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

Historical ACT Percentiles for 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 1, 2021 4:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

Whether you're currently studying to take the ACT or took it in 2016-2020, you might be curious about how your ACT percentile compares to students who took the ACT in past years.

In this article, we'll go over what percentiles are, how percentiles work on the ACT, and why ACT percentiles matter. We also lay out ACT percentile charts for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 so you can see how your score compares to historical ACT scores.

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How to Write an SAT Essay, Step by Step

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 10:16:00 PM

SAT Writing, SAT Essay

SAT Essay writing requires a very specific set of skills. It's a little daunting to think that you only have 50 minutes to read a passage, analyze it, and then write an essay. But don't worry—getting a top SAT essay score is within everyone's reach! The most reliable way to score high is to follow our SAT essay template for every essay and to prepare well beforehand. 

In this article, we'll show you how to write a great SAT essay. We'll take you through all the steps you need to follow when writing the SAT essay to show you how you can put together a killer essay yourself.

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SAT Essay Prompts: The Complete List

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 7:00:00 PM

SAT Writing, SAT Essay

On every SAT Essay, you'll have to read an argument meant to persuade a broad audience and discuss how well the author argues his or her point. The passage you'll have to read will change from test to test, but you'll always need to analyze the author's argument and write a coherent and organized essay explaining this analysis.

In this article, we've compiled a list of the 14 real SAT essay prompts that the College Board has released (either in The Official SAT Study Guide or separately online) for the new SAT. This is the most comprehensive set of new SAT essay prompts online today.

At the end of this article, we'll also guide you through how to get the most out of these prompts and link to our expert resources on acing the SAT essay. I'll discuss how the SAT essay prompts are valuable not just because they give you a chance to write a practice essay, but because of what they reveal about the essay task itself.

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SAT Essay Tips: 15 Ways to Improve Your Score

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 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 Ultimate SAT Essay Study Guide: Tips and Review

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 12:00:00 PM

SAT Essay


We've written the best guide to the SAT essay available anywhere.

To craft this guide, we have carefully read all official material available on the SAT essay from the College Board and read the best SAT books we could find and extracted the most important things you need to know to succeed on the essay section. Based on this research, we're confident that this is the most complete and comprehensive resource available for the SAT essay.

This guide gets deep into every aspect of the SAT essay, from the rubric to prompts to the nuts and bolts of how to write a high-scoring essay. You'll learn the best tips and strategies to use to maximize the value of your SAT essay practice as well as how much time to devote to prepping for the essay.

If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to SAT essay and how to improve your SAT essay scores, this guide is invaluable. Rather than trying to put all the information we've distilled into one long article, we've created this multi-sectioned guide to serve as a table of contents to each of our more in-depth articles.

We'll start by taking a high-level look at the importance of the SAT essay to colleges and which schools care about your SAT essay score. The next section delves into more of the details of the SAT essay prompt and rubric and outlines step-by-step how to write a perfect-scoring SAT essay. Finally, the third part of this guide takes you through tips and strategies to use with the SAT essay.

We suggest reading through this guide in order your first time through, as you would any other test prep resource. Alternatively, if you're just looking for a refresher on certain areas, you can use this guide as a reference you can jump around in as needed.

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

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 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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SAT Essay Rubric: Full Analysis and Writing Strategies

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 9:00:00 AM

SAT Essay

We're about to dive deep into the details of that least beloved* of SAT sections, the SAT essay. Prepare for a discussion of the SAT essay rubric and how the SAT essay is graded based on that. I'll break down what each item on the rubric means and what you need to do to meet those requirements.

On the SAT, the last section you'll encounter is the (optional) essay. You have 50 minutes to read a passage, analyze the author's argument, and write an essay. If you don’t write on the assignment, plagiarize, or don't use your own original work, you'll get a 0 on your essay. Otherwise, your essay scoring is done by two graders - each one grades you on a scale of 1-4 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing, for a total essay score out of 8 in each of those three areas. But how do these graders assign your writing a numerical grade? By using an essay scoring guide, or rubric.

*may not actually be the least belovèd.

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What's the Average SAT Essay Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 26, 2020 12:00:00 AM

SAT Essay

You've gotten back your SAT scores. On your score report, there's information about how you did on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, compared to students in the previous year's graduating class who took the SAT.

But what about your essay? How does your essay score compare to everyone else? There's no percentile information for that in the score report.

Find out what an average SAT essay score looks like (and how you stack up) in this article!

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

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 1, 2020 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.

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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Duke TIP SAT Score Requirements

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Dec 1, 2020 2:00:00 PM

Early Achievers (7th/8th Grade)

Perhaps you've read our article about Duke's Talent Identification Program (TIP), maybe you've heard about it from other students, or maybe you did your own research. You've heard vague hints of "score requirements," but don't know exactly what that means—do you have to take the SAT in order to take part in TIP? How well do you have to do on the SAT in order to become a TIPster? (I refuse to believe that students who participate in TIP do not go by this name.)

There are SAT (or ACT) score requirements for the Duke TIP: specifically, there are score requirements for Summer Studies programs and eStudies courses. I'm going to cover this complicated topic in exhaustive detail, explaining what the programs are, what the SAT score requirements are, and giving you some tips on how to meet these requirements.

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Duke TIP ACT Score Requirements

Maybe you’ve read our article about Duke’s Talent Identification Program (TIP), maybe you’ve heard about it from other students, or maybe you did your own research. You've heard vague hints of "score requirements," but don't know exactly what that means—do you have to take the ACT in order to take part in TIP? How well do you have to do on the ACT in order to become a TIPster? (I refuse to believe that students who participate in TIP do not go by this name.)

There are ACT (or SAT) score requirements for the Duke TIP: specifically, there are score requirements for Summer Studies programs and eStudies courses. I'm going to cover this complicated topic in exhaustive detail, explaining what the programs are, what the ACT score requirements are, and giving you some tips on how to meet these requirements. These requirements all refer to the regular ACT, not the ACT Aspire or ACT EXPLORE.

Feature image credit: Ilyse Whitney/Flickr

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The Complete List of the 25 CUNY Colleges

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 15, 2020 2:00:00 PM

College Info

The City University of New York system is the lesser-known member of New York State's public university system. Unlike New York's SUNY colleges and universities, however, all the CUNY schools are located in NYC.

In this article, we'll go over a list of CUNY schools in NYC and CUNY locations along with what to consider when choosing which CUNYs to apply to.

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Historical SAT Percentiles: New SAT 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 2, 2020 12:00:00 PM

SAT General Info

If you took the new SAT in between 2016 and 2020, 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 2020? 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, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

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What Are the Ivy League Schools' Acceptance Rates for 2020?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 2, 2020 12:00:00 PM

College Admissions, College Info

The eight schools in the Ivy League are among the most well-known and selective universities both within the US and in the world at large. Because of this, Ivy League (and similarly selective non-Ivy) schools have tens of thousands of students from whom to choose their class of 2025.

But what are Ivy League schools' acceptance rates, and how have those rates changed over time? In this analysis, we'll look at Ivy League admissions, from the number of applicants to the number of students who ultimately end up attending.

In addition to the eight Ivy League schools (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, and Yale), we'll also consider eight equally selective non-Ivy League national universities: Caltech, Duke, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Northwestern, Stanford, UChicago, and Vanderbilt.

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What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 1, 2020 4:07:00 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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