Friday, August 31, 2012

The SAT Essay Question Types

I am copying this from, July 2009 posted by ObsessedOne. It is simply the single best resource on the SAT Essay that I have ever seen. Thanks for showing this to me Skanda

I have compiled every SAT essay prompt administered by the College since the essay was introduced in 2005. Because the prompts are so generic, several archetypes seem to have emerged. Could it be possible to write an essay before seeing the prompt?


--Following the Crowd

Do people need to compare themselves with others in order to appreciate what they have?
Are widely held views often wrong, or are such views more likely to be correct?
Is there any value for people to belong only to a group or groups with which they have something in common?
Is it always best to determine one's own views of right and wrong, or can we benefit from following the crowd?
Is it more valuable for people to fit in than to be unique and different?
Are people more likely to be productive and successful when they ignore the opinions of others?

--Following Authority

Should we pay more attention to people who are older and more experienced than we are?
Should society limit people's exposure to some kinds of information or forms of expression?
Can a group of people function effectively without someone being in charge?
Is it important to question the ideas and decisions of people in positions of authority?
Should society limit people's exposure to some kinds of information or forms of expression?
Is education primarily the result of influences other than school?
Should schools help students understand moral choices and social issues?

--Following Creativity

Is it always better to be original than to imitate or use the ideas of others?
Is it better for a society when people act as individuals rather than copying the ideas and opinions of others?
Is creativity needed more than ever in the world today?
Can people ever be truly original?
Do we put too much value on the ideas or actions of individual people?
Does planning interfere with creativity?

Motivation and Success

--Hardship and Success

Do people truly benefit from hardship and misfortune?
Do we really benefit from every event or experience in some way?
Do people place too much emphasis on winning?
Do people learn more from losing than from winning?
Does true learning only occur when we experience difficulties?
Does being ethical make it hard to be successful?
Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?
Is persistence more important than ability in determining a person's success?
Is the effort involved in pursuing any goal valuable, even if the goal is not reached?

--Self-Determination and Success

Is identity something people are born with or given, or is it something people create for themselves?
Is it best for people to accept who they are and what they have, or should people always strive to better themselves?
Do success and happiness depend on the choices people make rather than on factors beyond their control?
Are people more likely to be happy if they focus on goals other than their own happiness?
Is it more important to do work that one finds fulfilling or work that pays well?

--Self-Expectation and Success

Do highly accomplished people achieve more than others mainly because they expect more of themselves?
Can people achieve success only if they aim to be perfect?
Is it best to have low expectations and to set goals we are sure of achieving?

--Collaboration and Success

Is it necessary for people to combine their efforts with those of others in order to be most effective?
Are organizations or groups most successful when their members pursue individual wishes and goals?
Do people achieve more success by cooperation than by competition?

--Ethics and Success

Does fame bring happiness, or are people who are not famous more likely to be happy?
Are people's actions motivated primarily by a desire for power over others?

--Quality or Quantity and Success

Do people achieve greatness only by finding out what they are especially good at and developing that attribute above all else?
Are all important discoveries the result of focusing on one subject?

Technological “Progress”

Does a strong commitment to technological progress cause a society to neglect other values, such as education and the protection of the environment?
Are there benefits to be gained from avoiding the use of modern technology, even when using it would make life easier?
Has today's abundance of information only made it more difficult for us to understand the world around us?
Is the most important purpose of technology today different from what it was in the past?
Have modern advancements truly improved the quality of people's lives?
Do newspapers, magazines, television, radio, movies, the Internet, and other media determine what is important to most people?
Should modern society be criticized for being materialistic?


Do we benefit from learning about the flaws of people we admire and respect?
Should we limit our use of the term "courage" to acts in which people risk their own well-being for the sake of others or to uphold a value?
Should we admire heroes but not celebrities?
Is there a value in celebrating certain individuals as heroes?


Do all established traditions deserve to remain in existence?
Do people need to "unlearn," or reject, many of their assumptions and ideas?
Should people always prefer new things, ideas, or values to those of the past?
Do incidents from the past continue to influence the present?
Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?
Is it always necessary to find new solutions to problems?


Should people always be loyal?
Do circumstances determine whether or not we should tell the truth?
Can deception—pretending that something is true when it is not—sometimes have good results?
Is it sometimes necessary to be impolite?
Is acting an essential part of everyday life?

Others (less clearly defined; separated by spaces)

Is compromise always the best way to resolve a conflict?
Should people choose one of two opposing sides of an issue, or is the truth usually found "in the middle"?

Is the main value of the arts to teach us about the world around us?
Can books and stories about characters and events that are not real teach us anything useful?

Can common sense be trusted and accepted, or should it be questioned?
Do people put too much emphasis on learning practical skills?
Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities or the nation in general?

Should people let their feelings guide them when they make important decisions?
Can people have too much enthusiasm?
Do images and impressions have too much of an effect on people?

Are decisions made quickly just as good as decisions made slowly and carefully?
Should people change their decisions when circumstances change, or is it best for them to stick with their original decisions?
Is it better to change one's attitude than to change one's circumstances?

Is criticism—judging or finding fault with the ideas and actions of others—essential for personal well-being and social progress?

Does having a large number of options to choose from make people happy?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Asian Honor Code

I've tutored literally hundreds of people for 40 years.  No bull, my first tutoring gig was in the 3rd grade when the teacher was so frustrated that I won every multiplication competition that she stopped allowing me to compete and instead helped others. And then there is my sister who I simply loved to help. She was a year older and I desperately wanted to read her materials to see what was next!

In the course of that time it has been my pleasure to be employed by dozens of Asian families. So the question is, "Are Asian kids smarter because of biology or because they work hard?" The answer is BOTH!

Biology is a key factor, but not genetics. There is a difference. Biology is true because a person who actively uses their cognitive powers through studying actually increases the neuron connectors in the brain, INCREASING cognitive capabilities. Like a muscle that is exercised and becomes stronger and leaner, the brain that is engaged in learning and studying gains mental "strength."

But hard work is obviously the main factor. And don't give me the typical American crap that Asian kids who are tortured by their tiger moms lack creativity, spontaneity, and blah, blah, blah. My kids joyfully work and enjoy the rewards of getting high marks. They are proud and last week when I questioned a top student on why he was going so far, he responded, "I want to do my best, it is the Asian Honor Code."

Meaning the students themselves take great pride in their own personal, individual, creative processes.

The overwhelming majority of great athletes and great musicians gain their status not because they were born that way, but because they practiced hard and often with DESIRE.

And Honor.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Even the Odds

Even the Odds

If a and b are positive single digit integers, where a is even and b is odd, which of the following CAN be true?

I.               a is a prime number
II.             b is a prime number
III.           a + b is a prime number

A). II only
B). I & II only
C). II & III only
D). I, II, & III
E). None of the above 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Take a real test as practice?

There are several questions that I have been asked over and over:

1. WHEN should a student take the SAT?

2. Should the student study before taking the first test or wait to take a test as a real SAT to "get your feet wet" and benchmark/practice; see where the student is before making any decisions?

3. When should a student start studying?

4. Should the student study on their own, in a class or with a tutor one-on-one?

5. How many times should a student take the test?

The answers are as varied as the people who ask the questions.

Generically I suggest that a student begin to practice SAT questions as a freshman and set out a long term game plan of maximizing scores to have more options. Long term studying is less stressful and is absolutely proven to be more effective. If the student is strong, take the test in the spring of sophomore year

1. When should a student take the SAT?  Sophomore year may be too early for some but if the student is serious and has lofty ambitions, 10th grade is an excellent time to start. For an AP student, much of the SAT math is very basic and was taught long ago. As she advances into AP Calculus, the old math is not being used. It gets stored away in some dusty part of the brain and gets rusty.

Junior year is most typical. Spring starting in January is what I see the most.

Senior year is a very viable option to take the test. Colleges are now accepting scores as late as January for regular admission. The October test can still be taken and results sent in time for Early Decision or Early Action.

2. Take it first or study first?  Study first. If a parent and student think it is best to take a test and "see how she does," great; baseline results are valuable. I never disagree with that approach. But why waste time and money? For anything that matters in life, practice is rewarded with better performance.

3. When to start studying?  My answer is always the same: "Yesterday!" Studying vocabulary starts from the first time you speak to your baby on the day she was born. It takes an incredible amount of concentration and effort to learn a language. Research has shown that studying increases the number of connections between neurons in the brain. Get this: studying actually makes you smarter, duh. Working with any material over a long period of time increases your ability to recall it when needed.

I have met many juniors with excellent grades who do not remember simple math formulas. For an honor roll student who wants a competitive college, that is ridiculous. Practice. Study.

4. First let me caveat this entire post: I get PAID to teach kids the SAT/ACT, so should your kid start tutoring? YES and Do you have any money? 

Forgive my bad attempt at humor. Bottom line: balance goals against abilities. If a competitive college is the goal, a student should start preparing for the SAT as soon as possible.  If your daughter wanted to be in the Olympics, when would she start practicing? Would she have a coach?

Independent study is an excellent way to go. Students should learn how to teach themselves, for that is a valuable life skill. The key consideration is if the child is self motivated. There is plenty of material available online, in the library, and in the guidance office. Go to a bookstore and walk the prep book section, look on Amazon, and read my blog.

Classes and groups are okay. But they waste a lot of time. Time is very precious to the busy honor roll student. Wasting time listening to people ask questions about things that the honor roll student already knows is not optimal. But it is training and it is more than doing nothing.

One on one is best. There is no place to hide and hopefully your tutor makes the sessions about you the student not on any agenda or schedule. You should work on what you don't know.

5. How many times? My stock answer: "Did you get a perfect? No? Take it again." If the student has reached her goals. STOP and move on in life. If she has not, practice and believe in improvement. Three is the magic number and the advice that I have given the most.

Absolute Value is an absolutely valuable skill to know

This is a graph on a recent SAT question. It asks students to identify the equation.

The answer is | x^2 - 1 |

The "absolute value of the quantity x-squared minus one."

I see student miss absolute value questions all the time. The SAT presents absolute value as equations and as graphs. Remember that absolute value is always positive or zero.  When graphed, a function "f(x)" an equation in "y = | x |" will NEVER have an negative value for the y coordinate.

They are easy to spot. Go refresh your memory of absolute value and kick this question's butt.