It’s OK to be a little neurotic when taking your GMAT. I am not encouraging you to freak out or anything like that. What I am encouraging you to do is to write little notes to yourself. Use your dry-erase board to write little reminders to yourself. You may feel stupid or silly when you are doing it, but feeling silly while getting a problem correct is a way better feeling than not feeling silly while missing a problem you should have gotten right. What is perhaps the best example of a test taker overlooking a very important detail that should have been remembered? Any question involving complementary probabilities. On any such problem, I advise my students to always write themselves a little love note reading, “DO NOT FORGET TO SUBTRACT FROM 1!” I only hope they are following my advice. It’s so easy to forget this little detail, because computing the complementary probability in a problem is no easy task. After putting forth such effort, it is understandable that a test taker would let up his or her guard. The test taker then forgets to subtract this value from one. Sure enough, the complementary probability is one of the wrong answer choices begging the non-neurotic test-taker to choose it.

Another reminder or “love note” I encourage students to write on their dry-erase boards is “a b c d e” for every single data sufficiency problem. It’s complicated enough navigating the flow chart when deciding which answers to eliminate. Why try to keep track of eliminated answers in one’s head? Old test-takers like me had an actual paper test booklet where we could actually cross out answer choices. You won’t have that “luxury.” So, write down “a b c d e” on every data sufficiency question so you can keep track of which answers you eliminate.

One other note regarding “a b c d e.” I encourage students to write “a b c d e” on any question where they are being asked something like, “Which of the following does NOT appear in the passage?” or “which of the following is NOT a possible solution.” In questions like this, a test taker is being asked to find four values or four pieces of information that would be acceptable. They are then asked to eliminate those as correct answer choices. It is easier than you might believe to start out doing just that, and halfway through, finding an answer that would be acceptable and choosing that as your answer to the question that is asking you which answer would NOT be acceptable.

So, take the time to write yourself a reminder or two. You’ll remember me, and though you might feel stupid doing so, you’ll get the right answer!

Word Problems tend to intimidate kids taking the SAT or ACT or adults taking the GMAT or GRE. Don’t be scared! The math on most word problems is actually easier and less troublesome than the math on a straightforward arithmetic or algebra problem.

The reason the math is easier on these problems is because the problem is made hard in other ways. Word problems are considered hard because you have to convert a word problem into a math question. This involves good reading skills and good critical reasoning skills.

Keep some of the following word problem translations in mind as you navigate some of the toughest word problems.

“Is” means “equal to”

“Is” is “=.” If you see the word “is” in a word problem, have no fear. It simply means “equals.”

The number of brown hats is 5% of the total number of hats. Take “is” and make it “=” and get started! Now you have the number of brown hats = 5% of the total number of hats.

“Of” means “multiplied by”

In a question with fractions, you want to substitute the words “multiplied by” for the “of.”

What is 3/5 of 20? To solve this problem, take the fraction and multiply it by the other number. So, what is 3/5 x 20?

“Per” means “divided by”

If you see a problem discussing rates, or using the word “per” be prepared to switch into fraction or division mode. Per is another way of saying “divided by.”

A car travels 50 miles per hour. The per is literally the line in a fraction. 50 miles/hour.

Note: Sometimes instead of “per” you will see the words “for every.” For every boy, there are two girls. So that means 1 boy divided by 2 girls.

Don’t fear word problems. There are a limited number of word problem types. Learn the basic approach for most of these, and work on your reading and logic when navigating the answer choices. Once you have this vocabulary nailed down, and you study reading and logic, you will have a new perspective on word problems and be able to solve them without difficulty.

It was just another “normal” Saturday morning for me. I woke up well before 6:30AM and headed to Conestoga High School to take the SAT with kids 30 years younger than me! I try to take the SAT and ACT (I am taking it this Saturday, June 13) at least once a year in order to recognize testing trends. In addition, with the SAT making major changes next year, taking the SAT gives me a sneak peak (via the unscored experimental section) at the format of the new questions. I also want kids and parents to know that I know my stuff (“I saw this question last week” resonates more strongly than “Back in 1986, the SAT asked me for the definition of ephemeral.”)

Well, the test and its aftermath were anything but normal. Students and parents nationwide (overseas, this was not a problem) remain worried about a major College Board error. On some test booklets, SAT section 8 listed a time limit of 25 minutes (instead of the actual time limit of 20 minutes). On some test booklets, it was section 9 that made the same error. Proctors were given a script and manual that indicated the correct 20 minute time limit). Fortunately in my testing classroom, the error was handled with relatively little fanfare.

In my case, the math section had the error. I distinctly remember looking up at the clock and the time limits written on the board. I thought to myself “Did I really just do 10 math questions in 2 minutes??” A couple minutes later, the proctor very subtly told the test takers that the time she wrote on the board was wrong and she shortened it by 5 minutes. I am so familiar with the test, that I don’t read the time limits in the booklet. Sections 8 and 9 are always 20 minute sections. However, it is completely understandable for a typical high schooler to not know the time limits off the top of his or her head. Nevertheless, no one made a peep about it in my classroom.

However, in test centers across the country, it was a different story. One of my students told me half of the students in her classroom had a Section 8 with 20 minutes, while others had a Section 8 with 25 minutes. Some students didn’t know there was a timing error until a proctor gave the 1-minute warning. Imagine being an already stressed out teenager who thought there were 6 minutes left, only to find out that there was only 1 minute left!!

Immediately, the chatter started. Will we have to take it again? Will the scores count? Can I afford to wait until October to take the SAT again? What if I am applying early decision?

Early this week, the College Board issued a press release and emailed all test takers (including me). The test will count, but the two sections where some students may have had 5 extra minutes will not count. So, the most common question my students and their parents have been asking is a variation of “what if my kid is good at math and they don’t count the math section?”

The answer is how the tests are being scored won’t make too big a difference. The College Board will not be scoring the two affected sections (8 and 9). So, every student who took the test in the US will have the shortest reading section and the shortest math section discarded. So, whether your child is better at math or not will not really matter. It’s not like math will be worth any less than it was before. For this test, the math score will be based on 38 questions (instead of the usual 54). The reading score will be based on 48 questions (instead of the usual 67). The standardized scores will still cover a 200 to 800 range for each section. The writing section was not affected at all.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is the College Board Statement with FAQ.

That being said, a student’s section 8 may have had math questions with which he is more comfortable (more geometry vs. algebra). Perhaps, a student’s section 9 tested vocabulary words that she knew quite well versus the words used in previous reading sections. So, in some cases, students’ scores may slightly benefit or suffer from the College Board decision. In the end, all scores will be based on the same essay, the same 38 math questions, the same 48 reading questions and the same 49 writing questions.

But still, can someone proofread the SAT next time?!?

(And don’t get me started on reports from 2 different students of mine that they saw the exact same reading passage they saw earlier this year! It sounds like it was used in the experimental section both times.)

A few months ago, alarms went off in the heads of parents up and down the Main Line and beyond, as the College Board announced some major changes to the SAT starting in the spring of 2016.

Now, the ACT is announcing some changes to its test. This comes just months after the College Board (administrator of the competing SAT) announced sweeping changes to the SAT.

The SAT changes include moving the perfect score back to 1,600, making the essay optional and shifting the vocabulary away from some arcane words in favor of those more relevant to today’s world. The SAT changes also include reading questions which require more hard evidence from the reading passages. Finally, there will be some math questions which prohibit the use of a calculator. (Hallelujah to that one, I say!!…)

ACT officials said its changes are much more subtle and not in response to the College Board’s announcement. Based on what I have read, I agree. The changes to the ACT will hardly be detected at all. (Read about the changes here. They mostly affect how the sub-scores for each section are reported. There will also be some changes to the writing section (which is far less important than the rest of the test). The ACT may also start offering an online version of its test.

So, the million dollar question is “what does all of this mean for you and your children?” Drum roll please…..


Students should prepare for the ACT in the same way, as most of the important content that will affect one’s score will remain virtually unchanged.

The College Board has slowly started to release some details regarding the new SAT it will roll out in 2016.

Go to the College Board website for sample questions, descriptions of the new areas/concepts to be tested, and a side-by-side comparison of the current SAT and the 2016 version.

On first glance, a lot of the math changes really just look like “ACT questions in SAT clothing.” Interestingly enough, the new math questions don’t just resemble ACT math questions. They also resemble ACT science questions.

The new reading questions requiring evidence for an answer really just require answers to two questions about the same part of the passage instead of one.

The one change I applaud the most is the elimination of outdated, “no use in the real world” vocabulary words. The only time I use the word “ephemeral” in conversation is when I am tutoring SAT. (Michael, “ephemeral” is a great SAT word.)

The changes shouldn’t strike fear in students’ hearts. But, getting a leg up on the changes is always a good idea!

Happy First Birthday to my son, Arthur! Now, get to work on these math drills, Arthur!!!

So, I took the SAT last Saturday afternoon at Lower Merion High School (my alma mater). Yes, I know that I am 44-years old. But, I take the SAT regularly to stay ahead of the curve on changes to the test and to show students and parents that their tutor is capable of a 99th%-ile score in any of the three sections.

Earlier this month, the College Board made a big announcement that the SAT would see major changes starting in 2016. This struck fear in the hearts of students, parents, counselors and tutors (not me, of course). Consequently, it was more important than ever that I take last Saturday’s test. Well, 2016 is 2 years away, but that didn’t stop the College Board from somewhat jumping the gun on the changes. Last Saturday’s SAT featured major changes consistent with the College Board’s announcement.

To be fair, the changes appeared in the SAT’s “Experimental” section (which never count towards a student’s score). However, the College Board (administrator and writer of the test) never publicizes which of the 10 sections is the unscored experimental section. For the most part, it blends in very well with the rest of the scored sections.

However, for a professional like myself, the experimental section stood out like a sore thumb. One reading passage had only one single question (I’ve never seen a test in the last several years with fewer than two questions). Another reading passage had a whopping 16 questions (the most questions to follow a reading passage has been capped at 13 questions over the last several years). In the 16-question reading passage, there were two instances of questions that asked for specific evidence regarding one’s answer to the previous question. This was consistent with what the College Board announced regarding the reading sections (see a list of changes later in this post). Others reported changes in the math and writing sections.

What does this mean to your child? It shouldn’t mean much if your child is in the 10th grade or higher. If your child is in 9th grade, he or she has the misfortune of being in the first class to take the changed SAT. What should you do to prepare? Honestly, there isn’t too much you should do differently. The questions will still pretty much be the same, and the techniques I teach will not change substantially. There will be some math sections where calculator use is prohibited, so I advise you to cutback your child’s calculator dependency.

Some of the announced changes include:

— The vocabulary will be more relevant to the modern era (i.e., words that have a chance of making it into a conversation this decade. See you later “treacly!”)

— The reading passages will require evidence from the passage just read (as discussed above, this change was on full display in my experimental section).

— The essay will no longer affect one’s score (though it will still be required).

— Students should answer every question, as there will be no penalty for wrong answers. (Author’s note – students have been poorly advised by tutors, teachers and the College Board itself regarding when to skip questions. I see students skipping far too many questions and I often get a huge score boost out of a student once I point out some of the fallacies regarding SAT scoring. Do you realize a student that gets 36 questions right and 13 wrong will outscore a student that gets 32 questions right and 0 wrong!?)

— Instead of testing a wide range of math concepts, the new exam will focus on a few areas, like algebra, deemed most needed for college and life afterward. A calculator will be allowed only on certain math questions, instead of on the entire math portion.

— Oh, and speaking of score, the total will be rolled back to its original level of 1600, instead of the current 2400. The reading and writing sections will be collapsed into one section worth 800.

— The College Board will partner with the nonprofit Khan Academy to provide free test preparation materials for the redesigned SAT. (People ask will this affect the volume of my business? It may, but, students that want individualized one-on-one tutoring will still seek out my services. Plus, with big changes coming, some students might need more guidance during the uncertain first few administrations of the exam).

The SAT is making these changes mainly because it has recently been unseated as the most popular college admissions test in the nation by the ACT. So, what is one of the best things a student can do to fight off this new uncertainty surrounding the SAT? Devote study time to the ACT, as there are no announced changes coming to the test.

As if there aren’t enough perils out there to worry us as parents (speaking from 6 months of parenting experience personally), we now have one more hazard out there…..calculators!

I am alarmed at how teenagers are dependent on calculators for the simplest math operations. I am not talking “233 x 4.93”. Think more of the “30×3” level of difficulty math question.

A calculator is only as smart as the person operating it. Please make sure your children know how to do the basic math they are asking the calculator to do for them.

Sure, the SAT and ACT allow the use of calculators. But, often real life won’t!

Data Sufficiency statements can’t be altered. Every so often when I am tutoring a student, he or she will change up the rules of data sufficiency. I’ve seen it before with misunderstanding a “yes/no” data sufficiency question (by erroneously thinking an answer of “always no” means “not sufficient.”)

However, more than once in the last few weeks, students are creating a new rule that is a score killer. They are not accepting the numbered statements as absolute truths.

The GMAT test taker’s job is to assess the sufficiency of the numbered statements. It is NOT the test taker’s job to disprove the numbered statements. Those statements cannot be changed because they are true.

How is this done? Sometimes a test taker picks numbers which violate the numbered statements. Consequently, he or she mistakenly determines sufficiency based on that instead of the actual question stem.

Here is an example:

Is x>0?

Statement 1: x+12>10

The student might erroneously plug in a number that would violate “x+12>10” and think “well if x is 20, x + 12 > 10, but if x is -4, then x + 12 is not greater than 10. Therefore this is not sufficient.” But the overall question is not “Is x + 12 > 10.” That is a statement that has to be accepted as fact when determining the sufficiency of the real overall question of “Is x > 0?” The only numbers that can be tested for statement 1 are those that fit within the parameters of the statement (x>-2).

It is very important to know very early in your data sufficiency studies that Statements 1 and 2 are facts! They are always true. These statements cannot be disproved, and numbers that violate what the statements tell you are not to be used. If you “disprove” one of the numbered statements, you are asking for trouble!

So, remember to accept data sufficiency statements as absolute truths and hopefully this will help keep your GMAT score up!