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A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SAT

A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SATFor many high school juniors and seniors, the SAT causes a lot of stress and anxiety. In their quest to get the perfect score, they’ve turned prepping for the SAT and other high stakes tests into a multi-billion dollar industry. While there’s some value to the expensive prep courses and gigantic test prep books, you don’t need a fancy program to help you improve your score. In many cases, you can ensure you do well on the SAT by doing some free prep work at home and using some key strategies while taking the test. We’ve rounded up some of the best tips to help you conquer the SAT.

Get to Know the Format of the Test
One of the best tips for doing well on the SAT or any other high stakes test is to get to know the format of the test. Do you know how many sections are on the SAT? Do you know how many questions you have to answer in each section?

We’ll help you out.

How much time do you have to finish the SAT? 3 hours (65 for reading, 35 for writing, 25 minutes for no-calculator math, 55 minutes for calculator-allowed math), plus 50 minutes if you complete the essay

How many sections are on the SAT? Five: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (with calculator), Math (no calculator), and Essay (optional)

How many questions do you have to answer in each section? 55 reading, 44 writing, 58 math, 1 optional essay

Beyond that, you need to know how the questions are asked. For example, you’ll be asked to answer 13 student-produced response math questions. You’ll also have to know how to read the underlined portions of the passages to answer the writing and language questions.

A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SAT General Tips
Answer every question
The current test does not have a guessing penalty, so it is better to answer every question, even if you have to guess. Use the process of elimination to eliminate at least one answer choice and improve your odds of getting the question correct.

Determine how much time you have to answer each question
Don’t spend a lot of time during the test looking at the clock, but as you practice for the SAT learn each amount of time feels like. If you’re spending too long on a question, move on and come back to it at the end.

Change the way you bubble
Consider bubbling at the end of each section or page so you don’t have to flip back and forth between the test and answer sheet. This will buy you some time. Just circle your answers in the test booklet and flip to the answer sheet at the end of each section or page.

Double check your answers at the end of the test
If you have time, go back and make sure you bubbled in the write answer for each problem. Circle the answers in your test booklet to make this process smoother.

Try to answer the question without looking at the choices
Immediately after you read a question, take a second to see if an answer comes into your head. Then read the answer choices. If the answer you came up with is one of the choices, chances are it’s the right answer.

Underline key parts of the question
Many questions contain key words that tell you what to do. Underline these words to help you stay focused as you answer the questions.

Don’t fall for traps
Make sure you answer what is being asked. The most obvious wrong answer will always be one of the answer options, so it’s easy to get tripped up.

Trust your gut
You can easily get caught into the trap of second-guessing yourself. If your gut says it’s correct, then stick with the answer and move on to the next question.

Take some time to relax before the test
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are for the SAT; if you’re stressed out, you won’t perform as well. The day before the test be sure to get some sleep and take some time to do something fun. Go see a movie. Play a video game. Hang out with your friends. Don’t spend all your time thinking about the test.

Tips for Taking Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is an important part of preparing for the SAT. Don’t just sit and click through sample questions online. Instead, print out or get a practice book that has multiple practice tests in it. As you complete each test, try to mimic test day conditions, including following the time limits, using an answer sheet, and creating a test-like atmosphere.

When you’re finished with a practice test, score yourself. For any questions you missed, before reading the answer explanation, see if you can determine how to come up with the correct answer on your own. Also look over your answers and see if you can find a pattern of errors. Did you miss certain question types or specific math or ELA skills? If so, you know that you need to brush up on those areas before test day.

Brush Up on the Basics

Because the SAT covers so much information, there isn’t nearly enough time to learn it all again. However, you can brush up on some of the basics to help you do your best on your test. Some skills to look at in order to prepare include:

  • Grammar Rules
  • Math formulas
  • Data interpretation and graphing skills
  • Making calculations without a calculator

A Comprehensive Guide to the SAT Reading and Writing
The SAT largely measures language arts and math skills. The reading and writing sections have changed over the years. Not only has an optional writing section been added, but the emphasis on definining higher-level vocabulary words and completing analogies has been decreased. In the reading section, you’ll be asked to read high-level passages and answer questions. In the writing section, you’ll be asked questions related to grammar, spelling, conventions, and general writing techniques.

Here are some tips to help you do your best on the reading and writing sections of the test:

1. Read the questions first
If a question is passage-based, it helps to have a purpose for reading. Look at the questions related to the passage before you start reading so you know if you’re looking for parts of the passage related to a particular idea or character.

2. Read grammar questions and answer choices aloud
While you can’t talk loudly during the test, you can whisper the sentences that are part of grammar questions to yourself. Often you’ll hear an error better than you can see in on the page.

3. Pay attention to connotation and context
In reading and grammar, connotation and context play a large role. By looking at both, you may be able to distinguish between two very similar answer choices and choose the correct one.

4. Look for small errors
The SAT question writers are not trying to trick you with grammar questions, but they may include some very small errors in answer choices to make them incorrect. Pay close attention to punctuation marks, plurals, pronoun-antecedent agreement, parallel structure, and subject-verb agreement.

5. See if one question clues another
Question writers work hard to avoid cluing (where one question gives you the answer to another) in a test, but sometimes, particularly in evidence-based questions, you can often find some help.

6. Read all passage introductions
Often there’s a lot of useful information in the short paragraphs that introduce the passages and questions in the reading and writing sections. There can be a lot of helpful information in the instructions on other parts of the test too, so make sure you read all of them carefully.

For more help with the reading and writing questions on the SAT, use Help Teaching’s SAT worksheets to brush up on your vocabulary, identify sentence errors, and read some SAT reading passages.

A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SAT Mathematics
The math section of the SAT has both multiple choice and open-ended math questions. There’s also a section where you’re not allowed to use a calculator. The open-ended format can see intimidating, but if you prepare for the test, you can feel confident in your answers no matter what type of question is asked.

Here are some tips to help:

1. Substitute in a number
When answer choices do not have numbers, rather equations or expressions, you can still plug in a logical number and see which one works. Pick a logical number or numbers if needed. For example, 1 is a good starting place, 100 if you are dealing with percents, multiples of 10 if angle measures, etc.

2. Substitute in answer choices
Substituting the answers choices in for variable is a huge time saver – “plug and chug”. You’re looking to get the correct answer as efficiently as possible, not please your math teacher!

3. Simplify or rewrite in another form when you can
Sometimes a question masquerades as something more complex when all you really need to do is simplify it. For example, an improper fraction may reduce to a whole number.

4. Brush up on time savers
These include the Pythagorean Triple (3-4-5 and 5-12-13 specifically). Remember that any multiples of those numbers are also triples (6-8-10, 10-24-26). You can also brush up on special right triangle rules or other ones learned in school.

5. When in doubt, draw it out
Draw a picture, graph, table, diagram whenever you can to help visualize the problem.

6. Memorize and become familiar with formulas
The SAT will give you a reference sheet with common formulas, but it’s time-consuming to constantly take it out and refer to it. If you are familiar with common formulas, you can answer most of the questions on the test without referring to the formula sheet.

In addition to the tips above, you can find resources to help you prepare for the SAT on Help Teaching’s SAT Preparation Resources page.

Still worried you won’t do well? Don’t stress. Not all colleges require the SAT or ACT. Check out FairTest to discover a list of colleges and universities that are “test optional” or “test flexible” when considering students for admission.

Creative Ways to Teach about US Presidents

Creative Ways to Teach about US Presidents
While President’s Day is typically associated with Washington and Lincoln, the holiday lends itself well to lessons and projects on our Founding Fathers. Try some of the examples below and pair them with some of Help Teaching’s graphic organizers and printable worksheets for the full presidential treatment.

Presidential Puppetry

All you need is a Popsicle stick and a printed head shot of any number of presidents. Ask your students to write a script around an important concept or theme in American History, such as the writing of the Constitution, the debate over slavery, or even a silly dinner party at the White House. The students can use Help Teaching’s Plot Diagram to assist them in writing their script, or use the Story Map to develop the action in their tale.

Presidential Baseball Cards

Baseball cards show a player’s statistics over his playing career. A presidential baseball card shows the chief executive’s accomplishments by year, his biographical information, and political affiliation. Help Teaching’s Writing Box with Lines is the perfect vehicle for this project. Paste the president’s photo in the empty box and put his presidential information in the lines below.

Presidential Campaign Posters

Every president was once a candidate, and campaigning has been an American institution for over a century. Have your students research the issues of the day and create a campaign poster for their assigned candidate. Draw them in with a lesson on slogans, mottos, and campaign ads, showing them examples of modern day tactics from the campaign trail. Use Help Teaching’s Boxes and Bullets Diagram organizer to narrow down the most important issues of the candidate’s time.

Presidential Experts

Make each of your students an “expert” on one president. Put together a living museum with five students speaking as the commander in chief per day. Use a simple Web Diagram worksheetto dictate which aspects of the president’s term should be emphasized.

Presidential Bingo

Give students a list of 24 presidents and instruct them to fill one in each box of aBingo card (Don’t forget to leave the middle space free!). Then read a brief description of one of the 24 presidents. Students will check off the president they think you are describing. The first student with five checked off presidents in a row on the Bingo card wins!

Presidential Quizzes

Help Teaching has a slew of worksheets to quiz students on the presidents of the United States. There are quizzes on presidents throughout history, just the early presidents,  and activities surrounding both the 2008 and 2012 presidential election results.

Presidential Videos

John Adams - TV Series
There are various YouTube channels dedicated to specific US presidents or the office of the president in general. Take a tour through “The American Presidents“, “Presidential Facts“, and the dozens of presidential libraries that offer YouTube channels.
There are also plenty of Hollywood films that will enhance any lesson or activity about residents of the White House. Films like 1776 show our Founding Fathers as they fought for independence from Great Britain; Lincoln, the recent awarding winning film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is a gripping account of one of our greatest presidents; HBO’s miniseries on the under appreciated President John Adams has many interesting nuggets to share; Thirteen Days in a terrific film that captures the tension in the country during the Cuban Missile Crisis, under the stewardship of President Kennedy in 1963. For more tips on using film in your class, see an earlier post on “How to Use Hollywood Movies in the Social Studies Classroom“.

President’s Day is more than just a day off from school, and it is more than a day to remember Washington and Lincoln. Use the activities above to make learning the presidents fun and exciting and don’t forget to check out Everything Your Students Always Wanted to Know About Electing the President, but were too Afraid to Ask.

Black History Month Reading List – 30 Titles for Grades K-12

Black History Month Reading List - 30 Titles for Grades K-12
While African-American authors hold their own in the literary world, Black History Month gives you a chance to highlight some of the most celebrated African-American authors and their literary achievements. While some of their works highlight the rich history and achievements of African-Americans, others simply bring a new perspective to common themes and story lines. To help you determine what books to include in your classroom, we’ve compiled a list of some great works and accompanying worksheets to share with students during Black History Month.

Kindergarten – 2nd grade

At this level, focus on poems and picture books. It’s never too early to introduce children to the poetry of one of the most well-known African-American poets, Langston Hughes, or newer poets such as Nikki Giovanni. Start with a few of these texts:

  • April Rain Song by Langton Hughes (worksheet)
  • Covers by Nikki Giovanni (worksheet)
  • Laughing Boy by Richard Wright (worksheet)
  • The Flower Garden by Eve Bunting (worksheet)
  • The Hat that Wore Clara B. by Melanie Turner-Denstaedt (worksheet)
  • Ruby and the Booker Boys by Derrick Barnes (worksheet)

3rd grade – 5th grade

Kids in upper elementary school can start to read short biographies of famous African-Americans. They will also appreciate short stories and novels that focus on African-American history and start to subtly tackle controversial issues. Consider some of the following pieces:

  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (worksheet)
  • Hip Hop Speaks to Children by Nikki Giovanni
  • Mariah Keeps Cool by Mildred Walter (worksheet)
  • Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe (worksheet)
  • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (worksheet)
  • Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs Series by Sharon Draper (worksheet)

6th grade – 8th grade

In middle school, as kids begin to work out their own identities, they begin to resonate with the stories of others seeking to find themselves. At this stage, introduce them to novels, poems and informational texts that feature issues they can relate to and that help expand their worldview. Great works to begin with include:

  • The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton (worksheet)
  • Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson (worksheet)
  • Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff by Walter Dean Myers (worksheet)
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (worksheet)
  • Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis (worksheet)
  • Hoops by Walter Dean Myers (worksheet)

9th grade – 10th grade

At this level, students still want texts they can relate to, but they can also begin to understand deeper stories of race and identity. Introduce them to a variety of texts, including:

  • I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. (worksheet)
  • I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes (worksheet)
  • Hazelwood High Trilogy by Sharon Draper (worksheet)
  • Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper (worksheet)
  • Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (worksheet)
  • Ain’t I a Woman by Sojourner Truth (worksheet)

11th grade – 12th grade

In the upper-levels of high school, teens can start to tackle major historical movements and controversial issues such as racism. This is the time to introduce them to poems, novels and informational texts with deep messages about African-American history and the overall African-American experience. A few selections include:

  • The Color of Water by James McBride (worksheet)
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (worksheet)
  • Native Son by Richard Wright (worksheet)
  • Roots by Alex Haley (worksheet)
  • A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (worksheet)
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X (worksheet)

Of course, our selections only represent a small group of the wonderful books out there. Check out some of these resources to find more books to read during Black History Month.

Consider using the works above or any works by African-American authors as part of an African American Read-In. Members of the National Council of Teachers of English’s Black Caucus have encouraged educators to hold a special read-in to highlight works of African-American authors during Black History Month. Enjoy a read-in with your class or get the whole school, and even students’ parents, involved.

Have a favorite book, poem, or other African-American text of your own? Share it in the comments below!

Interesting Facts and Stories from Inauguration Days Past

Interesting Facts and Stories from Inauguration Days Past
On Friday, January 20, 2017, the president-elect becomes the president, as Donald Trump will be sworn into office as the 45th commander in chief of the United States of America. Inauguration Day is typically a day of pomp and circumstance, carefully planned out to reflect tradition and the orderly transfer of power. However, through the years there have been some moments that stand out as atypical of the normal routine. Here are some interesting facts and history from Inauguration Days past.

A Change in Date
The new president of the United States was sworn in on March 4 for well over a century. This extended lame duck session led to numerous problems for incoming presidents, so it was moved with the 29th amendment. Now, power officially changes hands at noon on January 20.

A Change in Location
The first president who took the oath of office in the nation’s current capital of Washington D.C. was Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Previously, George Washington took his first oath in New York. His second oath, along with John Adams’ one and only, were administered in Philadelphia.

Coverage of the Inauguration
In 1845, James Polk’s inaugural was the first covered by telegraph. The first inauguration to be photographed was in 1857 when James Buchanan took the oath. William McKinley was the first president to have his inauguration filmed by a motion picture camera, and Harry Truman was the first to be televised. Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be live streamed on the internet.

Inaugural Balls
Every four years, much is made of the parties and inaugural balls. Fashion experts critique the outfits, gossip columnists cover the attendees, and pundits analyze the cost. This year, President Trump is expected to attend three separate balls, with dozens of unofficial galas taking place in the Washington area. President Obama attended ten different balls to celebrate his first term in 2009, but only two to kick off his second term in 2013. The first inaugural ball celebrated the beginning of James Madison’s in 1809 and was surely not like the affairs taking place in 2017. Tickets were just $4.

The Inaugural Speech
The first inaugural speech was also the shortest (just 135 words). The longest speech is surrounded in intrigue as many believe it led to a tragic event. William Henry Harrison’s almost two hour, 8500 word speech took place on a cold, wet day. President Harrison chose to forgo a coat and hat, and rode on horseback instead of a covered carriage.  Many have attributed Harrison’s death just thirty days later from pneumonia brought on by these poor choices, but modern historians dispute this theory. They instead point to poor the handling of sewage in the area around the White House water supply that would have had devastating effects on Harrison’s gastrointestinal system.

Death as a result of Inauguration Day
There is, however, one death that is properly attributed to poor Inauguration Day weather. That sad designation belongs to Abigail Fillmore, wife of President Millard Fillmore, who remained at her husband’s side throughout his predecessor’s inauguration despite brutal wintry conditions. She developed pneumonia and died shortly after.

The Oath of Office
There have been numerous occasions when the oath of office had to be re-administered. The most recent and infamous example was in 2009. The oath was incorrectly read by Chief Justice John Roberts and repeated President Barack Obama in 2009. Because the oath was not read and repeated exactly as stated in the Constitution, Obama and Roberts had a do over “out of an abundance of caution”. The oath has been repeated six other times in history due to a variety of issues. Four presidents – Rutherford  Hayes, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan – restated their oaths publicly because Inauguration Day took place on a Sunday, meaning only private ceremonies were held. Chester Arthur and Calvin Coolidge both took the oath privately following the sudden death of the sitting president.

Inauguration Day has a long list of traditional and customary practices that presidents and their staffs have followed for years. But nothing about this campaign and election season has been traditional. It will be interesting to see what odd occurrences and anecdotes can be added to this list after President Trump takes his place in the White House.

Using Historical Thinking Skills to Analyze the “I Have a Dream” Speech

Using Historical Thinking Skills to Analyze the I Have a Dream Speech
The impact of Martin Luther King, Jr. left on American society and politics is immeasurable. His efforts to bring equality to all races living in America led to lasting change and hold an important place in all American history curricula. As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King on the third Monday of January every year, it is important to find fresh ways to teach our students about his life, while still integrating the necessary skills for student success.

Let’s look at Dr. King’s most memorable speech with a focus on historical thinking skills.

Close Reading:

Close reading asks students to determine a source’s point of view and purpose.  For example, Dr. King’s famous I Have a Dream speech includes the sections:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Students can break down each line to determine the vision that Dr. King had for his country. They can then summarize the entire section by analyzing the interpretation for each line.

To help students see the speech from an ELA perspective, Presentation Magazine offers a compositional analysis of the speech.


Contextualizing is the skill that asks students to look at the facts and events surrounding a particular document that may have influenced its creator. To fully understand the context of Dr. King’s message we must look at race relations and segregation in America in 1963. Teaching Tolerance offers a five lesson teacher’s guide to their film A Time for Justice: America’s Civil Rights Movement which chronicles the civil rights movement from the 1954 ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education to the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act. The guide includes primary sources, interactive activities, and the background information that give Dr. King’s words context.

For upper elementary students, Scholastic provides a brief overview of the same era. It provides context for Dr. King’s speech, but does not require a lot of class time to convey much of the same information.


Corroborating a source’s content is when students locate other sources that back up or contradict the source being analyzed. In trying to corroborate Dr. King’s words, students can be presented with various speeches.

Here are two examples:
The first is by Alabama governor George Wallace, that says, in part,

and I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever.

The second example is from President John Kennedy, which says:

This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.

Students should use excerpts of these speeches to corroborate Dr. King’s characterization of a country that is divided and unequal. Students can also use these speeches to make a claim about American society in the 1960s.


To properly source a document, students must determine if the who, when, and where of a document makes it more or less reliable. All three of our speeches were given in 1963. We know from our contextualizing, that America was in a state of racial turmoil at the time. In our corroborating, we learn that the speeches by President Kennedy and Governor Wallace highlight the issues stated by Dr. King. All sources seem to be a reliable source of history of the time they were created.

Dr. Martin Luther King is a monumental figure in American history. His contributions cannot be overlooked. With some of the sources and activities above, you can honor his work and memory, while still integrating the skills our students need. For more on historical thinking skills, check out Help Teaching’s Online Self Paced Lessons on Sourcing and Corroboration, and well as two different lessons on Contextualizing.