ACT and SAT Punctuation_ Complete and Incomplete Sentences

ACT and SAT Punctuation 101: Complete and Incomplete Sentences

ACT and SAT Punctuation 101: Complete and Incomplete Sentences

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Identifying Complete and Incomplete Sentences Worksheet

Punctuation is the most heavily tested English grammar concept on the ACT and SAT. The good news is that ACT and SAT punctuation rules are limited. 

In fact, understanding SAT and ACT punctuation largely has to do with one skill: knowing how to identify complete and incomplete sentences.

This post will teach you how to identify complete and incomplete sentences in any context. 

We strongly encourage students to read this post before learning the punctuation for combining these sentences.

You’ll also get access to our free Complete and Incomplete Sentences worksheet, which includes additional practice questions. Grab it below before we get started.

Here's what we cover in this post:


ACT and SAT Punctuation Questions: Where You'll See Them

As we've discussed in other posts, the ACT and SAT are very different tests. All U.S. colleges and universities accept either ACT scores or SAT scores from applicants, without preference.

That being said, we encourage our students to prep for the test that's most likely to give them their highest score. If you're unsure which test is best for you, ask yourself these five questions now.

Punctuation Questions on the ACT and SAT

Regardless of which test is right for you, you'll definitely need to know how to use certain kinds of punctuation in various contexts. You'll find punctuation questions on these sections of each test:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

However, knowledge of appropriate punctuation can be helpful on the optional essay portion of either test.

Essay readers are interested in your ability to connect ideas logically on the page and use standard English conventions appropriately. Effective punctuation usage can definitely help you closer to a higher essay score.

How many punctuation questions can you expect to see on the ACT and the SAT?

Based on our analysis of officially released ACT and SAT practice tests, we've crafted a breakdown here:

Punctuation Questions on the ACT Punctuation Questions on the SAT
12-16 5-7

Remember that the ACT English section is longer than SAT Writing & Language, with 75 questions (as opposed to 44 questions). Get insight into the way these tests are structured in our ACT Format and The 5 SAT Sections: What You Need to Know posts.

How will you know that you're encountering an ACT or SAT punctuation question? Easy!

You'll typically see different kinds of punctuation in the answer choices. At the very least, you'll generally see punctuation (like commas) in different places in the selected word or phrase.

Here's a sample punctuation question from an SAT Writing & Language section:

SAT Punctuation Question
Source: College Board Official SAT Practice Test 1

Notice how the answer choices to this question include a semicolon, colon, and various commas. That's a sure sign that you're dealing with an SAT punctuation question!


Complete Sentences in a Nutshell

Remember: the list of punctuation rules you need to know for the SAT or ACT is finite. Before we can get to that list, however, it's important to understand complete and incomplete sentences.

Let's start with complete sentences, as these are often easier for students to recognize.

Complete sentences are technically called independent clauses, but we'll do our best to keep grammar jargon out of this post.

A complete sentence must have the following three things:

  1. Subject
  2. Verb
  3. The complete expression of an idea

A subject is a person, place, thing, or idea. Examples of subjects include apple, optometrist, dyslexia, and the United Kingdom. A verb expresses the action of a subject, such as iscompletedrunning, and have.

ACT and SAT Punctuation_ Complete Sentences

Now, what do we mean by "the complete expression of an idea"? Basically, this stipulates that the sentence doesn't leave you hanging. It expresses a full idea.

Here's an example of a complete sentence that expresses a full idea:

Cherise decided to travel to the United Kingdom and seek employment after she completed her teaching certification.

The subject of this sentence is "Cherise," while the verb is "decided." The sentence fully expresses the idea that Cherise made a choice to travel to another country following completion of her teaching certification.

Yet a sentence doesn't have to be super long to express a full idea. Check out these sentences that are, in fact, complete:

I understand.

She couldn't go.

David waited.

This discussion of complete sentences is best paired with one about incomplete sentences. We'll talk about those now.


Incomplete Sentences in a Nutshell

Basically, if a sentence lacks one or more of the following things, it's an incomplete sentence (or dependent clause):

  1. Subject
  2. Verb
  3. The complete expression of an idea

Here's an example of a trademark incomplete sentence:

Although I intended to take the ACT twice

Notice how this sentence still has a subject ("I") and a verb ("intended"). However, the sentence does not express a full idea. In fact, it leaves us hanging! We know this person intended to take the ACT twice, but the rest of the story is missing.

That word "although" is the secret culprit behind the incompleteness of this sentence. Subordinate conjunctions like although always make a sentence incomplete!

Here's a list of common subordinate conjunctions. When you see these words at the start of a sentence on the ACT or SAT, be on the lookout for an incomplete idea:

while after because although before
unless as if since when
whenever whereas even though rather than until

Here are additional examples of incomplete sentences:

The long-awaited decision to appeal

While the rest of the class worked on the exam

Horses running through the field on a cloudy day


Identifying Complete and Incomplete Sentences

On the SAT and ACT, it can be challenging to identify complete and incomplete sentences.

Both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language contain dense, boring passages full of detailed sentences. It can be hard to wade through this extra verbiage and determine what kind of sentence you're dealing with!

That's why we encourage students to keep these tips in mind when dealing with ACT and SAT punctuation questions:

  1. Read the full context
  2. Focus on one idea or sentence at a time
  3. Look for the 3 components of a complete sentence
  4. Write down whether it's incomplete or complete

Let's apply these tips to a sample punctuation question now from an officially released SAT practice test:

Complete Sentences

Read the full context

It's always essential to read the full context on any ACT English or SAT Writing & Language question. That means reading the full sentence expressed here, starting with "But Jason Box" and ending with "problem."

Focus on one idea or sentence at a time

In this question, we can see that the punctuation in the answer choices separates two thoughts: "But Jason Box, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State, believes that another factor added to the early thaw" and "the "dark snow" problem."

Incomplete and Complete Sentences_SAT

Let's focus on one of these ideas at a time, to make things easy.

Look for the 3 components of a complete sentence

In analyzing "the "dark snow" problem," we find a subject (problem) but no verb or complete expression of an idea. This is an incomplete sentence!

If we take a look at "But Jason Box, an associate professor of geology at Ohio State, believes that another factor added to the early thaw" we find a subject (Jason Box), a verb (believes), and a complete expression of an idea. This is a complete sentence!

Write down whether it's incomplete or complete

You can do this by writing an "I" or a "C" above the relevant sentences.

Incomplete and Complete Sentences_SAT


Download PrepMaven's Complete & Incomplete Sentences Worksheet

Remember: most punctuation questions on the ACT/SAT come down to your ability to distinguish complete and incomplete sentences. 

Students should thus boost their fluency in identifying these sentences before they start learning the punctuation rules for combining these sentences.

You can do exactly this with our free Complete and Incomplete Sentences worksheet.

Complete and Incomplete Sentences on the SAT:ACT

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of what we discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of punctuation questions from official practice tests
  • 20+ practice questions that test your ability to identify complete and incomplete sentences
  • Detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBioKate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_ Verbs

Verbs on the SAT and ACT: The 2 Rules You Need to Know

Verbs on the SAT and ACT: The 2 Rules You Need to Know

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Verbs Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

Verbs are the second most heavily-tested grammar concept on the ACT and SAT.

This makes sense--we use verbs all the time in both conversation and writing! What's more, verbs are an essential component of complete sentences, which have a lot to do with how we use punctuation in the English language.

As simple and useful as they may seem, however, verbs can appear in unfamiliar and challenging ways on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language.

To succeed on ACT and SAT Verbs questions, it's essential to know 2 verbs usage rules and apply a key strategy.

In this post, we discuss both.

We also give you access to our free verbs worksheet, which includes additional guided examples, practice questions, and more. Grab it below.

Here's what we cover in this post:


Where You'll Find Verbs Questions on Either Test

Both the SAT and ACT directly test students' knowledge of English conventions on the following 2 sections:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

Students can thus expect to find Verbs questions on either of these sections.

While the number of Verbs questions you'll find on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language aren't set in stone, we've analyzed data from officially released SAT and ACT practice tests and come up with the following estimates of Verbs questions on each test:

Verbs Questions on the ACT Verbs Questions on the SAT
5-11 2-6

Keep in mind that ACT English has nearly twice as many questions as SAT Writing & Language, with 75 questions to be completed in 45 minutes. SAT Writing & Language only has 44 questions, to be completed in 35 minutes.

Knowledge of verbs can help out students on another section of the test: the optional essay portion.

While the ACT/SAT essay doesn't directly test your ability to use verbs correctly, essay graders do assess each student's ability to use proper English conventions. Proficiency in proper punctuation, verbs usage, and transition words can be beneficial for a higher ACT/SAT essay score.

How do you know you're dealing with a Verbs question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language?

In general, you'll see different tenses and forms of verbs in the answer choices, as in this example from an SAT practice test (#1):

ACT/SAT Grammar Rules_Verbs_Example

We'll use this question in the guided example portion of this post.


Verbs in a Nutshell

What is a verb?

A verb is a word in the English language that expresses action, occurrence, or state of being. Verbs are an essential component of clauses, a string of words that includes a subject and a verb.

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_ Verbs (1)

Verbs are also an essential component of complete sentences, which require a subject, a verb, and the complete expression of an idea. 

Each verb also comes in a variety of tenses and forms, depending on its usage.

  • Verb tense: the 'time zone' of a verb, indicating when this action, occurrence, or state of being is happening
  • Verb form: changes depending upon the subject of the verb

For the purposes of the SAT and ACT, you will not have to memorize every single verb tense for every single verb you know! In general, however, it's wise to be familiar with the following frequently tested tenses:

  • past (indicating an occurrence that has already happened) --> I studied.
  • present (indicating an occurrence that is happening now) --> I study.
  • future (indicating an occurrence that will happen) --> I will study.

It's also essential to be familiar with how verbs change their form depending on the subject with which they are associated. We call this subject-verb agreement, which we discuss at length in the next section.


The 2 Verbs Usage Rules You Need to Know

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language are only interested in students' familiarity with the following 2 concepts:

  • Verb tense
  • Subject-verb agreement

That's all! We'll discuss the 2 verbs usage rules associated with these concepts now.

Rule #1: Verb tense must remain consistent

In general, the tense of the verb in question must match the tense of the surrounding context.

That context might mean the sentence itself. It could also mean a part of a sentence or the paragraph as a whole. This is why it is so important to read carefully for context when encountering any Verbs question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language!

So, if a sentence begins with the phrase "In 1989," we can assume that the tense of that sentence will be in the past, given that 1989 is a year that has already occurred.

If a paragraph is discussing an ongoing condition, such as "modern businesses' efforts to maximize workplace efficiency," we can assume that the tense of this paragraph will be, for the most part, in the present.

The key is to mine your context for clues that indicate what the tense standard is.

Here are some examples of those verb tense clues:

  • Another verb in that tense in context (i.e., "studied," "will walk," or "breathes")
  • A time clue (i.e., "In 1989," "last year," or "in the coming decade")
  • A transition word or phrase (i.e., "meanwhile," "lastly," or "at first")

Rule #2: Verbs must match their subjects

This is the heart of subject-verb agreement: verbs must match their subjects!

But what do we mean by "match"? Verbs must match their subjects in form. Here's what that generally breaks down to:

  • A plural noun must have a plural verb
  • A singular noun must have a singular verb

A plural noun is a noun that indicates more than one of some thing, idea, or individual: horses, children, mosses. A singular noun indicates that there is only one of some thing, idea, or individual: horse, child, moss.

Now, even though we don't always think of verbs in terms of their singularity or plurality, a verb will change form depending on whether its noun is plural or singular.

Take a look at the following examples to see this in action:

  • The horses run across the field.
  • The horse runs across the field.
  • These mosses are hard to identify.
  • This moss is hard to identify.

In the first two examples, the plural noun (horses) matches the plural verb (run), while the singular noun (horse) matches the singular verb (runs). Run and runs are different verb forms. In the second two examples, the plural noun (mosses) matches the plural verb (are), while the singular noun (moss) matches the singular verb (is). Are and is are different verb forms.

Here's a table that contains sample English verbs in plural and singular form (tenses vary). Notice how, in general, singular verbs often end in an s (although this does not apply to every tense), while plural verbs do not end in an s.

Plural Verbs Singular Verbs
are is
were was
have has
want wants
speak speaks
teach teaches
pursue pursues
cultivate cultivates
say says
believe believes

Now, our ears are pretty good at "hearing" when agreement is off. Notice, for example, how "wrong" these phrases sound when you read them out loud or in your head:

  • Horses runs across the field.
  • The moss stick to the tree.
  • Mary deliver the book to her friend.
  • Cross-contamination are common.

These all sound "wrong" to our ears because the agreement is incorrect. You can apply the same test to verb and subject combinations on the ACT or SAT, and eliminate those that clearly don't sound "right."

Other Tips

There are a few other considerations to keep in mind as you prepare to tackle Verbs questions on both the ACT and the SAT.

Be concise

Both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language care about your ability to write concisely. This means using as few words as possible to make a point or express an idea.

Because of this, in general, long verb phrases like I would have been studying or They will be studying are very rarely correct. The same goes for verbs ending in -ing (studying, walking, breathing). Prioritize the shortest verb choice in your elimination strategy.

Ask yourself: is this the most concise way to express this idea?

Be active

It is possible to craft sentences in active voice or passive voice. We won't go too far into this concept in this post, but it's important to note that both the ACT and the SAT reward students who think in active voice.

Active voice constructions tend to be more concise than passive voice constructions. They use fewer words and they have the added benefit of, well, sounding much more active than their passive voice alternative!

Here are some examples that prove this point:

  • Active voiceMary delivered the textbooks to her friend on Tuesday.
  • Passive voiceThe textbooks were delivered by Mary to her friend on Tuesday.

Notice how the passive voice construction here uses more words and makes the direct object (textbooks) the subject, as opposed to Mary, who is the one delivering those books. Active voice constructions make the actual subject the focus of the sentence, and often result in a simpler verb or verb phrase.

When navigating Verbs questions on the SAT or ACT, be on the lookout for active voice. This will often mean prioritizing the most concise expression.

Watch out for "being"

If you see the word being in the answer choices, it is likely incorrect. It is very difficult to use this specific verb in a way that is both concise and active!

Get rid of excess words

The SAT and ACT love cramming in a bunch of words between a subject and a verb, to make it all the more confusing for a student to identify the appropriate subject and test for agreement.

Here's a good example of that:

The committee's decision to allocate extensive funds to water treatment strategies was significant.

In this sentence, the subject is decision and the verb is was. Notice how many words appear between these two parts of speech, however, making it fairly difficult to identify the appropriate noun.

It can be helpful here to cross off this excess verbiage to make things more clear:

The committee's decision to allocate extensive funds to water treatment strategies was significant. 


Verbs Questions Strategy

We have a very simple, memorable strategy students can use when approaching a Verbs question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language.

When you see a Verbs question, follow these 4 steps:

  1. Identify the tense of the surrounding context
  2. Identify the noun of the verb in question, if necessary
  3. Eliminate rule-breakers
  4. Plug in your final choice

It is possible to encounter Verbs questions that strictly concern tense or only focus on agreement. However, it is very common for either test to incorporate both concepts in one question!

That's why we encourage students to check for both tense and agreement on every Verbs question they encounter.

We'll apply this 4-step strategy to 2 example questions from officially released practice tests in the next section.

You’ll also be able to apply this strategy to the 10 practice questions in our free Verbs worksheet!


Verbs Questions: 2 Guided Examples

We've already mentioned this first example question, in the first section of this post. This is taken from the CollegeBoard's Official SAT Practice Test #1. Find all 10 of the CollegeBoard's officially released SAT practice tests here.

Guided Example #1: SAT Verbs Question

ACT/SAT Grammar Rules_Verbs_Example SAT Verbs Question_ACT and SAT Grammar Rules

Identify the tense of the surrounding context

We can tell that this is a Verbs question because the answer choices contain different tenses and forms of the verb contain. When we read for full context, we find 2 simple present tense verbs: consider and is.

We also see that this underlined portion is part of a list, which means that we should follow parallel structure, a concept we discuss further in our 3 Rarely Tested Grammar Rules on the SAT and ACT post.

Identify the noun of the verb in question, if necessary

We are discussing Greek yogurt here, referred to as "it" in context. This is a singular noun.

Eliminate rule-breakers

We can eliminate any answer choices that are not in present tense: D, which is in the future tense (will contain). We can also cross off B, an -ing verb, as the verb tense in context is in simple present, not present participle form (the fancy name for an -ing verb).

Parallel structure means that we have to maintain consistency with the verb forms in this list, meaning that the additional it in answer choice A is unnecessary. We can eliminate A.

Plug in your final choice

Here's what our sentence sounds like with C as the proper choice: Nutritionists consider Greek yogurt to be a healthy food: it is an excellent source of calcium and protein, serves as a digestive aid, and contains few calories in its unsweetened low- and non-fat forms. Great!

Guided Example #2: ACT Verbs Question

Here's a Verbs question taken from an officially released ACT practice test (#1). We'll work through this for our second guided example.

Verbs on the SAT and ACT_Sample Question

Identify the tense of the surrounding context

We can tell that this is a Verbs question because the answer choices contain different tenses and forms of the verb build. When we read for full context, we find 2 past tense verbs: separated and compacted. This means that we should prioritize past tense verbs in our answer choices.

Identify the noun of the verb in question, if necessary

This may not be necessary, depending on whether or not this question concerns agreement, but the subject of the verb in question is grains, a plural noun.

Eliminate rule-breakers

Let's cross off answer choices that aren't in the past tense first: B (present), C (future), and D (present). This leaves us with A, which is in the past tense: built.

Plug in your final choice

Here's what our sentence sounds like with A as the proper choice: These grains built up, then compacted, forming the limestone that makes up the islands. Great!


Download PrepMaven's Verbs on the ACT/SAT Worksheet

Now you’re primed for additional Verbs practice, which you can get right now for free with our Verbs Worksheet!

Verbs on the SAT/ACT

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of the 2 Verbs rules and strategy we discussed in this post
  • 2 more guided examples of questions from official practice tests
  • 10 practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


Concise Questions on the SAT and ACT

Concise Questions on the SAT & ACT

Concise Questions on the SAT & ACT

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Concise Questions Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language don't just test grammar rules

These sections are also very interested in your ability to effectively express ideas. In fact, only about 50% of the questions on each test directly concern grammar.

The rest of those questions? They're what we like to call Expression of Ideas questions, which test students' knowledge of concise, precise, and logical writing.

In this post, we discuss one of the most important of these question types: concise questions. You’ll find our strategy for approaching these questions and guided examples from official practice tests.

We also give you a chance to apply these rules in practice with our free concise questions worksheet, which includes practice questions, guided examples from official practice tests, and answers/explanations.

Grab a copy of this worksheet below before we get started.

Here's what we cover:


Where You'll Find Concise Questions on the SAT/ACT

Students can expect to directly answer concise questions on the following sections of these two tests:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

Approximately half of the questions on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language test students' capacity to express ideas effectively. But how many of these Expression of Ideas questions test concise writing? It varies from test to test, but we've assessed officially released practice exams for both the SAT and ACT and come up with the following approximations:

Concise Questions on the ACT Concise Questions on the SAT
~8-10 (out of 75 total questions) ~3-5 (out of 44 total questions)

Students should also be aware that the ability to write concisely is a critical skill. They should be prepared to showcase this skill if they choose to take the SAT or ACT essay, as essay readers will pay close attention to a student's use of language in their response.

In the meantime, how can you tell if you're dealing with a concise question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language?

Take a look at the answer choices. With these questions, you'll often notice the same essential idea expressed in different ways. In many cases, some answers are much longer than others, or you'll see a DELETE option (but this is not always the case).

Here is a preview of the SAT guided example question we'll be working through later on in this post:

Concise Question on the SAT

Notice how the answer choices all contain the word "itself." Three of these answer choices have additional words ("again," "with damage and," and "possibly"). One answer is dramatically shorter than the others (B). This is a Concise question!


What it Means to Be Concise

Some students are familiar with the word "concise." But many ACT and SAT students are new to this word. Concise writing, after all, is not necessarily a staple of high school English curricula (although it should be!).

An easy definition for concise is "to the point." If one is concise, one is very direct.

A better definition is to use as few words as possible to express an idea. This is the definition we want students to keep in mind as they navigate concise questions on SAT Writing & Language and ACT English.

Concise writing is NOT:

  • redundant
  • "fluffy" or
  • overly wordy

But concise writing definitely IS:

  • succinct
  • to the point and
  • brief

We strongly encourage students to practice writing concisely when completing English assignments, as a good way to boost fluency in this question type. Take a look at a sentence from one of your recent essays, for example. Can you use fewer words to express essentially the same idea? Most likely, you can!

In the next section, we discuss tips for approaching concise questions on the SAT and ACT, which require a more specific strategy than concise writing in general.

To get a head start on this question type, download our free Concise Questions Worksheet, which includes additional practice questions and explanations.


3 Simple Rules for Approaching Concise Questions

Keep the following rules in mind whenever a concise question appears on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language:

  • Read the full context
  • Identify the essential idea
  • Eliminate redundant and/or wordy answers

1. Read the full context

This is, of course, the most important step for virtually all questions on ACT English / SAT Writing & Language. Students should never skim these 2 sections or read only the underlined portion of each question! Context can profoundly influence how you approach a question, and whether or not you select the right answer.

With concise questions, the full context can help you out with the next rule: identifying the essential idea! It can also clue you into ideas already expressed in the non-underlined passage so that you can be on the hunt for repeated ideas in the answer choices.

2. Identify the essential idea

Ask yourself: What is the core of the idea the writer is expressing here? How would I express this idea concisely?

You don't have to spend a ton of time answering these questions. But it is vital to answer them, as it can prime you for selecting the answer choice that "trims the fat."

3. Eliminate redundant and/or wordy answers

Now comes the fun part: elimination time. If you've identified that you're working with a concise question, read for full context, and identified the essential idea, it's time to cross off answers that:

  • contain redundant or repeated ideas
  • are just way too wordy

If you aren't sure if an answer choice is too wordy, return to that essential idea you identified. Ask yourself: Is there any way I could say this in fewer words?

You'll also want to pay very close attention to the shortest answer choice (or DELETE, if that's an option). These answers aren't right 100% of the time, but they are often an excellent place to start with concise questions.

Be sure to plug in your final answer choice to ensure that it is, in fact, the right one. This plugging in step can be revealing, especially if you've chosen an answer that is too short (yes, this is possible) or wordy.

We'll apply these rules now to 2 guided example questions.


2 Guided Examples 

The following two examples are taken from official practice tests (SAT and ACT).

Guided Example #1: SAT Concise Question

This question is from the CollegeBoard's Official SAT Practice Test #1.

              Concise Question on the SAT

The full sentence in question reads: "The pattern Box observed in 2012 may repeat itself again, with harmful effects on the Arctic ecosystem." The essential idea here is the potential repetition of an observed pattern.

As the word repeat is already in context, we can eliminate A, as "again" would make this choice redundant. Context also says that this pattern's repetition would have "harmful effects." We can cross off C as "damage" is a similar and redundant idea. Lastly, because of the word "may" in context, we can eliminate answer D, which also includes the notion of potentiality ("possibly").

Our answer is B! (Notice how this is also the shortest option.)

Guided Example #2: ACT Concise Question

This question is from the ACT Official Practice Test #1.

ACT Concise Question Example

The full sentence, as currently written, reads: "Moss has brought compelling stories and information about elephants is provided to an ever-expanding audience." The essential idea concerns Moss giving information to a wide audience.

Right away, as written, the sentence sounds awkward! The issue is the verb "is," given that the sentence already has a verb phrase ("has brought"). This word is unneeded, so we can actually eliminate F, G, and H, which all start with "is." Given that the sentence already discusses this notion of "bringing" information, we can feel further confident in crossing off F and G, which contain similar ideas of offering information ("provided," "given").

This leaves us with J, which is the most concise answer. Without those extra words, the new sentence now reads: "Moss has brought compelling stories and information about elephants to an ever-expanding audience."


Download Our Concise Questions Worksheet

Now it's time for you to apply our strategy for approaching concise questions on the SAT and ACT to some practice questions. 

You can do this right now with our free Concise Questions worksheet.

Concise Questions on the SAT:ACT

With this worksheet, you get:

  • A recap of the rules and strategy discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of concise questions from official practice tests
  • 10 FREE test-like practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


Rarely Tested SAT and ACT Grammar Rules_PrepMaven

3 Rarely Tested SAT and ACT Grammar Rules (You Still Should Know)

3 Rarely Tested SAT and ACT Grammar Rules (You Still Should Know)

Bonus Material: Rarely Tested ACT/SAT Grammar Rules Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

We discuss the 13 major grammar rules you need to know for the ACT/SAT in our Complete Guide to ACT and SAT Grammar Rules.

3 of those 13 rules appear relatively infrequently on both tests. 

But this doesn't mean you should overlook them!

In fact, your proficiency in these 3 rules can be vital for squeezing in those extra points on Test Day. This can be particularly vital for high-scoring students.

What's more, the concepts we discuss in this post are essential for writing style in general. 

This can be essential for crafting a stellar SAT or ACT essay or even college application essay.

Before reading this post, get a head start on practicing these rules by downloading our free rarely tested grammar rules worksheet, which includes practice questions and more. Grab this below.

Here's what we discuss in this post:

  1. 3 Rarely Tested Grammar Rules on the ACT/SAT
  2. 3 Guided Examples
  3. Bonus: PrepMaven's Rarely Tested ACT/SAT Grammar Rules Worksheet

3 Rarely Tested Grammar Rules on the ACT/SAT

The following 3 SAT and ACT grammar rules cover the following:

  • Modifiers
  • Idioms
  • Parallelism

Rule #1: Modifiers must be placed correctly.

A "modifier" refers to a word or group of words that provide more information about a certain subject. In most Modifier questions on the SAT or ACT, a modifier is a descriptive phrase that provides additional details about a subject, often appearing at the start of a sentence.

Here are some examples of modifying phrases that might offer further details about a specific subject:

walking down the street

bespectacled and grimacing

associated with ancient tradition

In general, modifiers and modifying phrases must be right next to whatever it is they are modifying! Take a look at these sample sentences that use the modifying phrases above:

Walking down the street, my friend and I took in the gorgeous sunset.

Bespectacled and grimacing, the professor made his way to the lectern.

Associated with ancient tradition, the practice of ancestral worship appears in many cultures.

In all of these examples, the modifying phrases are placed directly next to the subject they are modifying. Misplaced modifiers are called "dangling modifiers," and these incorrectly modify a subject. Here are the same examples written with dangling modifiers:

My friend and I took in the gorgeous sunset, walking down the street. 

The professor made his way to the lectern, bespectacled and grimacing.

The practice of ancestral worship appears in many cultures, associated with ancient tradition.

Technically, due to the misplacement of modifiers, these sentences declare that it is the sunset that is "walking down the street," the lectern that is "bespectacled and grimacing," and the cultures that are "associated with ancient tradition." In reality, the friends are walking down the street, the professor is bespectacled and grimacing, and the practice of ancestral worship is associated with ancient tradition.

Modifiers appear every so often on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language, and generally with higher frequency on the ACT. How can you tell that you're dealing with a Modifiers question on either test?

Look at those answer choices and pay attention to what's changing between them. If you see that word order (syntax) changes, this is a good sign that you've got a Modifiers question on your hand. You'll see this in action in the Guided Examples section of this post.

Rule #2: Utilize the appropriate idiom, when applicable.

An "idiom" is a fixed component of a language. Idioms are often hard to translate into other languages, like the English phrase it's raining cats and dogs. It can be equally difficult to learn an idiom in another language--most language learners must simply memorize these turns of phrase.

Idioms do appear on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language, but in very specific ways. Yes, these questions are often easier for native English speakers, but that doesn't mean they aren't fair game for all test-takers, regardless of English proficiency.

That's because Idiom questions on the ACT and SAT generally have to do with the following:

  • prepositional phrases
  • homonyms

Prepositions help show relationships between places, things, people, ideas, time, and more. Here's a list of the most commonly used prepositions in the English language.

on at with of before
without in to at by
into toward behind against for
as from about around after

Small, functional words, prepositions are easy to overlook. However, many prepositions are idiomatic, especially when associated with certain adjectives and verbs. Take a look at these phrases, for example, that must be connected with one specific preposition.

  • accustomed to
  • protest against
  • associated with
  • curious about
  • necessary for
  • at last
  • in general
  • as a means of
  • by all means
  • from time to time

These are all fixed idiomatic phrases. We wouldn't say, for example, "associated on" or "curious into." Much like subject-verb agreement, our ears can often tell when an idiomatic phrase is incorrect, but it's also vital to ensure your familiarity with some of these commonly tested idioms as they can be easy to breeze by!

The SAT and ACT are also interested in your capacity to distinguish between certain homonyms, words that sound the same but have key differences in meaning.

Here are some very common homonyms that have appeared on official SAT and ACT practice tests:

  • affect vs. effect
  • than vs. then
  • fair vs. fare
  • whose vs. who's
  • its vs. it's
  • their / there / they're
  • your vs. you're

Make sure you know the difference between these homonyms and, more importantly, that you can apply your knowledge of these differences in context!

How can you tell that you're dealing with an Idioms question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language?

Once again, scan your answer choices and identify the differences between these choices. You might notice that 2 answers, for example, reference "than," while the other 2 reference "then," or that each answer includes a different preposition. These are all great indicators of an Idioms question.

Rule #3: Apply parallel structure for comparisons or items in a list.

Parallelism isn't just a concept that appears in math. It also concerns grammatical structure, especially with respect to comparisons or lists. Basically, parallelism in the world of English grammar involves making sure everything matches!

To apply parallel structure, ensure that items in a comparison or list are in the same form, category, and/or number. A list includes three or more words or phrases separated by commas. A comparison involves 2 words or phrases and may include the word "than."

In this next example, the verbs in the list all have the same form (-ing):

Desmond spends his days at the library photocopying, transcribing, and cataloguing articles.

Here, the nouns in the list are all singular, reflecting parallelism in number:

Someday I hope to invest in a car, a retirement account, and a rental property.

Yes, it would be technically grammatically incorrect to list out a mixture of singular and plural nouns (i.e., Someday I hope to invest in a car, several homes, a retirement account, and three rental properties).

Lastly, in this next comparison, notice how the sentence compares nouns that adhere to the same "category:" i.e., the "car enthusiasts of this show" and "those" of "past events." This is parallel structure, too, as it's technically grammatically incorrect to compare things that are not in the same category (i.e., comparing a "person" and a "car" or a "pen" with a "book").

The car enthusiasts at this road show, however, seemed far less interested than those of past events.

How do you know if you have a Parallelism question on your hands on the ACT or SAT? Be on the lookout for the word "than" in the sentence's context, as this indicates a comparison. If you see a list, scan the answer choices and identify what is changing, as lists can be fair game for comma rule application or parallelism.

Ready to apply these grammar rules in practice? Download our free worksheet for these rarely tested concepts now.


3 Guided Examples: Rarely Tested SAT and ACT Grammar Rules

The key to mastering these grammar rules on the SAT/ACT truly lies in seeing how they are tested, which can feel unfamiliar to students. That's what can make the ACT and SAT challenging in general--these exams test familiar concepts in unfamiliar ways!

We'll walk through 3 guided examples that test these 3 grammar rules now, each taken from an officially released SAT or ACT practice test.

Guided Example #1: Modifiers

This Modifiers question comes from SAT Official Practice Test #1.

Modifiers Questions on the SAT and ACT

We can tell that this is a Modifiers question because each answer choice presents a different word order for the same ideas expressed in this sentence. Answer B, for example, begins with "colleagues," while answer D begins with "I."

The first thing we'll want to do here is read for context. What is this sentence trying to say? When we read carefully for context, we see that the first part of this sentence is an incomplete idea: having become frustrated trying to solve difficult problems. This is a descriptive clause designed to modify the subject who is "frustrated."

Remember the golden rule of modifiers: modifiers and modifying phrases must be right next to whatever it is they are modifying. The subject that comes immediately after this descriptive clause must be the subject who is "frustrated."

Does it make sense for "ideas" to be frustrated? Not really. We can eliminate C. The same goes for the answer choices that reference "colleagues," as it's clear that the narrator ("I") is the one who is frustrated. We can eliminate A and B and select D.

Here's how the new sentence would read with correct modifier placement:

Having become frustrated trying to solve difficult problems, I missed having colleagues nearby to consult. 

Guided Example #2: Idioms

This Idioms question comes from SAT Official Practice Test #1.

Idioms Questions on the SAT

How do we know that this is an Idioms question? For one thing, the answer choices contain three prepositions (as, like, for) and one verb infinitive (to be).

Reading for context, we also see that this question concerns the verb "serves" and the preposition that fits with it idiomatically. Many students will be familiar with the phrase serves as. Given that the sentence describes the functions and characteristics of Greek yogurt, it makes sense for us to choose answer B here.

This is how the corrected sentence would read:

Nutritionists consider Greek yogurt to be a healthy food: it is an excellent source of calcium and protein, serves as a digestive aid, and contains few calories...

If this question stumped you, try plugging in the other answer choices. Notice how "serves like a digestive aid," "serves to be a digestive aid," and "serves for a digestive aid" all sound a little off, indicating incorrect idiomatic expression.

Guided Example #3: Parallelism

This Parallelism question comes from ACT Official Practice Test #3.

Parallelism Questions on the ACT and SAT 

It might be tough to identify this question as a Parallelism question at first glance. However, the key lies in the answer choices themselves. Notice how each answer choice generally expresses the same idea but includes different pronouns (she, her, one), syntax, and length.

Context shows us a list describing what the narrators love about this individual: "her loyal companions," "her bravado." What's the golden rule of Parallelism? Items in a comparison or list must be in the same form, category, and/or number.

We need to choose the answer choice that includes the same possessive pronoun ("her"), for one thing. This only eliminates answer J, which doesn't include "her." However, notice how H is the most concise expression of the idea here: her freedom to do what she wanted. There's no need for the extra words expressed in answers F and G.

Here's how the new sentence would read:

We loved her loyal companions, her bravado, and her freedom to do what she wanted.

Download Our Rarely Tested Grammar Rules Worksheet

Just because these questions appear relatively infrequently does not mean that you should overlook them in your test prep!

We encourage students to hone their skills in modifiers, idioms, and parallelism by working through the additional practice questions and guided examples in our free 3 Rarely Tested SAT and ACT Grammar Rules worksheet.

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of the three rules we discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of questions from official practice tests
  • Practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


Essential Grammar Rules for High School Students

14 Essential Grammar Rules for High School Students (Without the Fluff)

14 Essential Grammar Rules for High School Students (Without the Fluff)

Bonus: $50 Discount on PrepMaven’s Essential Grammar Workshop

Proper grammar is the foundation of strong writing. 

Yet many high school English classes don’t include grammar components. If they do, they are either too brief or too technical to be effective in the long run.

Given that high schoolers have to apply knowledge of grammar rules to the SAT and ACT and need proficiency in certain rules to succeed in college, we’ve done two things:

  1. Written this post about the most essential grammar rules high school students need for success
  2. Compiled an entire summer workshop series devoted to essential grammar rules and style

You can get $50 off one-time enrollment in this workshop right now. Otherwise, keep on reading to dive further into these essential rules.

Here’s what we cover:

  1. 14 Essential Grammar Rules
  2. PrepMaven’s Essential Grammar Summer Workshop
    • Bonus: $50 Discount for One-Time Enrollment

14 Grammar Rules You Need to Succeed

We’ve spent years working with high school students in academic writing, SAT/ACT prep, and college essay writing. Time and again, we’ve seen the same 14 grammar rules come into play in all of these areas.

We also know that grammar itself can be technical and boring. That’s why we outline the rules in this post in a simple and straightforward way, without jargon or “fluff.”

Rule #1: A complete sentence has a subject, a verb, and full expression of a thought.

Understanding the difference between complete and incomplete sentences is crucial for so many things. 

It’s especially valuable for applying most of the punctuation rules discussed in this post. 

A complete sentence must have the following three things:

  1. Subject
  2. Verb
  3. The complete expression of an idea

A subject is a person, place, thing, or idea. Examples of subjects include apple, optometrist, dyslexia, and the United Kingdom. A verb expresses the action of a subject, such as is, completed, running, and have.

Now, what do we mean by "the complete expression of an idea"? Basically, this stipulates that the sentence doesn't leave you hanging. It expresses a full idea.

Here's an example of a complete sentence that expresses a full idea:

Cherise decided to travel to the United Kingdom and seek employment after she completed her teaching certification.

The subject of this sentence is "Cherise," while the verb is "decided." The sentence fully expresses the idea that Cherise made a choice to travel to another country following completion of her teaching certification.

Yet a sentence doesn't have to be super long to express a full idea. Check out these sentences that are, in fact, complete:

I understand.

She couldn't go.

David waited.

In grammar language, a complete sentence is called an independent clause. Clauses contain a subject and a verb. 

If a sentence doesn’t have one or more of the three things needed for a complete idea, it’s incomplete. If it contains a subject and a verb, but not a full expression of an idea, it is called a dependent clause.

Here's an example of a trademark dependent clause:

Although I intended to sign up for PrepMaven’s Essential Grammar Workshop series

Notice how this sentence still has a subject ("I") and a verb ("intended"), which makes it a clause. However, the sentence does not express a full idea. In fact, it leaves us hanging! We know this person intended to sign up for the summer workshop, but the rest of the story is missing.

That word "although" is the secret culprit behind the incompleteness of this sentence. Subordinate conjunctions like although always make a sentence incomplete!

Here's a list of common subordinate conjunctions. When you see these words at the start of a sentence, be on the lookout for an incomplete idea:

while after because although before
unless as if since when
whenever whereas even though rather than until

Here are additional examples of incomplete sentences:

The long-awaited decision to appeal

While the rest of the class worked on the exam

Horses running through the field on a cloudy day


Rule #2: Combine two complete sentences with either a period, a semicolon, or a comma + FANBOYS conjunction.

That’s right! If you are trying to join two complete sentences to create what is called a compound sentence, you can only do so with one of the following punctuation options:

  1. Semicolon
  2. Period
  3. Comma + FANBOYS conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

Here is the same compound sentence written three ways to prove this point:

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change. Many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change, for many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change; many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

Two Tips About Semicolons

Semicolons only like to hang out between 2 complete sentences. Yet, occasionally, they can come before a transition word like "however," "nonetheless," or "moreover."

This is perfectly acceptable, as long as that transition word has a comma after it, as in this example:

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change; indeed, many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

Additionally, FANBOYS conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) never follow a semicolon.


Rule #3: Use a comma to join a dependent clause to an independent clause (most of the time).

To create what is called a complex sentence, use a single comma. This means linking together a dependent clause with an independent clause.

Here is an example of a complex sentence that includes a comma:

In light of the fact that women are still earning less than men in the workplace, equity consulting companies are likely to prove their value in years to come.

There are cases where a comma is not needed, but this depends on the dependent clause, as in this example here:

I won’t go to the store until I have finished my work.

“I won’t go to the store” is an independent clause; “until I have finished my work” is a dependent clause. However, no comma is necessary here.


Rule #4: A colon must come after a complete sentence.

The sentence that precedes a colon must be complete. A colon also introduces a list, explanation, definition, and/or elaboration, as in this example here:

Based on these facts, some might conclude that Shakespeare was, in fact, the opposite of who he was allegedly acclaimed to be: not an original writer but, rather, a clever plaigarist.

Additional Tip: A single long dash functions much like a colon in that it must also come after a complete sentence. It differs from a colon, however, in that it must precede a new thought, interruption, or clarification.

Rule #5: Use 2 commas to separate nonessential information from the rest of the sentence.

Just as we use parentheses to separate additional information from the rest of a sentence, we can use 2 commas to accomplish the same goal.

What is "additional" or "non-essential" information?

This includes anything that is not essential for making a sentence complete (i.e., a subject, verb, or words that contribute to the full expression of an idea), such as descriptive phrases and transition words. Essentially, if you get rid of this information, you'll still have a complete sentence.

Take a look at this example:

Greg and Kevin, the co-founders of PrepMaven, emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

Can you spot the non-essential information in this sentence? If you guessed “the co-founders of PrepMaven,” you’re absolutely right!

“The co-founders of PrepMaven” is a descriptive phrase that provides more information about the sentence’s subject, “Greg and Kevin.” It is not needed to make the sentence complete. In fact, we could get rid of it and still have a complete sentence!

Greg and Kevin emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

Additional Tip: You can use two long dashes in exactly the same way to separate nonessential information from the rest of the sentence.

Rule #6: Use commas to separate items in a list.

When listing out items, use a comma to separate each item. If you follow British English (and some academic writing styles), leave out the comma before the “and.”

However, if prepping for the SAT/ACT or following American English, incorporate the comma before the “and,” as in this example:

Before I leave for the holidays, I need to find a babysitter, submit that annual report, and RSVP for the Christmas party.


Rule #7: Place a comma after a transition word or introductory phrase.

A “phrase” is simply a group of words. Phrases are different from clauses, which contain a subject-verb pair (and can be complete or incomplete). An introductory phrase begins a sentence, often providing context, time or location cues, or transitions, as in the following examples:

In 1938

On the other hand

Beneath the sofa 

If you start a sentence with an introductory phrase or transition word, you need to place a comma after it. That's all there is to it!

In 1938, historians were only just starting to comprehend the impact of the changing times.

On the other hand, such precautionary measures are ones we should be taking on a daily basis, not merely in times of crisis.

Beneath the sofa, Lucy found a panoply of forgotten items, including a keyring, dog toy, and grocery receipt.


DID YOU KNOW? We cover all of these essential grammar rules and more in our summer workshop. For a limited time, we're offering a $50 discount for one-time enrollment, which you can grab below.


Rule #8: Use apostrophes to show possession with plural and/or singular nouns (and contractions).

We use apostrophes to show possession and contraction. When it comes to possession rules, keep the following in mind:

  • Add an 's to singular nouns showing ownership
  • Add a single apostrophe to plural nouns showing ownership

Check out these examples of singular noun possession:

  • Dmitri's dreams
  • The cat's favorite window sill
  • The Earth's curvature

How can you tell if a noun is singular? There should be only one of that particular noun. For example, there is only one Dmitri, one cat, and one Earth in the sample phrases above.

Here are some examples of plural noun possession:

  • The books' covers
  • The sidewalks' cracks
  • My teachers' curriculum

Besides the fact that these plural nouns end in "s," you can tell that they are plural because there is more than one of each. From the examples, we know that we are discussing more than one book, sidewalk, and teacher.

What about singular nouns that end in "s," including proper nouns like Chris? You still follow the rule of adding an 's to these nouns. Here's what that would look like:

  • Chris's classes
  • The iris's stamens
  • The sea bass's flavor

We know it feels awkward, but that's the rule! The only exception to this is with proper nouns that have historical and/or biblical associations, like "Moses" or "Jesus." In these instances, all you need to do is add an apostrophe to the end:

  • Moses' leadership
  • Jesus' teachings

You can have a plural noun that doesn't end in "s". What happens if you want to show possession with one of these nouns? All you need to do is treat it like a singular noun: add an 's to the end. Check out these examples:

  • The children's games
  • People's voting habits
  • Women's rights

Rule #9: Verbs must match their subjects (and vice versa).

This is the heart of subject-verb agreement: verbs must match their subjects!

But what do we mean by "match"? Verbs must match their subjects in form, which is different from tense.

Here's what that generally breaks down to:

  • A plural noun must have a plural verb
  • A singular noun must have a singular verb

A plural noun is a noun that indicates more than one of some thing, idea, or individual: horses, children, mosses. A singular noun indicates that there is only one of some thing, idea, or individual: horse, child, moss.

Now, even though we don't always think of verbs in terms of their singularity or plurality, a verb will change form depending on whether its noun is plural or singular. Take a look at the following examples to see this in action:

  • The horses run across the field.
  • The horse runs across the field.
  • These mosses are hard to identify.
  • This moss is hard to identify.

In the first two examples, the plural noun (horses) matches the plural verb (run), while the singular noun (horse) matches the singular verb (runs). Run and runs are different verb forms.

In the second two examples, the plural noun (mosses) matches the plural verb (are), while the singular noun (moss) matches the singular verb (is). Are and is are different verb forms.


Rule #10:  A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. 

We use pronouns so that we don't have to say the same noun over and over again in a sentence or paragraph. That's what makes them so useful!

There are several different types of pronouns. We’ve outlined the most common types in the chart below.

Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun
I me my mine myself
you you your yours yourself / yourselves
we us our ours ourselves
they them their theirs themselves
she her her hers herself
he him his his himself
it it its n/a itself

A pronoun must match its noun in both type and form. For example, an object pronoun (me, you, us, them, her, him, it) must replace a noun that functions as a direct object. The same goes for subject pronouns, possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns.

Here's a list of pronouns and their nouns (called antecedents) that demonstrate this correlation:

  • people's voices --> their voices
  • Give the gift to Roger  --> Give the gift to him
  • I don't know anything about trigonometry --> I don't know anything about it
  • Ms. Lutz is teaching the class --> she is teaching the class
  • This book is Susan's --> This book is yours

All of the pronouns in these examples match their nouns (antecedents) in type and form. We wouldn't replace, for example, "people's" with "hers" or "trigonometry" with "them."

One of the most common pronoun mistakes confuses object pronouns for subject pronouns, as in the following incorrect sentences:

  • Her and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon.
  • Mr. Banks, whom is teaching the class, has a wide range of advanced degrees.

In these sentences, the writer is erroneously using an object pronoun in place of a subject pronoun. If you ever are unsure about the difference, simply replace the pronoun with a noun to test it out:

  • Kate and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon --> Kate = "she" --> She and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon.
  • Mr. Banks is teaching the class. --> Mr. Banks = "who" --> Mr. Banks, who is teaching the class, has a wide range of advanced degrees.

Rule #11: Modifiers must be placed correctly.

A "modifier" refers to a word or group of words that provide more information about a certain subject. In most Modifier questions on the SAT or ACT, a modifier is a descriptive phrase that provides additional details about a subject, often appearing at the start of a sentence.

Here are some examples of modifying phrases that might offer further details about a specific subject:

  • walking down the street
  • bespectacled and grimacing
  • associated with ancient tradition

In general, modifiers and modifying phrases must be right next to whatever it is they are modifying! Take a look at these sample sentences that use the modifying phrases above:

  • Walking down the street, my friend and I took in the gorgeous sunset.
  • Bespectacled and grimacing, the professor made his way to the lectern.
  • Associated with ancient tradition, the practice of ancestral worship appears in many cultures.

In all of these examples, the modifying phrases are placed directly next to the subject they are modifying. Misplaced modifiers are called "dangling modifiers," and these incorrectly modify a subject. Here are the same examples written with dangling modifiers:

  • My friend and I took in the gorgeous sunset, walking down the street. 
  • The professor made his way to the lectern, bespectacled and grimacing.
  • The practice of ancestral worship appears in many cultures, associated with ancient tradition.

Technically, due to the misplacement of modifiers, these sentences declare that it is the sunset that is "walking down the street," the lectern that is "bespectacled and grimacing," and the cultures that are "associated with ancient tradition." In reality, the friends are walking down the street, the professor is bespectacled and grimacing, and the practice of ancestral worship is associated with ancient tradition.


Rule #12: Apply parallel structure for comparisons or items in a list.

Parallelism isn't just a concept that appears in math. It also concerns grammatical structure, especially with respect to comparisons or lists.

To apply parallel structure, ensure that items in a comparison or list are in the same form, category, and/or number.

In this next example, the verbs in the list all have the same form (-ing):

Desmond spends his days at the library photocopying, transcribing, and cataloguing articles.

Here, the nouns in the list are all singular, reflecting parallelism in number:

Someday I hope to invest in a car, a retirement account, and a rental property.

Lastly, in this comparison, notice how the sentence compares nouns that are the same "category:" i.e., the "car enthusiasts of this show" and "those" of "past events." This is parallel structure, too, as it's technically grammatically incorrect to compare things that do not follow the same category.

The car enthusiasts at this road show, however, seemed far less interested than those of past events.


Rule #13: Who vs. Whom

A lot of students get hung up on the difference between these two pronouns. Yet thinking about them as the pronouns they are can be helpful for telling them apart.

“Who” is a subject pronoun, while “whom” is an object pronoun. 

This means that “who” can only ever take the place of a noun that acts as the subject of the sentence. “Whom” can only replace the noun that functions as a direct object in the sentence.

  • I made the painting for Cherise, who is in charge of funds allocation.
  • After the lecture, the professor spoke to the student with whom he is conducting collaborative research.

To test to see if you are using the appropriate pronoun, replace “who” with another subject pronoun like “she” or “they;” replace “whom” with an object pronoun like “him” or “them.” This will usually reveal the right choice.


Rule #14: Lay vs. Lie

It can be similarly challenging to distinguish between these two verbs. We encourage students to think about them by their definitions:

  • “Lay:” to place something (or someone) down
  • “Lie:” to actually be in a prone position

If you use “lay” in a sentence, this verb has to be stuck to a direct object, as in this example:

I lay my pens, papers, and note-taking materials on the table.

If you use “lie” in a sentence, the verb does not need a direct object, as in this example:

I think I’ll lie down right here on this patch of grass.

PrepMaven's Essential Grammar Summer Workshop Series

Essential Grammar Rules Workshop

We’ve built the curriculum of our Essential Grammar Summer Workshop series around these 14 essential rules. In this course, students will

  • Boost their proficiency in these essential grammar rules
  • Understand these rules’ relationship to style
  • Improve their overall English mechanics
  • Incorporate what they’ve learned into their academic writing

Learn more about the workshop here.

You can also get $50 off a one-time enrollment fee here.


What is a good SAT Score?

What is a Good SAT Score for 2020? (And 6 Steps to Get One)

What is a Good SAT Score for 2020? (And 6 Steps to Get One)

Bonus Material: Step-by-Step Guide for Establishing Your Target SAT Score

What is a good SAT score? And how do you get one?

Our students ask these 2 questions all the time. But answers to them can vary widely, depending on who you ask.

In this post, we use up-to-date industry data to define a good SAT score for 2020. 

Yet we won’t leave you hanging there.

We also give insight into what makes for a good SAT score for you personally. Plus, we outline 6 actionable steps for getting closer to that target score.

Students who take the time to figure out their personally great SAT scores are more likely to achieve college admissions success.

Before reading, get a head start by downloading our free Step-by-Step Guide to Establishing Your Target SAT Score.

Here’s what we cover:

    1. Our 2 Data-Backed Definitions of a “Good SAT Score” for 2020
    2. How Many Questions You Need to Get Right to Achieve a Good SAT Score
    3. “Bad” SAT Scores -- Do They Exist?
    4. 6 Steps for Getting a Good SAT Score (that you can easily start today)
    5. Bonus: Step-by-Step Guide for Establishing Your Target SAT Score

Your Guide to a Good SAT Score for 2020

Students taking the SAT for the first time often ask these questions, in this order:

  1. How does scoring work on the SAT?
  2. What’s a good SAT score?
  3. What do I need to do to get a good SAT score?

We answer the first question in our easy guide to scoring on the SAT, so we won’t cover that here.

That second question, however, can be harder to answer. After all, “good” is a relative term, right? And isn’t every single SAT technically different?

Yes and yes. 

That’s why it’s so important to define what we actually mean by a “good SAT score.” We have 2 definitions for this.

Our 2 Definitions of A Good SAT Score

  1. “Good” is anything that is “above average” with sectional scores and percentile rankings
  2. “Good” is anything that will look competitive on a college application

Let’s start with the first definition.

Good SAT Score #1: The “Above Average” SAT Score

Average SAT Scores

With this definition, in very basic terms, a good SAT score for 2020 could be anything above 1059. This was the average national composite SAT score for the graduating class of 2019. 

A good SAT Verbal score could be anything above 531 and a good SAT Math score could be above 528, based on the same data released by the CollegeBoard

Percentiles

But we like to be more precise than this.

Remember that an SAT score--composite or section--always comes attached to a percentile ranking. This percentile indicates the percentage of comparison students an individual test-taker out-performed.

There are two comparison groups: "SAT Users" (actual SAT test-takers from the classes of 2018 and 2019) and a "nationally representative sample." SAT Percentiles: Composite Scores

A student who scores 1350 on the SAT, for example, will likely have a composite percentile of 94 (nationally representative sample) and 91 (SAT user percentile). This means that this student out-performed roughly 91-94% of SAT test-takers in these two comparison groups.

SAT scores are also usually normally distributed. This means that the bulk of students’ composite SAT scores hover around the middle of the curve. Far fewer scores appear on the higher or lower end of the SAT score range between 400 and 1600.

Normal Distribution Curve_SAT Scores

The middle-of-the-road (or median) SAT composite percentile is the 50th. Students in this percentile range out-performed 50% of all test-takers and under-performed 50% of all test-takers. Students with a 1080 SAT composite are in this 50th percentile.

What does this mean?

Students who score higher than 1080 on the SAT are above average nationally from a percentile basis. These students also hold a 51% or higher SAT percentile.

Thus, a great SAT score on a national scale is above 1080. 

As a point of reference, in 2018, students in the 75th SAT percentile scored about 1215. This is nearly 400 points away from a perfect score, and yet it is a higher score than 75% of all test-takers achieved! 

Good SAT Score #2: The College Competitive SAT Score

Let’s not forget about one major reason for taking the SAT: college entrance! 

In the context of college entrance, one student’s “good” SAT score could be vastly different than another student’s. It just comes down to where you are applying and the average SAT scores of admitted applicants.

So, we like to say that, under this definition, a ‘good SAT score’ is the one that is right for you given your college aspirations. This will probably be close to the SAT scores of admitted applicants. 

If a student is aspiring to attend a highly selective institution like Princeton University, for example, a “good” SAT score likely surpasses the 90th percentile. 

Plenty of universities specify score ranges and percentiles of successful applicants on their websites (although some are not public with this information).  

Most do so by specifying the ‘Middle 50,’ or the 25th and 75th percentile of accepted students’ SAT scores--this is not to be confused with SAT score report percentiles! 

Here’s a sampling of the Middle 50s from various elite institutions:

College 25th Percentile Verbal Section Score  75th Percentile Verbal Section Score 25th Percentile Math Section Score 75th Percentile Math Section Score
Stanford University 690 760 700 780
Vanderbilt University 710 770 730 800
Amherst College 700 770 700 790
Pomona College 690 760 680 770
Princeton University 710 780 720 790
Brown University 705 780 700 790
Barnard College 660 760 650 740

Source: The National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS (2017)

Our guide includes 25th/75th percentile data for 499 colleges. Click here to get this comprehensive list.

When researching competitive applicant SAT scores, keep in mind range.

Successful Vanderbilt applicants, for example, often have an SAT Verbal section score of 710-770. Successful Barnard College applicants have an SAT Verbal section score between 660 and 760.

Those ranges are actually significant. Yes, the higher your score in these cases, the better. But, technically, students on the lower end of these ranges still earned acceptance!

Some institutions have test score and/or GPA cut-offs for scholarship considerations. Review these requirements ahead of time to identify score ranges for eligible applicants.

What is a Good SAT Score_ (2) (1)

What about schools that don’t explicitly state the average SAT scores of admitted applicants on their websites? 

There’s a workaround. 

Many colleges also release what is called a Common Data Set, which presents data related to admitted applicants' test scores and more.

Princeton University's CDS, for example, includes the 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT scores as well as the percentage of 2019 freshman students with specific SAT score ranges.

Based off of this data, we can conclude that a competitive SAT score for a Princeton applicant would fall within these ranges:

  • Reading and Writing: 710-770
  • Math: 730-800
  • Composite: 1440 - 1570

What This Means In Terms of Questions

How many questions do you have to get correct on the SAT to earn a score that is above average (as per our first definition of a good SAT score)?

Every SAT exam is scaled for difficulty in a process the College Board calls “equating.” We discuss this more in our guide to scoring on the SAT

Because no two SATs are alike, it’s difficult to translate the 2019 average SAT scores into total correct questions.

It is possible to generalize, however, which we have done in the following table.

Section Average 2019 Score Average Questions Right
Verbal (Evidence-Based Reading + Writing & Language) 531 ~48-54 questions right (out of 96)
Math (Calculator + No Calculator) 528 ~24-30 (out of 58)
Total 1059 ~74-85 questions (out of 155)
Data based on raw score conversion tables for College Board Official Practice Tests 1-8.

Notice that average SAT performance boils down to getting just over 50% of all questions correct. 

What is a Bad SAT Score? (Does it Exist?)

Is there such a thing as a bad SAT score? Kind of. 

A “bad” SAT score often misses the mark of what the College Board has called college and career readiness. These scores are typically below-average in comparison to the mean.

They may also not meet the benchmark scores the College Board has established in terms of college preparedness, especially with respect to content areas. These benchmark scores vary according to grade (from 8th grade to 11th grade).

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the benchmark scores for college and career readiness. 

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 480
  • Math: 530

Students who meet these benchmarks will see their scores represented in the green range when they receive their SAT score reports. Scores below these benchmark scores will appear as either red or yellow, depending on how far below the scale they are.

College Board SAT Benchmark Scores

Source: The College Board

So, if you score below 480 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 530 on Math, you’re technically earning a “bad” SAT score.  But remember 3 things:

  1. Every college will have different standards when it comes to SAT scores of admitted applicants 
  2. 530 on SAT Math is actually above average (on sectional scores) compared to 2019 scores
  3. You can take the right steps for increasing your SAT score (with the tips we’re about to talk about)

6 Steps for Getting a Good SAT Score (that you can easily start today)

Now we get to answer that third question mentioned in the intro to this post: What do I need to do to get a good SAT score?

1. Take a diagnostic SAT.

It’s hard to figure out your destination if you don’t know where you are starting in the first place!

Take a diagnostic SAT practice test to pinpoint where your skills currently lie. In fact, this is the first thing we have our students do when they sign up for any PrepMaven SAT test prep program. 

A benchmark set of SAT scores is essential for creating reasonable goals. And reasonable goals are critical for reaching your target SAT score.

You can find 10 FREE Official SAT Practice Tests here

We also recommend checking out our guide to self-proctoring your first SAT practice test--it’s important to replicate Test Day conditions as much as possible in order to generate accurate results.

2. Make sure the SAT is actually the right test for you.

You heard that right.

The SAT might not be the test for you, depending on the results of your diagnostic SAT. Some students are better suited for the ACT, the other standardized test used in college admissions.

Colleges accept both tests equally, but it’s important to prep for the test guaranteed to give you the highest score. 

The ACT and SAT are similar in some ways. But they are also vastly different in others. To see which test is right for you, ask these 5 questions now.

If you’re simply curious about the ACT, our post on the ACT’s general format will give you a good overview of what to expect with this test. 

We can also help students figure out which test to pursue in a free test prep consultation.

3. Build a general college list.

You might not be certain exactly where you’d like to apply to college.

That’s okay!

Most high school students solidify their college lists the summer or fall of their senior years.

However, to truly know what a good SAT score looks like for you, a general college list is essential. This list can help you identify ballpark SAT score ranges for competitive entry, which we talk about in the next step.

If you aren’t able to pinpoint exact colleges, think in terms of tier:

  • Tier 1: Ivy League Schools (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, etc.)
  • Tier 2: Extremely Selective Schools
  • Tier 3: Highly Selective Schools
  • Tier 4: Selective Schools
  • Tier 5: Moderately Selective Schools
  • Tier 6: Somewhat Selective Schools….. etc.

We recommend choosing 3 tiers of schools, arranged as follows, and at least 2 schools for each of these tiers (total of 6):

  1. Safety schools (you know you’ll probably get in)
  2. Competitive schools (odds are neutral)
  3. Reach schools (a “reach” to earn acceptance)

Of course, students will want to keep building this college list as they progress with their SAT test prep. For now, however, a general list of at least 6 schools will be sufficient to get to the next step.

4. Investigate college score ranges.

Once you’ve assembled your general college list (with at least 6 schools), it’s time to check out the average SAT scores of admitted applicants to these institutions. You have a few resources for this:

  • The college’s website itself
  • The most recent Common Data Set for that college (if possible)
  • National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS
  • PrepMaven’s Step-by-Step Guide to Determining Your Target SAT score

Remember to keep in mind score ranges of admitted applicants and 25th / 75th percentiles (if applicable) as you do this research.

Let’s say that you want to research the SAT score ranges for applicants accepted to Fordham University.

Fordham does specify test score ranges on its website (not all colleges do this):

We can also back this up with information from Fordham’s Common Data Set from 2018-2019:

If using our Target Score Guide, students would then enter these ranges (620-700 on Reading/Writing and 630-730 on Math) in the appropriate column. 

Do this for all 6 schools on your general list.

5. Identify your target SAT score

SAT test prep without a target score is like a ship without a rudder. A target SAT score is essential for 2 things:

  1. Setting goals
  2. Figuring out your test prep timeline

You can identify your target SAT score right now with our free guide. This guide is most helpful for students who have:

  • Already taken a diagnostic SAT practice test
  • Have assembled a general college list 

6. Take your time

The SAT is vastly different from traditional high school tests. Much like a second language, it requires dedication, immersion, and time to understand and eventually master. 

Thus, it’s important to give your test preparation time. The SAT is not a test that students can cram, and nor should it take a side-burner in a student’s college application process. 

Allocate a generous timeline for sufficient SAT test prep, and stick to it!  How much time will you need to set aside for SAT prep?

Our Target SAT Score guide will help you figure this out.


Download Our Step-by-Step Guide for Establishing Your Target SAT Score

A concrete target SAT score can mean the difference between a mediocre score and a good score. Why? You are more likely to reach your goals in life if they are:

  • Specific
  • Time-oriented and
  • Realistic

In fact, students who don’t choose a target SAT score at the start of their test prep are less likely to be successful in their journey. That’s why we crafted a guide to establishing a target score that aligns with a student's current strengths and college aspirations. 

With this guide, you’ll be able to:

  • Compare the results of your first SAT practice test to national averages
  • Identify score ranges of competitive applicants to your schools of choice
  • Establish a realistic target score (composite, Reading/Writing, Math) that is your personal good SAT score
  • Understand how many questions you have to get right per section to achieve this score
  • Create an actionable timeline for getting your target SAT score (and beyond!)

Once you’ve completed the guide, you’ll be set for launching your SAT test prep, either solo or with additional guidance from the experts.

Our guide also includes data on SAT score ranges of competitive applicants to 499 U.S. colleges and universities!


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


5 Sample College Essay Formats_PrepMaven

5 Ways to Structure Your College Essay

5 Ways to Structure Your College Essay

A common characteristic of a successful college essay is its capacity to tell a story in a descriptive, engaging way.

Yet even if you've reviewed those essay prompts and chosen the right college essay topic, how can you make sure that your essay has this quality?

The secret lies in your essay's structure. We encourage all of our college essay students to create an outline of their essays prior to writing a first draft, and we do this for a reason: the right structure can ensure you're telling your story in a compelling fashion.

Great structure can also ensure that your essay is well-written, authentic, and introspective, all qualities of successful personal statements.

It can be tough to nail down a college essay structure after you've chosen your topic, especially if you just don't know where to start. That's why we wrote this post!

We reviewed a wide range of successful essays and boiled them down to 5 sample structures. While it's possible to choose any structure out there to suit your essay topic, these are the most common and a great starting place for first-time essay writers.

Here's what we cover:


The College Essay Structure: 5 Sample Structures

This list of sample college essay structures is by no means comprehensive. But the majority of the essays we see do fit these molds, and often successfully. The sample essays we reference can all be found in 11 College Essays That Worked.

1. The Setback

This is one of the most straightforward and traditional college essay structures. It is ideal for students who wish to discuss

  • a challenge they've overcome
  • an experience that didn't go as expected
  • and/or their response to a specific obstacle.

While Setback essays can take a number of approaches, their structure generally boils down to the following:

Choosing Your College Essay Format_The Setback (1)

What's great about the Setback structure is its capacity to encourage introspection. This is what admissions officers are looking for--your ability to deeply reflect on whatever it is you're discussing, and in a way that adds value to your overall application.

With this structure, students should focus less on the setback itself and more on what they learned or took away from this experience.

In her essay that utilizes the Setback structure, Destiny describes her twelve-year-old ambition to write and publish a novel. When her manuscript comes back from her father's office covered in red, she is heartbroken at first. Yet this precipitates valuable realizations about what it actually means to achieve your dreams, which she describes in her conclusion:

Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

Amanda also follows the Setback structure in her essay, which describes an unexpected encounter during a volunteering experience. Accustomed to working with Joey, a well-mannered special needs child, Amanda struggles to work with Robyn, a child prone to anger and aggression.

Yet, over time, Amanda makes some important realizations about her relationship to compassion and her capacity for empathy, as described in her conclusion:

Was I sincerely an empathetic person if I could only be so when it was easy? Was I truly compassionate because others thought I was? Complacency does not equate with compassion; true empathy is not an ephemeral trait that one possesses only when it suits him or her – when it doesn’t require him or her to try.

Both of these essays--Destiny's and Amanda's--describe a setback and the writer's specific response to this setback, often in the context of values, perspective, and/or beliefs. We finish the essays with a nuanced understanding of that writer's character as a result of this setback and their response to it.

2. The Thesis

Many high school students are familiar with thesis statements and their value in the context of academic writing. While college essays differ significantly from academic essays, students can use the Thesis structure to great success to structure their ideas.

This is an ideal structure to use if your essay describes

  • a specific belief or characteristic not necessarily framed through an experience
  • your stance on an issue
  • and/or a frank viewpoint on something that's important to you.

Essays that adhere to the Thesis format generally follow this structure:

Choosing Your College Essay Format_The Thesis

As we've mentioned before, students who use this structure should focus less on the issue at hand and more about what this says about them as a person (the "why" of the thesis statement).

In her essay that utilizes the Thesis structure, Emma begins with a declarative thesis about a specific characteristic and spends the rest of the essay elaborating upon this characteristic and its meaning in her life:

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. 

Harry's essay begins with his succinct perspective on the notion of "common values," which he elaborates in a structured fashion throughout the next few paragraphs:

Establishing a cohesive society where common values are shared is increasingly difficult in multi-faith, globalised societies such as the one I’m part of in the UK. My studies in politics and philosophy have made me more sensitive to this problem and as I have a much larger number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds than my parents and the previous generation, I realise that the friction created by the presence of different ethnic and social groups is not going to disappear anytime soon.

James describes his relationship to rowing in an essay that follows the Thesis structure, beginning with a clear statement about this relationship and elaborating upon this throughout the essay's body:

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race. This is the one situation in which I find myself to be completely comfortable; the one environment in which I feel most empowered, at home, and content, despite it being quite at odds with the conventional definition of the word “comfortable”.  

Notice how these three essays are very distinct, despite following the same structure! This proves the Thesis format's versatility.

3. Compare & Contrast

A more niche college essay structure, the Compare & Contrast structure is ideal for students who choose to write about something in comparison with something else. Students can use this structure to:

  • contrast their perspective(s) with another's
  • or compare two meaningful experiences, individuals, actions, and/or values

Typically, Compare & Contrast essays incorporate the following general structure, although this can be quite flexible:

Choosing Your College Essay Format_Compare and Contrast

Shanaz uses this structure in her essay's application of the quote "You know nothing, Jon Snow" to her own life. Her comparisons operate at the sentence level, elucidating her understanding of what it means to be "ignorant":

Like Jon Snow, I’ve never lived a day in another person’s shoes. Fewer than three meals a day. No extra blanket during record-breaking winter cold. No clean water. I may be parched after an intense practice, but I know nothing of poverty. Losing a loved one overseas. Being forced to leave your home. Coups d’état and dictatorial governments. I battle with my peers during class discussions, but I know nothing of war. Denial of education. Denial of religion. Denial of speech. I have an endless list of freedoms, and I know nothing of oppression.

These comparisons are powerful in their ability to magnify the extent of Shanaz's self-professed ignorance, which also lends the essay a distinct tone of authenticity. 

4. The Discovery Structure

Essays that follow the Discovery structure generally track a specific moment of self-discovery. They are ideal for students writing an essay that focuses largely on:

  • an important, self-shaping experience
  • identity (cultural, social, etc.)
  • a valuable moment of self-reflection or understanding

The Discovery structure differs from the Setback structure in that it doesn't necessarily involve a concrete challenge or setback. These essays tend to work with broader themes and incorporate a lot of self-reflection. That's why they can be so successful from an admissions officer's perspective.

Here's what the Discovery structure generally looks like:

Choosing Your College Essay Format_The Discovery Format

In her essay, Aja describes a time when she deeply questions her religious faith, testing her beliefs as she performs lab experiments during a science summer program:

My experiment eventually went beyond the scientific approach, as I questioned in my thoughts. I had to determine what my beliefs meant to me, to find my own answer. I could not simply interpret results of an experiment, but needed to find my own interpretations.

Aja eventually concludes that "the questions themselves proved my practices were valuable to me, and left me with a stronger commitment to my religious faith than I had before." In sharing with the reader an important moment of self-reflection, she conveys an intimate portrait of how she engages with truth, both as a scientist and a follower of a specific faith.

5. The Evolution Essay

The Evolution essay structure is ideal for students writing about an experience, belief, or characteristic that isn't necessarily isolated to a concrete moment in time (like the Setback structure, for example). It is very similar to the Discovery structure, but differs in that it often presents the writer's evolution in relation to

  • a community
  • an ongoing experience
  • a deeply embedded belief

Here's what the Evolution structure generally looks like, although it is very flexible:

Choosing Your College Essay Format_The Evolution Format

Jonah utilizes the Evolution structure in describing how he evolves and grows by participating in a specific community: a small group of friends tackling challenging problem sets in the corner of an AP Calculus classroom. Jonah essentially traverses four years in his essay, describing how this community has inspired him to progress as a scholar and instructor:

Yet on every occasion, whether I’m facing the board or with my back to it, whether I’m in the ranks of my peers or addressing my teachers, I feel the same elation. In my friends I see Socrates, Newton, and Steinhardt. There’s no place I would rather be than in their company.

Martin also follows the Evolution structure in his essay that describes the various factors and experiences that have shaped his present identity:

I am who I am today as a result of these experiences and personal challenges. In my short life so far, I have developed my soft-hearted and quiet personality to become more open, creative, and self-assured while preserving my identity. I know more challenges lie ahead, but I am open to those opportunities.


Your College Essay Structure: Next Steps

The 5 college essay structures discussed in this post are not the only ones out there. Students have a lot of options when it comes to structuring their pieces, and many times the ideal structure will emerge once you've chosen the right topic.

We have multiple tutors ready to help you arrive at that winning topic and, most importantly, craft an essay that "works"!

Learn more about our one-on-one college essay coaching programs now. Or reach out for details about our new summer college essay workshop, a four-week intensive designed for rising 12th graders working on their personal statements.


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 


How to Choose That Winning College Essay Topic_PrepMaven

6 Tips for Choosing That Winning College Essay Topic

6 Tips for Choosing That Winning College Essay Topic

You've pored over examples of college essays that worked. You've asked yourself essential questions to guide your brainstorming process. Now how do you choose that winning college essay topic?

The "right" essay topic is the one most likely to result in a piece that will add significant value to your application, among other things.

Many students, however, also have to contend with supplemental essays. A lot of colleges are now requiring students to submit responses on top of the personal statement. How do you know which topics to reserve for supplementals, and which one to choose for your personal statement?

That's what this post is all about. In this article, we define a "winning" college essay topic and provide specific tips for choosing one out of your brainstorming material.

After you've chosen your topic, you'll be well on your way to the next steps of the college essay writing process: outlining and drafting.

Here's what we cover:


A Winning College Essay Topic Defined

How do you know if you've chosen the "right" topic for your essay? In general, a solid essay topic will be

  • lucrative
  • exciting to you personally
  • and most likely to generate a "successful" essay

What do we mean by "lucrative"? A good essay topic must have the potential to generate a significant amount of self-reflection, introspection, and meaning.

Basically, students should feel that they have a lot to say about the topic they choose! If you feel as if you are grasping for material with a certain topic, it may not be the best for your personal statement.

The right topic might also be exciting to you personally. Richer topics are more likely to inspire this sense of excitement or interest, which can, in turn, ease the writing process and result in a more authentic piece aligned with your voice.

Lastly, the best college essay topic for you will put you in the position to write a "successful" piece. We define a successful college essay as

  1. Introspective and reflective
  2. Descriptive and engaging
  3. Honest
  4. Unconventional and distinct
  5. Full of a student's voice
  6. Well-written
  7. Meaningful

Ask yourself: Will this topic allow me to be introspective and reflective? Will it result in an engaging, descriptive piece? Is it honest? Will it enable me to be unconventional, even in a small way? Is it in line with my voice? Does it have the potential to add substantial meaning to my application? Does it say more about who I am apart from my resume, test scores, and transcripts?

The following tips are designed to guide you further through the topic selection process.


6 Tips for Choosing the Right Topic

Once you've gathered a wide range of potential topics, use these tips to narrow down that list until you've landed on the "winning" one.

1. Identify supplemental essay prompts (if applicable)

Many colleges and universities now require students to submit additional essays as part of their application. For example, in 2019, Boston College required applicants to submit a 400-word response to one of the following 4 prompts:

Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?
When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community?
Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?
Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?

Some universities, like Stanford, might require a series of shorter-response supplemental essays with specific prompts. These prompts can range widely in subject, as you can see in the above Boston College prompts.

As more and more institutions add supplemental essays to their requirements, students should be mindful of these as they choose their personal statement topic. We strongly discourage students from writing about the same thing in their personal statements and supplementals!

If you can, find out which of the colleges on your list require supplemental essays. Create a spreadsheet of these prompts (with word lengths) and refer to these as you choose your college essay topic. You might even be able to select topics for those supplementals in the same process.

2. Put a star next to lucrative topics

Remember: a lucrative essay topic is one with the potential to generate a significant amount of self-reflection, introspection, and meaning.

Take a look at the topics you've assembled. Which ones do you have a lot to say about? Put a star next to these. If you find yourself unsure about a certain topic, ask yourself:

  • how much does this matter to me personally?
  • does it relate somehow to my perspective(s) of the world? If so, how?
  • what else could I say about this topic?
  • is it related to any other topics?
  • does it relate to my character, value(s), and/or voice?

Prioritize those topics that earn a lot of "yes"s and additional thoughts from these questions. The "lucrative" topics you don't end up choosing can be excellent material for supplemental responses.

3. Consider the rest of your application

We encourage students to view their essays as an opportunity to add value to the rest of their application. This means choosing a topic that brings the admissions officer outside of your resume, transcripts, recommendation letters, and test scores.

As you narrow down topics, eliminate any that do not add significant dimension to your application, particularly from a character perspective.

Ask yourself: Does this topic say something that the rest of my application does not say? Does it give admissions officers deeper insight into who I am as a person? Is it just a reiteration of my resume or does it add meaning to my full application?

4. Identify what excites you

"Excite" might be a strong word. But time and again, our essay students have expressed some level of interest in the topic they choose to write about. Some even find an element of fun or enjoyment in a specific topic, especially if it allows them to express their individual voice.

Keep this in mind as you work through those topics you've already identified as "lucrative." What interests you? What might you be eager to delve into further? What are you excited to share with admissions officers?

Some students like to "try out" certain topics before choosing them. This might involve short free-writes on competitive topics. If you do this, notice when the words start to flow. This can be a good indication that you're inching closer to the winning topic.

5. Think about storytelling

Successful college essays tell some kind of story in an engaging fashion. We like to remind our students of this throughout the college essay writing process: they are storytellers first and foremost.

We can define a story as a narrative that engages a specific reader and works toward a certain point. Some stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. Successful stories give the reader an opportunity to become invested in what they are reading somehow.

Think about this as you narrow down your list of topics. A winning topic will allow you to tell a story completely and succinctly. It will also fit a clear, comfortable structure.

Some topics may be compelling, lucrative, and fascinating to you personally. However, they might not be suited for the college essay in terms of their storytelling potential. 

How can you tell if this is the case? A topic might be too "big," for example, such as all of the international travel experiences you've had in five years. For these larger topics, it might be better to focus on one specific aspect, moment, or perspective of that broader situation, such as the story behind the blue suitcase you took with you on those travel experiences.

A topic could also be too linear, leaving little room for a student to discuss anything outside of facts and details. We've also seen students land on topics that might be interesting in and of themselves but aren't actually stories!

Ask yourself: Will this topic allow me to tell a descriptive, engaging story? Will this story showcase my authentic voice and my honesty? Will I be able to follow a compelling structure in telling this story? Does it have the potential for rich detail?

6. Consider unconventionality

We classify many successful college essays as "unconventional." This can be a relative term, but it's worth mentioning here. 

Remember: many competitive colleges and universities receive thousands of applications for admission every year. For this reason, it's essential to choose a topic that gives you every possibility to stand out from the crowd. That's what the tips in this post are designed to help you do.

But if you've narrowed down your list of topics to a handful, scrutinize what's left through the lens of convention.

Ask yourself: Which topic is more unexpected? Which encapsulates you (and only you)? How might a certain topic surprise admissions officers (in a good way)? Which is more honest?


You've Chosen Your College Essay Topic...What's Next?

Once you've selected that winning college essay topic, it's time to create an outline and a first draft. It's also essential to set aside an appropriate amount of time for the drafting and revision process. Successful college essays take time, and it's never too early to begin!

In the interim, we are excited to offer college essay writers a summer workshop and one-on-one mentoring programs. For more information, start a conversation with us today.


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 


Qualities of a Successful College Essay

7 Qualities of a Successful College Essay

7 Qualities of a Successful College Essay

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's College Essay Case Study

The college essay is one of the most important aspects of a student's application.

It gives applicants an opportunity to articulate their personal values, character traits, and perspectives. It's also a chance to add more value to your application, simply by demonstrating who you are outside of your resume and transcript.

A "successful" college essay is one that makes the most of these opportunities and, in many cases, earns an acceptance.

We've demystified what most admissions officers look for in college applications. But what are these officers looking for in the college essay itself? What are the top qualities of a successful application essay?

In analyzing various essays of admitted applicants, we've come up with a list of the characteristics that most of these pieces have in common. We'll be referring to some of these pieces throughout the post.

(If you'd like to read a selection of these essays, visit 11 College Essays That Worked.)

Plus, we give you access to our College Essay Case Study, which takes a deep dive into one of our favorite essays that worked. Grab it below.

Here's what we cover:


The College Application Essay In a Nutshell

Most students applying to a college or university in the U.S. must submit an application essay (or "personal statement") with their application.

Depending on the application platform the college uses (typically either Coalition or the Common App), students have 500-650 words to craft a response. While each of these platforms has college essay prompts, it's helpful to view these prompts as general guidelines as to what colleges are looking for in a response.

Based on these prompts and our own experience coaching college essay students, the application essay is:

  • the chance to say what the rest of your application doesn't say
  • a demonstration of your character, values, and/or voice
  • the platform to show who you are outside of a resume/transcript
  • an introspective personal essay

The college essay is NOT:

  • a rehashing of your resume
  • an excuse or explanation of other components of your application
  • a formal, five-paragraph essay
  • what you think "colleges want to hear"

A standard college application includes an academic transcript, recommendation letters, extracurricular / activities section, an optional resume, and standardized test scores. The essay is an addition to these 4 general components, so it makes sense that it should complement them by saying something new.

That's why we like to define the essay as a "demonstration of character, values, and/or voice." True, these elements can be inferred from other components of the application. But the essay is your opportunity to clearly and personally demonstrate what matters to you, who you are at the core, and/or your essential perspectives of the world.

For this reason, the college essay is introspective and personal. Colleges want to hear that "I" voice in the application essay, loud and clear, and they want active, intelligent reflection.

You can see this in action in the pieces we've included in our 11 College Essays That Worked article and our College Essay Case Study, available below.

(Note: Some colleges might require applicants to submit supplemental essays in addition to their personal statement. These often have very specific prompts and different word lengths. We'll discuss how to approach supplemental essays in a future post--stay tuned.)


 7 Qualities of a Successful College Essay

We've assessed several college essays of applicants admitted to a wide range of schools, including Ivy League institutions. While extremely diverse, these pieces generally had the following characteristics in common.

1. Introspective and reflective

Many English teachers tell their students not to use the first-person "I" in their essays. While this might be the standard for some academic essays, the college essay should include that "I." What's more, it should include a lot of that "I"!

This can be understandably uncomfortable for students, many of whom may simply not be used to talking about themselves openly and declaratively on a page. It can also feel awkward from a stylistic point of view for students who are not used to writing in the first-person.

Yet colleges want to hear your words in your own voice, and they are especially interested in learning more about your perspectives on the world and insights gleaned from your various life experiences. That's why many successful college essays are highly introspective, full of the writer's active reflections on what they've learned, how they view the world, and who they are.

We typically see the bulk of such introspection at the end of an essay, where the writer summarizes these reflections (although this is by no means standard), as we can see in the conclusion to Destiny's essay here, which describes her earlier attempt to write and publish a novel:

Sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure about my ability as a novelist I open up my first draft again, turn to a random chapter, and read it aloud. Publishing that first draft would have been a horrible embarrassment that would have haunted me for the rest of my life. Over the past half-decade, I’ve been able to explore my own literary voice, and develop a truly original work that I will be proud to display. This experience taught me that “following your dreams” requires more than just wishing upon a star. It takes sacrifice, persistence, and grueling work to turn fantasy into reality.

In her personal statement, Aja reflects deeply on what she specifically learned from an experience described earlier on in the piece:

I found from my experiment and questioning within my mind that my practices distinguished me from others, thereby allowing me to form relationships on the basis of common interest or personality, rather than cultural similarities, that summer. I valued the relationships more, and formed a deep connection with my lab partner, whom I had found was similar to me in many ways. 

Notice how both of these selections contain a lot of that first-person voice, which is critical to elaborating perspectives, learning points, and introspective thoughts. And did we mention that admissions officers are looking for those specific perspectives, learning points, and thoughts that compose who you are?

2. Full of a student's voice

An academic transcript can be revealing to admissions officers. The same goes for recommendation letters and resumes. But it's hard to convey an individual voice in these application components. The college essay is your prime vehicle for speaking directly to colleges in your own words about what matters to you.

Successful college essays thus veer away from the formal voice many students employ when writing academic essays. Rather, they showcase a student's unique way of expressing themselves on a page, which can be, for example, humorous, informal, intimate, lyrical, and/or speculative.

Voice is at the forefront of Emma's essay about her love for "all that is spicy:"

I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier. Ever since I was a child, I have been in search for all that is spicy. I began by dabbling in peppers of the jarred variety. Pepperoncini, giardiniera, sports peppers, and jalapeños became not only toppings, but appetizers, complete entrées, and desserts. As my palate matured, I delved into a more aggressive assortment of spicy fare. I’m not referring to Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, the crunchy snack devoured by dilettantes. No, it was bottles of infernal magma that came next in my tasting curriculum.

Notice how Emma's descriptions of her passion for spice are rich with her voice: playful, intelligent, and humorous. This also gives us insight into a specific aspect of her character--that's the power of voice when it comes to personal essay writing, and college admissions officers are very interested in applicants' characters.

3. Descriptive and engaging

You don't have to be a natural creative writer to compose a successful college essay. Yet competitive essays aren't afraid to dive deeply into a subject and describe it, whether that description relates to imagery, emotions, perspectives, or insights. A college essay shouldn't leave the reader guessing in any way--it should be highly specific and it should tell your story in an engaging fashion.

Harry's more intellectual essay presents his views on common values in society. He is careful to be very specific and descriptive in these views, incorporating both a relevant incident from history and his own direct relationship to the issue:

Admittedly, the problem of social integration is one I feel can be widely overstated – for example, when I was looking into some research for a similar topic a couple of years ago, I found numerous surveys indicating that ethnic minorities (especially Islam) identify much more closely with Britain than do the population at large. Still though, I, like many others, find myself constantly troubled by the prospect of the war from within that seems to be developing. This fear is fuelled by events such as the brutal killing of the soldier Lee Rigby at the hands of two British Muslims a couple of years ago.

In her essay, Amanda is extremely detailed in describing her experience as a caretaker for a difficult child. The result is a clear portrait of the challenge itself and Amanda's relationship to this challenge, told from the perspective of an engaging storyteller:

Then I met Robyn, and I realized how wrong I was. Prone to anger, aggressive, sometimes violent (I have the scar to prove it). Every Sunday with Robyn was a challenge. Yoga, dancing, cooking, art, tennis – none of these activities held her interest for long before she would inevitably throw a tantrum or stalk over to a corner to sulk or fight with the other children. She alternated between wrapping her arms around my neck, declaring to anyone who passed by that she loved me, and clawing at my arms, screaming at me to leave her alone.

4. Honest

The successful college essays we see always emerge from a place of honesty. Writing with honesty also is more likely to accurately convey a student's unique voice, inspire reflection and introspection, and result in a descriptive, meaningful piece (all of the qualities listed in this post!).

Sometimes this means adopting a candid or direct voice on the page. James starts his essay frankly in this singular statement:

Simply put, my place of inner peace is the seat of that 50 foot sliver of carbon and kevlar called a rowing shell, cutting through the water in the middle of a race.

Or it might mean describing a challenge, vulnerability, or perspective truthfully, as Martin does in his essay about the experiences that have molded his character over the years:

Looking back, I have never been the “masculine boy” as society says my role to be. I have always thought I do not fit the social definition of a male as one who is “manly” and “sporty” and this alienating feeling of being different still persists today at times. However, I also have become more comfortable with myself, and I see my growth firsthand throughout high school.

Given that many universities value "truth" in their own mission statements and mottos, admissions officers will prioritize those essays that ring with a student's honest voice.

5. Unconventional & distinct

This is by no means a requirement of a successful college essay. But many of the essays that earn students acceptance at their dream schools veer away from the predictable or expected, as we saw in Emma's essay above ("I am an aspiring hot sauce sommelier"). They are, in a nutshell, 100% unique.

We've seen some essays, for example, that follow more radical structures, such as list formats or experimental narratives. Others focus on unexpected subjects, like Shanaz's piece on the relevance of Game of Thrones in her life and trajectory of learning.

And, time and again, successful college essays step away from what admissions officers already see in applications--academics, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and classes. They may focus on something very specific (hot sauce or Game of Thrones), seemingly ordinary (eating a kosher meal in public or working on a problem set), or personally interesting (a historic murder or wrestling game).

Regardless, the essays that "work" emphasize the unexpected, as opposed to the expected. Distinct essays will also feel as if they could not have been written by anyone else.

6. Well-written

This might also sound like an obvious quality of a successful essay, but it's still worth mentioning. The most competitive application essays showcase strong writing skills, providing evidence of a student's ability to tell a specific story artfully and well. 

Essays should also be error-free, grammatically precise, and stylistically on point. Successful pieces also might demonstrate versatility through varied sentence structure, word choice, and rhetorical or literary devices. Lastly, well-written essays typically adhere to a specific storytelling structure.

This excerpt from Justin's essay about his experience in the California Cadet Corps, for example, displays a high command of language, word choice, and sentence structure:

Through Survival, I learned many things about myself and the way I approach the world. I realized that I take for granted innumerable small privileges and conveniences and that I undervalue what I do have. Now that I had experienced true and sustained hunger, I felt regret for times when I threw away food and behaved with unconscious waste. 

7. Meaningful

Above all, a successful college essay adds value to a student's holistic college application. It is full of meaning, in that it

  • showcases a student's unique voice
  • elucidates an applicant's particular perspective(s), character trait(s), and/or belief(s) and
  • honestly conveys a significant component of who a student is

It might be difficult to compress the entirety of who you are into 650 words. Yet it is most certainly possible to craft 650 words that add significant meaning to an overall application in terms of a student's personal potential for the future. This is exactly what admissions officers are looking for


Download PrepMaven's College Essay Case Study

What can you do to ensure that your college essay aligns with these successful qualities? First, if you haven't yet done so, please read through these 11 College Essays That Worked.

Next, we encourage students to download our FREE College Essay Case Study.

PrepMaven's College Essay Case Study

Here's what you'll get:

  • 1 additional example of a college essay that worked (and one of our favorites!)
  • Detailed analysis into why this one is successful
  • A recap of the 7 qualities outlined in this post


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 


SSAT Score Release Dates and Information

SSAT Score Release Dates - When You'll Get That Score Report

SSAT Score Release Dates - When You'll Get That Score Report

You've studied hard for the Secondary Schools Admissions Test (SSAT). You've taken the test, and maybe more than once. Perhaps you've even finalized your list of private schools and prepared most of your application.

Now what?

Students have to wait a little while after sitting for an official SSAT before they can receive their results.

According to the Enrollment Management Association, the company that produces the SSAT, it can take up to 2 weeks after test materials have been received for a student to get their online score report. In some cases, however, students can receive scores earlier.

Our students and families frequently ask us about SSAT scores--when students will get them, how to send them to schools, etc.

This post is designed to answer a lot of those questions and give parents guidance as they navigate the ins and outs of SSAT score reports and submission.

Here's what we cover:


SSAT Score Release Dates 2020

Note: Due to COVID-19, several 2020 official SSAT administrations have been canceled and/or modified. This might also impact SSAT score release dates for 2020. We discuss the SSAT and COVID-19 further in this regularly updated post on the pandemic.

All SSAT test-takers will be able to review the official results of a recent SSAT online approximately 2 weeks after EMA has received testing materials. This timeline also applies to students who take the SSAT at international testing centers and SSAT Flex Test administrations.

This does not necessarily equate to 2 weeks after Test Day itself, however, and there are exceptions.

For example, students should be aware that sometimes they'll receive scores earlier or later than anticipated, depending on the testing season. In general, if you test during the busiest SSAT testing season, November through January, you can expect to wait those full 2 weeks. If you test earlier, on the other hand, you may expect scores sooner.

Regardless, we've approximated score arrival dates for the remaining standard 2020 SSAT test dates in the following, regularly updated table. These are estimates only.

SSAT Administration (2020) Estimated Score Release By Date
June 13, 2020 June 27, 2020
September 12, 2020 September 26, 2020
October 17, 2020 October 31, 2020
November 14, 2020 November 28, 2020
December 12, 2020 December 26, 2020

Accessing Your SSAT Scores Online

SSAT Score Release Dates 2020

You can view SSAT scores via a student or parent online SSAT account. However, you can only use a parent account to send SSAT scores to private schools.

Once scores are available, login to your SSAT account (either parent or student). Click on the "Check Scores" button. This will populate a page that will list out scores for every date you've taken the SSAT.

To view more information about scores from a given test date, click the red plus sign next to that row. You'll then see a link for "View Score Report," which opens a PDF of the student's full SSAT score report that can be saved and printed if desired.


SSAT Score Release Services

It's free to access your SSAT score report online via a parent account. However, families can purchase additional score release services, including text and email alerts, for an added fee.

Text or Email Score Alert

For $15, parents can sign up to receive a text or email SSAT score alert. This simply involves receiving a text or email notifying parents the instant scores are available online. The text / email won't include the full score report, however, which must still be accessed via an online parent account.

Mail Delivery of Paper Score Report

If you prefer to receive a paper copy of your student's SSAT score report, you can request U.S. mail delivery of one for a fee of $25. These can only be mailed to a home address, not to private schools.

FedEx deliveries of SSAT score reports are $35 (U.S. & Canada) and $65 (international). Again, these deliveries can only be made to home addresses.

Copy of Student's SSAT Writing Sample

Some parents wish to view a copy of their student's writing sample response, which is sent to SSAT score recipients. For $20, you can get a digital copy of this response, available online via a parent SSAT account.

To access the writing sample response, login to your SSAT account, click "Check Scores," and select the red plus sign next to the test date listed. You'll see a link here next to "View Score Report" that says "View Writing Sample."

Should you invest in one of these score release services? It depends on your needs.

For example, some families prefer to have an official paper copy of an SSAT score report or a digital snapshot of their student's SSAT writing sample for record-keeping or test prep purposes. Others may wish to be notified as soon as possible about score availability due to upcoming application deadlines, and thus might choose the text alert option.

Keep in mind that, regardless, your choice of these services won't impact your student's SSAT score submission to schools.

SSAT Scoring Options

You can request a rescoring of an SSAT exam if you suspect that your student accidentally took the wrong level of SSAT (i.e., they were scored at the wrong grade level for some reason). This is rare, but available to Middle and Upper-Level SSAT test-takers for a $25 fee.

Lastly, parents can request a hand scoring of their student's SSAT. This is an option for parents who feel that, for any reason, the computerized grading system might be inaccurate. This service is available for $60 but the EMA cautions that "few, if any, hand scores result in a score change."

If either of these scoring options results in a score change, this change will update in the online portal (for both parents and students) as soon as possible.

Note: It is possible to cancel your SSAT scores, but you can only do so by 5 PM EST of the Tuesday following your Test Day. Unfortunately, you won't be able to view your scores if you'd like to cancel.


Sending SSAT Scores to Schools

Parents can specify SSAT score recipients before or after a student takes an SSAT. Keep in mind that if you identify score recipients before the test, these schools will receive your student's scores before you receive them.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with private schools' application deadlines so that you know how much time you have to submit scores. This is especially important if your student is testing during the fall or winter of an application season.

Regardless of when you choose score recipients, here's how you send SSAT scores to schools:

  1. Log in to your parent/guardian SSAT online account (you can only send scores via a parent's account!)
  2. Click on "SSAT Scores"
  3. Click the red plus sign corresponding with the row of test scores you want to send (if your student has tested more than once)
  4. Use the search function to find the school of choice
  5. Click "Add" to add this school to your score recipient list
  6. Select "Yes, Share Scores" in the confirmation window that appears

If your student has already received their SSAT scores, they will be sent immediately to an added school. If you're still awaiting test results, added schools will receive score reports once your student's test is graded.

It's free to add or remove schools from your list--if you do remove a school, however, you have to be sure to do so before scores are released! Simply follow the steps above but select "Remove" to the right of the school you want to remove.

You might notice an "Advisor" portion of this score submission process. Only "Add an Advisor" if you are working with an educational consultant or organization and wish to add this licensed professional so that they can review your school list. SSAT.org walks you through how to do this on its website.


Other Tips

Many of our students and parents ask us about other components of SSAT scoring, including what counts as a "good" SSAT score, how SSAT scoring actually works, and whether or not private schools allow "superscoring."

We answer a number of these questions in the following posts, which we encourage our families to read:

With respect to superscoring, the Enrollment Management Association does not allow SSAT test-takers to superscore. This process refers to sending schools your highest scores only across all tests taken, an option that is available for SAT test-takers.

However, many private schools will essentially superscore a student's SSAT scores on their own. If you are unsure whether or not a school of choice does this, reach out to that school's admissions office to inquire.

If you have any further questions about interpreting your student's score report, you can utilize these EMA resources or, of course, give us a shout.


Next Steps

At PrepMaven, we understand that the process of taking the SSAT and applying to private school can be a daunting process. We're here to help with a significant portion of that journey: SSAT test prep.

Our SSAT prep tutors have years of experience helping students develop strategies for success on this challenging standardized test. What's more, all have a proven track record of helping SSAT test-takers maximize their scoring potential.

Learn more about PrepMaven SSAT test prep now!


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. She is a Master tutor at Princeton Tutoring.