Frequently Asked Questions

It's my belief (and experience) that learning some simple, specific test-taking skills – skills that are relevant to both practice and the real thing – provides the required framework for success.

What makes your methods different?
Simply put, a focus on building a test-taking framework that emphasizes efficiency and effectiveness. Knowing the math is certainly important; however, knowing what to do and how to go about doing it when the proctor says "turn the page and begin" is essential for maximizing your chances for success.
Always remember that a standardized test tests two things: (1) how well you know the material being tested, and (2) how well you know the structure and confines of the test. My methods focus on both.
Can you be more specific?
On the SAT you're being timed, the math test is made up of three separate sections, there are five levels of question difficulty, and incorrect answers are penalized. On the ACT you're being timed, the math test is done all at once, questions increase in difficulty, and incorrect answers are not penalized.
On both of these tests, the math is not "hard;" for most students, the difficulty lies more in the tests themselves (time, structure, etc.). Understanding the parameters of the tests and learning how to work within those parameters is just about as important as knowing the material.
On the SAT, you speak to the importance of omitting. Why is that?
Time is a big factor on the SAT (and ACT), as many students are not able to finish every question within the allotted time. Unless your goal is an 800, you don't have to answer every question, you just (because of the one-quarter point penalty) have to get those you do answer correct. Omitting provides some breathing room, allowing you to spend additional time on those "I just need a bit more time" questions.
Why is having a goal score so important?
In any situation, having a goal provides you with something to aim for. On these tests, it also dictates how much you need to practice.
How should a student determine his or her goal score?
Most colleges publish the score range of the middle 50% of the current freshman class. Gather this information from each of the colleges you're interested in. Then, review your high school coursework, the most important component of your application. Are you towards the top of your class and taking advanced courses? If so, having a goal to be somewhere within that middle 50% probably makes sense. Are your grades so-so and your courses less challenging than others offered? If so, you may need a goal that's closer to the top of, or above, that middle 50%.
Of course, other factors (e.g. academic and athletic scholarships) can come into play. Work with your parents, guidance counselor, etc. to determine the score you need and then commit to practicing until you're confident you can reach that score on test day.
Finally, always keep two things in mind: 1) there's not one college out there that requires a perfect score for admission, and 2) the real goal is getting admitted; once college starts, no one ever again judges you based on your SAT or ACT score.
Why do you only recommend using the College Board's SAT book, "The Official SAT Study Guide", and ACT, Inc.'s ACT book, "The Real ACT Prep Guide"?
The best source of sample materials is the company that writes the test. Fortunately, for the SAT and ACT, the companies provide lots of practice problems
What the most common mistake you see students making on test day?
Not having and using a digital watch's stopwatch. Time is a big issue on standardized tests; to not have control of the time, to not know at a glance where things stand, is a big mistake.
But isn't there always a clock in the room?
Almost always, yes. However, is it located where you can see it clearly? (When I took the SAT in 2009, it was located where I, and three other students, couldn't see it at all. When I took the ACT in 2010, it was across the room and shadowed, making it hard to see. When I took the SAT in 2011, it was across the room and the light from the windows reflected off of the plastic cover, again making it hard to see.) Is it an analog clock where, like most, the hands are never quite where they're supposed to be?
Looking up and trying to figure out how much time is left is, if I may, a big waste of time, and it requires additional, non-essential thinking. Note the clock at any timed sporting event. Is it digital? Yes. Do the athletes (and spectators) know at a glance, without thinking, where things stand? Yes. On the ACT and SAT, so should you.