The Test Prep Guru Speaks

In honor of Thanksgiving, we’ve decided to repost one of the podcast episodes that our listeners have been most grateful for.

If you didn’t hear it the first time or you just want to review, now is the perfect time to listen to our highly informative (and super-popular) interview with Bhavin Parikh, CEO and founder of Magoosh, the leading online test prep company for the SAT, GRE, GMAT, and TOEFL. 

Click here to listen to the show!

*Theme music is courtesy of

Related Links:

• Magoosh
• The Hansoo Lee Fellowship
• How to Put Your Best Foot Forward on Test Day
How to Get Accepted to B-School with a Low GMAT Score

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• The GMAT Score Preview and Application Boxes
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What You Need to Know for SAT Writing

Applying to college? Check out our College Admissions 101 Pages!

Get to know the SAT’s favorite grammar topics.

When the SAT was first changed to the format it’s in now, back in 2005, many schools didn’t pay any attention to the writing section; they only looked at students’ reading and math scores. Since then, there’s been a slow change, although not a universal one. It depends on what school you’re applying to, of course, but in general, gone are the days when you can just dismiss a third of the test completely.

Nowadays, it’s wise to brush up on your grammar before taking the test, because that’s what SAT writing is largely about. That’s not going to change with the 2016 redesign, either: a large chunk of the “reading and writing” section (a hybrid of today’s critical reading and writing sections) will be made up of the same types of questions that are on the SAT now. That means grammar, grammar, grammar.

Here are a few examples of the SAT’s favorite grammar topics:

1. Misplaced modifiers

2. Parallelism

3. Subject-verb agreement

4. Pronoun agreement

5. Verb tenses

6. Passive voice

That’s not exactly an ordered top six, but it’s roughly in order of importance—the test-makers love misplaced modifiers, for example—and it’s all stuff you should be familiar with before that fateful Saturday morning. If you don’t know what any one of those means, look it up!

But I’d be lying if I said grammar was the only important part. The SAT essay counts for nearly a third of your writing score, and grammar is only a piece of that puzzle. You can write an outstanding SAT essay with a number of grammar errors; it mostly just has to be long enough, include some high-level vocabulary, and have clear examples that relate back to the topic. What you learn when studying for the multiple choice part of the test can help, of course, but that knowledge alone won’t bring you to a perfect score. You’ve also got to be able to write like a madman—to put ideas down on paper fast, and work in some good examples while you’re at it. That takes practice and preparation outside the grammar. One of the most helpful things you can do is come up with a list of sources for your examples: stories from history, literature, or even pop culture that you know particularly well. Use old essay prompts to then practice coming up with examples from that pool of resources.

If you know the grammar rules, which are relatively easy to learn, given a bit of time, and you get yourself comfortable writing a 2-page, 25-minute essay with concrete examples, then you’re on your way to nailing SAT writing (time to focus on one of the other sections!).

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

magooshThis post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT Prep. You can learn more about Magoosh on our SAT blog, and you can get $50 off 1 month of prep here!

Related Resources:

• Preparing for College in High School
• GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep (podcast)
• Writing an Interesting SAT Essay in 25 Minutes

Magoosh’s New eBook: Lightening the SAT Math Load

Magoosh_SAT MathFor some high school students, SAT math is the bane of their existence. You need to learn all these foreign strings of numbers and letters, and then magically recall them once you’re sitting in a hot room for hours with your entire future weighing down on your tired shoulders. Yeah – SAT math…not the funnest thing in the world.

Our friends at Magoosh SAT have released a new ebook, Magoosh’s SAT Formula eBook, loaded with all you need to know to lighten the load and ace the math section on the SATs. The book is free with interactive elements, and comes complete with all the math formulas, study strategies, time-saving tips, and practice problems you’ll need for the SAT.

Here’s an excerpt from the intro of the book:

While formulas can be really helpful on the SAT, there are very, very few that you absolutely need to have memorized to score well. That might come as a surprise, but it’s true, and it leads us to an important thought: understanding how and why a formula works is as useful as rote memorization. In fact, it’s much better. You’ll have a better sense of when to use a formula and be more accurate in executing it if you understand the math behind it. Let’s look at a concrete case to illustrate. The distance formula is a prime example. It’s ugly…


…but it actually represents a pretty simple idea. If you have any two points on a graph (on the coordinate plane), you can make a right triangle that connects those two points as the ends of the hypotenuse. That is, you draw a diagonal line between the two points, then a straight horizontal line and a straight vertical line going through each point to make the legs of the triangle.


Then, since you’re trying to find the length of the hypotenuse, you just use the Pythagorean theorem:


(Notice that a couple very basic formulas like this one do need to be memorized.) The lengths of those legs are a and b, and the length of the hypotenuse is c.

So let’s find the length of c:


And if you’re trying to find the length of the legs (the shorter sides), you just need to know the horizontal distance between the two points, [more math], and the vertical distance between the two points, [more math]. If you replace a and b with those values, voilà: you have the distance formula.

Check out the Book! Helping You Write Your Best

Big SAT Changes Favored More by Adcom than by Students

Looking for more college admissions resources? Check out College Admissions 101!

71% of admissions officers, but only 41% of students support the inclusion of calculator-forbidden math questions. 

Kaplan asked 403 admissions officers from top schools and 684 high school students their opinions on the new SAT. Survey results show that the admissions officers are more supportive of the changes than the college applicants. 79% of officers support the changes, up from 72% last year. Big changes include reverting back to the 1600 point scale; adding historical reading passages; making math sections more difficult; shifting the essay from required to optional; getting rid of wrong answer penalties; eliminating fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions; and adding a computer-based test taking option.

Here are some highlights from the results:

 • 87% of admissions officers and 67% of students support the inclusion of history-related reading passage.

 • 71% of admissions officers support the inclusion of calculator-forbidden math questions, compared to the support of only 47% of students. (On the new exam, calculators won’t be allowed for 20 of the 57 math questions – currently calculators are permitted for the entire exam.)

 • 67% of admissions officers support shifting the essay from required to optional, compared to 51% of students. Additionally, 73% of admissions officers say they don’t plan to require applicants to submit the essay.

 • 70% of admissions officers and 73% of students support getting rid of the wrong answer penalty.

 • 88% of admissions officers and 85% of students support the elimination of fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions. Instead of these question, the SAT will include more contextual vocab questions, as well as editing write-in sections.

 • 82% of admissions members support the option of taking the SAT on a computer. This is compared to only 36% of students surveyed. Students report concern about staring at a computer screen for four hours, encountering technical difficulties, and not having space for “scratch work” for math questions.

See the Kaplan press release for more details.

Download Free: Preparing for College in High School: A To-Do List for Eleventh Graders Helping You Write Your Best

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I Stink At SAT Math: What Next?

Looking for more SAT tips? Check out our SAT blog posts.

Help! I Stink at SAT Math!

It’s pretty much inevitable that at some point during your SAT, you’re going to look at a problem and think, “Nope. Not happening.”

Or maybe it will be a few moments after, which can be even more frustrating—you work through what seems like the best way to attack a problem, but then after a good minute or so of work you’re still nowhere near an answer and don’t know what you’re even trying to do anymore.

What you do at that point is key, because the SAT is timed, after all. Every moment you spend looking blankly at a question is a moment gone to waste.

That’s part of why SAT math isn’t really like the rest of the math you do in school. One of the most important skills in the math section is knowing when to guess. That’s one thing you don’t really get from math class.

The principle is pretty simple: if you’re just starting to answer a question and you don’t know what to do, spend ~15 seconds exploring (don’t worry too much about the exact time, but realize this step has to be quick). Rework any equations you have. Label any measurements of a figure that you can infer. Write out the first elements in a series or look for other patterns.

And if, after exploring, you don’t know what to do next, don’t go back to square one and re-live your frustration. Instead, look first at whether there are any answer choices you can definitely rule out. Then circle the question in your test book, select a your best guess the answer sheet (this is why ruling out any answer choices you can is so important), and move on to the next question. Remember that every question in a section is worth the same, so it’s key that you give yourself enough time to get right every question that you can get right. Only after you’ve done that should you resume chewing your pencil and loathing that roadblock question.

As a side note, though, if you find yourself getting stuck on SAT math questions often but, at the same time, really think you know all the material that you need to for the test, then you might want to take a stab at the ACT instead. There’s a huge overlap between the tests, but there’s also a pretty subtle difference in SAT vs ACT math: the ACT tends to be a little bit more straightforward, so knowing the material is enough to answer most questions—it’s less often that you need to figure out subtle twists like what the SAT might throw at you.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

MagooshThis post was written by Lucas Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT Prep. For more SAT resources, check out Magoosh SAT vocabulary flashcards and the Magoosh SAT Blog!

Related Resources:

• Writing an Interesting SAT Essay in 25 Minutes
• Getting Ready to Apply to College Series
• GMAT, GRE, SAT, and All Things Test Prep