With a slew of new changes hitting the SAT next spring, high school students across the country have been trying to decipher what these changes mean for them. So let’s break it down.

These changes are going to have the most impact on current freshman and sophomores. Current juniors will have completed all of their testing by this upcoming December. Freshman and sophomores will have the option of taking either the current SAT, the ACT, or the new SAT. While sometimes too many options can be overwhelming, this is actually a really great opportunity for students to find the test that best suits their style and capabilities. The best way to get a sense of that is to do diagnostic tests for each exam. These are readily available in prep books, online, and on Brightstorm.

After doing diagnostics, you want to get a sense of which test felt the most comfortable and which one garnered the highest baseline score. Accordingly, you want to look at the testing schedule and plan out your prep schedule, when you will take your first exam, and what will be your backup option. If you decide that you will be taking the current SAT, there will only be four more options during the next academic year: October, November, December, and January. Ideally students should plan to take the test as early in the Fall as possible so as to have ample time to retake it if needed. More importantly, students can do their prep over the summer and take the test while they are still in the zone. After January, the current SAT will be unavailable. At that point, students will only have the option of the new SAT or the ACT.

The ACT has proven to be a great alternative to the SAT. In recent years, it has actually become a more popular exam. Students appreciate that it is a slightly shorter exam, but more importantly that it feels less tricky. Just because some students have found greater success with this test does not mean that it is the better exam for all students. Before jumping on the ACT bandwagon, make sure you are comfortable with the test. This test can be taken multiple times throughout the year.

For those that want to try the new SAT, it will be available March 2016. Students should only wait for this test if they are positive that the current SAT does not suit them. Remember that you cannot go back to the current SAT after January 2016. The new exam is not a slightly modified version of the current test; it is a brand new exam. The scores from the first exam will also likely not be available until May or June; typically scores are available in less than three weeks. This can make strategizing tricky for soon to be seniors that are trying to finalize testing and their college lists.

This is really a personal choice. Many students like classes because they offer structure and students have a particular timeline to follow. Others prefer one-on-one tutoring because their time is limited and they can focus on the areas where they are the weakest. Some want to study on their own because they are self-disciplined and will make the time to prepare diligently. Whichever way you choose, it is important that you plan ahead. Many students are able to effectively study and master the strategies after just a few weeks, but then need to continue practicing these strategies until test day.

Standardized testing is meant to give admissions officers a way to compare students across many different factors including schools and opportunities. A new exam always throws a wrench in this type of comparison as they try to understand how the new exam will be a predictor for success. Students in the Class of 2017 and 2018 (those most affected by the exam changes) will get the most leniency. Admissions officers will accept all three exams and use the highest reported score for admissions purposes.

Remember that testing is simply one piece of the admissions process. Once you have chosen the test you will take, move on to the many other things that high school and life have to offer. Life and you are much more than a test score.

]]>I know it seems like there’s a million different things you have to memorize for math class and the distance formula is just another one. Here’s the secret about the distance formula though… it’s not some new thing to learn… you already know it! Don’t believe me? Check this out.

Remember the Pythagorean Theorem? Of course you do! Hmmmm. Okay maybe you don’t. Here it is: in any right triangle with legs of length *a*, *b* and hypotenuse *c*, a^{2 }+ b^{2 }= c^{2}. Okay, now if we solve this equation for *c*, we get

Right? Right. Okay, now think about this here triangle for a sec:

The length of the hypotenuse is d, which is also the distance between the points (x1,y1) and (x2,y2). The length of the legs of this triangle are x2-x1 and y2-y1. So let’s use this information and substitute these values into the Pythagorean Theorem. The hypotenuse is d=c, and the legs are a=x2-x1 and b=y2-y1.

Oh my goodness! It’s amazing! As you can see, the distance formula is just the Pythagorean Theorem in disguise! So go ahead and fall in love… all over again.

For more help, check out our study video for the distance formula.

]]>Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck at the midpoint with you…

At some point they’re going to give you a line segment on the coordinate plane and ask you to find the midpoint. You could just memorize the formula. Which would be fine, except you’ve got eight million other formulas memorized and when test time comes they’re all jumbled up in your noggin and you pick the wrong one. If you understand where the midpoint formula comes from though, you don’t need to memorize anything because you’ll know it. So here’s the deal.

Let’s say your line segment has endpoints A(*x*_{1},*y*_{1}) and B(*x*_{2},*y*_{2}) and you have to find the midpoint M of line segment AB. And let’s say you make a right triangle with AB as the hypotenuse and one of legs is parallel to the *x* axis and the other one to the *y* axis, like this:

Can you figure out what the coordinates of point C should be? It’s a little tricky, I’ll walk you through it. C lies on the same vertical line as point A, so it has the same x-coordinate as point A: *x*_{1}. C is on the same horizontal line as point B, so C has to have the same y-coordinate that B does: *y*_{2}. Cool, so now we know point C has coordinates (*x*_{1},*y*_{2}). Right on, right on.

What’s the x coordinate of the point halfway between B and C? It’s halfway between *x*_{1 }and *x*_{2}, so it’s *x*_{1 }+ *x*_{2 }divided by 2. And what’s the y coordinate of the point halfway between A and C? Same story, it’s halfway between *y*_{1 }and *y*_{2}, so the y coordinate of the point halfway between A and C is *y*_{1 }+ *y*_{2 }divided by 2. Now let’s draw a horizontal and a vertical line connecting these two points to AC… and where those lines intersect… that’s the midpoint!

So to find the midpoint of a line segment, you pretty much take the average of your points’ x-coordinates to find the x-coordinate of the midpoint, then do the same thing for the y-coordinate. Now go forth, and find the midpoint like a boss!

If you need more help with the midpoint formula, be sure to check out our study videos on the topic and much more!

]]>If you’re like most people, quotation marks can often be a source of frustration. It seems simple enough: All you have to do is put the quoted material inside two quotation marks and you’re done, right? Wrong. There’s a lot more that goes in to quotation marks and you’ll find all the rules below.

Correct: We were listening to music in the car when John said, “**This** is the best song ever.”

Incorrect: We were listening to music in the car when John said, “**this** is the best song ever.”

Correct: Mom said we can continue listening to music as long as we “**keep** the volume reasonable.”

Incorrect: Mom said we can continue listening to music as long as we “**Keep** the volume reasonable.”

Correct: My dad always said, “Hard work pays off**.**”

Incorrect: My dad always said, “Hard work pays off”**.**

Correct: After they scored their first touchdown, Johnny yelled “Go Raiders**!**”

Incorrect: After they scored their first touchdown, Johnny yelled “Go Raiders”**!**

Correct: Would you say that your favorite Taylor Swift song is “Shake It Off”**?**

Incorrect: Would you say that your favorite Taylor Swift song is “Shake It Off**?**”

Correct: In the prologue to his new book, the author states, “**Their [sic]** were many things to consider.”

Incorrect: In the prologue to his new book, the author states, “**Their** were many things to consider.”

There is quite a bit of talk around the impact of high school on college admissions and let me definitely say that the high school you go to makes a difference in college admissions. But this is where it starts to get fuzzy – that impact can be positive or negative depending on so many factors including but not limited to: your performance relative to your peers, the opportunities that you are afforded or denied, the way in which your peer group can influence you, the socioeconomic status of most students, location, and perception of the school in the eyes of admissions officers. Now this is not a mandate to change your high school or to blame your limited college offers on the name of your high school. Rather it is simply an opportunity to understand the process more holistically and deeply.

People often believe that attending the most competitive (or perceived as competitive) high schools will get them into the best colleges – and please remember that the definition of “best” is subjective. But let’s break this down. Competitive high schools are often filled with highly driven students that succeed academically, potentially driving up curves and average GPAs. Students might come from families that are also highly educated and provide opportunities for great learning outside of the classroom setting. Students might have the resources to pay for standardized test prep and as a result scores go sky high. If the high schools are in affluent areas, there is also a great chance that the extracurricular opportunities will be great in terms of sheer number and quality. Sounds like everyone should go to one of these schools, right? Wrong! Not all students thrive in highly competitive environments. In fact, many struggle and the environment that is fostered actually causes them to retreat rather than excel. And not everyone can be at the top of the totem pole at these schools so the competition to get into the same colleges becomes fierce with students separating themselves with the smallest nuances. Remember that no college wants to admit multiple students from any given high school, especially when they are pulling applicants from all over the world.

In an effort to avoid these schools and give their children the best chance of “standing out”, parents often move their kids to less competitive schools. The belief there is that their kids will have the opportunity to rise to the top of the class and thereby prove to colleges that they are the best applicants from that given high school. But these schools may offer fewer accelerated courses, fewer extracurricular opportunities, and fewer resources dedicated to working with students. The reality is also that kids often perform at the same level regardless of high school, meaning that students that are going to settle into the middle of the pack will do so at the highly competitive and less competitive high schools. In that case, better to be at the highly competitive school. Also, not all students are comfortable stretching beyond the boundaries of what their schools offer and then will only take advantage of what is easily accessible.

All this simply means that all high schools are not created equal. If you are a senior struggling to make sense of your admissions offers, it is likely that your school played one role in the process. But if you are student that excelled at a highly competitive school but you feel that you fell shy of your college dreams, remember that you have learned a set of skills that will benefit you throughout life. If you are a student that feels that a lack of opportunities at your school prevented you from reaching your goals, take this lesson to heart and remember that you are not limited by what is in front of you directly. Learn to take initiative and make opportunities for yourself. So yes, your school is one factor in a long list of factors that impact your admissions.

]]>How do you know which points satisfy the equation? There’s only one way to find out. Plug it in! Let’s see if the point (0,0) is on the graph of y=2x+1.

y = 2x+1

0 ? 2(0) + 1

0 ? 0 + 1

0 ? 1

Since 0 doesn’t equal 1, then (0,0) is not on the graph. Now we’re getting somewhere! But we can’t check all the points that way. There’s not enough time to check infinitely many points! We have to find an easier way to draw graphs of these things.

If your graph looks like this, y=2x+1, then it’s in the slope-intercept form (or sometimes called the y-intercept form) and it’s super easy to graph. First, we take the +1 and plot it on the y-intercept.

Then, take the 2, which is the coefficient of x, and write it as 2/1. That’s our slope! Remember, slope is rise over run. To plot the slope, start at the y-intercept (0,1) then rise 2 and run 1. The point you land on is the next point on the graph.

Now you just need to draw a line between the two points!

For more help understanding graphs of linear equations in two variables, check out Brightstorm Algebra.

]]>It’s a silly question, but let’s be honest with ourselves. When’s the last time you heard someone say “whom”? Exactly, it’s not really part of our everyday speech. Unless you’ve written or read a cover letter recently (i.e. To Whom It May Concern), chances are you’re not exposed enough to the word to know how to use it correctly.

However, just because you don’t hear “whom” very often among friends and family doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a place in written English. In fact, “whom” serves a very specific purpose when writing and, contrary to popular belief, it’s actually pretty easy to use.

**Who** = The person who is doing something

**Whom** = The person who is having something done to them

**For example:** “John dumped water on Steve’s head.”

Who dumped water on Steve’s head? John

On whom did John dump water? Steve

However, an easier way to remember this is with **he/him**. If you can use “he” in the sentence then you can use “who.” Likewise, if you can use “him” in the sentence then you want to use “whom.”

**He = Who**

**For example:** “Who/Whom called you yesterday?”

“Him called you yesterday.” No, that sounds wrong.

“He called you yesterday.” Yup, that sounds good.

Therefore you want to say “**Who called you yesterday?”**

**Him = Whom**

**For example:** “To Who/Whom did you give your books?”

“I gave my books to he.” No, that doesn’t right.

“I gave my books to him.” Yes, this is correct.

Therefore you want to say “**To whom did you give your books?**”

You can probably get by the rest of your life without ever using “whom” and no one will ever be the wiser. However, if you know how to use it correctly, it’s an easy way to score bonus points with teachers and other people who may read your writing. Hope this helps!

]]>I’ve got some sad news for you… it doesn’t end, not really. But there is a secret to solving systems of nonlinear equations. If you can solve a system of linear equations using substitution, and if you know how to use the quadratic formula, you’re golden. Here’s how to combine those two techniques you’ve (hopefully) mastered already.

Say this is your system:

We know *y*=*x*+3, so we can substitute this value for y into the first equation to solve for *x*. Like this:

This is a quadratic equation that we can solve using the quadratic formula. We end up with

(try it yourself if you don’t believe me. geez.)

Then we use these values of *x* in *y*=*x*+3 to get our *y* values. Like this:

So the solutions to this system of equations are the ordered pairs

You’ll notice that unlike linear systems, there is more than one solution. Which makes sense, if you think about the graphs of these equations… one is a parabola, and one is a line, so the graphs intersect can at two points… check it:

So next time you have to solve a nonlinear system, don’t freak out. Just remember that you actually already know how to solve nonlinear systems… substitute and use the quadratic formula. NBD.

]]>Why is admissions unfair? Because it is. Let me clarify, from your perspective, the admissions process is incredibly unfair. You have worked your butt off for the last four years, taken the hardest classes, struggled through standardized tests, driven yourself crazy trying to manage the insane extracurricular calendar that you built for yourself, and put your heart and soul into your college application all for what? To get a denial from the school you had your heart set on. You did everything you could have to get into the schools on your list, but unfortunately the college admissions process is not the pure meritocracy that you would hope that it is.

Your perspective is narrow in comparison to that of the admissions officers. You see what others in your school or community are doing or have done to get into college. You compare yourself to the relatively small pool of applicants that you have visible access to. But that pool of applicants is somewhat homogenous. So while you might be the standout applicant from your community, you don’t really know what others are bringing to the table. And unfortunately there are many factors that you simply have no control over.

In many cases, admissions officers are trying to build a well-rounded class of a few thousand students from an applicant pool that could reach into the tens of thousands. In this well-rounded class, they want to pull students with diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, and diverse interests. So in this case there are factors that you cannot control – your cultural and ethnic background, your socioeconomic background, where you live, what opportunities you have access to, which high school you attend (in hindsight), and where your family members went to college. And yes all of these criteria matter to the colleges. They simply do not want to admit thousands of similar students; at the end of the day that will bring down the value of a college education to you as well.

Ultimately, you want to attend a college where you will expand your horizons, get exposure to new ideas, experiences, and people. You want to go to a school that will challenge you and help you to grow intellectually, socially, emotionally, and professionally. And so much of this growth hinges on your peer group – the same peer group that the admissions officers worked so hard to create.

Rather than pout over the fact that you did not get in because of any of these factors, you have to look forward to the options that you do have. Unfortunately, there are factors well out of your control that come into play in college admissions. Every experience that you have had so far in your life has led you to this point in your life. And now you have the power to choose your next step. Remember that to the college where you have been accepted, you are someone that the admissions officers believe will bring incredible value to their campus. They see you as the unique, hard-working, deserving student that you are. So sure, you did not get into some other schools. There are NO guarantees when it comes to admissions, but that is the very reason why you applied to several schools.

In reality there is quite a bit of logic that goes into the decision-making process behind closed doors, despite the fact that admissions seems like an incredibly unfair or luck driven process. At the end of the day, what matters to you is where did you get in. That is where you need to focus.

]]>Here’s an easier way of thinking about that: If you draw all the points that are the same distance (*r*) around one central point (*O*), eventually you’ll get a circle!

The cool thing about circles is that there’s really only one kind of circle. There might be differences in the length of the radii (plural for radiuses), but all circles will have the same **circumference** *C*=2π*r* and **area** A=π*r *(Tip: Circumference is the perimeter of a circle).

Read part 2 of this series for help with right triangles and how to use the Pythagorean Theorem and Pythagorean Triples. For additional help, check out Brightstorm Geometry.

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