SAT Multiple Choice Writing Tips—Pronouns

Learn valuable tips and tricks to up your SAT Multiple Choice Writing game!
Learn valuable tips and tricks to up your SAT Multiple Choice Writing game!

Don’t stop reading! Yes, you use pronouns every day and you know how to use them—for the most part—but if you want to make an 800 on that writing section, you’ll want to be able to spot all of the SAT’s tricks, those concerning pronouns included.

Some pronoun errors are easy to spot; your’ll see they and say, “Wait, us don’t talk like that.” But, if that’s your only argument, chances are you’re missing more pronoun questions than you think. Many SAT problems cleverly mimic mistakes we make when we’re speaking every day English. Many of these errors are so pervasive that they have passed into accepted spoken English; when we understand what someone means without much effort, we can say they were correct as far as “descriptive grammar” is concerned. The SAT however is testing us over our knowledge of “prescriptive grammar” (the kind your English teacher attempted to tell you about once), so even though there were no descriptive mistakes in the previous sentence, there was one prescriptive mistake. Continue reading “SAT Multiple Choice Writing Tips—Pronouns” »

National Merit Scholarship Cutoff Scores by State

Students who took the PSAT in October of this year 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
…..and are graduating (graduated) in this year. 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
Alabama 211 209 211 210 208 209 209
Alaska 212 204 212 214 211 212 213
Arizona 214 212 213 209 210 209 211
Arkansas 205 202 205 203 203 204 201
California 223 220 221 219 218 217 218
Colorado 215 212 215 212 213 213 213
Connecticut 221 218 220 219 218 218 217
Delaware 218 215 217 215 219 219 219
District of Columbia 224 221 223 223 221 221 223
Florida 214 211 214 210 211 211 212
Georgia 217 214 218 215 214 215 214
Hawaii 215 211 216 215 214 216 213
Idaho 211 207 211 208 209 208 204
Illinois 216 213 216 214 214 214 213
Indiana 215 211 214 212 211 213 213
Iowa 210 207 210 209 209 210 209
Kansas 216 212 214 211 211 211 212
Kentucky 211 208 212 208 209 209 208
Louisiana 209 209 209 210 207 208 206
Maine 215 210 212 213 213 212 211
Maryland 223 219 221 220 221 220 221
Massachusetts 224 221 223 223 221 221 223
Michigan 210 207 210 209 209 209 209
Minnesota 215 213 215 213 215 214 213
Mississippi 207 204 205 205 203 201 202
Missouri 213 210 213 210 211 213 211
Montana 207 203 209 208 204 208 207
Nebraska 209 207 209 210 207 206 207
Nevada 212 208 209 208 202 206 208
New Hampshire 214 211 216 214 213 211 215
New Jersey 224 221 223 221 221 220 221
New Mexico 210 208 210 206 208 209 208
New York 219 215 219 217 218 216 219
North Carolina 215 213 217 214 214 215 214
North Dakota 204 200 204 202 202 201 202
Ohio 215 212 214 212 211 213 211
Oklahoma 210 206 209 206 207 208 207
Oregon 218 213 216 215 213 213 213
Pennsylvania 217 214 215 216 214 213 214
Rhode Island 216 211 213 211 217 213 212
South Carolina 210 208 211 208 211 212 210
South Dakota 206 204 206 205 205 205 203
Tennessee 212 210 214 212 213 213 213
Texas 219 216 219 215 216 215 215
Utah 208 205 208 203 206 203 202
Vermont 217 214 217 212 213 213 216
Virginia 222 217 220 218 218 219 217
Washington 220 216 220 218 217 217 215
West Virginia 203 200 204 202 203 203 200
Wisconsin 210 207 209 209 207 210 208
Wyoming 203 200 204 202 201 201 200
International 224 221 223 223 221 221 223


Improve Your SAT Score – Multiple Choice Writing

GrammarMany students struggle with the SAT Multiple Choice Writing section, which is surprising given how coachable this section of the exam really is. The SAT Multiple Choice Writing section is nothing more than a basic test of your English grammar comprehension. In an effort to elucidate this theory, we have compiled a list of 14 example problems that highlight some of the more common grammatical mistakes students are expected to recognize on test day. Join us over the next several weeks as we review these fourteen questions, one-by-one, to help you improve your SAT score. Continue reading “Improve Your SAT Score – Multiple Choice Writing” »

Extra Hard SAT Math Question – Triangle Side Lengths

It's just a triangle, it can't hurt you, I swear!
It’s just a triangle, it can’t hurt you, I swear!

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:

A triangle with one side 3 and another side 7 has perimeter P. What are the least and greatest possible integer values of P?

A) 5 and 9

B) 5 and 15

C) 9 and 15

D) 9 and 19

E) 15 and 19

Well, how on earth are we supposed to figure out the perimeter if we only know two sides? This is one where if you know how to do it, it’s a cinch, but if you don’t, it’s impossible. What you need to know for this problem is the Triangle Inequality:

“The triangle inequality states that for any triangle, the sum of the lengths of any two sides must be greater than the length of the remaining side.”


This principle is best understood visually:


If the two shorter sides of the triangle equaled the longest side, then they would just lie flat on top of it and you’d have a line, not a triangle. Thus, the sum of the shorter sides must be less than the length of the longest side.

Returning to the problem at hand, we can now figure out the maximum and minimum lengths of the unknown side. If we want to find the maximum length of the unknown side, then we should let it be the longest side, which would mean that:

3 + 7 > longest side

10 > longest side

Thus, the longest side must be less than 10 units long. Remember, the problem asked for integer values, so that means the maximum length of the unknown side would be 9, since 9 is the first integer less than 10. To find the smallest that the unknown side could possibly be, we should assume that the longest side is the side with length 7. Let x represent the unknown side:

x + 3 > 7

x > 4

Thus, the shortest the unknown side could possibly be would be 5, since 5 is the first integer greater than 4. So the smallest the side can be is 5 and the largest it can be is 9. Choice A is the answer, right?

Your tricks aren't fooling anyone here.
Your tricks aren’t fooling anyone here.

Wrong! Remember, the question asked for the minimum and maximum perimeters, not for the minimum and maximum lengths of the unknown side. Note that the minimum and maximum lengths of the unknown side were in one of the answer choices! To be extra tricky and evil, the test makers often put intermediate figures into wrong answer choices, hoping that you’ll forget what you were supposed to find in the first place and that you’ll stop working as soon as you get some numbers that match an answer choice. Don’t fall for this common trap! Always make sure you found what the problem was actually asking for before you mark your answer.

Finding the minimum and maximum perimeters is itself quite easy. The minimum perimeter would be:

3 + 5 + 7 = 15

and the maximum perimeter would be:

3 + 7 + 9 = 19

Thus, the correct choice is E, 15 and 19. 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!

SAT Critical Reading Example Problem

The easiest way to improve your SAT Critical Reading Score is to practice! This means going through example problem after example problem until you begin to recognize (and remember) key vocabulary words and the ways SAT test makers attempt to trick you. Let’s jump right in…

  1. Hollywood SignDarren’s sensitivity to his celebrity clients is nothing short of —–: he is able to —– their needs before they themselves are fully aware of them.
    1. superfluous … gratify
    2. unconditional … forestall
    3. preternatural … anticipate
    4. interminable … formulate
    5. legendary … minimize

Explanation: For the first blank, the phrase “nothing short of” indicates the correct answer choice will refer to something that is extraordinary. Of the answer choices only (C) and (E) have words that meet that description. This eliminates three potential answers. In the instance of the second blank, the phrase “before they themselves are aware of them” indicates the answer choice must be a word that means to realize beforehand; of the two possible answer choices only (C) satisfies this criteria. Thus the correct answer choice is (C).

  1. ScientistDetractors attacked the study’s —–, claiming that researchers used lax procedures to gather and analyze data.
    1. hypothesis
    2. predictability
    3. methodology
    4. corroboration
    5. inflexibility

Explanation: The key phrase in this passage is “procedures to gather and analyze data.” This phrase specifically indicates that the answer choice must be a word that references the process by which this study gathered and analyzed data.  Of the available answer choices only (A) and (C) reference scientific investigation; however, a hypothesis, or answer choice (A), only refers to the theory which scientists attempt to prove through experimentation, not to the actual experimentation itself. Methodology, on the other hand, refers to the “the underlying principles and rules of an inquiry,” or the process by which data is gathered and analyzed. Thus, the correct answer choice is (C).

Having a strong vocabulary is the very best way to ensure a high score on the SAT Critical Reading section. If you want to improve your SAT Critical Reading score, learn how to study vocab.

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

College Compass by Test Masters regularly posts Critical Reading example problems, as well as example problems and solutions for the other areas of the SAT/PSAT & ACT. You can find additional example problems here.


I Missed the PSAT – Can I Make It Up?

So you missed the PSAT, huh? Don’t worry about it, you can make it up!

The answer to that question is yes, you absolutely can! Many people don’t realize that if they miss the PSAT due to illness, emergency, or other extenuating circumstances, they still have a chance to compete for the National Merit Scholarship.

The National Merit Scholarship is a highly prestigious $2,500 scholarship prize given to 2,500 students around the US every year. The PSAT (also known as the NMSQT — National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is used as the preliminary decider in who qualifies for these scholarships. If a junior in high school takes the PSAT and scores above the cutoff score for his or her state, he or she has a chance to receive the scholarship. Even being a semifinalist or finalist can open doors in terms of other scholarships and college admissions.

This exam is extremely important, so if you miss the PSAT you need to know what your options are. According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s (NMSC) website:

The student or a school official must write to NMSC as soon as possible after the PSAT/NMSQT administration to request information about procedures for entry to NMSC competitions by alternate testing. The earlier NMSC receives the written request, the greater the student’s opportunities for meeting alternate entry requirements. To be considered, a request must be postmarked no later than March 1 following the PSAT/NMSQT administration that was missed. NMSC will provide alternate entry materials including an entry form that requires the signature of a school official.

Generally speaking, the “alternate testing” is simply using an exam score from an SAT in place of the PSAT.

The PSAT is often overlooked by both parents and students — a huge mistake. Its value is undeniable, and any high school junior who missed the PSAT would be wise to immediately contact school counselors and NMSC officials to coordinate alternate testing. Remember — the PSAT is arguably just as big of a deal as the SAT! Treat it as such and prepare thoroughly with people who know everything there is to know about the test!

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful PSAT & SAT preparatory course available. Every Test Masters course comes with a Score Increase Guarantee!

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!


Read more about the PSAT & SAT here!


Be a National Merit Scholar! Part II – What Does it Take to be a Finalist?

PSATIf you scored well enough on the PSAT in October, you will be notified of your status (whether you are a Commended Student or Semifinalist), via your high school, in September of the following year. Receiving any kind of commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is extremely prestigious, but no one likes to run a long race and come in second place. Of the approximately 50,000 students who are recognized for their PSAT scores, only 15,000 will advance to become Finalists. So what makes these students more deserving among a peer group of other exemplary students? What does it take to be a National Merit Finalist?

Students who advance from Semifinalist to Finalist status are awarded a Certificate of Merit to commemorate their distinguished performance. Who gets a Certificate of Merit is ultimately decided by the professional staffers at the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Though the PSAT is standardized, advancement in the National Merit competition is not. There is no magic GPA, PSAT score, or extracurricular that will guarantee you a promotion to Finalist. Remember, you are competing against the very best and brightest students in the nation. Using a broad spectrum of criteria as a basis for advancement, each potential candidate is individually evaluated (which is one reason it takes so long for students to be notified of their status), and a determination on advancement is made from there.

Though there are no exact specifications as to what it takes to be a National Merit Finalist, the NMSC does publish a list of guidelines and prerequisites students are required to meet in order to qualify for advancement. In order to be a National Merit Finalist, you must:

1) Meet all entry and program requirements.

2) Be enrolled in your last year of high school and planning to enroll full time in college the following fall, or be enrolled in your first year of college if grades 9-12 of high school were completed in three or less years.

3) Complete the National Merit Scholarship Application with all information requested, which includes writing an essay (You will be contacted by NMSC through your high school and provided with the necessary application forms then).

4) Have a record of very high academic performance in all of grades 9-12 and in any college course work taken (the high school must provide a complete record of courses taken and grades earned by the student, as well as information about the school’s curriculum and grading system).

5) Be fully endorsed for Finalist standing and recommended for a National Merit Scholarship by the high school principal.

6) Take the SAT and earn scores that confirm the PSAT/NMSQT performance that resulted in Semifinalist standing.

7) Be prepared to provide any other documentation and information that NMSC requests.

Hopefully these guidelines and requirements did not make you cringe. All the NMSC asks is that you have been and continue to be consistently and demonstrably a candidate of the utmost academic quality.

An item of note:

It is not enough to have done well on the PSAT; in order to advance to Finalist status you must demonstrate that your PSAT score was not an anomaly. This means you must either match, or preferably beat, your state’s National Merit Score Index requirement on the SAT This means practice and additional preparation.

This post is part of a series. Other posts in this series include:

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part I – Qualifications and Overview

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part III – Scholarship & Opportunities

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part IV – What Now?

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!
Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

One of the best ways to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT is to take practice tests. PSAT Exam Packs, available from Test Masters, are packaged PSAT exams and an excellent resource for students who want to Be a National Merit Scholar.

Test Masters offers the most extensive and comprehensive PSAT & SAT preparation courses available; click here to learn more about the Test Masters PSAT & SAT preparation course.



Money Makes the World Go ‘Round – A Brief History of the PSAT/NMSQT

MoneyThe PSAT/NMSQT is no ordinary standardized test. As the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship, the PSAT/NMSQT is the Cerberus that guards the gates to a $2500 scholarship prize and a slew of other desirable benefits — a leg up in the admissions process, the prestige of being a National Merit Scholar, and sometimes even full scholarships to certain universities. When money is involved, the rules are different; when money is involved, everyone wants a slice of the pie. Unlike the SAT, whose changes have historically been content-driven, the PSAT/NMSQT, for better or for worse, has evolved around financial stimuli.

Act I: Introduction
The National Merit Scholarship Program began in 1955 as a privately funded academic scholarship program that rewarded outstanding scholastic achievement. In 1971, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation adopted the College Board’s Preliminary SAT exam (PSAT) as the qualifying test for scholarship consideration, and the PSAT/NMSQT was born. On that glorious day, the sky blazed a brilliant, blinding cobalt, alight with the glorious furor of the heavens themselves as they descended to earth to bless the birth of the chosen test.

Act II: The Asian Invasion
For about ten years, the PSAT/NMSQT lived a quiet, simple life. But the world was experiencing sweeping economic and societal transitions, and our hero soon found itself being swept away with the tides of change.

Between the end of World War II and the early 1980s, Asian immigration into the United States exploded. During the Space Race of the 1960s, America, led by a youthful and charismatic President Kennedy, made its technological leaps and bounds into space, and the United States’ land of opportunity became especially fertile, attracting immigrants from all over Asia, including India and China. The US even recruited foreigners — going so far as to increase immigration quotas for people with advanced degrees in math and science. Indian people, soon followed by the Chinese, rushed to apply.

As Asian immigrants began settling into American life, their children started making their way through the school systems. Eventually, these children of immigrant families — who just happened to excel at math — began taking the PSAT/NMSQT, and, despite oft-substantial disadvantages in the verbal section, they would perform well enough on the math section to warrant scholarship consideration.

Coincidentally, around this time, the College Board decided to give the PSAT/NMSQT a face lift to raise its total score from 160 to 240 — by counting the verbal score twice. As you might imagine, with this change, getting a qualifying score became significantly more difficult for a certain group of individuals. No changes were made to the format or content of the PSAT/NMSQT — both the length of the verbal section and the difficulty of the questions remained the same. This change put certain ethnic groups (guess which ones) whose primary language may not have been English at a disadvantage for National Merit consideration. Luckily, this scoring system didn’t last forever; in 1997, a different group of individuals took issue with the PSAT scoring system and instigated a revamping of the test.

Act III: A Woman Scorned
In 1994, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) filed a complaint against the College Board and Educational Testing Services, accusing them of illegally discriminating against women. Statistically, males outperformed females at the time on the PSAT/NMSQT, and FairTest claimed that the cause of the disparity was the test format, which was allegedly skewed in favor of male students*.

As a result, in 1997, the PSAT/NMSQT went under the knife for some more work, and when it emerged, the verbal score no longer counted twice; instead, the College Board added a writing section designed to address the test’s bias. Statistics indicated that women traditionally outperformed men on writing tests, so the addition would supposedly help mitigate the inherent bias of the exam.

At the time of the complaint, both the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT consisted of only two sections, math and verbal. Both tests were similar in format and contained similar problems created by the same people, but the PSAT/NMSQT was the focus of the complaint. The PSAT/NMSQT is directly connected to money, so it naturally took precedence over its sister test. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Regardless of what — the test’s merit or the scholarship money — actually motivated FairTest’s complaint, the result is a more balanced test that more equitably awards scholarship money to promising young students of both sexes each year.

Act IV: Conclusion
Money changes the game. You can take that to the bank. The PSAT/NMSQT flies under the radar of many high school students and their parents, but why? As the segue to a nice scholarship prize and a number of other great perks, it’s no wonder people are so up in arms about it. Shouldn’t you be, too?


Test Masters was founded in 1991 and has become one of the largest and fastest-growing educational companies in the United States. Test Masters offers classroom courses, 1-on-1 courses, online courses PSAT prep, and books for standardized exams including the HSPT, ISEE Upper, Mid, and Lower Levels, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and the EIT & PE Professional Engineering Exams in many states around the country. Since its inception, tens of thousands of students have taken courses from Test Masters.


Be a National Merit Scholar! Part I – Qualifications and Overview

PSATEvery year approximately millions of students participate in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), otherwise known as the Preliminary SAT or PSAT. Of these students, approximately fifty five thousand students will score high enough to be recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program. Needless to say, qualifying is extremely competitive and a very big deal. Whether you qualify as a Finalist, Semifinalist, or Commended Student, a high enough score on the PSAT will give you access to otherwise inaccessible opportunities. This is especially true in the context of scholarship and financial aid. Practically every high school student is, at one point or another, eligible to become a National Merit Scholar. The eligibility requirements to be a National Merit Scholar are as follows:

  1. A student must take the PSAT/NMSQT in the “specified year” of their high school program (for most, this means you can only qualify when you take the PSAT in 11th grade).
  2. Be a full time high school student and plan to go to college full time no later than fall of the year following graduation from high school.
  3. Be a US Citizen or permanent US Resident with the intention of becoming a US Citizen.

Of the approximately 55,000 students who receive recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Program, only 16,000 will go on to become National Merit Semifinalists. The remaining 34,000 students receive Letters of Commendation. Though no longer eligible to continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, some Commended students may qualify to become candidates for Special Scholarships. We will discuss this type of scholarship, along with several others, at length in a future post.

National Merit Scholarship Coporation
The NMSC is an independent not-for-profit corporation responsible for awarding a variety of scholarships.

Of the 16,000 semifinalists, 15,000 will go on to become Finalists. Before getting too excited, it’s important to note that advancing to the position of Finalist does not guarantee you a National Merit Scholarship. We will discuss the qualifications for advancement at length in a future article. In fact, approximately only 8,300 National Merit Finalists will receive Merit Scholarship awards. According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation a wide variety of information is used to determine who wins a scholarship, including “the Finalist’s academic record, information about the school’s curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, the high school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the Finalist’s own essay.”

The advantages of being a National Merit Commended Student, Semifinalist, or Finalist do not end with a National Merit Scholarship; in fact that is only where they begin. Be sure to return soon as we continue our series, Be a National Merit Scholar!

This post is part of a series; other posts in this series include:

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part II – What Does it Take to be a Finalist?

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part III – Scholarship & Opportunities

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part IV – What Now?

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!
Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

One of the best ways to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT is to take practice tests. PSAT Exam Packs, available from Test Masters, are packaged PSAT exams and an excellent resource for students who want to Be a National Merit Scholar.