Digital SAT Poetry Practice Reading Questions #4

1. The following is a poem by Alfred Tenison:

When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,
And the whirring sail goes round,
And the whirring sail goes round;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.

When merry milkmaids click the latch,
And rarely smells the new-mown hay,
And the cock hath sung beneath the thatch
Twice or thrice his roundelay,
Twice or thrice his roundelay;
Alone and warming his five wits,
The white owl in the belfry sits.

What is the main idea of the text?
A. Cats and milkmaids share much in common: both are seen by the owl.
B. As the sun rises and the world comes to life, the owl settles in to rest.
C. The routine of each day is predictable and common.
D. The cat and the rooster are the waking signs of each morning.

2. “An Incident of the French Camp” is a poem by Robert Browning. Having read it, a student claims that the town of Ratisbon has been taken. Which quotation from the text best supports the claim?

A. You know, we French storm’d Ratisbon/ A mile or so away/ On a little mound, Napoleon/ Stood on our storming-day;
B. Just as perhaps he mus’d “My plans/ That soar, to earth may fall. Let once my army leader Lannes/ Waver at yonder wall,”
C. “Well,” cried he, “Emperor, by God’s grace/ We’ve got you Ratisbon!/ The Marshal’s in the market-place/ And you’ll be there anon!”
D. “You’re wounded!” “Nay,” the soldier’s pride/ Touched to the quick, he said: “I’m killed, Sire!” And his chief beside, Smiling the boy fell dead.

3. The following is the poem “Old Ironsides” by Oliver Wendell Homes:

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar;—
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood
And waves were white below.
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

O, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Based on the text, what fate would Holmes prefer for Old Ironsides?
A. That she be destroyed by a lightning strike
B. That she be taken ashore and preserved for posterity
C. That she lose her flag and decks
D. That she sink in glory to the depths of the sea

4. “Warren’s Address to the American Soldiers” is a poem by John Peirpont. A writer, knowing that that the poem echoes Warren’s rallying cry to American soldiers, claims that it aims to glorify a coming battle. Which quotation from the poem most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. Look behind you! They’re afire!/ And, before you, see/ Who have done it! – From the vale/ On they come!
B. Will ye look for greener graves?/ Hope ye mercy still?
C. What’s the mercy despots feel?/ Hear it in that battle-peal!
D. In the God of battles trust!/ Die we may, and die we must/ But, O, where can dust to dust/ Be consigned so well.

5. “My Own Shall Come to Me” is a poem by John Burroughs. A teacher tells her class that it is a poem about patience and the inevitability of fate. Which quotation from “My Own Shall Come to Me” most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. I rave no more ‘gainst time or fate/For lo! My own shall come to me…/ No wind can drive my bark astray,/ Nor change the tide of destiny.
B. The stars come nightly to the sky;/ the tidal wave comes to the sea;/ Nor time, nor space, nor deep, nor high,/ Can keep my own away from me.
C. The waters know their own and draw/ The brook that springs in yonder heights;/ So flows the good with equal law/ Unto the soul of pure delights.
D. Serene I fold my hands and wait,/ Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea…/ What matter if I stand alone?/ I wait with joy the coming years;

6. The following is the poem “A Wish” by Samuel Rogers:
Mine be a cot beside the hill;
A bee-hive’s hum shall soothe my ear;
A willowy brook that turns a mill
With many a fall shall linger near.

The swallow, oft, beneath my thatch
Shall twitter from her clay-built nest;
Oft shall the pilgrim lift the latch,
And share my meal, a welcome guest.

Around my ivied porch shall spring
Each fragrant flower that drinks the dew;
And Lucy, at her wheel, shall sing
In russet gown and apron blue.

The village church among the trees,
Where first our marriage-vows were given,
With merry peals shall swell the breeze
And point with taper spire to Heaven.

Which choice best describes the function of the underlined portion in the text as a whole?
A. To describe the garden of the narrator
B. To paint a picture of an idyllic country life
C. To help the reader visualize all that the narrator has lost
D. To illustrate the domestic part of what the narrator is wishing for

7. “L’Envoi” is a poem by Rudyard Kipling. A commenter claims that if the entire poem is read as if Kipling approving of what he describes, then Kipling believes that artists should paint not because they must, but for the love of it. Which quotation from “L’Envoi” most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. And only the Master shall praise us/ and only the Master shall blame;/ And no one shall work for money,/ and no one shall work for fame;/ But each for the joy of the working
B. And those who were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;/ They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comet’s hair;
C. When the oldest colors have faded, and the youngest critic has died,/ We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it—lie down for an eon or two.
D. They shall find real saints to draw from – Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;/ They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

8. The following is the poem “Little Things” by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer:

Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Of eternity.

8. Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?
A. To illustrate how small and individual moments build into all of history.
B. To discuss time lost while visiting the ocean.
C. To contrast the relentless progression of time with the endless movement of the ocean
D. To encourage the reader to take their time as they go through life.

9. The following is the poem “The Butterfly and the Bee” by William Lisle: BowlesMethought I heard a butterfly
Say to a laboring bee:
“Thou hast no colors of the sky
On painted wings like me.”

“Poor child of vanity! those dyes,
And colors bright and rare,”
With mild reproof, the bee replies,
“Are all beneath my care.

“Content I toil from morn to eve,
And scorning idleness,
To tribes of gaudy sloth I leave
The vanity of dress.”

What is the main idea of the text?
A. In an imaginary conversation, a butterfly and a bee have little in common.
B. As a personal quality, work ethic is far preferable to beauty.
C. Being judgmental of others is not an admirable pastime.
D. Even creatures as small as bees have lessons to teach us all.

10. The following is the poem “Ingratitude” by William Shakespeare: Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou are not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen
Because thou are not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
Thou dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot;
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?
A. To explain that winter is a harsh time through which all men must suffer.
B. To illustrate that emotional pain can hurt far worse than physical pain.
C. To paint a picture of various harms that many befall the narrator.
D. To show the readers the dangers of making friends with the wrong people.

Answer Explanations

  1. B. Each stanza starts with a description of the morning. These descriptions include the cat coming home, the light coming, the milkmaid leaving her house, and the rooster crowing. Each stanza ends with the owl sitting and warming himself in his belfry. This best fits answer option B. We have no evidence that the owl sees the world waking, making option A incorrect. The daily routine is described, but not focused on as predictable, making option C incorrect. The cat and the rooster are only mentioned to highlight the time of day, making option D incorrect.
  2. C. Choice C best shows that Ratisbon has been taken. In it, we hear words spoken to the Emperor that “we’ve got you Ratisbon”. The army has taken the city and the Emperor will be in Ratisbon’s market place “anon” or soon. Option A proves that an army has stormed the town, but not that the town fell to that army. Option B shows that the leader is concerned they might not succeed in their military efforts. Option D shows the death of the messenger who came to the emperor.
  3. D. When reading the second stanza, we see that Holmes would prefer that the “harpies of the shore” not pluck “the eagle of the sea”. He says “O, better that her shattered hulk should sink beneath the wave.” Through the rest of the second stanza he clarifies that he would prefer to give her to the “god of storms”. He does not say that he wants her to be struck by lightning, so answer A is too specific. Answer B is the opposite of his preference. Option C is not described in the poem.
  4. D. Answer option D best glorifies the coming battle. It calls on the soldiers to trust in the God of battles, tells them that some will die, and then explains that such a death (dust to dust) will be consigned well. Answer option A talks of an oncoming foe, but does not glorify. Option B asks the soldiers if they are hoping to avoid the battle. Option C points out that the opposition will have no mercy.
  5. A. Option A best shows both patience and fate. The narrator does not rave against time or fate, but rather waits patiently for his “own” to come to him. He knows he cannot change destiny, so he does not try. Option B could prove his feelings about fate, but they do not show his patience. Option C speaks to neither fate nor patience. Option D speaks to patience, but not fate.
  6. D. The key in answering this question is in the title of the poem: A Wish. The entire poem describes what the narrator wishes for. Each stanza describes part of his wish. The underlined stanza describes his home and wife—these are domestic things, making option D the best answer. Answer A is incorrect as the garden is not the only thing described in the stanza and we have no evidence that the wish has been granted and that the garden actually exists. Option B is incorrect as this is not a generic picture of country life, but a specific hope for the future that the narrator has. Option C is incorrect as there is no evidence that the narrator once had this and lost it.
  7. A. A key note in the question is that the assumption is that Kipling approves of what he describes in the poem. This makes answer A the best option, as Kipling would approve of artists working, not for money or fame, but rather because it brings them joy. Option B describes happy painters, but not their motivations. Option C describes exhausted artists taking a rest. Option D describes what they paint.
  8. A. The first stanza describes how the vastness of land and sea are made up of tiny grains of sand and drops of water. This illustration, then is used in the second stanza to show how tiny moments of time make up all of extant history. This best fits answer option A. Answer option B is too literal. Answer options C and D draw conclusions not supported by the text.
  9. B. In the text, the butterfly points out that the bee does not have beautiful wings. The bee then pities and reproofs the butterfly for her vanity and highlights the hardworking nature of the humble bee. This best fits with option B. Answer option A is incorrect as the main idea is that of vanity and work, not that bees and butterflies have nothing in common. Answer option C is incorrect as while it is true, it is not the main idea. Option D is true, but not the message of the author.
  10. B. In each of the two stanzas, Shakespeare first describes horrible winter conditions and then says that ingratitude and “friend remembered not” respectively are far worse. These emotional pains are pointed out as worse than freezing winter weather, making option B the best choice. It isn’t option A as there is an emotional component to the poem. It isn’t option C as Shakespeare doesn’t mean to highlight physical harms, rather emotional ones. It isn’t D as there is no evidence that the emotional pain comes only from “the wrong people”.

Each poem is taken from “Poems Every Child Should Know”, edited by Mary E. Burt. If you wish to improve your poetry skills, you can read more poems from this book on Project Gutenberg:

Digital SAT Poetry Practice Reading Questions #3

1. “In a Library” is a poem written by Emily Dickinson. A student who read the poem claims that Dickinson personifies an antique book, seeing it as a man whom she joys to meet. Which quotation from “In a Library” most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. What interested scholars most/ what competitions ran/ When Plato was a certainty/ And Sophocles a man
B. He traverses familiar/ As one should come to town/ And tell you all your dreams were true/ He lived where dreams were sown.
C. His presence is enchantment/ you beg him not to go/ old volumes shake their vellum heads/ and tantalize just so.
D. A precious moldering pleasure ‘tis/ To meet an antique book.

2. The following is the poem The Book of Martyrs (adapted), by Emily Dickinson

Read, sweet, how others strove,
Till we are stouter;
What they renounced,
Till we are less afraid;
How many times they bore
The faithful witness,
Till we are helped,
As if a kingdom cared!

Read then of faith
That shone above the fray;
Clear strains of hymn
The river could not drown;
Brave names of men
And celestial women,
Passed out of record
Into renown!

What is the main idea of the text?

A. Students should read diligently and memorize names of men and women who have passed away.
B. We should read of and look to the examples of those who went before us to gain strength, courage, and help.
C. Those who came before us are gone, passed out of the record, and no longer worth the effort to learn about.
D. Life is difficult; those older than us can attest to the fear and weakness of this mortal life.

3. The following is a poem by Emily Dickinson:

If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity. But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Based on the text, what is it that goads the narrator “like the goblin bee”?

A. The constant turn of the seasons of the year
B. The centuries of life she has lived
C. A fly, buzzing around her head
D. The uncertainly of time

4. “In Vain” is a poem by Emily Dickinson. A literature professor tells her class that the poem shows Dickinson’s anxiety around losing loved ones. Which quotation from the poem best illustrates this claim?

A. I cannot live with you/ It would be life/ And life is over there/ behind the shelf.
B. Glow plain and foreign/ On my homesick eye/ Except that you, than he/ Shone closer by.
C. And were you lost, I would be/ Though my name/ Rang loudest/ On the heavenly frame.
D. So we must keep apart/ you there, I here/ With just the door ajar


5. The following is a poem by Emily Dickinson:

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?

A. To explain what is most important to the common honey bee.
B. To make a statement on the aristocratic nature of pollinating insects.
C. To make a point about hierarchy, using a nature metaphor.
D. To show the reader what is truly important in life.

6. “A Service of Song” is a poem by Emily Dickinson, a poet who was active in 19th century America.
Note: a bobolink is a type of songbird.

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.

God preaches, — a noted clergyman, —
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I’m going all along!

Which choice best describes the function of the underlined portion in the text as a whole?

A. It paints a picture of an unconventional practice which is later clarified.
B. It shows that the narrator is a rebel, a fact that has later consequences.
C. It helps the reader understand why the narrator chooses to stay home.
D. It singles out the narrator as a chorister and bird lover.

7. A student reads the poem “The Grass” by Emily Dickinson and claims that the narrator envies the simple life of grass. Which quotation from “The Grass” most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. The grass so little has to do/A sphere of simple green/ With only butterflies to brood/And bees to entertain.
B. The grass so little has to do/ I wish I were the hay!
C. And even when it dies, to pass/ in odors so divine
D. And stir all day to pretty tunes/ The breezes fetch along/ And hold the sunshine in its lap/ and bow to everything.

8. The following is a poem by Emily Dickinson.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, — the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names. Which choice best states the main idea of the text?

A. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth.
B. Finding like-minded people is worth any effort.
C. There is beauty and truth in the death of evil people.
D. Once deceased, people are as quickly forgotten as moss covers their gravestones.

9. A student reads an untitled poem by Emily Dickinson and claims that the man discussed in the passage is dying or dead. Which quotation from the poem most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. What was his furthest mind, of home, or God,/ Or what the distant say/At news that he ceased human nature/On such a day?
B. To know just how he suffered would be dear/ To know if any human eyes were near
C. And wishes, had he any?/ Just his sigh, accented,/ Had been legible to me./ And was he confident until
D. Was he afraid, or tranquil?/ Might he know/ How conscious consciousness could grow,/ Till love that was, and love too blest to be,/Meet —

10. “Trying to Forget” is a poem by Emily Dickinson:

Bereaved of all, I went abroad,
  No less bereaved to be
Upon a new peninsula, —
  The grave preceded me,

Obtained my lodgings ere myself,
  And when I sought my bed,
The grave it was, reposed upon
   The pillow for my head.

I waked, to find it first awake,
   I rose, — it followed me;
I tried to drop it in the crowd,
   To lose it in the sea, In cups of artificial drowse
  To sleep its shape away, —
The grave was finished, but the spade
  Remained in memory.

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?

A. To paint a realistic picture of the grief of a traveler.
B. To metaphorically explain how the loss of a loved one effects the narrator.
C. To describe a troubled vacation.
D. To illustrate the narrator’s struggle with the thought of death.

Answer Explanations

  1. C. Answer option A gives no evidence that a book is being personified. Rather, it says that Sophocles (a person) was a man. Answer option B would be good evidence if we knew that the author was talking about a book. However, it could just as likely be about an actual man. Answer option D shows the author’s joy in “meeting” a book, but does not go so far as to personify the book as a man. Option C, therefore is the best option. It refers to the “old volumes” as “him” and it says that his presence is “enchantment”. Meaning, the author gets joy from the presence.
  2. B. The first stanza of the text commands us to read about how others strove, renounced, and bore witness until we are stouter, less afraid, and helped. The second stanza commands us to read of the faith that others had and the men and women who passed into renown. Passing into renown could be otherwise stated as passing from this life into memory. The poems main idea, therefore best fits with option B. Option A is incorrect as there is no encouragement of memorization. Option C is the opposite of the message of the poem. Option D is incorrect as the author wants us to look to those gone as examples of good things, not fear and weakness.
  3. D. In the first stanza of the poem, the author discusses what she would do if “you” were coming in the fall. She is waiting for seasons to pass. In the second stanza she talks about years. In the third stanza she is waiting centuries. However, in the last stanza she talks about how she doesn’t know which of these (seasons, years, centuries) she will have to wait. She is “ignorant of the length of time’s uncertain wing”. Time, therefore is the bee that goads her. D is the only answer that makes sense.   
  4. C. Answer option C tells of the narrator’s belief that even heavenly exultation would not be enough for her if “you were lost”. This shows her intense fear around losing a loved one. She believes she would be lost no matter what, were the object of the poem also lost. Answer option A is incorrect as it shows that Dickinson does not want to live with the object of the poem. Answer option B is incorrect as it shows her attachment to the object of the poem, not her anxiety about losing him or her. Answer option D is incorrect as it shows that the narrator wishes to remain apart from the object of the poem, not that she fears losing him or her.
  5. C. The poem is saying that bees like all honey regardless of pedigree and that clovers are all seen as “aristocracy”. The metaphor applies to humans, that we should all regard one another as bees regard honey and aristocracy. This makes C the best answer.  Answer A is incorrect as we find out that bees regard all honey and clover equally, not with some more important than others. Answer B is incorrect, as the author is not saying that bees are aristocratic. Answer option D is incorrect, as the poem makes not allusion to what humans should value the most, rather, that we should value all humans equally. 
  6. A. The underlined portion points out that the narrator, instead of going to church on Sunday, which would have been the accepted practice in 19th century America, stays at home. The songbirds are her choir and the orchard is the roof of her church. This is an unconventional practice for the time. Later in the poem, she clarifies that she does this as she believes that this place, the orchard, is her heaven where she has been “going all along”. This makes option A the best answer and the other options incorrect.
  7. B. Answer option B shows the envy of the narrator as she wishes she were the hay. Hay is just another word for grass. The other options all show what might be enviable qualities of grass, but not that the narrator actually envies it.
  8. A. The poem tells a story of someone who dies and, “in the tomb” meets a man who asks why she died. She replies that she died for beauty and he responds by saying that he died for truth and that “the two are one; we brethren are”. They then form a bond, a friendship, in death, over their similar causes. This best fits with answer option A. Answer B is incorrect as the main idea is that truth and beauty are the same and worth dying for, not that finding like-minded people is worth dying for. Answer C is incorrect as there is no evidence either of these people are evil. Answer option D is incorrect, as it captures only a part of the last stanza, not the main idea of the whole text.
  9. A. Answer option A is the best option because it talks about the man as having “ceased human nature” which is another way of saying to die. This excerpt is asking what the man was thinking of as he passed away. The other options do not as clearly prove the claim, but rather offer only peripheral evidence in the context of answer option A.
  10. D. In the first stanza the author goes to “a new peninsula” but the grave proceeds her there. In the second stanza she finds a place to stay and yet the grave waited for her in her new bed. In the third stanza, the grave follows her as she wakes and goes about her day. She can only escape these thoughts of grave and death when she sleeps in the fourth stanza. This makes option D the best answer.

All poems were taken from Book of Poems by Emily Dickinson.  You can read more of this book here:

Digital SAT Poetry Practice Reading Questions #2

1. The following is “The Land of Counterpane” by Robert Louis Stevenson:

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Which of the following options best explains the main purpose of the poem “The Land of Counterpane” by Robert Louis Stevenson?

A. To illustrate a child’s fertile imagination.
B. To tell a story of high adventure.
C. To show the journeys of a young child.
D. To build an understanding of physical malady.

2. The following is the poem “The Sun Travels” By Robert Louis Stevenson:

The sun is not a-bed, when I
At night upon my pillow lie;
Still round the earth his way he takes,
And morning after morning makes.

While here at home, in shining day,
We round the sunny garden play,
Each little Indian sleepy-head
Is being kissed and put to bed.

And when at eve I rise from tea,
Day dawns beyond the Atlantic Sea;
And all the children in the West
Are getting up and being dressed.

What is the main idea of the poem “The Sun Travels”?

A. Not all parts of the world are on the same time.
B. The daily routine of an ordinary child can be mundane.
C. The patterns of the sun and earth are predictable.
D. Cultural differences lead to differences in the time of day when people eat and sleep.

3. The following is the poem “The Moon” by Robert Louis Stevenson:

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and field and harbor quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

Which of the following is the main idea of the poem “The Moon”?

A. The moon looks over the night and observes all the bad things that are awake when the sun sets.
B. Nighttime is just as interesting and active as the day, but it belongs to different actors.
C. The moon, like a kindly woman, oversees her own distinct world while the world of day sleeps.
D. Some animals are active during the day and some animals are active at night.

4. The following is the poem “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson:

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

What is the purpose of the poem “The Swing”?

A. To describe the great swing of emotions which is common in a small child.
B. To show a child’s delight in the simple pleasure of riding a common swing.
C. To illustrate the beautiful view that is visible from great heights.
D. To describe the physical sensation often felt when riding a swing.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­5. A student, having read a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, claims that the children in the poem are peering into a river as they would a mirror. Which quotation from the poem most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. Smooth it glides upon its travel/ Here a wimple, there a gleam/ O the glean gravel/ O the smooth stream.
B. We can see our colored faces/ Floating on the shaken pool/ Down in cool places/ Dim and very cool;
C. Patience, children, just a minute/ See the spreading circles die/ The stream and all in it/ Will clear by-and-by.
D.  Sailing blossoms, silver fishes/ Paven pools as clear as air/ How a child wishes/ To live down there!

6. The following is the poem “From a Railway Carriage” by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Which choice best describes the function of the underlined portion in the text as a whole?

A. It describes the inability of the narrator to visualize the world around him.
B. It explains to the reader the energy of the child described later on in the poem.
C. It paints a picture of the “glimpse gone forever” that the narrator will later introduce.
D. It helps the reader realize that the poem is a description of the world from a fast-moving train.

7. The following is the poem “The Hayloft” by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Through all the pleasant meadow-side
The grass grew shoulder-high,
Till the shining scythes went far and wide
And cut it down to dry.

Those green and sweetly smelling crops
They led in wagons home;
And they piled them here in mountain tops
For mountaineers to roam.

Here is Mount Clear, Mount Rusty-Nail, Mount Eagle and Mount High;—
The mice that in these mountains dwell,
No happier are than I!

Oh, what a joy to clamber there,
Oh, what a place for play,
With the sweet, the dim, the dusty air,
The happy hills of hay!

According to the text, what is it that Mount Clear, Mont Rusty-Nail, Mount Eagle, and Mount High are made from?
A. The homes of mice.
B. The shoulder high grass, growing in the meadows
C. The imagination of a child
D. The dried hay.

8. “The Unseen Playmate” is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Having read the poem to her class, a teacher claims that the playmate described in the poem is only present when children play by themselves. What quotation from “The Unseen Playmate” most effectively illustrates the claim?

A.  Nobody heard him and nobody saw/ His is a picture you never could draw.
B. Tis he that inhabits the caves that you dig/ ‘Tis he when you play with your soldiers of tin/ That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win.
C. When children are happy and lonely and good/ The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.
D. When’er you are happy and cannot tell why/ The Friend of the Children is sure to be by!

9. “My Kingdom” is a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson. After reading it, a class is confused as to whether the kingdom is literal. A student claims that it is figurative. Which quotation from “My Kingdom” most effectively illustrates the claim?

A. I played there were no deeper seas/ Nor any wider plains than these/ Nor other kings than me.
B. Down by a shining water well/ I found a very little dell
C. This was the world and I was king/ For me the bees came by to sing
D. How very big my nurse appeared/ How great and cool the rooms!

10.“My Treasures” is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Having read it, a child claims that the narrator’s treasures are just pointless pieces of nature. Which quotation from “My Treasures” most effectively disproves this claim?

A. The stone, with the white and the yellow and grey/ We discovered I cannot tell how far away;
B. This whistle we made (and how clearly it sounds)/ By the side of a field at the end of the grounds/ of a branch of a plane, with a knife of my own
C. But of all my treasures the last is the king/ For there’s very few children possess such a thing/ And that is a chisel, both handle and blade.
D. And I carried it back, although weary and cold/ For though father denies it, I’m sure it is gold.

Answer Explanations

  1. A.  The poem tells of a child who, though sick, still explores a vast imaginary land complete with soldiers, ships, cities, and countryside. It is an exploration of imagination. The things described are not literal, so it is not answer B or C. The poem mentions physical malady only once, and it is not the main focus or purpose, so it is not D.
  2. A. In the poem, we read the reflections of a child who points out that as he or she does each of his or her daily tasks, other people in other parts of the world will be doing something else as it is different times of day in different places. This best fits with answer option A. Answer option B is incorrect as it does not address different parts of the world. Answer option C is incorrect because, while the earth and sun are mentioned, discussing them is not the main idea. Option D is incorrect as it is not because of cultural differences that people do things at different times, it is because of their varying geography.
  3. C. Notice how the poem personifies the moon, giving it a face, calling it “she”. In addition, the poem points out the normally active parts of the day that are quiet at night and vice versa. The poem is painting an image of a different world, that only comes to life under the watchful eye of the moon. This makes option C the best answer. Option A is incorrect as there is no evidence that there are many bad things at night (even though the poem mentions thieves). Option B is incorrect as it neglects to mention the moon. Option D is incorrect as it is a description of one thing the poem mentions, but fails to show the bigger main idea.
  4. B.  In the first stanza, the narrator says that riding a swing is “the pleasantest thing/ever a child can do”. He goes on to describe the pleasantness, joy, and delights of such a ride. This makes option B the best answer. The narrator does not describe the physical sensations that he feels, making option D incorrect. Emotions are not discussed, making option A incorrect. While the narrator does describe the incredible view, this is not the main purpose of the passage, but rather, just part of the evidence proving why he delights in riding a swing.
  5. B. Answer options A, C, and D all give evidence that the narrator or child is near a river, or even looking at a river; however, only option B gives evidence that they are using the river as a mirror. The evidence states that they can see their faces floating on the water. This makes B the best proof of the claim that they are “peering into a river as they would a mirror.”
  6. D. The underlined portion essentially says that “stations” are whizzing by “in the wink of an eye”. This is what leads the reader to realize that the narrator is on a train, traveling at quick speeds. This brings the rest of the poem into focus as the reader realizes it’s a description of all the things zipping past outside the windows. Without the underlined portion, the poem makes no sense. This makes option D the best answer. The other options don’t capture what the underlined portion is saying, but rather connect it to singular details elsewhere in the poem, not to the poem as a whole.
  7. D. We see in the poem that the shoulder-high grass is cut down (with scythes) and dried before being transported in wagons and then piled high into the mountains of hay on which the narrator plays. The grass is therefore not still growing in the meadows, making option B incorrect. The hills of hay contain mice, but are not made up of mice homes, making option A incorrect. The hills are literal stacks of hay, making option C incorrect.
  8. C. The teacher claims that the playmate only emerges when children play by themselves, or when they are alone. Option C clearly states that when children are lonely, the Friend of the Children (the unseen playmate) emerges. The other options all describe him in one way or another, but they don’t clarify that he only comes to play when a child is alone.
  9. A. A literal kingdom would be a country that is actually ruled over by a monarch. The question asks for evidence that this is not literal, but rather figurative, in other words, that the “kingdom” is not real. Answer option A best fits this description by showing that this is all play. The narrator is “playing” or pretending that he is the only king over deep seas and wide plains. Answer option B could be literal or figurative. Answer C has some figurative language in the bees singing, but does not prove that the narrator is not a literal king with a literal kingdom. Option D gives no evidence of a literal or figurative kingdom.
  10. C.  The question is a bit different in that is asks you to disprove a claim. We are therefore looking for evidence that not all the narrator’s treasures are pointless pieces of nature. Choice A describes a treasure which is a rock. Choice B describes a treasure which is a whistle made of a branch. Both these could be described as pointless pieces of nature. Choice C, however, is a man-made object. This, as a treasure, disproves the claim that all the treasures are pieces of nature.

If you’d like to read more poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson, you can explore his work on Project Gutenberg. Below is a link to the book from which each of these poems was taken.

Digital SAT Poetry Practice Reading Questions

1. A student claims that Will Carleton’s Poem “Autumn Days” contrasts the sweetness of some autumn days in the first stanza with a far different type of autumn days in the second stanza. What pair of lines from the first and second stanzas respectively best illustrate this claim?

A. O’er the dreamy, listless haze/O’er the cheerless, withered plain.
B. Yellow, mellow, ripened days/ Shivering, quivering, tearful days.
C. And the sombre, furrowed fallow/ Woefully and hoarsely calling.
D. Winking at the blushing trees/On thy scanty vestments falling.

2. The following is an excerpt from the poem “We Wait” by Will M. Carleton

Or if upon the field of war we stand,
And sword with sword for mastery we mate,
Grim Death, and radiant Glory, hand in hand,
Approaching us with silent step we see;
And one of them, we vow, for us must be;
Bravely we strive to win renown’s estate,
And still we wait.

And when we grope within the gloom of age,
When our few steps grow feeble and sedate,
We cast our eyes back o’er a blotted page;
We peer among the pictures of the past,
We gaze upon the future, overcast;
Our musings all with hopes and fears we freight;
And still we wait.

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?

A. To illustrate the abeyancy of life, even as death approaches.
B. To force the reader to consider his own fate.
C. To illustrate the futility of war.
D. To explain the purposelessness of life.

3. The following is an excerpt from the poem “We Hope” by Will M. Carleton

Then we yearn and call for comfort; but no comfort comes unto us,
And we wrap ourselves in sadness, and Despair goes thrilling thou’ us;
And the darkness gathers round us, with its horrors, half-unspoken,
And we pray again for succor: that the fearful spell be broken,
With the light of something shining, be it only but a ray.

Then within our hearts a blossom, from the dreary mould is springing,
Then the birds of Hope make music, with their sweet and cheerful singing;
Then, upon the great clouds gazing, we discern their silver lining,
And at last, through veils of blackness, bursts the sunbeam’s glorious shining,
And upon our raptured vision beams the light of perfect day

Which choice best describes the function of the underlined portion in the text as a whole?

A. It minimizes the role of hope to “but a ray”.
B. It firmly emphasizes the despair of the writer.
C. It clarifies the despair that was described earlier in the passage.
D. It introduces a visual for hope that will be further built upon in the poem.

4. The following is an excerpt from the poem “The House Where We Were Wed” by Will M. Carleton

I’ve been to the old farm-house, good-wife,
Where you and I were wed;
Where the love was born to our two hearts
That now lies cold and dead.
Where a long-kept secret to you I told,
In the yellow beams of the moon,
And we forged our vows out of love’s own gold,
To be broken so soon, so soon!

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?

A. To tell someone of a trip made, in the light of a broken relationship.
B. To set the stage for a future argument.
C. To argue that marriage is a fruitless endeavor.
D. To help the reader feel the author’s pain after the death of his wife.

5. The following is an excerpt from the poem “Apple Blossoms” by Will M. Carleton

Naught within her eyes he read
That would tell her mind unto him;
Though their light, he after said,
Quivered swiftly through and through him;
Till at last his heart burst free
From the prayer with which ‘twas laden,

And he said, “When wilt thou be
Mine for evermore, fair maiden?”

Which choice best describes the function of the underlined portion in the text as a whole?

A. To clarify the emotional source of the following quotation.
B. To explain a medical condition from which he is suffering.
C. To show the religious fervor with which he lives his life.
D. To build on the previous description of her eyes.

6. An instructor claims that “Lines Written in Early Spring” contains the introspective thoughts of the author. Which quotation from the poem best supports this claim?

A. “And ‘tis my faith that every flower/Enjoys the air it breathes.”
B. “The birds around me hopp’d and play’d/ Their thoughts I cannot measure”
C. “In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts/ Bring sad thoughts to the mind.”
D. “I heard a thousand blended notes/While in a grove I sat reclined.”

7. The following is an excerpt from “The Dungeon” as published in Lyrical Ballads With a Few Other Poems.

And this place our forefathers made for man!
This is the process of our love and wisdom,
To each poor brother who offends against us—
Most innocent, perhaps—and what if guilty?
Is this the only cure? Merciful God?
Each pore and natural outlet shrivell’d up
By ignorance and parching poverty,
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,
They break out on him, like a loathsome plague-spot;
Then we call in our pamper’d mountebanks—
And this is their best cure! uncomforted
And friendless solitude, groaning and tears,
And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
Seen through the steams and vapour of his dungeon,
By the lamp’s dismal twilight! So he lies
Circled with evil, till his very soul
Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?

A. It examines the purpose of a dungeon form the point of view of a jailor.
B. It critiques a solution that society has found to a common issue.
C. It asks a question about the worth of humanity.
D. It sheds a negative light on how humanity handles a problem.

8. The following is an excerpt from the poem “Expostulation and Reply”. The author speaks to his friend, Matthew:

“The eye it cannot chuse but see,
“We cannot bid the ear be still;
“Our bodies feel, where’er they be,
“Against, or with our will.

“Nor less I deem that there are powers,
“Which of themselves our minds impress,
“That we can feed this mind of ours,
“In a wise passiveness.

“Think you, mid all this mighty sum
“Of things for ever speaking,
“That nothing of itself will come,
“But we must still be seeking?

“—Then ask not wherefore, here, alone,
“Conversing as I may,
“I sit upon this old grey stone,
“And dream my time away.”

Which choice best describes the function of the underlined portion in the text as a whole?

A. It questions the author’s purpose.
B. It asks Matthew a philosophical question.
C. It highlights a subject for which the author is passionate.
D. It explains an earlier statement.

9. A student reads “Old Man Travelling; Animal Tranquility and Decay, A Sketch” and observes that the old man in the poem seems at great peace with his life. Which of the following excerpts from the poem best supports this claim?

A.”Sir! I am going many miles to take/A last leave of my son, a mariner,/ Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth/ And there is dying in an hospital.”
B. “He travels on, and in his face, his step,/ His gait, is one expression;/ every limb,/ His look and bending figure, all bespeak/ A man who does not move with pain.”
C. “He is one by whom/ All effort seems forgotten, one to whom/ Long patience has such mild composure given/ That patience now doth seem a thing, of which/He hath no need. He is by nature led.”
D. “The young behold/ With envy, what the old man hardly feels./ I asked him whither he was bound, and what/ The object of his journey.”

10. The following is the poem “Why Do Ye Call The Poet Lonely?” By Archibald Lampman

Why do ye call the poet lonely,
Because he dreams in lonely places?
He is not desolate, but only
Sees, where ye cannot, hidden faces.

Which choice best states the main purpose of the text?

A. It asks and answers a question about those who write poetry.
B. It hypothesizes as to what makes people want to write poetry.
C. It gives an explanation as to why much poetry is sad.
D. It opens up the reader to ask questions of poets.

Answer Explanations

  1. B. The question asks for evidence to show a contrast between two different types of autumn days. Answer option B shows two types of days in the fall, one that is yellow (leaf color), mellow (meaning calm), and ripened (as the harvest on the vine). The other is shivering and quivering (cold) as well as tearful (raining). This makes option (B) the best answer. (A) and (C) are incorrect as they only describe one setting, not two. Option (D) is incorrect as it does not describe a day at all, but rather leaves falling.
  2. A. In this poem we see at the end of both stanzas “And still we wait”. The author describes this waiting even when death is near and in every situation. He seems to be telling the reader that life is just a game of waiting. This purpose is best described in answer option (A) since the word abeyancy describes a situation of disuse, suspension, or waiting. Answer option (B) is incorrect for, while a reader may consider his own fate, this does not seem to be the main purpose of the poem. Answer (C) is incorrect as the author seems to be describing the futility of all things, not just war. Answer (D) is incorrect as the poem gives no explanation as to the purposelessness of life that the author sees.
  3. D. In the underlined section the author introduces the idea of visual light. In the second stanza he builds on this image of a single ray of light by describing the emerging “sunbeam’s glorious shining” and “the light of perfect day.” In this way, the light represents a visual image of the hope bursting through dark clouds of sadness. This makes option (D) the best answer. The other answer options do not appropriately understand that the visual light represents hope and that it grows to a sunburst in stanza 2.
  4. A. The opening lines of this poem tells the author’s “good-wife” that he has “been to the old farm house… where you and I were wed”. He is telling her he has gone back to where their marriage started. The end of this first stanza sheds light on the current status of their relationship “we forged our vows… to be broken soon.” Their marriage vows, and thus their relationship, are broken. This makes option (A) the best answer. We have no evidence of a future argument, so option (B) is incorrect. The author knows that his marriage is over, but does not try to say that all marriages are pointless, making option (C) incorrect. There is no evidence that the wife is dead, just that they are separated, making option (D) incorrect.
  5. A. The underlined portion describes his heart “bursting free” from “the prayer with which ‘twas laden” thereafter the man spills his heart to the girl and asks her to stay with him forever. These words of his are from his heart. This makes (A) the best option. The underlined portion explains the source of his ardent outburst. Option (B) is incorrect as his heart is not literally bursting, but figuratively bursting. Option (C) is incorrect as there is no religious undertones to the underlined section. Option (D) is incorrect as the underlined portion describes the source of his words, not her eyes.
  6. C. To be introspective is to think about one’s self and one’s own thoughts and emotions. Answer option (C) is the only answer that gives us a glimpse into the author’s mind to support the teacher’s claim that the author is “introspective”. Answer (A) describes the author’s belief about flowers. Answer (B) and (D) simply describe events that happen.
  7. D. This poem describes what happens to men thrown into a dungeon. The author describes the mental effects of being imprisoned in a very negative way saying things like that the prisoner’s soul is “hopelessly deformed” and that his energy turns inward “till changed to poison”. This makes option (D) the best answer. The author is shedding negative light on how the world deals with the problem of crime. Answer option (A) is incorrect as the poem is not from the point of view of a jailor. Answer (B) is incorrect as a dungeon is not a solution to but rather a punishment for crime. Answer (C) is incorrect as the author does not question the worth of humanity in general, but rather the worth of the dungeon itself.
  8. B. The underlined section, when paraphrased in modern English, would be something like “do you ever think in the middle of all this craziness that we just have to keep going and going even though we’re not going to get anywhere?” This is equivalent to asking if life has any meaning, a deeply philosophical question. This makes answer (B) the best option. This questions the purpose of “seeking”, not of the author, so answer option (A) is incorrect. Answer option (C) is incorrect as we have no evidence that the author is particularly passionate about this topic. Answer option (D) is incorrect as the underlined passage may build on a previous statement, but it does not explain it.
  9. C. The question is asking for evidence that the man feels great peace. Answer option (A) describes a situation in which it would make sense to have little or no peace. Answer option (B) describes the man as having no pain, which is not the same as being at great peace. Answer option (D) says that the young envy him, but that does not necessarily mean they envy any great peace he might have. This leaves option (C) in which the man is described as having forgotten any and all effort, who has so mild a personality that he needs no patience, and who is led by nature. This gives the best evidence that the man is at peace.
  10. A. The first two lines of this short poem ask why the reader calls poets lonely. The second two lines responds to the question, explaining that poets are not lonely, but rather see hidden faces where we cannot. This makes answer option (A) the best solution.

Preparing for the Digital PSAT

Schools across the United States will administer the new Digital PSAT/NMSQT for the first time this October. Unlike in previous years, schools have much more flexibility in scheduling the PSAT when it is convenient for their students. Accordingly, some schools will have the PSAT early in the month and some later in the month. What are some specific things students can do to prepare for the Digital PSAT?

  1. Download the Bluebook Application and take one full-length Digital PSAT. Doing this will help students become familiar with the computer interface of the new PSAT, with its built-in calculator, timer, highlighter, annotating features, and more. Students will also become comfortable with the adaptive format and pace for the Digital PSAT. In general students will feel more comfortable with the timing on this test, so they should try to slow down instead of speed up.
  2. Take additional Bluebook SAT tests as needed–there are four available in the Bluebook application that students may try. The timing and format of the Digital PSAT and Digital SAT are identical; the only major difference between the two tests is in the allocation of math concepts, with the Digital SAT having slightly more advanced material. So, by trying Digital SATs, students will be well-prepared for the Digital PSAT.
  3. Practice with the Barron’s Digital PSAT review book. I made four full-length practice PSATs that students can try, along with a wealth of review exercises.

For further free Digital PSAT resources, check our page here. Best of luck to everyone taking the upcoming Digital PSAT!

PSAT, ACT, and SAT Planning for High School Juniors

High school juniors in the United States have a very interesting year of testing options ahead of them. There are a total of four major tests that students will have the opportunity to take: the Digital PSAT, the Paper SAT, the ACT, and the Digital SAT. Who should focus on which of these different types of tests?

Digital PSAT: Administered in the month of October through a student’s high school. Students who are trying to earn National Merit recognition should prepare for this exam. National Merit recognition generally applies to students who score in the 95th percentile or above, and National Merit Scholarships usually go to students who score above the 99th percentile. For students who do not think that a National Merit award is in reach, taking the Digital PSAT is still an excellent way to try the adaptive, digital format they will find on the Digital SAT. Scores for the Digital PSAT will be back in November, so students will have plenty of time to review their PSAT results to prepare for the Digital SAT in the spring.

Paper SAT: Administered in August, October, November, and December of 2023. After these administrations, the current paper SAT will be retired and replaced with a Digital SAT. For students who want to take advantage of the expansive body of existing practice tests and review books, taking the paper SAT before it goes away is a good idea. Results from the paper SAT will still be fully utilized by colleges, so students would have nothing to lose by giving the paper SAT a try before they no longer have the opportunity to do so.

ACT: Administered throughout 2023-2024. In general, students who are faster test takers like the ACT. This is a good test to take if you have taken through Algebra 2 and a bit of pre-calculus. The ACT covers more math material than the Digital SAT: logarithms, matrices, hyperbolas/ellipses, and combinations/permutations. It also has a broader array of grammar concepts than does the Digital SAT: wordiness, idioms, diction, and sentence placement. Fortunately, students who want to take the ACT can use many excellent books and practice tests to prepare for this well-established test.

Digital SAT: Administered in the United States beginning in March, 2024 and continuing thereafter. The Digital SAT will be offered on national test dates, and many schools will offer it during the school day given the relatively short amount of time that taking the Digital SAT requires. Students will have their Digital PSAT results back in November of 2023 so they can evaluate whether the Digital SAT is a good fit for them. There is a great deal of overlap in the content between the ACT and Digital SAT, so if students wish to switch from one test to the other, it should be fairly seamless.

Please contact us if we can advise you as to the best testing plan for this upcoming school year.

Digital PSAT Practice Test Available

For students preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT this fall, the College Board has made a linear PSAT practice test available. This test is longer than what students who are taking the adaptive computer version will take but offers some excellent practice material.

Here is the link to the Digital PSAT Practice Test.

Here is the link to the Digital PSAT Practice Test Solutions.

Students preparing for the Digital PSAT can also use full-length Digital SAT practice tests since the timing and format of the two tests are identical.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

With the prevalence of internet accessibility increasing across the board, one key skill in education is diminishing: the ability to figure it out. It may be true that students no longer need to memorize key facts because they can always look them up, but being able to puzzle through things is essential to many jobs. After all, what happens when something can’t be looked up? What kind of world would we have if we didn’t have people who were willing to figure out new things? This ability to figure things out starts very young. Remember the toy where the small child has to match the shape of the block to the shape of the hole? Somewhere along the line, though, many children and young adults begin to expect less work in figuring things out. They’re given fewer puzzles to solve and more things to memorize. They stop looking at learning as a puzzle solving and start simply asking for answers (from a teacher or Google) if they don’t know.

The result is that by the time students get to the ACT and SAT in high school they often have very weak concentration and critical thinking skills. They view math as a set of memorized steps, not a puzzle to be worked through. They view reading as something to do only to gain facts, not as something that requires critical thinking. This leads to poor results and to many students struggling to develop skills that have long lain dormant.  

One key part of ACT and SAT tutoring is strengthening these weak skills. Students will often become frustrated when they say “I don’t know how to do this problem” and instead of explaining the steps a tutor starts asking them questions. But this is how these skills are built. Instead of explaining and having students memorize every type of question that could be on the test (an impossibility), asking the students questions and assisting them in breaking the question down and solving the puzzle on their own will enable them to figure things out on test day when a tutor isn’t there to explain things. Nine times out of ten, when a student claims they don’t know how to do the problem, they actually already have all the math or reading skills they need to solve the problem, they just don’t realize what type of math they need to use or where to focus their reading. Developing critical thinking skills leads to much batter results. Besides tutoring, students can develop their critical thinking skills in several ways.

Here are some every day suggestions for strengthening this key skill.

  1. Hypothesize before looking things up:
    Let’s say you need to know the date for some key historical event for a school assignemnt. Before hopping on the internet or grabbing a text book, try to figure out at least a range of time that even could have happened in. Make a game of it to see how close to the correct answer you can get by using all the information you have already in your mind. For example, if I needed to know the date of the moon landing, I might go through a thought process like this: I know the moon landing was during the Cold War and the Cold War was after World War II but before the 90s, so it’s probably between the 50s and 90s. I remember back to a TV show I where the characters watched the moon landing. The TV was black and white and their clothes seemed bright. There were also a lot of hippies as characters. Maybe the moon landing was in the late 60s or the 70s. Only once I have thought through all of this and come up with a hypothesis do I look up the answer: the moon landing was in 1969.
  2. Do puzzles regularly:
    Sign up for a daily word or number puzzle. Maybe it’s a Sudoku. Maybe it’s a mini crossword puzzle. Make it something you can do most days, but that you can’t look up the answer to. Don’t let yourself give up quickly! If you need to, put it down for a few hours and then come back to it later. Work through feelings of frustration and focus on how much easier it gets over time! Try to be okay with not figuring it out if you puzzle on it for a good amount of time and can’t crack it.
  3. Ask specific questions:
    If you’re stumped on something at school or in anything you’re working on, focus on asking really specific questions. More specific questions force you to think about the problem a lot more before getting help and will avoid the helper just giving you the answer without making you think. Avoid saying things like “I don’t understand this thing” or “I don’t know how to do this” and try instead to say things like “what is the relationship between these two things- I don’t think I fully grasp that” or “If I’ve already done steps one and two, what should I consider to get to step four.” Once you’re comfortable with that try asking yourself those questions before asking other people.

Developing the skills needed to figure things out is difficult, but it’s well worth the effort and will pay off in many ways beyond just standardized tests. Keep working on those skills and let us know if you’d like any guidance along the way.

Michal Strawn

5 Reasons to Take the SAT and ACT Tests

Over the past two years, there has been quite a bit of upheaval in the world of college admissions and standardized testing.  Many schools are now “test-optional,” meaning that students can submit SAT and ACT test scores if they would like, but they are not required to do so.  Given the media reports about standardized tests, some parents and students may wonder if they should even bother taking the SAT or ACT.  Here are five reasons why taking the SAT or ACT is a still a wise choice in this uncertain environment. 

1.  Nearly all colleges would like to see your scores.

From what is covered in the news, it sounds like most schools do not care about evaluating your test scores.  According to, the reality is that only 3.7% of U.S. colleges are “test-blind,” meaning they do not consider test scores.  The most well-known test-blind schools are the colleges in the University of California system; the others are predominately smaller liberal arts colleges.  This means that  96.3% of U.S. colleges either require the SAT or ACT or will consider SAT/ACT scores if submitted.  Some, like Georgetown University, West Point, and the University of Florida, have required standardized test results even during the pandemic.  Others, like Ivy League Schools and Big Ten universities, give students the option to submit test scores, recognizing that there have been test site cancellations and health concerns that may have precluded students from being able to test. 

Probably the most well-known example of a test-optional university is Harvard.  When you look at their admissions website, you will see that they would indeed like to see your standardized test results if possible:

“Harvard accepts other standardized tests or other academic credentials if you choose to submit them. In any admissions process, additional information can be helpful. For example, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, A-levels, national leaving examinations, national or international contests, early high school assessment scores such as the PSAT or pre-ACT, or courses taken outside your school during the school year or summer are just some examples of information that could be submitted.”

If you call the Harvard admissions office, they enthusiastically encourage students to submit standardized test results—an admissions officer told me that the majority of applicants do submit test scores, and they would like you to send in your scores if you are able to test.  The bottom line is that colleges prefer as much information as possible to make an admissions decision, and they consider standardized tests an important metric in evaluating applicants. 

2.  Test scores provide protection against grade inflation. 

According to the Department of Education and the College Board, the average High School GPA was 2.68 in 1990, and 3.38 in 2016.  A recent national survey of K-8 parents found that 90% of parents believe that their child is achieving at or above grade level, and that 66 percent think that their kid is above average.  Inflated GPAs may give parents and students an incorrect impression of academic readiness, and they make it more challenging for college admissions officers to differentiate among applicants.  Consider this excerpt from the Harvard admissions website

“Given the wide variation in how students prepare for Harvard – as well as the fact that most applicants and admitted students have outstanding academic records – it is difficult for high school grades to differentiate individual applications. That does not mean that high school grades are unimportant. Students who come to Harvard have done well day to day in their high school studies, providing a crucial foundation for academic success in college, including a 97% – 98% graduation rate.  SAT and ACT tests are better predictors of Harvard grades than high school grades”. 

Good grades are certainly a key part of a successful college application.  However, students will stand out among the applicants if they have good test scores as well. 

3.  Those who submit test scores likely have a better chance of earning admission. 

According to the Future of Higher Education Newsletter, those who submit test scores are admitted at a rate that is often twice as much as those who do not submit test scores.  Here are some examples for applicants in the fall of 2021:

  • Emory: Admit rate 17% (with tests) vs. 8.6% (without tests)
  • Colgate: 25% (with tests) vs. 12% (without tests)
  • Georgia Tech: 22% (with tests) vs. 10% (without tests)

Colleges will happily accept applications from anyone who wishes to submit one—after all, they receive application fees and will see improved selectivity statistics.  Colleges will need to see clear evidence of academic strength in other areas to be confident about students who do not submit test scores.  To have a successful application, students would be smart to include test scores that demonstrate their readiness for college-level work. 

4.  Good test scores can lead to substantial scholarships. 

  • For those seeking major merit awards to Ohio State, like the Maximus, Trustees, Provost, or National Buckeye Scholarship (up to a $54,000 value), the criteria include SAT and ACT scores for those who have been able to take them. 
  • The University of Oklahoma awards out-of-state students who are National Merit Semi-Finalists (based on the PSAT and SAT tests) a $56,000 scholarship to cover four years of tuition. 
  • The University of Alabama gives a Presidential Scholarship for students with perfect ACT/SAT scores.  It includes four years of tuition, a stipend, a research grant, and a book grant, valued at $112,000 over a four year period. 

Three to four hours on a Saturday morning could be the best financial investment a student could make. 

5.  Colleges use ACT and SAT test scores to determine your course placement. 

It is one thing to be admitted to a college; it is another to get started on desired major classes as soon as possible.  Achieving certain section scores can allow students to place out of general education requirements, saving time and money.  Ohio State, among many other schools, use ACT and SAT test scores for English and math course placement.  The University of Louisiana, for example, gives students who score a 28 or above on the ACT English a full semester credit for English 101; those who score over a 30 on the ACT math earn two full semesters of credit for Math 109 and Math 110.  Since the ACT and SAT are designed to measure how likely a student will be successful as a college freshman, taking the tests will highlight areas that students should improve so they can be successful in collegiate coursework. 

I hope you found this information helpful.  Please contact us at with other questions you may have about the SAT and ACT. 

–Brian Stewart

ACT Reading Update–Visual Quantitative Information Questions

The ACT has announced that at some point during the 2021-2022 school year, students may have an additional question type on the ACT Reading section: Visual Quantitative Information questions. These questions will most likely be found on one of the three Informational Reading passages, as opposed to a fiction passage.

What will these questions be like? Check out this link for some sample visual quantitative information questions. Unfortunately, until tests that have these questions are released, these appear to be the only official sample questions ACT has made available.

Why is the ACT adding this question type to the reading section? Most likely it is because the SAT has done so on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, and the ACT would like to assess similar skills. This is yet another example of how the ACT and SAT tests have increasingly converged in recent years, making it easy for students to transition from one test to the other.

So, what should students who are concerned about these new question types do to prepare? First, go into the ACT reading section with a flexible mindset; if you come across a series of graph analysis questions, know that they will only test you on the information in the reading passage and the graph. No outside knowledge will be required. Second, practice with some SAT reading passages that have graph analysis questions. Each SAT reading section has about 4-5 questions of this type, so you will have far more to work with than the limited sample ACT has provided. Here is a link to several SAT practice tests that you can review.

Best of luck!