do we even use the word as a proper noun anymore. Instead, it has evolved into an adjective, especially every March as “Cinderella” teams try to advance through our brackets.

While studying your word lists for the upcoming exams, keep this little example in mind. Our vocabulary is constantly changing and evolving. Words that didn’t exist 20 years ago are now used without a second thought, and words that once used to mean one thing may now mean something completely different. For me, word lists aren’t interesting. But as I have been reminded, words certainly can be.



Student Reading: An NBA Player @ Columbia

An excerpt:

So he hired a tutor and worked with her three times a week. He went to Barnes & Noble and bought every SAT book at the store. He got flashcards to practice vocabulary. He estimated he studied 25 hours a week for two months and took more than 20 practice exams. He wrote his application essay about how he could apply the lessons learned in the N.B.A. to the challenges of college life.

From A Big Man in the N.B.A., But Not on Campus at Columbia, by Sam Hodgson in the New York Times


New PSAT Preview Available

Good news sophomores (and younger grades)! The practice PSAT has now been released and is viewable here. More information is also available here and here.

While the upcoming ACT and SAT have been taking up most of my free time lately, I have had a chance to quickly review the new PSAT and here are some of my first impressions:

General Notes: 

1. It looks a lot more like the ACT than the SAT used to, but with some important distinctions.

2. It appears as if ACT-Science-like questions pop up in both the Reading and Math sections.

3. The test looks a little more interesting to take, with synthesis of graphs and reading in one. As in, it may be a little more engaging and you may not be as prone to drifting off during it.

4. This is a well-designed test.


Reading/Writing Section Notes:

1. There is still some vocab being tested, just as the ACT has been testing vocab, through contextual questions. But these are still distinctly vocabulary questions. Quick sidebar: do you know what despondent means? 

2. They’re still using some of their tried-and-true methods for wrong answer choices.

3. The Writing section now looks remarkably like the ACT English section. Note too that it has not been eliminated, but folded into the Reading score.

4. Some of the same Writing errors are popping up with great frequency (think Subject-Verb errors).


Math Section Notes:

1. The No Calculator section is not one in which you would want a calculator anyway. (phew!)

2. The questions look extremely similar to the ones showing up on the last (Feb) SAT.

3. There are more statistics/graph questions than the older SAT.

4. There are more questions related to what you’ve learned in school, but still as difficult as the older SAT (e.g. Section 4, Q28-Q30).



Student Reading: Math and the Pro Offensive Lineman

Disregard the hyperbole in the title, and there is still intrigue in the idea that a pro NFL lineman has published a math paper and still has a promising career in mathematics ahead of him.

Intelligence and athletics, even at the highest levels in each, are not necessarily mutually exclusive.


One of the Baltimore Ravens Just Published an Insanely Complex Study in a Math Journal, by Natalie Kitroeff in Bloomberg Business.


Fashionable Iowa?

By Ryan Fisher. 

I was born and raised in the state of Wisconsin. I would say that, other than it being cold a good portion of the year, Wisconsin was a nice place to grow up. We certainly had our own culture, often centered on dairy based food products, as well as deep passions for Wisconsin college and professional sports teams. Iowa is a neighboring state of Wisconsin. As I think back to my childhood and my thoughts at that time about Iowa, I am certain of one thing…We didn’t look to the state of Iowa for, well, for anything really.

Yet here we are in 2015, and in the world of standardized tests, the stylish East and West coasts of the USA have decided that Iowa is…fashionable? Are you completely confused? Yeah, well so am I!! To assist us all, let me give you a little background.

The ACT was created in 1959 by Everett Franklin Lindquist, a professor at the University of Iowa. The ACT is also still headquartered in Iowa City, IA. For many, many years, the ACT was the preferred test of most of the states in Middle America. When I was in high school in Wisconsin, I took both the ACT and the SAT. However, this was quite rare. I was the only student in my graduating class who took the SAT. Over 80% took the ACT.

The coastal states have been the last holdouts, preferring the SAT to the ACT. That preference, however, is definitely shifting. Many of you right here in California have even decided that the ACT is the best test for your college application. And you are hardly alone. In 2007, 99% of applicants to Harvard submitted SAT scores. By 2012 that number was down to 90%. With the upcoming change in the format of the SAT, by 2017 that number could be under 70%.

So for the time being, maybe Iowa simply needs to stand tall and feel proud. Those of us in the Midwest often felt like we were the last ones in the country to know what was popular or fashionable. But when it comes to the ACT and SAT, as more and more Californians and New Yorkers mimic the choice of their peers in Wisconsin and Illinois, it is clear that the Midwest wasn’t last. It was actually first. Fashionable Iowa, indeed!


Thoughts on the Last SAT

As some of you may know, I sat in on the SAT last Saturday. I like to take them at least once a year to not only see what might be changing on the test, but also see how true to form I can/do stay on top of my own teachings.

What did I find out? I found out a little bit where the SAT is heading, and for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. The test seemed even more predictable than it has in sittings past. Perhaps this is just a sign of my own familiarity with the test, but fortunately either way this means this is something I can (and do) teach to you all as we continue to move forward in our lessons.

And as for the second lesson I wanted to learn? I learned that even with air conditioning right behind me, an early start time + a hot, hot day combined with a later break (after section 6 instead of 7, thanks proctor) makes for some missed opportunities for strategies.

An additional lesson on top of this, though, is that without some of the strategies, I was still able to use them to double check my work. So a lesson for you all: if you forget to use your strategies up front (because of fatigue or whatever else may cause this), you can still use them to double check the correct answers. You may, like me, catch a mistake or two this way!

Now we just have to wait until April 2nd to get our scores back. Best of luck to those of you who sat on Saturday for it.