English

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How to organize a paragraph: the MEAL plan
Composing a clear paragraph is a foundational skill in academic writing. In high school, you may have been taught that a paragraph requires a certain number of sentences – maybe three, maybe five. But paragraphs come in different lengths, and rather than follow strict rules about word count or a requisite number of sentences, it’s important to ...
How to remember what you read
Maybe this sounds familiar: you’re sitting in class, racking your brain for the answer to a question you know you should be able to answer, but the information’s just not there. You’re frustrated. You spent hours doing the reading, yet now it’s like it evaporated from your head.
Tackling the AP English Language and Composition Essays: Part 3
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I covered the basics of the three AP Lang Essays (Synthesis, Rhetoric, and Argument), how to generally approach them, and the six steps of writing a successful essay on test day, focusing on the Rhetoric Essay. Now, we’ll look at the Synthesis and Argument Essays: how they differ from the Rhetoric Essay and how to ...
Tackling the AP English Language and Composition Essays: Part 2
Welcome back! In Part 1 of this series, we covered some basic information about the AP Lang essays, as well as the first two major components of the process, “Organizing Your Time” and “Reading and Annotating.” In Part 2, we’ll look at the final four components.
Tackling the AP English Language and Composition Essays: Part 1
More than any other test, the AP English Language and Composition Exam is dominated by essays. Three timed essays—the Synthesis Essay, Rhetoric Essay, and Argument Essay—will take up most of your time on the exam, and count for more than fifty percent of your score. In this three-part guide, I’ll walk you through the process of writing timed ...
Top grammar errors to avoid
Throughout the years I’ve spent reading and writing, I’ve seen my fair share of grammar errors. But few are peskier, or more pervasive, than the two I’ll discuss in this post. So common are these two grammar errors that I regularly encounter them in professional writing—sometimes even in articles by full blown professors! These two errors often ...
Four tricks to becoming a better academic reader
College professors often assign their students hundreds of pages of difficult academic reading per week. These reading-intensive assignments reflect a faulty assumption on the part of those professors: that college students arrive on campus already knowing how to make sense of dense texts and process information in huge quantities. Freshman ...
Sentence structure tips from William Shakespeare
Good writers always plant important words in strong positions. 
Middle School Writers’ Workshop: Understanding Characterization
Have you ever read a book where you feel like you really know the characters? You understand their dreams and relate to their failures, you can see yourself making similar decisions, and maybe they even remind you of someone you know. Rich, fully-developed characters are what separate good books from great books. It is the characters who feel like ...
How to revise your work
Before anything else, congratulate yourself. You wrote something! That’s huge! Writing is hard. Having something is so much better than having nothing. Something can be revised. And revising can be a lot of fun, as long as you have the right support. Here are some tools to help you navigate the revision process:
Up close and personal: how to prepare for a close reading paper
Close reading? Shouldn’t we already be reading “closely” for class? Correct! But the term “close reading” also describes a very specific type of literary inquiry in which one pays careful, prolonged attention to a small chunk of text (or art object) in order to produce an argument about that text and how it works. Close reading is the ...
How to “find your voice”
You will often hear writers talk about “finding their voice.” It sounds like a simple task, but honing one’s voice can take years of practice, study, and trial and error. When you are putting together your applications for college or graduate school, you are likely facing a fast-approaching deadline—so time is a luxury you don’t have.
How to tackle a writing prompt
Students are accustomed to learning and analyzing a variety of written genres—plays, poetry, novels—yet one extremely common genre is usually left for students to analyze blind. This genre is the writing prompt.
How to think like an AP Rater/Reader on the AP English Language “Synthesis” Free Response Question 1
As someone who tutors AP English Language and Composition (lovingly referred to as AP Lang) and as someone who struggled with timed writing herself, I know how daunting a task it can be to score a 5. Luckily for you, I’ve also served as an AP Rater/Reader and can offer some additional insight into what we are told to look for while scoring a ...
The Middle School Writers’ Workshop: 3 Steps to a Great Literary Essay Outline
Writing literary essays can be scary. Learning how to analyze texts through writing is one of the most challenging but fundamental skills that you’ll need in your academic career. Particularly for younger students, this task can be daunting. However, if you follow a few simple steps, it doesn’t have to be!
How To Read a Poem
You couldn’t care less about poetry, but you’ve been assigned the task of dissecting Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” or some other piece of romantic drivel. If this sounds like you, fear not! Like any skill, learning to read poetry can be mastered with practice and a bit of patience. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when reading and ...
How To Write More Clearly in Six Steps
Whether you’re writing a medical school admissions essay, a high school book report, a college research paper, or a personal statement for graduate school, clarity is key. But writing clearly is trickier than it looks. In my ten years of experience as a writing teacher and tutor, I’ve found that there are a few steps that students can take to more ...
Five quick-and-easy English words to elevate your writing
Anyone studying English will at one point or another recognize that the language is quite a hodgepodge. Centuries of outside contact – from Viking and Norman invasions to importations of Latin during the Renaissance – led to what would become the rich vocabulary of Modern English. But what should a savvy writer do with so much variation when ...
Tone and mood
When attempting an analysis of a text for the IBDP English course, some of the advanced features that students have to understand concern tone and mood. It is customary to associate tone with dialogue and speech, and mood with the setting of novels. However, tone and mood are not just features of fiction and can also be found in non-fictional ...
Confronting commas on the SAT writing and language section.
You see commas everywhere when you're reading, and you may put them everywhere when you're writing, but do you really know when to properly use this tricky punctuation mark? The SAT requires you to know exactly when a comma is either necessary or obstructive, so it is important to take the time to learn comma rules as you prepare for the writing ...
Homonyms
English is one of the languages in which spelling is a big deal. Spelling bees were created in English, and the concept is not present in other languages in which words are more often pronounced just like they look. In English, we have words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings and spellings (homophones). We also have a lot of ...
Grammar: one to 1
When learning a new language, students almost always begin with the alphabet and numbers. We use letters, of course, to form words, which form sentences that express ideas of varying complexity in a form that people who read this written language can understand. Numbers designate a different kind of language, one that conveys equations and ...
Fun English Facts
English is weird. There is no denying it. As one of the most fluid languages in terms of its continued evolution over time, it has historically been quite a difficult language to learn. And yet, it is considered the world’s universal language. Below are 10 fun facts you may not have known about English:
Betwixt and between: difficult grammar rules explained
English is not the easiest language to learn. This may be because of the many exceptions to its rules or because the same combinations of letters can be pronounced in many different ways. English also has one of the largest vocabularies of any recorded language, which means English speakers can say what they mean in a lot of different ways, but ...
Five strategies to improve your writing
Writing is at the center of our daily lives. From coursework to communicating with colleagues or loved ones, writing is how we share our voice. Here are five simple strategies to improve the quality of your writing:
5 tips to improve your writing
I was recently helping someone with a comparative essay they had to write for school. This person did not like writing—a common enough state of affairs. They felt that they had no talent for it. The process frustrated them. I could see that they were struggling in part because they were trying to do everything at once (come up with ideas, write ...
A 5 Part Plan to Studying SAT Vocabulary
Hello! My name is Chris S., and I’m an SAT tutor with Cambridge Coaching. I’m also a PhD student in American poetry at Harvard. Like Mac S., who’s written about vocabulary studying, I think it’s unhelpful to worry too much about the millions of novels, essays, poems, and new words that exist—those mountains upon mountains of text. Instead, I like ...
It’s All Greek to Me—How to Build Vocabulary from the Ground Up
A meritorious lexicon is imperative for perspicacity. Or, in plain English, a good vocabulary is important for understanding things. It helps you in your education and your career—and, for our immediate purposes, on standardized tests. But it can be tricky to memorize a slew of words you don’t understand, especially if you don’t see or hear them ...
How to Draft an Essay in College in 4 Easy Steps
Making the switch to college-level writing can be tough, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Aside from the fact that papers in college are often long (although the short ones with strict word limits can be tricky, too!), the subject matter is often complicated and requires a good deal of analysis. Professors often expect that you already have a ...
Tips for Writing an Exam Essay in 80 minutes
We've all been there.  The teacher is at the front of the classroom with a pile a blue books.  She begins handing them out.  You scrawl the name and date on the front, and wait for her to start the timer.  As you open the first page, an overwhelming white page stares back at you.  And you panic. Luckily, there are ways to prepare for essay exams ...
How to Begin Writing: The Art of Imitation
The blank page can be scary, terrifying even.  It represents the unknown.  And who isn’t afraid of what they don’t know? I, for one, feel intense insecurity and fear when confronted with an empty word document, the clicker blinking insistently at me as if impatient with my lack of progress.  And I’m a writer! I’ve been writing and teaching writing ...
6 Young Adult Books Everyone Should Read
It doesn’t matter how old you are, I firmly believe that everyone can enjoy a young adult book. While they are typically targeted at teenagers since the main characters range from 14-19 years old, these stories can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their age.  The following books are impactful and important stories that I firmly believe ...
The importance of keeping it simple: clear and concise writing
When I was a high school AP Biology student, my teacher used to walk by my desk during multiple choice exams and whisper, “You didn’t really mean to circle B there, did you? Keep it simple.” He knew I was an overthinker. Instead of circling the simplest and most obvious answer—which I often knew to be the right one—I would overthink the question, ...
Three Ways to Build Good Vocab Habits for Standardized Tests
When taking standardized tests, especially the SAT or GRE, people often struggle with memorizing enough words for the (often tricky) vocabulary sections. When it comes to vocabulary, unlike other parts of the test, you either know the word or you don’t. So how can you ensure you improve your vocabulary memory for the test? It’s all about building ...
Taking Essays To The Next Level: How To Write In Your Own Voice
It’s not unusual to get an essay back from a teacher with the feedback, “write in your own voice,” scrawled across the top. But it’s easier said than done. Here you are, writing your own thoughts and your own opinions, all according to the directions of the assignment; how can it not be in your own voice? What your teacher is actually telling you ...
3 Ways to Better Analyze Poetry
“Cikgu Tess!” “Pagi.” “Miss. Look lah.” “Alyaa—why?” “Girl’s bathroom,” she says. “Cikgu, you touch?” Our state has the highest concentration of venomous snakes in the region. “Is it poisonous?” I mime the action of being bitten (by my hand) and then dying. “Mm, don’t know.” In 2017, I taught ESL, literature, and political science at a rural ...
How To Strengthen Your Writing In One Easy Step
Very few rules of good writing are without exceptions, and this one is no exception, but I think it might be close:  You can always — or nearly always — make your writing stronger, clearer, and sharper if you follow the word “this” with a noun.*
Improve Your Writing By Getting Back to Basics: Why Grammar Matters
Why Bother? Good grammar is a lost art. Even many English teachers give it short shrift these days, and it’s possible to sail through years of schooling without addressing bad habits. But your mistakes add up. Weak writing can lead to lower grades, make a bad first impression with employers, and hold you back from being an effective communicator, ...
The Power of Anecdote: Creative Strategies for Academic Writing
Many of the freshmen I instruct at CUNY enter the first few sessions of my Expository Writing class wearing metaphorical top hats and monocles, armed with—and comforted by—the five-paragraph essay structure and other basic compositional building blocks. College-level essay writing, in their understanding, requires a stuffy, exacting formality—a ...
Speech is Silver, Silence is Golden: How Pausing in Conversation can Transform the Way you Communicate
Many people probably recognize the second part of that proverb as an oft-quoted adage to dictate the importance of quiet in our busy, noisy lives. The full version, as written above, originates in English thanks to Thomas Carlyle, who translated it from part of a larger German work in 1831 (which can be found on phrases.org/uk). The translated ...
ACT testing tip: how to identify main and subordinate clauses
For the ACT English exam, it is essential that you can identify and, if necessary, fix problems with main and subordinate clauses. Why? Because many grammar and punctuation rules require you to recognize your main subject and main verb.
A guide to your teacher's feedback: common abbreviations defined
If you are a student, you have probably seen a fair share of markings on your papers to indicate errors or ideas for improvement. If you are a teacher, you have made many of these markings and know how important it is to streamline the correcting process. While individual teachers or editors may have their own systems of signaling suggestions in ...
Why does English borrow so many words from other languages?
The Canadian blogger and free-lance reviewer James Nicoll created the following epigram on the English language: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
The Five Key Difference Between American and British Spelling Conventions
Before America became a nation, the colonists who arrived to establish the country spoke English. From England. As there was not yet an authoritative source for how to spell words correctly in English, the colonists spoke the English they were used to back home and wrote much the same way, using the way language was written in English literature ...
No butter? No bother! How context impacts meaning when speaking a language
A friend and I recently traveled to Dublin, where we were struck by how accessible the history and beauty of the city seemed, in a way that was easy to get to know. The people we encountered were friendly and eager to strike up a conversation, and they often did – with what we considered wonderfully melodic Irish accents. Notwithstanding the fact ...
Don't actually 'break a leg': common English idioms explained
One of the recent lessons I gave to my English Language Learners involved English idioms and their origins. An idiom is a saying that does not mean what the words literally express, but rather it has some representative meaning behind the words. Often, the reasons for the meanings of idioms are obscure; in this post, I will try to bring to light a ...
Back to the basics: past, present, and future tenses in English
As an English teacher and literature major in college, I am passionate about the English language. I am a self-identified stickler for grammar, and I will correct a text to a friend if I notice it lacks an apostrophe or contains an erroneous punctuation mark.
How do I Succeed as an ESL International Student? 8 Essential Solutions
The Problem You find yourself entering your first semester as a graduate student in New York City. For all the hard work reading, writing, and taking entrance exams, you still feel anxious and alienated from your native English speaking peers. Social mixers loom large. Prospects for networking with faculty appear out of reach. It’s as if you ...
What is the subjunctive tense in English?
One grammar category that seems to be widely untaught is the names and functions of various verb tenses. For those who have studied a foreign language, the existence of these constructions is not so foreign, but native English speakers rarely learn what the subjunctive – in English – even is, let alone how to use it correctly. The same goes for ...
Turn Back the Clock on that Grade! How to Revise a Bad College Paper
After you receive your grade and read your professor’s comments you might have a lot of those “if only” thoughts. “If only I had looked up that concept.” “If only I had taken extra time to proofread that.” “If only I had read the assignment more carefully.” “If only I had started earlier and done more research.” “If only I had realized I was ...
What is the Difference Between Then and Than? Allusion and Illusion? To, too, and two? A List of Common Homophones and their Differences
What is a Homophone? There are many more words in the English language than one might expect, given how similar their pronunciation and spelling can be. They're usually nouns and adjectives, except for those that function as conjunctions or contractions. Once you accept that English contains many pairs or groups of deceptively similar words with ...
One for all and all for none? Grammatical rules for one, neither, and each!
  In this blog post, our resident grammar girl reviews the impossibly confusing rules for singular subjects that refer to plural groups; subject-verb agreements involving"each", "all", and "none"; and last (but not least!) "neither", "neither", and "nor" and how they relate to your verb choice.
The most common English prefixes and their meanings
The English language comprises a plethora of words that can change meanings with the addition of a prefix or a suffix. For example, the prefix re signifies that the base word to which it attaches is happening again, as in "do" and "redo". In theory, one could add re an infinite number of times to the front of a word, and the effect would continue ...
Possessive plurals and plurals' possessives
Within the realm of punctuation, apostrophes on plurals and possessives can also lead to questions. There are patterns for forming plurals, though, and so that you do not have to wonder about when and where to put an apostrophe.
Semi-colons, colons, and commas: how and when to use them
One advisory that students hear a lot, especially in earlier years of English class, is "avoid a comma splice." A comma splice is an excessive use of commas without the proper elements of a complete sentence to justify the commas. When to use a comma versus a semi-colon depends on the type of sentence you have. Below are the sentence types that ...
Punctuate Your Point, Correctly: How to Punctuate Dialogue
They may seem small, but punctuation marks can make all the difference in how we read and understand the English language. The title of what has become an iconic little book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, exemplifies the level of ambiguity that can result from the presence or absence of a comma. This chapter focuses on several oft-mistaken categories of ...
You Could Care Less About Grammar, But Maybe You Could Care More?
"I could care less where we go to dinner." "It was really unique." "Between you and I, that movie wasn't very good." To many, there is nothing unusual about the statements above. Indeed, most of us use some variation of them frequently. But to a grammarian or someone with a depth of knowledge about the rules of English, these utterances can be ...
Did I Read The Same Text Everyone Else Did?!
This has happened to all of us in high school, in college, even in graduate school. You did the reading but then the questions the instructor asks don’t make sense to you or you can’t answer questions about details she seems to think you should know.
The Best Ways to Prepare for an Essay Exam
College students are often intimidated by essay exams, a common final exam format for courses in the humanities and social sciences. Because the exam itself provides so little structure for your answers, it can feel impossible to get all of your thoughts on paper in an organized way without running out of time. As someone who has graded a lot of ...
Four types of questions and when to ask them
source: Curious George and the Man in the Yellow Hat When a toddler asks why to an infinite regress, their line of questioning inevitably becomes annoying. The reason is not that their questions individually are inherently uninteresting—or if answered seriously will not illicit fascinating information—but rather that the line of questioning that ...
5 things you need to study Classics to really understand
"What are you gonna do with that degree?" is just one of the questions endlessly faced by Classics majors and those wondering if they should study the Classics. What Classics majors are gonna do is understand the past and present and enjoy every aspect of the world as we know it so much more, and here you'll find out why.
Which college literature classes should I take?
  Congratulations! You’ve gotten to college, and now you never have to read another book in your life! But that’s exactly the opposite of what books can do for you in college. Instead of a book being something you have to read, think about college literature classes as your opportunity to get to read. Whether or not you’re a humanities major, odds ...
The Writing Tutor: How to Love a Poem
Hands, do what you’re bid; Bring the balloon of the mind That bellies and drags in the wind Into its narrow shed.
The Writing Tutor: What Level of Writing Do US Schools Require?
You don't have to be James Bond to be a writing tutor, but it helps.
Academic Tutor: The Perks of Being an English Major (and a Drawback)
  Here at Cambridge Coaching (a company entirely run by former English or Comp Lit majors), we take a very dim view of the “good luck landing a job with that degree” brigade. You know who I mean: people who cannot so much as carry on a conversation with an English, History, Philosophy, or Psychology major, etc., without saying something like, “so ...
Academic Tutor: Enhancing Vocabulary and Recognition of Themes
A month back several of my ACT, SAT and PSAT tutoring students asked me to read books that they had to read for school.  Why?  They wanted to discuss the themes and content of the book with someone from outside of school.  Secondly, they wanted to learn to apply the critical thinking skills they use to mine such content and themes in their ...
SAT Essay Part III: Vocabulary and Sentence Structure
 In my last two posts I discussed broad strategies for the SAT essay section, and then some specific tactics to help you write the essay quickly, efficiently and without panicking. In this post I want to focus more closely on the actual sentences and the structure of your prose, and give you some idea of what the graders are looking for.
Academic Tutor: Literature, History, Writing by the Poolside
It can be so hard to start a study project (any project) in the heat of the summer.  Between the beach, the pool, and the couch, studying is often the last thing on a student’s mind.  But summer months present so much potential – from firming up your base knowledge in last year’s subjects, to getting in a little advance SAT prep, to making sure ...
What's Better, a Writing Tutor or a Writing Textbook?
Back when I was in high school, I was lucky enough to have an English teacher so dedicated to making sure his students would not go forth into the wild and merciless world without good grammar that, along with a colleague, he wrote an entire textbook and filled it with the most entertaining, memorable sentences he could devise. Why go to all this ...
The Writing Tutor: How to Rewrite an Essay Without Losing Your Sanity
The secret to good writing isn't fancy vocabulary or acrobatic syntax--it's good editing.  All writers, even the most confessional, verbose, and conversational, spend immense amounts of time rewriting, honing, cutting, and polishing their work.  This holds doubly true for academic essays.  The best writers live by a simple truth: first drafts are ...
Academic Tutor: The Value of Mindful Reading
When reading any kind of assigned text – be it a nineteenth-century English novel, an American history book, a collection of letters, or anything at all that’s been deemed required reading for class – one of the biggest temptations that all my tutorial students in New York City face is to skim.  Most students think that if they’re just not that ...
Tips from a Writing Tutor: How to Beat Writer's Block
I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t fought writer’s block at one time or another.  And as an experienced writing tutor in New York City, I’ve seen the best strategies and the worst in the fight for momentum during essay writing.  Whether the piece is for college applications, history homework, or the SAT or GRE writing sections, the most ...
The Writing Wizard: The Arsenal of Adjectives
Happy New Year from the Writing Wizard! Today’s short post will introduce you to an important concept for all sorts of writing projects: The Arsenal of Adjectives. Don’t be put off by the intimidating title; you won’t need a background in military strategy or nuclear arms proliferation theory to master this simple idea: have lots and lots of ...
An Academic Tutor's Two Cents: Read for Pleasure
As someone who has worked with numerous students on standardized test preparation and supported college coursework as an academic tutor, I know that the week after finals period brings major relief. So, congratulations! You’ve made it!
Writing Tips: Happy Thanksgiving from the Writing Wizard!
Today is Black Friday, that infamous day in consumer culture marked by deep discounts, long lines, and equal demonstrations among Americans of civility and barbarity.  Although I am not in a position to offer you flat screen TVs, flannel sheet sets, or iPhones at incredibly low prices, I do want to partake in the spirit of the season and give you ...
The Writing Wizard: Expository Writing & Crafting your Argument
The Writing Wizard is back again with a strange but useful tip for breaking through your mental blocks and clearing the cobwebs from the furthest reaches of your brain when you prepare to write.  Other people may think that you are a crazy person for doing this, or perhaps you do it already, but here it is: have a nice, long conversation with ...
The Writing Wizard: Sound and Noise
Hello! I am the Writing Wizard, and I’m thrilled to be joining the Cambridge Coaching blog to discuss focusing tools, organizational skills, and editing tricks for better writing in academic and admissions contexts.  In my first post, I want to talk about something that every writer, everywhere must confront: the blank page.  More specifically, ...