Eric is a doctoral candidate in the Urban Planning program at Columbia University. Prior to enrolling at Columbia, he earned a Master’s degree in Urban Planning from NYU and a Bachelor’s degree in history from Bowdoin College. Learn about different strategies Eric uses to approach SAT & AP Exam preparation!
1. What's your overall philosophy when you tutor students in preparing for the SAT and APs?
The tests are very different so I stress different skills and modes of learning for each test. The AP requires a deep knowledge of history but also an ability to write clearly. I stress the writing and have my students develop short essays on different topics throughout our engagement. The goal is to help them stockpile a diverse array of examples that span history so that they can slot them in when they take the test. Surely, they won’t memorize them verbatim, but at least they will have familiarity with most subjects and will feel much more confident as they take the exam. The SAT is a different beast. It requires much more fine-grained knowledge. In addition to reading, I ask students to write their own notecards. I like this because it stimulates the student’s brain in a different way than just reading. We all learn differently so I try to get the information into the student’s brain however I can. In addition, I make every effort to contextualize the sweep of history so that even if a student doesn’t remember the exact dates of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, for instance, he or she knows that it came after the War of 1812 and before the Panic of 1837. Having the ability to call on an event based timeline is much more valuable than stressing specific dates. It allows the student to think, “okay, what was going on in this period of time and does it make sense that a tariff would be high or low in the 1890s based on what I know about William McKinley?”
2. What are the three most important things students should pay attention to for the two types of tests, respectively?
The AP clearly outlines what it is looking for on the essays. Students need to make sure that they hit those notes over and over again. I have a specific way that I like to teach writing that focuses on paragraph construction and developing examples efficiently. The SAT is more scattershot and requires students to know the details of history. There are ways around some of the specificity of the test, but it only comes with a deep understanding of history. Also, the more practice tests and familiarity the student has with each format the better of he or she will be when it comes time to sit for the test.
3. What are some common misconceptions about the SAT and APs that your students tend to have?
I dont know that most students have clear ideas about either test. The AP tends to be the very first test most high schoolers take so they’re normally a bit nervous and unsure of what is expected of them. One thing that I have always found illuminating for the students is reading the grading rubric for the essays on the AP. Just knowing that there are specific guidelines reassures students and gives them an idea about how to approach each essay.
4. How can you help me improve if I choose to do tutoring with you?
I think my greatest value is emphasizing the writing. By eliminating the stress connected with the essays, students relax and perform to the best of their abilities. I also emphasize the narrative nature of history and how things connect and where we see distinct pivots from a previous era. For instance, the Progressive Era makes a lot more sense once it is couched in the developments of the Gilded Age and processes of urbanization, industrialization, and immigration.
5. Tell us about the kinds of students you've worked with in the past.
All of the students I have worked with have been great. Each student had their own specific interests, and I cultivated those as much as possible. One student I worked with had a keen interest in the Vietnam War so we spent extra time discussing the war and some of the planning that went it and the rise of big data in policy-making. This level of detail isn’t relevant for the tests, but it sparks an interest and provides wonderful material in the event of an essay question on that topic or an obscure question about the War on the SAT. There’s no one way to tell the story of American history so I try to tailor it to match students’ interests as much as possible.
Need help with the SAT?
Would you like to read more of our blog posts on the SAT?