The SAT and GRE Tutor: What a Long Strange Trip It Is

Posted by Mac Staben on 5/23/14 9:51 AM

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What can this man teach you about the SAT? Everything.

This summer, I’ll be going on a road trip with one of my best friends from Boston through the Southwest, then up through California. Not only will I get a chance to take a break from my work as an SAT tutor in Boston, I’m excited to get the chance to see parts of the country I’ve never seen before. As I finished up working with my Boston tutoring students, I was thinking about how similar what I was going to do this summer was to how they should approach a passage on the SAT. In this essay, I’ll talk about three approaches—diving into the trip, minding the changes, and taking a whole lot of pictures—that I’ve found helpful to my trip planning, and which I realized apply equally well to tutoring on the SAT or GRE.

Dive into the trip

As I started planning for the trip, I found that I wasn’t making much headway. I spent too much time thinking about planning, rather than just going ahead and starting. This created lots of anxiety and wasted time I could have spent on more valuable pursuits. Finally, just the week before I started, I just started calling national parks and talking to people. I learned more about permits, conditions, and cool local attractions in an hour than I had in months of fretting and looking at the internet (there’s another lesson: ask for help, don’t just trust the internet!). Similarly, when I’ve worked with students in the past, I’ve noticed that many of them try to pre-plan their trip through a passage by thinking about the author or noticing the paragraph structure. There isn’t time to think about that, so just dive right in and drive carefully through the passage. Trying to understand isolated segments can’t give you the whole picture, and because the passage is entirely new, you as a SAT test-taker don't know which parts are important. Stop wasting time playing around and dive right into the passage, and trust your passage-mapping methods. It’s quicker than any other test-strategy.

Notice sudden changes

As my friend and I move through the southwest, the climate and the temperature are going to change drastically. It’s up to us to respond in our clothes and hydration as we move from Bayou to desert. Noticing changes in the general atmosphere and reacting accordingly will be critical to staying comfortable and alert. Similarly, as a test-taker, you have to do the same thing. Note when the author changes his stance on a topic. When do different speakers come? Why is this particular piece of information used to support this argument? Shifts in tone signal shifts in meaning; the SAT and GRE love to check if a test-taker paid attention for the entire passage. When you notice a different speaker or a different idea, perk up your ears. The consequences of not paying attention may not be as bad as cooking under too much clothing in the New Mexico sun, but it’ll be just as uncomfortable.

Take TONS of Pictures

On this road trip, I’ll see approximately 9,000 miles of highway and related roads. There is no way any person could possibly remember every detail along the way. So, if in 30 years, I’m talking with my friend and he says “remember this thing we saw in Arizona?”, I’ll have no way of remembering the exact details. Every passage on the SAT is filled with similar details. As a tutor, I see that a test-writer could write 40 questions about every passage, but the SAT only asks 5-7.  Instead of trying to remember everything, remember the location, and write the detail down. Having the passage in front of you would be like future me having the footage from a camera I’d taped on the top of my head. If asked about a specific element, I couldn’t rematch the entire tape (like rereading the entire passage), but I could go find the 5 hours I spent in Arizona and look for that specific piece of information. Do the same thing as a test-taker. Don’t worry about every detail, but be able to jump back into the passage if you need to.

Follow these tips and journey to a better score on the SAT. As long drives are always easier to make with friends, call Cambridge Coaching to ask about a tutor. We’ve taken these roads before.

Happy trails!


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Tags: SAT, GRE