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.”

 

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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!

Using Strategy on the GMAT to Improve your Score

When a GMAT student asks me, “What can I do to get better scores?” usually the first thing I ask is, “What is your current strategy?” Most of the time, I get a pretty vague response. Reading about strategy is the OG, on the BTG forum, or in a GMAT book is NOT the same as actually having a solid strategy. The word “strategy” may sound fuzzy, but all it means is a simple step-by-step approach for each unique question type.

Not only do you have to choose a strategy that works for you, but you have to implement it every time, practicing enough so that is becomes second-hand. Ballet dancers practice a pirouette millions of times, so that when they perform onstage they don’t have to think about it. You want to do the same thing for GMAT.

Before you sit down to take your next diagnostic on GMATPrep, quickly review this strategy cheat sheet (or make one of your own). These methods may not necessarily work for you, but you’ll only learn what does through trial and error. For more in-depth discussion on each of these strategies, search my other posts.

Verbal

Reading Comprehension –

1. Break down the passage. 2. Rephrase the question. 3. Predict an answer. 4. Eliminate.

Critical Reasoning –

1. Identify the Conclusion, Evidence & Assumptions. 2. Rephrase the question. 3. Predict and answer.

Sentence Correction –

1. Spot the primary error. 2. Eliminate answer choices that do not fix. 3. Look for secondary errors and eliminate.

Quant

Problem Solving –

1. Write down the given information. 2. Scan the answer choices. 3. Look for ways to pick numbers or plug in. 4. Recall relevant formulas. 5. Solve.

Data Sufficiency –

1. Identify the type of DS. 2. Determine what is needed for sufficiency. 3. Evaluate statements independently. 4. Combine if needed.

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!

GMAT: SC “Modification” Question of the Day!

“Modification” on the GMAT refers to words, phrases, or clauses that function as descriptors. Some modifiers include adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, etc. Try this Sentence Correction question on your own, then review the correct answer below!

No matter how patiently they explain their reasons for confiscating certain items, travelers often treat customs inspectors like wanton poachers rather than government employees.

(A) travelers often treat customs inspectors like wanton poachers rather than government employees
(B) travelers often treat customs inspectors as wanton poachers instead of government employees
(C) travelers often treat customs inspectors as if they were not government employees but wanton poachers
(D) customs inspectors are often treated by travelers as if they were wanton poachers rather than government employees
(E) customs inspectors are often treated not like government employees but wanton poachers by travelers

The main error here is one of modification. An opening clause describing an action with a comma at the end of it must be immediately followed by the person or thing DOING the action.

“No matter how patiently they explain their reasons for confiscating certain items,” is the opening clause here. We can ask, who is logically doing the “confiscating”? It wouldn’t be the travelers, since it’s illogical that they would confiscate their own belongings.

Based on this logic alone, we can eliminate A, B, and C.

For E, there are several issues. “By travelers” is far from its verb “treated” and has faulty parallelism. Since the first part of the idiom begins with “like”, we would want “like” to follow the word “but” as well.

That is why the correct answer is (D).

10 Tips for Non-Native Speakers on the GMAT

Even if English isn’t your first language, you can still achieve an excellent score on the GMAT Verbal section. Here are a few tips to get you started!

1. Build your grammar skills first. You can ignore most of the challenging vocabulary on sentence corrections as long as you identify what part of speech each word is, and how it functions within the sentence. To do this, you’ll need to spend some time with a solid English grammar review book. I recommend pairing a heavy-duty review book, like the Oxford Guide or those published by McGraw-Hill or Longman, with a “fun” book like Writer’s Express or English Grammar for Dummies. Start identifying the subject and the verb of every sentence correction, as well as any dependent clauses. Strategy alone won’t get you the Verbal score you want. Start your Verbal studying with grammar.

2. Keep a vocabulary journal. Write down any words you don’t know as you encounter them. You’ll start to notice that certain words appear over and over again. Make flashcards for the ones that have tricky definitions or mean the opposite of what you’d expect. (For example, the word “noisome” does not mean “noisy.” It means having an offensive odor or bad smell.)

3. Apply your idioms. Yes, you absolutely need to memorize English idioms, but don’t just be an idiom robot. Start applying them in your everyday speech, emails, and English compositions. The more you can incorporate them into your English writing, the more confident you’ll become.

4. Think like a thesaurus. It is much easier to memorize synonyms for words than their full definitions. Start grouping words together mentally (and on paper) according to their meaning. For example, words like “pusillanimous,” “poltroonish,” and “timorous” would go on the “shy” list.

5. Read and listen to high-quality English publications. My recommendations include The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or any scholarly journal that you find interesting. Listen to NPR or audio books of English-language classics. Set a regular schedule for your reading and stick to it. Even twenty minutes a day will help you conquer Reading Comprehension.

6. Create a study group. Whether in real life or online, connect with other native and non-native speakers who are prepping for the GMAT. Check out your local library and schools and set up a weekly coffee shop meet-up to discuss your progress. Create a Yahoo group. Join Grockit (of course!). This will not only help you stick to your goals, but also help you learn about new resources from other non-native speakers and gain insight from those who have more advanced English skills.

7. Consider the difference between British and American English. Many English-language schools outside of the United States focus on British English, while the GMAT is an American-administered test. There are subtle differences in word choice and spelling between the two. While British spellings are officially acceptable in the AWA section, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with their American counterparts and using them to be safe.

8. Challenge yourself with CR. Aiming for a 700+ score? Once you’ve practiced identifying the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions and are confident with the Critical Reasoning question types on the GMAT, consider buying an LSAT practice guide like the LSAT LR Bible. The LSAT has significantly more challenging CR questions and the format is the same as those found on the GMAT. Don’t neglect your GMAT practice, but if you can master the LSAT CR, then the GMAT questions will start to feel easier.

9. Spend more time on Word Problems. Though Data Sufficiency certainly requires a significant amount of Quantitative study, remember to save extra time for Word Problems. Practice translating these questions from English keywords to Math equations. Be patient at first – these questions may be especially frustrating. Luckily, the common phrases such as “less than,” “is the same as,” and “product of” are easily memorized.

10. Look at your situation as an advantage! Many native speakers are confused by answer choices that include have slang, contain popular (though incorrect) grammatical phrases, or just “sound right.” Non-native speakers learn the exact same question types and strategies as native speakers, but can apply them without any prejudice. It really is an advantage!