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

Seven Sisters Colleges: Should You Go to One?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | May 26, 2017 12:00:00 PM

College Admissions, College Info

If you’re looking at applying to elite liberal arts colleges, you’ve probably come across the Seven Sisters schools. But what schools are Seven Sisters colleges, and what makes them so special?

In this article, we explain what the Seven Sisters schools are, which of them still exist, and which of them are still all-women's colleges. I’ll also use my expertise as an alum of a Seven Sisters school to break down what the benefits are of applying to a Seven Sisters school and five tips for getting admitted.

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SAT Standard Deviation: What Does It Mean for You?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | May 22, 2017 12:00:00 PM

SAT General Info

If you've ever glanced through any of the year-end College Board data reports, you may have seen information about the SAT standard deviation. Unfortunately, the reports just list the numbers and then move on, without explaining at all what these numbers mean.

So how is info about the SAT mean and standard deviation useful to you? In this article, we’ll explain what the term standard deviation refers to and what it means for you and your SAT score.

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Should You Go to a Public Ivy? 5 Factors to Consider

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | May 11, 2017 12:00:00 PM

College Info

Most people have heard of the illustrious eight private schools that make up the Ivy League. But what about high-quality public universities, or "Public Ivy League" schools? Are there any public schools out there that can match the caliber of top private schools?

Find out what the Public Ivies are and why you should consider applying to them.

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4 Expert PSAT Calculator Tips + Approved Calculators

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 24, 2017 12:00:00 PM

PSAT Info and Strategies

PSAT math can be intimidating so it would be nice to have to have some computerized help. But can you use a calculator on the PSAT? Yes you can, though only the second of the two Math sections on the PSAT. But what kind of calculator can you use, and when does it make sense to use a calculator on the PSAT?

Read on for the complete list of approved calculators for PSAT test day and our top tips for using your calculator effectively.

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The Most Reliable SAT Essay Template and Format

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 14, 2017 6:00:00 PM

SAT Writing

Aside from the “grid in” math questions, all you have to do for most of the SAT is answer multiple choice questions.

And then, if you've chosen to take it, there's the essay. Or, more accurately, "To finish up, there's the essay." Because the last thing you'll do on the SAT (with Essay) is read a passage and write an essay analyzing its argument, all in 50 minutes.

How can you even begin to read a passage, analyze it, and write an essay about it in 50 minutes? What SAT essay structure should you follow? Is there an SAT essay format that’ll score you a top score for sure? Read on to find out the answers to these questions!

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SAT Essay Prompts: The Complete List

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 6, 2017 5:00:00 PM

SAT Writing, SAT Essay

The SAT Essay has changed drastically from what it looked like from March 2005-January 2016. On the plus side, you’ll now be asked to do the same task every time: read an argument meant to persuade a broad audience and discuss how well the author argues his or her point. On the minus side, you have to do reading and analysis in addition to writing a coherent and organized essay.

In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the 11 real SAT essay prompts that the CollegeBoard 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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What Is CTY at Johns Hopkins? Complete Guide

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 5, 2017 8:30:00 AM

Early Achievers (7th/8th Grade)

CTY, or Center for Talented Youth, at John Hopkins University (JHU) offers an assortment of resources to gifted students. These resources include summer programs and courses, written resources, community awards/recognition, and college counseling.

The first step to many of the CTY programs is registering for the Talent Search. Even the programs that are open to everyone give priority to students who participated in the Talent Search. For your convenience, we’ve compiled everything here into one magnificent blog entry guide. I recommend reading it all the way through, but if you only want to read one particular section, you can pick it out from the Table of Contents.

I'll start off by going in depth into the Talent Search and then mention other programs along with links if you want more information than I give in this article.

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What Is a Good SSAT Score? Understanding Your Scores

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 3, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Other High School

If you’re looking at applying to a private elementary, middle, or high school, there’s a good chance you’ll need to take the SSAT first. But what is a good SSAT score? How can you get the score you need to get into the school of your dreams?

Unfortunately, there's usually not a clear cutoff for what SSAT scores are acceptable. In this article, we'll try to remove some of that uncertainty by going over how scoring on the SSAT works and what counts as a good SSAT score.

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What Is a Good ACT Writing Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Mar 26, 2017 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!

Note: The information in this article was originally based on the ACT Writing test as it was scored September 2015-June 2016, which was on a scale of 1-36. The scoring of the ACT Writing test changed in September 2016 to be on a scale of 2-12 (with the total ACT Writing score being an average of the 4 domain scores), which means that data on percentiles and averages for the new out-of-12 scoring for different schools aren't going to be available for quite some time. We'll update this article as soon as that information comes out.

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7th Grade SAT Prep: How to Ace the Exam

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Mar 13, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Early Achievers (7th/8th Grade)

Why take the SAT in 7th grade, when there are plenty of other standardized tests like the PSAT and ACT Aspire that are aimed at middle schoolers? There are a couple of answers to that question. Certain summer programs for talented 7th graders require participants to take a college entry exam, which is why most students end up taking the SAT so early. The rare middle schooler may also choose to take the SAT as a 7th grader as part of her early college preparation.

In an effort to do well on a college entrance exam like the SAT as a 7th grader, it may be tempting to do everything that's recommended for regular SAT prep and then turn it all the way up to 11. But just as good 7th grade SAT scores may be different from good college application SAT scores, so, too, does your test prep need to be different. Learn about the best strategies and practices for 7th grade SAT prep so you can be preared to ace the exam on test day.

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The Ultimate SAT Essay Study Guide: Tips and Review

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Mar 9, 2017 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. The third part of this guide takes you through tips and strategies to use with the SAT essay. Finally, we'll end with a brief rundown of our articles on the old SAT essay, which have some general writing guidance that's still useful for the current 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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7th Grade ACT Prep: How to Ace the Exam

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Feb 14, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Early Achievers (7th/8th Grade)

Even though there are plenty of other standardized tests for younger students like ACT Aspire or the PSAT, there are still many middle schoolers every year who take the ACT. 7th grade is definitely a bit earlier than most people take a college entrance exam, but it's possible you might have to take it as part of an academic talent search or want to take it to see what it's like.

Just as good 7th grade ACT scores are different from what good scores would be for juniors or seniors, though, 7th grade ACT prep is very different from high school ACT prep. Find out the best way to A-C-E the ACT in 7th grade in this article.

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The Ultimate ACT Writing Study Guide: Tips, Strategies, and Practice

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Feb 10, 2017 12:00:00 PM

ACT Writing


We've written the best study guide to ACT Writing section and the ACT essay available anywhere. 

This is a bold statement, but it's not an exaggeration. We have read many, many different ACT prep books and thoroughly studied ACT, Inc’s resources. Based on our research, we believe that this guide is the best resource available by far for ACT Writing.

In this guide, we cover each aspect of the ACT essay in detail, from what kinds of prompts you'll be asked to write about to the essential underlying skills the essay prompt is testing. You'll learn the best ACT writing tips and strategies as well as how to get the most out of ACT writing practice and prep.

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Taking the ACT in 7th Grade: Should You Do It?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 22, 2017 9:00:00 AM

Early Achievers (7th/8th Grade)

It’s just a short while before school ends for the day. You settle in to enjoy a discussion about sea monkeys in your 7th grade Science class when all of a sudden, one of your classmates starts complaining about having to take the ACT. What is she talking about? Who would want to take the ACT in middle school, and who even cares about 7th grade ACT scores?

If you’re a parent, you may have heard or read about programs designed for early-achieving students. But it can be hard to figure out if those programs are for students who do well on the ACT, or if the students get to take the ACT if they do well in school.

Fear not—I’ll clear up the confusion in this article as I go over the pros and cons of taking the ACT in 7th grade and the programs you can get into with high 7th grade ACT scores.

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How to Write an ACT Essay: Step-by-Step Example

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 14, 2017 3:30:00 PM

ACT Strategies, ACT Writing

Sometimes writing—especially writing for standardized tests—can feel like something you "get" or "don't get." That's primarily because it's very difficult to explain and teach writing in a mechanical way, especially when you're up against time limits.

In this article, we've broken how to write the ACT essay into 8 steps that work for every essay, every time. Then, we show you exactly how to do it with an actual ACT essay example.

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