Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    International Office Director

The Math/Critical Reading Profile of a Typical Teenager

Karl Schellscheidt

Math: Most Juniors and Seniors I tutor possess the basic math skills they need to do well on the Math portion of the SAT. They are good students who are sufficiently versed in algebra, geometry, arithmetic, probability and basic counting theory (i.e., they earn passing grades in their high school math classes). Whatever they (a) have forgotten, (b) never learned or (c) failed to learn properly, I can usually teach them quickly and easily.

What most students lack are the strategies, techniques and problem solving skills required to cope with the awkwardness and trickiness of SAT math problems (collectively, the “SAT Math Skill Set”). The SAT Math Skill Set is best developed through guided practice.

Guided practice with regard to the SAT entails the following:

1. The student should take a practice math section under timed conditions.
2. The student should grade the test.
3. The student should then review the following types of questions with an expert in SAT math:
a. the ones they answered incorrectly;
b. the ones they skipped;
c. the ones they answered correctly but took too long to solve; and
d. the ones on which they guessed, albeit correctly.

This practice, grade, expert review cycle (the “Prep Cycle”) should be repeated as many times as possible before test day.

Critical Reading: The Critical Reading section of the SAT (the old “Verbal” section) has two subsections. The first is sentence completion, which tests vocabulary, and the second is passage-based reading, which tests reading comprehension. Most Juniors and Seniors I tutor do not possess the vocabularies or the reading skills they need to do well on the Critical Reading portion of the SAT. While they may be earning decent grades in school, most people would agree that merely keeping up with the formal demands of high school is not enough to earn distinction on the SAT.

Before engaging in the Prep Cycle in order to develop and hone the test-taking skills required to do well on the Critical Reading section, it would behoove most students to first increasing their working vocabularies. I often tell students, for example, that if they do not know the meaning of any of the five answer choices in a sentence completion problem, strategies are useless. Conversely, a working understanding of all, or even a couple, of the answer choices brings test-taking strategies into play.

The good news is that vocabulary building does not require higher level thinking skills. It does, however, take time and persistent effort. There are plenty of so called “hot” SAT word lists out there. Just find one and get started. As a student’s working vocabulary improves, so will his/her reading comprehension.

Once students have spent time building their working vocabularies, they should repeat the Prep Cycle (using critical reading practice sections, obviously) as often as possible. As this is done, it is worth experimenting with two popular strategies for completing questions associated with the passage-based reading portion of the critical reading section. The traditional approach is to read the passage and answer the questions. The unconventional approach, which some of my students prefer, is to skip the passage and go right to the questions, referring back to the text as needed.

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