SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Laura Staffaroni

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

Recent Posts

How Much Should You Pay for SAT/ACT Tutoring?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Mar 5, 2018 11:00:00 AM


Are you considering getting tutoring for the SAT/ACT, but want to know how much it will cost? Maybe you’ve already decided on tutoring, but aren’t quite sure how much money you should put aside for it?

The question of how much to pay for tutoring is important to consider when planning your test prep budget. After all, you want to make sure that you are spending your money wisely! This means that paying $30/hr to a high school senior who took the test once, got a 1450, and has never taught before is not the right option for comprehensive tutoring.

On the other hand, just because a tutoring service is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best one for you. A so-called expert SAT/ACT tutor can cost you anywhere from twenty to hundreds of dollars an hour, so it can be hard to know where you should be looking.

Why is it worth spending money on tutoring, and how can you narrow in on the right budget for you? Read on to find out!

feature image credit: Save Money  by 401(K) 2012, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

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ACT Writing Tips: 15 Strategies to Raise Your Essay Score

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Feb 27, 2018 11:00:00 AM

ACT Strategies, ACT Writing

Whether you've never thought about ACT Writing strategies or have worked hard on the ACT essay, you can benefit from knowing more: about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay.

In this article, we offer a number of ACT Writing tips as well as a foolproof template for putting them into practice.

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ACT Writing Prompts: The Complete Guide

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Feb 20, 2018 2:00:00 PM

ACT Writing

It's pretty scary to walk into a room on ACT test day and with no idea what the essay question you're about to answer is about. Luckily, you don't need to know—the ACT essay prompts only ask about a teensy, tiny category of ideas. And the best part is, you already know all about the topics!

Keep reading to see sample ACT Writing prompts you can practice with. More importantly, we also teach you how to gather evidence before the test so you can walk in 100% prepared to answer any prompt they give you.

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How to Get a Perfect 8|8|8 SAT Essay Score

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Feb 7, 2018 12:00:00 PM

SAT Writing, SAT Essay

The SAT Essay is scored separately from the rest of the SAT now, thanks to the changes that went into effect in March 2016.

While the essay is now optional (you don't automatically have to take it every time you take the SAT), some colleges still require students to submit SAT essay scores with their applications. Learning how to consistently write a perfect SAT essay will be a huge boost to your application to these schools.

In this article, we'll discuss what it takes to get a perfect 8/8/8 on the SAT essay and what you need to do to train yourself to get this top score.

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Big Picture Questions in SAT Reading: Strategies and Tips

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 30, 2018 6:00:00 PM

SAT Reading

Of the many question types on SAT Reading, "big picture" questions are the ones that require the most thorough comprehension of large amounts of text. You'll be asked to discuss and examine the main claim or purpose of a paragraph, passage, or even multiple passages.

But how do you identify these "big picture" questions on SAT Reading? And what are the best ways to approach answering them?

Below, I’ll discuss the three primary types of big picture questions you’ll encounter on the SAT, along with common ways the SAT will ask you about each. I'll also give you expert SAT Reading strategies to answer these questions, illustrated with examples from real practice questions.

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SAT Essay Tips: 15 Ways to Improve Your Score

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 30, 2018 6:00:00 PM

SAT Writing, SAT Essay

Whether you've never written an SAT Essay or didn't get the score you wanted on your last test, you can benefit from knowing more: both about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay.

To introduce you to what you'll have to do, we've gathered up these 15 tips to master the SAT essay. If you can reliably follow all these points, you'll be able to get at least a 6/6/6 on the SAT essay—guaranteed.

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The Best Way To Practice SAT Reading

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 30, 2018 9:00:00 AM

SAT Reading

Let’s get down to business, to defeat...the SAT Reading. How can you practice for the SAT Reading? Where can you find SAT Reading practice questions? Is it even possible to practice for the Reading section? Read on for the answers to these questions.

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Historical SAT Percentiles: New SAT 2016 and 2017

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 29, 2018 12:00:00 PM

SAT General Info

If you took the new SAT in 2016 and 2017, you might be wondering what percentile your score is in. Is a 700 on Math in 2016 the same as a 700 in Math in 2017? How much do percentile scores change from year to year?

In this article, I'll explain what new SAT percentile scores are and how they've changed over time. I'll also provide percentiles for SAT combined and section scores for 2016 and 2017.

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The Ultimate Study Guide for SAT Reading: Strategies, Tips, and Practice

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 28, 2018 9:00:00 AM

SAT Reading

We've created the best guide to the SAT Reading section out there.

This is not just us tooting our own horns. By reading many SAT prep books as well as studying the CollegeBoard’s own resources, we've been able to take the best aspects of each and combine them into a magnificent Frankenstein’s monster of a guide.

We cover each SAT Reading question type in detail, organized not by how the questions are asked, but by the essential underlying skills the questions are testing. You'll get the best SAT Reading tips and strategies available, as well as information about how to get the most out of your SAT Reading practice and prep.

If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to SAT Reading and how to improve your SAT Reading score, the information provided herein is invaluable. Master all these concepts, use realistic practice questions, and learn how to learn from your mistakes, and you'll be able to increase your SAT Reading score drastically.

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Little Picture Questions in SAT Reading: 5 Key Tips

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 24, 2018 2:00:00 PM

SAT Reading

Little picture, or detail, questions make up a significant amount of questions on the SAT Critical Reading sections. Of 4 post-2005 publicly available tests I surveyed, little picture questions accounted for 25% of all passage-based questions and 17% of all SAT Reading questions. This means that it is well worth your time in your SAT Reading prep to make sure you can consistently answer little picture questions accurately and in a reasonable amount of time (what that range is for accuracy and reasonableness will depend on the score you are aiming for).

In this article, I’ll provide examples of the different ways the SAT will ask you to use little picture skills, explain the SAT Reading strategies you can use to help with these questions, and end with a walkthrough of a sample questions. First, however, I’ll explain what exactly I mean by “little picture” questions.

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How To Stop Running Out Of Time On SAT Reading

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 17, 2018 5:30:00 PM

SAT Reading

Feeling pressed for time on any test is extremely frustrating. It’s even worse on tests like the SAT and ACT because they’re so lengthy: if you run out of time on a section, you don't get the relief of "Well, at least I'm done with the test" because you have to move right on to the next section.

Since you can’t stop time (probably?) and, except for some special circumstances, can’t get extra time, you'll need another solution to help you avoid running out of time. So what strategies can you use? I’ll discuss the top misconception students have about running low on time on the SAT Reading section and strategies to avoid running out of time.

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Function Questions on SAT Reading: Strategies and Practice

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 16, 2018 11:00:00 AM

SAT Reading

Function questions (also sometimes known as “meaning in context” questions) make up 17% of all passage-based reading questions, or about 12% of all SAT Critical Reading questions (based on my survey of the four publicly available post-2005 SATs). Answering function questions requires the ability to step back from the text and judge the effect of a phrase in a certain place (as opposed to little picture and vocab in context questions, which are just concerned with meaning).

So how are function questions asked on the SAT, and what strategies can you use to answer them? Read on to find out.

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What Is The Duke TIP 7th Grade Talent Search, and Why Do It?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 3, 2018 5:30:00 PM

Early Achievers (7th/8th Grade)

What is the Duke TIP, and what is the 7th Grade Talent Search? In this article, I'll be writing about the Duke Talent Identification Program, also known as Duke TIP, also known as the Duke TIP Program. The Duke TIP is a conglomeration of multiple subprograms, one of which is the 7th Grade Talent Search.

While you can find all the information about it on Duke's own website, as I did, the information is spread out and a little tricky to track down (hence the confused panda at the top of this article). For your convenience, I've compiled everything here into one magnificent blog post/guide. I recommend reading it all the way through, but if you only want to read one particular section, you can pick and choose from the Table of Contents.

A disclaimer: I've done a lot of linking in this article to the Duke TIP website, and while all links and information were correct (to the best of my knowledge) at the time of this article's publication, things may have changed since then.

Now that that's out of the way, let's dive into the Duke TIP and the 7th Grade Talent Search!

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What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 2, 2018 6:30:00 PM

ACT Writing

As you study for the ACT, it's easy enough to calculate your ACT composite target score. But where does your essay score fit into all this? What’s a good ACT Writing score? Read on to find out how to figure it out!

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Vocab In Context Questions and Strategies for ACT Reading

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 21, 2017 5:00:00 PM

ACT Reading

What exactly are vocab in context questions, and what are the best ways to approach answering them? In this article, I'll start by going over the basics of what vocab in context questions are, then segue into an in-depth discussion of each of the two types (complete with examples). Finally, I'll wrap it up by suggesting strategies to use when tackling these types of questions.

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