So, your August SATs have been reported. Ours too.
Students who learnt mind2learn’s unified model in the 6 flying days in end of July have realized 120+ gains in their reports. These include one of my favorite students, the humorous Andy, who was stuck in 1100s since this spring but made an elegant 1370 in August.
On the other side, a few boys and girls followed me for a 3-week camp and took 160+ gains. The biggest individual leap comes from a senior girl from Xi’An— she made it from 1050 to 1320. Another stunning performance is made by a 1450-May senior by shooting an extraordinary 1570.
Almost every one made 100+ gains except two quiet girls. One merely added 10, another 60. They are the ones who are taking all of my breath from now on. The model still have to be revised for students of them alike in order to strike 100+, and eventually claim 700s, in English. My goal is still that everyone who take the pain to learn my models must reach 700+ in 30 hours of learning. Unabridged!
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Cheers or chills you have wouldn’t take you far. The meaningful recap of experience would count into real learning. Here are ours too.
Before continuing the discussion, let’s clear front on the terminology we use here. “Idea”, as used here, means the key idea of a passage. A passage may start with one idea insufficient or conflicting with its key idea, such an idea is also dubbed as “idea” here even though it is not the key idea. “Evidence,” on the other hand, includes a lot of things: proof, description and narration. Proofs can be factual evidence to an idea, or a reasoning point. These “evidences” are used to support the ideas and sometimes ideas by themselves too.
Most of the EOI questions ask students the following tasks in the “evidence” level in the IES/D structure. In another word, SAT cares a lot about your capacity to express the idea, when there is one, fluently.
While the third task belongs to the domain of grammar, the first and second tasks are the two categories that SAT started to wage heavily as means to test your EOI. It is estimated that 9 of every ten American high school juniors are not able to perform both tasks successfully. This is probably due to a chronicle deficit accumulated throughout K-12 stages, a problem whose diagnosis is far beyond a couple of blog articles. Instead, let’s focus on a structural fix in your writing.
Whether any information belongs to a paragraph depends on its logical relevancy to the evidence, or idea, and rest information in the paragraph. Relevancy can be best defined by referring to the IES/D structure but not otherwise loose terms.
Referring to the previous article, IES/D structure takes a few, or three, popular variations. Paragraphs in these variations can be as simple as “I” or “E,” or composite “IE” or “IEI.”
In any of these cases above, you may try to read the context without the information in question. If the absence causes insufficiency and/or incompletion, the information shall be brought back. Incompletion happens where the discussion seems broken in its line of logic. For example, it often sounds awkward that an “IEI” paragraph without an “E” detail that could lead to the introduction of a second idea. Take the following sample for incompletion from an SAT official practice:
Over the past generation, people in many parts of the United States have become accustomed to dividing their household waste products into different categories for recycling. For example, paper may go in one container, glass and aluminum in another, regular garbage in a third. (a) Recently, some US cities have added a new category: compost, organic matter such as food scraps and yard debris. (b) Like paper or glass recycling, composting demands a certain amount of effort from the public in order to be successful. But the inconveniences of composting are far outweighed by its benefits.
The paragraph is an “IEI.” It first sets up the idea of household waste categorization, then provides exemplary details such as paper, glass and, further, compost. After mentioning the efforts of all waste categorization, it introduces the second idea that composting is still a better-than-not endeavor. It also foreshadows the discussion in the following paragraphs. Try taking either (a) or (b) away, and feel how the whole paragraph would seem broken.
These above are paragraphs that with an “I,” what if a paragraph is only concerned with “E.” There is no fundamental difference between simple “I” and “E” paragraphs. While being used as an evidence to support the idea of the passage, information in the “E” paragraph independently falls in same principles as for the “I” paragraphs. In fact, we can treat such “E” as an idea of its own. From the same compost practice article, the following sample can tell us what sufficiency looks like.
Most people think of banana peels, egg shells, and dead leaves as “waste,” but compost is actually a valuable resource with multiple practical uses. (A) When utilized as a garden fertilizer, compost provides nutrients to soil and improves plant growth while deterring or killing pests and preventing some plant diseases. (B) It also enhances soil texture, encouraging healthy roots and minimizing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. (C) Better than soil at holding moisture, compost minimizes water waste and storm runoff, increases savings on watering costs, and helps reduce erosion on embankments near bodies of water. (D) In large quantities (which one would expect to see when it is collected for an entire municipality), compost can be converted into a natural gas that can be used as fuel for transportation or heating and cooling systems.
The paragraph begins with its “E” that is also an idea itself—compost are valuable and useful. It follows with four details of its usefulness as (A) organic fertilizer, (B) soil enhancer, (C) moisture holder, and (D) source of natural gas. Looking at these details, we find that A, B and C are all ways how compost makes plants healthy while D is another kind of use. Therefore, D is indispensible in this paragraph and have to be placed after ABC. On the other hand, A, B and C talk about how compost making plants healthy by fertilizing, moistening, texturing and keeping way pests and diseases, but in an overlapping way. In case you are asked to delete one, B is the one least needed because it was overlapped by A.
At the current required level of SAT, none of A, B and C needs to be deleted because each of them contains information logically relevant to the usefulness of compost. The problem here is the structure of the expression among ABC does not following a mutually exclusive pattern. That’s the cause for its overlapping tone. If none of ABC can be removed, at least they are to be revised. One way of revising it can be the following, thus expression becomes more concise while maintaining its sufficiency.
Compost can be used as a garden fertilizer, providing organic nutrients and holding soil moisture for the plants. In addition, at its presence in the soil, compost also helps to kill pest, fend ways diseases and reducing erosion on embankments from nearby bodies of water.
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1. Determine the passage’s and paragraph’s IES/D structure.
2. Determine which way the information functions, either sufficiency or completion.
3. Determine your options in the question that fits best the above conclusion.
Since SAT employed only passages in its section 2 (grammar) in 2016, there isn’t a divide on how students may approach the section that contains 44 questions and merely 43 second per question.
All in the test prep profession believe that you should read in detail only when necessary. Such a necessity, as they suggest, arises at the presence of EOI questions, where EOI stands for expression of ideas. We know that EOI questions come in three ways, relevancy of information to topic, identity either as idea or evidence, and location or order of information in question. When you are asked on this type of questions, you read in detail to identify the topic (key idea) of the paragraph, determine whether the information is summative or supportive to, or simply off-topic. Then, of cause, to find the right order in which the in-topic information should be placed, displaced or replaced. This framework seems so obvious that many of us, including myself, have been advising it to students. Not until now!
Looking at students’ practice, we see that some of the EOI errors are surprisingly consistent throughout the practices. One of the errors is on the determination of relevancy on a particular information. Take a look of the following example:
From New Orleans, Armstrong moved to Chicago to join Joe Oliver and his King Oliver Creole Jazz Band. His new big move was to New York, Where the “Harlem Renaissance” was in full swing. Here Armstrong met and collaborated with artists of all types—painters, poets, writers, actors and musicians — and ___________ :
Choose one that indicates specific effect of Armstrong’s New York experience on his work:
-A. embraced an artistic culture even richer than that in New Orleans;
-B. many of whom have become legendary artists in their own right;
-C. so his performance become more theatrical and comedic;
-D. later would recall this period as one of the most influential in his career.
Although the key to the solution lies in the question itsself or a “specific effect …on his work” as stated by the question, many students missed this question more than twice and even after they were explained the correct answers. The cause to the error’s consistency is that all four choices read fine by view of grammar logic when you are not equipped with an eye on the overall EOI structure. If the question is revised into “which choice best fit the discussion here”, you may see very few students survive.
However, if you know the article’s EOI structure, this would not be your problem. The article describes the career growth of American Jazz musician Louis Armstrong, following an IE-E-S structure with merely three paragraphs. “I” stands for idea, or key idea that we just stated above. “E” stands for evidences that are generally the supporting information that discusses, describes, explains, proves or narrates the key idea. In the Armstrong article, evidences are his career life lines with an emphasis on his acquisitions and choices in musical values. After Armstrong’s musical start in New Orleans is introduced, his musical specifics along his Chicago-New York-Chicago route is discussed in detail. Thus, having a message on the “more theatrical and comedic” performance of his would be much relevant, if not perfect. Even though A and D both read very well and seem to be related to Armstrong's music career, C is specifically in topic within the paragraph. You can also confirm this if you find Armstrong’s “rhythmic but nonsensical syllables” later in the paragraph.
There are two general structures in section 2 passages, IES and IED, both in line with what we discussed in Idea Progressions (click here is you haven’t read this topic). IES is idea-evidence-summary, and IED is idea-evidence-development. The difference between summary and development is whether the passage closes the discussion or indicates an unresolved direction by the end. Considering passages are often (almost) in 4 to 5 paragraphs, variations of both structure are in place. The following three count nearly all of your SAT examples since 2016.
One most common variation is I-E-I-E-S/D. In this structure, passage throws out an initial idea in the first paragraph, then places some evidences in the second. (Sometimes, the first and second may be combined in one so that structure can be IE-I-E-S/D.) In the next paragraph, a new, often competing idea is introduced and then evidence supplied. Last paragraph serves as closing statement or further extension for the entire passage. As you may have noticed, this also looks a lot like the standard structure in our CRM model.
The second variation, even more popular, is IEI-E-E-S/D. When you see a very long beginning paragraph, sometimes takes 1/3 to 1/2 of the entire passage, that's it. In such cases, an idea (often a phenomenon or person) is introduced in the very beginning with some illustrating details. But the first paragraph generally doesn’t stop here, instead it points out a concern or question about the idea or phenomenon. It indicates but may not give out an second idea straightly in the first paragraph. The following 2-3 paragraphs go on with all the evidences, and then a closing paragraph of summary or development.
The last common variation is I-E-E-E-S/D. Unlike the first two structures where two ideas are discussed, this third one employs only one key idea but gives out a lot more supporting information. It is very common when the passage’s main objective is to explain basics of a phenomenon or object, or describe a person’s life or career. It may be needless to employ two competing ideas in such occasions. The Armstrong examples falls in this structure.
In taking a section 2 test, you shall have these structures in mind before you start to address the questions. When asked for an EOI question, identifying the paragraph in the overall structure first — being it as simple as “I”, “E” or “S/D”, or complicate as “IE” and “IEI” — will help you to make your choices. It not only helps in determining the information relevancy, it can also help to determine the location or order on a good piece of information that you sure must keep. We will talk about this in next blog.
On June 4, 2016, a question in the writing and language section of SAT helped to dismay more 80% of the students. Still, the other 20% on that day spells luck more than know. The question asked us to choose one of the provided connecting words:
Italy’s Tower of Pisa has been leaning southward since the initial stages of its construction over 800 years ago. [Indeed/Therefore/Nevertheless/However] if the tower’s construction had not taken two centuries and involved significant breaks due to war and civil unrest, which allowed the ground beneath the tower to settle, the tower would likely have collapsed before it was completed.
Almost all students were able to eliminate one option (Therefore) that suggests a consequential relation between the two sentences. Some savvy readers among the students were able to eliminate a second one (Nevertheless) that doesn’t seem to belong to the context. They didn’t know why. At last, all who come down to choose between However and Indeed felt it a mission impossible. We have no doubt that SAT has raised its standard in the language sections. Choosing a connection word is one of toughest job even for the professional writers.
Question above calls you to tell apart among the connection words. First of all you should have known that these words are divided into big functional groups such as addition, opposition, condition and conclusion. For example, “therefore” spells a connection from condition to result whereas “after all” spells conclusive summary after much of details.
When it comes to within a functional group, words are often embedded with their subtleties. It is exactly the situation among however, indeed, nevertheless and although in spelling the contrasting relations between two sentences or clauses.
1) ALTHOUGH is general use connector in the opposition group, linking two complete sentence structures in contrasting. As long as the two linked with although are complete in their sentence structure, we are good. See the example below：
- Although I've been to his house several times, I still can't remember how to get there.
- Although I haven’t been to his house for many years, I still remember how to get there.
Occasionally, although may be used to lead an adjective, participle or noun term, these terms can be easily transformed into a complete sentence by assuming the subject of the main sentence. This use is rather a style of abbreviation than a grammar rule. For example:
- Although (yogurt was) disgusting initially, yogurt soon became my favorite desert.
- Although (Steven was) a college student, Steven discovered a cancer drug that earned him a national fame.
2) HOWEVER, next in this roll, is a general use connector that often leads the message from a positive tone/feature into a negative tone/feature. Unlike although that only leads the first idea within a transition, however only leads the second idea. When people tend to give the first idea a positive tone and the second a negative one, it creates the illusion that however often leads a transition in one direction. For example:
- Steven has made all As in math throughout the semester. However, he failed his final in that class.
- Steven failed his final in math. However, he still made it an overall A with his hardworking throughout the semester.
- For thousands of years people had thought the Sun orbits the Earth. However, Copernicus found it is opposite.
This rule is not always, but often, in reality. If you use however in transition from negative to positive, you would not be necessarily wrong. So I would also treat this as a style, rather than a rule. But remember, SAT is increasingly test you on style.
3) NEVERTHELESS and INDEED are both used in transition from a negative tone or feature to a positive one. There is a subtle difference between these two. Nevertheless denotes the negative feature of something whose main feature is still positive. Indeed, on the other hand, denotes a negative feature that somehow can also be regarded as positive. Here are the examples:
- Steven failed his midterm and final in math. Nevertheless, his hardworking throughout the semester has earned enough As and extra credits to make an overall A for the class.
- Steven failed his midterm in math. Indeed, the test gave him an opportunity to reassess and improve he studied and finally succeeded in the final.
Go back to the Pisa Tower question in the beginning of this blog article. It is a negative thing that the construction of the tower took too long. But there is a positive effect of this negative—allowing the ground to settle thus preventing its otherwise collapse. So it is a positive side of a negative feature, indeed is the best.
It can be a deadly loss in your SAT grammar section when a pronoun does not have an antecedent to refer to. This particular kind of error is hard to discern because it is abundant and allowed in America’s daily communication. Teachers and parents are making the same mistakes all the time. No doubt students make it too.
(1) You heard mom and dad talk like this:
Mom: Did you call the hotel to make a reservation?
Dad: Yes, I just did. They didn’t answer. I will call them again later.
He sounds alright. But, who does “they” refer to? It seems that “they” refer to the hotel, which is a singular noun and must be referred by a singular pronoun. In this case the pronoun “they” and “them” do not have a correct antecedent.
(2) You also read the teacher commenting your final project:
You are a really talented artist. I am sure you will find more use of it in your life.
She also sounds great. But what does “it” refer to? Sounds like it is your art talent, but the precedent sentence never mentioned your talent. It only mentions “talented artist”. Here, the pronoun “it” does not have an antecedent.
No-antecedent mistakes are abundant in speaking because the right antecedent is generally easy to be assumed. This kind of mistakes does not confuse us daily. Since they’ve made along with us well, I suspect that they will become part of the English convention one day. But, before it happens, you have to remember that they are still wrong at least for the sake of SAT.
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However, there is one more form of no-antecedent that is totally wrong. And even a most liberal mind in terms English grammar like mine won’t be able to take it as part of the grammar. The presence of it in the language is always utterly confusing. Here is a couple of examples:
(a) High energy uv rays may alter the molecule components, which is harder to reverse.
This is from a practice SAT test. The pronoun “which” leads a clause, but what it defines is an absence. Neither “molecule components” nor “uv rays” is not something considered to be reversed. The only thing that can be the reversed is the fact referred by the entire main sentence. Therefore it must be corrected into the following:
High energy uv rays may alter the molecule components, creating a problem harder to reverse.
(b) Jefferson…exploited government power to the fullest in purchasing a vast piece of land that would double size of the United States.
This example comes from a high school ELA class, and is considered a student writing piece of high marks. The pronoun “that” also leads a definitive clause, but the subject it defines has a problem. "That" must define “land” preceding it, but a "land" cannot double size of the country. It is the purchase of the “land” that doubled the size of the country. So this must be revised into the following:
Jefferson…exploited executive power to the fullest in purchasing a vast piece of land, an government action that would double the size of the United States.
In both examples, the pronouns that lead the clauses refer to something, although related to, not exactly designated in the preceding sentence. We have to introduce an antecedent noun to refer to the information, thus make the sentence cohesive.
This is most deadly form of no-antecedent because it not only sounds ok but also sounds good to most of us in most of the time. Many often even the proficient and most sophisticated language users make such mistakes. They are hard to diagnose. Stay alerted when you see a definitive clause led by a pronoun underlined in your SAT.
Every new idea experiences criticism. The unified models featured in mind2learn SAT prep course as no exceptions. The doubts come in two folds. The first group brings an ideological one – how can one model solve all problems. While taking all reading passages through one CRM model is just hard to imagine, solving all math problems by mere EMM sounds totally insane. There is also a second group posing the practical question – show me the stats. Answers to both can come in one, the real results.
Here are the stats. In the SAT boot camp I am teaching in Naperville IL, students were given an entry test that is a less-known SAT mock by a well-known publisher. Then the students were lectured 5 Sunday afternoon classes covering reading and math, and provided a grammar handout for self-study. A midterm of same quality as the entry were done after the completion of five lectures, which add up to 15 hours in reading and 6 hours in math. Here below are the stats of both tests.
Stunning growths in the test scores among all students are marked in the graphs in comparison. On average, the sub-score of math increased by 110, while that of verbal by 45. Every student saw their growths on at least one subject if not both. Several students who entered the camp with mid 600s in reading saw their 700s. Surprisingly, one student who began with a 450 in math and a 520 in reading and found 690s in both subjects in the midterm. I am sure that the students have never seen the test before they were given. Isn’t it amazing?
While criticism settles, I started to ponder. There is a problem, still, when I looked at the number. Why isn’t it same 100 growth in verbal as in math? My students and their parents can be happy with the current results, but I, as the teacher, am not satiated if I see rooms to improve.
Unlike math on which all students saw significant growth in this camp, reading and writing saw mixed results. While most of students increased by more than 50, a third of the class didn’t see significant improvement. Looking into the two sections in verbal, I found the answer. Slightly more than half did not see any growth in grammar, and some of them got even worse on it.
The reason is simple – we haven’t spent time in grammar during lecture hours. I have been deeming grammar something my students can improve on their own. Spending any lecture hour on grammar is an abuse of the tuition. As a result, students were provided an 80-page grammar handout in beginning for self-study. Clearly, most of the students didn’t (want to) spend time self-study. To them, there is plenty of fun outside the books.
In trying to be most helpful (in terms of score points), I summarized the most popular losses in grammar among the students and published them in three blog articles as Top Losses in SAT Grammar (1/3), (2/3) and (3/3). These information generally covers 10-15 questions in the grammar section where each question counts 9 points to the verbal sub-score. These students were added a lecture hour based on these write-ups. If you read these carefully, you are guaranteed to see at least 50 points back in your next report. Even 100 points, if you are really careful.
Concise rules may be broken in case of...
As we noted in the concision rules, there must be some exception. Students often blindly choose the shorter option and find their mistake later. Concision rules are not always true, especially when they are in conflict with consistence rules.
Here are the most common examples that concision rules can be broken:
1) Consistence is needed when there is a parallel structure
2) Consistence to be kept when there is an apposition structure
3) Consistence to be kept with other part of the sentence
4) Consistence with general tone of the passage
When the general tone is in certain verb tense, voice, mood, or other style choice of the author. (Sorry, no example provided here!)
Concise rules: SAT loves keeping sentences shorter and structures simpler
Shorter and simpler language options are generally (exceptions follow) preferred in SAT grammar. Redundancy within a sentence and across the same paragraph must be deleted. "To-do" is generally considered simpler than "for/in doing". Active voices are also determined better than passive voices.
Here are some examples of concise rules.
1) Subordinating one term to another adds one more layer in structure, thus not optimal.
2) A phrase or clause in redundancy with another part of the sentence/paragraph
3) When it comes to forms of verbs, "to-do" is preferred over "doing"
4) Active voice is preferred over a passive one
Consistence in pre-position and parallel structures are very common loss in SAT writing and language section.
1) Consistence in pre-position structure:
pre-position phrases lead by "like", "unlike", or "contrary to".
pre-position phrase lead by "verb-ing", "verd-ed", or "having verb-ed"
2) consistence in parallel structure:
“and”, “or”, and “as well as”, and “from…to” connected terms
…not only…but also…
multiple terms separated by commas (each maybe long)
Sometimes several independent sentences can be parallel too
In awareness of many, efficacy and efficiency are the two top killers to one’s test taking as well as test prep. Efficacy stresses on the students’ capacity of knowing effective solutions to the test question. When presented with a quadratic function, students should know that it can solved by calling the quadratic formulas. Efficiency, on the other hand, requires the students to work on the solutions as quickly as they can, often within 1’25” for typical math problem. When complicated process is involved, the time limit is definitely not your odd. These killers are not selective in math. They are even more formidable in the reading section for which no standard solutions like quadratic formulas for math are even available. For this reason, the best way of test prep have been practice as much sample questions and mock tests as possible. It was reported that 50 hours of practice is required for growing the score from 650 to 700.
However, this situation can be stopped. Students do not have to go through lengthy practice to grow their standard test scores if they know mind2learn unified models. These models are created to unify the solution models for most if not all types of test questions, thus simplify the test taking strategy. The models include a Critical Reading Model (CRM) for all reading and an Experiment Math Model (EMM) for almost all math. Employing these models, students are simply led through 10 reading passages and 80 math questions for practice before mastering the tests. The sample reading are carefully choose from a wide range of sources covering all major genres of topics popular in the tests. The math problems are also choose from the most popular math prep sources with each marked the highest difficulty level.
One good question you must still have here. How can it be that just one simple model solves all major problems in these hard tests? It is because the test are not hard at all. It is because the way that students have been taught in preparing for them makes them so hard. When you learn that the traditional way of teaching and learning consistently shoot for an average SAT score no better than 550, your conclusion can be that such a way is neither effective nor efficient. Teaching is generally a deductive process, whereas learning may or may not. In fact the most effective way to learn is an inductive one. When you see a common link among all learnt instances, your learning is elevated.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
mind2learn is nonprofit organization based in Chicago area. Frank Feng, founder of mind2learn have 20 years of experience in education including language learning, test prep, K-12 education content publishing and educational program operation. Find mind2learn on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/mind2learn, or visit us on Facebook b at https://www.facebook.com/mind2learn/.