New Rules to Write Well

By Ethan A.


Knowing how to properly structure an essay often differentiates a weak paper from the strong. Students often think pandering language provides a more personable tone, but compromising intelligence actually weakens the paper’s argument.

            Endless, random rules about sentence structure and word choice all come down to taste; so instead of struggling to please the reader, just write the best way you can.

In the interest of lists and tips, here’s one more set to add to your collection.

1.      Be concise.

Hemingway said “Use short sentences,” but “Be concise” has two fewer syllables. The best example comes from the author’s bet that he could tell an entire story in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” True to the author’s wager, this short advertisement reveals a full story.

As Hemingway illustrates, concise means saying as much as possible with as little as possible. A word earns its place only through sheer necessity, and repetition, especially for the sake of length only diminishes a paper. A longer essay can find reward, but that length should come through content rather than style.

2.      Be direct, not superfluous.

This one largely depends on taste. Some people prefer fluffy essays, but no matter what they say, you can always eliminate this excess fat in favor of cohesion.

Starting an essay with, “My friend and I once encountered a butterfly in the forest,” folds to an opening like, “Vladimir Putin’s megalomaniacal international politics mirror the historical pattern of Eastern European corruption.” An argument motivates an essay and deserves its place up front.

3.      Use vigorous English.

This one comes from Hemingway’s four writing rules. Although it’s relatively self-explanatory, it provokes a few other tips.

-          Be specific. Don’t say words like “stuff,” “thing,” or “very.”

-          Don’t use clichés. Graders reward creativity.

-          You can almost always avoid “is.” Often times, a better word can take its place. For example, “John is better than Tom” could be “John beats Tom.”


4.      Be Active, not Passive

Write in the now. Nothing will tear your essay down to mediocrity faster than passive language. In its most basic form, “Jack threw the ball” reads better than “the ball was thrown by Jack.”

More comprehensively, if “is” infects your essay, you’re probably writing passively. “A better word can often take its place” sounds better than “There is often a better word that can take its place.”

5.      Be positive, not negative.

Hemingway also said this, but so what, the guy knew how to write. He also committed suicide, so to clarify, “Be positive” doesn’t mean everything is happy. It means don’t say phrases like “‘Be positive’ doesn’t mean everything is happy.”

Several different internet blogs have interpreted this rule, but typically, instead of saying what something isn’t, say what it is.

-          Say “good” instead of “not bad.”

-          Instead of “unreliable” say “fickle”

-          Rather than “not amiable” say “hostile”

Michel Fortin went a step further and said, “Instead of saying ‘this procedure is painless,’ say ‘there’s little discomfort,’” but this type of alteration implies different meanings. “There’s little discomfort” means something completely different from “painless.” But again, taste, taste, taste.

6.      Everyone likes the guy in the suit.

Even if you’re not a formalist (someone who analyzes form over other influences) it’s okay to be formal. Here’s another sublist to prove it:

-          Formality can always replace words like “you” and “I.” You’ll be surprised how rarely you find this casual language in professional essays.

-          Similarly, don’t say words like “the reader” or “the audience.” Instead of “the book gives the reader this impression”, say “the book does this,” whatever “this” may be.

-          Your reader is not an idiot, you do not need to dumb yourself down for them. How would you feel if someone did that to you?

-          You don’t believe things, you know them. Declare yourself the scholar and your reader will regard you as one. “The president is good,” sounds much more powerful without an introductory “I think.”

7.      Exceptions

Rules are made to be broken. There is your cliché. I wouldn’t lie to you. There are always exceptions to the rules. Just know when and why you’re deviating from the generic stuff.

This seems like a lot, but it’s really not. These rules all complement one another. If you follow one, you’ll usually end up adhering to the others.

Financial Aid

By Ethan A.


Educational Gentrification: University of that Kid has a Rolex and You Don’t

Money matters until it doesn’t, and it doesn’t until it does. If you’re one of many students who wants to explore a new world by attending an out-of-state college, prepare to learn the price of ambition.

A university’s success often relies on a misleading website. Their advertised tuition seems relatively affordable (or not) until the bill arrives, flooded with hidden fees, student housing, books, meal plans, and common expenses such as real food (depending on your school, how many consecutive dinners can you eat chicken nuggets?)

New York University, reputed for its unfairly high cost, markets their tuition at about $65,860 for an On/Off-Campus Student. That seems like a lot, right? Only three years ago they advertised $40,878. Even this “official” price tag, however, drastically deviates from the true sacrifice. This past year, students protested the tuition hikes after calculating that the average yearly expense at NYU would cost about $71,000 depending on a student’s major or housing preference (hint: apartments are cheaper.) With that average, a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree costs over a quarter of a million dollars. Almost no one has that kind of money, and any student will reveal that NYU’s financial aid lives up to its unsympathetic reputation of alienating the middle class.

Other popular schools aren’t much better. Harvard publicizes $60,659 for tuition, room, board, and fees. Sarah Lawrence College comes to about $64,000. As demonstrated by NYU, however, these prices neglect the cost of living. An internationally praised college like McGill meanwhile charges Canadian citizens about $2,300. Here’s the kicker: that’s considered high. Only a few years ago, McGill announced a raise in tuition and the students took the streets of Montreal in peaceful and violent protest.

Suddenly a state school sounds like a great idea and that guac doesn’t. Any working class student struggling with two jobs and finals week will reveal the demoralizing effect of attending class after closing the graveyard shift and witnessing the adjacent international student flaunting his Rolex. Universities support this xenophobia and stark wage disparity through their admissions and financial aid. International students at NYU cannot apply for financial aid after admission, and as their website states, “New York University will consider a family’s financial need . . . when evaluating the student’s application for admission,” therefore an international student’s financial situation influences his acceptance—or in layman’s terms, why accept the poor French kid when this one can pay the full tuition?

Other schools such as Harvard and Princeton, however, offer the same institutional aid regardless of citizenship. NYU’s exclusionary policy, in comparison, demonstrates the duplicity in NYU’s marketed desire to promote diversity and rather encourages their perceived greed. Even with this financial burden, though, these diverse minds comprised 34% of NYU’s last year admissions. Enough wealthy international oil tycoons and local millionaires can afford the rising tuition without any or limited access to federal or institutional financial aid, and schools like NYU are more than happy to adjust their prices for the wealthy few at the cost of weeding out the working class.


All right, I’m crying, now what?

1.     Now you find as much help as possible. Although several schools lean toward the corporative rather than institutional side of the spectrum, some still commit to their students’ best interests.

2.     Apply for financial aid, do that FAFSA, write the aid department and state your case.

3.     Search “scholarships” in a search engine, you’ll be amazed what comes up and how much money there is out there that people just want to give away.

4.     Get creative. People have funded at least a significant portion of their education through funding sites like You can even find someone (or something) to sponsor your education.

Miscellaneous Math Knowledge

By Brian D.

As with any exam that tests mathematical knowledge, you’re going to need to know the basics. These include topics like exponents, factors, etc. Here we will be doing a brief review of the basic information that you should know for this test, and many others in general.


Laws of Exponents

Here is how exponents are typically represented in a problem.


a represents the base and b represents the exponent.

·      The base is the number that is being multiplied.

·      The exponent is the number of times the base is multiplied by itself.

If you have a negative exponent, then it simply means that you need to convert it to fractional form, in which the numerator is always 1 and the denominator is the base raised to the exponent with a positive sign rather than a negative sign.

If you have a base with a fractional exponent, then the first thing you do is put the base raised to the fraction’s numerator under a radical sign. The radical will be raised to the denominator’s root. So to sum it up, the numerator goes under the radical sign and the denominator goes outside.

If you’re presented with a situation in which you’re asked to multiple numbers that have the same base but different exponents, then what you do is add the exponents while keeping the base the same. On the other hand, if the exponents are the same but the bases are different, then you will not be able to multiple them this way. You’ll either have to use a calculator or use the specific circumstances to find a way short of manually multiplying the numbers (not only will that be time consuming but also very prone to mistakes).

The same above applies to division of bases with exponents. Instead of adding the exponents (if applicable) you subtract them.

If you have an entire fraction raised to an exponent, then you simply raise both the numerator and denominator to that exponent.

If you have a term nested in parentheses raised to a power, then you raise every term within those parenthesis raised to that power. For instance:

(XY)n = XnYn

But if there are no parenthesis, then you do not raise the entire term to that power

XYn! = XnYn


Factor Trees

Factor trees are a visual method of determining factors and ultimately, prime factors. This is not recommended because it is time consuming. In the time used to draw an entire tree (especially for larger numbers), you could have been solving other problems that present a greater challenge or require more attention. You should use this only if you do not feel comfortable with (prime) factorization because you have the multiple choice working to your advantage, if you plug in rather than spending the time to do the problem the long way.


If you do decide to use factor trees, then you simply find factors of the specified number and keep on doing that until you have only prime numbers and 1. When nothing more can be further simplified, then you have your prime factors. If the number at the top of the tree cannot be further simplified however, then it is already a prime number. 

SAT Grammar: I vs. Me

By Brian D.


It can get tricky trying to determine when to use either “I” or “me.” Thankfully once you get exposed to enough of these questions, you’ll start to develop and eye detecting the subtle differences. I’m going to briefly describe some quick ways in which you can differentiate these two.

First, use your ear and your common sense. If something does not sound right or looks awkward, it probably is. But be sure not to overthink it.

You would use “me” when you are receiving an action. You may or may not be the subject. For example,

·      He threw the football to me.

·      He gave me my paycheck.

·      My friends threw me a surprise party.

·      That rude stranger stepped on me without even apologizing.

In all four instances, you are receiving the action. You are receiving the football, given a paycheck, thrown a party, and stepped on. You are not the one performing these actions. “Me” is used passively, when you are receiving and not doing.


“I,” on the other hand, is used when you are the subject performing the action.

·      Here I am, typing up this article for you to read and study for the SAT.

·      I went out yesterday to get some groceries.

·      I just came back from a marathon and almost won.

Contrary to the cases with “me,” you are the one who is doing all of the actions. You also happen to be the subject. “I” is active, used when you are executing an action.


There are also many cases when a sentence comes down to “and me” or “and I.” In this case, take out the extraneous subjects. Then substitute the sentence with both options and look for which one sounds better or makes more sense. Let’s look at an example.

·      Joey is talking to Sam and me/I

Sam is the extraneous subject, so we’ll remove him (no offense to any Sam’s reading this)

·      Joey is talking to me.

·      Joey is talking to I.

Which one is correct? If you chose “Joey is talking to me,” then you’re correct. You are the one being talked to, not the one doing the speaking.

SAT Probability

By Brian D.


With a new exam comes new topics. The redesigned SAT is going to make its debut come March 2016 armed with a hefty repertoire of new math topics. Among these is going to be statistics, something that you’ve likely seen on the Math II SAT Subject Test. If you’re like most other people, this subject (particularly probability) probably gives you frequent headaches. Even so, it’s not really anything serious to worry about.


Statistics looks confusing at first, but it’s really quite simple if you boil it down enough. Let’s go over some common topics:

1.      Basic Fractions/Percentages

2.      Factorials + Repeating Occurrences

3.      Measures of Central Tendency

4.      Standard Deviation


Basic Fractions/Percentages

You’ve probably seen this before. It goes like this:

P = # of favorable outcomes / # of total outcomes

where P is the probability of event X happening.


Factorials + Repeating Occurrences

You can easily tell when a problem is asking you to calculate a factorial if you see an exclamation mark (!) next to a number n. Here is the formula:

n! = n(n - 1)(n - 2) ... 1

Repeating occurrences isn’t actually an official type of question, but they do appear quite often. If a question asks you how many different ways the letters in a certain word or phrase can be arranged, then it’s this kind of question. The way you should go around solving this is to first find the factorial of the total amount of letters. Then for each letter than appears more than once, divide that first factorial you calculated by the factorial of the number of times the specified letter repeats. Keep on doing this until all remaining letters appear only once.


Measures of Central Tendency

This is a fancy way for saying mean, median, and mode. The mean is the sum of all numbers in a set divided by the amount of numbers there are. The median is the middle value of the data set, when the numbers are arranged in order. Finally, the mode is the value(s) that occurs the most frequently. 




where x bar represents the mean, sigma X is the sum of all numbers within set X, and N is the total amount of numbers in set X.


Standard Deviation

This is one of the most important concepts in statistics. Standard deviation is, in essence, the average distance the values in the data set are from the mean. Standard deviation can go both ways (both above and below the mean). Usually there is a bar of three standard deviations, but it’s not a steadfast rule. Here’s the formula, which you should never try to calculate by hand while taking the test.




Don’t worry if this looks overwhelming and confusing; your graphing calculator can easily do all the math for you if you have a set of numbers. Here’s how you do so:

1.      Go to mode and turn “stat wizards” off

2.      Go to stat, edit

3.      Input the numbers in your data set in any order

4.      Go to stat, calc, 1 vars stats

Scroll down and you’ll see the following:




SAT (2016) vs PSAT (2015)

The SAT and PSAT are similar tests with different goals. The SAT is used for college admissions where the PSAT is used for scholarships. The PSAT is generally shorter and easier, being 15 minutes shorter than the SAT. 

For the new PSAT, different tests will be administered specifically for grades 8, 9 and 10. For more information regarding these grade-level tests, see our page about the 2015 PSAT.

Evidence-Based Reading60-minute section
47 Questions
65-minute section
52 Questions
Evidence-Based Writing 35-minute section
44 Questions
35-minute section
44 Questions
Math (calculator)45-minute section
31 Questions
55-minute section
37 Questions
Math (no calculator25-minute section
17 Questions
25-minute section
20 Questions
EssayNo EssayEssay optional

SAT Graphs

Graphs on the SAT are not the most complex parts of the exam. However, there are still many things that can go wrong here, and caution should be exercised. Don’t be the one to screw up on these question types!


Read effectively.

Analyze the data first, go into the question with some idea of what information is available to you and what isn’t. If you free up some time doing these generally easy questions, you will have more time to work on more challenging questions. 

You don’t want to spend an unnecessary amount of time on these types of questions, especially if they’re easy. 


Eliminate answers.

Save time by eliminating options as you figure out the only remaining possible answer. Sometimes you won’t even need to work all the way to the end! Save some time for the next question.


Write out your work. 

This is generally something you should do for all math problems. Since it’s just for you it doesn’t have to be neat, just be sure you understand it. If something wrong in the middle of the process, its much quicker to find the problem if you have all your work laid out in front of you.


Plug it in.

If you can, try out the existing answer choices in the graph/equation! Your answer is staring you right in the face already, if this is the most effective use of your time, give it a shot!

The Scores You Need for the Schools You Want

By Ethan A.

When I was in high school, I remember university representatives responding to a question about their “ideal candidate.” Each delegate proclaimed their fluffy answer about motivation and coloring abilities, until the Princeton representative leaned to the microphone and simply stated, “Four point three.” Although everyone laughed, they understood the harsh reality of Ivy League competition.

College counselors and other idealists repeatedly nurture the hope that an ACT or SAT score will not differentiate one student from another. They promote that even with a poor score, the dream university is still possible. The cold truth, however, is scores matter just as much as everyone fears.

Although the acceptance committee will consider someone’s impressive participation in the chess club or theatre troupe, scores distinguish those creative achievements. After-school accomplishments suddenly fold in light of that person’s perfect score. Of course, scores do not exclusively determine a student’s acceptance, but an obvious statistical trend persists among the scores of the admitted.


The Scores of the Best

Whether your dream school is Harvard, Cornell, or Arizona State, you need a good score. The Ivy League’s Harvard, Yale, and Princeton each demonstrate the universal competition among applicants, as illustrated by this scary chart:

  Harvard Yale Princeton National
Average Reading SAT 750 755 740 497
Average Math SAT 750 750 760 513
Average Writing SAT 755 760 750 487
Average Composite SAT 2260 2265 2250 1497
Average ACT 34 33 33 21
Average GPA 4.04 4.19 3.9 N/A
Admissions Rate 6% 7% 7% N/A

The average student at these universities scored significantly above the national average in every category (about 1/3 higher.) These intentionally intimidating numbers allow acceptance committees to swiftly reduce their massive pile of applicants.

The Bottom Line

Study, study, study.

Take a break.

Then keep studying. Your essay, background, and extracurricular activities matter—they really do—but for strictly academic programs, they won’t mean anything without the scores to back them up. Whether you need a leap or a push, you can enlist the help of various tutoring and test prep programs. The acceptance committees want to see that they are bringing in a passionate student who cares about learning and embracing life. Let your scores push you to the place where they can see the individual behind the numbers.

5 Things Students Must Know About the New SAT

Time - By now, it is likely not news that the SAT is undergoing a comprehensive revision. Unfortunately for test-takers who will sit for the Redesigned SAT soon after its 2016 release, prep materials for the exam are relatively scarce. Despite this reality, there are still ways to ready yourself.


A Short, Thumb-nail Sketch of What's Going on With College Admissions Testing

Huffington Post - As you may have heard, there is a new SAT being released in 2016. Students should know that many colleges plan to accept both the old and the new, redesigned SAT for the 2015-16 (current juniors) application season. On the other hand, for the Class of 2016-2017 (current sophomores) colleges and universities will be accepting the new SAT, but many have not yet decided whether they will continue to accept the old one.


Will the new SAT be easier than the old one? A look at what the new test could look like

The Washington Post - Like a hip new restaurant using a soft opening, the College Board has quietly released a sample PSAT on its website to no fanfare or press at all. In most years, this would be a non-event. The PSAT score, after all, plays no role in college admissions. It only matters for the less than 0.5% of test takers who qualify for the National Merit and a few other scholarships.

This year, however, is different. 


3 Study Tips for History, Science Material on the New SAT

US News - The 2016 SAT will debut an entirely new design. The exam will emphasize the use of context when answering questions, as well as the analysis of passages from significant historical documents and scientific sources. Students who plan to sit for the redesigned SAT can prepare for this new material by keeping the following things in mind...


How the New SAT Is Trying to Redefine College Readiness

US News - If you are checking out the Best Colleges rankings as a junior or senior, you’re preparing to sit – or have already sat – for the 2400-point SAT, complete with its fancy vocabulary words and mandatory essay. But members of the class of 2017 will begin prepping next year for a completely overhauled test. Last March, College Board President David Coleman announced major revisions to the fall 2015 PSAT and the 2016 SAT, saying the SAT had "become disconnected from the work of high schools."


Four Things You Should Know About the New SAT Math Test

Bloomberg Businessweek - Major changes are coming to the SAT in the spring of 2016, and the class of 2017 will be among the first students to take the redesigned test.  The new test emphasizes new content areas, such as linear equations, functions, ratios, percents, proportions, and quadratics.  Another change is the no-calculator section, which will be worth a third of the math score.  Finally, the test will include 45 multiple-choice questions, with four answer choices rather than the current five.


Revised SAT Won't Include Obscure Vocabulary Words

New York Times - On Wednesday, the College Board released some sample questions; according to the College Board’s chief of assessment, Cyndie Schmeiser, the publicly available 211-page test specifications and supporting materials will feature "everything a student needs to know". Focus is placed on “high utility” words that appear in many contexts, often with shifting meanings.

What will new SAT look like in 2016? College Board releases sample questions. - On Wednesday, sample questions for the new SAT were released by the College Board, which announced last month the 2016 SAT would include real-world applications, more analysis and citing of evidence.  One sample was a reading passage of Rep. Barbara Jordan's speech in 1974, D-Texas, during the impeachment hearings of President Richard Nixon, in which students would need to answer questions that best described Jordan's stance and the main rhetorical effect.