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!

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!