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Suniti's Advice Corner

Sybil St. Hilaire

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Should you be studying for the SAT or ACT this summer?

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Wed, Jun 18, 2014

teen gazing resized 600

In past blog posts I have shared reasons for studying for the SAT this summer, and tips for studying effectively over summer break. In this post I want to help you decide whether you should be studying this summer. Planning effectively is the key to having a successful test-prep experience.Below are some questions you should consider when trying to decide whether summer test-prep is right for you:

Are you a rising sophomore or junior?

At TestRocker we recommend that students spend the summers after their sophomore and junior years studying for the SAT/ACT. We make this recommendation so that students have a chance to prep while the majority of their distractions are at a minimum. 

For juniors and seniors who are in the midst of their college process the earlier they secure their target score, the better. Many colleges and universities do not accept scores after January of senior year. 

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What is your target score?

I write often about the importance of having a goal in mind when you study. Not only does this provide a source of motivation, it also can help you develop a test-prep plan. Once you know how far away from your target score, you will know how much preparation you need to do to get to your desired score. If you are very far from your target score, it might make sense to dedicate some of your summer to studying. 

How many times have you already taken the SAT or ACT?

We recommend taking the SAT a maximum of three times and the ACT twice. Going into summer if you’re planning to take the SAT or ACT for the last time in the fall or winter, it makes sense to give yourself the added confidence of preparing over the summer.

Find out if you should take the test again here. 

When are you planning to take the SAT or ACT? 

The October SAT and September/October ACT test dates are popular amongst juniors and seniors. Studying over the summer will allow you to feel well prepared for your fall test dates. This will allow you to use September/October for a light review of the material until your test day.

There's now a brand new August SAT. This new test date has a number of valuable benefits. Learn all about the August SAT test date here. 

How much free time will you have during the summer vs. the school year?

No matter what you have planned during the summer, odds are you will have more free time than you normally have during the school year. It will be easier to balance your test-prep with your other obligations. Leverage this time wisely. Spend it working towards and achieving your target score.

What are your academic and extra-curricular obligations in the coming school year?

While you decide whether the bulk of your test-prep should take place during the school year or summer, think about your obligations for the coming school year. Consider the following questions:

  1. Will you have less time to prepare because of certain commitments?
  2. Are you planning to take any AP classes?
  3. Will you be playing for any varsity teams that might require you to dedicate time after school?
  4. Planning to take on more student leadership roles?

If you are planning to do any of these things and take the SAT or ACT, studying during the summer will allow you to manage your time more efficiently during the school year.

Summer Bootcamp & Study Package

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Tags: For Students

Tips for staying calm on SAT/ACT test day

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Fri, Jun 06, 2014

Both SAT and ACT test days are on the horizon. It is normal to be a little nervous or anxious about the test, especially given the role of test scores in college admissions. That said, keep in mind that test scores are only one of the many aspects of college application. The realization will hopefully help you relax a bit. When you are relaxed you can think clearly, plan effectively, and score higher. Here are the things you can do now and on test day to stay calm.

stay relaxed on test day


Online SAT/ACT Prep


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Practice Early and Often

Most of the anxiety that you feel on test day may come from feeling unprepared, or rather a fear of being under prepared. Want to know the easiest way to combat these feelings? Practice. Thankfully, there are a variety of paid and free practice SAT and ACT resources available to you. Our program includes a practice quiz for each one of our 32+ modules as well as full-length practice tests and 2 hand-graded essays. Consistent practice will certainly help you build the confidence you need on test day.

Get enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is critical to your test day performance, ability to retain information and your ability to recall what you have studied. “Enough sleep” may vary person to person, but for most people eight hours each night is just the right amount.

Arrive Early

Don’t arrive late and give yourself another reason to be flustered on test day. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to arrive, complete the registration process, get comfortable in your seat prior to the test. Arriving early is just one of the ways to ensure your own comfort. Bring snacks to eat during scheduled breaks. I also advise my students to dress in layers in case the room is hotter or colder than they expected.

Visualize Success

As you prepare and think about test day, imagine yourself feeling confident as you take the test and doing well when you get your test scores back.  As you walk into the test it is important to think positive. Also, keep negative thoughts at bay. Negative thoughts can be a distraction and heighten your stress levels.

How do you stay calm under pressure? Share your tips by leaving a comment below!

Tags: For Students

5 Tips for doing well on the SAT Math Section

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Mon, Jun 02, 2014

girl happy studying math resized 600Even with the assistance of a calculator the SAT math section can be difficult. I hope this article can serve as a checklist of the things to keep in mind during the SAT math section.

Use your Resources

On test day you’ll have a number of additional resources at your disposal including: your calculator, scratch paper, and the formula sheet, don’t forget to use them.

Use your calculator to avoid careless mistakes and move quickly through questions.  You should write down key information on your scratch paper. Taking notes will allow you to avoid re-reading. The formula sheet is another resource that allows you to save time! You won’t have to waste precious minutes trying to remember a formula that has escaped you. As you study spend some time familiarizing yourself with this formula sheet. 

Know what to expect

The SAT math section tests the following topics: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. As you start to prepare for the test it is important to review all of these concepts in detail. Numbers, algebra and geometry form about 60% of the content on the test. A solid understanding of triangles will also be necessary to do well on the test’s geometry questions. Triangles form the backbone of most of the geometry questions. Don’t assume that you will remember everything because it was covered in your high school math class.

After all the hard work you put into preparing for the SAT (and its math section), when test day arrives you should have a clear sense of your strengths and weaknesses. This information will help you pace yourself and let you know which questions to skip. As you work through the test, do all the easy and familiar questions first.

Read prompts carefully

The language on the SAT is often circuitous and tricky. Throughout the test it is important to read both its directions and question prompts carefully. Take note of any critical information you come across in your reading. Make sure you understand the definitions of the words being used and apply them exactly. Finally once you have solved a problem, go back and double check that you are answering the question that you were asked to solve.

Pace yourself

On the SAT Math section, as you would with any other section, you should pace yourself and remain aware of time. Start with the easy and familiar questions. In most cases, the first 10 questions will be fairly easy. Do the work to solve these questions using your scratch paper and mark your chosen answer in the test booklet. Then transfer your answers for the first 10 questions from the test booklet to the answer sheet. Follow the same process for questions 11-15. For all remaining questions you can solve the questions and fill in your answers one by one.

When in doubt, skip!

The current SAT has a guessing penalty. For this reason it is best not to make random guesses. You should only guess when you are able eliminate a few of the available answer choices. 

Have more questions about acing the SAT math section? Sign up for a personal TestRocker consultation today.

Image source: Psychcentral

Tags: For Students

How to Study for the SAT/ACT this Summer

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Fri, May 23, 2014

summer test-prep tipsIt is that time of year again. The school year is winding down and summer is on the horizon. Final exams and papers are being written, year-end school trips are being taken, and summer plans are being solidified. In my blog post about developing a SAT/ACT test-prep plan, I recommended that high school sophomores and juniors use their summer to prep for the SAT or ACT. Between academics and extra-curriculars the school year can get extremely hectic. The summer presents an opportunity to get ahead in your test-prep. Below are my tips for studying effectively during the summer.

Try our Summer Offer. $100 OFF + Unlimited usage through your tests. 

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Establish a goal

Work with your college counselor and parents to think about your test-prep goals. The purpose of this goal is to keep you motivated as you study.  Your goal can be to get a specific score, dedicate a certain amount of time to studying every week, or simply complete all of your test preparation by a certain date. You can use your existing college list to inform your goal. Be realistic and pay attention to the score ranges for admitted students at your target schools.

Decide on a test-prep method

Once you have a goal in mind, decide which test-prep method will allow you to achieve that goal. There are a variety of options available, each with their own pros and cons. You can study online, take a group prep class, or study with a private tutor. Choose the method that you feel is right for you and achieving your goal.

Set a study schedule

A crucial part of studying effectively involves more than just the content you will be studying. Setting a study schedule ensures that you maintain a healthy balance between studying, your social life, and sleep. Study in 30-60 minute chunks, to ensure that you have time to absorb the material you are reviewing.

Think about when you learn best and try to study at the same time everyday. If you’re a morning person, it might make sense to wake up early and study. If you are more alert at night or after a workout, factor those things into the study schedule you design for yourself. Making your studying a habit will help you stick to the schedule.

Decide where to study

For those who choose to study on their own, a factor that is as important as how you study is where you study. When thinking about the best study spot, try to find an area that is well lit, comfortable, quiet, and presents minimal distractions. Some places that might serve as a study area are a home office, your local library, or a quiet bookstore or coffee shop.

Have an accountability partner

Once you have established your goals, decided on a test-prep method, and set your study schedule choose one person who will be your accountability partner. An accountability partner can be a parent, teacher, sibling or a responsible friend. This person will help you celebrate your successes and get back on track when you start to deviate from your original test-prep plan. 

Finally it is your summer break. Remember to set aside time to relax and spend quality time with your family and friends. Giving yourself study breaks and fun activities to look forward to can help you remain focused in your studying.

Want to study this summer with TestRocker? Email us at contactus@testrocker.com to find out about our special summer offer.


Image source: Huffington Post

Tags: For Students

Developing a SAT or ACT Test-Prep Plan with your Child

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Fri, May 16, 2014

Parent Teen happier resized 600The college application process is long, arduous and stressful for children as well as parents. Standardized testing (SAT/ACT) is required by most colleges & universities in the United States, and can often be the most strenuous part of the application. As parents, in addition to being a source of support for your child, it is important to provide guidance and structure throughout the process. And when it comes to the SAT/ACT, a clear test-taking plan agreed upon between you and your child can take a lot of the anxiety and stress out of the process. Listed below are some tips that can hopefully guide this plan.

Grade 9

Your child should focus on mastering the key concepts and fundamentals that will be tested on both the SAT and ACT. Mastery of the topics covered in the high school classroom will make SAT/ACT preparation easier in later years. If there are any topics in school that your child is struggling with, make sure you get the help needed to address those weaknesses while the learnings are still fresh. 

Grade 10

Sit down with your child to create a test-taking plan. This test-taking plan should address the following:

  1. Will your child be taking the SAT, ACT, or both? (The SAT is changing. Read this to understand the changes)
  2. Which test dates work best for your child?
  3. How will test-prep fit into your child’s academic, extra-curricular, and familial commitments?
  4. What will the test-prep method be?
  5. When will test-prep begin?

(We recommend beginning test prep over the summer after 10th grade)

Your child might take the PSAT for the first time in grade 10. If the test is offered at your child’s school, we highly encourage that they take the test. It serves as a good reminder that the college application process is right around the corner. Don’t worry, the 10th grade PSAT results are just benchmarks, they don’t count towards the National Merit Scholarship etc. 

Grade 11

In order to have more time for the college application process, the majority of standardized testing should be completed during 11th grade. Your child will take the PSAT in October of their Junior year. For students in the United States, these results will determine their eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship. PSAT scores will be released to the school counselors in December. Click here to understand your child’s PSAT scores.

  1. October – PSAT
  2. December – PSAT scores released
  3. January/March – 1st SAT attempt
  4. February/April – 1st ACT Attempt
  5. May/June – 2nd SAT attempt

Grade 12

Rising seniors who have not gotten their target SAT score should use the summer to study. Seniors can then plan to take the SAT for the last time in October. The ACT should be attempted for the second time in September.

Seniors should complete their standardized testing earlier on, so that they can focus on having a strong finish to their high school academic career. This will also allow them to dedicate the necessary resources to submit their very best attempt a compelling college application. 

Have more specific questions about your child’s test-prep plan? Contact us to schedule you personal TestRocker consultation.

You might also find these blogs useful:

Why is the SAT/ACT important?

Five questions to ask when selecting a test prep method


Tags: For Parents

5 Things you shouldn’t do before your SAT/ACT

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Fri, May 09, 2014

smiling study outside resized 600There are a number of lists that tell what you should do in the time leading up to SAT or ACT test day. We’ve even written a couple. Now here are some mistakes/bad habits to avoid as you start to prepare for test day. 

Get Free SAT & ACT Practice Questions


I. Forget to register for the test

It’s hard to take a test that you have not registered for. Registering for the SAT or ACT is relatively painless and can be done by mail or online. Sign up for the SAT or ACT as soon as you have settled on a date.

Not having a test-prep plan is often the biggest impediment to registering for the test on time. If you’re having trouble developing an SAT or ACT prep plan, we recommend the following:


  1. Attempt the test twice over the course of your junior year, once in Jan/March and then again in May/June. Plan around the busy times on your academic calendar.
  2. If needed, attempt the SAT a third time in October of your senior year


  1. Students should attempt the ACT for the first in February of your junior year
  2. Attempt the ACT for the second time in October of senior year

For key registration dates, deadlines, and registration information:

Click here to register for the SAT

Click here to register for the ACT

II. Study at the last minute (aka the night before)

Research has shown that spacing out your study sessions helps with long-term retention of material. Odds are that any material you look for the first time the night before the test, won’t be retained during the test. It is difficult and anxiety-inducing to learn and try to retain 30+ hours worth of material the night before your SAT or ACT.

In order to avoid the last minute crunch it might make sense to study during any breaks from school (check out our tips for summer study here). If a school break is not on the horizon, develop a detailed study plan instead.

III. Neglect to take practice tests

Research also suggests testing yourself on the material constantly as you study. It is the only way to ensure that you have actually learned the content. Practice tests are your opportunity to simulate SAT/ACT test day in a low stakes environment. Additionally, the SAT and ACT are timed tests, so you have to get used to answering questions in a timed setting. The more you practice, the faster you will get.

IV. Fail to assess your practice test performance

Taking a practice test is not enough to get you your dream score. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of taking a practice test, calculating your score and then going back to studying. Instead use the following questions to guide your assessment of your practice test performance:

  1. What sections seemed easier or harder to you during the practice test?
  2. Do your scores on particular section reflect your perceived perception of its difficulty?
  3. Are there any concepts that you need to refresh on? (e.g., triangles, sentence correction, long passages)
  4. If your practice test was timed, were you able to answer all of the questions in the allotted time frame?
  5. Are there sections where you were unable to get through all of the questions?
  6. What were your strengths and weaknesses based on this practice test, and how can you target your studying to address these?

These questions are just a starting point and should hopefully help to ensure that every study session counts, and that you are studying as effectively as possible. The TestRocker diagnostic test can assess this for you in 70 minutes.

V. Not Sleep

Often we equate working hard with not sleeping. The night before the SAT or ACT is not one of the times that you should operate in this way. In the nights leading up to the test you should make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Adequate sleep is critical to boosting memory and learning ability.

Have more questions about how to be prepared for test day? Ask our experts!

Image source: Flickr

Tags: For Students

Get ready for the June ACT in just 3 weeks!

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Fri, May 09, 2014

Whether you've been studying for months, or just realized that your June ACT is only a few weeks away, use our 3 week study calendar to help you study smarter.

Here are the three steps to ensure you get your dream ACT score on June 14th:

  1. If you haven't already done so, sign up for our free trial. If you enjoy learning with TestRocker then purchase our program!
  2. Use the calendar below and work through the recommended modules, video concepts, and practice quizzes.
  3. Wake up calm and relaxed on June 14th, and rock the ACT!

Since TestRocker is completely online, you can prep for the ACT whenever you want, wherever you want. In fact after your test, continue to use TestRocker to prepare for your next ACT. Good luck!

Click here to download the calendar!

Ready to rock the test?

June 2014 ACT test resized 600

Tags: For Students, For Parents

Get ready for the June SAT in just 4 weeks

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Fri, May 09, 2014

Whether you've been studying for months, or just realized that your June SAT is only a few weeks away, use our 4 week last minute test prep calendar to help you study smarter.

Here are the three steps to ensure you get your dream SAT score on June 3rd:

  1. If you haven't already done so, sign up for our free trial. If you enjoy learning with TestRocker then purchase our program!
  2. Use the calendar below and work through the recommended modules, video concepts, and practice quizzes.
  3. Wake up calm and relaxed on June 3rd, and rock the SAT!

Since TestRocker is completely online, you can prep for the SAT whenever you want, wherever you want. In fact after your test, continue to use TestRocker to prepare for your next SAT. Good luck!

Click here to download the calendar!

Tags: For Students, For Parents

Parents: How to support your child through SAT/ACT test-prep

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Wed, Apr 30, 2014

support your child through sat act prepAs the parent of a teen, it can be challenging to find a balance between encouraging your child to study and being perceived as overbearing. The key to navigating this delicate balance is understanding your child as an individual. There is more than one right way to support your child. Thousands of students and their parents have found the following tips helpful in bringing some calm to the sometimes stressful process of preparing for the SAT and ACT.

For guidance on the courses of action and options, schedule a time to get help from us. 

Schedule Here

Create a Plan

Sit down with your child during the summer between Sophomore and Junior year to create a test-taking plan. Decide which tests need to be taken (SAT, ACT, Both, Subject Tests, TOEFL), familiarize yourself with the test dates for each, and tentatively plan out when each test should be attempted. Take school exams, extra-curricular activities and academic course-loads into consideration. Preparation is certainly important, so research and select the method of preparation for each test. Proactive planning and setting expectations together will prevent your child and you from feeling overwhelmed when the school year gets busy.

To download TestRockers recommended plan click here

For international students, download our guide to college in the U.S. right here

Observe and Stick to Gentle Reminders

Ignore any inclination to nag your child to study, instead take a step back. Allow them to set their own study schedules. Be watchful and decide if your child is studying sufficiently. If you find that your child is not studying as much as they should be, gently remind your child to stay focused. Connect their studying to the big picture (their dream university). If you are using a tutor, request progress reports. If using an online program, progress data should be available. For example, TestRocker's SAT/ACT programs send parents bi-weekly progress reports that detail the amount of time spent on the program and progress made. Parents can use such reports to partner with their child in an encouraging manner. 

Be Calm and Don’t Panic

Be a source of calm during this process. Your positive outlook might keep stress from rubbing off on your child. Be a relaxed and listening ear when your child needs to vent. Many parents panic when they see their child’s PSAT scores, because they were expecting better scores. When you panic, so does your child. Instead, guide your child back to the plan you created together over the summer to work towards a better score.

7 Tips to Reduce Test Anxiety

Be Encouraging

As a parent it’s important to constantly express your confidence in your child’s ability to do well on the SAT or ACT. After a particularly tough practice test or study session ensure that you continue to be in your child’s corner.

Prioritize Test-Prep

Schedule family activities so that they will not be a distraction to your child. Parents and the entire family should reschedule key activities to accommodate for any test-prep time. For example, if your child is taking the January SAT test, it might not be the best idea to plan a December vacation, unless the child has access to an online program or a test-prep book and is able to focus on preparing despite distractions.

Do you have any questions about supporting your child through this process? Need help in creating your test-taking plan?

Schedule a time with us to discuss options and courses of action.

Schedule Here


Image Source: Google Images

Tags: For Parents

The Content and Structure of the New SAT

Posted by Sybil St. Hilaire on Sat, Apr 26, 2014

new sat   girl studying2014 has been a big year for the SAT. Earlier this year, The College Board announced its plans for the redesigned SAT. We outlined these planned changes in a recent blog. Since then, the College Board has released additional details about the structure and content of the new SAT as well as sample questions for each section.

The New SAT Structure

There are two major structural differences between the new SAT and the old SAT. The first is the removal of the SAT guessing penalty. Starting in the spring of 2016 (with the class of 2017), students will no longer lose points for incorrect responses. The second is a change in the number of answer choices. On each multiple-choice question students will choose their answer from four options instead of five. The new SAT will be scored on a 1600-point scale. See the table below for a fuller comparison between the current and redesigned SAT.

Comparison of the Major Features of the Current and New SAT


Current SAT


Total Testing Time


3 hours and 45 minutes

3 hours

Plus 50 minutes for optional essay


·   Critical Reading

·   Writing

·   Math

·   Essay

·   Evidence-Based Reading and Writing

·   Math

·   Essay (Optional)


·   Required

·   25 minutes, at the beginning of the SAT

·   Tests writing skills, students must take a position on a presented issue

·   Optional

·   50 minutes, at the end of the SAT

·   Tests reading, analysis, and writing skills; students produce a written analysis of a provided source

Score Reporting

·   Total score ranges from 600 to 2400

·   Each section is scored on a 200 to 800 point scale

·   Total score ranges from 400 to 1600 points

·   Mandatory sections are scored on a 200 to 800 point scale

·   The essay is scored on a 2 to 8 point scale

·   Essay results are reported separately

Subscore Reporting

·   None

·   Subscores will be provided for each section of the test

Source: College Board 

The New SAT Reading & Writing Section

Vocabulary will continue to play an important role on the redesigned SAT, however the words on the test will be more familiar to students. Students will be tested for words that they are more likely to see at college and beyond. The new SAT will continue to test a student’s ability to understand vocab words in context, but will also place a greater emphasis on how word choice shapes meaning, tone, and impact.

The reading section on the new SAT will include a passage from one of the following:

  1. the US founding documents (e.g., the Declaration of Independence)
  2. a text that is part of the “Great Global Conversation” (e.g., MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech)
  3. a work by an author outside of the United States who is addressing the topic of freedom, justice, or liberty

These passages will be used to test students on source analysis and evidence-use skills, according to The College Board, as a means to better assess college and career readiness.

The New SAT Math Section

The new SAT math section will be 80 minutes long and require students to answer 57 questions. Most questions will be multiple-choice and some will be free response. While the new math section is 10 minutes longer, students won’t be able to use their calculators for a 25-minute portion of the test. In terms of content, this section will have a heavy focus on algebra and analyzing, solving, and creating linear equations and inequalities. 

The New SAT Essay Section

The SAT Essay is now optional. Colleges and universities will decide whether they require it of their applicants or not. Students who do opt to take the essay will have 50 minutes to structure and write their essay instead of 25 minutes. The essay will no longer be based on a student’s personal opinion, instead test takers will be expected to read a passage, and analyze that source. Students must make evidence-based arguments and explain an author’s motives for taking a certain point of view.

Want to see additional details about the redesigned SAT? You can view all the changes and sample questions here.


Image & Table Source: The College Board; Google Images




Tags: For Students, For Parents, For Counselors

About Suniti

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Suniti is the creator of TestRocker, an online learning platform that helps you unlock your dream PSAT, SAT and ACT scores. TestRocker is based on Suniti’s highly successful and proven method of teaching thousands of students how to maximize their PSAT, SAT and ACT scores for over a decade.

TestRocker is an award-winning PSAT/SAT/ACT program that empowers students to take control of their test preparation. After taking a diagnostic test, students receive a customized study plan, individualized to their strengths/weaknesses. Students practice and learn concepts through videos. Each of the 2000+ questions on TestRocker is accompanied by a video explanation from Suniti. TestRocker has the largest video library in the world for PSAT/SAT/ACT preparation. 

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