Category Archives: Test Taking Tips

13 Feb 2020

ACT Section Retesting: relief arrives for students taking the ACT with extended time

ACT now offers Section Retesting. Source:

Taking the ACT plus Writing already clocks in at nearly 4 hours of consecutive exam time. For students with extended time accommodations, this lengthy test can drag on for an entire day.

However, ACT has recently incorporated some major changes to the way the test can be taken that will majorly benefit students needing extra time.

What are the changes?

ACT now allows students who have already taken the full ACT test, to re-take one or more specific sections of their choice. For example, if a student does poorly on the Science section, they may return on a different test day to focus their energy on that portion.

While this is already great news for the general population of ACT test takers, it has a particular impact on students with extended time.

Students with 50% extended time will have already been sitting for the exam for nearly three hours before they arrive at the Reading section. They may be burnt out and exhausted before even beginning the remaining two or three sections of the test.

With Section Retesting, extended time students can schedule their Reading, Science, and Writing sections for a later exam date. By doing so, they can give themselves a better chance of scoring at their full potential by coming into these sections refreshed.

06 Feb 2020

Getting stuck on quadratic equations? Consider using this trick.

Image result for quadratic equations

Using a calculator program is still the best way to solve questions involving quadratics on the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests in Math levels 1 and 2 (here’s a video showing how you can do this on a few different standard-issue graphing calculators).

However, if you aren’t using a graphing calculator, or if programming one isn’t an option, this technique is a great way to solve quadratics.

Solving quadratic equations using the quadratic formula is often time consuming, and the long formula can be difficult for students to memorize. Or, students are taught to factor out the expression and use trial and error to solve. This strategy can end up being an inefficient use of your time during a timed exam.

It turns out there is a better way–and, it even works for equations that are not easily factorable.

In this article from the New York Times, A Carnegie Mellon Professor of Mathematics describes a new, surprisingly intuitive method to solve quadratic equations.

Written and video tutorials of the process can also be found directly from Dr. Loh’s blog, through this link.

Happy solving!

24 Oct 2019

Meticulous methods: ace tests like a scientist

Dr. Monica Lewin, Neuroscientist, Learning Specialist

When I first started working in research labs, I noticed something rather interesting. Despite being surrounded by cutting edge technology, every scientist I worked with would diligently inscribe notes into simple, black and white, college ruled composition books. They logged the details of every daily task in these notebooks: from tracking each step completed in an experiment, to the quantities of each chemical used in the day’s solutions. Every process and its result were recorded.

Personally, I thought this was excessive. We were scientists; clearly we were smart enough to know what we were doing around the lab. Was it really necessary to be this meticulous?

It didn’t take me long to find out it was. When things went wrong—when experiments failed for unknown reasons, or when I simply got distracted and forgot which step in my protocol was up next—my paper trail was there, in my black and white lab notebook. When I was exhausted, and running the same experiment on autopilot for the thirteenth time, seeing my own careless errors written plainly on paper allowed me to identify the problem and correct my mistakes.

I started to find this practice was useful even outside the lab. I took extra scratch paper with me to my exams, showing all my work and recording my thought process for each question. Mental math became the enemy—I didn’t trust it! I marked up my test booklets, underlining the key words in each question, eliminating answers and jotting down why to systematically track my answering strategy. To study, I took practice tests and made copious notes on the types of questions I got wrong. What did I miss while reading the question? Did I calculate using the wrong unit? Did I forget to carry the 1? Later, I could review those notes and focus my energy on eliminating my most common sticking points.

When preparing for a standardized exam such as the SAT or ACT, it is of course important to focus on building the academic skills it assesses. Thus, it’s unsurprising that most prep programs market their ability to cover the most content in the least amount of time. There is, however, another very important aspect to scoring well that students tend to gloss over: minimizing careless mistakes. Here at Sentia, we have found that up to a third of a student’s lost points are due to careless errors, not because of poor understanding. Students tend to brush these kinds of errors off during review because they feel their tutor has prepared them well on the content. They are, and rightfully so, confident that they know what they are doing. However, at Sentia, we consistently reinforce the fact that all incorrect answers cost you the same number of points. Students should view careless errors with the same seriousness as they view content gaps. Sentia’s tutors emphasize these “meticulous methods” to teach students how to hold on to those valuable points.

02 Feb 2018

The PQRST Method of Studying

The PQRST Method of Studying

 This is a method of reading a textbook so that the information you read really does enter your long term memory. It is based on work by Thomas and H. A. Robinson, Spache and Berg and R. P .Robinson. Its sometimes cryptically known as SQ3R.

So what can it do?

The method has been shown to improve a readers understanding, and his/her ability to recall information. In other words, the reader is more likely to learn, and to learn more, of the material he/she is reading. If you use this method, reading won’t be a waste of your time.

How does it work?

In this method you follow five steps – Preview, Question, Read, Self-recite and Test (PQRST). The middle three steps apply to every section within a chapter whilst the first and last steps apply to the chapter itself. You may find that many textbooks are compiled in a way which makes this method easy to apply, using an introductory passage, and questions at the end.

The diagram below illustrates the method:

  1. PREVIEW an assignment by scanning it.  Read the chapter outline at the beginning of the chapter.  Pay attention to the headings of the sections and subsections.  Read the summary.  The point is to get an idea of the main topics and sections of the chapter.
  2. QUESTION As you read through each section, start by asking yourself “what am I supposed to learn in this section”. This helps to get your brain in to sync with the topic being discussed.
  3. READ. Next, actually read that section. Do it carefully, think about the meaning and relate this to other things you know about this and similar topics. Do some underlining or highlighting of key words. Don’t overdo it! If you want to take notes, read the whole section first, and then summarize it later.
  4. SELF-RECITATION requires that you try to remember the main points of each section and that you say them out loud (if possible) to yourself. Check back against the text, and note the things you missed out. Ensure that you didn’t miss them because you haven’t learnt them. Only then go on to the next section and Question again.
  5. TEST yourself after you have finished the entire chapter.  How many of the main ideas from the chapter can you remember? Think about the relevance of what you learnt and how it all fits together. Reread any chapter summaries. Even though you have only just read the chapter, now is the best time to test yourself.


01 Feb 2018

How to study more effectively

  • Hate to study?
  • Can’t concentrate for more than 15-20 minutes?
  • Manage to make average grades from what you retain in class and with the little studying you manage to do?
  • Tired of being average.

Studying is not the same as learning.  Here are some strategies to help you study effectively:

  1. Know your purpose. Scan the content to identify the most important concepts you need to know to achieve the top grade. Make a list of items to memorize. Quantify – only by being objective will you increase your productivity.

All goals should be “SMART”

  • S pecific (not something vague)
  • M easurable
  • A chievable
  • R ecorded (written down)
  • T imed (have a time limit)
  1. Limit studying time. Study for specific periods of time or to learn and master a specific concepts or problem set. Either way, be sure you study for 100% of the time you commit to – no smartphones, no internet, no TV, no distractions.
  2. Multiple Sources. Sometimes its not enough to know ‘just enough’. You might not completely understand a topic/concept or you may understand some of it but not enough.

To solve this dilemma, read/view/talk to multiple sources. Remember: one author may explain something better than another. Its vital to refer to different sources to strengthen your understanding.

Select the best sources. If there are high-yield versions of textbooks, pre-made notes optimized for retention, mnemonics collections, essential problem sets (and solutions), use them.

  1. Feynman technique. This Mental Model, named after Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize Winning Physicist, designed as a technique assist with learning new concepts as if you were explaining them to a complete beginner. His technique includes drawing diagrams, schematics and notes on a blank sheet of paper.
  2. Cultivate daily habits. The best approach to successful studying is to train daily for a relatively short amount of time. 30 min of difficult math problems every day is much more effective than 3 weekly sessions of 2 hours each.
  3. If you’re going to take notes, do it right. Note taking is associated with better retention rates than just reading or reviewing pre-existing notes.
  4. Don’t cram for tests. If you are going to do well in a test then you need to be relaxed. In the days before a test you should do nothing more stressful than a couple of hours gently reviewing your notes to assure yourself you know your stuff.
  5. Make a study guide. As the student puts together a study guide, he also is putting small chunks of information systematically into his brain.  An auditory or kinesthetic learner can talk out loud as he creates his study guide.
  6. Put together a study groupFor older students, it is a good idea to study the information with others.  It gives students the opportunity to make sure each student understands the material and has studied in a comprehensive manner.  Students can quiz each other on information and create outlines for possible essay questions.
  7. Use flashcards. If you need to memorize things, you need tools. Create your own or use one of the apps available
  8. Practice and test yourself. The best way to learn is to use the knowledge you are trying to acquire. You’ll figure out your weak spots in your understanding of complex concepts. There are resources online to test any kind of subject.
  9. Planning can reduce stress and anxiety. Set your goals, plan your studying techniques and stick to the plan.
  10. Cultivate the right mindset. Essential qualities of all productive students include: Diligence, Discipline, Direction and Durability.

Do exactly what you have to do daily, no matter what.

Think positively!  Try to imagine yourself getting an A+ on the exam.  Imagine getting questions you know the answers to, expressing yourself clearly and concisely, and feeling good about yourself and your performance.  Think about how good you will feel inside when the test is over and all your preparation has paid off.





12 Jan 2018

How Do YOU Learn?


Most of us can learn anything we put our minds to.  However, we have a preferred way of learning. Get to know your learning style and study in the ways you learn best.

Everyone has a mix of learning styles. Some people may find that they have a dominant style of learning while others may find that they use different styles in different circumstances. There is no right mix. Nor are your styles fixed.

There are Seven Learning Styles

  1. Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  3. Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  5. Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  6. Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  7. Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn.

Strategies to use, depending on your preferred learning style:

Visual Learners

  • Use graphics to reinforce learning­­, films, slides, illustrations, and diagrams.
  • Color coding to organize notes and possessions.
  • Write out directions.
  • Use flow charts and diagrams for note taking.
  • Visualizing spelling of words of facts to be memorized.


Auditory Learners

  • Use tapes for reading and for class and lecture notes.
  • Learn by interviewing or by participating in discussions.
  • Have test questions or directions read aloud or put on tape.


Kinesthetic Learners

  • Experimental learning (making models, doing lab work, and role playing).
  • Take frequent breaks in study periods.
  • Trace letters and words to learn spelling and remember facts.
  • Use computer to reinforce learning through sense of touch.
  • Memorize or drill while walking or exercising.

Express abilities through dance, drama, or gymnastic

02 Jan 2018

Stress… What it is and how to make it work for you

The Oxford English Dictionary defines stress as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.

Any one preparing for the standardized college admissions test knows that this definition is a perfect description of the feelings and emotions created by these tests.  But did you know that stress that is managed could actually be a good thing?

A 1979 London research study recognized that stress could be beneficial. Yes, you read that correctly – beneficial! The benefits of stress can be found in two main ways; First, stress can actually enhance performance and, secondly, stress from challenges, not threats, invite physiological responses that improves thinking by making the heart beat faster, adrenaline surge, the brain sharper and the body release a different mix of stress hormones which aid in learning.

You can rethink stress by understanding that it is a normal response when we care about what’s at stake.

Since stress is unavoidable, working out how to harness it may be wiser than trying to eliminate it.

Embarking on a mindful approach to the test prep process might sound hokey, or perhaps like a way of complicating a process that is pretty straightforward: study the material, take practice tests, get results. But being mindful is a practical and subtle way of managing stress – AND it puts YOU in control.

So… How can you be “mindful”

  1. Become aware of your thoughts. There’s a little voice in your head that’s talking to you constantly. 
What is it saying? How do the thoughts make you feel?
  2. Take a breath. When you become aware of a thought (any thought, positive or negative) take a breath. Let your thoughts come and go without analyzing them. Be aware of what happens to the feelings caused by stress?

Let your breath serve as a cue for you to be fully present in this moment. On the next exhalation imagine any tension in your body flowing out through the soles of your feet into the air. Let your tension go on the exhalation and on the inhalation breathe in relaxation.

  1. Guided Imagery. Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that utilizes the power of the imagination and all of the senses – what we feel, see, hear, taste, and smell – to create a relaxing scene. Guided imagery can be used to visualize positive outcomes, especially in stressful situations. For instance, if a student is anxious about an upcoming test, she imagines going through it in a calm and relaxed manner beforehand. This is called a mental rehearsal.
  2. Positive Affirmations. Positive statements can help students feel less stressed and more in control of their emotions. Examples of positive affirmations are:
    • I feel calm
    • I am confident
    • I can do well
    • Let go of (anxiety, fear, tension, etc)
  3. Question your thoughts. If your thoughts are of self-doubt or self-criticism, replace the latter part of the “What if” proposition with a positive quality that relates to the specific situation or preceding thought. Ask yourself:
  • What if I’m good enough?
  • What if I’m smart enough?
  • What if I have what it takes?
  • What if I succeed?
  1. Be willing to see the situation differently. There are objective facts about the college admissions process. There are tests (the SAT and ACT) for which you can prepare. College admissions officers will consider your test scores when evaluating your application. How you relate
to these objective facts is up to you. When you feel stressed out, anxious, or scared, tell yourself “I am willing to see this situation differently.” Keep an open mind, and stay willing to be positive and relaxed.

Test prep is a process, but when you bring your whole self to the experience, amazing things can happen.



02 Nov 2017



Don’t know whether to take the SAT or ACT?

We’ve been there before. High schoolers across America (and the globe) face this question every year.

An impressive score on either test goes a long way towards helping students get into the schools they want to attend. So, how do you know which test is better for you?

Sadly, there are no obvious answers. The best way to figure out the ACT vs. SAT conundrum is to take a practice test for both. If there is one you feel more comfortable with, then that’s the test you should take.

That being said, a quick comparison between the SAT and ACT, below, might help you understand the major differences between the two. There is also a quick nine question ACT vs. SAT quiz that will – through over-generalization and not very much data – tell you which standardized test is probably better suited to your strengths.

But before gleaning too much from the comparison and quiz, remember that there’s no substitute for taking a practice version of both tests! Happy reading.

What do these tests feel like? A logic and reasoning test A more objective, clear-cut test
How do these tests align with my skills? The SAT is often (not always) better suited for English/History types The ACT is often (not always) better suited for Math/Science types
What about math? Need to know Math up until Algebra II Need to know Math up until Trigonometry
Science? No Science on the SAT Yes Science on the ACT
Big Picture? The SAT requires more analytical thinking and logical reasoning The ACT asks more straight-forward questions and requires straight-forward answers
Where are these tests accepted? Everywhere Everywhere
Is there an essay? Yes, and it’s currently required. *After May 2016, it will be optional. Yes, but it’s optional
Is one better than the other? Should I take both? No, both are equals in the eyes of colleges. And no! You don’t need to take both.   

Still not sure which test to take? Maybe this quick, nine question quiz will help.

18 Dec 2012

Don’t Let Winter Break Break Your Study Habits!

With holidays and winter break approaching, this is always an exciting time of year. However, it can also be incredibly stressful for students wrapping up finals and those juniors and seniors preparing for either standardized tests or college applications. And, if you make the mistake of enjoying the break a little too much, winter break can be very detrimental on your long-term goal of getting into your dream college. So, with that in mind, we thought we’d give you some advice on managing your study and college application time over the break so that your break does not cause a headache when you return to normalcy!
First off, keep in mind that you have winter break for a reason beyond being able to enjoy holidays and visit with your family. Your body and mind need some occasional repose to help you recover from the rigors of your life. That is, you need to relax a little so that you come back to school ready to recommit and focus for the rest of the year. Winter break is great for relaxation, so make sure to do plenty of that.

That being said, however, there is such a thing as too much relaxation, and your brain can ossify from disuse. You don’t want your brain to forget everything you’ve learned thus far, as that would mean you’d have to re-learn everything in January, effectively costing you two months of prep time. So, take a few days off from strenuous work, but make sure to plan on being sedulous later in the break. If you’re a junior preparing for the SAT or ACT, keep working on small things on a daily basis—look through vocabulary cards every night, do some difficult reading—then, later in the week, sit down and do a full-length practice exam. Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to go to school so that you actually have a four-hour chunk of time totally free to study. (It sounds less than ideal, we know, but it has to be done at some point, so you may as well do it when you don’t have anything else on your plate!) If you’re a high school senior, you know that college applications are due right after 2013 begins, so spend some time polishing off those essays (if they’re not already done) and filling out more applications. You have time to focus on yourself and your goals, so take advantage of that opportunity.

And if you’re traveling somewhere, keep in mind that long car rides or flights are excellent opportunities to get work done. They are not ideal study environments, admittedly, but they do have one major advantage over your own house: They are free of tempting distractions such as television and the internet.

The important thing is to be productive over the break any way that you can. Enjoy yourself, too, though!

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia

Detrimental: tending to cause harm
Repose: a state of rest or tranquility
Ossify: harden
Sedulous: hard-working

16 Oct 2012

SAT Grammar: Learn parallelism to perfect your score… part 1!

February inspired me to write a tutorial on fixing dangling modifiers in the SAT Writing section. In honor of October, I want to address the problem of parallelism.

SAT Writing loves to test your knowledge of parallelism. The section loves it so much, in fact, that it tests parallelism in three different forms! For SAT Writing, you need to know how to use parallelism when writing lists, making comparisons, and when using word pairs (e.g., “not only… but also…”). In this blog entry, I will focus on the rules of parallelism for writing lists. I will address the others in blog entries to come.

List parallelism questions come up most often in the Error Identification portion of the Writing test. However, you may run into them in the Improving Sentences portion too.

What is parallelism? Parallelism is a grammatical principle invoked to maintain balance within a sentence. In grammar, parallelism basically means that similar words, phrases, and clauses must take the same form. Confused? Let’s move on to an example…

I like reading, sleeping and to make art.

This is a pretty friendly sentence: it’s direct and tells us a little bit about what the author likes! Only trouble is that the items in this list aren’t in parallel form. Corrected:

I like reading, sleeping and making art.


I like to read, to sleep and to make art.

Either correction to this sentence is great. It does not matter if we present our hobbies as a series of verbs that end in “ing” (gerunds), or as a list of “to + verbs” (infinitives). All that matters is that we pick one form at the beginning, and stick with it throughout the list.

For the sake of practice, let’s look at a few more examples of good/bad parallelism. After that, we’ll go through a hard-level question from a real SAT.

Bad Parallelism!
Before the SAT, you should eat a healthy breakfast, sleep adequately, and don’t forget your admission ticket!

Good Parallelism!
Before the SAT, you should eat a healthy breakfast, get adequate sleep, and remember your admission ticket!

Bad Parallelism:
As soon as Katrina gets home, she studies biology, bakes cookies, and then she will play basketball.

Good Parallelism!
As soon as Katrina gets home, she studies biology, bakes cookies, and plays basketball.

Bad Parallelism!
The knight was charming, brave, and he had a great body!

Good Parallelism!
The knight was charming, brave, and physically fit!

Bad Parallelism!
Indian summer, Armageddon and being affected by climate change are all possible explanations for this unseasonably warm weather.

Good Parallelism!
Indian summer, Armageddon, and climate change are all possible explanations for this unseasonably warm weather.

Ok, I think you get the idea…


Let’s conclude by solving this hard-level question from a real SAT:

All species of sea turtles are endangered because of overharvesting of adults, their eggs being disturbed, and destruction of nesting habitats.
(A)   of overharvesting of adults, their eggs being disturbed, and destruction of nesting habitats
(B)   of the adults being overharvested, their eggs disturbed, and destroying nesting habitats
(C)   the overharvesting of adults, disturbance of their eggs, and destruction of nesting habits
(D)   the adults are overharvested, their eggs are disturbed, and their nesting habits are destroyed
(E)    being overharvested as adults, their eggs being disturbed, and destruction of nesting habits

Even though this is a hard-level question, we should immediately recognize that it’s testing our knowledge of parallel structure. Why? Because the underlined portion is a list, of course.

According to the principle of parallelism, each item in this list must take the same form. In the first and third items (“overharvesting of adults” and “destruction of nesting habitats“), the verb comes before the noun. However, in the second item (“their eggs being disturbed“) the noun comes before the verb. Ugh! This list is one ugly mishmosh of un-parallel parts!

To fix this sentence, look for the answer choice that presents each item of the list in parallel form. When you have selected your answer, hit the link below to see if you’re correct!

Answer and Explanation