SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Alex Heimbach

Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

Recent Posts

Complete Strategies: Common App Essay Prompts (2018-19)

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jul 16, 2018 12:00:00 PM

College Essays

If you’re applying to more than one or two colleges, there's a good chance you'll have to use the Common Application, and that means you’ll probably have to write a Common App essay.

In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the essay. I'll break down every single Common App essay prompt by covering:

  • What is the question asking?
  • What do college admissions officers want to hear from you?
  • What topics can you write about effectively?
  • What should you avoid at all costs?

This will be your complete starting guide for Common App essays. At the end of reading this, you should have a lot of ideas for your own essays and directions to write a really strong personal statement.

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The Ultimate Study Guide for ACT English: Tips, Rules, Practice, and Strategies

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jun 18, 2018 12:00:00 PM

ACT English

This guide collects the best ACT English prep material on the internet. We've created everything here from scratch, and we think it's the best guide available anywhere.

In writing it, we pored over real ACTs, consulted the best existing books, and thought deeply about what you'll need to excel on ACT English. Our subject guides closely reflect what you’ll see on the actual test and our strategies have all been used successfully by our past students. We’ve covered everything you need to know about ACT English.

This post is a table of contents, designed to lead you through the different articles you’ll want to study in a logical order and explain how to get the most out of them. It starts with the big-picture, high-level ideas that will get you thinking about the best way to approach ACT English. Then it moves on to our coverage of the skills and concepts you’ll see on the test. The last section includes a variety of ACT English tips and strategies that can help you create a study plan and learn to attack the test in the most efficient way.

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What Is a Personal Statement? Everything You Need to Know About the College Essay

Posted by Alex Heimbach | May 15, 2018 8:00:00 AM

College Admissions, College Essays

In addition to standardized test scores and transcripts, a personal statement or essay is a required part of many college applications. The personal statement can be one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it's the most open ended. 

In this guide, I'll answer the question, "What is a personal statement?" I'll talk through common college essay topics and what makes for an effective personal statement. 

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What Do Ivy League Schools Think of the ACT?

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Mar 15, 2018 7:30:00 PM

SAT versus ACT, ACT General Info

As an ACT tutor, I often fielded questions about whether the test would be looked down on by admissions officers, especially those at Ivy League schools. Because the SAT was the dominant college admissions test for so long, many students and parents worry that—at least in the Northeast—schools still prefer the SAT over the ACT. However, that time has definitely passed, and schools will now accept either test equally.

Read on for a more in-depth explanation of how Ivy League schools view the ACT today, and learn the differences in testing policies that might affect your decision to take the ACT or SAT.

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The Complete Prep Guide for SAT Writing: Grammar, Strategies, and Practice

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Feb 26, 2018 12:00:00 PM

SAT Writing

This complete guide includes everything you need to know about SAT Writing. As experienced tutors, we’re all too familiar with the shortcomings of most test-prep materials, so we've created our own free guide to SAT Writing, which we believe is the best available (even compared to expensive books from big-name companies!).

To create this guide, we carefully analyzed real SATs, read the best SAT books we could find, and thought carefully about what you actually need to know to succeed on SAT Writing. Rather than trying to condense all the info we came up with into one page (which would be insanely overwhelming!), we’ve created this article to serve as a table of contents and take you through the different parts of the SAT Writing section.

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Should You Take the ACT or the SAT?

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Feb 19, 2018 12:00:00 PM

SAT versus ACT, New SAT

If you're in high school, you may be wondering whether you should take the SAT or the ACT. In general, the two tests have gotten much more similar since the SAT was revamped in 2016, but there are still a few differences that may sway you towards one or the other.

In this guide, I've outlined some of the key factors you should keep in mind when deciding which test to focus on and created a quiz that can help you determine which test will be better for you.

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SAT 1 vs SAT 2: What's the Difference?

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jan 30, 2018 1:00:00 PM

SAT Subject Tests, SAT General Info

You might have heard of something called the SAT II (or SAT 2) and wondered what it could be. A secret, harder version of the SAT, perhaps? The reality is less dramatic: the SAT II is just an old name for the SAT Subject Tests.

This guide will explain the current form of the SAT II, outline the differences between the SAT 1 vs SAT 2, and help you determine which of the tests you should take.

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Do You Need to Take Both the ACT and SAT?

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jan 22, 2018 12:00:00 PM

SAT versus ACT, ACT General Info, SAT General Info

As a high school student, I took both the SAT and the ACT. I’d been taking the SAT every couple of years since I was in middle school, so I planned to focus primarily on it. However, as a public school student in Colorado, I was required to take the ACT by my school. My scores on the two tests were relatively similar and I ended up submitting both.

Taking both tests, whether because of school requirements or personal preference, has become an increasingly common choice for students, especially those applying to top colleges. Though it isn’t necessary to take both the ACT and SAT, doing so might be the right plan for you. This guide will walk you through the pro and cons of taking both tests.

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College Essay Prompts: Complete List, Analysis, and Advice

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Sep 4, 2017 8:30:00 AM

College Admissions, College Essays

When talking about college essays, we tend to focus on the Common Application prompts, and it's true that many students will need to write a Common App essay. However, there are actually quite a few schools, including both public and private universities, that don't use the Common App and instead ask applicants to respond to their own college essay prompts.

Luckily, college essay prompts tend to be pretty similar to each other. In this guide, I'll list all of the college essay questions for popular schools in the US (and a few abroad) and then break down the patterns to help you brainstorm topics and plan how to approach multiple essays efficiently. After reading this guide, you'll be able to strategize which essays you'll write for which colleges.

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Which States Require the ACT? Full List and Advice

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Sep 1, 2017 8:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

Over the past five years, the number of states that administer the ACT statewide has more than doubled: there are now 12 states that require every junior to take the test and eight more that either require the test in some districts or offer it as a free option for students who wish to take it.

This post explains why these programs exist, which states have them, and how you can take advantage of them if you live in one of these states. 

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The 12 Best Creative Writing Colleges and Programs

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Aug 16, 2017 11:00:00 AM

College Info

Finding a dedicated creative writing program at a school you're excited about can be a real challenge, and that's even before you start worrying about getting in. Nonetheless, there are some great options. In order to help you find the best school for you, this list rounds up some of the best colleges for creative writing in the United States.

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Should You Take the ACT With or Without Writing?

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Aug 4, 2017 1:30:00 PM

ACT General Info, ACT Writing

Because ACT Writing is optional, many students are unsure whether they need to add the extra 40 minutes to the test. However, there’s a simple answer to whether you should take the ACT with writing or without writing: it depends on whether the colleges you want to apply to require a writing score.

This guide will talk you through how the ACT writing got started, how to determine whether you should take the ACT with or without Writing, and some other considerations you may want to keep in mind.

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Do You Need SAT Scores to Transfer Colleges?

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jul 24, 2017 6:30:00 PM

SAT General Info

Determining all the different requirements for transferring colleges can be a huge hassle. One of the most common questions students have is whether they need to submit SAT scores to apply as transfer students.

There’s no single answer to this question, but this guide will explain some common policies about SAT scores for transfer applicants, how to determine whether you need to submit SAT scores, and how much attention schools pay to these scores when they also have your grades from another college.

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How to Teach the SAT: Best Tips for Tutors and Parents

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jul 12, 2017 4:00:00 PM

SAT General Info

When I started working as a professional tutor, I was fresh out of college with few qualifications other than high test scores and some volunteer experience. I struggled with tutoring my first few students — I didn’t feel comfortable giving them assignments and I struggled to figure out how best to use our lesson time.

But after years of tutoring, I became thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs of the whole process. I've drawn on my hard-earned knowledge to create this guide laying out the key steps to helping someone excel at the SAT, so that you know where to start when tutoring your own student or child. A big part of being a great tutor is being properly prepared — these seven steps will set you on the right path to raising your student's score:

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The New SAT vs. the ACT: Full Breakdown

Posted by Alex Heimbach | Jun 8, 2017 9:00:00 AM

SAT versus ACT, New SAT

For the past decade or so, the SAT has come under increasing scrutiny for its confusing structure, trick questions, and obscure vocabulary. Meanwhile, the ACT is often seen as the fairer test, more closely based in what students learn in school.

As you might have heard, the College Board undertook a radical overhaul of the SAT that went into effect in March 2016 and, in many ways, made it much more similar to the ACT. Adding to the confusion is the fact that ACT, Inc., also made some minor changes to the ACT.

What are the main differences between the current versions of the two tests? The short answer is that the SAT and ACT are now quite similar. The changes have eliminated many of the two tests' major differences in both style and content. Nonetheless, there remain important variations—some long-standing and some newly introduced.

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