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 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!

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View clips of TV appearances and talks on YouTube.

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How to Improve Your Critical Reading SAT Score

Is it possible to improve a critical reading score on the SAT?

I often hear the misconception that a critical reading SAT score cannot be improved, and while it is true that empirical evidence shows average score gains to be minimal (5-10 points), I managed to improve my reading score by 80 points.

So how did I improve my reading score?

I read — a lot! And, I started the project with a rock-solid foundation in reading. Without that base, no amount of test prep could have saved me.


Tip: There is no shortcut to learning vocabulary.

Even though vocabulary isn’t specifically tested on the new SAT, understanding words in context is critical for answering the reading passage questions.

The Matthew effect in reading (i.e. the rich get richer) is inevitable with vocabulary. According to research, you need to know 90-95% of a text’s words to understand what you are reading.

Tip: More general knowledge can vastly help a critical reading score.

Research shows that background knowledge helps with comprehension. For example, a student who already knows about Descartes and dualism* will process a passage much faster and more accurately than a student who is unfamiliar with the topic – even if their decoding and strategy skills are identical.

*Click to read these Descartes and dualism reading passages from the 2010 PSAT my son took, as well as the College Board’s explanations of the answers.

Here is a related post, if you would like more information about improving on the critical reading section.

The SAT Yellow Brick Road

You can sign up for a  series of tailored emails that will lead you step-by-step through the entire SAT process:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.

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How to Cultivate Teenage Drive

How to cultivate teenage drive is the $64,000 question, and while I am not a parenting expert, I do believe that the secret to motivating a teenager is the relationship. A shared experience can be a powerful agent of connection, and it is that connection that allows an adult to motivate an adolescent.

  1. Collecting Dance. Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld explains the “collecting ritual” in his book Hold On To Your Kids. The collecting dance is akin to making a baby smile before picking it up. The same holds true for a teenager: you must catch the eye and establish a connection in order to be a source of motivation.
  2. Enthusiasm. Most teenagers are more interested in their friends than in their parents and the SATs. In fact, the more into the friends they are, the harder it will be to get their attention. A peer-oriented teenager will need more enthusiasm and initiative from the parent to become motivated than one who is oriented toward adults. Given Ethan’s level of peer orientation at the time, I needed to deploy radical enthusiasm.
  3. Parental Involvement. Remain interested and involved, even if your teenager is resistant. I saw with my own eyes that adolescents do better academically when parents are involved beyond monitoring homework, and I believe Neufeld’s work with adolescents confirms my experience.
  4. Invite the Connection. The most potent source of motivation for a teenager is attention and interest in what they are doing. A shared project says that the child matters and is special. The relationship that results from this sustained proximity allows for the parent to act as a compass in the child’s life and to activate motivation.

Read a related post: Motivating a Teenager to Study for the SAT

What is the Perfect Score Project? Find out more here.


The Best Way to Prepare for the Critical Reading Section

A lot of parents ask me what they can do over the summer to help their children prepare for the critical reading section of the SAT.

From a parent of a rising junior:

Most tutors say that in order to improve critical reading (say 700+), you need to be a voracious reader. Well, that takes years. Forget about the sentence completion of the CR for the moment, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just do a bunch of critical reading passages, even if it they’re from non-CB material?

This is, if you are in a crunch and only have the summer to improve (i.e. 3 months).

Assume it takes 10 hours to read a book. I could do 20 CR test sections in that amount of time. 5 books = 100 CR test sections.

So, what is the best way to prepare for the Critical Reading section?

I would be wary of all unofficial SAT reading passages and use official, College Board material when it comes to “test prep.”

That said, there is a lot you can do this summer to bolster the foundation before you start official “test prep.”

To strengthen the foundation, it would be more effective to read articles from the New Yorker, The Economist, The New Republic or Smithsonian magazine. To be a strong reader, you need to have background knowledge and a strong vocabulary, which articles from these publications would provide.

Be sure to read the print editions as the online versions aren’t necessarily the same caliber.

Tip: Discussing the articles is essential. Conversations are the bedrock of memory.

Research shows that “joint conversation,” where the child takes part in the conversation, helps with memory, vocabulary, and awareness of grammar.

When children can make sense of what they are experiencing through conversation, they are able to understand key features better and encode more completely.

The SAT Yellow Brick Road

You can now sign up for a  series of tailored emails that will lead you step-by-step through the entire SAT process:

1) Parent Series

2) Student Series

Each series also includes links to SAT resources and articles that I highly recommend.

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5 Signs of Good Test Prep

Most non- College Board test prep material is downright bad, as in, beyond “not helpful,” veering into the “detrimental” zone.

Think of it like this: If you’re training for a tennis match, you don’t train on a squash court!

Not all unofficial material is “bad.” In fact, some of it is excellent. The problem is in deciphering the good from the bad, which is not a job for the layperson who is studying for the SAT crushed by the millions of options.

Best SAT Test Prep” = 2,980,000 results on Google.

So how do you know?  Don’t assume “hard” necessarily equates to “good.”

5 Signs of “good” SAT test prep:

  1. Refers back to the The Official SAT Study Guide (aka the Blue Book). Helps student interpret the Blue Book.
  2. Written by an SAT expert. (Don’t assume PhD signals “SAT mastery.” Maybe,but maybe not.)
  3. Recommends official material for diagnostic SAT, and full official practice tests as part of test preparation.
  4. Has a goal-­setting strategy: For sections that are in “order of difficulty” you should strive for a mastery of questions inside a goal zone before attempting harder questions. Put simply: you should leave hard questions blank if you haven’t mastered the easy ones.
  5. Addresses issue of fundamental skills and test strategy. Exception: test prep aimed solely at high achievers.



From The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT.

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