Tag Archives: writing

Most influential standardized exams assess comprehensive reading and reasoning skills. Even the MCAT, the entrance exam for medical school, evaluates Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills along with the expected biology, chemistry, and physics. The excerpts of text most exams use to evaluate reading, grammar, and even science reasoning skills are typically called passages. Yet, after decades of helping students master these tests, I’ve never seen a good explanation of what a passage actually is. Technically, a passage is simply a portion or section of a written work, either fiction or non-fiction. Some hold that a passage can be as short as a sentence, but most consist of at least one paragraph and usually several. One iteration of SAT Passage-based Reading included both Short Passages of 1-2 paragraphs and Long Passages of 4-9 paragraphs. These days, most test passages, at least at the high school level, come in at what is…

Read more

A few days ago, my eyes fell on the lead news column, a piece about a terrible attack in Paris, in the New York Times, one of this country’s most prestigious and professional newspapers: Here, on the front page of a paper of record whose famous motto is “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” can be found a phrase that would fail both the English and Writing sections of the SAT and ACT exams. The writing sections of both tests look for clear and concise wording; the job of the headline writer is to be concise to the extreme, but this often comes at the cost of clarity. We have here an example of tautology, ‘a needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word’ according to Merriam-Webster. Terror, in that same dictionary, is defined as a state of intense fear. To state that “Terror is Feared” is to belabor…

Read more

Most high schoolers, particularly native English speakers, expect the grammar sections of standardized tests to be easy. Unfortunately, those used to informal spoken English and social media snippets find themselves woefully unprepared to understand the fundamental challenge of any true writing test: effective written communication. What exactly is effective written communication? Forget about fancy vocabulary or flowery phrasing. Only one standard for communication determines its effectiveness: Does the reader understand the intended message? If you as the writer transmit the idea you wanted to get across, your writing is effective. Easy, right? With this standard of effectiveness, we can evaluate all writing through the lens of what we call the 3 C’s of Effective Communication: CLEAR Clear simply means easily comprehended. Word choice and style is specific and appropriate to the audience, with active and direct phrasing. Ambiguity—the enemy of clarity—should be avoided at all times. CONCISE Concise means short…

Read more

Now that the Writing portions of both the SAT and ACT are optional, students must content with a challenging decision: spend the extra time and effort to write the essay or gamble that their target schools won’t require the scores. On the one hand, nobody wants to risk an incomplete college application. On the other hand, nobody wants to struggle through another forty or fifty minutes on an already exhausting test day. What choice should a smart test taker make? In previous years, we always recommended that students take the optional ACT Writing section (or take the mandatory SAT Writing section seriously) in order to keep their options only. Few aspects of the admissions process feel worse that having to take an entire ACT again just because one school required a Writing score. But events over the last year have shifted perspectives on the test essay. Most competitive schools routinely…

Read more

For a growing number of our nation’s teens, the question is never, “Am I ready to go to college?” Rather, they ask, “How soon can I get there?!” But the first question deserves further consideration. Since 2003, the twelfth-grade mathematics and reading assessments from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been used as an indicator of students’ academic preparedness for college. According to the 2015 data released in The Nation’s Report Card, only 37% of twelfth-graders met the standard for success in mathematics or reading. Even more troubling, the percents of students meeting preparedness standards are down across the board from last year. College readiness is no joke. Students who arrive at school with deficient math, reading, and writing skills face a higher likelihood of struggle and failure. Even the ones who don’t drop out are forced to take remedial no-credit classes, which extends the already pricey proposition…

Read more

The SAT & ACT have long tested structural elements in reading passages, specifically an understanding of why writers make certain choices and what form their choices take. Structure questions challenge a test taker’s ability to recognize literary devices and go beyond understanding what an author says to recognizing how and why. The new SAT essay tests understanding of structure on an entirely new level. Students are given a long passage and asked to explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience. This assignment marks a dramatic departure from previous test essay assignments, which were persuasive rather than analytical. Analyzing an argument demands a better mastery of the terminology of structural elements. Test takers should be able to speak to the balance of ethos, pathos, and logos in an essay, but should also be prepared to identify additional persuasive elements. The following represents some of the broader categories…

Read more

12/21