Audio Clip

Keep Your Own Time on the SAT

Here’s why you need to keep your own time during the SAT:

The best proctors are probably the ones you don’t remember. I remember the proctor from my 6th SATvividly.

The problems started when he was reading the directions. He told us he couldn’t find chalk to write the end time on the board in the front of the gym, so we should use the clock on the wall. Then he pointed out the clock: high up behind the basketball net. I crouched down and cocked my head, staring up in the direction the proctor was pointing, and sure enough there was a clock up there, though I could barely see it because it was covered by a protective metal grating.

And, it turned out that the clock was in pacific time. (I was taking the SAT in New York.)

The time-zone switch turned out to be just one of many timing flubs the proctor made that day, the most egregious of which I now refer to as “the big time lop.” Midway through Section 5—for me, a double passage in the Critical Reading section—the proctor stood up at the front of the gym and cleared his throat.

“Uh, excuse me,” he said confidently. “That time on the board is wrong. You have five-minutes less than that.” And with that, he sat back down in his chair and resumed reading his newspaper, leaving us with five minutes to finish the section rather than the twelve minutes I thought I had.

I was hysterical.

Have I convinced you to bring your own (beepless) watch to the SAT?

You must read Stacey Howe-Lott’s “method” for keeping time while not wasting precious brain juice.

Here’s an audio clip about “the incident” from The Perfect Score Project.


Posted 6 days ago
The Book

Reading Group Discussion Questions

I’ve had a recent flurry of Reading Group Discussion Question requests. Either it’s SAT season, or my paperback just came out. (Or both.)

Suggested Book Club Questions: 

1) What were the take-aways from The Perfect Score Project, beyond how to improve your SAT score?

2) Is it possible to make the SAT a joyful experience (or at least not a reviled right of passage), and if so, how?

3) What mistakes did Debbie make (both in parenting and test prep) that we should try to avoid?

4) Was Debbie a helicopter parent? What is a helicopter parent? How much involvement and pushing is enough and when does it become too much? What’s the right balance between teaching our children how to navigate and advocate for themselves academically while at the same time ensuring they get what they need?

5) How do academic expectations get set for a teenager?  Who sets the score goals and how high should they be?

6) What are ways to mitigate anxiety and stay connected as a family throughout the stressful years of high school, especially during junior and senior years when students are under so much pressure with standardized tests and applying to college?

7) How can we become involved as parents without becoming overbearing and a nuisance?

8) How can we ensure that our children have strong, academic foundations?

You can download a PDF of the Reading Group Discussion Questions.

And if you’d like to have me join the discussion, shoot me an email:

If you’re in the New York area, check out Book the Writer.

Posted 7 days ago
How We Learn

Beware of Overconfidence When it comes to the SAT

“Did you study for the SAT?” I’d ask my son, once a day, while juggling a dozen other things.

“Yes, Mom,” he’d say.

“How’d it go?” I’d ask.

“Good,” he’d say.

“Do you have any questions?”

“Nope,” he’d say.  “I got them all right.”

That should have been the tipoff. Time to stop multi-tasking and train all of my attention on Ethan.

For many high school juniors and seniors, “back to school” isn’t just a fresh start and new school supplies—it’s also the start of the dreaded SAT season.  With the fall SATs scheduled for October 11, November 8, and December 6, I know that sorting through the 11 million options for test prep is not the only thing to worry about.

It’s essential to beware of the perils of overconfidence!

From my own, adult test-taking experience (7 times the year before my now college sophomore son went through the process), and studying the academic research on test prep – I know that feelings are usually unreliable indicators of performance.

Research tells us that most students are overly optimistic when it comes to estimating their own performance. A 2006 Brown Center Report on American Education found that students from countries with the highest confidence in math were some of the worst performers, and the opposite held true as well. Similar studies on reading scores linked overconfidence to lower test scores and under-confidence with higher scores.

People overestimate their performance because they have the feeling of knowing something, which turns out to be highly unreliable. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explains that having seen or experienced something before can give the illusion that we know more than we do. Repeated exposure to a particular vocabulary word or type of math problem can lead to familiarity, but that should not be mistaken for mastery.

When it comes to SAT, parents often worry that their child isn’t confident enough and mistakenly believe that high levels of confidence alone lead to better test performance.  However, the data suggests otherwise. There are also different types of confidence: confidence that results from a solid grasp of a subject as well as the knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and the type of confidence that arises from an inflated perception of one’s abilities.

To avoid the “inflated perception” type of confidence, experts advise overlearning by a factor of 20% beyond the point of mastery. Chances are, over-preparation will lead to a better score and a more mature self-assessment.

“I think the test went okay,” is a much better predictor of a high score than “I think I did great!”

If you’d like help preparing for the SAT via email, please sign up here and I’ll be in touch soon.


Posted 2 months ago

Should You Skip Questions on the SAT?

The SAT awards one point for each right answer, and deducts ¼ point for each wrong answer. There’s no deduction for questions you skip. Naturally the quarter-point deduction leads to a great deal of speculation about whether guessing is ever a good idea.

Philip Keller (The New Math SAT Game Plan) tells you exactly when to guess, and when not to guess, based on your current baseline score.

Keller also explains why the quarter-point deduction means that most test takers should deliberately work too slowly to finish the test. The reason to slow down is that everyone makes more mistakes when they rush, and on the SAT mistakes are costly. Your score will be higher if you leave the hard problems blank and get 100% of the problems you can do right—you can score well above a 700 (about 740, on average) intentionally skipping one question per section if you get everything else right.

 5-Step New Math Game Plan Strategy:

1) Choose a target score 100 points higher than you achieved on your most recent test.

2) Decide which questions to skip based on your target score. Math questions appear in order of difficulty, and Keller tells you exactly which questions to answer (Answer Zone) and which to skip (Skip Zone) according to their sequence on the test.

3) Only answer questions in your Answer Zone. Any questions not in your Answer Zone are in your Skip Zone, and that’s what you do. Skip them.

4) Only guess if you’re in your “Answer Zone.” No guessing on Skip-Zone problems.

5) Grid-in strategy: answer all of the Grid-ins because there is no penalty for getting them wrong.


If you’d like to sign up to receive occasional extra SAT information via email, you can click here.

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Posted 2 months ago

Beginners Guide to Acing the SAT

A beginners guide to acing the SAT … 13 tips in one little (5-minute) video.

  • How to pick the best SAT tutor or class …
  • How to choose a test location …
  • What is the SAT testing? …
  • How to write the SAT essay …
  • How long should you do test prep …
  • How much can an SAT score improve? …
  • The 1 thing you should know about the SAT …
  • What can parents do to help kids prepare for the SAT? …
  • 4 best SAT snacks that won’t leave you depleted …

These tips are just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll find a gillion more tips in the book.

You can read the prologue, listen to an audio clip, and see what readers are saying.

Good luck!

For press inquiries email:

View clips of TV appearances and talks on YouTube.

For information about speaking engagements, please see the speaking page.


Posted 2 months ago