SAT 1600

I received a perfect score on the SAT on March 9, 2019.

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I received a perfect score on the ACT in December 2016.

SAT Subject Tests

I have perfect scores in SAT Chemistry, Math Level 2, and Physics.

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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 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'll 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.

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 2, 2019

How to Read Your SAT Score Report

The College Board makes score reports available online as soon as multiple-choice scores are available.

To view your scores, log in to your College Board account.

You'll see a Web page like the one below, which will have your most recent score at the top of the page:


In this case, my March 9 SAT score is at the top, since it's the most recent test I've taken. If you click on the yellow View Details link, you'll see a detailed score report for that test:



Scroll down to the Test Scores section:


The white boxes with the words Reading Questions, Writing and Language Questions, Math with Calculation Questions, and Math without Calculator Questions are actually links.

For example, if you click on the Reading Questions link, you'll see this:


The Reading Questions, Writing and Language Questions, Math without Calculation Questions, and Math with Calculator tabs at the top of the page provide a quick way to switch between sections of your score report.

The numbers (1, 2, 3...) in the Question column are also links. If you took the SAT during one of the months when the QAS (Question-and-Answer Service) is offered (March, May, or October), you can click the links in order to pay $18 for QAS and view the original test questions along with the College Board's answer explanations:



Be aware that data tables are currently not displayed properly on the College Board's Web site, making some questions unreadable:


If you didn't take the SAT in March, May, or October, you won't have the option to view the original test questions. This is something to keep in mind if you plan to take the SAT "just for practice." You won't get much benefit from the test if you can't review your work!

If you'd prefer to get a diagnostic score at home, take the first test in the College Board's Official SAT Study Guide and then review your work using the detailed answer explanations in Mike Barrett's SAT Black Book. You'll find links to both books at my SAT book review page.

March 31, 2019

Whiz Kid offer

Math whizzes: Receive your first tutoring session for free!

To get your free session, contact me about tutoring and mention the words "Math Whiz." Include worked-out proofs for the Polynomial Remainder Theorem, the horizontal coordinate of the vertex of a parabola (-b/2a), and one trigonometric identity of your choice.

Hint: You can derive h = -b/2a by taking the derivative of a quadratic function in standard form, by using the quadratic formula, or by completing the square.

The offer expires on March 31, 2019.




February 21, 2019

AP Chemistry Practice Tests

Update: I've added a link to the 2018 free-response questions.

As you may already know, the AP Chemistry test changed in 2014. It's now more like a college final exam than a high school test, and you can't study for it as you'd prepare for SAT Chemistry, which largely tests memorization.

The questions have become more conceptual, and there's a large focus on lab chemistry. They remind me of the SAT's Critical Reading section: if you're not extremely careful, you'll misread the something without realizing it.

These changes aren't fully reflected in the prep books, not even the 2017 Princeton Review book I recently looked at. Of the students who took the AP exam, only 12.6% received a 5 in 2018, as opposed to 18.2% in 2013.

The good news is that you can train yourself to be one of the top 9% who gets a perfect score. I recommend taking released exams and free-response questions two months before the AP test. Prepare a list of questions you'd like to review in each tutoring session.

If you need more practice material, do the hardest problems at the end of every chapter of your AP Chemistry textbook. Treat them like free-response questions: write out a paragraph-long explanation for explaining how you arrived at each answer. Since your book won't have free-response-style answers in the back, ask your tutor to check your explanations for completeness.

Practice Tests

Here are some official practice questions. Start at page 117 of the booklet, which is PDF page 126.
AP Chemistry sample multiple-choice questions and answers

The College Board has also released the free-response questions from actual AP exams:
2014 Free-response questions and answers
2015 Free-response questions and answers
2016 Free-response questions and answers
2017 Free-response questions and answers
2018 Free-response questions and answers

AP Chemistry is my favorite subject to tutor. If I didn't like the chemistry, I wouldn't have bothered to get two degrees in it! Contact me if you'd like to schedule a session.