What’s a Good SAT Score?

I am asked this question often, and I have never come up with a good answer. That’s because the real answer amounts to little more than a vague “it depends.” The truth is, students curious about what makes a “good SAT score” need to find out for themselves. Here’s how:

First, let’s think about what kind of question this is. It’s a question asking for an evaluation—something like, “Is that a good movie?” But there is something qualitatively different about the movie question. When students ask me about their SAT scores, they expect an objective answer: 1200, 1300, or 1400, something numerical and certain.

But when you ask a friend about a movie, you know going in that you’re getting an opinion. If you know your friend well, you know what kind of things she looks for in a film. Your friend might care mostly about special effects, or about the quality of the acting, or the cinematography, or the plot, or some balance of these or other factors. When you ask a friend whether a movie is good or not, you’re asking that friend to explain if the movie met the particular standards that she has laid out for that movie in particular or for movies in general. In other words, you’re asking your friend whether the movie in question did what she wanted it to do.

This gets us back to the SAT question. What do you want your SAT score to do? Do you want it to prove that you’ve mastered the subtleties of critical reading, the rigors of English grammar, and the complexities of trigonometry? Do you want it to impress your parents and your siblings? Do you want it to match the numbers of your birth month, day, and year?

No! Of course not! You want your SAT score to get you into college. Yes, the SAT does test on a number of essential skills, which you’d be keen to study and master in preparation for the exam. There is, in fact, more to gain from test preparation than college admission. But your SAT score is first and foremost a means to an end. It’s one important ingredient to get you into the school or schools of your choice.

So, what’s a good SAT score? A score that helps you get into a college or university that you want to attend.

Before students ask the SAT question, they need to ask themselves the college question: Where do you want to go to school?

Let’s say you want to go to Harvard. Great choice! If you want to get into Harvard, though, you’re probably going to need a minimum SAT score of 1480. (Of course you’ll also need a stellar GPA, an impressive record of extracurriculars, and an overall knockout of an application.)

According to Harvard’s website, the school’s 25th to 75th percentile of SAT scores (often referred to as a school’s “middle 50%”) for admitted students range from 1400 to about 1560.* That means a score of 1400 would put you in the bottom 25 percent of admitted students at Harvard—and likely would not be good enough to gain you admission. A nearly perfect score of 1560 would only place you in the top 75 percent. Those are some very competitive and very intimidating statistics. But they’re important to know as you prepare for the test. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that most students will need at least a 3.90 unweighted GPA to go along with a 1460+ SAT to have a puncher’s chance (not to mention a pretty stellar record of extracurricular activities).

Perhaps Harvard is a bit out of reach, though, as it is for the vast majority of students. Let’s look at NYU, also an excellent school. To get into NYU, you’ll likely need a minimum SAT score of 1280. Keep in mind that this score places you in the bottom 25 percent of applicants, though, so you’ll want to aim for a higher score—something in the 1400-1500 range. Of course, your SAT score is just one piece of the college application puzzle, so you’ll need a strong GPA and record of extracurriculars, too.

Let’s look at one more school: Skidmore, an excellent liberal arts school located in Saratoga Springs, NY. So many students fixate on the Harvards, Princetons and Yales of the world that they miss truly outstanding schools like Skidmore College. Don’t be one of those students.

I would include Skidmore as one of the schools students are likely to get an education just as strong as, if not better than, those offered at Ivy League universities, an idea I’ve explored in two previous articles: When it Comes to Colleges, the Biggest Name Doesn't Always Mean the Best Fit and How (Not) to Choose a College.

And take a look at the numbers: the median SAT score for students admitted to Skidmore lies around 1300 to 1320. That means that students with an SAT score in the mid to high-1200s and a strong overall application would gain serious consideration. Those numbers are much more reasonable than the numbers listed for Harvard or even NYU. There’s a terrific education and college experience awaiting those willing to consider outstanding but less-recognized liberal arts schools such as Skidmore, Oberlin (with an SAT middle 50% range of 1260-1450), Emerson (about 1150-1350), and many others.

For those setting their sights on the University of California, be sure to check out those score ranges, too. The tops is UC Berkeley, with a range of about 1310-1550. UCLA ranks second with a range of 1260-1530.

Remember, when you pick a few schools that you’re interested in, don’t just settle for the minimum score—aim to be at least in the middle of these ranges, and strive for the very top if you can. And when you pick the schools you’ll apply to, be sure to look beyond the names atop the annual Princeton Review rankings. There’s a world of ideas, experiences, relationships, and successes teeming beneath that shiny surface.

*These and most of the numbers that follow are estimates that adjust for the new SAT’s 1600-point scale, as Harvard and most other schools do not yet have data on their 2017 admissions.


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.

Posted on April 24, 2017 and filed under SAT, College Admissions.

Dealing with College Decisions: Why Rejection Isn't the End of the World, but More Like the Opposite

You put in so much work to apply to the college of your dreams. You showed admissions what you’ve accomplished, what you want, who you are, why you belong at their school…

And their response to all that was a quick and definitive “...we regret to inform you...”?

Of course you feel disappointed. Maybe you feel like you’re not good enough and not wanted. Or maybe you feel frustrated, thinking they must have made a mistake to turn down such a qualified applicant. You may even feel angry or depressed. Whatever your reaction, go easy on yourself as you move through your thoughts and emotions.

When you are ready, know that you ARE good enough. Know that admissions decisions do not determine your worth as a unique, incredible individual. Not even a little bit.  

As you contemplate your future, here are a few thoughts to help you feel more secure:

Colleges are not rejecting you as a person.

Competitive colleges and universities receive way more perfectly qualified applications than they can accept. For all you know, yours is one of them. With limited space however, the schools need to make sure they build a balanced, fully-functioning student body--perhaps this year they simply needed more theater majors, or lacrosse players.

There’s a chance you wouldn’t have wanted to go to that school anyway.

Your qualifications aside, without being a student at a given school, you simply cannot know if you’d thrive in its campus environment, culture, programs, etc. Think of the admissions decisions process as all of the colleges you applied to working together to help you figure out the best school to attend. They are kindly letting you know, with their insider’s perspective, that you and their school really aren’t quite the right match at this time.

There’s also a chance you’ll love the college you go to more than you thought. You may have been so invested in your top-choice school(s) that you overlooked some fantastic aspects of other schools. Find out what makes you truly excited to go to a school you were admitted to. And when you get there, you’ll likely be delighted to encounter unexpected life-changing opportunities and people you otherwise wouldn’t have. You never know, your future best friend or spouse might be waiting for you there too.

You, not your undergraduate college, are in charge of your life.

You’ve gotten yourself to a great place so far, and, regardless of where you go, your future success is entirely up to you. You have control over your mindset. You have control over your actions. A National Bureau of Economic Research study agrees: “Evidently, students' motivation, ambition, and desire to learn have a much stronger effect on their subsequent success than the average academic ability of their classmates.”

How about a case in point: Steven Spielberg was rejected from UCLA film school and USC School of Cinema Arts--twice. He ended up going to Cal State Long Beach, and then he won over 100 awards, including three academy awards, and is now a multi-billionaire.

Also, if you plan to go on to graduate school, keep this tidbit from university professor David W. Breneman in mind:

Performing at a high level in a good quality but not highly prestigious college may give a student a better chance of getting into graduate or professional school than being lost in the middle of the pack in a highly selective institution.The quality of graduate or professional school will matter more in the long run to a student’s success in life than the ranking of the undergraduate college.

You’re not stuck. There are always options.

If, after attending another school for a bit, you still strongly prefer to be somewhere else, you can always apply as a transfer student. Of course, you’ll want to build the strongest profile you possibly can to maximize your chances.

Added bonus! You are getting good at handling bumps in the road.

Every person in this world experiences ups and downs. It’s a requirement of life. Remember that within the negatives are always positives. Learn from the negatives; look for the positives. And keep taking risks, expanding, learning, living, regardless of (or even because of) the unexpected roadblocks. No need to push so hard against a blockade when you can find a better path around it.

Above all, trust yourself to succeed. Now go follow that inner drive and unleash your talents on the world!

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 April 14, 2017 and filed under College Admissions.

Why You Should Always Write in Your SAT/ACT Test Booklet

When I teach active reading for standardized tests, two types of students immediately stand out.

  1. Those who consider it a badge of honor to complete a standardized test without ever writing in their test booklet.
  2. Those who simply don’t know how to effectively write in their booklets and avoid doing so altogether.

This article is designed to give you concrete tips on how writing in your test booklet can work to your advantage and help you achieve your desired score.

Ideally, writing in your test booklet functions as a safeguard against making careless errors or silly mistakes. I can’t count how many times I’ve come across students who have missed out on easy points because they glossed over a key point. Part of your test strategy should be to engage with the test booklet as much as possible. No one is scoring your booklet, so use it to your advantage. Mark it up as much as you need to facilitate your process of getting as many correct answers as possible.

First and foremost, you should physically eliminate definitely wrong answer choices as you work through a standardized test. It will save you time and help you focus solely on the remaining answer choices. This applies to all sections of both the SAT and ACT. However, give extra attention to writing in your test booklet on the Math and Reading sections.

Why you should ALWAYS write on the Math section: 

Sure, you can use a calculator for some of the questions, but on the SAT there’s an entire section in which you can’t use a calculator. Of course, you could use mental math for some of those problems, but isn’t it much more reassuring to calculate your answers in the space provided? That way, just in case a thought interrupts your process, you can return to what you’ve written on the page and get back on track.

Speaking of thoughts interrupting your process, here’s . . .

Why you should ALWAYS write on the Reading section:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a lapse in concentration while reading one of the many SAT/ACT passages ✋ “The passage was boring…”, “The passage was too hard to understand…”, “The passage was…” — you get the point. Actively engaging with the passage can mitigate potential problems with your progress. Here’s how:

  • UNDERLINE the topic of each paragraph (often the first sentence)
  • *STAR* the main idea of the passage
  • [Bracket] vocabulary in context words and any other important words
  • Write brief notes (3-5 words) in the margins after each paragraph

Furthermore, you should underline key terms in the questions themselves, so you know what to focus on and where to look for clues in the passage. These strategies will minimize careless mistakes and keep you concentrated on the task at hand (even when the passage is about quantum astrophysics 😉).

Not writing in your test booklet can be a detriment to your success. Neither the SAT or the ACT allows you to use scratch paper, so mark up your booklets to your heart’s desire. Take ownership and do what you need to do to maximize your score.

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 March 31, 2017 and filed under SAT, ACT, Test Prep.

Summer Test Prep at Elite

Sign Up for Elite Winter & Spring Classes Today!

You set your goals. We'll help you reach them.

Summer is the perfect time to prepare for the SAT and get a head start on your college prep. And Elite has a variety of programs, schedules, and locations to give you the flexibility to select the program that best meets your needs. Summer classes start in June – contact your local branch today to schedule a free diagnostic test and consultation and find out which program is right for you!*

Summer Session programs include:

SAT Boot Camp

Elite’s SAT Boot Camp 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 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.


AP/Honors Preview Classes

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.



Elite Jr. Power English

Aimed at students in grades 5-9, Elite Jr. Power 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. Power Math

Elite Jr. Power 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. 


College Essay Workshops

Learn how to write unique, memorable, and powerful personal statements and supplemental essays! Teachers meet with students individually to brainstorm, outline, proofread, critique, and revise multiple drafts until they have polished and compelling essays. In addition, students receive a step-by-step college admission consultation including assistance with college selection, major selection, and resume preparation


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

Posted on March 5, 2017 .

The Science of Cramming, or How to Prepare for Standardized Tests

The Science of Cramming, or How to Prepare for Standardized Tests

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and teenagers cramming for exams.

Almost everyone crams at one point or another. Many high school students just have too much on their plates: school, homework, extracurricular activities, chores, and (sometimes) jobs consume the days of teenagers across the country. So, it’s natural that students often stay up deep into the night to cram for exams or complete homework assignments.

But while this practice has been a mainstay of high school students for some time, research suggests that it is highly ineffective.

A 2009 UCLA study found that following a long-term study plan was more effective than cramming for 90% of participating students, even though 72% of them believed that cramming had been more effective. This delusion regarding the effectiveness of cramming stems from a common error: many of us believe that familiarity is synonymous with recall. That is, we tend to assume that familiarizing ourselves with material for a short period of time right before an exam will help us recall the necessary information at the time of the test.

But, as cognitive neuroscientist Tom Stafford explains, familiarity is a poor measure of our ability to recall material. The reason for this is neurological.

The human brain simply isn’t made for cramming.

When we cram, we activate the visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for recognizing visual objects. After five consecutive hours staring at a page of notes, your visual cortex will have processed the content much the same way you might process a book cover, an advertisement, or a person’s face—enough to recognize the notes as familiar, as something that your brain knows it has processed before.

But five consecutive hours isn’t nearly enough to trigger the areas of the brain responsible for information recall, such as the frontal cortex and temporal lobe. These areas are where your brain uses clues (such as questions on an exam) to piece together the memories it needs to construct narratives and provide answers, to connect abstract principles with concrete problems, and to discover solutions that require more than memorization.

The way to train this area of your brain is not through cramming but through what cognitive psychologists call “spacing,” the practice of “spacing learning events apart rather than massing them together.” The “spacing effect” tells us that studying for 20 minutes per day for 15 consecutive days is much more effective than studying for five consecutive hours the day before the test.

This rule applies to standardized tests just as much as it does to any other exam.

Both the ACT and SAT are designed to test what students learn in high school. They’re designed to test general knowledge and skills accumulated over time, not acquired through rote memorization. But standardization is a tricky business: no two schools are alike, and so students often find that they have insufficient familiarity with the writing, reading, and math skills tested on standardized tests. Preparing for either test requires much more than five hours the night before, or even 20 minutes per day for 15 days. To avoid “cramming” for the SAT, most students should begin preparing in their sophomore or even freshman year of high school.

As I’ve discussed in detail in a previous post (One Habit That Will Help Raise Your SAT and ACT Reading Scores), good standardized test preparation depends on developing strong reading and studying habits over time.

Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day, and neither are top-tier SAT and ACT scores.


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.

Posted on February 25, 2017 and filed under Study Tips, Test Prep.

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, 35 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 .