New courses offered by Coastal NH Tutor

The pandemic has been particularly hard on people like me who supplement their incomes by offering test prep tutoring services. Put simply, there were few tests to prep for!

Surprisingly, however, the calls kept coming, but with a difference. More and more inquiries were about reading comprehension skills improvement, and/or about improving composition skills, especially with regards to writing high school essays and college admissions essays.

I designed these two new courses: Mr. G’s High School Essay Bootcamp and Mr. G’s College Admissions Essay Workshop to meet those needs.

The High School Essay Bootcamp can be taken by students in grades 7-12. The skills I will teach will help the student write any high school level essay. And, I’ll provide additional essay writing help for 6 months free of charge.  

The course consists of four 60 minute one-on-one zoom sessions and costs $300.

The College Admissions Essay Workshop should be taken by students in grades 11-12. I’ll help the student prepare an impressive Common App Essay for submission with other admission materials. Also, I will not impose a limit on the number of essay drafts the student requires. Additional help with Common App Essays will be provided for 6 months at no additional cost. 

This course also consists of four 60 minute one-on-one zoom sessions and costs $300.

To learn more about course content, methodology, and exclusions, click here.

How Much is Enough?

I often get asked how many lessons a student will require to prepare for the SAT/ACT. Let me answer that question by first explaining how test prep companies approach the subject. I worked for a test prep company that touted time for money value. They all do that, mostly by telling how many class hours are included. Let’s take a closer look at that.

The company I worked for provided eight 3-hour classes for a total of 24 hours of test prep. One half of every 3-hour class was devoted to math while the other half was all about the verbal portion of the test. As an English teacher, therefore, I was responsible for eight 90 minute “Verbal” segments, a total of 12 hours. The first four 90 minute classes consisted of information about how the test was structured, the number of questions, of reading passages, of subsections, of grammar and punctuation questions, the types of questions, etc., etc., etc. Strategies were presented to make it easier for the student to answer questions correctly. So the first four 90 minute lessons (6 hours in total) were mostly instruction of what was on the test and about how best to take the test.

The fifth lesson was about the SAT/ACT essay.

The sixth lesson was a review lesson for an up- coming practice test.

The seventh lesson was the practice test.

 The eighth lesson was a review of the practice test taken in lesson 7.

So the core of instruction was in the first four lessons for a total of 6 hours of instructional time. All students attended those classes.

Both the SAT and the ACT essays are optional, so some students didn’t attend the fifth lesson.

The sixth lesson reviewed everything covered up to that time, but it did not introduce new material. Some students skipped this lesson as well, figuring that they could decide for themselves what they most needed to review.

The seventh lesson was the practice test. Numerous practice tests are available online at no charge.

The eighth lesson was a review of the practice test. The free online practice tests include answers and answer explanations, so many students didn’t attend the 7th and 8th sessions.

It should be clear from what I’ve just told you, that what you’re really paying for in the way of “hard core” preparation is 6 hours, 7 1/2 if you want to include the optional essay instruction. Now, I’m not saying that the remaining 4 1/2 hours were a complete waste of time, but the gradually diminishing number of students who attended those last 3-4 classes speaks for itself.

So let’s compare those classes to my classes. I offer four two-hour core classes for a total of eight hours of instruction, 10 hours if the student wants help with the essay. Many students stop there. At the end of the 4th or 5th (essay) lesson, I talk to the student about whether or not they feel that a review lesson is advisable. This is always a mutual decision.

Also, please keep in mind the fact that I only work with students one-on-one. The classes I taught for the test prep company averaged 12-16, with some as large as 25-27. I don’t sign contracts with clients; there is never a “fixed” number of classes. You are charged only by the session, and I usually invoice after every pair of lessons.

One final thought. I sometimes speak to parents who have a mindset that I should keep meeting with their sons and daughters beyond the usual 4-6 lessons because more is always better. This kind of thinking assumes that SAT/ACT tests are content-based, and that the more content we cover, the better the student will be prepared. While adequate content is certainly important-after all, you wouldn’t want a student answering Algebra 2 questions if he/she has never taken Algebra 2- the fact is that both the SAT and the ACT are skills-based tests which measure how effectively you’ve learned rather than just what you’ve learned. Content can sometimes be improved significantly in the short term. Ever cram for a test or pull an all-nighter?

Skills, like reading comprehension, however, improve in the long term, so expecting short-term dramatic improvement rarely happens. That’s why teachers (like me) introduce shortcuts and strategies to help the student use their current skill level more effectively. So is more better? Not necessarily.

When I finish with a student, I always direct them to websites which feature exercises and practice tests, along with answers and answer explanations. I always tell the student that we’ve reached the point where the burden of responsibility shifts from me to the student. I’ve shown the student how to improve. What’s left to do is not learning new strategies, but practicing what he/she has already been taught so that the student achieves a level of comfort when applying what they have learned. I always invite the student to contact me for additional help (at no charge) if practicing brings to light specific problems, like a certain type of question which the student still finds challenging, so that we can review those issues. In the final analysis, then, the student’s performance on the test is usually a combination of the student’s academic background before they started test prep, my instruction, and their personal motivation to improve by both using and practicing.

Test Prep Update

By now, most of you will have heard that the June SAT has been cancelled, leaving the next scheduled tests late in August and early in October. If you read my e-mail blast from last week, you’ll know that I predicted this. Whether or not additional tests are scheduled in mid-summer or early fall will depend on how the virus (and the economy) progresses. Stay tuned.

You may also have heard that schools are not going to require SAT or ACT scores for the next admission cycle. This is not a surprise either. I’ve written in earlier blog postings that colleges use test optional status to suggest that applicants get more individualized attention, and that schools which are test optional are practicing good citizenship by leveling the college application playing field for economically disadvantaged and racial/ethnic minority students. While this may be true, it’s also important to remember that colleges are businesses, and businesses don’t remain viable without customers. You can bet that admissions board rooms are wrestling right now with the issue of how to keep present enrollees whose parents may not be able to continue paying tuition due to job loss or business reversal, along with attracting new students who may not be able to attend for the same reason. So, see this sudden test optional shift as a higher education survival strategy along with other, more circumstantial, less self-serving explanations.

Now, consider three thoughts:
First, although colleges aren’t requiring test scores, they’re not saying they won’t take them into consideration if you submit them.

Second, good test scores get you scholarship opportunities.

Third, tests like the SAT and the ACT are great self-assessment tools. Yes, they showcase strengths, but they also reveal weaknesses, some of which may follow you into college if you don’t address them now. I encourage all of my students to take retired SAT’s and ACT’s, even if they’re applying exclusively to test optional schools, for the purpose of self-assessment. These tests are available online at no cost with answers and answer explanations.

As for me, I’ve always used these tests as vehicles to help students improve in reading comprehension and written composition. I keep in touch with former students who now attend college. They frequently express their gratitude for my having given them the reading and writing skills which have made it possible for them to succeed on the college level. To my mind, test prep is really college prep.

Testing has been postponed. Learning has not.

Anyone who has worked with me knows that what I teach goes well beyond SAT or ACT prep.

I think of test prep as a vehicle, not a destination. Test prep allows me to refine a client’s reading comprehension and writing composition skills by using materials that evaluate preparedness for a college-level curriculum. The carry-over into other subject areas is obvious.

Reading is how we learn. A better reader is a better learner no matter the field of study. Writing is how we learn to structure what we’ve learned so that we can express ourselves to others with clarity.

Admissions testing has been temporarily postponed. Learning has not.

SAT: Rinse and Repeat, Pt 1 of 2

How to maximize your score on college admissions tests


11th graders will take the PSAT in October. Although many students take the PSAT more than once, the 11th grade test, taken in the fall, is the most important because it comes closest calendar-wise to taking the SAT.

When PSAT results become available, study the “Question –Level Feedback” page carefully. It is divided into four parts: Reading, Writing & Language, Math-Calculator, and Math-No Calculator.

1)   Using the “Reading” part as an example, you will see five vertical columns.

The first column is entitled “question # s”. Notice that each question # is a link. More about this in a moment.

The second column gives you the correct answer.

The third column gives you a check mark if you made the correct choice. If you chose incorrectly, this column will show your incorrect response.

The fourth column shows you the question difficulty –easy, medium, or hard.

The fifth column will provide you with information about the type of question (command of evidence or word-in-context for example) and will also tell you the passage’s subject (history, social studies, or science).

2)   As I already mentioned, each “question #” is a link. Clicking on one will show you the question and the answer choices and explain why the correct response is correct.

3)   Clicking on the “question #” for a question you got wrong will additionally tell you why the correct answer is correct and why your incorrect response is incorrect. This is very important to understanding what you got wrong and why.

4)   The PSAT also provides valuable information about subscores and cross-test scores.

On the attached PDF, I have provided sample PSAT “Question Level Feedback” pages.

Here are some questions a careful analysis of the preceding pages will answer.

Are science passages more difficult for you than social studies passages? What about history passages?

Are you challenged most by higher difficulty questions or are you also struggling with moderately difficult questions? How about easy questions?

Are you struggling with paired passages? Most students do.

Do you have a significant number of errors with word-in-context questions? How about command of evidence questions? Looking at the actual questions will provide even more specific information about types of questions that are challenging for you. For example, do you have difficulty recognizing the main idea of a reading passage, or the author’s tone?

Are you running out of time and leaving some questions unanswered, or are you being forced to wild guess because you’re running out of time near the end of the section?

Is your vocabulary compromising you?

Do you find the fiction selection more difficult than the nonfiction essays?

Are you answering incorrectly because you haven’t read the question carefully enough?

These are only a sampling of questions you may be able to answer if you take the time to really analyze PSAT feedback!

SAT: Rinse and Repeat, Pt 2 of 2

It will come as no surprise that your next step is to strengthen the
weaknesses that PSAT feedback reveals before you take the SAT and repeat your mistakes.
In the expression “Rinse and Repeat,” that’s the “Rinse.”

Now for the “Repeat.”

The SAT is given annually in
November, and
You could certainly take it in November or December soon after taking the PSAT if you wish, but you won’t get the same feedback from the tests on those dates that you got from the PSAT. To get that level of feedback you’ll have to wait for March.

Allow me to explain.

When you register to take the SAT, you’re paying to be allowed to take the test, to have the College Board score it, to send your scores to prospective colleges if you wish, and to receive a “Score Report”. You’ll find an
example of a score report below. Examine it closely and compare it to the feedback you received when you took the PSAT. Then continue reading.

The Student Answer Service
The Student Answer Service is available (at additional cost) for SAT’s given in November, December, June, and August and for any state sponsored tests such as the New Hampshire and Maine tests given in public high schools as statewide assessments. These “state” SAT tests are given after the national SAT in mid-March. Below you will find a sample page from a SAT Student Answer Service report.

Looks good doesn’t it? In fact it looks very much like PSAT feedback – WITH ONE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE!
On the PSAT, each “question #” was a link which provided you with answers and explanations. That is not true here. The “question #s” are not links. The Student Answer Service does not allow you to see questions or answer explanations. So, is it worth the money?
Well it’s better than an SAT Score Report, but not by much.

The Question and Answer service is available ( at additional cost) for SAT’s given in October, March (the national test not the state-sponsored test), and May. The feedback provided is exactly the same as on the PSAT where every “question #” is a link which allows you to see both questions and answer explanations. This is the maximum feedback you can get for the SAT, so this is the service you want.

How Rinse and Repeat Works

1) Take the PSAT in October of 11th grade, then rinse and repeat.
2) Take the SAT in March (the national test is on March 14, 2020), then rinse and repeat.
3) Take the SAT in May, then rinse and repeat.
4) Take the SAT for the final time in August.

For most students, the August test will mark the end of college admissions testing. Some might prefer to take the test again in October or November of the senior year. Many will find this unnecessary. It’s up to you.

Finally, what about the ACT?
The ACT is offered in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December.
The ACT TIR (Test Information Release) is available (for an additional fee) for tests in April, June, and December. It’s the equivalent of the SAT Question & Answer Service. The ACT doesn’t offer any other intermediate feedback equivalent to the SAT’s Student Answer Service.

3 Test Prep Student Profiles

The Proactive Student

This student makes full use of the summer between sophomore and junior year.
He prepares for the PSAT upcoming in mid-October and maps out a strategy for taking the SAT/ACT or both during 11th grade.
Once PSAT scores become available, he immediately studies the accompanying feedback in order to assess his performance. Specifically, he identifies areas which need improvement and actively works to improve the skills necessary to perform well on SAT/ACT in December.
He takes an SAT/ACT in December.
He takes another SAT/ACT in March-early April.
He may wish to retake the SAT/ACT in May-June.
He takes a final SAT/ACT in July-August.
He begins work on college admissions and on college essays.

See accompanying pages which show all test dates and indicate when feedback services are available for both tests. Always make use of feedback services to continue to refine performance-always!

The Active Student

This student maps out a strategy for taking the SAT/ACT during the junior year.
He takes the PSAT in mid-October.
He takes the SAT/ACT for the first time in March-early April.
He evaluates feedback from his test to prepare for a retake.
He retakes the SAT/ACT in May-June or in July-August hopefully for the last time.
He retakes SAT/Act in September-October only if absolutely necessary.
He begins work on college admissions and on college essays.

See accompanying pages which show all test dates and indicate when feedback services are available for both tests. Always make use of feedback services to continue to refine performance-always!

The Reactive Student

This student takes the PSAT in mid-October.
He takes the SAT/ACT in March-early April.
He retakes the SAT/Act in July-August. .
He retakes the SAT/ACT for the last time in September-October of Senior Year.
He begins work on college admissions and on college essays.

See accompanying pages which show all test dates and indicate when feedback services are available for both tests. Always make use of feedback services to continue to refine performance-always!

Universities goes test optional. Read the fine print.

Here is a copy of an e-mail which I sent to all present (and some past) test prep clients. It is in response to the recent announcement from the University of New Hampshire that they would become a “test optional” school in 2020. This is a very self-serving move on the university’s part which is partly shrouded by “political correctness” in the sense that students who historically “don’t test well” will no longer be at a disadvantage. This, of course, raises a question about how those same students will be evaluated once they are attending colleges. The fine print tells you that they still expect 80% or more applicants to supply test scores, which means that an even greater percentage will continue to take the SAT or the ACT. Here’s the e-mail:

When businesses want to expand their customer base they have a sale.

When colleges want to expand their client base they go test optional.

It’s called marketing.

And it explains why 80% of students seeking admission to test optional schools still submit SAT scores.

See this for what it is.

Adversity or Privilege? Which best describes you?

 The following link is to an article about how the College Board is attempting to help colleges diversify their populations by “leveling the playing field” for disadvantaged students who wish to apply. The idea is to factor in “adversity” and its counterpart, “privilege”, as part of the SAT admissions testing process.

When should an 11th grader start college admissions testing?

Parents and students ask this question every time a new school year is about to begin.

The answer depends on when the 11th grader wants to complete testing, and on how prepared the student is if he/she wants to start testing early.

The advantage to finishing early is that the student can then focus his/her attention in the fall of the Senior Year on college visitations, writing the application essay(s), preparing college admissions materials, etc.

The disadvantage to starting early is that college testing may require curriculum content which the student won’t be exposed to until later in the Junior Year. This information, however, should be readily available from the student’s school.

Here is some basic SAT information.

The SAT is given in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.
You can take it whenever you like and as often as you like.

The best way to get the highest score is to take the test, get the maximum feedback available, identify areas of weakness as indicated by the feedback, strengthen weak areas, take the test again…Rinse and Repeat as many times as necessary.

Scores are reported approximately 4 weeks after the test.
The Score Report you receive, however, provides minimal feedback.

If you take the test in August, November, December, and June, you can pay extra for the Student Answer Service. The SAS provides partial feedback. You receive a list of the correct answers, a list of your answers, questions are rated by difficulty, and question types such as Command of Evidence (reading comprehension), Word in Context(vocabulary and context clues), Standard English Conventions(grammar), etc. are identified. You do not, however, get the questions themselves.

If you take the test in October, March, or May you can pay extra for the Question & Answer Service. The Q&AS provides maximum feedback. You get all of the above plus a copy of the test booklet.

You’ll pay roughly twice as much for the Q&AS as you will for the SAS but it’s worth it because you get the questions..

Now consider the ramifications of what I’m about to say:
Both SAS reports and Q&AS reports arrive 12-14 weeks after the student takes the test. The delay in getting maximum feedback (i.e. the Q&AS) “drives” what I’m about to recommend.

If you want to finish early, prep for the October test. When you register, elect both the optional essay and the Q&AS. You’ll get your Score Report in November. The Q&AS results will arrive in December.
Prep for the March test using the Q&AS report.
When you register for the March test, elect the optional essay. If you want to finish in May or June, also elect the SAS.
If you want to finish in August, elect the Q&AS instead.

If finishing admissions testing early is not important, then use the above procedure for SAT tests in March, May or June, and August.

Should an 11th grader also take the PSAT in October?
f you’ve already taken the PSAT as a sophomore, then I’d say the junior PSAT is optional. I recommend taking it because practice makes perfect and because you automatically receive both the Score Report and the SAS. In fact, if you ask for a copy of the PSAT test booklet, they will give you one-SO ASK FOR IT!!


Much of what I’ve already said also applies to the ACT.
The ACT is given in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.
The equivalent of the SAT’s Q&AS is the ACT’s TIR(Test Information Release).

The TIR is available in December, April, and June tests. The reporting time for the TIR is approximately 8 weeks after taking the test. With those dates in mind, 11th graders should prep for the test in December. When they register, they should elect the optional essay and the TIR. They should then prep for the test in April. As before, registration for the April test should include the optional essay and the TIR. Skip the June test. The TIR report won’t arrive in time to help.

As with the SAT, if they want to finish early, they should elect the test in July.

If finishing college admissions testing early is not important, then use the above procedure for ACT tests in April, June, and September or October.