Our Approach to the SAT & ACT

We specialize in one-on-one tutoring. After taking a diagnostic exam, our tutors, working with the director, focus on each student’s strengths and areas for improvement when developing the individualized initial curriculum. As the student progresses through tutoring, our tutor is continuously evaluating the content and strategies that should be presented to the student. This personalized approach, along with a strong student-tutor relationship help Galin Education students boost their scores on test day.

Our test preparation program asks students to make a substantial commitment. Students are meeting with their tutors one to three times per week for several months (about a semester). In these sessions, tutors review the content on the test, specific strategies for each section, and practice test results. Between sessions, students are asked to complete homework assignments and take practice exams. This rigorous, long-term approach helps students maximize their scores on all sections of the exam. 

In addition to private tutoring sessions, all Galin Education students take multiple practice exams under timed conditions. This is the best way for students to practice new strategies and control their own timing. These tests are graded and analyzed item-by-item to identify areas that have improved and those that need further review. Our tutors “think out loud” with students to further refine strategies and timing. Practice tests are offered in our Madison, WI office multiple times a week.

College Admissions Exams 


The ACT is composed of five sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing. The writing section is optional, but many colleges recommend or require it. The ACT generally tests concepts that were taught in high school. The test is fairly straightforward, but the time limits make it particularly challenging for students.


The SAT is composed of three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. Below we have described the current version of the test as well as our approach to preparation. In 2016, the SAT will have significant changes. Check back soon as we are studying all public information about the new test and revising our curriculum to ensure students are fully prepared for this new version!

The English section tests students ability to analyze text for grammatical and rhetorical correctness. Many students rely on their “ear” to help determine which of four answer choices may be the answer. This, however, leads students to wrong options – the way we speak is not always (and probably most often) proper English. We emphasize the basic rules the ACT is testing, from subject-verb agreement to paragraph organization. The English section is broken down into two major parts: Usage/Mechanics (53% of this section, including punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure) and Rhetorical Skills (47% of this section, including strategy, organization, and style).

The Math section draws upon students’ skills in a variety of high school math subjects. With the volume of math concepts covered, many students need significant review of the basic math topics they learned many years ago. There are also students who have not mastered high school level material that need re-teaching. The Math section is broken down into roughly six content areas: Pre-Algebra (23% of this section), Elementary Algebra (17%), Intermediate Algebra (15%), Coordinate Geometry (15%), Plane Geometry (23%), and Trigonometry (7%) 

Known as the fastest section of the test, the Reading section is mischaracterized as a speed reading test as opposed to a comprehension assessment. Most students think they need to finish every question of a test without regard to how that speed affects his or her ultimate score. We train students to effectively and efficiently read the passages and then spend a lot of time on the questions themselves. Our training helps students determine patterns in question stems and answer choices. Rather than spending precious minutes debating over answer choices, we teach students how to quickly find the correct answer and to quickly eliminate incorrect answers. The Reading section has four passages always presented in the same order: Prose Fiction, Humanities, Social Studies, and Natural Sciences.  And, of course, with three-fourths of the section devoted to non-fiction, we push our students to dedicate time each night to reading articles, newspapers, journals, and magazines that we hand select for them.

The Science section is also misinterpreted by most people. After taking the test, many students realize that they are not really being tested on their “science” knowledge, but, rather, their ability to understand scientific studies presented to them along with the charts and graphs provided. We teach our students the high school level scientific method along with experimental design techniques. We also help students become proficient at reading the various charts and graphs that are presented on the test. This section is broken up into seven passages, in three formats: Data Representation (3 passages / 15 questions = 38% of the section), Research Summaries (3 passages / 18 questions = 45%), and Conflicting Viewpoints (1 passage / 7 questions) 

The optional Writing section is recommended or required by many colleges throughout the country. If students know where they are applying, they can look up each school’s requirements. If not, it is best to take the writing test just in case. A searchable list of college writing requirements can be found here. The writing sample asks students to consider multiple perspectives on a controversial issue in modern society and then take a position. Students are expected to use relevant examples from history, current events and literature to support their position. Past prompts have included topics such as censorship, public health, and the automation of the work force. 

The Critical Reading section has two types of questions: sentence completion and passage-based reading. Comprehension is probably the most important skill that students need for this section. That being said, we coach our students on how to attack the sections and each individual question. We help our students notice patterns in question styles as well as how to identify common incorrect and correct answers. Vocabulary also plays a big role in this section – we immediately start our students on vocabulary study – roots, prefixes, suffixes, and full words. Mastery of vocabulary will help students become more accurate on the sentence completion questions as well as some of vocabulary comprehension questions.

The Math section draws upon students’ skills in a variety of high school math subjects. With the volume of math concepts covered, many students need significant review of the basic math topics they learned many years ago. There are also students who have not mastered high school level material that need re-teaching. The content includes topics from Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. Our tutors work with students to fill in gaps in their math education as well as reviewing concepts that they learned long ago. We also help students recognize the common mistakes students make when they attack the math section. 

The Writing section includes an essay, which is the first task students are asked to do on the SAT, as well as multiple choice questions on sentence improvements, sentence errors, and paragraph improvements. These multiple choice questions ask students to identify grammar and rhetorical errors in addition to making improvements to a written piece’s overall style. We teach students the grammar rules covered on the exam and show them how they are employed in each question. For the essay, we have students practice writing well-rounded, thoughtful essays and give individualized comments and suggestions for how to improve them.