Interpreting Evidence Correctly on the ACT and SAT

In all three types of ACT Science passages, you will need to be able to understand how evidence is presented and be asked to answer questions based on the evidence. These are a bit like Reading questions.

To interpret evidence correctly, you need to focus on the results. Draw logical conclusions based on the presented data, and actively read the information in the accompanying passage. It’s important to know the difference between direct and inverse variation.

To answer Interpreting Evidence questions correctly, ask yourself these 3 questions: – What is the evidence presented? – Whose position is supported by the evidence? – What does the evidence suggest?

Interpreting evidence for Data Representation and Research Summaries ends up requiring more Data Analysis skills, since data is a large component of those passages. For Conflicting Viewpoints, interpreting evidence is a matter of keeping the two theories (two scientists) straight. Watch this video for a strategy on how to do this!

This video describes how to answer “Inference” questions on the SAT and ACT Reading Test. You may wonder what this has to do with ACT Science, but sometimes interpreting evidence is a LOT less scientific than it sounds, and a LOT more like reading comprehension. Remember that you can only make an inference BASED on something directly stated. Incorrect answer choices are frequently “out of scope.”

 

Grammar Guide: the usage of “those”

Confused about how “those” works on the SAT, ACT, GRE, or GMAT? Let’s take a look at a question from Manhattan GMAT that uses this word!

Salt deposits and moisture threaten to destroy the Mohenjo-Daro excavation in Pakistan, the site of an ancient civilization that flourished at the same time as the civilizations in the Nile delta and the river valleys of Tigris and Euphrates.

A) that flourished at the same time as the civilizations
B) that had flourished at the same time as had the civilizations
C) that flourished at the same time those had
D) flourishing at the same time as those did
E) flourishing at the same time as those were

In general, “those” is the plural of “that.” It’s in a group called “determiners” along with “this”, “that”, “these”, “those,” “here” and there that are technically pronouns but often function more like adjectives.

For C, D, and E, “those” is meant to mean something like “the ones” and could be used as a pronoun to replace a plural antecedent if there was one in the sentence, and if the construction was parallel.

The correct answer is (A).

SAT Identifying Sentence Errors: the Ultimate Strategy

Did you know that there are only 18 Identifying Sentence Errors on the SAT Writing section? They count for the largest percentage of your Writing score out of the Writing question-types, and if you rock the grammar skills you already have, and practice a few hundred ISE’s, you’ll easily get most of these questions correct!

Step 1 –Identify the part of speech. What part of speech is underlined? Is it a verb, preposition, adjective, adverb, pronoun, etc? The SAT loves to test the same errors over and over, and we know that each part of speech comes with some predictable errors.
Is the underlined section a Verb? Double-check that it agrees with its subject in number and plurality and that the verb tense is logical with the timeline of the sentence.

Is the underlined section a Pronoun? Make sure it has a clear Antecedent, and that the Pronoun agrees with the antecedent in number. Make sure as well that the personal pronouns (“who” and “whom”, for example) are only being used to refer to people, not things.

Is the underlined section a Preposition? The preposition could be part of an Idiom – does the preposition make sense with the word that immediately precedes it?

For example, we can’t say “afraid from,” only “afraid of.” Is the transition appropriate? Make a flashcard of the most common Idioms and learn them like you would vocabulary words. Idioms alone account for approximately 10% of your SAT Writing score!

Is the underlined section an Adverb or Adjective? Adjectives can only describe nouns, while adverbs can describe verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. Is there a word that is modifying a verb that needs an –ly suffix?

Step 2 – Check for Parallelism errors. Once you’ve examined each of the underlined portions, identified the parts of speech, and double-checked for the most-likely errors associated with that part of speech, re-read the sentence as a whole and look for any Parallelism. Items in a list (separated by commas), comparisons, and (in general) multiple verbs must be in the same format! For comparisons, remember that only “like” things can be compared to each other: people to people and things to things.

Step 3 – Still no error? Choose (E). Remember to trust yourself. After you’ve worked through each underlined part of speech and checked for Parallelism in the sentence as a whole, you still may not be able to find an error. Don’t worry — 5-8 of the ISE’s on Test Day will have “No Error”. That is approximately one-third of all ISE’s!

As you prep for your SAT, if you find yourself choosing (E) too often, it’s likely you’ll need to spend more time studying the most common types of grammatical SAT errors: idioms, run-on sentences, fragments, parallelism, subject-verb agreement, etc. If you find yourself hardly ever correctly choosing (E), then you need to relax and trust yourself. Don’t look for errors that aren’t there!

Graduate School Spotlight: University of Southern California

USC is a great school if you’re looking for graduate school programs in a large metropolis and prefer to stay on the West Coast! USC is the oldest private research university in the Western United States. It was established in 1880 and its main campus, University Park, is located just minutes from Downtown Los Angeles. It has a stellar reputation both for its undergrad and graduate programs and is in the top 1% of all colleges and universities in terms of selectivity and was voted “College of the Year” in 2000 by TIME Magazine.

At USC, programs with similar areas of knowledge and interest are grouped together to form schools (such as the Keck School of Medicine, the USC Thornton School of Music and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering) and academic departments within the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences (such as Biology, English and Sociology). USC awards Master of Arts, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees, as well as doctoral degrees in professional fields. Enrollments include students from over 115 countries and the university offers extensive opportunities for internships and study abroad.

The main campus is home to the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences as well as 17 professional schools. The main University Park campus is easily accessible by foot, with cars limited to only a couple streets, and contains many beautiful buildings, a combination of East Coast-style original brick and newer research facilities. USC also has a Health Sciences campus, northeast of downtown LA, which houses the Schools of Pharmacy, Medicine as well as programs in Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy.

Recently USC became the recipient of five large grants: $120 million to create the Annenberg Center for Communication, $100 million for the USC Annenberg School for Communication, $112.5 million for the Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering, $110 million for USC’s School of Medicine and $175 million from George Lucas to the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Besides its academic excellence, USC is known for its strong sports teams (“Fight On!”) and active social life. USC’s biggest rival is cross-town school UCLA (another great graduate school—look for it in a future “Graduate School Spotlight” blog!), and the annual football games are popular events for students. Other social activities include a number of popular clubs, a large student government, and the famous student newspaper, The Daily Trojan, which has been published continuously since 1912.

You can find out more about USC here!

What to Expect on the ACT Science Test

The ACT Science section can cause a lot of unnecessary worry among test-takers. However you can still receive a strong score even if you aren’t a budding Albert Einstein. Careful reading and note-taking (the same skills you use for Reading Comp!) are enough to answer most questions. Remember – the answer has to be based on the information in the paragraphs and/or tables. You just have to know where to look!

The ACT Science Test will always be the fourth test you’ll take. It will have 7 passages and you’ll have 35 minutes to complete them. That’s about 5 minutes per passage so moving confidently through this test is essential! It takes practice to gain confidence in interpreting data and understanding the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary. Luckily, you already have all of the skills necessary to do this from your high school Science classes.

Experiments of some type are described in most of the passages. A group of scientists will be studying some type of phenomenon. They will usually conduct two experiments to see how certain factors affect the phenomenon. Often a graph, table or diagram will accompany the description of the experiments to show the results. Here are some two important steps to help you analyze the experiments:

1. Identify the Purpose & Method

Make sure to underline the Purpose & Method for each Experiment as you read (don’t wait until you finish reading everything or you’ll be too confused and overwhelmed). The Purpose tells you why the scientists are conducting the experiment. What are they trying to find out? Look for verbs like “to study…” or “to examine…” in the first explanatory paragraph. That is often where the description of the Purpose can be found. The Method for each experiment will be described in the following paragraphs. Make sure to make note what is similar and what is different between the two Experiments. Sometimes the scientists will change one factor or more factors between the experiments to see if the results change.

2. Understand the Factors

Factors, also known as variables, are important elements of the experiments. These are often things like temperature, pH, pressure, time, distance, etc. Depending on a way the variable is being used in each experiment, it can be called either dependent or independent. Independent variables are those factors that are controlled by the scientists. Did the scientists increase the heat in the experiment? Did they add or remove pressure? If the scientists were the ones controlling the variable, it is independent. Dependent variables are what the scientists observed changing. Let’s say that when the scientists increased the heat in our hypothetical experiment, the time also increased.

The ACT: All things coordinate geometry

Some of the most challenging Math questions on the ACT involve Coordinate Geometry, so it’s important you have a solid grasp on the formulas and concepts tested. The most basic concept you’ll encounter is inequalities. To graph a range of values, you’ll need to draw a number line and plot the beginning and end of the range using an open or closed circle and a solid line.

Which of the following graphs represents the solution to the set of the inequality |x| > 3 on the real number line?

For a question, like this we’d need to solve |x| > 3 before we can graph it. Remember that the ACT loves to make seemingly easy problems more difficult by combining them with other topics (like absolute value). We have to remove the absolute value symbol by splitting the inequality in two, and we have to remember to flip the sign for the inequality that becomes negative.

x > 3  and x < – 3 become our answer to |x| > 3.

Remember that when we graph this solution set, the circles must be open because the symbols don’t have the line that indicates “or equal to”.

A few more formulas to know:

Slope = Rise / Run = Change in y / Change in x

As long as you know any two points on a line, you can find the slope. Remember that parallel lines have the same slope, and perpendicular lines have negative reciprocal slopes. You’ll also need to know how to recognize the graphs for linear and non-linear equations.

y = mx + b

This is called slope-intercept form. An equation in this form will always make a straight line on a graph (notice how neither x nor y have an exponent). In this form, b is the y-intercept (the point on the y-axis where the line crosses) and m is the slope.

y = ax^2 + bx + c

This is the standard equation for a parabola. In this equation c represents the y-intercept. A standard equation in which a variable is squared will never make a straight line.

The standard equation of a circle is (x – h)^2 + (y – k)^2 = r^2 where (h, k) is the center point of the circle and r is the radius. For example, on test day you might see a circle plotted on a graph, let’s say its center is (0,4) and the diameter is 8. All we’d have to do to find the equation of that circle is plug in r = 4 and (h,k) = (0,4) into our standard equation:

(x – h)^2 + (y – k)^2 = r^2
(x – 0)^2 + (y – 4)^2 = 4^2
(x)^2 + (y – 4)^2 = 16

Check out some awesome video explanations using problems with these formulas on Learnist!

Learnist: Point of View in ACT Science questions

The key to better scores on the ACT Science Test Conflicting Viewpoints passages is to hunt down each author’s point of view. As you read each passage, look closely for keywords that help you identify the author’s opinions.

If there are multiple paragraphs, remember that the scientist or student usually uses the first few sentences to introduce his topic and start a discussion of the main idea. The final paragraph wraps up the discussion and reinforces the Main Idea. If you are having trouble finding what the overall point of view is for the passage, go back to the very beginning and the very end.

Don’t feel like you need a big background in Science to get Point of View or other Science questions correct. These are very close to Reading Test questions! Use these three tips:

  • Don’t Be Confused by the Extraneous Information
  • Cut Through the Scientific Jargon
  • Never Leave an Answer Blank

Try a few practice questions on this ACT Science: Point of View learnboard!

How to Conquer Long Passages on the SAT

I’ll admit it- even I don’t love long SAT passages. These passages are no one’s favorite since it can be easy to get bored and confused by them, so let’s focus on some important strategies that will help you better understand the passages and get more questions correct!

When faced with one long SAT reading comp passage, it is especially important to take notes as you read. Make sure you underline the main idea of the paragraph and circle any important details. When you finish reading one paragraph, make sure you write down what the function of that paragraph was before moving on. The function should answer the question: why did the author write this paragraph? How does it fit into the whole passage? What’s its purpose?

Some common functions include: to introduce the topic, to support the topic, to introduce a new viewpoint, to bring in a counterargument, to provide an example, to describe a hypothesis, to offer an explanation, etc. A passage is simply the sum of its parts (in this case, its paragraphs). If you understand the parts, you’ll understand the whole. Think of each paragraph in terms of a verb and you’ll be on your way to answering those tough “The third paragraph serves primarily to…” questions. The key rule here: Don’t keep reading if you don’t understand why the author wrote the paragraph.

Another important tip to remember is to read the blurb! Many students overlook those few sentences and just dive right into the first paragraph, but it’s important to read the blurb first so you can understand the context of the passage. Often the blurb will tell you the purpose of the passage – the reason why the author wrote it. Is the passage a book review? Part of a novel or short story? An explanation of a scientific phenomena? Make sure you write down the purpose of the entire passage when you are done, before you answer questions!

A final tip to help you with the longest passages, besides noting the function/purpose and reading the blurb, is to pay attention to the author’s point of view and places where the author reveals opinion. How does the author feel about the topic? If this is a prose passage, how does the author feel about the characters? I like to write either a happy face or a sad face next to words that reveal opinion. For example, if the author described a character as “charming” and “clever,” I would put a smiley face next to those words. A quick glance to that paragraph later would remind me of the author’s opinion.

Let’s say we had a science-themed passage about hurricanes. Here is how our notes might look on this passage:

Para. 1: to introduce the topic of hurricanes – describe how powerful they are
Para. 2: to describe how a hurricane forms (☺- author v. interested in them)
Para. 3: to explain the history of hurricanes (where recorded; notable hurricanes)
Para. 4: to summarize how Hurricane Katrina happened
Para. 5: to recommend how hurricanes can be better detected/damage prevented
Para. 6: to explain how politics prevents this (low funding, etc.)

Overall Purpose: to describe how hurricanes form, their history & advocate more funding for their research

Ask yourself questions as you read and think critically to prevent even the most confusing and boring passages from distracting you from your goal!

Learnist: How to Save Money in College

Let’s face it, college is expensive! You may have to curb some of your spending habits if you plan to earn your degree without incurring debt. Here’s some smart money habits you can adopt today!

When you leave in the morning, you probably will have a full day of work, classes, meetings, and study sessions. Avoid the fast food and expensive take-out places on campus. Keep healthy snacks in your bag all the time – sandwich baggies of apples, clementines, granola bars, almonds, etc. You’ll save a lot of money and won’t feel your energy drop as much in between meals!

This awesome site gives you ideas for 15 great lunchbox snacks! You can actually eat healthy (and cheaply) on the go!

The key to really making it through college without debt, is to learn how to be social without spending your dough. Try to spend your time at networking events or meet-ups that don’t revolve around bars and restaurants. A couple hours spent at a local bar off-campus can easily equal a $50 tab. There will be a LOT of events in undergrad and grad school, and you’ll break the bank if you try to eat every meal out, or buy round after round of drinks. Here’s a great list of social things you can do with friends that don’t involve spending money!

The Most-Tested Grammar Rules on the SAT

For the SAT Writing section, the key to better scores is to familiarize yourself with the tested grammatical rules. Rather than read an entire book on English grammar, check out this list of the Top 10 grammar rules tested on the SAT!

1. Idioms. Idioms are expressions native to the English language. There are two part Idioms such as “neither…nor” and” between…and” as well as prepositional idioms like “interested IN” and “afraid OF.”

2. Run-ons & Fragments. These are two kinds of incomplete sentences. To be a complete sentence, a subject and a predicate verb is required. If either is lacking, the sentence is called a fragment. A run-on contains too much information, usually because two independent clauses (two complete thoughts) are being improperly combined.

3. Subject-Verb. The SAT loves to give long sentences where the main subject and the verb are separated by many words or clauses. You must identify the subject of each sentence and make sure the verb matches it in number. Generally, a plural noun takes a singular verb and a singular subject takes a plural verb.

4. Pronouns. The most common error associated with pronouns is pronoun-antecedent agreement. The antecedent is the word the pronoun is replacing. A pronoun must have a clear antecedent in the sentence; the lack of an antecedent is itself an error. The antecedent may often be present, but will disagree with the pronoun in number.

5. Parallelism. Parallelism is tested on the SAT in a series of phrases or items in a list. In parallel construction, the phrases or items must be in the same form. This can be tested with a number of parts of speech: nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc.

6. Modification. Modifiers are words and phrases that describe nouns. Adjectives, adverbs and modifying clauses will be incorrectly placed, or in the wrong form. Adverbs can only modify verbs, while adjectives modify nouns. Be on the lookout for suspicious adverb-noun and adjective-verb pairings. Also be aware that many sentences will begin with a modifying phrase and a comma. The subject after the comma must be the person or thing doing the action of the modifying phrase.

7. Comparisons. The SAT likes to compare similar things. People can only be compared to people, and things can only be compared to things. It also tests the comparative/superlative forms. Use better and more when comparing two things. Use best and most when comparing three or more things.

8. Wordiness. Wordiness means just what it sounds like, too many words! As long as there are no new grammar errors introduced, the shortest answer choice is often correct. Redundancy is a type of wordiness where the same thing is said twice. For example, the SAT would never call someone “intelligent and smart.” Keep it simple and to the point, and don’t repeat yourself!

9. Passive Voice. Passive Voice puts the object of the sentence first. Make sure to keep the subject (the person or thing doing the action) before the verb.

10. Diction. This is rarely tested on the SAT, so you are likely to only see 1-2 questions with this concept. Diction means “word choice.” The SAT may try to fool you by using a word that sounds similar to the intended word, but does not make sense in context (for example, replacing “imperious” with “impervious”). It’s important not to rush on the SAT.

Use this as a checklist to begin your studies. You’ll find articles for most of these tested areas right here on the GMAT Rockstar blog! As you study, focus on labeling each question with the “tested-concept” behind it. It’s not about getting every question correct individually, but learning to recognize the concepts. The questions will always change, but these concepts are guaranteed to show up on test day.