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SAT and ACT: Specific Tips for Common Problems – Part I

Tips from an Irvine SAT and ACT Tutor: Common Problems

These pieces of advice are more specific to taking the actual tests themselves. If you are looking for general advice about how to study and what materials to use,  read my previous article.

Instead, here I will cover more specific tips that can give you an edge on the test depending on your specific situation. These are common situations that I have found many of my students in when taking the tests, and implementing these tips has great success in helping them remedy their problems. These tips are not universal; you must take practice tests first to evaluate if these will apply to you.

The Essay

For the essay: First-grade essays you’ve written during practice tests using the guidelines and sample essays (or have a private tutor grade your essays for you) and determine where you are at and where you would like to be. If you have a low score looking to bring it closer to average, you need to determine where the problem lies. Three common scenarios I see with these scores are: not writing nearly enough, having very sloppy grammar and sentences, and failing to effectively respond to the prompt.

Of these, the first and third are easiest to remedy. For students who aren’t writing enough, we practice timed writing. Using simpler prompts and shorter time limits, they focus on getting more sentences and ideas onto the page in the time limit. Unfortunately, speed can be a huge problem for many students taking timed standardized tests. And, as unfair as it may be, it negatively affects your score if you can’t write quick enough.

The same strategy can be used if you aren’t answering the prompt effectively. Except, instead of writing many sentences in a short time limit, students should focus on making strong outlines or bullet points on how to answer the prompt. The essay needs to have substance, and that substance needs to be thought of quickly before it can be executed.
Grammar and overall writing issues have less cookie-cutter solutions and vary even more on a case to case basis. It is important to write a lot and have someone to review and correct your mistakes.

If your essay is already good but you are looking for an even better score, you can consider practicing implementing new elements to help improve your essay and make it stand out. This can include proper use of semi-colons and colons, more complex vocabulary words used correctly and appropriately, and varying sentence length and sentence structure throughout your paragraphs.

Stay tuned for part two!

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

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