Tag Archives: SAT

Student Spotlight — Afton Mielke: High School Junior in Love with Seattle and SAT Shortcuts (But Not Justin Bieber)


Afton Mielke


Conrad, Montana

Current grade:


What kind of college do you want to go?

I’m hoping to go to an urban area. I’m really, really crossing my fingers for a college near the Seattle area. I’ve only been there twice, but I fell in love!

Do you know what you want to major in? What would be your ideal job after college?

I’m hoping to major in both Biology and Psychology and maybe get a Ph.D. My ideal job would be in Cognitive Neuroscience, or Cognitive Psychology.

Can you tell us a little about your SAT prep experience?

My SAT prep experience was great! I would recommend it to anyone! My teacher was personal and very helpful. After a computer malfunction, he stayed an extra hour after with me, just to make sure I understood what we were going over. This happened on a couple of occasions, and he was so willing to help me! I took quite a bit of time out to study. If you want to include a five hour practice and two two-hour classes each week, I probably spent an average of thirteen hours a week practicing. It paid off so much, though! I felt super confident while taking the test, and I had a lot of fun taking the practice tests. Analyzing what I had learned in class was really fun for me! My favorite strategy was Plugging in Numbers in the math section. You don’t have to try every question, and it’s super satisfying when you figure out that an answer really works out with your work! Also, for some reason whatsoever, in the Reading Comp section, I love, love, love zoning. I love how easy it made answering the questions. I got a little peek at each question each time without stressing about it. I loved it. It made the reading seem like a little break between each “real” section. Their tips and tricks were really fun and awesome. I got excited to apply them to each five hour test I took on the weekends.

Have you taken the SAT yet?

I took the SAT May 7th, 2011, and I felt so confident while taking it. Using my Knewton skills was so much fun.

Any Knewton teacher shout-outs?

Arlo! You’re the best!

Lightning Round: Favorite song right now?

Right now? Umm… Arms by Christina Perri

Favorite TV show?

The Big Bang Theory. I also LOVE the Walking Dead when I can find a time that it’s on!

Justin Bieber: Love or hate?

…Let’s not even go there.

Harry Potter or Twilight?


Free Webinar: Preparing for Summer College Visits

Summer is the best time to visit colleges. But many students and parents don’t know how to approach this first critical part of the college admissions process. What should you do? What should you definitely not do? How does interviewing work?

Here’s the thing: effective, smart visits can help you narrow down your college list, make better decisions about where and when to apply and ultimately get you (or your child) admitted to the right schools.

Join Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D., the co-founder of EqualApp and former admissions officer at Cornell and Princeton as he answers your questions and reveals inside tips on making the most of your college visits. This free webinar, co-sponsored by Knewton, will take place on Tuesday, May 17 at 8 pm EDT.

Space is limited – so be sure to reserve your spot today!

Sign up now ›

7 Summer Activities That Will Impress College Admissions Officers

This post was written by our friends at EqualApp. For more college admissions advice, check out their blog.

Have you figured out what you’re doing yet this summer? Watching TV? Playing Xbox? Sitting around on Facebook?

No, no, and no, say admissions officers. They don’t necessarily care what you do this summer, but they like to see that you’ve done something. What is that something? Here are seven ideas for summer activities that will impress admissions officers and help your application stand out.

  • Get a paying job. It builds character, gets you active, and – better still – earns you money! Deliver newspapers, scoop ice cream, bag groceries, work in landscaping. Maybe you can referee soccer or baseball, become a camp counselor, wait tables, or babysit. Keep track of your hours – colleges will want to know the average number you’ve worked each week, and the average number of weeks you’ve worked over the summer.
  • Do some research. If you want to study science or engineering, apply for a research program at a local university. Some programs are formal and have an application process, while others are less structured – in that case, contact professors to inquire about research opportunities in their labs. Also consider research if you’re interested in social sciences or humanities – projects in these areas can entail library research or interviews.
  • Take summer classes. Can’t get enough school? It’s impressive to tackle another class if you’re up for it. Consider a class at your local community college – you can get college credit while learning a new subject or exploring a favorite subject in greater depth. Another option is enrolling in a summer college at a university, where you live on-campus for three to six weeks and take a class or two, to get a taste of college life.
  • Go abroad. Many programs take high school students overseas to explore a foreign country. Some students will take family trips, either domestically or internationally. Make sure you give a trip an academic slant; that is, blog about your experiences, or start a photo-journal, or do some community service along the way, or study a foreign language.
  • Volunteer. Even if no businesses are hiring, that shouldn’t stop you from working. You can volunteer your time at a soup kitchen, cleaning up a park, raising money for a cause, or working in a hospital. Or, intern with a local company or organization that will help you develop your skills and gain additional experience.

  • Read. Go to your local library and get your hands on books that you haven’t had time to read during the school year. Your English classes can’t cover every classic – but you can! Or study a subject that interests you, and read books, newspaper articles, and magazines on a particular topic. Maybe you liked studying World War II or perhaps your chapter on ecology piqued your interest. If so, colleges will be impressed when you write your academic interest statement about your own in-depth studies on a particular subject.

  • Blog. Do you like music or TV (yes, you’re allowed to watch some TV over the summer) or have strong political opinions? Do you want to let others hear your voice? You should start blogging about your favorite topics. You’ll improve your writing and communication skills.

Most importantly, admissions officers want to see that you’ve gotten engaged with your community, or others’ communities, or that you’ve spent your summer trying to find out more about yourself – what you like, what you want to study and what you can contribute.

For more help with figuring out your summer plans, sign up a FREE phone counseling session with one of EqualApp’s former college admissions officers.

Student Spotlight — Claire Juozitis: Aspiring Rockstar, Creative Writer, and Folk Music Fan!

In this week’s Student Spotlight, meet Claire Juozitis, our first featured SAT student!


Claire Juozitis


Pittsburgh, PA

Current grade:


What kind of college do you want to go to? Do you have a dream school?

I would love to attend a school in a big city. I love the feeling of urban life and I think it would be awesome to be able to meet so many different people. Also, I have to make sure I got to college somewhere where there is lots of great music! There certainly needs to be some good concert venues in the area. Right now, my dream school is The University of Pitt!

Do you know what you want to major in? What would be your ideal job after college?

I’m not sure exactly what I want to major in yet. I do love to write, though! Some sort of creative writing job would be awesome if my plans of being a rock star don’t work out.

Can you tell us a little about your SAT prep experience?

Before I started the Knewton courses, I was doing sections of practice tests on my own. That gave me a basis for what I needed to work on: I knew which type of questions were most difficult for me. Then I started up on the Knewton classes! I tried my hardest to attend every class on the weekends, which worked to my advantage I think. I only ever had to make up one lesson On Demand, and I found that I paid attention to and preferred the live classes much better. I also completed my homework right after the lesson while all the things I’d learned in class were still fresh in my head. Doing the homework right after class helped to ingrain all of those helpful strategies into my brain! Some of the most helpful strategies I learned were PIN and PIA. I’m not the best at math, and these were easy, obvious approaches to problems that I hadn’t been using as often as I should have.

Have you taken the SAT yet? If not, when are you planning on taking it?

I took it once without any real preparation, but I am planning to take it for real in March! Just a few weeks from now!

Any Knewton teacher shout-outs?

JC AND MARCUS! You guys truly are the best! I actually had FUN while preparing for the SAT’s, and I owe that all to you guys. I can’t thank you enough. JC, good luck with your music! And Marcus, good luck with whatever adventures you take on.

Lightning Round: Favorite song right now?

“Roll Away Your Stone” -Mumford and Sons (I love folk music)

Favorite TV show?

So You Think You Can Dance

Justin Bieber: Love or hate?

How about strong dislike? I don’t believe in hate!

Harry Potter or Twilight?

HARRY POTTER! I even have an autographed copy of The Goblet of Fire Smile :)

What is a Good SAT Score?

You work hard to maintain a good G.P.A. and spend a majority of your time outside of class doing homework and participating in a variety of extracurricular activities. Yet, as soon as you reach junior year of high school, all anyone seems to want to talk about is your SAT score.

If you’re like many of our SAT students here at Knewton, you’re probably wondering: How important is the SAT, and what is considered a good score?

These are tough questions to answer, and the most accurate response to both is probably, “It depends.” But don’t worry – we’re too nice to keep you hanging like that. Read on for insight on the importance of the SAT, and how to know what score to shoot for.

How important is the SAT?

Be sure to keep in mind that SAT scores are just one of many criteria used by admissions officers. Schools look at what classes you take in high school (what subjects, how many honors and A.P. courses, etc), and of course your grades for those classes. Colleges also look at things like admissions essays, teacher recommendations, extracurricular involvement, and/or interviews to help inform their decisions.

Among these criteria, however, SAT scores are unique in that they give schools a universal benchmark with which to compare applicants from all over the world. While a 3.5 G.P.A. may mean different things in different schools – depending on grade inflation, rigor, curriculum, etc. – a 2000 on the SAT is designed to mean the same thing no matter where or when the test is taken.

Some colleges put more weight on the SAT than others. In general, while the SAT isn’t everything, its importance should not be underestimated.

What is a good SAT score?

As you probably know, the SAT consists of three parts: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. The scores from each section range from 200 – 800. A 2400 constitutes a perfect score, and is very rarely achieved. In 2009, the average score in the U.S. was around 1500.

But you didn’t ask what the average score was; you asked what a good score was. Unfortunately, that question is impossible to answer in numerical terms. What constitutes a “good” SAT score really depends on where you want to go college.

While SAT scores alone will not get you into the college of your dreams, it’s important to find out the middle range of test scores for the schools you plan to apply to. Most schools will list these on their admissions website; you can also get more information from the College Board’s College Search feature. If your SAT score falls comfortably into or above the middle range, then admissions officers will likely look to other factors – GPA, recommendations, extracurricular involvement, etc. – to evaluate whether you’d be a good fit for their school. If your SAT score is much higher than the median score, it might tip the scales in your favor; conversely, if your score is significantly lower, it could have an adverse effect.

Worried that your scores aren’t up to your dream school’s standards? Consider re-taking the SAT. Dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to your SAT prep, do your best on test day, and keep your goals realistic. And remember: more important than getting into the most highly ranked college into the world is getting into the college that is best fit for you.

Take the time to create a diverse college list. Along with “target” and “safety” schools, feel free to apply to several “reach” schools, places where your SAT score might be slightly below the middle range. Again, SAT scores aren’t everything – stellar grades, solid community service involvement, or excellence in another area might make you a must-have candidate in spite of your standardized test performance.

Whether you score a 1600, 1900, or 2200 on the test, remember: these can all be “good scores,” as long as they allow you to continue your education.

9 Ways to Save Time on the SAT

Managing your time on the SAT can be a tricky task. Most sections of the test allow for less than a minute per question if you want to finish.

That said, with proper time management and knowledge of the test format, it is entirely possible to successfully complete every section on the SAT. There are, however, some important strategies to keep in mind along the way.

1. Don’t rush through sections.

With the exception of the reading comprehension section, questions on all the multiple choice sections increase in difficulty as they go, and there is no penalty for skipping a question. Therefore, it is not wise to rush through a section. You’ll likely make sloppy mistakes on easier questions you should have gotten right, all to allow yourself a couple of minutes to attempt questions that will be much harder to get right in any amount of time.

2. “Listen” for the error

On the Identifying Sentence Errors section, don’t examine the answer choices one by one. Instead, “listen” for the error and trust your instincts. The improving sentences/paragraphs sections are not quite as simple, as you must not only identify the error but select a correct version as well. You can, however, identify the error using the same method and use it to eliminate any answer choices that clearly don’t address it.

3. On Sentence Completion, pay attention to direct indicators and keywords

SC questions require test-takers to choose a word or pair of words that would logically complete a sentence. Keywords are clue words in the sentence that point you to the right answer; direction indicators tell you what relationship the right answer must have to the keywords. Look out for these words – they’ll allow you to eliminate at least a couple of options right off the bat.

4. Break your good habits in the Math section

On regular math tests, your teacher probably docks points if you don’t show all your work. But remember, this is the SAT: you don’t have to show all your work (though it might help to jot a few things down), you don’t need to copy down formulas and, with the exception of the grid-in section, you don’t even need to write out your final answer. If it seems faster, plug in numbers rather than solving the “right” way.

5. Make your calculator your best friend

Invest in a scientific calculator so factorials and exponents don’t require you to hit the multiplication button 10 times. Get a feel ahead of time for the combination of buttons needed for more complicated functions. Know when to use mental math instead of pencil and paper or a calculator.

6. Never read a Reading Comprehension passage twice

That’s just a waste of time! Before you start reading, glance at the questions to see which part(s) of the passage they focus on (they’ll generally provide you with line numbers) and read that part of the passage only before answering that question. Save the questions about the passage as a whole for last – by the time you get to them, you’ll know the passage well and won’t need to read again. With paired passages, always answer all the questions about the first passage before even looking at the second, and save the “compare and contrast” questions for last. Jotting down little notes about the main ideas of various paragraphs will also help ensure you don’t have to read the passage twice.

7. Write an outline for the SAT essay.

It might seem like a waste of time, but it’s actually a great time-saver. Just three well-focused minutes writing an outline can save you countless additional minutes halfway through a paragraph, puzzling over what to write.

8. Prepare your SAT essay arsenal.

While you will not know your SAT essay topic in advance, the prompts will inevitably touch upon one of a handful of broad themes (heroism, independent thought, facing adversity, and technology and progress are some of the most common). Keep a few examples in the back of your mind about which you know a fair amount and to whom a variety of different topics can apply (90% of essay topics can apply to people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi if you get just a little bit creative!).

9. Don’t stress out about the time!

Ironically, thinking too much about the passing time might be the biggest time waster of all. Yes, it’s good to be aware of when your time is running out so you can use your last few minutes wisely – but don’t let it preoccupy your  mind. Instead, concentrate on figuring out the most efficient way to attack each problem type and stay focused on what you’re doing.

Tipping the Scales: Letters of Recommendation

If your grades or SAT scores are on the borderline of acceptability for your college of choice, sometimes a strong letter of recommendation is the best way to tip the scales in your favor. When I was deferred after applying early decision to Oberlin College, I ran around like a maniac getting everyone but my mailman to write me a recommendation, and ended up getting in the spring.

While I can’t be sure, I have a good idea of which recommendations ended up doing me the most good and why.

I believe that my most effective letter of recommendation came from my AP English teacher who, as the school’s only PhD, was affectionately known as “Doc.” While I didn’t read the letter, I have a good sense of what she would have said based on our conversations. I think that her letter was particularly effective for a couple of reasons.

  • She actually knew me outside the classroom. She knew that I wrote music and poetry, that I read extensively outside of class, and that I was frustrated with my high school environment for what she believed were legitimate reasons. A recommendation that says you’re bright and hardworking in the classroom will only get you so far; after all, schools already know your grades and have seen your application essay.
  • She told them things they didn’t know. Her letter of recommendation contained important things about me as a student, artist, and person. She helped convince them that the fact that my GPA was not as high as my SAT scores and essay suggested they should be (most likely the reason for my initial deferment), was due to an unsuitable school environment rather than laziness on my part.
  • She was familiar with my school of choice and thought I’d be a good fit there. Most letters of recommendations say something to the effect of, “Student X is bright and hardworking and deserves to go to a good school,” and could be mailed out to 10 different schools without making changes. My teacher, on the other hand, knew a lot about Oberlin’s history and reputation for progressive education, and believed the school environment would help me grow in ways my high school (or another college) could not.

To sum up, here’s what this experience taught me about obtaining an effective letter of recommendation:

  1. Find someone who has something specific to say about you and who knows something about you that admissions officers can’t find out any other way. For example, they should already know the quantity of time you spend on a given extracurricular activity, but a good recommender can have something new to say about the quality of that time.
  2. If a school accepts multiple recommendations, get letters that show you from different angles; this will emphasize that you’re a well-rounded person.
  3. Find someone who is familiar with the school you’re applying to, thinks it’s a good fit, and has a good reason why that reflects positively on you.

Short Fiction to Help You Prepare for the SAT (and Beyond)

Sick of flipping through the Blue Book for sample Reading Comprehension passages and toting stacks of flashcards around to practice vocabulary? We’ve compiled a list of our favorite short fiction to help you prepare for the SAT, college, and beyond. As you read, be sure to note unfamiliar words and quiz yourself about the story’s structure, point of view, and argument, if applicable.

With these engaging page-turners, SAT prep might even begin to seem – dare we say it? – fun.

1. The Knife Thrower and Other Stories by Steven Millhauser

This is reading like you’ve never seen it before: dark, forbidden and indulgent. Flying carpets, a diabolical theme park, an enchanted emporium, a midnight baseball game, a mysterious sisterhood… Whatever his subject, Millhauser imbues it with his trademark style – gorgeous sentences, a strong sense of atmosphere, and a love for extremes. The Knife Thrower and Other Stories has been called one of the “cleverest, sexiest” story collections ever written and is perfect for the modern Romantic, or anyone who wishes to find the sublime in ordinary life.

2. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (and other stories) by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers’ literary output was famously slim but exceptional. Her novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, is considered one of the finest ever written. It depicts the love triangle of headstrong cafe-owner, Miss Amelia, hunch-backed Cousin Lymon, and ex-convict, Marvin Macy. Told in a readable, limpid style, this southern Gothic tale is exactly what its title suggests it is–a song-like story that explores the relationships between “lover” and “beloved” and begs the question, “Are we doomed to love only those who do not love us back?”

3. The Dubliners by James Joyce

Joyce’s “The Dead,” one of the stories included in this collection, is famous for the epiphany at its conclusion. One of the most analyzed stories ever written, it tells the story of a commonplace dinner party at the end of which the awkward and self-deluded Gabriel Conroy comes to terms with the true nature of his relationship with his wife and those around him. Whether you plan on majoring in English or squeaking by with Composition 101, you’ll probably be assigned this piece at some point in your life.

4. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

Goodbye, Columbus was written by Roth before American Pastoral, Portnoy’s Complaint, and the many other novels about sex, death, marriage, politics, and Jewishness that comprise his extraordinary body of work. Among other stories, the book contains a novella which concerns the summer romance between the humble Neil Klugman and self-assured and wealthy, Brenda Patimkin. Winner of the National Book Award, Goodbye, Columbus is the first collection from a writer who redefined the possibilities of American fiction with his comic genius, sculpted rage, and verbal wizardry.

5. Interpreters of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Some of the most perfect stories ever written (one reviewer compared these bittersweet, elegant tales to “mathematical proofs”). This Pulitzer-Prize winning debut concerns age-old subjects like young love, separation, infidelity, cultural shock, and generational conflict. In the tradition of John Cheever and Raymond Carver, Lahiri’s understated, resolutely plain prose conveys epiphanies and moments of insight and wonder with remarkable assurance and restraint.

6. Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Though almost a cliche of literary excellence, this collection sets the standard for novels-in-stories and multi-generational women’s fiction. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Tan’s stories are compulsively readable, appear in countless literary anthologies, and are often excerpted on standardized tests. These timeless tales concerning Chinese and Chinese American women are set in modern-day San Francisco and early twentieth century China, and focus primarily on mother-daughter relationships and the deep, unspoken bonds between women.

7. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor

The name, “Flannery O’Connor” is practically synonymous with “southern Gothic.” Dark, grotesque, and disturbing, these stories concern subjects such as racial bigotry, hypocrisy, self-delusion, false liberalism, religious fervor, and alienation. Punctuated by moments of violence and fierce conflict, this collection is classic O’Connor and especially notable for its title story which concerns floundering Julian Chestney and his contempt for his mother’s racism.


How to Write an Outline for the SAT Essay

The SAT essay requires you to produce a 4 or 5 paragraph essay in a mere 25 minutes, a feat you will likely never be called on to repeat again (I can’t remember ever having less than an hour for a college essay test of comparable length). In this painfully short amount of time you will be asked to form an opinion about a topic, come up with two specific examples to support that opinion, and lay out a formal argument for it.

Believe it or not, the best way to ensure that you have time for all of this is to spend 2 or 3 minutes drafting an effective outline.

“But Jesse,” I can already hear you saying, “we only have 25 precious minutes and you want us to waste 2 or 3 of them writing things down that we’re just going to have to write again?! What sort of madness is this?!” Think about it for a second, though.

I’ll bet if you added up all of the time you spent, halfway through a paragraph, tapping your pencil furiously against your desk, bouncing your knee up and down and thinking “Oh geez, oh geez, what to write next?” it would total more than 2 or 3 minutes. A well written outline should eliminate this sort of waste almost entirely and save you time in the long run (not to mention the fact that it will surely prove less annoying to your neighbor).

The trick is, first of all, to remember that no one but you is ever going to see your outline - so write as little as possible as long as you can understand it. If you can write “gdi>sm>psve fc adv” and remember a few minutes later (not the next day or even a few hours later, just a few minutes) that it means “Ghandi’s salt march was an example of perseverance in the face of adversity,” more power to you. (And your teachers told you that all those text-message abbreviations would hurt your writing!)

Second, be sure to write all the important info (your basic position on the question, your two supporting examples, your evidence connecting them to the questions, etc.) and none of the fluff. Feel free to write down information as it comes to you even if it’s not the order in which you want it to appear in the essay. Once again, nobody ever has to look at the outline except you.

Not only will an outline ultimately save you time and ensure that your essay has structure, it will help you produce an essay in which the structure is obvious. Essay graders don’t like to spend a long time poring over your essay and trying to make sense of your unique writing style. They want to be able to plainly see an introduction, thesis statement, body with specific examples, and conclusion within a 30 second glance at the page. Taking a few minutes to construct an outline before you start writing will help your essay achieve this clarity and structure.

College Admissions Tip: 5 Reasons Not to Wait to Hear From Your Top Choice School

This week’s college admissions tip comes from our friends at College Essay Organizer.

We see it year in and year out – students put all their eggs in the basket of their dreams, and are then are left with a surprising amount of work to do in just a couple of weeks when they receive the dreaded thin envelope.

We know that when you send out that early application you feel like senior year is finally behind you and senioritis is finally upon you – like it’s time to kick back and put your feet up on your desk. Not so fast. Here are five reasons you might not want to do that just yet:

1.      You have more work to do than you think. What’s rarely discussed in college admissions circles is that college applications, even if you’re using the Common Application, are usually made up of many essays, long and short. The Common App requires a long and short essay and also asks an optional response, but most schools require additional pieces of writing, called supplemental essays. These are often at full essay length – 250 words, 500 words, or more. And you might have quite a few of these.

2.     Finishing the Common Application for one school doesn’t mean you’re finished with them all. Schools throw these supplemental essays at you for many reasons. To differentiate themselves, to point out the qualities they feel are important in their applicants, or even to whittle the application pool down a bit. But the side effect is that when you’re applying to six, eight, ten or even more universities, the amount of writing you may need to do can easily get out of hand, even if all of your schools accept the Common App.

3.     You need to get organized. College Essay Organizer was born out of a simple need our students had – to organize, keep track of, and efficiently answer an ever-growing list of college application essay questions. We saw students chewing up hours and hours each year trying to make sure they had their apps in order. CEO does that work for you, instantly. You get all your application questions in one place, and even get an automated plan for answering all your questions with as few essays as possible.

4.     Scholarship work is specific to each school. Scholarship and departmental applications can be what really chews up time for some students. Schools very rarely share scholarship opportunities, so scholarships that carry their own applications and essays tend to be specific to each school you apply to. These can pile up as well, so making sure you know what you’re up against ahead of time can help you feel a lot less pressure at the end of the year. CEO helps with that too – we show you optional, scholarship, and department-specific essays as well as the ones your schools require for their primary applications.

5.     The holidays can chew up time at the end of the year. So you’ve just gotten the thin envelope. You’re not exactly feeling on top of the world. Then, on top of that, you have holidays, family gatherings, and New Year’s. Not a great time to be buckling down with a laptop and ten essays to write. Make sure you get these things done ahead of time, and even if things don’t go as planned with your top choice, you’ll still be sitting pretty.

CEO has designed an Essay RoadMap preview to help you see (for FREE) how many essays your schools will require. This should help you get started ahead of time and make sure you’re using your time wisely while writing as few essays as possible for all your questions. Good luck with those early apps!