How (Not) to Choose a College

If you have a dream school in mind, and if you’re lucky enough to gain admission to that top choice, then read no further. But if, like so many students, you’re struggling to choose a college after receiving several acceptance or wait-list letters, then read on.

In the coming weeks, prospective college students are likely to hear many pitches on where to go to school, be it from parents, siblings, or friends who have already made their decisions. But these voices, who so often provide reliable life advice, can ultimately stand in the way of making the right decision. In a recent piece for the New York Times, education writer Frank Bruni describes the struggle his niece faces as she stares down the path of college admissions:

[I]f she’s like most of my peers when I was her age, she’ll wind up picking one that gives her a sense of comfort, of safety. That’s what too many kids do. They perpetuate what they’re familiar with, gravitating to the same schools that their friends are or duplicating their parents’ paths. And there’s so much lost in that reflex, so much surrendered by that timidity.

If you’re among the lucky who can factor more than cost and proximity into where you decide to go, college is a ticket to an adventure beyond the parameters of what you’ve experienced so far. It’s a passport to the far side of what you already know. It’s a chance to be challenged, not coddled. To be provoked, not pacified.

College, in other words, should be a time of expansion and exploration, a time to make yourself anew. Many college graduates will tell you that their college experiences fundamentally shaped their adult lives. Your college decision should not simply continue along the same path as your high school life, and it should not merely satisfy the projections of those whom you already know. Your decision should, instead, project into the person you hope to become.

Bruni’s piece offers very specific advice about finding the place for your own personal exploration and self-discovery. I encourage you to read it in its entirety. It’s a valuable guidebook for getting beyond the commonplace statistics and rankings that schools advertise.

Part of his article addresses the issue of “branding,” the advantages offered by the big names—the Harvards, Princetons, and Yales of the world. In a previous post (When It Comes to Colleges, the Biggest Name Doesn't Always Mean the Best Fit), I’ve addressed the problems with choosing a school based solely on its U.S. News and World Report ranking, so I won’t repeat that advice here (though I’d encourage you to read that piece, too).

Instead, I want to try to come at this question of college choice another way by considering the difficulties of a student struggling to decide on not which school to attend but which major to study.

About three years ago, one of my undergraduate students—let’s call her “Jamie”—visited my office hours to discuss her final paper. Our discussion quickly turned to her future. Jamie was a double major in journalism and history, but knew that she would soon have to choose one over the other. Her journalism major had many requirements, so she could not see a way to complete both majors in four years. Jamie asked me for advice: “Which major should I go with?”

My response was predictable: “Which do you prefer?”

Jamie’s answer to that question was easy: “History, definitely.” But her choice was not nearly so simple.

Her journalism program has an excellent reputation, with big-name faculty and countless opportunities for career placement. Her history department is also outstanding, but history majors do not have nearly so clear a path after graduation. Unlike journalism—or engineering, or accounting, or nursing—history provides no specific career path post-graduation. This is not to say that history or other liberal arts majors struggle to find jobs (far from it), but the uncertainty attached to the humanities and social sciences has led many students to shy away from majors such as history, English, and philosophy—even though we need the writing and critical thinking skills these disciplines teach now more than ever.

For Jamie, sticking with her journalism major was the pragmatic choice. But her passion lay with history. In fact, within her journalism major, she was much more interested in the history of journalism than the practice of covering and writing news. Jamie was a natural historian. She loved reading about the past. Even when she wrote about works of fiction, film, and poetry in my class, she always approached them from a historical perspective. She saw history everywhere and in everything, but she wasn’t sure how studying the past would provide for her future.

In my conversation with Jamie, I tried to help her navigate between the pulls of pragmatism and passion. My advice went something like this:

The economy is a real concern. You’re right to be thinking about your career prospects. And with the world changing so rapidly, your search for a sure thing after college makes good sense. But, most likely, you will only have one opportunity in your entire life to study what you’re passionate about. Imagine if everyone chose what felt safest. I can’t make the decision for you. No one can. But I would encourage you to think of it this way: life is short. If history is what inspires you, it would be a real shame not to feed that passion.

Jamie’s difficulty choosing a major offers a parallel to those struggling to choose a college. Unless you’re born into wealth or set to inherit a large company, success is going to demand that, at some point, you take a risk.

While the school your parents went to, or the school your friends are going to, or the school closest to your house growing up, or the school you think will look fanciest on a resume may very well be the best choice for you, if you’re choosing a school based on what feels safe, you’re off to a bad start.

Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and reading at Elite Prep Los Angeles since 2010.



7 Ways to Boost Clarity and Upgrade Your SAT Essay

The SAT essay may seem daunting at first, but fortunately you can do a lot to prepare. On every test, the prompt will be the same: “Write an essay in which you explain how [author’s name] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s main argument].” All arguments are built with some combination of persuasive elements within the categories of ethos, pathos, and logos. If you familiarize yourself with these common elements and how they aid in persuasion, you will only need to adapt your discussion to fit the particular passage given.

As you craft your essay, always keep in mind the keystone of effective essay-writing: CLARITY. Here are a few ways to fine-tune your work:

1. Mention persuasive elements in the same order in intro, body, and conclusion.

After you have introduced your essay’s topic, including the author’s full name* and title of the passage, practice clarity and organization by listing the persuasive elements you are about to discuss.

Once you’ve established an order, be consistent. If your intro states the author uses statistics, anecdotal evidence, and humor, then discuss statistics in your first body paragraph, anecdotes in your second, and humor in your third. Then, list these elements in the same order again when you reference them in your conclusion. As the writer, you’re mapping out ideas in a way that gracefully and logically leads your readers through your thought progression.

*If the author’s name is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., you should state this full name the first time you mention it in your intro. In all subsequent references, use only the last name “King.” Or, in this case, “Dr. King” works too.  Referring to the author as Martin or Luther is not standard in a more formal setting or when you don’t personally know the person on a “first-name basis.”

2. Include transitions between paragraphs to connect their ideas.

Good, you’ve mapped out your ideas, and now your readers are journeying pleasantly through your essay. While each of your paragraphs should focus on one controlling idea, all the paragraphs should also fit together logically to convey an overall main idea (your thesis). Readers will likely enjoy themselves more if they can glide, rather than jump, from one idea to the next. Pay special attention when moving between paragraphs. Basic transitions such as “In addition…” or “another persuasive technique is…” are better than no transition at all, but they are only generically connecting your paragraphs. Well-thought-out transitions will establish clear connections between each paragraph’s idea. Try thinking of a way the main ideas of two successive paragraphs are either similar, different or in some way related. Referring to the previous idea and introducing the next one keeps confusion out and readers engaged.

3. Use appropriate diction.

Think about your audience and the purpose of this task. Your goal is to demonstrate your academic writing ability while sounding intelligent; therefore, the style of your essay should fall somewhere between formal and informal. Symbols, abbreviations, and the like are more appropriate for casual notetaking or texting. Instead, write out the full words:

  • “/” = “and” or “or”
  • “&” = “and”
  • “1” = “one” (Write out numbers “zero” through “nine.”)

At the same time, too many big vocabulary words can sound awkward or confusing if used incorrectly, which will only do the opposite of help you express yourself clearly.

4. Write legibly.

I know that you’re probably much more practiced at writing with a mobile device, and I know the essay has a time limit, but this essay depends on legible handwriting. Just as you would rather listen to someone speak clearly and audibly, the people reading your essay will have a much easier time if they aren’t struggling to read scribbled words, especially when they only have a couple minutes to evaluate everything. Also, if they misread or can’t decode your insightful ideas and can’t experience your refined writing skills, you will have neglected your duties as the leader of your readers and sabotaged all your hard work.

Try being aware of how each word is visually unfolding on the page, and if you need to, practice. Sometimes writing a little larger will remind you to slow down and form each letter.

5. Make sure all quotes make logical sense as written in your essay.

When you write quotations or paraphrases, assume the readers will not refer back to the passage. This means you must include enough context to make your evidence clear. If you use an ellipsis (…), make sure the sentence makes sense as written. For example, writing “Most people assume…ever before” is not enough to clearly present an author’s idea. Your readers may get lost or distracted as they try to figure out where your thoughts are taking them. Again, you’d be neglecting your reader leader duty. Not to mention, when you give up this opportunity to show you understand the author’s main points, you also give up your high reading score.

6. Connect your analysis to the author’s central claim.

Part of your reading score is based on your understanding of the author’s central claim. The good news is this central claim is always stated in the box that contains the prompt (located after the given article).

When writing a persuasive piece, authors likely brainstorm the best way to get their points across to their audience. They may think something like, “Hm… if I use a personal anecdote, I can show my audience members I’m like them, and we can connect. They’ll also see what I’ve experienced so they’ll believe more that I know what I’m talking about.” Whatever the persuasive element, be it statistics, appeal to emotion, or epexegesis (adding words to clarify meaning), the authors are purposefully using techniques they think will better convince their audience.

Part of your job is to notice the main persuasive elements the authors have chosen and evaluate how these help make their central claims more convincing. Try mentioning their central claim in each of your body paragraphs as a way for you, and thus your reader, to stay on track.

7. Avoid starting your conclusion with “in conclusion.”

Now that you’ve taken your readers on a suave ride through your thoughts, you want to send them on their way feeling good about the experience. Writing “in conclusion” is a somewhat elementary transition that only states that you are beginning your conclusion, which is usually obvious since it’s the last paragraph of your essay. The words themselves don’t specifically connect to anything you have mentioned or will mention.

If anything, simply try saying “in conclusion” in your head, and then write down the rest of the sentence. At least this way you won’t draw attention to your choppy transition as this reading ride comes to an end.

Okay my fellow leaders of readers, you are equipped and ready to go! Make sure your next essay is a clear one!

Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance. 


Posted on February 9, 2017 and filed under SAT, Writing.

Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

Deciding whether to take the SAT or the ACT is a decision every college-bound student will face at some point. 😨 While you may have heard stories or stereotypes about both tests, the simple fact is that colleges accept both equally. Which test you ultimately decide to take comes down to a matter of personal preference. Therefore, it is important to do your research to determine which test best fits you. 💪

First, let’s look at the basic structure of each test:


Reading: 5 Passages, 65 minutes, 52 questions

Writing & Language: 4 Passages, 35 minutes, 44 questions

Math - No Calculator: 25 minutes, 20 questions

Math - Calculator: 55 minutes, 38 questions

Essay (optional): 50 minutes

Total time (without essay): 3 hours 

Total time (with essay): 3 hours, 50 minutes


English: 5 Passages, 45 minutes,   75 questions

Math: 60 minutes, 60 questions. A calculator is allowed on all math questions.

Reading: 4 Passages, 35 minutes, 40 questions

Science: 35 minutes, 40 question

Essay (optional): 40 minutes

Total time (without essay): 2 hours, 55 minutes

Total time (with essay): 3 hours, 40 minutes

As you can see, both tests run about 3-4 hours depending on whether or not you take the essay. Each test has reading, english and math sections, but the ACT has a separate science section. The SAT has 154 questions in total, and the ACT has 215 questions in total. While this may look like a large discrepancy, SAT questions can require a little extra reasoning to get the correct answer, so more time is allowed per question. On the other hand, ACT questions tend to be very straightforward and to the point, so there’s less time to answer each question. It’s important to keep these details in mind when making your decision about which test to take. Now, let’s look at the differences in a little more depth:

📖 Reading

Both tests will contain passages from fiction, social sciences, and natural sciences. The ACT will also have one Humanities-based passage. The SAT will also have one passage from the Great Global Conversation, which discusses US and World historical documents, civil rights, suffrage and similar topics. Two of the SAT Reading passages will include graphics (figures, charts, graphs) and ask questions that test basic graphic literacy. ACT passages will be slightly longer (~100-200 words) than SAT passages, but remember the SAT has one extra passage.

  • SAT Reading: You have about 75 seconds to answer each question. The questions tend to go in order of the passage itself - use this information to guide you when answering questions. Passage difficulty can range from 9th grade up to college-level reading material. 
  • ACT Reading: You have about 50 seconds to answer each question. The questions do not go in order of the passage. Passage difficulty is at about the 11th-grade level on the ACT. The ‘EXCEPT’ questions can be time-consuming, so you may want to save those for last.

The main thing to remember about both tests is that the answers will be supported by the passage, so the answers are IN the passage - your job is to find and understand them.

✏ Writing & Language/English:

Both tests will measure your understanding of punctuation, grammar, and usage, sentence structure, strategy, organization and style. Furthermore, the SAT tests word choice (vocabulary) and graphic literacy (data interpretation) in the Writing & Language section. Of all the sections on both tests, these two mirror each other the most.

➗ Math

Both tests contain questions from algebra, geometry, data analysis, and trigonometry. The SAT has more data analysis/problem-solving questions (ratios, percentages, graphs), while the ACT has more advanced math questions (plane geometry/trigonometry). All of the ACT questions are multiple choice and allow you to use a calculator, but the SAT has a handful grid-in questions per math section, one of which no calculator usage is allowed. ACT math tends to be relatively straightforward, whereas SAT math can require in-depth thought.

🔬 Science

The ACT Science section tests your interpretation, analysis and reasoning skills. You will be presented with a brief passage and accompanying graphs, charts, or figures. The questions will appear in one of three formats: data representation, research summaries or conflicting viewpoints. There is no specific scientific knowledge or recall required. In some ways the Science section is similar to the Reading section because they both apply similar comprehension and interpretation skill sets. Though there is no separate Science section on the SAT, graphs and tables appear throughout all sections of the SAT, and the accompanying questions require the same data interpretation skills as the ACT Science section.

💭 Essay

The SAT essay will test your understanding of a one-page passage and ask you how the author builds his or her argument to persuade the audience. You should consider analyzing the evidence, reasoning, and style utilized by the author in the construction of your essay. The ACT essay will test how well you evaluate three different perspectives on a given issue and then demonstrate your own unique perspective in relation to the three provided. It requires you to directly tackle an issue and come up with supporting evidence to develop your argument. Think of the SAT essay as a critical analysis and think of the ACT essay as a debate.

There’s no penalty for incorrect answers on either test, so you should never omit any questions. 

So, after all of this information, here are my suggestions: 

If you work well under time pressure and have a strong command of the content, tackle the ACT. It’s much more to the point and the answers should just pop up right in your head if you stay focused as you’re going through the different sections. You may encounter incredibly wordy questions, but they shouldn’t require much thought to figure out. 

If you do well at making connections and can benefit from a little extra time for thought-processing, tackle the SAT. Most of the questions are based on evidence and context with a focus on problems with real-world applications. Some of the problems may require multiple steps to come up with the correct answer, but in general, nothing overly complex is involved.

✅ Final verdict:

The structure of each test and the material in each test are relatively similar enough that neither has a distinct edge over the other. Therefore, it all boils down to this: practice, practice, practice. You should carve out the time in your schedule to take a full-length practice SAT and a full-length practice ACT, making sure to follow the specific time limits for each. Under these conditions, the differences in the test will become much more apparent to you on a personal level. See which test you perform better on and then determine which sections you need to strengthen up on. From there, focus your energies on improving upon that particular test since it’s not necessary to take both. There are a variety of sources you can use to practice standardized testing, but it’s important to start early so you can make the progress you want and reach your full potential.

Jon G. is originally from Houston, Texas. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Harvard University and is currently one of the resident English gurus at Elite Prep Los Angeles. Nothing makes him more proud and pumped up than watching his students succeed. When it comes to hitting the books, Jon recommends starting early and studying in increments to avoid burnout. He's a huge basketball fan, loves green tea, and his favorite vocabulary word is "seditious."

Posted on February 3, 2017 .

One Habit That Will Help You Raise Your SAT Reading & Writing Scores

One Habit That Will Help You Raise Your SAT Reading and Writing Scores

The SAT Writing & Language and Reading tests are designed to reward readers. By taking classes at Elite, you’ll zero in on specific grammatical rules and critical reading strategies, both essential tools for improving your SAT scores with time. But when it comes to breaking into the 700+ range for these sections, there really is no substitute for reading every day. As I’ve written in a previous blog post, Good at Math? Then You Should Ace the SAT Language Sections, a thorough knowledge of rules and test strategies is essential. But no knowledge is like the knowledge obtained by daily habit.

Most students do, of course, read quite a bit. When you’re not reading for school, chances are you’re reading your phone: text messages, Facebook statuses, Instagram captions and comments. Students today read just as much as, if not more than, their parents did when they were teenagers.

But not all writing is going to help you on the SAT. In fact, most writing will actively hurt your SAT score. 

Why’s that?

Our everyday spoken and written interactions perform subtle acts of grammar and syntax, usually without our awareness. Most of what we speak and write is ungrammatical, a fact that makes learning “correct” SAT grammar and syntax difficult work. Most of us use English in “incorrect” ways every day, and rarely do we speak with the complexity or nuance that you will find in the SAT Reading test. 

To master the formal writing tested on the SAT and assigned in college courses, students need to actively engage formal, sophisticated non-fiction on a daily basis. To this end, I would echo the advice of Meg Campbell, Executive Director of Codman Academy. In 2011, she shared her “Secret to Raising SAT Scores”: Read The New Yorker magazine every week. 

The New Yorker is an excellent source for a wide range of articles on politics and culture. The magazine will present a challenge, but a necessary one for those serious about not only raising their SAT scores but obtaining the critical reading skills needed to succeed in college and beyond

I would add to this suggestion one more: read Scientific American, too. Many SAT passages deal with science and technology, issues that can feel very foreign to students accustomed to reading, say, nineteenth-century British literature. I recommend students alternate between these two publications—one New Yorker article Monday, one Scientific American article Tuesday, and so on. 

Reading, though, is only half the equation. 

To quote a UC Berkeley English professor: “How do you know when you’ve really read something?”

Anyone can pass their eyes over a page. But what does it really mean to “read” something? Reading is not a passive activity: it requires active engagement with the text. Active reading entails writing notes in the margins or in a separate document. It requires that we look up definitions of words that we don’t understand. And it means asking questions and seeking answers as we engage with a text.

Reading requires that we respond to the text and that we hold ourselves accountable for what we read. 

And so, my suggestion to students—who, I recognize, already have quite a bit of work on their plate—is to both read every day and briefly summarize what they’ve read. 

Download a free note-taking app (such as Evernote) and keep a folder filled with notecards, each devoted to a single article. In 100-200 words, explain the main idea and key details of each article that you read. This process mirrors the process of taking the SAT, which gives you a passage and asks you to respond by answering questions about that passage. 

In sum: 

1. Read an article from The New Yorker or Scientific American every day. (I recommend alternating between the two.)

2. Using Evernote or a similar note-taking app, briefly summarize (100-200 words) each article you read. While reading, take notes, look up unfamiliar words, and ask yourself questions about the main ideas and big issues raised in each article.

Remember the old Latin proverb, Repetitio mater studiorum est: Repetition is the mother of all learning.

If you get in the daily habit of reading and responding to sophisticated non-fiction, you won’t just boost your SAT score—you’ll get to learn a lot, too.

Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and critical reading at Elite Educational Institute since 2010.

Posted on January 28, 2017 and filed under SAT.

SoCal Weekend SAT & ACT Kickstart Programs

SoCal Weekend SAT & ACT Kickstart Programs

The Elite SAT & ACT Weekend Kickstart Programs start with a full-length practice test and continue with a two-day test prep workshop, where students not only learn effective test-taking strategies but also learn how to tackle the some of most commonly tested concepts that appear in each section of the SAT or ACT!

We have a number of Kickstart Programs coming up in Southern California over the next few months. Standard price is $179 for a practice test plus the two-day Kickstart program (a reduced rate of $89 is available for students who participate in the Free & Reduced Price Lunch Program).

Winter & Spring 2017 SoCal Kickstart Dates:

Warren HS - Downey, CA
Practice ACT - Jan 28
ACT Kickstart - Feb 4 & 5, 2017

JSerra Catholic HS
(at Elite of Laguna Hills)

Practice SAT - Feb 25
SAT Kickstart - Mar 4 & 5, 2017

Westview HS - San Diego, CA
SAT Kickstart - Mar 4 & 5, 2017

North Hollywood HS
Practice SATs - Feb 11 & 25
SAT After School Kickstart - Feb 14 – Mar 2

Warren HS - Downey, CA
Practice SAT - Feb 25
SAT Kickstart - Mar 4 & 5, 2017

Woodbridge HS - Irvine, CA
Practice SAT - Feb 25
SAT Kickstart - Mar 4 & 5, 2017

JSerra Catholic HS
(at Elite of Laguna Hills)
Practice ACT - Mar 11
ACT Kickstart - Mar 18 & 19, 2017

Woodbridge HS - Irvine, CA
Practice ACT - Mar 18
ACT Kickstart - Mar 25 & 26, 2017

Westview HS - San Diego, CA
ACT Kickstart - Apr 1 & 2, 2017

Westview HS - San Diego, CA
SAT Test Prep - Apr 4-May 6, 2017

JSerra Catholic HS
(at Elite of Laguna Hills)

Practice SAT - Apr 22
SAT Kickstart - Apr 29-30, 2017

Woodbridge HS - Irvine, CA
Practice SAT - Apr 22
SAT Kickstart - Apr 29 & 30, 2017

Posted on January 24, 2017 and filed under Test Prep.

Good at Math? Then You Should Ace the SAT Language Sections

Good at Math? Then You Should Ace the SAT Language Sections

In September 2016, posted a blog entry titled “Why Being Good at Language Arts Means That You Can Do Math.” The post explains that, in a 2014 study, scientists discovered that the genes that determine one’s aptitude for language arts also determine one’s aptitude for math. In other words, the very same genetic programming that gives human beings a capacity for using language also gives us a capacity for performing math equations. 

This discovery seems to fly in the face of everything we know about math and language arts. Chances are if you identify with one of these subjects, you don’t identify with the other. This divide is one version of what the British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow described as The Two Cultures (1959). “Two polar groups: at one pole we have the literary intellectuals, at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension.” For Snow, this division—between the humanities on the one hand, math and science on the other—was a major problem that future generations would need to overcome.

Now, in 2017, we’re still grappling with this longstanding division, but we finally have the scientific basis for tearing it down.

Culture and training, rather than biology, are the biggest reasons people tend to identify with either the humanities or science and math. We tell ourselves we are either “right brained” or “left brained,” creative or rational, as if both math and language arts do not require both imagination and reason. Your high school schedule and standardized tests tell you to separate these subjects into distinct categories, isolated from each other in separate classrooms, separate textbooks, and separate test sections. 

But what the science tells us is that these divisions are arbitrary—they have little to do with our genetic capacity for math and language.

This insight has important implications for students as they prepare for standardized tests. The aforementioned post from Grammarly reminds us that math is itself a language and that if you are skilled at language arts, you also have the capacity to be skilled at math. 

But we should keep in mind that this works the other way, too: if you’re an algebra whiz, you have developed the very skills necessary to succeed in reading comprehension and grammar. Translating those math skills into language arts skills is a matter of identifying these subjects as aspects of the same genetic coding.

But what does this mean in a practical sense?

When first studying for the SAT, it’s important to approach each section as a foreign language, even—or perhaps especially—the Reading and Writing & Language sections. Students can master each of these sections the same way they would master a new language or a new branch of math: 

1. Learn the abstract rules of each language.

One important aspect of learning a foreign language is learning its basic rules. If you want to master Spanish, for example, you’re going to have to memorize how to conjugate the verb “estar” (“to be”). The same goes for the SAT. Just as students need to know quadratic equations, they need to know how to properly connect clauses in a sentence and how to locate the main idea in a reading passage. The Reading and Writing & Language sections depend on rules and formulas just as the Math section does. 

Often, students struggling in Reading and Writing & Language become frustrated because they are already fluent in English—I speak and write clearly, so why should I struggle with a test of my English language skills?

Students who ask this question are onto something: writing and speaking is, as John Trimble writes, “the art of creating desired effects.” If you can communicate clearly with your friends, family, and the larger world around you, then a grammar mistake here or there or a confusion about a complex piece of writing may not truly reflect your future college or career success. 

But the SAT treats language like a science; it has rules that can be violated. To master these rules, approach these language arts sections as you would a foreign language—or as you would approach geometry, algebra, or calculus. The Reading and Writing & Language sections, like the Math section, are foreign languages you’ll have to become fluent in. 

2. Practice, practice, practice.

As anyone who has studied math or language arts knows, knowing abstract rules only gets you so far. You need to put see these rules into action by reading, writing, and completing math problems. More importantly, you need to practice in order to unconsciously absorb the structure of each section the way you absorbed the structure of your native language as a child. 

In chapter 1.2 of the Princeton Companion to Mathematics (2008), the contributors write: 

It is a remarkable phenomenon that children can learn to speak without ever being consciously aware of the sophisticated grammar they are using. Indeed, adults too can live a perfectly satisfactory life without ever thinking about ideas such as parts of speech, subjects, predicates or subordinate clauses. . . . Nevertheless, there is no doubt that one’s understanding of language is hugely enhanced by a knowledge of basic grammar . . . and this understanding is essential for anybody who wants to do more with language than use it unreflectingly . . . The same is true of mathematical language.

It is indeed incredible how native speakers master their native tongue—not through studying rules and formulas for constructing sentences, but by being immersed in a language culture of family members and television shows that fill our homes with the rhythms and structure of language. 
But there is a gap between how language is used and a language’s rules. Most people do not speak grammatically. So, in order to master the language arts sections of the SAT, students need to approach these sections much the same way we all first approach quadratic equations: with a spirit of curiosity and an admission of ignorance. Only then can we absorb not only new knowledge, but the structures of arranging words, parts of speech, and variables that are essential for success on the SAT.

3. Time.

The U.S. Foreign Services Institute estimates that it takes most native English speakers 480 hours to achieve even basic fluency (the kind you’d need to feel comfortable asking for directions in a foreign country) in most Romance languages (and about 720 hours for most Eastern languages). To put that in perspective: that’s five hours per day for over 96 days. That’s a lot of time. 
Luckily, many high school students already have a basic fluency of the subjects tested on the SAT. But the fact holds that time—not just practice—is a central factor in learning anything new. It is never too early to begin preparing for the SAT. In fact, the more time students take with the test, and the more practice tests they expose themselves to, the more likely they are to absorb the test as they would absorb a new language while living in a foreign country.

Rules, practice, and time: the essential tools needed to master a language are the tools that unite the three sections of the SAT. If you’re already strong in one of the test sections, you have the tools in place to succeed on the others. It’s just a matter now of putting those tools to work.

Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and critical reading at Elite Educational Institute since 2010.


Posted on January 14, 2017 and filed under SAT.

Sign Up for Winter/Spring Classes Today!

Sign Up for Elite Winter & Spring Classes Today!

This winter and spring, get the academic edge you need with Elite's flexible and highly effective test prep and GPA management programs!

SAT Subject Test Prep

Elite provides comprehensive preparation for many SAT Subject Tests. Classes consist of weekly practice test sessions and review classes with instructors who not only are experts in their subjects but also understand how to help students prepare effectively for the SAT Subject Tests.


AP Exam Prep

Our Advanced Placement (AP) prep classes offer students an opportunity to earn college credit and strengthen their college applications, and Elite’s instructors are second to none. In fact, many are AP high school teachers or college instructors.




The Elite PSAT Program is designed for students in 9th and 10th grade who want to get a head start on preparing for the PSAT and SAT. PSAT course offers a set of three interlocking classes (Reading, Writing and Language, and a Math class previewing Algebra II) taught at a pace better suited to younger students.


SAT Prep

Elite’s SAT Reasoning Test Prep Program consists of a weekly practice test and lecture classes covering Writing & Language, Math, Reading, and Essay. In the lecture classes, students review the practice test with experienced instructors and continue their learning through a series of lessons containing exercises designed to develop their reading, math, grammar, and writing skills.


ACT Prep

The ACT is a nationally recognized college admissions exam that most colleges use to compare applicants. It consists of English, Math, Reading, and Science sections as well as an optional 30-minute Writing test. Elite offers rigorous ACT preparation courses designed to cover all tested subjects and teach specific test-taking strategies unique to the ACT.


Elite Jr. / ReadiPrep™ English

Aimed at students in grades 5-9, ReadiPrep™ English focuses on developing studies’ critical reading and thinking skills through an interconnected course of study involving reading comprehension, vocabulary and grammar studies, persuasive writing, and test skill development.


Elite Jr. / ReadiPrep™ Math

ReadiPrep Math helps students master the concepts and problem-solving techniques in the Pre-Algebra to Algebra II sequence. Students then apply these math principles to carefully constructed word problems and exercises developed to reinforce conceptual understanding and sharpen problem-solving skills. 


Elite 3-2-1 Quad Learning – GPA Management Program

Elite’s customized GPA management program helps students of all ages develop study skills and gain academic confidence in the subjects of their choice. Each tutoring session is conducted with a maximum of two other student participants, and each student is taught independently, at his or her own pace. Elite’s high teacher retention rate and regular tutoring schedule allow students to continue with their favorite teachers as long as they like, creating positive and meaningful mentoring relationships.


For class schedules and registration info, contact your local Elite branch today! »

Posted on January 4, 2017 .

Does High School Prepare Students for the SAT?

Does High School Prepare Students for the SAT?

While preparing for the SAT, it’s important to focus on essential skills: the writing, reading, and math skills that will serve you well in college and beyond. But it’s also useful to keep in mind that the SAT is not really a test of your intelligence. It’s not an IQ test. It’s definitely not an evaluation of your basic worth, despite how the test might make you feel. Rather, it’s useful to keep in mind that, while the SAT tests on many valuable things, it tests, most of all, on how good you are at taking the SAT.

One of the goals of the new SAT (administered for the first time in March 2016) is to align the test with what students learn in school. In years prior, students often complained that there was a significant gap between what they covered in school and what the SAT tested. With the new test, the College Board claims, “The same habits and choices that lead to success in school will help you get ready for the SAT.” Good at school? You’ll ace the SAT.

This is partly true. Compared to the last version of the SAT, the new test is much less focused on arcane vocabulary and archaic reading passages. The new test focuses much more on essential skills, such as evaluating words in context, using and evaluating evidence, problem solving, and data analysis.

But the College Board’s claim that the new SAT tests only on “what you learn in high school” and “what you need to succeed in college” is a bit overstated. 

Take, for instance, question number one in the Writing and Language Test (Section 2) of practice test 6 from the College Board web site:


The answer is D. Why not A? Choice A creates two independent clauses (“scientists. . . 227” and “this. . . Area.”) Two independent clauses cannot be separated by a comma. Choice A creates a comma splice, a kind of run-on sentence. Choice B has the opposite problem. “Which” is a relative pronoun, which (get it?) turns the second clause into a dependent clause. A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence, so separating the first clause from the second with a period turns the second clause into a fragment. Choice C is also a fragment—the “sentence” after the period lacks a verb. That leaves us with choice D, which creates a modifier after the comma. The pronoun “one” refers to “Lake 227.”

Independent clauses, dependent clauses, comma splices, run-on sentences, relative pronouns, and modifiers: this question does test an essential skill—if you’re interested in becoming a professional writer, editor, or teacher.

Does it test “What you need to succeed in college”? I’m not so sure. No matter which answer you choose, the meaning of this sentence (or pair of sentences) remains clear. Placing a comma or period between these two clauses, using a “which,” or “this,” or “one”—these choices do not change the meaning of the passage. If you were to write a run-on sentence like choice A or a fragment like choices B or C in a college essay, you would probably suffer little more than a note in the margins from your professor. Even most writing and English professors are lenient when it comes to minor grammatical errors. It doesn’t seem to me that your success or failure on a question like this one has much to do with your future success or failure as a college student. 

The even more indefensible claim with a question like this one is that it tests “what you learn in high school.” 

The fact is, most high school students in the U.S. do not study grammar explicitly. That’s probably a good thing, though more focus on sentence-level issues within writing and reading courses would surely benefit many students. 

The Common Core English Language Arts standards focus on bigger, more essential skills than grammar: argumentation, critical thinking, problem solving, and textual analysis. In fact, nowhere in the Common Core’s explanation of ELA standards does the word “grammar” even appear. 

To the College Board’s credit, the SAT tests on these essential skills, too. For this reason, it’s a pretty good standardized test

But like the Common Core ELA standards, the College Board’s description of the Writing and Language Test makes no mention of “grammar” itself. Instead, the College Board explains, “It’s About the Everyday”:

When you take the Writing and Language Test, you’ll do three things that people do all the time when they write and edit:

1.    Read.
2.    Find mistakes and weaknesses.
3.    Fix them.

The good news: You do these things every time you proofread your own schoolwork or workshop essays with a friend.

It’s the practical skills you use to spot and correct problems — the stuff you’ve been learning in high school and the stuff you’ll need to succeed in college — that the test measures.

Sounds easy, right?

Despite the College Board’s description, the Writing and Language Test remains disproportionately focused on grammar, a subject that most high school students have not had the chance to master.  

Because the SAT continues to test on issues not sufficiently covered in high school, it is essential that students preparing for the SAT approach the test for what it is: a test not of their intelligence or of what they’ve learned in high school, but of a collection of certain kinds of questions that, for better or worse, serve as a gatekeeper standing between students and their college goals. 

Preparing for SAT grammar questions requires that students begin to categorize the types of grammatical issues that the SAT tests on: linking and separating clauses, subject-verb agreement, pronoun ambiguity, and more. For students to feel empowered with the Writing and Language Test, it’s important to recognize that the SAT tests only on certain types of grammar questions. You don’t need to be a copy editor for the New York Times to ace the Writing and Language Test, but you do need to get a handle on about a dozen grammatical principles, including parallelism, modifiers, and verb tense. 

Only by focusing on often foreign grammatical principles—rather than broad, supposedly familiar concepts like “Expression of Ideas” and “Standard English Conventions”—can students begin to tackle and master the difficulties presented by the SAT.

Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and critical reading at Elite Educational Institute since 2010.

Posted on January 3, 2017 and filed under SAT.