“Getting to know the SAT is like getting to know a person.  The test is so repetitive that you can get to a point where you’re predicting what the test will throw at you.” -Founder and Educational Director, Alex Torres

SAT Overview

About two years ago, a new version of the SAT was introduced to students taking the test on the January 2016 test date.  The format took tutors and educators by surprise, as it featured many surprising changes in line with the controversial Common Core educational standards.  Although the College Board stated that it changed the test in order to create a more fair and accessible test, many educators found the test to be challenging and convoluted in nature.

The tutoring community has had some time to analyze the test and to try various instructional methods with students, and Aspire Test Prep has been at the forefront of those efforts.  With our students, we’ve tested and tracked the possible approaches to the various question types on the new test.  At this time, we believe we’ve identified winning strategies that can be utilized by SAT test takers of all levels. These methods have been tested on hundreds of students, as well as group classes sanctioned by public high schools.

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SAT Writing/Language

The SAT’s writing and Language section (Section 2) is, very generally, a copy of the ACTs English section.  A minority of the questions require a knowledge of the basics of grammar: concepts like subject, verb, modifier, independent vs. dependent clauses, and the main acceptable sentence types.  However, the majority of the questions on the section are rhetorical, in other words asking us to make decisions about the right words to use in the passage in light of the the main idea being presented. The section, at its heart, is as deceptive as the rest of the SAT.  Students struggle because questions appear grammatical in nature when they’re actually the opposite.  The achilles’ heel of the test is its repetitiveness and lack of diversity.  Students in an SAT prep program will quickly realize that the section is asking same few things over and over and over again.

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SAT Reading

In critical reading, our approach is rooted in a style of reading where students learn to control the level of detail and scope with which they read.  Although the single biggest difficulty students encounter on this section is timing, students gain an overall advantage by committing to a single approach and then refine their ability to operate within that system week in and week out.  After hearing the above sample passages, parents might be surprised to know that the real secret of the SAT critical reading section is actually reading as fast as possible. The answers to the questions are all 100% quotes based, which separates the newer SAT from its predecessor, where students had to read more between the line and figure out the writer’s underlying motivation.

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SAT Math

The SAT’s two math sections, calculator and non calculator math, are difficult in the sense that they embed each question within high-intimidating writing and an academic appearance.  The deceptiveness in the manner in which the questions are being presented is markedly higher than in the other two sections.  The gist of the math section is that a question is being presented as if it were something at the calculus or precalculus level, when in reality, the question involves little more than plugging into a formula and multiplying or dividing.  Similarly, the two math sections test students on a more narrow range of math concepts than we saw on the previous SAT or the ACT.  In fact, compared to the ACT, the scope of possible concepts asked is exaggeratedly narrow.  To tutors deeply familiar with both tests, it feels like the diversity of concepts being tested on the ACT math section is ten times wider than on the SAT.

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Since the most recent changes to the ACT in August of 2015, Aspire Test Prep has guided countless students through the slight changes in the style of the exam.   Aspire Test Prep has encouraged students to approach the ACT in the following ways.


Aspire Test Prep teaches a lesson on the basics of sentence structure. Students learn how subjects and verbs create clauses and modifiers, which in turn create various acceptable sentence structures. These principles apply to any ACT or SAT grammar-based question. Students also learn critical grammatical basics, such as colon vs semi-colon, long dash, comma placement, conjunction pairs, adverbs, and others. For rhetorical questions, students learn to read in an overarching manner, quickly assessing the main ideas of sentences, paragraphs, and passages, and using those inferences to answer questions about effective writing techniques.

Students begin with ‘English 101’, where they learn sentence ingredients and acceptable sentence types. Overall, students learn to differentiate between grammar and main idea based questions. Students succeed by learning to shift between reading for main ideas and for minor details.


Aspire Test Prep has developed a library of ACT question categories and basic skills, and uses a combination of practice sets, solution videos, and individual instruction to ensure students’ success with each of those elements. Students learn to attack wordy problems by first identifying the question prompt and then searching for applicable information.

Students gain exposure to the wide range of math concepts that come up on the ACT. They learn to simplify problems in many ways. On longer word problems, students learn to go straight to the critical prompt of the question, and to then search for information necessary to answering that question. Students also learn to skip repetitive information and simplify purposely long problems. Finally, students practice subject matter that is new to the ACT, to be on the cutting edge of preparedness.


Students are taught to read in a manner that is tailored to the question style prevalent in the ACT.  Their first run through a text should be a high-speed overview, concerned with extracting main ideas and learning where fundamental sections of the passage lie.  They then proceed to scan through the passage in response to each question, looking for specific quotes to back up their answer choices.  Certain questions should be skipped the first time around, namely main idea questions — because the student will come to understand the main idea gradually– and questions that force the student to check on the validity of all four answer choices.

Students get to know the style of the test. The ACT mainly asks students to identify quotes throughout the text, as opposed to performing critical analysis. Albeit easier, scanning through the passage for quotes is time consuming.Students lean to spend 40 seconds on their initial read of the text, aware that they will ultimately have to read the entire passage at least five times. Critical to this message is skipping certain questions the first time around, such as main idea questions, and questions that require the student to verify all four answer choices.


Students should avoid reading the passage before answering the questions, as the passages tend to be short and all reading of the passage should be done for specific purposes, in response to a particular question.  Success in science depends upon paying extra attention to things that students have a tendency to ignore, such as axis labels, graph titles, and graph keys.

Students learn that the two most difficult question types are the self-explanatory question (because students will often look to the passage as a manner of habit, moving themselves away from the location of the actual answer), and questions about the conceptual basis of the study (answers to these questions typically lie in the introduction to the passage, which contains information of a different nature as compared to the rest of the passage). Students learn that this highly intimidating section is much easier than it appears. Students learn to pay attention to key elements, such as axis labels, table keys, titles, and general trends in data. Students also learn about different science question categories, such as extrapolation, underlying concept, and self-explanatory questions, which are surprisingly difficult because students are in the habit of looking within the passage for the answers.