Modification on the SAT

Unlike identifying sentence errors where the mistake is generally grammatical (think: subject-verb agreement, appropriate pronoun choice etc), improving sentences questions have errors that involve the structure of the whole sentence.  A common mistake in the sentence is modifier placement.  A modifier is a word or group of words that provides more information about the noun or verb in the rest of the sentence.  Usually, it’s placed right next to the word it is meant to modify.

E.g. A customer who was caught stealing was thrown out of the store by the security guard.

In this sentence, the modifying phrase is “who was caught stealing” and it is placed right next to the noun it is meant to modify – the customer.  If it was placed anywhere else, for example, “A customer was thrown out of the store by the security guard who was caught stealing”, you might be led to think that it was the security guard who stole something, not the customer.

The use of words such as “that”, “which”, “who”, “whom” at a start of a phrase usually indicate that its a modifying phrase and you should try and keep it as close as possible to the word it is modifying.  Sometimes, modifying phrases don’t use such words to let you know that it is the modifier.  For example,

John and Judy sat discussing the music in the cafe.

Jake told me he went fishing at the store.

The sculptor created a statue filled with inspiration.

The above sentences can be ambiguous.  In the first statement about John and Judy, are they discussing the music played at the cafe or are they sitting down at a cafe discussing some type of unknown music?  In the second statement, is John fishing at the store?  Or is he telling me that he went fishing while we were at the store?  In the last statement, is the statue filled with inspiration or was the sculptor filled with inspiration when he molded the statue.  Clearly, if I rephrased the above sentences into the format below, I would convey my intended meaning a lot more effectively.

Test your skills with this SAT Grockit writing practice question!

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ACT Science: Data Representation

The ACT Science test will contain 7 passages and 40 questions. The passages fall into three categories: Data Representation, Research Summaries and Conflicting Viewpoints. Many students find the Science test to be challenging because of the unfamiliar terminology and the variety of ways information is presented so don’t feel like you’re the only one! Let’s focus first on understanding how data is represented on the test.

The Data Representation format will ask you to understand and interpret information presented to you in graphs or tables. Occasionally there will also be charts, scatterplots, and diagrams. You’ll be able to recognize a Science passage as Data Representation if it does not contain multiple experiments or discuss multiple points of view. If you see a bunch of graphs and tables, you can bet it’s Data Rep! Often a scientific process will be explained (such as photosynthesis or osmosis).

While you may not be familiar with the process the passage discusses, the good news is that all of the information you will need to answer the questions will be located in the data. In a way, the Science mumbo-jumbo is the least important aspect of the test – all we want to do is have a fairly strong grasp of what is being presented. Here are a few tips to make sense of it all:

Take a stab at this ACT science practice question and see if you’re ready to ROCK the ACT!

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THE SAT: Know Your Score

As a tutor, I am often asked, Jon, how do you know so much? Is it just innate or did you spend your adolescence in a library? OK. That’s just a joke. But I am asked all the time how the SAT is scored, and what strategies a student can use to maximize those scores.

Let’s start with the multiple choice questions, which make up the bulk of the exam. A right answer earns one point, a wrong one costs a quarter point. If you do not put down an answer, you do not lose any points. For the SAT Math grid-ins, if you put down a wrong answer you will not be deducted a quarter point. So you have no excuse not to write something for the grid-ins.

As for the essay at the beginning of the Writing section, two readers will look at what you wrote and make a determination from 2 to 12—each reader gives a score out of six. If your writing is totally illegible, you will receive a zero and might want to take handwriting classes before your next attempt. Twelve is for exceptional work; not only is the essay well-written, it is well-organized and well-argued. But if you write something, anything, you are nearly guaranteed at least a 2. Don’t worry, this essay only counts for 30% of your total writing score, the rest is made up by the multiple choice section.

Each SAT raw score, the number of points from each section, is then “equated” into a “scaled” score between 200 and 800 (the lingo comes from the College Board, not me). Unless your work is illegible, you will receive at least a 200. The scaled score is reflective of the difficulty of the test and the performance of everyone else who took the test. It is a curved grading system, but one that works to your advantage. 500 is about an average score.

See if you can correctly answer this SAT question!

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SAT Fragments and Run-Ons: How To Spot ‘Em & Fix ‘Em!

Before we can spot Fragments and Run-Ons it’s important to understand a few key definitions when it comes to sentence construction. A clause is a group of words with a verb and a subject. An independent clause can stand alone as a complete sentence. A dependent or subordinate clause cannot. Let’s look at a couple of quick examples:

Independent clause: I love studying for the SAT.

Dependent clause: Because I use Grockit.

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How the ACT is Scored

The ACT is not simply scored by adding the total questions correct. Instead, a “raw score” is calculated which is then put into a “scoring formula” to achieve a final “scaled score.” The scaled score on the ACT ranges from 1 through 36; however, most test-takers score somewhere between a 17 and a 23. The national average is approximately 20.

Although the ACT percentiles vary from year to year, generally the following scaled scores correspond to the following approximate percentile ranks:

Scaled Score               Percentile Rank                       Percentage of Questions Correct

31                                         99%                                              90%

26                                        90%                                              75%

23                                        76%                                              63%

20                                        54%                                              53%

17                                        28%                                              43%

The ACT has a generous curve; answering only 75% of the questions correctly (which would be a C in academic subjects) will actually put you in the 90th percentile on the ACT! Achieving a 90th percentile means that 90% of test takers did as well as or worse than you did. In other words, you are in the top 10% of test-takers!

Try to solve this ACT math question!

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Improving Sentences on the SAT: Parallel Structure

There are two types of parallel structure problems that you need to be aware when taking the SAT writing section. If you know what to look out for, it is often one of the easiest problems to spot and correct.

Type 1: sentences which certain pairs of connecting words that require parallel construction.  Examples of pairs are “neither…nor”, “either…or”, “not only…but also”, “the better…the better”, “the less…the less”.  The phrases following each word (in italics) must be parallel in grammatical structure.  Take a look at the faulty sentences in the left column below.

faulty parallel structure parallel structure
The professor’s speech focused on neither his recent scholarly work nor how he discovered the new bacteria strain. The professor’s speech focused on neither his recent scholarly work or his discovery of the new bacteria strain.
Not only does Michael play the piano, but he also enjoying cooking. Not only does Michael play the piano, but he also enjoys cooking.

See if you can answer this improving sentences SAT question from Grockit!

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The SAT Practice Test

A practice test is the ultimate way to tell if you are ready for the SAT. Also, nothing can serve as a better estimate of your score than a test well-taken. Like a long run before a marathon, it is a necessary step to see if you have what it takes to make it to the finish line. Of course, it is not as easy as picking up a test and a pencil, the more prepared you are, and the more you treat it like a real test, the better the test will serve as both an evaluation and good practice.

Give yourself time before the SAT to take the practice test. That way, you will have more time to work on the problem areas you find. The practice test will not be that helpful a week before the test; there simply is not enough time to practice. I would take it at two months and then again at one month before the test. You can take the practice test at weekly intervals, but be careful to space out the tests enough to make some real progress.

Find out how Grockit can predict your performance on the SAT.

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ACT Science – Research Summaries

The ACT Science section can cause a lot of unnecessary worry among test-takers. However you can still receive a strong score even if you aren’t a budding Albert Einstein. Careful reading and note-taking (the same skills you use for Reading Comp!) are enough to answer most questions. Remember – the answer has to be based on the information in the passage. You just have to know where to look!

The ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you’ll take. It will have 7 passages and you’ll have 35 minutes to complete them. That’s about 5 minutes per passage so moving confidently through this test is essential! It takes practice to gain confidence in interpreting data and understanding the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary. Luckily, you already have all of the skills necessary to do this from your high school Science classes.

Let’s take a look at the first of three types of Science passages you’ll see: Research Summaries.

Try this ACT Science practice question from Grockit!

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The ACT versus the SAT: What to Take

So, you are deciding whether to take either the SAT or the ACT and want to know the difference. How do you choose two tests that are uniquely different but essentially cover the same things? In one corner, you have the SAT, well-known, and popular, and in the other corner, the ACT, which offers more of a range of subjects and is less well-known. To help you make that decision, I will break down both tests point by point:

1. Who accepts what?

All schools accept both the SAT and/or the ACT on a college application. So don’t worry about what works for your dream college because both do. In fact, who takes the ACT or the SAT is determined by geography. The ACT tends to be more popular in the South and Midwest, while the SAT is dominant in heavily populated coastal states like California or New York.

2. What’s the difference in structure?

The SAT covers three basic areas, Math, Critical Reading (CR), and Writing. These areas are broken down into parts; both the Math and the CR are broken down into three sections. Writing has two parts: one essay and another section on identifying sentence and paragraph errors. Five sections are 25 minutes, and two are twenty minutes (both are Math and CR). An experimental section, drawing from one of the three subjects, is another twenty-five minutes.

Compare an ACT English question to a SAT Writing question!

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SAT Math: Average Speed (Not the “Average” of the Speeds)!

One of the SAT’s most challenging concepts is Average Rate, also called Average Speed. Often found in complex word problems, this type of question is one many students are less familiar with so don’t get nervous if you don’t know how to approach it yet! Let’s review two important equations to remember and look at how this concept appears on the SAT!

The first important formula to memorize is: D = R x T. This stands for Distance = Rate x Time. I like to think of it as the “DIRT” formula and writing it this way is the easiest way for me to remember. It is perfectly acceptable to also think of it as Time = Distance / Rate or as Rate = Distance / Time. Usually the “Rate” is speed but it could be anything “per” anything. In a word problem, if you see the word “per” you know this is a question involving rates.

The second formula is: Average Rate = Total Distance / Total Time. This is its own special concept and you will notice that it is NOT an Average of the Speeds (which would be something like the Sum of the Speeds / the Number of Different Speeds or what we know as the Arithmetic Mean). Average Rate is completely different. Let’s look at an example question:

Test your knowledge with this SAT math question!

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