Dear Students, Families, and Educators,

Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring is proud to announce the publication of The New SAT Handbook, a brand-new SAT prep guide co-written by our very own Joy Givens and Andy Cole!

The New SAT Handbook is a compact, academically rooted supplement to your college prep studies. It's full of great things:

 - descriptions of the content and organization of the new test 
 - proven strategies for the types of questions you'll see on the test
 - detailed explanations of underlying academic concepts
 - math content review that will remain useful long after test day
 - new approaches to reading and writing that will strengthen your skills
 - and even a few dashes of humor to help you keep moving while you study!

We hope this guide will reach a whole lot of students and help them to succeed on the SAT and beyond. Please follow this link to check out this new book, share the information with family and friends, and pick up a copy for your favorite high school student. Thank you for your interest and support!

Best wishes,

Joy Givens
Founder and Lead Tutor, Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring

The New SAT Handbook - Preview version available!

Hello, students and parents!

We're delighted to share the news that the preview version of our proprietary textbook for the new SAT test (which will be administered beginning in March 2016) is available NOW at  It's a helpful and detailed sneak peek into The New SAT Handbook: A Tutor-Tested Review of the Skills and Strategies You'll Need for Test Day and Beyond.

Andrew Cole and I have been hard at work this year developing this book as a new kind of study guide, one that emphasizes underlying skills and academic content. Please check it out by following the link above (it's FREE for download every Tuesday until the end of the year). The full version of The New SAT Handbook will be available in paperback and e-book formats in January 2016. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to write us at We appreciate your feedback!

Best of luck with your test preparation, and Happy Holidays!

Joy Givens

New Subjects and Tutors, Summer 2015

Happy Summer from Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring! I know some of you still have a few days of school left, but I hope your summer is off to a pleasant start in this beautiful weather. And a big congratulations to all our graduating seniors!

I'm posting to share the most recent additions to our tutoring roster. In the next couple of weeks I'll be adding an expanded "About Us" page that includes bios for each of our fantastic tutors. In the meantime, though, here are the vital facts about two new members of the GAP Tutoring team:

Dave Gau, an experienced tutor and PhD candidate in biological engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, is now offering lessons and academic support in biology, chemistry, pre-calculus, and calculus (high school and college levels). 

Christy Ruhe, a seasoned teacher and tutor who holds a Master of Education from Duquesne University, is currently offering lessons and academic support in biology, English, and history. In Fall 2015 Christy will be joining our SAT Prep team as well!

I'm very excited to welcome Dave and Christy to our tutoring team! If you are interested in arranging summer tutoring in these or other subjects, please call or email to schedule a free consultation. Thank you as always for your business -- best wishes for a great summer!


The Changes to the SAT: A Tutor's Take on the New Test

Following the College Board's surprise announcement last week that sweeping changes will be introduced to the SAT in the next two years, I have been asked by several students and their parents what I think of the revisions to the test. I wanted to respond to these changes in as measured and specific a way as possible, so here is a discussion of what the changes are, what they mean, and what I as a tutor think of them. Please feel free to add to the discussion with your own opinions and questions in the comments section!

First of all, here's a list of the major changes to the SAT that will be introduced in Spring 2016:

  1. The SAT's scoring scale will be reduced back to 1600 - 800 points for Math and 800 points for Reading/Writing (these were previously two sections of 800 points each).
  2. The required 25-minute persuasive essay will be replaced by an optional 50-minute analytical essay, scored separately from the rest of the test.
  3. The SAT's length will be reduced from 225 to 180 minutes (not counting the optional essay).
  4. The 1/4-point wrong answer penalty will be eliminated from the scoring system.
  5. The Math section, previously spread across many topics, will chiefly focus upon algebra and data analysis.
  6. The Verbal section will eliminate "obscure" vocabulary and focus upon words that students will be more likely to use in college (examples provided include "synthesis" and "empirical").

Let's evaluate these changes one by one:
  1. The Scoring Scale - I think the return to a 1600-point scale is a good choice. The 2400 was confusing to many and was never universally accepted by colleges and universities; some schools still base their admissions upon the 1600 points possible between Math and Critical Reading, disregarding the Writing section entirely. This return to the original scoring system corrects for that without ditching the revising and editing skills tested by the current Writing section. 
  2. The New Essay - An analytical essay? YES! 50 minutes? YES! Optional? NO! I am fully in favor of changing the essay into a more useful demonstration of students' abilities and college readiness. An essay that analyzes a document's validity and arguments is an effective way to assess the writing skills students will actually need in college, and providing a greater length of time to complete the work will simply mean higher quality (though high-school-me is definitely whining at the thought of it). However, making the essay optional sends a wrong-headed message, in my opinion. It tells students that their analytical and composition skills are secondary -- that the really important stuff is the required stuff.
  3. Reduced Duration - This is a good call, and I'd say it could be even shorter. The current SAT is long, and this provides an advantage (some would say an unfair one - I'd say an unnecessary one) to students who have prepared with practice tests and thus have better test-taking stamina than their peers. I'm guessing the 180 minutes will be divided equally into 90 minutes each of Math and Verbal. I would suggest cutting that to 70 minutes each and making the Essay compulsory.
  4. Eliminating the Wrong-Answer Penalty - I'm split on this, because I've seen it both ways. Some students who have been taught to "never leave an answer blank" miss questions that they have no idea how to solve, which harms their scores. On the other hand, some students who are afraid of getting questions wrong and damaging their scores omit questions even when they are capable of solving them. On the other hand, I see the value in discouraging random guessing, because the SAT is a critical reasoning test as well as a content test. Overall, this seems to be a wise decision and one that has worked just fine for the ACT.
  5. Narrowing the Math Section - Not cool, SAT. How am I supposed to know when Train A arrives now? In all seriousness, though, I think this change is a well meaning mistake. The SAT currently tests over a dozen math concepts: algebra, number properties, geometry, data analysis, statistics, probability, sets, sequences, ratios and rates, factors and multiples, logic, and that's just off the top of my head! Though many of these concepts could be considered obscure or inapplicable to college and everyday life, the breadth of the SAT should reflect the variety of strengths and skills students exhibit. Everyone has a weakness in the Math section, but in my opinion the variety of concepts serves as an equalizer, not a detriment.
  6. Narrowing Vocabulary - This is by far the change that irks me the most. Encouraging students to engage as deeply and broadly as possible in the profusion of SAT vocabulary (even esoteric vocabulary) provides a lifelong benefit, and tailoring the chosen words to be tested to only the "useful" ones risks devaluing the richness of our language to its next generation of scholars. Susannah Barton Tobin of the Boston Globe describes this risk of linguistic poverty well, saying: "Clarity of expression has never benefited from a narrow vocabulary; indeed, a wide-ranging vocabulary is essential for precise, evocative prose. When students struggle with writing, they often complain that they can't find the 'right' word. A mind full of such words, gathered through, yes, memorization and, in close concert, reading, is an infinite resource."

Overall, the SAT is a living test. Its structure and content should reflect the academic zeitgeist of the present, and I think the College Board has largely made these changes to the SAT with that in mind.

And of course, the quality of the tutoring that we provide will not change as a result of this "new" SAT. We will continue to emphasize the core academic content underlying each part of the test, skills that will remain useful long after you turn in your test grid: effective critical reading; a variety of mathematical concepts; the structure of an effective academic argument; rules of standard English grammar, style, and syntax; and the cultivation of a vocabulary worthy of a scholar, not just a successful test-taker. Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring is so named not just because we provide tutoring for high school classes and standardized tests alike, and not just because it makes for a nice acronym (after all, "GPA" Tutoring would work just as well as "GAP"), but also because it underlines our commitment to academics above all.

Whether you're a student taking the SAT this year, a parent looking for answers about the test, or a future test-taker wondering what to expect, please feel free to join in this discussion in the comments section below. Best of luck with all your academic adventures!

Joy Givens
founder & lead tutor

Who's Interested in FREE SAT Prep?

Happy New Year from GAP Tutoring!

I hope 2014 brings success and happiness to each of you. If you're checking out this site, maybe your resolution is a higher score on the SAT or another test. Good for you! Goal setting is an important part of any academic achievement. Figure out your target score or grade, then make a strategic plan to get yourself there. If you're not sure where to start, Givens Academic and Preparatory Tutoring can help!

For anyone planning to take the SAT in the near future, here's a great opportunity to get some FREE preparation for the test. Consider being a beta reader for my new book, The Busy Student's Guide to the SAT (working title). This book will consist of self-guided lessons to prepare for the topics you will face on the SAT, each designed to be completed in no more than 30 minutes. The book will also be indexed by topic, so that if you're short on time you can focus on areas where you stand to gain the most points.

I have seen firsthand how stuffed the schedules of high school students can be--with sports, clubs, student government, music, community service, and other extra-curricular activities--and those are all in addition to your regularly scheduled school days. I admire your dedication and time management, and that's why I'm designing a study book especially for students like you.

The book will be in development for the next several months. I am looking for up to 15 beta readers who: are high school students, participate regularly in at least two extra-curricular activities, speak English fluently, and have at least a 3.0 GPA. If you volunteer to be a beta reader, you can expect to receive an email every week, beginning at the end of January, containing a free 30-minute self-guided lesson from the book and a brief feedback form (again, I know how busy you are!).

Beta readers also will be individually credited in the book's acknowledgements section AND receive a complimentary paperback copy of the finished book upon publication!

If you are interested in being a beta reader for The Busy Student's Guide to the SAT, please email by January 25. Thanks for your help, and best wishes for the rest of the school year!

Joy Givens
Founder, Givens Academic & Preparatory Tutoring

Qs-and-As Thursday: SAT Sentence Completions

Good afternoon! Today is our last post of the summer review series, and we are going to look at three practice SAT Sentence Completion questions in the Critical Reading section. These can be solved efficiently by employing the G.P.S method we discussed back in June. Here’s a quick refresher:

G – Get indicators from the sentence regarding context, word charge, etc. In order to avoid being swayed by tricky wrong answer choices, do this before looking at the possible answers!
P – Predict a word (it doesn’t need to be an SAT-caliber word) to fill in the blank.
S – Select the answer choice that best matches your prediction.

Let’s practice this strategy on a straightforward question first!


The society’s initiation rites are ___________ in mystery; strict secrecy veils everything but the red envelopes sent to its prospective members.
A.    shrouded
B.     elated
C.     blended
D.    revealed
E.     demonstrated

All right, let’s use the G.P.S. strategy to choose the right answer for this question:

Get indicators: Phrases like “in mystery” and “strict secrecy veils everything” tell us that the society’s initiation rites are kept secret.

Predict a word: Keeping something secret could translate to covered up or hidden.

Select the best match: What answer choice is the closest to “covered?” A. Shrouded!

That’s all there is to it! Now let’s practice the G.P.S. method on a more complex Sentence Completion question.


Although Harry was often ________________ by the way his surly professor treated him, he couldn’t help but feel _________________ upon the man’s untimely demise.
A.    pleased … frustrated
B.     incensed … thrilled
C.     infuriated … saddened
D.    disgusted … shattered
E.     depressed … ambiguous

Two-blank Sentence Completions actually often can be easier than one-blank questions, because you have more clues to use in the sentence and twice as many chances to recognize answer words that don’t work. Ready to use the G.P.S. strategy again?

Get indicators: Start with the “Although.” The structure of the sentence tips us off that there is a contrast between the first thought and the second (though it is key to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the blanks will contrast). Next, look to textual clues. The “surly [gruff or rude] professor” treated Harry in a certain way, but the professor’s death still made Harry feel an emotion.

Predict a word: For the first blank, consider the way a rude professor would treat a student: Harry might feel angered or frustrated. For the second, predict a word one feels when receiving sad news, such as upset, or even just sad.

Select the best match: Answer A can be immediately eliminated because of the positive meaning of its first word. Now consider the second blanks; B. thrilled and E. ambiguous can be eliminated. Between C and D, which seems like the slam-dunk answer? Disgusted and shattered seem too extreme or powerful for the sentence, while infuriated and saddened fit perfectly. C it is!

No worries! Ready for an eeeevil question?


The concluding episode of the reality series was so uncharacteristically ____________ that even the most devoted fans ___________ it.
A.    venerable … renounced
B.     abysmal … esteemed
C.     anomalous … repudiated
D.    underwhelming … disavowed
E.     repugnant … flouted

Yikes, vocabulary! Sometimes a Sentence Completion gets so mired in words you’ve never heard that the answer might as well be written in Ancient Greek. What do you do with a question like this?

Rely on your trusty G.P.S., of course!

Get indicators: This sentence has a cause-and-effect setup, which is common to the SAT; subject one was so something that subject two happened. There’s also a contrast: even the most devoted fans thought something about the last episode of the show.

Predict a word: You may want to start with the second blank on a question, and that’s fine. We can use the contrast in the second part of the sentence to predict that one first. “Even the most devoted fans” didn’t like the last episode. And, returning to the first blank, why wouldn’t devoted fans like an episode of the series? Because it was uncharacteristically bad or disappointing.

Select the best match: Answers A and C can be eliminated because the meanings of their first words do not fit (“venerable” means “respected,” and “anomalous” is redundant following “uncharacteristically”). Now consider the second blanks; if you don’t know what “esteemed,” “disavowed,” or “flouted” means, taking a guess on this question is still a smart choice, since it’s one-in-three odds that you’ll choose correctly.
You might be able to eliminate “esteemed” (which means “respected”) or “flouted” (meaning “ignored”), but you definitely cannot eliminate “disavowed,” which means “renounced.” And “underwhelming” is synonymous with “disappointing,” so D. underwhelming… disavowed is the correct answer!

Huzzah! You’ve conquered an evil SAT Sentence Completion question!

This is the last Summer SAT Review post of the year from GAP Tutoring. All of the posts are available and searchable on this site in case you would like to review them before taking the test. Thanks so much for reading!

Have a great Labor Day weekend and a fantastic school year!

Wordy Wednesday: Clus-/Clud-, Term-/Termina-

(All definitions provided in this post are adapted from

It’s time for the final Wordy Wednesday post of the summer! As we have mentioned, the SAT is full of challenging words. And there are millions of words in the English language; learning one word at a time is not an efficient way to spend your valuable study hours. Instead, here’s a more efficient use of your study time. Get back to your roots!

By learning the meaning of a word root, you can transfer that knowledge to any word including that root. Learning a single word root can unlock dozens of words on the SAT for you!

So let’s get to today’s two common word roots, complete with sample words, definitions, and example uses. We are reviewing two pairs of common but similar-sounding roots to clarify the differences in their meanings and uses. Learning word roots, especially easily confused roots like these, will help you to recognize and successfully dissect difficult vocabulary on the SAT.
Clus-/Clud-: Close / End (Latin)

Conclusion – n. the end or final part
Logan had gotten so engrossed in the dramatic novel that his pulse raced as he reached the unexpected conclusion in the last chapter.

Exclusive – adj. closed off to others; limited
The Unicorns were the most exclusive club in school; only three girls had been invited to join in the past year.

Seclude – v. to isolate or close off
The cabin had been purposely built within a grove of mature pine trees to seclude it from the road and neighbors.

Term-/Termina-: End / Limit (Latin)

Terminal – n. an end or extremity of a structure; a station on a line of transit
I told Jim I would meet him at the airport terminal after my flight landed.

Determinate – adj. conclusive; final
The medical examiner was unable to give a determinate cause of death for the victim.

Exterminate – v. to completely destroy or bring an end to [something]
After Sarah saw another spider in the shower, she insisted that the landlord call a service to exterminate any pests in the apartment.

That’s our CONCLUDING, TERMINAL Wordy Wednesday post! Tomorrow is the final Qs-and-As Thursday of the Summer SAT Review Series. Stop by to review some practice SAT questions and detailed answer explanations!