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May 16, 2019

How to Get Noticed: 7 Steps to a Vibrant Social Media Presence

Are you dedicated to a hobby - building computers, organic gardening, finance research - that would help you get that internship or jazz up your college app if only someone knew?

You can get the attention you need by starting a blog or Twitter account. If you post consistently for a year or two, you'll start to show up when someone Googles your name. It's a great opportunity to present your work to the world.

Follow the steps below to get started!

1. Stick to your knitting.


Choose a subject to write about and stick to it. 

Make it your goal to help others by putting all the information about your hobby in one place. The consistency and usefulness of the information you post will get you noticed.

Politics is divisive: stay away from it!

2. Create a blog or Twitter account.

If you enjoy writing long-form content like essays and articles, start a blog.

If you like posting short thoughts and interacting with other people, consider starting a Twitter account. Make sure to do a few Twitter searches first to make sure that there's an active community for the subject you're interested in writing about.

For example, a search for tumor imaging agents pulls up posts from nine years ago with no likes, comments, or retweets. (It's really hard to get noticed if no one is looking, right?)

Twitter search for 'tumor imaging agents'
Twitter search: tumor imaging agents

Results for AMC math competition, swing dancing technique, and writing sonnets are similarly uninspiring.


A search for deep value stocks, on the other hand, suggests that there's an active community that might even have a sense of humor:

Twitter search: "deep value stocks"
Twitter search: deep value stocks

Results for replication crisis in science and Python coding are also encouraging.

3. It's more important to start than to make everything perfect.

Make a commitment to do at least one thing every day. Make an account first, then set up your template or profile, and then work on your content a little bit at a time. Try not to take a break, as it will be hard to get started again.

4. Put your best stuff up front. 

You can do this on Twitter by making a table of contents of your best work and pinning that post to the top of your feed.


Twitter "table of contents"


On Blogger. a sliding window can be used to showcase your work.


Blogger "sliding window"

5. Post brief summaries of articles you read. 

This is like putting snacks out at a party: people who don't have enough time to read articles themselves will follow you just to get the summaries.

The summaries don't need to take more than a couple of minutes to write. You can grab the most interesting quote from each article or post a few bullet points in order to save time.

Twitter summary of someone else's blog post
Summary of someone else's blog post; here are some other examples: 1 and 2.

Twitter summary using bullet points
Summary using bullet points


6. Post long-form explanations of books and scientific papers.

This is a more advanced technique and will really show that you know your stuff. Work through the paper or book in order and put a Post-It note at any places you want to come back to write about later.

If you summarize a paper, include screen shots of the original charts and data tables along with brief comments to help readers understand what's going on. (If you summarize a book, include page numbers instead.)

Summary of the finance paper Buffett's Alpha

Notice that I misspelled Warren Buffett's name and made a grammar mistake in the example above. Since Twitter doesn't allow you to edit posts after you've made them, you have to be willing to live with imperfection.

7. Answer other people's questions (but don't be a troll). 

The goal is to be helpful without being annoying - a fine line to walk sometimes, so work on doing it well. As you get to know other writers, you'll figure out ones welcome back-and-forth discussions.

Link to your summaries if the material is relevant.

Once you have enough followers, you can also generate interesting discussions by asking open-ended questions.


Enjoy yourself.

You'll read more interesting stuff and have more summaries to write if you like what you're doing, so don't be afraid to have fun!

May 15, 2019

Five Things to Do the Week Before the SAT

It's the week before the SAT. You don't know what to do, you say?

1. Re-take a practice test.

With only a week before the test, any studying needs to build confidence and reinforce what you've already learned. Don't spend time learning new material: cramming isn't very effective, and it'll just stress you out.

Choose a practice test you've done before, preferably a long time ago, and take it again under timed conditions. If you've been studying, you should see a large score increase over your first attempt. Review your answers and spend a little bit of time brushing up on any concepts you still need to practice.
Don't be this kid. Seriously.


2. Drive by your test center.

Knowing your exact driving route will build confidence and avoid stress on the morning of your actual test. If you do your practice drive on a Saturday morning, you'll get a good idea of what kind of traffic you'll run into and where to pick up food in case you can't eat at home.

3. Pack your bag.

The day before your test, pack a clear Ziploc bag with everything you'll need and put the bag in your car.

Your admission ticket is really important, as you won't be allowed to enter the test center without it. I usually print three copies of my ticket and leave one in the car, one in my Ziploc bag, and one in my pocket. If you leave the room during the break and forget to bring your admission ticket and photo ID, the proctors won't let you back in!

You can print your admission ticket online by signing into your SAT account.

Here's a complete list of stuff to pack:

  • Multiple copies of your admission ticket
  • Lots of No. 2 pencils with good erasers (bringing too many is better than having too few)
  • A small handheld pencil sharpener to use during breaks
  • A wristwatch with a disabled speaker
  • An SAT-approved calculator
  • A backup calculator
  • Snacks to last through the morning (fruit and nuts are good; starchy or sugary snacks that will spike your blood sugar are bad)
  • Bottled water (avoid any drink that contains sugar)

Leave these in the car:

  • Books and study materials
  • Highlighters
  • Electronic devices other than your calculator
  • Your cell phone (unless it's completely switched off)

4. Get tired.

The day before the test, don't spend too much time studying or doing homework. A good night's sleep is going to help a lot more than a few hours of studying.

Try to make yourself so tired that you can't stay up all night worrying about the test. An afternoon of aerobic exercise is good:
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Dancing
  • Yard work

5. Set your alarm.

You'll want to fall asleep without having to worry about whether you'll get up again. The day will come when you never wake from slumber, but that hopefully won't be due to the SAT!

Dress in layers on the morning of the test. You'll be able to remove layers as the room gets warmer without having to get anything from your backpack.

Plan to leave early enough that you get to the test center ten minutes before the doors open. You can entertain yourself with your phone while you're waiting as long as you remember to turn it completely off before the test starts.

Do you have other tips for the week before the SAT? Comment below and share them with us!

May 4, 2019

Reviews of SAT and ACT Test Centers: East Bay

Update: I've added a review of Skyline High School.

I'm in the process of trying out all of the test centers in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Las Lomas High School

1460 S Main St, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Overall Rating: 9.5/10
SAT Test Center #05870
Evaluation Date: October 6, 2018

Parking (0.5/1 point): Sufficient
There was parking when I arrived at 7:35 (10 minutes early), but I don't know if the students who showed up later were all able to find spots.

Vending Machines (1/1 point): Drinks AND snacks

Waiting area (2/1 point): Very convenient!
Instead of making everyone wait in one huge line to get into the campus, these proctors posted a list matching each student with her testing room. They didn't check our IDs until we go to the individual classroom doors, so the check-in process was quick and efficient.

Proctors were stationed at several places around the school to help with directions so that we wouldn't have to find the room numbers ourselves. The room I was in even had a box of pencils available for students who forgot to bring their own.

Bathrooms (1/1 point): Easy to find

Wall Clock (1/1 points): Yes
The clock was mounted on the wall at the front of the classroom.

Desk type (1/2 points): Single seat with a 1' x 1' desk area attached

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate

Distractions (2/2 points): Minimal
The floors were carpeted. The proctor had a snack partway through the test but was fairly inconspicuous about it.

Miramonte High School

750 Moraga Way, Orinda, CA 94563
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
SAT Test Center #05550
Evaluation Date: March 10, 2018

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful
There was plenty of parking, but I had to drive through through several miles of two-lane roads to get to Miramonte from Highway 24. Drive by this center before your test date so you can account for things that may go wrong.

Vending Machines (1/1 point): Drinks AND snacks

Waiting area (2/1 point): Very convenient!
Instead of making everyone wait in one huge line to get into the campus, these proctors posted a list matching each student with her testing room. They didn't check our IDs until we go to the individual classroom doors, so the check-in process was quick and efficient. Heads up: the list was posted on a pole near the front of the school using two 8.5"x11" sheets of paper. It was inconspicuous enough that I missed it and had to circle back when I realized I didn't know which classroom to go to.

Bathrooms (0.5/1 point): Hard to find
The Miramonte campus has a lot of bathrooms, but most of them were locked. There were no signs leading to the bathrooms and nothing posted indicating which ones were unlocked.

Wall Clock (1/1 points): Yes
The clock was mounted on the wall at the front of the classroom.

Desk type (1/2 points): Single seat with a 1' x 1' desk area attached

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate

Distractions (1/2 points): Average
There was no carpet on the floor to soak up noise, and once, during the Critical Reading section, I heard teachers talking to each other in the hallway.

Acalanes High School

1200 Pleasant Hill Rd, Lafayette, CA 94549
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
SAT Test Center #05349
Evaluation Date: October 7, 2017

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful
There was plenty of parking, and the school is only a couple of blocks from the freeway.

Vending Machines (0/1 point): None!

Waiting area (2/1 point): Very convenient!
Instead of making everyone wait in one huge line to get into the campus, these proctors posted a list matching each student with her testing room. They didn't check our IDs until we go to the individual classroom doors, so the check-in process was quick and efficient.

Bathrooms (1/1 point): Easy to find

Wall Clock (0/1 points)
There was a wall clock at the front of the classroom, but the proctor wouldn't let me use a wristwatch on my desk as a timing device, even though the College Board's Web site states that watches are allowed. The proctor gave the five-minute warning TEN minutes before the end of one of the test sections, an error he corrected within a few seconds. He also ended the test two minutes before the wall clock matched the finish time on written on the board. It's possible that the wall clock didn't match the proctor's watch, but because he didn't allow students to use watches, it's impossible to know.

Desk type (1/2 points): Single seat with a 1' x 1' desk area attached

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate

Distractions (1/2 points): Average
I took the SAT in a chemistry classroom, which didn't have carpet on the floor to soak up noise. Other classrooms may not be set up in the same way.

Campolindo High School

300 Moraga Rd., Moraga, CA 94556

Overall Rating: 8.5/10
SAT Test Center #05481
Evaluation Date: May 6, 2017

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful
There was plenty of parking, but I had to drive through downtown Moraga and then uphill on a two-lane road for several miles to get to Campolindo from Highway 24. Drive by this center before your test date so you can account for things that may go wrong.

Vending Machines (0/1 point): None!

Waiting area (2/1 point): Very convenient!
Instead of making everyone wait in one huge line to get into the campus, these proctors posted a list matching each student with her testing room. They didn't check our IDs until we go to the individual classroom doors, so the check-in process was quick and efficient. They even allowed us to enter the testing rooms at 7:35, a full ten minutes before they were required to!

Bathrooms (0.5/1 point): Hard to find
I walked all over the campus and didn't see where the men's bathroom was. I also had a hard time finding my way back to the main parking lot after the test was over and had to ask a proctor to help me.

Wall Clock (1/1 points): Yes
The clock was mounted on the wall at the front of the classroom.

Desk type (1/2 points): Single seat with a 1' x 1' desk area attached

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate
It was a cold morning for late spring (fifty degrees), and I had to keep both of my sweatshirts on for the entire testing period. Still, the temperature wasn't cold enough to make me shiver, and I wouldn't expect a school to heat classrooms in May.

Distractions (2/2 points): Minimal
The floors were carpeted. The testing room was so quiet that when a student coughed, I actually noticed the difference.

Antioch High School

700 West 18th Street, Antioch, CA 94509

Overall Rating: 11.5/10
ACT Test Center #183310
(This is also an SAT test center.)
Evaluation Date: December 10, 2016

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful

Vending Machines (0.5/1 point): Drinks only (no snacks)

Waiting area (1/1 point): Inside
The proctors put desks in front of the building and efficiently checked IDs and admission tickets at the double doors. Students who arrived on time could get into their classrooms almost immediately and relax while the latecomers straggled in.

Bathrooms (1/1 point): Adequate and clean

Wall Clock (2/1 points): Digital!
The clock was easy to read, so it gets extra credit. It was placed a bit awkwardly at the side of the room instead of the front.

Desk type (3/2 points): Large, counter-style desks with students spaced four feet apart
A counter-style desk gives you plenty of room to spread your papers out. It's worth driving half an hour to get a work space like that!

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate
The strategy of dressing in layers definitely worked at this test center. I wore a jacket for the first few minutes of the test and removed it partway through the test.

Distractions (2/2 points): Minimal
The large desks made it less necessary to shuffle papers around, and most of the remaining stray noises were absorbed by the carpeting.

Pittsburg High School

1750 Harbor St, Pittsburg, CA 94565

Overall Rating: 8.5/10
SAT Test Center #05043
Evaluation Date: March 9, 2019

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful
Park in front (the Harbor Street side) if you can, as you may find the back entrace to be locked if walk in from the School St. parking lot.

Vending Machines (0/1 point): None!

Waiting area (1/1 point): Inside
The proctors put four desks in lobby and efficiently checked IDs and admission tickets without making students wait in a huge line. Students who arrived on time could get into their classrooms almost immediately and relax while the latecomers straggled in.

Bathrooms (1/1 point): Adequate and clean

Wall Clock (0.5/1 points): An analog clock at the BACK of the room
You'd have to crane your neck to see the wall clock if you forget to bring your own timing device.

Desk type (2/2 points): Larger-than-average desks
The desks at this school are far from state-of-the-art, but their sheer size earns full credit.

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate
The temperature was a bit below average, but because students weren't made to wait outside (and actually were made to stay in the hallways instead of going outside during break), things worked out okay for students who dressed in layers.

Distractions (2/2 points): Minimal
Carpeted floors helped absorb noise, but the walls were still noticeably thin when people in the hallway were talking. At least one proctor was always in the hallway during breaks.

Some of the students clearly weren't prepared to take the SAT when I was at this test center, but the proctors handled the situation admirably and patiently explained both the directions and why certain restrictions (such as not allowing water bottles on desks) were necessary. One of the proctors was fairly knowledgeable about testing procedures and may have been a College Board employee.

Clayton Valley Charter High School

1101 Alberta Way, Concord, CA 94521

Overall Rating: 7/10
SAT Test Center: 05131
Evaluation Date: October 1, 2016

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful

Vending Machines (0.5/1 point): Drinks only (no snacks)

Waiting area (0.5/1 point): Inside
The proctors put desks in front of the building and efficiently checked IDs and admission tickets at the double doors. Students who arrived on time could get into the hallways almost immediately. However, we got into our classroom, the desks were arranged in groups of four. We had to move them into straight rows and move them back after we were finished. Since the SAT has assigned seating, we didn't get situated until all the desks had been moved so that the proctor could visualize where to seat us.

Bathrooms (1/1 point): Adequate and clean

Wall Clock (1/1 point): Yes

Desk type (1/2 points): Single seat with a 1' x 1' desk area attached

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate
The strategy of dressing in layers definitely worked at this test center. I wore a jacket for the first few minutes of the test and removed it partway through the test.

Distractions (1/2 points): Average
The floor was made of commercial tile and could have reflected noise, but it didn't create a major problem.


Ygnacio Valley High School

755 Oak Grove Road, Concord, CA 94518

Overall Rating: 3/10
SAT Test Center #05500
Evaluation Date: January 21, 2017

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful

Vending Machines (0/1 point): None

Waiting area (0/1 point): Outside
Despite the SAT admission ticket's claim that all test centers open at 7:45, students were not allowed into this center's hallways until exactly 8:00 A.M. They had to wait outside in the cold.

Bathrooms (0/1 point): Crowded
A line of students snaked into each bathroom during the 10-minute break between SAT sections. A faint sewage-like smell loitered in the hallways.

Wall Clock (1/1 point): Yes

Desk type (1/2 points): Single seat with a 1' x 1' desk area attached

Temperature (0/1 point): Very cold
After waiting outside until 8:00 A.M., students had to take the test in rooms without heat. The furnace did work for a couple of minutes, but it was very loud, and someone turned it off.

Distractions (0/2 points): Severe
Proctors' voices were able to pass through the walls from one classroom to another. The floors, paved with commercial tile, reflected and amplified small sounds. Honking geese strutted outside the windows. One of them actually walked into Mordor an open hallway and had to be chased away during the test.


Skyline High School

12250 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619

Overall Rating: 5/10
SAT Test Center #05535
Evaluation Date: May 4, 2019

Parking (1/1 point): Plentiful

Vending Machines (0/1 point): None

Waiting area (1/1 point): Convenient but long wait
Instead of making everyone wait in one huge line to get into the campus, these proctors posted a list matching each student with her testing room. They didn't check our IDs until we go to the individual classroom doors.

However, instead of letting us into the classrooms at the scheduled time (7:45), we had to wait in the hallways an extra fifteen minutes until 8:00 A.M.

Bathrooms (0/1 point): Hard to find

Wall Clock (1/1 point): Yes

Desk type (2/2 points): Single seat with a large 2' x 1.5' desk area attached

Temperature (1/1 point): Adequate

Distractions (-1/2 points): Very severe
The proctor didn't collect our cell phones, which left open the risk that a someone's phone would buzz and create a distraction for everyone. She kept talking and giving instructions after time had begun and used her own phone's alarm as a reminder for when ten minutes were left. She even called the time incorrectly: "five minutes left" instead of ten. There was also a loud chime outside that rang every couple of minutes; it was designed to create a sound whenever particulate pollutants (dust or soot) were detected in the air.

The floors were not carpeted, which made the extraneous sounds harder to ignore.

College Park High School

201 Viking Drive, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

I tried to sign up for this center a few days before the registration deadline for the December 2016 ACT, but it was already fully booked. If you want to test here, you may need to sign up earlier than normal.

May 3, 2019

SAT Literature Subject Test: The Best Prep Books

Update: I've updated my review of Ivy Global's SAT Subject Test in Literature: Study Guide & 6 Practice Tests.

The SAT Literature Subject Test, like SAT Critical Reading, is very difficult to write practice questions for. Each question has to be properly tricky while still having one objectively correct answer and four others that are unambiguously wrong. The College Board's tests do this far better than third-party practice tests do.

You'll need a hybrid study plan: College Board tests combined with content review from a third-party company. Here's a list of the best prep books.


The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests

This book has the only officially released SAT Literature practice test available.

Pros
If you're going to take several Subject Tests, you need this book anyway.

Cons
The answer explanations only cover the answer choice that's correct for each question and ignores the incorrect choices. If you want to prep effectively, you have to be able to explain to yourself why each of those choices is objectively wrong.


College Board Online Practice for SAT Literature

You need all the official practice you can get for this test.

Pros
These are official questions, and they're free!

Cons
There aren't enough online questions to form a full practice test, and they're easier than the questions you'll see on the real exam.


Ivy Global Online SAT Literature Practice Test and Answer Explanations
Ivy Global, which has published fairly accurate SAT practice tests, has a downloadable SAT Literature practice test.

The test itself is realistic, but it has answer key errors. (The online explanations contradict the key at the back of the test.)
#26 is D, not A
#27 is A, not D
#43 is B, not D

Here are my own answer explanations for two questions for which I thought Ivy Global's explanations were not very clear:

For #4, the poem describes a train rushing through the city's great gaunt gut, which literally means a large, thin intestine.
(A) doesn't match the idea of an intestine,
(B) points to criminals that aren't in the poem, and
(C) is problematic because there's no support for the word efficient or for whatever the subway is supposed to be digesting.
The word viscera in (E) works, but the words bloated and distended don't, as they suggest a swollen stomach and not a gaunt one.
(D) is the answer, as "sprawling" matches the idea of a long intestine, while "cheerless" matches the words weary, sick, heavy, swallowed, and moans.

#8 is tough because of the vocabulary words in the answer choices:
(A) doesn't work because the word bucolic refers to the pleasant aspect of countryside life, and most of the imagery in the second half of the poem is ocean-related.
(B) is wrong because there's so suggestion that the wind will end up escaping the subway in the future. Just because it "wants" to doesn't mean that anything will happen.
(C) contrasts concrete (actual) realities with surreal (bizarre, unrealistic, dreamlike) fantasies. Unfortunately, the metaphor of a subway as a human intestine (a strange description of reality) is more bizarre than the picture of wind gently blowing palm trees and ships (a fantasy grounded in reality).
(D) is wrong because the poem is talking about the wind desiring to be somewhere else, not about some imagined war between humanity and nature.
(E) is correct: everything the wind touches in the first half of the poem is either human or human-made, while everything in the second half of the poem describes the setting the wind would like to be in.


Kaplan SAT Subject Test Literature

This is the only prep book I've seen with well-written content review practice questions. The 2017 edition is identical to the 2015-16 edition I'm reviewing.

Pros
Considering how inaccurate and confusing unofficial questions tend to be, the ones in chapters 1-7 are actually pretty good. The only poorly written question is problem 2 in chapter 4.

Cons
This book will overprep you slightly: you probably don't need to know the term anastrophe, for example, although it's helpful to be familiar with the idea that poetry can change a sentence's word order to make it fit a poem's rhyme scheme and meter. You don't need to know a sonnet's exact rhyme scheme, although it can be helpful to be able to identify a sonnet and to recognize that its main point is always contained in the last two lines.

The practice questions in chapters 1-7 are well-written, but the answer explanations are unhelpfully short.

Avoid the diagnostic test and the practice tests. which have poorly written questions that will make you legitimately confused about which answer choices are correct.


Ivy Global's SAT Subject Test in Literature: Study Guide & 6 Practice Tests

Ivy Global's content review chapters aren't as good as Kaplan's, but the Ivy Global practice tests are better.

Pros
I worked through all of the content review as well as the first three practice tests and didn't run into any issues except for two questions on test #2 - pretty impressive for a subject that's hard to write practice questions for.

The tests' answer explanations are thorough and accurate.

Cons
This is a big one: the practice questions in the content review don't have answer explanations. Good luck trying to review your work on your own!

If you need explanations, go through the content review in the Kaplan book before taking Ivy Global's practice tests.

Errata
On the second practice test, watch out for #16 (nostalgia requires positive feelings about the past that aren't present in the passage) and #33 (it seems to me that both self-interest and pride are valid answers, as self-interest isn't strictly incompatible with consideration for others' feelings; you just have to consider your own feelings before those of others).


The Official SAT Study Guide, 2018 Edition

The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Reading (Erica Meltzer)

Yes, I'm recommending regular SAT books. The new SAT's Critical Reading section is tricky enough to help you train for the SAT Literature and AP English tests. Here are the differences:



New SAT Critical Reading SAT Literature AP English Literature multiple choice
Passage Difficulty Medium Hard Hard
Question Difficulty Hard Hard Very Hard
Time per Question 75 seconds 57 seconds 65 seconds
Curve Brutal Hard Forgiving

Neither SAT Literature nor the AP test has the SAT's tricky Supporting Evidence questions ("Which choice provides the best evidence for...").

The more forgiving the curve, the easier it is to overprep and get a perfect score. On practice tests, I usually get 52/52 correct on Critical Reading (a 400/400), 59/61 correct on SAT Literature (an 800), and 51/55 correct on AP English Literature (a 5).

You can download SAT practice tests for free online or read my reviews of SAT prep books.


AP English Literature Released Exams

If you want to challenge yourself, take the multiple choice sections of official College Board AP English Literature tests. The passages are similar to those in SAT Literature, but the questions are much harder, and they don't have any answer explanations.

You'll find a few complete released exams along with a wide selection of free-response questions at the AP English Literature Web site. Here are direct links to the complete exams:

2012 AP English Literature exam

1999 AP English Literature exam (As of 3/23/19, this link is broken. I'll keep the link on this page for now in case the College Board decides the make the test available again.)

1987 AP English Literature exam

You can also find sample multiple-choice questions starting at page 12 (PDF page 16) of the AP English Literature Course Description booklet.

If you're really serious, you can purchase more released exams from the College Board's catalog or from Amazon.


Background Knowledge

Understanding how Western thought has developed is critical to finishing the SAT Literature test on time with a score of 700+. Here's a reading list designed to help you get that knowledge as quickly as possible.

I've already mentioned Kaplan SAT Subject Test Literature as a useful way to review the test's content and question types.

Sophie’s World is an engaging, readable introduction to the history of western philosophy. If you can identify how a difficult passage interacts with a major viewpoint like Christianity, Romanticism, or post-modernism, you'll be able to read much faster.

Read as many of Shakespeare's sonnets as you can. (My favorite is #130.) Get familiar with the way sonnets use meter, rhyme, and couplets as organizational tools. If you struggle with sonnets, read the couplet at the end (the last two lines) in order to figure out each sonnet's main point and return to the beginning with that information in mind. Sonnets tend to be about love or death - and sometimes both.

Books to Avoid

Unlike the Princeton Review's normal offerings, Cracking the SAT Literature Subject Test has confusing, poorly written questions throughout the entire book.

Barron's SAT Subject Test Literature will overprep you with a plethora of literary terms you don't need to know. The Level 1 vocab list at the beginning of chapter 5 is pretty good, but the Level 2 and Level 3 lists are a mixed bag. Why are sarcasm, imagery, and conflict in the Level 3 list, with ballad, sprung rhythm, and antiheroine in Level 2?

Going for a Perfect Score

To get a perfect score on the publicly released SAT Literature practice test, you need to get 59/61 questions right. That's like getting a 97% on a comprehensive 12th-grade English final.

This article contains everything you need to get an awesome score, but if you'd like personalized help, you can sign up for in-home or online tutoring.

April 30, 2019

Free PSAT Analysis

Have you received your PSAT score report yet?

Your score provides a useful baseline for your future performance on the SAT and can help you identify areas to work on in reading comprehension, grammar, and math.

Don't feel limited by the score you get, though. Like any other skill, performing well on standardized tests takes training and practice.

I'd be happy to analyze your score report and look over the questions you missed. If you're interested, please contact me about tutoring and include the words "complimentary PSAT analysis."

I look forward to meeting you!

This offer expires on April 30, 2018.

How Fast Will My Score Go Up?

Using my students' past score increases, I made the tables below. They roughly predict how much your score is likely to increase after five or ten tutoring sessions.

If you compare the ACT and SAT scores from the tables, you'll find that improvements tend to happen more quickly on the ACT. All else being equal, the ACT is an easier test to prep for.



Subject Tests include Math Level 2, SAT Chemistry, SAT Physics, SAT Biology, and SAT Literature.

Remember that these are average score increases. Your scores may go up slower or faster based on your background knowledge, how hard you're able to study, and how well-rested you are on the day of your official ACT or SAT.

Nerd Alert

Since the difficulty of earning each successive ACT point ramps up rapidly as scores approach 36, I came up with a technique to compare score increases from student to student even though they start at different initial scores.

I went through my students' records and eliminated any that didn't have final test scores from a real SAT or ACT sitting. I used the highest practice SAT or ACT score each student received before working with me as that student's initial score, with the final score being the one from the official test sitting.

That sample potentially biases the results: students who stopped tutoring before taking the test may have chosen not to e-mail their scores to me. This survivorship bias could make my results look better because students with low scores might choose not to tell me about them.

However, I'm also setting a very high bar by taking each student's highest score before working with me but only using an official test result as the final score. I could easily have used average scores for both the initial and final scores instead.

I also decided not to remove the scores of students who didn't complete all of my assigned homework. This has the effect of moving the bar even higher because those students received smaller score increases.

There's no way to know to what extent these biases affect the results. Without more information, I made the assumption that they cancel out.

Now for the fun bits: ACT scores can get to 36 but no higher, so it makes sense to use a function with a horizontal asymptote. I reflected an exponential decay function across the x-axis and moved the asymptote up to 36.5. (Since a 35.5 rounds to 36, and since the ACT's curve allows students to get some questions wrong and still get 36 on some sections, a 36 isn't truly a "perfect" score with respect to getting all of the questions right. That's why I'm using 36.5.)

I modeled ACT scores using the transformed exponential decay function (with number of sessions as the independent variable) and then took the log10 of both sides. You can derive the decay function yourself using the information in this post. If you get it right, I'll give you a free session.

Because the relationship is now linear, the data give us the regression below, which has a reasonably nice fit (R2 = 0.47) given the small sample and a couple of outliers.


I then plugged the slope of the best-fit line back into the original exponential decay function to generate the ACT score increase table at the beginning of this post.

(If you're a chemistry nerd as well as a math nerd, you may have used a similar technique to plot the data for a first-order reaction, which is also modeled by exponential decay. Finance nerds will recognize that a logarithmic axis is used to chart stock prices, which are modeled using exponential growth.)

I then modified the function so that it would asymptote to 1600 and generated the table of SAT score increases.

Here's a similar regression for my Subject Test students. Note the steeper slope and the larger value of R2, which suggest that Subject Tests are easier to prep for.


Because I work personally with every student and teach a variety of subjects, including ACT, SAT, Subject Tests, and AP tests, the samples used for this analysis aren't large. Remember that these are just averages across small pools of students, so your own results may be quite different.

If you'd like to find out more, please contact me using the form at the bottom of my tutoring information page.

April 6, 2019

SAT Chemistry Subject Test: The Best Prep Books

Update: I've added a section addressing True/False/CE questions.

As a credentialed teacher with an M.S. in chemistry, I've noticed that some SAT Chemistry study guides are great, some are so-so, and some must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence they came.

Let's start with the great ones:

The Official SAT Subject Test in Chemistry Study Guide

If you can only afford one book, get this one. It has two official practice tests and answer explanations.

Neither of these tests is a copy of the one in The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests, so you should get both books if you can.

Pros
Official material is a true confidence builder. Every question you get wrong contains skills you need to practice.

Most prep books have poorly written questions, answer key errors, and questions that are unrealistically easy, difficult, or off-topic. If you get questions wrong or run out of time on unofficial tests, you'll have trouble figuring out whether the fault lies with you or with the book you're using.

Based on the raw-to-scaled score conversion tables in the book, raw scores of 80/85 and 76/85 will get you perfect 800's on the first and second practice tests,

Cons
There's no Kindle edition, so you'll have to plan ahead and order a physical copy from Amazon.


The Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests

This book has an official chemistry practice test that isn't the same as the two in the dedicated chemistry guide (above).

Pros
If you're going to take several Subject Tests, you need this book anyway.

Cons
The test questions in this book are easier than the ones in the dedicated chemistry guide, and the curve reflects that difference: to get a perfect 800, you need a relatively high raw score of 82/85.


Strategy for True/False/CE Questions
  1. If either the first part or second part of the question is false, don't bubble in CE. For example, neither "All elephants have four legs BECAUSE elephants use their legs to eat peanuts" nor "All elephants have five legs BECAUSE elephants use their legs to walk" deserves the CE mark.
     
  2. Mark "CE" if the second part of the sentence is a good reason to believe that the first part is true. For example, "The back side of the moon never faces the Earth BECAUSE scientists have never observed the back side from the Earth's surface" should be marked CE. Strictly speaking, this is not the correct way to use the word because, but it will get you the right answer on SAT Chemistry tests.


Cracking the SAT Chemistry Subject Test

This is a good all-around study guide. It contains content review, useful strategies, and decent practice tests.

Pros
The first two practice tests are very similar to real College Board tests, and there are no answer key errors. The third one, however, contains a few poorly written questions (#104, 37, 38, 56, and 62). You may want to use that one for untimed practice.

The book's helpful content review chapters can keep you from feeling lost. The Chemistry Subject Test covers a broader range of topics than you're likely to learn in your high school class, so content review is a must.

Cons
You'll need a calculator to do some of the practice questions in the content review chapters. You're not allowed a calculator on the actual Subject Test, though, and the full practice tests included in the book are very doable using mental math.

The Princeton Review is all about giving you what you need and not one iota more. Since this book is meant for the Subject Test, you'll need to get an additional study guide if you're planning on taking the AP test, which goes into greater depth and has some additional topics you need to know, such as laboratory chemistry and reaction kinetics.


For the Love of SAT Chemistry (Chris Reddick and Michael Cerro)

This book is geared at about the same level as The Princeton Review's, but it focuses less on textbook-type content review and more on practice problems and answer explanations.

It's an excellent place to start if you like inductive learning. If you prefer to review content in an organized way before starting practice questions, go with The Princeton Review's book.

Pros
The material, including the four practice tests at the back of the book, closely mimics the content and feel of real College Board questions. The answer key is accurate.

Cons
After grading each practice test, you'll be left with a raw score (out of 85 total points) without any way to convert that into a scaled score (out of 800). The scoring instructions and conversion table are waaaaaay back on pages 9-10. Follow the directions carefully: you need to remember to deduct 1/4 of a point for each answer that's incorrect!



SAT Chemistry Subject Test Problems (Christopher Bozza and Dr. Steve Warner)

This bank of practice questions has the best answer explanations I've seen in any chemistry book. The questions target exactly what's on the Subject Test, and the answer explanations are about two pages long per question.

Pros
This book has the same format as Dr. Warner's SAT and ACT Math books. You can jump right in and start working without having to wade through preliminary reading.

The practice material is very similar to real SAT Chemistry Subject Tests.

The problems in this book are arranged by topic and difficulty level, so students who don't need any content review can jump straight to the chapters that contain what they want to work on.

Cons
Most of the content review is in the answer explanations, so you can't treat this book like a textbook. You really have to engage with the material to receive the maximum benefit.

Errata
#56 on page 81 is worded in an unclear way (and therefore not answerable).

The answer to #110 on page 153 is (B), not (A). The book's answer key is mistaken!

#151 on page 205 is unrealistically difficult. Although you'll need to know how to do unit conversions for SAT Chemistry, you won't have to convert between amperes, coulombs, and moles.

#39 on page 225 has two correct answers: (C) and (E).

#68 on page 233 expects students to (1) figure out that lanthanum has a larger radius than potassium, and (2) go against their intuition that potassium should actually be more reactive, since it's an akali metal that reacts violently with water. Those expectations go against students' experience with metals' reactivities and would not show up on a real test. #71 (below) has a similar problem.

The answer to #71 on page 234 is (B), not (E). Potassium is more metallic than barium based on its Mohs hardness and its reactivity with water.

#83 on page 238 is unrealistically difficult: vapor pressure is related to boiling point, since a liquid boils when its vapor pressure becomes equal to atmospheric pressure. Students shouldn't be expected to know which of the liquids in the list has the highest boiling point (and therefore the lowest vapor pressure). The book's answer is wrong anyway: bromine, octane, and nitrogen trichloride all have boiling points that are higher than 100°C and therefore have lower vapor pressures than water does.

#88 on page 240 is also unrealistically hard. The correct answer should be (C), not (D), since Mg(OH)2 is not a strong base due to its poor solubility in water (0.00064 g/100 mL at room temperature).

#94 on page 241 has two correct answers: (A) and (C).

#125 on page 250 is problematic because the nitrogen atoms in the NH2 groups have lone pairs that can be delocalized into the benzene-like rings through resonance. Those nitrogen atoms are likely to be either sp2-hybridized or somwhere between sp2 and sp3. For this reason, (B) is a better answer than (D).

The second sentence of #130 on page 251 should read "saturated hydrocarbon," not "unsaturated hydrocarbon."

The answer to #136 on page 253 is (B), not (D).

#145 on page 255 has two correct answers, (A) and (B). RbCl and RbF are both soluble in water, while PbO and PbS are insoluble. The soluble salts will produce equal numbers of ions, causing the light bulb to glow with equal intensity, while the insoluble salts will produce negligible concentrations of ions, making the light bulb very dim.

#149 on page 256 is slightly questionable: HI is larger molecule but should also be less polar than HCl, so strictly speaking, students would have to look up the boiling points of both compounds to know the answer. HCl does have a lower boiling point, so it has a higher vapor pressure. (Recall that something boils when its vapor pressure becomes equal to atmospheric pressure, so high-vapor-pressure compounds boil first.)

#159 on page 260 should say, "Absorption of a photon CAN [but doesn't have to] cause electrons to become excited to a higher energy level." Photon absorption can also result in a change in electron spin (radio waves), molecular vibrational states (infrared), or molecular rotational states (microwaves), so the problem needs to be clear that photon absorption can lead to consequences other than just electrons becoming excited (visible and ultraviolet radiation).


Sterling Test Prep SAT Chemistry Practice Questions: High Yield SAT Chemistry Questions with Detailed Explanations 

This is a huge bank of practice questions. It's useful if you're already scoring 800 and want to challenge yourself some more.

Pros
Sterling highlights the trickiest topics on SAT Chemistry, including amphoteric compounds, flame test colors, solubility rules, and unusual Lewis structures. If you like hard questions, this is the book to get.

Cons
Despite the claim on the book's cover, most of the questions don't have answer explanations.

Since the questions are organized by topic, you have to work on one chapter at a time. There aren't any timed practice tests.

The book covers some topics that are so hard I doubt they'd ever show up on the Subject Test. For example, it expects you to know the exact role of each of the four quantum numbers. You also have to calculate a dipole moment given the size and distance of two separated charges. (!)

Don't use Sterling until your foundation is very solid. Be willing to Google the explanations for topics you don't understand.

Books to Avoid

I'm not sure how Kaplan's SAT Chemistry (2013-14 edition) got its four-star Amazon reviews. The practice questions in the content review chapters are very calculator-based, and the content review includes some difficult AP-only topics, such as zero, first, and second order reaction kinetics and complicated redox reaction balancing involving H+, OH-, and H2O.

The diagnostic test isn't any better. Out of 85 total questions, two are AP-level rate law questions (#107 and #37), one is an AP-level diffusion rate question (#44), and seven are written in a way that could legitimately make you think there's something wrong with the answer choices (#9, 30, 31, 58-60, and 64). In addition, some of the diagnostic questions are hard to do without a calculator. #69, for example, makes you do a proportion involving the ratio 2/7. (2/7 is about 0.29, in case you're wondering.) Official tests stick to easy fractions like 5/2 or 88/44.

Barron's SAT Chemistry (2009 edition) is even worse: out of 85 questions, the diagnostic test has ten unrealistically tricky questions (#4, 9, 113, 34, 38, 45, 49, 57, 67, and 70) and eight unclearly worded questions (#14, 17, 106, 107, 43, 46, 52, and 56). The 2016 edition fixes questions 4, 17, 113, 45, 52, 56, and 67, but questions 9, 14, 106, 107, 34, 38, 43, 46, 49, 57, and 70 remain problematic.

If you're planning to take the AP test, know that McGraw-Hilll's 5 Steps to a 5 on AP Chemistry (2017 edition) is also really bad. There were so many incorrectly drawn diagrams and poorly written questions on Practice Test #1 alone that I had to quit before I got to the free-response section. I know this book has a four-star Amazon review average, but pay close attention to the negative reviews!


Suggested Study Schedule

Unlike Math Level 2, SAT Chemistry doesn't have many quality prep books. I suggest following the study schedule below.
  1. Take the first Princeton Review practice test and read the answer explanations.
  2. Go through all of the content review in the Princeton Review's Cracking the SAT: Chemistry. Alternatively, you can go through the first thirteen chapters of For the Love of SAT Chemistry.
  3. Read the articles on my Web site about flame test colorssolubility rules, saturation/unsaturation, and avoiding small calculation mistakes.
  4. Take the second Princeton Review practice test and read the answer explanations.
  5. Go through Dr. Warner's SAT Chemistry practice book. Read the answer explanations carefully.
  6. Borrow an AP Chemistry textbook and review your weakest topics. Keep reviewing and re-taking the original two practice tests until your score is 800.
  7. Take the official practice test in the Official Study Guide for ALL SAT Subject Tests. Go over the test with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you understand every question so well that you could stand up and teach it in a classroom.
  8. Do the same for the two official practice tests in The Official SAT Subject Test in Chemistry Study Guide. At this point, you should be scoring solid 800's.
  9. If you need more practice tests, use the four at the back of For the Love of SAT Chemistry.
  10. The week before the real test, re-take one practice test a day. Your goal at this point is to increase confidence, not to learn new material. You should receive an 800 on each of the five re-takes. If you don't, you have a good idea of what to review.

Going for a Perfect Score

A raw score of 80/85 will usually get you a perfect scaled 800 on SAT Chemistry. Even after the test deducts a quarter of a point for every question you get wrong, you can afford to miss four of the eighty-five problems. That's like getting a 95% on a comprehensive high school chemistry final.

The books above contain everything you need to get an awesome score, but if you'd like personalized help, you can sign up for in-home or online tutoring.