Category Archives: Test Taking Tips

26 Jun 2012

How to Achieve Your Goals, Part 1: Planning for Long-Term Success

One day, Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, was asked by a young student, “How do you get to Mount Olympus?” Aristotle replied, “By simply ensuring that each step you take is toward Mount Olympus.”

Aristotle’s response is surprising. Usually when someone asks me for directions, I lay out a comprehensive plan. Walk straight for 5 blocks, I might say. Turn right at the church and you’ll see the mountain on your left. Instead of specifying a plan or worrying about the future, however, Aristotle instructs his student to simply concentrate on the present step. Only when this step is complete should the student concern himself with the next.

Back in February, Marcus (an awesome tutor here at Sentia) argued for the importance of setting goals when studying for admissions tests. In this blog entry, I will give some suggestions for how to make these goals actually happen. To do this, we don’t need to create a comprehensive final plan. We merely must identify and complete a series of next steps.

 How to Achieve Your Long-Term Goals:

 1.) Define your goals.

To achieve your goals, you must first figure out what they are. Since you have stumbled across the Sentia Education blog, I’m going to assume you’re a student aiming for a college or graduate degree. A lofty goal indeed!

Once you’ve identified your ultimate, long-term goal (COLLEGE! GRAD SCHOOL!), you must make a list of sub-goals. Sub-goals are all the projects you’ll need to complete before attaining your ultimate goal. For example, most colleges require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Thus, if you’re a high school student applying to college, taking the SAT or ACT is an important sub-goal.

As you move forward with the method I describe below, you will continue to break your goals down into smaller and smaller pieces.

 2.) Force yourself to Just Get Started!

Beginning work on a big project can be daunting—especially if you’re not sure where to start or how much work you’ll need to do. In the germinal stage of any endeavor, it’s generally best to suspend such worries and focus on getting something—anything—done. This is the first step. Once you have taken the first step, you will find it easier to identify the next.

Setting a precise, limited work-time will make it easier to start work on your goal. To begin, challenge yourself to work for 30 minutes today. Stop working after 30 minutes, no matter how paltry your progress. You have made admirable headway just by forcing yourself to sit down, “break the ice,” and attack your goal. (Keep working, of course, if you’re being productive and don’t want to stop!)

When you are finished for today, schedule your next short work session. And so forth.

3.) Break your goal into a series of small tasks.

 The first step here is figuring out exactly how long you have to complete your goal. Then, you will make a list of things you know you need to do to complete this goal.

For instance, if you’re studying for the SAT, one of your first actions will be to register for the exam. Perhaps you will take it this October?

There are 15 weeks between now and the October 6 SAT. What do you need to do before then? A diligent student might write: I need to take & review practice sections; learn grammar concepts; and memorize 300 vocab words.

Continue to break down this list until you have a series of mini-goals to complete at specific times in the immediate future. Once again, our diligent student might here resolve to: learn 20 vocab words each week to memorize 300 in 15 weeks; take and review 3 practice sections each week; study grammar concepts for 1 hour each week.

 And there we have it! We have defined our next steps.

4.) Make a schedule of times to complete your mini-goals.

Once you’ve established a series of mini-goals, you will want to create a regular work-schedule to get them done. Creating a schedule for completing your mini-goals will not only cause the overall project to feel less overwhelming, but it will also force you to make this work a priority.

Treat each one of your scheduled work-sessions as a commitment you cannot break. I cannot emphasize this enough. Unless there is a serious (and I mean serious) emergency, you must honor and abide by the schedule you make.

Tip: Establishing a regular place (or—better yet—a few places) to go to work on your goal will help these sessions feel more like actual appointments. In addition, your brain will begin to associate such special spots with working on your goal, so you can get focused faster.

5.) Monitor your progress every step of the way.

 Let’s say you’re studying for the SAT. You have made a schedule whereby you take 3 practice exam sections each week. On Monday, you take a Math section, grade it, and learn you got all but 4 questions wrong. Ouch!

Sounds like it’s time to re-evaluate your work schedule and set some new mini-goals!

At this moment in time, you might set a mini-goal of getting a Sentia tutor to help you with math. You might also set a goal of re-learning concepts covered in the questions you got wrong. In either case, you are rethinking your plan to counter unexpected challenges. In other words, you less concerned with sticking to a pre-formed plan than with identifying and taking the appropriate next steps.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

 Lofty: exalted in rank, dignity, or character; noble
Germinal: being in the earliest stage of development
Paltry: ridiculously small

07 Jun 2012

Help! My Proctor Made a Mistake: What to do in case of SAT test irregularity

Anyone working in the test-prep industry knows that SAT proctors make mistakes—occasionally with devastating consequences. The worst stories involve proctors wrongfully forbidding the use of calculators, accidentally under-timing sections, and refusing to let students turn back to the reference table during a math section.

Such stories aren’t meant to scare you—hopefully your next SAT will go smoothly and without any problems. Still, it’s important to be aware that testing irregularities can happen. In this blog entry, I will list some important test-procedure rules proctors are required to follow. Following this, I will discuss things students can do to minimize the penalty resulting from a proctor who violates these rules.

When administering the SAT, proctors are required to follow these rules, as detailed in The SAT Standard Testing Room Manual:

— Testing rooms must have a visible clock. If there is no visible clock, proctors are required to announce the remaining time of each section at regular intervals (i.e., every five minutes). If a proctor announces the remaining time sporadically or fails to announce at all, he/she is breaking an official rule.
— Proctors must make an announcement when 5 minutes remain before the end of the test or test section.
— Proctors are required to write the start and stop time of each section on the board.
— Over-timing of a section is NOT to affect the time allowed for any other section. If a proctor tries to make up for giving too much time on section 2 by taking time away from section 3, he/she is breaking an official rule.
— Proctors must allow students to make up for under-timing on a section “before concluding the section, allowing a break or dismissing students.” Proctors are to allow full testing time for unaffected sections.
— Proctors MUST give 5 minute breaks after sections 2, 4, and 6. Students may leave the test room (but not the building) during these breaks. Students are also permitted to eat and drink during these breaks.
— Students are allowed to take unscheduled breaks (i.e., bathroom breaks). However, only one student at a time may take an unscheduled break. Students will not be given extra time for taking unscheduled breaks.
— Desks must be at least 12” x 15”.
— Latecomers may be admitted to the test before proctors begin reading the test directions. In addition, proctors must give latecomers time to read the directions on the back cover of the test. Latecomers may complete the identification portion of the answer sheet at the end of the test administration.
— Proctors must allow students to ask questions about test procedure before the test begins.
— Students MAY use calculators while working on a math section. Furthermore, different students will be using calculators at different times during the test, as sections are arranged differently in each test form.
— Students MAY work on any page of the section being administered. However, students are NOT allowed to return to previous sections, or begin working on future sections early.
— Proctors are NOT supposed to talk on the phone, grade papers, or engage in other distracting activities during the test. If your proctor is doing a noisy activity while overseeing the SAT, he/she is breaking an official rule and should be asked to stop.

What you can do to minimize the impact of testing irregularity:

— Don’t be afraid to speak up! You absolutely have a right to speak up if your proctor breaks any of the official rules listed above. If your proctor does not believe they have broken an official rule, refer him/her to The SAT Standard Testing Room Manual.
— Ask to speak to a test-center supervisor if you speak up and your proctor still won’t abide by an official rule. Keep in mind that this is an extreme move—I would recommend this only if there has been a very serious violation that the suggestions below do not address.
— Bring a watch so you can keep track of the remaining time for each section in case your proctor forgets to make announcements.
— Remind the proctor to announce and record the start time of each section. If your proctor accidentally under-times a section, you can correct and prove this by referring your proctor to the start-time he/she wrote down.
— Do NOT wait to test until the last administration before college applications are due. If your score suffers due to testing irregularity, the most the College Board can do is offer a free retest. In case of disaster, it helps to know you have time to test again.
— If all else fails, cancel your scores– Unfair as it is, sometimes the only thing you can do in response to testing irregularity is to cancel your score. There are two ways to cancel scores:

1.) After the SAT but before leaving the test center, ask the test supervisor for a Request to Cancel Test Scores form. Complete, sign, and return the form to the test supervisor before leaving the test center.

2.) To cancel your test score after leaving the center, your written request must be received by 11:59 pm on the Wednesday following the test to cancel your score. You cannot cancel your test score by email or telephone.To cancel your test score after leaving the center, download and print the Request to Cancel Test Scores form. Once you have filled out this form, fax it to (610) 290-8978 or use USPS Express Mail overnight delivery (U.S. Only) to send it to:

Sat Score Cancellation
P.O. Box 6228
Princeton, NJ 08541-6228

Please see the Cancel Test Scores section of the College Board’s website for more information and for how to cancel international scores.


Finally, you can help prevent future errors by reporting testing irregularities to E.T.S. If several students from a test center complain of unfairness or irregularity, E.T.S. will conduct an investigation of the testing procedures followed at that site. To report a testing irregularity, contact the E.T.S. Office of Testing Integrity by phone (800-353-8570), fax (609-406-9709), or e-mail (  Students and parents may also contact SAT customer service at (866) 756-7346 or

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Sporadic: stopping and starting; irregular

05 Jun 2012

How to read actively and score more points!

Love it or hate it, SAT Critical Reading is important. Not only do college admissions officials pay great attention to SAT Critical Reading scores, but studying for SAT Critical Reading can actually help you learn to process & comprehend college-level texts—important skills for success in college and beyond. In this blog entry, I will describe how to use active reading strategies to help you become a better reader. If you practice these strategies regularly, I guarantee your reading level will advance and you will score more points on the SAT.

What is active reading?

Active reading means using strategies to increase one’s comprehension and retention of a text.

Active readers probe the limits of a text. They habitually “read between the lines,” which means they make inferences and uncover meanings buried beneath the literal wording of a text. Active readers ask questions, make connections, and examine an author’s use of language to work through what they don’t immediately understand.

SAT passage-based reading questions require students to make inferences and identify the implied meanings of challenging texts; therefore, becoming an active reader is crucial for SAT success.

How to become an active reader:

1) Define a set of goals for reading.

Defining a set of goals not only helps us stay focused as we read, but it also prepares us to monitor our comprehension. If you know precisely what you aim to get from reading, it will be easier for you to supervise your understanding of a text.

Lucky for you, the SAT hands you a prepackaged set of goals, articulated in the questions asked about each passage. As an active SAT passage reader, your goals are to understand:

— The subject of the passage – What is the author writing about?
— The argument of the passage – What position does the author take on the subject? What is the passage trying to show or describe?
— The structure of the passage – What supporting points does the author use to back up the argument?  How do different parts of the passage relate to each other and contribute to the meaning as a whole?
— The tone of the passage – How does the author feel about the subject he/she is writing about?

Fiction passages, which make up 10% of the passages on each SAT, present a slightly different challenge. In addition to the above-mentioned goals, active readers seek to understand:

— The relationships between characters – What do the different characters think of each other? Do the character’s feelings toward each other change during the story? What devices are used to convey this relationship?
— The use of figurative language in the passage – Why does the author describe things the way he/she does? What impressions do these descriptions create? How do these descriptions reinforce and/or add to the overall meaning of the passage?

2) Take notes as you read

Everyone has fleeting impressions, questions, and thoughts about what they read. Forcing yourself to take notes is a great way to slow down your reading process and give yourself time to fully think through each question or thought. In addition, highlighting, underlining, and annotating texts helps you stay focused as you read. Finally, taking notes is a great way to mark information you may need to look at again in the future.

Good notes concern:

Questions about the text – Mark sections that are confusing, surprising, or that you may want to reflect on later. Also think about and write down a short response to these questions—even if you’re unsure.
— New vocabulary words – It’s a great idea to underline new vocabulary and write definitions in the margins.
— Anything that pertains to your goals for reading –If you’re reading a fiction SAT passage, for instance, you’ll want to mark and reflect on the purpose of figurative language.
— Important points – Always mark sections that state the main idea of a reading.
— Predictions about what will happen next – How do you think the text will end, and what is causing you to think this?
— Connections between the text and things from your daily life – Does a story’s plot remind you of a movie? Does the main character remind you of your mom? Use things from your everyday life to put the text into terms you understand.
— Anything that makes you think! — Any thought, question or idea you have is likely important and worth reflection.

3) Reflect after reading

It is super important to properly digest everything you read. Here are some strategies to help you make sense of texts once you have read them.

— Keep a reading journal – Writing about your impressions will help you think more deeply about what you have read. To begin, just write whatever comes into your head without stopping or thinking about it. Once you’ve arrived at a thought or question you wish to pursue, try to write 2-pages arguing a claim or exploring this question.
— Relate the text to your personal life – Ask yourself: Do the characters in the text remind you of anyone you know? Have you ever been in a situation similar to one described in the book? What does the language of the text reveal about our culture/society, and do you agree with the author’s point of view?
— Discuss texts with teachers, parents, or friends – Discussing books and articles with others allows us to consider points and ideas we wouldn’t have thought of alone. Also, having to defend ideas in a debate/disagreement is a great way to get yourself thinking deeply.

4) Read challenging material, but don’t read too much.

Have you ever sat down to read a challenging text, filled with arcane words and excruciatingly complex sentence structures?  If so, you probably had to work extremely hard to get the basic gist of the text and had little energy left over to think about its themes, implications, and layers of meaning.

Although reading difficult material is necessary to advancing as a reader, you must make sure to read this material actively. Thoroughly reading just one paragraph of an extremely difficult text is more beneficial than reading 100 pages you only superficially understand. To get the most from reading, set goals that take into account the energy required to read actively. In addition, allow yourself to take breaks if you get tired while reading and start to lose focus.

And, to sum it all up…

Getting into the habit of reading actively is super important, but takes practice. If you regularly use the strategies listed above to read difficult texts, I guarantee your comprehension skills and reading level will improve. In turn, you will find it easy to attack the Passage-Based Reading questions on the SAT.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Arcane: Obscure information known by a few people

27 May 2012

How to Study One Week Before the SAT!

Eep! The June 2nd SAT is just about a week away! If you’ve stumbled across this blog post, you probably want to know: What is the best way to study a week before the SAT?

With only a week to study before the test, it’s unrealistic to aim for major score gains. Cramming is a terrible idea. Without making much progress, crammers will end up exhausted, frustrated, and discouraged just before the test. Less an image of success than of distress…

Instead of cramming, you should use this week to calm your nerves, get comfortable with the duration and cadence of the SAT, and review material learned early in your studies. If a few vocab words or a new math concept trickles in… great! If not, that’s OK too.

Here are some tips on what to do a week before the SAT. I hope you find them helpful!

1) Take a full-length practice exam, under timed conditions

— I know it’s grueling, but a full practice test a week before the SAT is as important as the dress rehearsal before opening night of a play. Use this test to finalize your timing strategy for each section, and get used to how it feels to sit for a four-hour exam.

2) Review this full-length practice test, making sure you understand every question answered incorrectly

— After a couple of days, return to your most recent full-length practice test and review every question answered incorrectly.
— Let your mistakes point you to the last concepts in need of review. Take some time to re-learn these concepts, and then re-solve incorrect questions to solidify your knowledge.
— Tip: If you’re stumped for the correct way to solve a question, let Google help you out! You can usually find detailed explanations to most questions in the College Board Official Guide to the SAT somewhere in cyber-space—just Google a few words from the question you need help with!
— Write down and look up any new vocab encountered on this test. Your final practice test is a great place to find the last vocab words you’ll want to study.

3) Continue to review and study vocabulary

Review the vocab you’ve been studying throughout test-preparation. This should be easy, as long as you’ve abided by a study plan that has you continually review & reinforce previously learned words.
— Keep learning new words, but don’t fry your brain trying to memorize every word in your vocabulary workbook. It’s simply too late to memorize 300+ new vocab words.

4) In preparation for the essay, read some newspaper articles and/or review notes on historical & literary sources

The SAT essay requires you to come up with examples fast. In addition, most SAT essay questions are fluid enough that you can manipulate just about any example to support your point. It’s generally a good idea to have a few examples from history, literature, or current events prepared in advance.
— Two days before the SAT: Review the plot of your favorite classic novel or an event from history. You can also read some newspaper articles if you plan to discuss the prompt in context of current events.

5) Review your notes on major grammar and math concepts

You’ve already studied these concepts and understand when to use them. Now is the time to review formulas and remind yourself of concepts learned early on, so your memory is fresh for the SAT.

6) Take it easy, and try not to stress!

Go to bed early every night during the week leading up to the SAT.
— Do something fun—but not wild—the night before the test. Maybe watch a movie or go out to dinner with a few friends.
— Gather your photo ID, admission ticket, pencils, calculator, snacks, and water so you’re prepared to head out on test day

Good luck on Saturday’s test. And remember—if things don’t go as planned, there’s still the October administration!

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Cadence: rhythm; beat
to continue in a particular condition, attitude or relationship

19 Apr 2012

Charm your way to a perfect score: Harry Potter and Latin roots!

Tuesday’s blog post hinted that young adult literature is a surprisingly good place to pick up SAT vocabulary. As a follow up, I want to explore our most enchanting YA resource: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Brimming with Latin-based names and incantations, Harry Potter is a fun and helpful guide to Latin roots you’ll find on the SAT.

How many Latin roots can you find in Harry Potter? Here are the roots of 10 spells (with related SAT vocabulary!) to get you started:

1. Confundo (Confundus Charm) — This spell, which causes the victim to become confused, comes from the Latin root, con, which means “with.” In this case, con implies a mixing up of sorts. All things are thrown together to become muddled, enmeshed, and indistinguishable… confused.

SAT Words with the Root con:

  • contiguous: sharing an edge or boundary; touching
  • consensus: agreement, accord
  • conjecture: an inference based upon guesswork

2. Crucio (Cruciatus Curse) – This is a curse of torture or pain. Derived from the Latin root, cruci meaning “cross,” or “torture,” the Crucio curse should be avoided at all costs!

SAT Words with the Root cruci:

  • excruciating: very painful; extreme
  • crucible: a severe, searching test or trial
  • crucify: to treat with gross injustice; persecute; torment; torture

3. Deletrius – A spell that makes things disappear or vanish. This spell has the Latin root, de, which means “away from,” “removing,” or “down.”

SAT Words with the Root de:

  • deleterious: harmful; injurious
  • depreciation: a decrease in value
  • destitute: abandoned; forsaken

4. Expecto Patronum (Patronus Charm) – This spell is used to repel dementors. Patronum is based on the Latin root, patr, which means father. By extension, we can also take patr to indicate protectiveness and high rank.

SAT Words with the Root patr:

  • patrician: a person of noble rank; an aristocrat
  • patricide: the act of killing one’s father
  • patriarch: father

5. Expelliarmus (Disarming Charm) – A disarming spell; often used to force opponents to drop their wands. This spell contains the Latin roots ex, meaning, “off,” “away from,” or “out,” and arma, which means “weapons.”

SAT Words with the Root ex or arma:

  • exonerate: to free from blame or guilt
  • expunge: delete; remove
  • armistice: a temporary suspension of hostilities; a truce
  • armature: armor

6. Impedimenta (Impediment Jinx) – This jinx trips, freezes, binds, or otherwise blocks an opponent’s approach. Fittingly, this walk-stopping jinx contains the root, ped, Latin for “foot.”

SAT Words with the Root ped:

  • Expedite: to speed up the progress of; to accelerate
  • Pedestrian: Undistinguished; ordinary; conventional
  • Impede: To hinder the progress of

7. Imperio (Imperius Curse) – One of the three “Unforgivable Curses,” the Imperius Curse places the subject in a dream-like state in which he/she is completely subject to the will of the caster. Using this curse can result in life imprisonment in Azkaban. Imperio comes from the root impero, which means “command.”

SAT Words with the Root impero:

  • imperious: domineering and arrogant
  • imperative: absolutely necessary or required

8. Lumos – A spell that produces a narrow beam of light that shines from the tip of a wand, Lumos derives from the Latin, lum or luc, meaning “light.”

SAT Words with the Root lum or luc:

  • elucidate: to make clear or plain
  • luminary: a famous, inspiring person
  • pellucid: transparent; translucent

9. Morsmordre (Dark Mark) – Morsmorde is a spell that produces the Dark Mark—symbol of Lord Voldemort and the Death Eaters. It comes from the Latin root, mort, meaning death. Notice that mort is the root of Voldemort’s name, as well.

SAT Words with the Root mort:

  • mortify: to humiliate
  • remorse: sincere and deep regret
  • moribund: approaching death

10. Wingardium Leviosa (Levitation/Hover Charm) – One of the first spells taught to Hogwarts students, Wingardium Leviosa lifts objects so they float in the air. Wingardium contains the Latin root arduus, meaning “high” or “difficult,” and Leviosa sprouts from lev, which means “lift” or “light.”

SAT Words with the Root arduus or lev:

  • arduous: laborious; difficult; requiring great exertion
  • alleviate: to relieve; to lessen
  • levity: lightness of mind, character or behavior
01 Mar 2012

Expert Test Tips: Vary your study location for maximum results!

Sitting at my desk, I examine neatly-penned flashcards. Bright green walls. Soft light. LED clock dimly glows: 8:00 pm.

1. Erudite: Characterized by great knowledge or learning; scholarly
2. Perspicacious: Very insightful
3. Innovator: A person who introduces something new

Though I don’t consciously realize it, my brain is associating this vocabulary with my surroundings. This means that every time I sit at my desk, I am subtly prompted to recall the material I learned there the night before. The space functions as a sort of mnemonic–a memory jumper–that helps me remember key information.

Unfortunately, however, no one takes standardized tests at their bedroom desk. So where should I study for maximum results? According to a New York Times article, students that vary their study spot retain more information. Varying one’s study spot forces the brain to make multiple associations with the same material, thus contributing to general retention.

On the flip side, Gina Carroll explains, having a regular, consistent study spot can help with organization and motivation. The theory is similar: Your mind will subtly associate your desk with the act of studying. You’ll be able to focus, and get productive faster. Plus, you’re guaranteed a quiet, well-lit study environment with all materials on hand. What could be better?!

I’ll tell you: arranging 3-5 study spots that you turn to at different times. Perhaps that nice coffee shop with the relaxing music and delicious coffee cake? Or the secluded desk by the window of your school library? When its warm outside, you can even head to your favorite park. Just be sure to switch between the different spots, and not to pick anywhere too distracting.

16 Feb 2012

SAT Grammar: Spot dangling modifiers to score more points!

Whenever you see an introductory modifying clause on any SAT Writing section, your grammar antenna should start freaking out. Why? Chances are these questions are testing something very specific… something I itch to divulge.

What is an introductory modifying clause? An introductory modifying clause modifies the subject of the sentence’s main clause. For example:

Thrilled with her scores on the SAT, Alison quickly began working on her application to Harvard.

Here, the underlined portion of the sentence is the introductory modifying clause, because it modifies, or tells us something about, Alison. Because the introductory modifying clause describes Alison, “Alison” must come immediately after the comma.

Let’s take a look at a level 5 question from an actual SAT:

Prized for their brilliance and durability, people will spend thousands of dollars on high-quality diamonds.

  • (A) Prized for their brilliance and durability, people will spend thousands of dollars on high-quality diamonds.
  • (B) Prized for their brilliance and durability, thousands of dollars are spent by people on high quality diamonds.
  • (C) Prizing them for their brilliance as well as their durability, thousands of dollars can be spent by people on high quality diamonds.
  • (D) Prizing the brilliance and durability of high-quality diamonds, people will spend thousands of dollars for them.
  • (E) Prizing high-quality diamonds for their brilliance and durability are what makes people spend thousands of dollars for them.

Even though the entire sentence is underlined, you should immediately recognize that “Prized for their brilliance and durability,” is an introductory modifying clause. Thus, you need to ask yourself: what is this clause describing?

Answer: High-quality diamonds.

Well, self, does the phrase, “high-quality diamonds” come immediately after the comma?

Answer: No, the word, “people” does. How ridiculous! People are not praised for their brilliance and durability!

Normally, we’d improve this sentence by searching for the answer choice that correctly places “high-quality diamonds” beside the introductory modifying clause. For this level 5 question, however, we’ll need to alter the modifier, itself. Take a look a the answer choices. For each, you’ll need to look at the introductory modifying clause, ask yourself what it is describing, and double check that the subject of the modifier comes immediately after the comma. When you’ve selected an answer, hit the link below to see if you’re correct.

Answer and Explanation

02 Feb 2012

Expert Test Tip: Strong Goals = Strong Results

Imagine that you’re at a train station, and you see an unlabeled train that you think is heading in the right direction, but you’re not sure. Would you board it, potentially riding it for all eternity, and never arriving at where you want to be?

Strangely, this is exactly what many test-takers do when it comes to preparing for the SAT (or the ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc.). They study blindly, only thinking that their studies will move them in the right direction of improvement. But, like the riders on that unlabeled train, their path is fated toward the antithesis of glory: failure, the tragic fate of the goalless.

One of the best pieces of advice for achieving anything, whether it be running a marathon or getting your perfect test score, is to set a goal. A goal is, of course, the end point of your path, the final destination of your metaphorical train ride. We already talked about your starting point (when we discussed the need for diagnostic testing), and with an end point in mind, you’re just connecting the dots. Thus, when you set a good goal, you’re putting yourself on a trajectory to success; you’ll have a path to follow, namely the line that connects your starting point to your final goal. But, of course, not just any goal will do. Your goal needs to be specific to you. Heed this advice to set the perfect goal.

First, Find Your Starting Point

We’ve said this practically a billion times now, but it bears repeating: take a diagnostic test and find out where you are.

Figure Out What Score You Need

Open up a college guide, and find out what scores last year’s admitted students got on their SAT and ACTs at your dream colleges. Your goal score should be a score in the same range.

Set a Specific Goal

But don’t just aim for a goal that is within a certain range. Rather, set a specific number. Vague goals lead to vague results, so don’t merely aim to improve by some ambiguous point in the future; rather, aim for a specific score by a specific date.

Make the Goal Realistic

A perfect score overall is probably not going to happen. But a perfect score for you is possible, so long as you’re willing to do some hard work. As a general rule (remember “general” means it works for a lot of students but is not guaranteed to work), you should be able to improve by about 10% of the difference between your baseline score and a perfect score, per month of focused study. For example, let’s say a student scored 1600 on his/her SAT diagnostic and has three months of study time. The difference between 1600 and a perfect score is 800 points, so that student should be able to improve by about 80 points per month to score around 1840.  A hypothetical student starting at 2100 with two months of preparation would be able to improve by about 60 points total (30 points per month). Either student would ideally set a goal just above that so that both students had something even higher—though still realistic—for which to strive. The first student should aim for a 1900, and the second student 2200.

Obviously, this is somewhat subjective, and you’re a much better gauge of your abilities than is anyone else. So remember to think of how much time you can devote to studying for the test and what seems realistic to you.

Keep Checking in on Your Goal

Finally, with your goal made, write it down, and keep thinking about that number. Eyes on the prize, right? More than that, though, keep re-testing yourself to see if your train is still on track to your goal score. If it’s not, reevaluate your study plan.

These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Antithesis: the direct opposite of something
: path taken by a projectile
: pay attention to
: lacking clearness or definiteness

26 Jan 2012

Set the Perfect Study Plan!

Last week, we told you that the best way to avoid test-day anxiety was to be prepared for the test (which should make sense, right?) and suggested a few tips on how to stop procrastinating and start studying today. Those who perused the posting carefully may recall that our second tip was to make a study plan. We’re sure you’ve been trembling with anticipation about just how to approach such a seemingly difficult travail, but now you can relax, for today’s post is all about making the best study plan possible—and in just 7 short steps!

Step 1: Take a Practice Test Right Away

Regardless of which test you’re studying for, your first step should be to take a sample test. Treat it like you would the real thing—take the test in one sitting (yes, it makes for a long day) with proper timing on each section. This way, the score you get will be an accurate reflection of your abilities.

After you’ve taken the test, score it and look at the questions you got wrong. The trick is to make this test a diagnostic for what you need to study. Thus, identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you noticed that you got all the questions on geometry right but continually missed questions about percentages, you would know that geometry is a strength area and does not need as much focus as percentages do going forward.

Step 2: Set a Realistic Goal

Use your diagnostic score to set a realistic goal for yourself. Keep in mind the kinds of scores you’ll need to get into the schools of your choice, and make sure you have enough time to achieve your goal score. You are a better gauge of your abilities than anyone else, so you should be able to know what you’re capable of. But remember, don’t push yourself too hard—it’s virtually impossible to get a perfect score on any standardized test.

Step 3: Identify Short-Term and Long-Term Study Projects

With your goal set and your weaknesses identified, separate what you need to study into categories of short-term and long-term projects. If you’re taking the SAT, for instance, memorizing the most common SAT vocabulary words will definitely be a long-term project, something you should work on every week from now until test day. But other things you need to work on—like the aforementioned percentage questions—would probably be something to brush up on once, early in your studying. You always want to start your studies with your biggest weakness so you can maximize your test score right away. Then, as you get closer to test-day, start working on things you didn’t need as much improvement on, but don’t waste time relearning your strengths. If you got every geometry question right, you cannot ameliorate your geometry score anyway, so don’t waste your valuable study time on it.

Step 4: Make a Calendar

The first step to making a calendar is to pick a test date. Try to give yourself a few months to study, but also make sure to leave a second test date open after that test date so you can retake the exam (if necessary) before your college applications are due. On your calendar, mark off specific areas of study each week, and set aside at least (we mean at an absolute minimum) two hours per week of actual studying time. The purpose of the calendar is to make sure you aren’t just sitting down and opening an SAT book blindly—you should be sitting down knowing what you’re supposed to be studying that week and the weeks after that.

Step 5: Keep Testing Yourself

In your calendar, build in time for monthly checkpoints, full-length practice exams so you can track your progress and reevaluate your study plan. Make sure what you’re doing is working and causing score increases; if it’s not, reevaluate, and maybe add more study time each week to your calendar.

Step 6: Stick to Your Plan

This should go without saying! You’re making a plan to be followed, not just a plan to look at and ignore. Don’t let anything get in the way of this study plan! Make sure that each week there is time set aside for your studying, and treat that time as a commitment that cannot be avoided, a permanent appointment that cannot be canceled. Letting even one week pass without following your plan can derail the whole project, so don’t let that happen.

Step 7: Peak at the Right Time, Then Relax

Finally, on your study plan, build in time to relax, especially the week of the test. Ideally, your plan would increase the amount of time you study per week as you get closer to the test, with the acme of study time reached about two weeks before test day. After that, take one last diagnostic, and use the weeks before the test to only focus on the small details you struggled with on said final diagnostic.

Then, and this is of the utmost import, make sure to build two days of relaxation in right before the test. Don’t plan on doing any strenuous studying those days, and instead just use the time to recover before the big day and review the vocabulary words and math formulas you’ve already memorized. Make sure you’re going into test day fully recharged and rested, because you’ll need a clear head and lots of energy for the real thing.

But, if you’ve made and followed a successful study plan, the real thing should be practically old hat for you…

These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Peruse: read carefully
: painful labor
: improve
: Peak, top, pinnacle

18 Jan 2012

Avoid Tomorrow's Anxieties Today: 3 Tricks to Start Studying

We’ve already given some pointers on avoiding test-day anxiety, but the number one way to avoid such jitters is to be prepared for the test. Here are the three best tricks we have for getting started on a long-term study plan and avoiding tomorrow’s anxiety.

1. Don’t Procrastinate

Everybody procrastinates, since everyone would rather put off today’s problems until tomorrow. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. The longer you put off studying for the test, the more work you’ll have to do at a later date. This means that you’re actually creating more stress for the future than you would otherwise handle in the present, because the amount of stress you’ll have the week before the test will be infinitely greater than the total amount you would have had over the months leading up to the test if you were to attack the test in small pieces instead of all at once…which leads us to Tip #2.

2. Make a Study Plan Today

This is probably the most beneficial piece of advice we have. Don’t try to go into test preparation blindly—rather, take a practice test, and see what you need to study. Then, make a plan for how to study it. Keep track of long term projects, such as memorizing and learning vocabulary words, and shorter ones, such as brushing up on grammar rules. Try to practice a couple hours a week at minimum, and expand the amount of time you need to study as the test approaches.

3. Make Studying Fun

To be frank, there is nothing fun about studying for exams like the ACT or SAT. However, you can motivate yourself to study by making your brain associate it with something else fun. Get in the habit of rewarding yourself after a lesson by doing an activity you like, preferably something you wouldn’t normally get to do, something that is a treat for you. Treat yourself, because you deserve it: after all, you’ve shown initiative in preparing for a successful future by not procrastinating. In doing so, you’re tricking your brain into associating something you don’t want to do (SAT prep) with something you do want to do.

Food can be a great motivator too. I (in my tutoring career) once had a student whose mother bought him his favorite snack food before every lesson with me, thus triggering in his brain that studying for the SAT meant getting his favorite food. As a result, he was more motivated to study because studying had an immediate upside instead of just the usual boring long-term upside of a perfect score. Little tricks like this work wonders, which is why I champion them so much.

In the future, we’ll give some more pointers about what sorts of steps should be included in your study plan , but for now, just remember our first tip—don’t procrastinate. Start your studying today by taking a practice SAT test and beginning to learn vocabulary. Also, remember, studying for the test should be a marathon, not a sprint. If you can wrap your brain around that fact—that mastering the test will take a seemingly interminable amount of time and cannot be crammed for—you’ll already be more relaxed about the process than your friends who don’t understand that.

These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Procrastination: the act of putting off or delaying something that requires immediate attention
: helpful, useful
:  support militantly
: monotonously continued or unceasing