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).