3 things the Grateful Dead can teach you about taking the ACT 

The music and lyrics of the Grateful Dead are an endless blossom of practical wisdom. Love 'em, hate 'em, or never heard of 'em... here's three things the Dead can teach you about taking the ACT:

1. “Strategy is Strength…” 

Have a game plan in terms of your approach to all three sections, and STICK TO IT WHEN THE STRESS HITS

Just a few examples of many...:

If you know you hate reading fiction, stick to your guns and skip it when it’s time to personalize the order in which you attack the reading. 

If you're annoyed or confused by grammar questions that ask you to re-arrange sentences or paragraphs, don’t get sucked into them. Know your strengths and weaknesses, strategize and execute accordingly. 

If long word problems in math hang you up, skip them early and go back... or guess.

If a science question demands that you coordinate information from multiple figures, charts or graphs...recognize this is more difficult and time consuming...skip or guess.

2. “Gotta try to see a little further…” 

Understand the math as a whole. Level of difficulty is arranged by question number. Generally speaking:

1 - 20 easy (I prefer the term "gettable")

21- 40 medium

41 - 60 difficult

Here’s a rough game plan to do well on roughly 75% of the exam, enough for a competitive score. 

Try to go as close for 20 right in the first 20 minutes as possible.

Then another 20 right in the next 20 minutes.

YOUR GOAL SHOULD BE FORTY IN FORTY. It's OK to work out of sequence to get there.

That leaves you 20 minutes to pick up a dozen questions to get over 50 right.



3. “You Better Get Back Truckin’ On…” 

If a question is too difficult or taking too long… guess and move on without hesitation. DON’T let it affect your mindset moving forward. Just because you've prioritized a particular passage doesn't mean you have to prioritize every question in that passage. Sometimes you have to give up the battle to win the war.

Like the Dead at their best, stay light on your feet. Have both a strong foundation and the comfort level to improvise in order to nail every gettable question you can find. 

As always, focus on accuracy over speed!  Be in the moment... allow your skill and practice to come to the surface.

Best of luck! Questions, comments or help here.

Punctuation is Aggravation 

Punctuation is aggravation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. 

(Note: Be aware that we’re discussing ACT grammar here, which is what you need right now. Out in the world, things change somewhat. That’s another discussion).

Also, there are trends, but very few absolutes on standardized tests. With grammar, ACT likes to fix one thing, but sometimes they break something else in the same answer. As always, READ CAREFULLY. 

Here are three scenarios to look out for on tomorrow’s ACT. 

1. Commas with FANBOYS (for, and, nor but, or, yet, so), semicolons and periods all work the same way. So if you see them as answer choices to the same question, they’re very likely wrong. 

For example: 

B) Blah blah. Blah blah 
C) Blah blah; blah blah 
D) Blah blah, and blah blah 

Answers B, C, and D are all working the same way. Therefore, none of them can be right. The answer, based strictly on process of elimination, is A.

2. Transition word questions can often be handled strictly with process of elimination. 

ACT likes to load up three answer choices that work the same way, and one that’s working differently. This makes transition word questions quickly gettable. 

For example: 

Consider the underlined word as “and”… 

B) In addition, 
C) Moreover, 
D) However, 

YOU DON’T NEED CONTENT OR CONTEXT TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION CORRECTLY. A, B, and C are words of “sameness” indicating two ideas are linked or “heading in the same direction.” If all three words are working the same way, none of them can be right. Only D is a word of difference, indicating divergent or contrasting ideas. So “D” is the obvious answer. 

3. ACT prefers “Active Voice,” which keeps the star of the sentence up front

Consider the following: (Insert your musician of choice). 

A) Jerry played the tune beautifully.
B) The tune was played beautifully by Jerry. 
C) The tune, which Jerry played beautifully… 
D) That tune that was beautifully played by Jerry... 

Notice only choice A put the subject (Jerry) at the front of the sentence, where he belongs. If you see answer choices that are saying the same thing, but in a variety of ways, look to put the subject up front. 

Letting the answer choices talk to you on grammar is vital. As always, shrink the test. Focus on accuracy over speed. Use process of elimination to make life easier and score more points. 

More as I learn it. Questions, comments, or help? Feel free to contact me.

False Promises

In an attempt to be more student friendly, SAT likes to tout their generosity as they provide a geometry formula sheet at the beginning of each Math section.

Unfortunately, this is a false promise. SAT has de-emphasized geometry overall, but of course they still test it. And when they do, they're often testing concepts NOT found on the formula sheet.

Real generous. Real friendly.

Ahead of tomorrow, Consider the following question, directly from the College Board:


Which of the following is an equation of a circle in the xy plane with center (0,4) and a radius with endpoint (4/3,5)?

A) x^2 + (y-4)^2 = 25/9


B) x^2 + (y+4)^2 = 25/9


C) x^2 + (y-4)^2 = 5/3


D) x^2 + (y+4)^2 = 3/5


Number of coordinate geometry concepts tested?.... 2.

Number of formulas provided to help solve?.... 0.

The point is twofold:

  1. SAT is still evil.
  2. Be self reliant! Sometimes you just gotta know stuff! 

In this case (and for tomorrow!), you need:


          1. Equation of a circle

       (x-h)^2 + (y-k)^2 = r^2

Where h and k are the center of the circle...

With that in mind, you can immediately use process of elimination to get rid of B and D, which have incorrect "+" signs inside the parentheses.

Then you need:


         2. Distance Formula

 distance =  square root of...

(x2 - x1)^2 + (y2 - y1)^2

"Do the math" as they say... to find the length of the radius is 5/3. 

But... you gotta square that when you go back to the circle equation so r^2 = 25/9... which only leaves choice A. (Note: if you did your work right, you originally took the square root of 25/9 to get 5/3, so the test wants you to reverse that small step... and trip you up in the process).

These two concepts are considered pretty advanced by both SAT and ACT, but while SAT deviously lumps them into one question, ACT tends to test them separately, which is potentially good for two raw points as compared to SAT's one point. But that's another conversation for another day.

For tomorrow (and always): Accuracy over speed. Trust technique. Know your fundamentals and formulas. 

Good luck tmrw. Questions, comments or help? Feel free to contact me.