SAT Vocabulary–Artifice

Although they were fierce  warriors, the Greeks ultimately beat the Trojans via the artifice of the Trojan horse.

Although they were fierce warriors, the Greeks ultimately beat the Trojans via the artifice of the Trojan horse.

This Week’s Word: Artifice
/ˈɑr tə fɪs/ :: [ahr-tuh-fis]

April fool’s day seems like the perfect day to learn a synonym  for trickery. Artifice can refer to a particular deceit or stratagem or the trait of cunning itself. However, the word artifice does not necessarily connote deceit done with malicious intention; fooling an audience for the purpose of entertainment is still artifice.

Synonyms: duplicity, guile, craftiness, wile

Etymology: The word artifice was borrowed into English from Middle French shortly before the Elizabethan period (circa 1530s). The word comes from adding the Latin ars (art) and facere (make or do—also the root for facetious) and originally referred more to craftsmanship or skill in a trade rather than craftiness in terms of deceit.

Sample: The artifice with which the play was written makes the actors’ jobs easy; the artful dialogue makes for compelling and convincing characters.

Sample 2: Although she was not happy about washing the sticky honey out of her hair, Latrice had to admire Tyrone’s prank for its artifice.


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Extra Hard SAT Math Question – Combinations

Surely, with all those fencing lesson they didn't have time for math...

Surely, with all those fencing lesson they didn’t have time for math…

At the end of every SAT Math section, the test makers try to come up with an extremely difficult problem that will leave even the cleverest students scratching their heads. The really evil part, though, is that even these problems can be solved in under a minute without a calculator – if you know what to do. This means that once you “figure out the trick,” these difficult problems become easy. So, while those test makers are busy cackling with sadistic glee, let’s see if we can’t beat them at their own game.

Consider the following problem:

King Louis XIII must pick a team of 5 musketeers to investigate one of Cardinal Richelieu’s nefarious schemes. If there are 10 musketeers to choose from, what is the probability that four of them (Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d’Artangan, of course) will be selected?

A) 1/2

B) 1/10

C) 3/5

D) 1/42

E) 5/252

To solve this problem, we must first remember that the probability of any event is calculated by taking the number of desired outcomes over the number of possible outcomes. In this case, figuring out the number of desired outcomes is not too difficult. We know who four of the five musketeers should be, so the only variable is the remaining musketeer. We have already used 4 out of the 10 possible musketeers, so there are 6 possibilities left for the remaining musketeer. If we let P, Q, R, S, T, and U represent the unknown musketeers, then we could represent the desired outcomes like so:

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, d’Artangan, and P

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, d’Artangan, and Q

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, d’Artangan, and R

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, d’Artangan, and S

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, d’Artangan, and T

Athos, Porthos, Aramis, d’Artangan, and U

That leaves figuring out the total number of possible outcomes. You could try to write down all the possible combinations of five musketeers, but with 10 musketeers to choose from that’s going to take a long time, and there would be many opportunities for making mistakes. What we are trying to figure out here is how many possible combinations of 5 musketeers we could make from a group of 10. To calculate this, all we need is a little formula that you might remember from math class:

Where n is the number of items to choose from and r is the number of items to be selected. Combinations and permutations are occasionally tested on the SAT, so you would do well to memorize this formula and other relevant formulas before test day. Using the formula, we find that the total number of ways to select a group of 5 from a group of 10 is:

Thus, the number of desired outcomes over the number of possible outcomes is:

All for one, and one over forty-two!

All for one, and one over forty-two!

Thus 1/42, choice D, is correct. If you know what to do, it takes only about 30 seconds to solve this problem. So you see, with practice, even the hardest problems on the SAT become easy. Check back here each week for more extra hard problems and the tricks you need to solve them! Also, remember that you can find out all the tricks from experts like me with a Test Masters course or private tutoring. Until  then, keep up the good work and happy studying!

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SAT Vocabulary–Ennui

This Week’s Word: Ennui
/ɑnˈwi, ˈɑn wi/ [ahn-wee, ahn-wee]

Ennui is best described as a state of boredom resulting from a complete lack of interest, but it is often used to connote that particular type of tedium that is a result of being completely satisfied (#FirstWorldProblems).

Victorian period literature is characterized by the ennui that plagued England throughout the era.

Victorian period literature is characterized by the ennui that plagued England throughout the era.

Synonyms: Boredom, lassitude, listlissness

Origin: Unsurprisingly, ennui is a French word meaning, you guessed it, “boredom.” Actually, the term has an interesting history; the Latin phrase mihi in odio est, which means, “it is hateful to me,” shortened to in odio was borrowed into Old French as anoier (v) and anoi (n). Both words survive in French as ennuyer and ennui, respectively. The former made its way into middle English and eventually became “annoy,” while the latter was borrowed into English in the late 17th century. 

Sample: The writer enjoyed the success of his latest novel for a while, but one gets the sense that his failure to start a new project has left him in a state of ennui.

Sample 2: Lucretia tried not to stare at the clock, but the general sense of ennui that pervaded the office made Thursday afternoon interminable.

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SAT Vocabulary—Convivial

The festivities of Oktoberfest reflect the convivial nature of the celebration's founder, King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

The lively festivities of Oktoberfest reflect the convivial nature of the celebration’s founder, King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

This Week’s Word: Convivial /kənˈvɪv i əl/ adj.

Convivial can be used to describe your one friend who is not shy and always ready to party. It can also be used to convey a particularly festive, lively, or amiable mood.

Synonyms: Friendly, amiable, festive, merry

Etymology: Convivial comes from the Latin convivialis, which describes something that is fit for a convivium, or “feast.” If we break down the word further, we find that it is a combination of the roots con, which (you might know from Spanish class) means “with,” and vivere, meaning “live,” so the original Latin, convivere, merely meant to live or carouse together.

Sample: The hostess was praised for her ability to create a convivial atmosphere with such short notice.

Sample 2: Lydia loved Xander’s conviviality; no matter where the two went, people were captivated by his genial spirit and ability to have a good time.


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SAT Multiple Choice Writing Tips—Illogical Comparison

We’re all familiar with the old adage “you can’t compare apples and oranges.” The phrase is so ubiquitous, in fact, that “Apples to Apples” is now a popular party game. If you think about it, the title fits—you can only compare your red cards because you’ve related them all to the same green card. As the saying implies, any time we compare things we have to compare like terms.

If you grew up in the South, you KNOW this is an illogical comparison because Coca-cola is superior.

If you grew up in the South, you KNOW this is an illogical comparison because Coca-cola is superior.

Is this a lesson for a six-year-old? you may be asking yourself. But you’d be surprised at how easy it is to make an illogical comparison—and even more surprised at how hard it can be to spot one. As with many of the other errors you’ll be tested over, illogical comparisons have become commonplace in some of our more colloquial ways of phrasing things. Since our brains are able to fill in the correct information, we rarely notice the flaws associated with some illogical comparisons, but that doesn’t make them logical.

Let’s look at some examples of how they might appear on the SAT: Continue reading “SAT Multiple Choice Writing Tips—Illogical Comparison” »

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SAT Vocabulary—Lugubrious

John William Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott is famous for its subject's lugubrious gaze.

John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott is famous for its subject’s lugubrious gaze.

This Week’s Word: Lugubrious
/lʊˈgu bri əs, -ˈgyu-/ adj. 

Lugubrious describes something mournful. It is most often used to connote an unmitigated, even exaggerated, sense of gloom or dismay.

Synonyms: melancholy, dismal

Origin: Adopted into English during the seventeen century, the word is from the Latin lugubris, from the root lugēre (to mourn). Related to the earlier Greek lygros (to mourn).

Sample: Hamlet is such a lugubrious character that many actors playing the role find it difficult to make him sympathetic.

Sample 2: The ceremony was far too lugubrious for Jeanie, who had expected to celebrate the life of her brother rather than to stand around solemnly while singing dirges.

In an attempt to suck up to his boss Hades, Pain calls him "your most Lugubriousness" instead of "your Highness."

In an attempt to suck up to his boss, Hades, Pain calls the Lord of the Underworld “your most Lugubriousness” instead of “your Highness.”

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SAT Vocabulary—Bemused

Karen is often bemused... well... really just old-fashioned confused.

Karen is often bemused

This Week’s Word: Bemused /bɪˈmyuzd/  adj. 

Bemused describes someone bewildered, perplexed or lost in thought. While an easy way to remember the definition may be that it rhymes and is synonymous with “confused,” one should note that it carries with it—or in some contexts means—a sense of preoccupation.

Synonyms: confused, dazed, distracted, puzzled

Etymology: The adjective bemused is the past participle form of the verb bemuse, meaning “to confuse or bewilder.” It is often mistaken for having a similar meaning as amuse, and, indeed, the two are related. Both are formed by adding a prefix to the verb muse, which means “to think or meditate” (you may be more familiar with the noun musings meaning “thoughts”). Amuse, however, was borrowed into middle English shortly after the original verb with the prefix a-, which is commonly added to words borrowed from the romance languages and means “to” or “toward”; things that amuse us inspire us to think, push us toward musings, in a sense. The prefix be-, however, is an Old English prefix that wasn’t applied to the verb until the early 18th century. When used with a verb, the prefix be- is an intensifier (for example, to rate something involves analyzing and criticizing, but to berate [scold] someone is a step past criticism). When someone or something bemuses us, we could say it overwhelms us with musings, leaving us confused and preoccupied.

The College Board loves to use this as a tone word, probably because students assume its meaning is somehow related to “amuse” (which, as shown, is true, but not in the way students would guess). I honestly can’t even remember a time that it was the right answer, but I guess there’s no reason that it couldn’t be if it actually fits the tone/attitude/mood of the passage/narrator/character. Since you’re a savvy test-taker who reads college compass, however, you’ll know if it’s the appropriate term.

Sample: The deluge of new information about her estranged brother left Elvira bemused.

Sample 2: The bemused poet was so lost in thought that he didn’t hear the waitress the first time she announced that the coffee shop was closing.



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Don’t Let Ivy League Dreams Lead to Sleepless Nights


We’re only talking about these eight East Coast schools out of over 3,000 schools nationwide.

Did you know Warren Buffett was rejected from Harvard Business School? Yes, the most successful investor of the twentieth century was once upon a time turned down by admissions officers from Harvard before his last-minute application and acceptance to Columbia University (and I’m sure Columbia U is laughing all the way to the bank). While Buffett’s isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches success story, it does illustrate one thing: getting into an Ivy League is hard for anyone (unless you share a surname with a building on campus, then maybe not so much).

In the past, College Compass Blogger Calvin wrote a smashing series on the Ivy League admissions process. A Columbia grad himself, Calvin is an excellent resource on the subject, and anyone looking at Ivy League schools would benefit from perusing the series. However, the intent of the series was certainly not to scare potential Ivy Leaguers from even applying! So, in light of the number of comments we’ve received on the series from students concerned that that ONE B in APUSH will forever shatter their dreams, I’ve decided to write a blog that addresses some common concerns in order to assuage some of the admissions-anxiety blues: Continue reading “Don’t Let Ivy League Dreams Lead to Sleepless Nights” »

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What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Writing


We can answer your questions about the 2016 SAT format!

If you’re taking the SAT before March 2016, you’ll be asked to write a two page essay that makes a completely one-dimensional argument supporting a yes or no answer to a vaguely philosophical question. In fact, one of the most difficult parts about the 25 minute section might just be finding any sort of direction given the lameness of the prompt. But once you get going, if you can come up with some specific examples to support your claim and fill up two pages in the process, you’re pretty much golden. In fact, while your examples do have to be “specific” they do not have to be factual: a student writing that D-Day ended the Cold War between Siam and Spain in the year 1066 will likely receive a higher grade than a student who accurately identifies D-Day as the day the Allies invaded Normandy but forgets to include when it happened, provided that the first student was able to support his claim with his uninformed example.

You might say, “well, that’s not really fair,” and you’d be right! This shortcoming—and a few others that make this a less-than-ideal writing sample—has prompted the College Board to rethink the essay.

Kids, I have good news and I have bad news. Continue reading “What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Writing” »

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What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Math

SineCosineAnimationThe College Board claims that the Revised SAT Math will “require a stronger command of fewer, more important topics.” Considering that I personally managed to get two liberal arts degrees without ever having to demonstrate my ability (or lack there of) to solve problems using the trigonometric functions that I forgot immediately after the Calculus AP exam, I don’t know exactly how the College Board determines what topics are “more important,” but the test does seem to be shifting away from its more logic and reasoning based math in favor of problems that involve applying what a student would learn throughout high school math (possibly, dare I say it, more like the ACT).

Specifically, the revised version of the test appearing in March of 2016 will evidently cover four content areas: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, and Additional Topics in Math (“Heart of Algebra”? “Passport to Advanced Math”? real cute, College Board). Another big difference is that the test will now be split into a fifty-five minute calculator section, and a twenty-five minute no-calculator section. Yes, you’ll be assessed over your ability to math without that handy contraption that maths for you—how unfair! Between the two sections you’ll have a total of fifty-seven questions: forty-five multiple choice, eleven student produced responses (grid-ins), and one “extended thinking” question (two-part grid-in). Continue reading “What to Expect on the Revised SAT: Math” »

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