The Showcase Magazine - Articles


by Erik R. Slagle

The holiday season is crazy enough, isn’t it? Wonderful, but all too often crazy as we bounce from store to store or site to site, write out cards, deck halls, jingle bells, trim trees, and somewhere in there try to squeeze in time to block out the noise and reflect on what this time of year is really about.

And then all of a sudden for sophomores and juniors, PSAT scores start rolling in at the beginning of December and there’s a new set of questions and concerns for parents looking ahead to the college application process! If this sounds familiar, use this list of 12 destressing tips to get you through – from 12 drummers drumming all the way down to a partridge in … well, you know the rest:

12: months of the year when students now have testing options. Strange, but true – with the ACT adding a July date in 2018 to counter the College Board’s August addition this year, students now have year-round options. This should take the pressure off for students who feel like they have to lock into a specific test date well in advance.

11: strategies for conquering the SAT. Four in Math (Picking Numbers; Elimination; Using Relationships; Simplifying Functions); Three in Reading (Skimming First; Reordering Questions; Chronological Patterns); Three in Writing (Find Red Flags; Yes/No, Keep/Delete Elimination; Grammar vs. Editorial); One for the Essay (Prewriting is Everything!). These are the basics that I teach to my students to help them get a better handle on the test.

10: types of grammar topics – Comma Placement, Subject-Verb Agreement, Number Agreement, Colons vs. Semi-colons, Pronouns, Verb Tense, Opening Clauses, “Wrong Word,” Parallelism, Prepositions.

9: approximate number of additional questions you need to get right to move your score 100 points. (Not so bad, right?!)

8: free practice tests available through and Khan Academy. These are written by the SAT-makers themselves. They’re the best – and they’re free! Use them!

7: years I’ve been privately tutoring the SAT and ACT (plus 10 before that with a major test prep company). I’ve seen all the ins and outs of the tests, and trust me, they are not nearly as tough as they seem!

6: major differences between the ACT and the SAT. The SAT has a “no calculator” Math section. The ACT has a Science section. The essays test different analytical writing skills. The ACT has a slightly more predictable format. The ACT doesn’t have compare/contrast reading passages like the SAT does. And the ACT Math tests slightly tougher concepts on the later questions.

5: number of sections on both the SAT and the ACT, including the optional essay components at the end.

4: types of reading passages both tests feature – Literature, Humanities/Social Sciences, Natural Science, and Historical Perspectives (“Social Studies” on the ACT).

3: ways you can answer Math questions – hammer out the math, use a strategy, or eliminate and guess.

2: options for your admissions tests – SAT and ACT. The trick is figuring out which one is best for YOUR skill set, because both are widely accepted at colleges around the country. The advantages or disadvantages of each depend on your particular skills, goals and comfort level.

1: the Big Goal – getting the score you want for the colleges you’re targeting! No matter how you prepare or which test you focus on, it’s important to set a goal that’s realistic but aggressive at the same time. And remember, it’s just a test – just one component of your overall application package!

Happy Holidays from your friendly neighborhood test prep coach!