7 Essential Common Application Essay Hacks

SAT ACT College Admissions Essay Help Applications

Turn your college essay draft for the common application into a killer essay, and make your parents, counselor—and YOU—happy.


  • 1. Make a list of ALL your deadlines.

    Having nightmares that you go to submit your early application on November 15, but it was due on November 1? Make a list of all deadlines, especially of when applications and supplements are due and if/when interviews are required. So the next time you wake up in a cold sweat, you can just check the list that you are obviously keeping right next to your bed.

  • 2. There is no “right” essay topic.

    Choose a moment that reveals your character (usually they all do!). College admissions officers want to hear your story—how did you become who you are now? —not an analytical essay. We were just talking to admissions officers from UVA and Yale, and they both insisted: “The story, not the topic, is what will make the essay.” Want help finding a story that will “make your essay”? Story 2, our free online toolkit prompts you to consider different parts of your personality and tell stories from your own experience. Check it out.

  • 3. Write the longest version of your essay first.

    Don’t feel constrained by the word count – say what you need to say in however many words you need to say it, and then go back and edit. Bonus tip: Try cutting from the beginning and the ending first. Most essays can do without all the filler details in the introduction and conclusion.

  • 4. Own up to your failures in the “Additional Information” section.

    Bad grade? Disciplinary issue? It happens. This is one place in your application to showcase your maturity and composure: state what happened, without excess judgment and emotion, and the actions you took to correct any mistakes. Then stop. This is not the section you want to be memorable. Be clear and to the point.

  • 5. “Optional” supplements aren’t actually optional.

    It sucks. We know. But you gotta do it. You know the other applicants are doing them: don’t look bad in comparison. You think LeBron skipped “optional” free throw practice? Definitely not.

  • 6. When in doubt, dance it out.

    Or laugh or cry or paint a picture. This process is stressful, and you are allowed to feel overwhelmed. Figure out the little things you can do to keep you sane when the process feels like too much too handle.

  • 7. Just remember: You can do this. And you will survive.

    We—and lots of people, including your teachers, counselors, friends, and the good folks here at Grockit—are here for you. You got this.

Story2.com is a free, online, interactive college essay toolkit powered by Story To College where students can start, edit, and finish their college application essays. The first 100 users to submit their essays will get free expert review. Finish your essay today! 

Sophie Herron

Sophie Herron first entered the classroom as high school English teacher in Houston, Texas as a Teach For America corps member. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at New York University, then joined Story To College to teach students how to harness the power of their own voice. Her favorite part of the curriculum is when students discover the story that helps them realize their own potential.

Sophie HerronContributing AuthorStory2.com

New Beta feature- Timing and Analytics Bar!


ACT SAT GMAT GRE Timing Analytics Data

Grockiteers using our Grockit 2.0 beta for GMAT, GRE, ACT, and SAT should have noticed an exciting new feature as of last week- the Timing and Analytics Bar (we’re open to a new name if anyone wants to come up with one).  Living at the very top of every explanations page, the TAB shows: 

1) How long it took you to answer the question

2) How your time compares to the average tor Grockit user’s historically (and we have tens of thousands of data points for each question)

3) The difficulty level of the item

4) % of users who answered correctly

How should I use these new analytics?

Go to your practice page and keep answering questions. Armed with this data, you can start diagnosing some common test taking errors, for instance:

1)  If you got it right but it took you much longer than everyone else, chances are you missed a crucial short cut.  Go back and review the explanation carefully.

2)   If you took a long time compared to most and the question was really difficult (most people got it wrong), chances are you should have considered punting on that question instead of investing all that time on an item that was beyond your current reach.  Punting on a question shouldn’t be seen as quitting- it can be smart test taking in the right situations.

3)  If you answered a question much faster than other folks and got it wrong, chances are you thought it was easier than it was and fell for one of the trap answer choices.

We can’t wait to hear what you think of this new feature so please feel free to email us at feedback@grockit.com and make sure to share your feedback if prompted to do so inside the program.

Grock on!



4 Rules for Noun/Pronoun Agreement

AP English Language and Composition
We’re used to looking out for gender, number, and person agreement in GMAT pronouns. Here are four tips for better scores in pronoun sentence agreement test questions, which focus on four less commonly-tested pronoun rules.

1. Remember that collective nouns take singular verbs. Collective nouns refer to a “group.” Even though a “group” implies multiple people, the group itself is singular, and the collective noun will take a singular verb. Some of the collective nouns are obvious (a group, a plethora, a congress, etc.) and some are more unusual (a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, etc).

2. Review your countable/uncountable nouns. Don’t mix up the usage of “number” and “amount.”

Those driving through the Australian outback must be careful to pack plenty of supplies, as there are certain stretches where the amount of fuel or amenities are minimal at best.

A          amount of fuel or amenities are

B          amount of fuel or amenities is

C          number of amenities and amount of fuel is

D          amount of fuel or amenities available is

E          number of amenities and amount of fuel available are

The correct answer is E.  “Number” is used with words that are countable (such as “amenities”); “Amount” is used with words that are “non-countable” or that exist in lump sums (such as ‘ink’ or ‘milk’).

3. Use who and whom to refer to people. “Who” is the subjective case pronoun used to refer to people, while “whom” is the objective case pronoun.

She spoke to whom?

The man who is giving the speech is my husband.

The girl with whom I work is named Cynthia.

“Who” is used to replace the subject, such as “the man” in our example sentence. To figure out whether to use who or whom in a sentence, rephrase it as a question.

Lisa, (who or whom?) loves ice cream, ate the entire gallon!

Ask yourself: Who or whom likes ice cream? The answer: Lisa. Since “Lisa” is the subject of the sentence, it must be replaced with the subjective case, who.

Lisa, who loves ice cream, ate the entire gallon!

If we’d answered the question with an objective pronoun, then whom would have been correct.

With (who or whom?) do you like to go shopping?

Since this sentence is already a question, all we have to do is provide a logical answer: With you. Although you can be used as both a subject and an object, because of the preposition “with” in front of it, we know the objective case is needed. So the correct sentence should say: With whom do you like to go shopping?

4. Use the relative pronouns which and that to refer to inanimate objects. Which is often used to introduce a subordinate clause and is set off by commas from the rest of the sentence; check out the second sentence of this article for an example. That is used within the body of the sentence.

The GMAT, which I am taking next month, is going to be so easy!

The GMAT that I took last year was harder than I thought.

Remember to never use which or that to refer to people, only to things.

Top 5 Tested Intermediate ACT Algebra Concepts

ACT top tips math algebra english test prep


Quadratic equations have three terms and are in the form ax² + bx + c. An example of a quadratic is x² – 5x + 6. To find the factors of this equation, we must set up our set of two parentheses: (        )(        )

The first term in both parentheses must be x, since x multiplied by x is the only way to get x². Then we look at the coefficient of the second term, -5. It’s important to include the sign in front of the integer as part of the coefficient. One of the rules of quadratic equations is that the second terms in the two factors must add together to equal the middle term’s coefficient. So we need to think of two numbers that add together to give us -5.

Already, we can think of many combinations: -6 and 1, -2 and -3, -200 and 105. So which pair is it? Now we have to look at the integer that’s the third term of the quadratic. Here it’s  + 6. Another rule of quadratic equations is that the third term of the quadratic equation will equal the product of the second terms in the two factors. So not only do we need the two numbers to add together to equal -5, but we need them to multiply together to equal + 6. Therefore the factors must be: (x – 2) (x – 3). The “roots” or the “solutions” for this quadratic would be 2 and 3.

Systems of Equations

The ACT will often present you with two or more equations with multiple variables. Remember the “n equations with n variables rule.” If there are 2 variables in an equation (for example, x and y), then there must be 2 equations that each contain those variables in order to solve. The two common ways to solve are Substitution and Combination. Our Experts review each method in detail here.


It’s helpful to think of (x, f(x)) as another way of writing (x, y). For many function questions, you can Pick Numbers for the variables to solve! Read more

ACT® Prep Plan: Week 7 – Fantastic Review + ACT® Essay

We’re adding on the remaining 10 points this week! 5 points in ACT® math and 5 points in ACT® English! But that’s not all! Let’s delve into ACT® Reading answer traps to avoid and ACT® Science must-know terms. PLUS, the ACT® Essay is yours to ace.

After you watch the Week 7 video, be sure to complete your ACT® practice for this week. Options for Week 7 practice include:

As always, happy studying!


ACT® Prep Plan: Week 6 – Science & English

Let’s add on the final 6 points in the ACT® science section! In addition to 3 Research Summaries and 3 Data Representation passages on test day, you want to be ready for the Conflicting Viewpoints passage.

Keep building your English section score with 5 points for Word Choice and 3 points for Sentence Sense questions.

Once you watch both the Week 6 Science and Week 6 English videos, you’ll be ready to complete your ACT® practice for this week. Options for Week 6 practice include:

  • Completing the following segments in your Grockit ACT® Study Plan:
    • ACT® Science – Conflicting Viewpoints (final segment)
    • ACT® English (segments 11-13):
      • Run-ons
      • Modifiers
      • Sentence Sense
  • Joining in pre-scheduled group games
  • Creating your own group games
  • The Real ACT Prep Guide:
    • ACT® Science – complete the Conflicting Viewpoints passage in three separate practice tests
    • ACT® English –  complete the entire English section in two separate ACT® practice tests

Have fun earning points!


SAT® Essay Template and Sample

The SAT® essay is always the very first section on test day. Doing well on Section 1 helps you to tackle the rest of the test with confidence. While you can’t be sure what the essay will ask about ahead of time, you can use the same general structure for every SAT® essay!

The following provides helpful suggestions for writing your essay. You do not need to copy this approach exactly; think of it as an extremely useful framework.

SAT® Essay Template:

Paragraph 1 –

  1. Rephrase the prompt.  Ex. “Many people wonder if valuable experience is gained only through achieving goals.”
  2.  Agree or disagree.  Ex. “Goals have value whether or not they are achieved because of the lessons learned.”
  3. Tell the reader what two or three examples you are going to use. Ex. “Movies, books, and personal experiences provide excellent examples of the value of goals that were not fully achieved.”

Paragraph 2 -
1st example
5 Sentences:
1. Use a transition word or phrase like “To begin,” and then introduce your example.
2 – 4 Explain the details of your example using specific dates and people
5. Tell the reader how your example proves that your ONE side of the argument is true.

Paragraph 3 –
2nd example
5 Sentences:
1. Use a transition phrase like “Also,” and then introduce your example.
2 – 4 Explain the details of your example using specific dates and people.
5. Tell the reader how your example proves that your ONE side of the argument is true.

Paragraph 4 –
3rd example
5 Sentences:
1. Use a transition phrase like “Also,” and then introduce your example.
2 – 4 Explain the details of your example using specific dates and people.
5. Tell the reader how your example proves that your ONE side of the argument is true.

5th paragraph -

  1. Use a concluding transition word and restate your thesis
  2. Mention the examples you used and the fact that they support your thesis
  3. Conclude with a broad statement about the topic (optional) Read more

What does inference mean on the GMAT? GRE? LSAT?

GMAT Inference LSAT GRE Prep

Is there a difference between “inference” as the test sees it, and what we think of as an inference in real life?


Making an “inference” in everyday life means making an educated guess based on the available evidence. If I see my friend stagger in with a bloody nose, I probably would infer that he’d been in a fight. But that wouldn’t have to be true: He might have walked into a door, or fallen down coming out of his car, or any number of other possible explanations for his predicament.


But an “educated guess” isn’t good enough for a standardized test, which has to have one and only one correct — credited — answer. On a test, “inference” means must be true based on the given evidence. And remember, the testmaker has always set up the evidence (the reading passage) such that one, and only one choice can be credited. Bottom line — on a standardized test, an inference will always have heavy and undeniable support.


When I get an inference question wrong, it’s usually because I pick an answer that’s stronger than the passage it’s based on. How can I fix this?


When attempting Inference questions, be careful of overstatements. An inference can be no stronger than the text it’s based on. If the author very carefully uses language like “some,” “most,” “usually,” that’s not going to support a statement about whatalways is true. (Such an overstatement would have to be based on language that uses “all,” “every,” “only.” See the difference?) As you practice, try to make the distinction between opinions and ideas that allow for exceptions (“qualified”) and opinions and ideas that are ironclad-certain (“categorical”). That difference will help you with inference questions.


I am struggling with Inference. What do you suggest?


Students tend to get inference questions wrong for two reasons: (1) They misunderstand the scope of the text, and select a choice that veers too far away from what the author is writing about. Or (2) they misread the strength of the author’s statements, and select a choice that is too strong — too definite, too unqualified — for what the author is saying.


My teacher keeps saying “make your mistakes happily.” But how can I be happy about getting things wrong? All I get is frustrated.


Bob Verini

When you find out which of these bad habits you’re falling into, you can start to fix them. And remember this: The best way to identify a bad habit is to make a mistake and correct it. So don’t beat yourself up when you get inference questions wrong! Treat the mistake as a welcome learning opportunity!

Bob VeriniKaplan Test Prep Expert