Facts about the Redesigned PSAT

Many families are aware that the redesigned SAT will be administered starting in March of 2016, but they may not be aware that the redesigned PSAT will be administered months earlier in the fall of 2015.

The new PSAT will be longer than the current one: 2 hours 45 minutes instead of 2 hours and 10 minutes. It will still have reading, writing and math sections but the College Board has fancy new titles for them: “Evidence-based reading and writing” instead of “Critical Reading” and “Writing”. These are, like the old PSAT, exercises in understanding word choice and reasoning.

Side note: When one reads the new College Board descriptions one is bombarded with references to “making students college-ready”. This concept comes out of a lofty ideal that the PSAT will be used by educators in the high school classroom to gauge their students’ abilities in reading and writing. Having been a social studies teacher, and at the AP level at that, I can safely say I’ve never been offered, nor asked to see a student’s PSAT score. Despite the fact that I’ve met teachers from all over the country, I’ve never heard of other teachers using the PSAT in this way either. So if there’s a school doing this- let me know!

Back to the facts about the PSAT…

Some good news is here about the scoring of the PSAT: the scores will be in ranges similar to the real SAT. The old PSAT had a completely different range, so parents often wondered “how would this PSAT translate to a real SAT score?” Hopefully this makes assessing a student’s progress easier. Also, there will actually be a breakdown of the individual scores so that family members can clearly see where deficiencies and strengths may be.

For more info: https://www.collegeboard.org/delivering-opportunity/sat/redesign

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Over 2000 Business Schools Accept Either GMAT or GRE!

Good news for those of you who worried about that GMAT math section. (No calculator!)
More and more MBA programs will accept the calculator-friendly GRE instead.

Here’s a current list:


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What is “data analysis” according to GRE math?

The data analysis questions on the GRE Quantitative Analysis (i.e. Math) section require skills such as “describe past and present trends, predict future events with some certainty…” (The Official Guide to the GRE).    What that means for the test-taker is that questions will contain frequency distributions, bar graphs, circle graphs, histograms, scatterplots, and time plots.

histogram This is an example of a histogram.  The Y axis will often have probability or, in this case, frequency.  The percentages you see in the picture are frequencies that simply refer to how often the event in the X axis occurred.  In this case, we are told that out of a total of 25 families, the children were chosen for something.  There were six families who had 3 children and one can see on this histogram that the probability of one of those being chosen is 6/25 or 24%.

(Look at the x value of 3 and follow with your finger to the top where it would match about 24% on the Y axis.)  This is the kind of histogram interpretation that would be involved in an actual question.


Other data analysis questions may not involve a chart, but just be represented as a word problem.  For example, when given daily temperatures for 5 days in July, one would have to find the mean, median, mode and range.  A follow-up question might involve changing the given temperatures and then figuring the new quantities.

5 days in July: 90, 88, 85, 85, 87

Mean = (90+88+85+87)/5 = 87

Median = the number in the middle when put in order=  87

Mode = the most frequent number= 85

Range = the difference between the highest and lowest quantity= 5

If each day was 5 degrees cooler, what would the new mean, median, mode and range be?  (82, 82, 80, 5)


Hopefully this quick summary has been helpful.

Best of luck!  Tanya Panossian-Lesser



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Geometry on the GRE

This is a second post about the quantitative reasoning sections on the GRE.  In the previous post, I gave an arithmetic example.  Now I’m following up with a “medium” geometry question in that same “quantitative comparison” style, then a “hard” question in a multi-choice style.


from the Official Guide to the GRE



In the figure above, the diameter of the circle is 10.

Quantity A

The area of quadrilateral ABCD

Quantity B


Is Quantity A higher than B?  Or vice versa?  Are they the same?  Or is there too little information?

When reviewing our knowledge of quadrilaterals, we remember that this shape is a kite.  Kites’ properties include the following: the diagonals multiplied together equals twice the area of the figure.  This would be a good lead if we had information on what a BD chord (not shown) length would be… but we don’t!  So the answer will be that there is too little information.

Perhaps it’s been too long since you’ve thought about all the different quadrilaterals and their properties.  It is a great idea to review those topics.  Here’s one post about kites, for example.


There is also the multiple choice format in geometry.  The following is an example of a “hard” question.


from the Official Guide to the GRE



Parallelogram OPQR lies in the xy-plane, as shown in the figure above.  The coordinates of point P are (2, 4) and the coordinates of point Q are (8,6).  What are the coordinates of point R?

A. (3, 2)

B. (3,3)

C. (4,4)

D.  (5, 2)

E. (6, 2)

What we know about parallelograms is that their sides are parallel, and therefore have the same slope.  We are given the endpoints of PQ, so we should find the slope using the slope formula.  That requires you take the difference of the Ys and put them over the difference of the Xs.  This “rise over run” would be found with 6-4 over 8-2, or 2 over 6.  This is the same slope for OR, since it’s parallel to PQ.  So if we rise 2 and run 6 from point O, which is (0,0), then we will match answer E.

PWN the SAT’s Mike McClenathan’s review about lines is here and is super-helpful!


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Thinking about graduate school? Here’s what to expect from GRE Math

scantronThe college grads that I talk to in the field of education have plans to go on to graduate school.  A few that still have to take the GRE yet are nervous, “by far”, they say, about the math.    What will be on it?  How out of practice am I???

The range of topics on the GRE math includes the categories of arithmetic (do you know how to work with fractions?), algebra (can you solve an inequality?), geometry (do you know how to work with similar figures?), and data analysis (can you interepret a distribution chart?).  The two thirty-five minute math sections, (aka “quantitative reasoning”), have twenty questions each.  (This doesn’t include the unscored section which may or may not be math.)  The paper-based test has five more questions and five more minutes per math section.

Here are some question samples from the ETS Official Guide.

1.  A student made a conjecture that for any integer “n”, the integer 4n +3 is a prime number.  Which of the following values of “n” could be used to disprove the student’s conjecture?  (Select all answers that apply.)

A. 1

B. 3

C. 4

D. 6

E. 7

In this case, the answers are “B” and “D” because when either 3 or 6 substitute for “n”, the result is not a prime number.  (Reminder: a prime number is only divisible by 1 and itself, so if you had put 3 in for “n”, you would have had 15, which is not prime since it can be divided by 3 and 5.)

There is also a comparative section.  One must compare the quantities expressed for Quantities A and B, then decide if one is greater than the other, or if they are equal, or if not enough info is given.

Here’s an example:

1.  Quantity A           (3 raised to exponent -1) divided by (4 raised to exponent -1)

Quantity B            4 divided by 3


The answer would be that the quantities are equal since after you calculate 3 raised to the -1 and 4 raised to the -1, you have the reciprocals.  1/3 divided 1/4 can be rewritten as 1/3 multiplied by 4.  That equals 4/3.


Those two examples represent problems in arithmetic.  In a future post I’ll share some examples of other math problems.


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Nervous about ACT Math? A Review of Richard Corn’s “Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT”

actThe Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT by Richard Corn has my preferred prep guide format:  short, digestible lessons, followed by enough review questions to ensure understanding.  I wish I could say that I could just hand it over to a student and feel confident that all will be fine without guidance, but I have a few issues with the content and would like to offer some tweaks.

Let’s start with his good idea to use a substitution of real values when reading the word “integer”.  He recommends that for just the word “integer” alone, go ahead and use “0”.  I would not recommend using a number with such unusual properties; the number “2” or “3” would work better here.  He has those numbers suggested for “even integer” or “odd integer” word problems, but they are useful for just “integer” problems as well.

A minor quibble with his choices in what to review, then what to test.  Later in that first lesson, Corn reviews primes and digit places.  Then his exercises start and in addition to those topics, he throws in medians – but he didn’t include a review of that topic.  Aside from a few geometry word problems, he does a more thorough job of covering the lessons that go with the exercises in the rest of the book, so it’s not like this is a constant issue.

I recommend this book over the math review in Barron’s 36, which had been my usual favorite.  They both faithfully cover the math topics ranging from pre-algebra to trigonometry that are featured on the ACT.  They both offer quizzes and answers.  I would give Corn’s book more points for including neat calculator shortcuts for time-eating tasks such as finding a common denominator when adding fractions.  He also devotes a few pages to using tricks such as educated guessing, backsolving and substitution.


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Daring techniques for the ACT reading from The Critical Reader

I was just checking out Erica’s site for her advice on the ACT since I found her SAT tips very helpful to my students. I agree with her advice on skimming and making the best use of her time. Then I clicked on http://www.thecriticalreader.com/general-reading-tips/act-reading/item/235-three-passages-not-four-dealing-with-time-on-act-reading.html
to find that for students who really have a tough time on one type of reading- she advises skip a reading!
This will work if you can earn 9/10 on the other three readings and therefore still earn an above-average score. I’m thinking of trying it out on my own students…

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