kitchen table math, the sequel: preview of Erica Meltzer's SAT book

Sunday, February 24, 2013

preview of Erica Meltzer's SAT book

Erica has posted a Preview of her forthcoming book on SAT reading: The Critical Reader: The Complete Guide to SAT Critical Reading.

Erica's book is going to be the book on SAT reading.

Her book is going to have a great deal to teach students about reading, period.

From the Introduction:
Eight years elapsed between my last SAT, which I took as a senior in high school, and the first time I was asked to tutor Critical Reading. I distinctly remember sitting in Barnes and Noble, hunched over the Official Guide, staring at the questions in horror and thinking, “Oh wow, this test is hard. How on earth did I ever get an 800 on this thing when I was seventeen?” Mind you, I felt completely flummoxed by Critical Reading after I had earned a degree in literature.

Somehow or other, I managed to muddle through my first Critical Reading tutoring sessions. I tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing, but to be perfectly honest, I was pretty lost. I had to look up answers in the back of the book. A lot. I lost count of the number of times I had to utter the words, “I think you’re right, but give me one second and let me just double-check that answer...” It was mortifying. No tutor wants to come off as clueless in front of a sixteen year-old, but I was looking like I had no idea what I was doing. Grammar I could handle, but when it came to teaching Critical Reading, I was in way over my head. I simply had no idea how to put into words what had always come naturally to me. Besides, half the time I wasn’t sure of the right answer myself.

Lucky for me, fate intervened in the form of Laura Wilson, the founder of WilsonPrep in Chappaqua, New York, whose company I spent several years writing tests for. Laura taught me about the major passage themes, answer choices patterns, and structures. I learned the importance of identifying main point, tone and major transitions, and the ways in which that information can allow a test-taker to spot correct answers quickly, efficiently, and without second-guessing. I discovered that the skills that the SAT tested were in fact the exact same skills that I had spent four years honing.

As a matter of fact, I came to realize that, paradoxically, my degree in French was probably more of an aid in teaching Critical Reading than a degree in English would have been. The basic French literary analysis exercise, known as the explication de texte linĂ©aire, consists of close reading of a short excerpt of text, during which the reader explains how the text functions rhetorically from beginning to end – that is, just how structure, diction, and syntax work together to produce meaning and convey a particular idea or point of view. In other words, exactly the skills tested on Critical Reading. I had considered explications de texte a pointless exercise (Rhetoric? Who studies rhetoric anymore? That’s so nineteenth century!) and resented being forced to write them in college – especially during the year I spent at the Sorbonne, where I and my (French) classmates did little else – but suddenly I appreciated the skills they had taught me. Once I made the connection between what I had been studying all that time and the skills tested SAT, the test suddenly made sense. The close reading skills I had spent four years being forced to hone came remarkably in handy. I suddenly had something to fall back on when I was teaching, and for the first time, I found that I no longer had to constantly look up answers.
Erica's website: The Critical Reader

Erica's other books:
Eight Multiple Choice SAT Writing Tests: The Companion Workbook to The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar
The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar


SteveH said...


Anonymous said...

Darn. Too late for us.

But, we did fine I guess... well, except in reading.:)


Anonymous said...

SteveH (and anybody else who cares to jump in)-
Since you sound as if you are in the thick of SAT preparation, I am curious if you have a best resource for Math preparation? My son scored just shy of semifinalist status on his PSAT but his first go round with the SAT was lower (high but not where he wants it to be). I can coach him through the writing/reading sections but I need to find the best possible resource to coach the math. Thanks in advance for any assistanc you can offer.

Anonymous said...

My son has always found the reading and the math sections to be the easy ones for the SAT. We ended up hiring a writing therapist for him for his writer's block, and she some of the practice she had him do was directed at the SAT essay. He did well enough in the Fall of his junior year that I won't make him do it again, but his writing score was still 40 points lower than his math score and 30 points lower than his reading score.

I don't have any advice for prepping on the reading or math sections, as we didn't do any.

I don't have specific advice on prepping for the writing section, as we ended up the writing therapist, having not found anything ourselves that worked.

SteveH said...

" resource for Math preparation?"

I can't comment on "best", but this is what I highly recommend.


The main idea is that it's NOT a math test. I wouldn't go that far, but the SAT goal is try to get you in trouble by following a standard math approach to a problem - not that it won't work, but that it will take too long. It's not a huge book so that makes it more approachable. The only other advice I would give is to do and understand all of the problems in the Blue Book. There is nothing that beats practicing with real questions.

SteveH said...

"his writer's block"

I get that every time I look at one of the prompts. I can't get past: "This is so stupid." Then my brain freezes.

I think the goal is to not take the question seriously. It's just an exercise in writing. I told my son that taking the contrarian position might be easier. Has anyone heard of a case where students have lost points based on what side they chose?

The Blue Book question for practice test 8 says (in short), "Is the world changing for the better?"

This is so stupid. Sorry. I would take the "no" position, but I would be disagreeing with the quote they took from some famous author.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

@SteveH, it truly does not matter which side you pick for the SAT essay. It's an exercise designed to see whether you can write a reasonably coherent thesis and support it with appropriate examples -- no more, no less. For kids who haven't mastered basic writing skills (and there are a lot more of them than most people would think), that's a massive challenge in and of itself. The readers spend about 2 minutes on each essay, if that. They don't have time, nor are they allowed, to consider the politics of the thing. The prompts are just there to give you some focus; as long as you make clear the relationship of your thesis to the prompt, you can essentially write about anything. The quote is irrelevant; again, it's just there to flesh out the prompt and provide a bit of perspective on how it could be understand. You don't even have to read it if you don't want to.

Jen said...

It doesn't matter what you answer. It doesn't matter if your supporting details are even true. :-p

It does matter that you PICK an answer and use examples and details to support it.

I tell kids to be prepared with a couple of stand-by answers, a couple of historical events (say WWII, civil rights movement), one or two books you know well, and a couple of life experiences you could write well about.

Don't try to give the perfect answer to the question, just give a well-written, supported essay with substantial vocabulary.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

And @ Catherine, thanks for posting the link! I hope the book lives up to your hype;) And to everyone whose kids didn't need to prep for CR...they should consider themselves very lucky!

Jen said...

Looking forward to the new book, use the grammar one for my students.

For Math, I like PWN the SAT and I like:

Lots of good information about the structure of the test and how to approach it -- and how NOT to do it, like using a lot of algebra.

SteveH said...

"it truly does not matter which side you pick for the SAT essay"

I was thinking how it might be nice to take a maybe yes or maybe no approach to the essay, but that would just make it more difficult for the reader. Then I realized that they don't care what the answer is or whether you have some deep analysis of the question.

Actually, in the above question, if you take the position that the world is NOT changing for the better, do you have to stick with that position completely, or can you hedge? Can you wrap it up by saying that "although" some things may be improving, ...". I guess what I'm asking is how do you deal with questions that are never completely right or wrong? Are you just supposed to take a strong position one way or the other? Since they only care about the writing and not the analysis, it seems to me that a simple (not hedging) position statement would provide the cleanest and strongest writing.

"...with substantial vocabulary."

Thanks for that. I will mention it to my son. The problem is that he might mistake grandiose writing for substantial vocabulary.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Including some sort of counter-argument and recognizing objections to your position usually helps in terms of scoring; it's also theoretically possible to come up with a thesis that integrates both sides of the argument. I would caution your son against doing either of those things unless he's a very strong writer, however -- your son may very well be the exception, but a lot of kids don't have enough experience with things like concession and considering potential objections to their claim to be able to pull them off cleanly in the space of 25 minutes. More often than not, it just turns into something very confused. Re: vocabulary, it's hard to tell. Kids post their essays on College Confidential all the time, and some of the ones stuffed to the gills with inappropriate, overblown vocab and barely coherent arguments get 12s while others get 8s. Essay grading can be exceedingly random. Better to stick to being clear and straightforward, and to writing about something you know in detail. If you have the basics, the essay isn't really worth a lot of stress.

Crimson Wife said...

After just administering the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to my oldest in our homeschool last week, it struck me just how arbitrary many of the reading comp questions are on standardized tests. There were a number of questions where I believe she did not choose the answer the test designer intended, but the reasoning she gave for picking a different one made logical sense. The math sections are easier in the sense that there is a single, objectively correct answer for each question.

Jen said...

I'd agree that using "grandiose" vocabulary (aka words you don't ever use and aren't sure how to use) isn't a good idea.

However, it doesn't hurt to use appropriate and interesting word choices. Even pleasant rather than nice is a step up!

The main point above is the 2 minutes. It needs to MAKE SENSE without having to reread things, it needs to have a point and support it with details. It needs to show that you can write complete sentences and link them together in some sort of organized and/or logical format.

If you're lucky, that prompt will be something that you can write beautifully about -- but really, at 8 am on a Saturday morning, facing a many hour test? Just write a decent, serviceable essay!

Auntie Ann said...

Of course, another overhaul of the SAT is underway: