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Don’t write about this in your admissions essays

2010-05-12 in College Admissions

Every fall I read a few hundred admissions essays, most of which are intended for the admissions officers of the embattled University of California. And every year I think to myself, I wish this person had attended our college admissions workshop. For TestMagic students, it’s a free seminar and most of the time is open to the public as well.

People often ask me what we cover in the workshop, and I often tell people it’s just mostly common-sense advice. For example, plan ahead, choose your schools carefully, spend time on your essays, etc. To me, perhaps because I’ve been doing this for so long, this all seems fairly self-evident, not just for admissions season, and not just for all things academic, but for life as well: Think ahead. Be earnest. Be intelligent. Put your heart into it.

I’ve compiled a good list of dos and don’ts of applying to college, many or most or all of which I will try to share here.

Here’s one of them:

Tip #217: Don’t talk about SAT prep

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SAT Vocab: comprehensive

2010-05-11 in English, Grammar, Vocabulary


Part of Speech: adj

Pronunciations: kom-pree-HEN-siv IPA: /kɒm.prɪ.ˈhɛn.sɪv/

Definition: including all or a great amount, especially as related to knowledge or learning (Ex: a comprehensive analysis).

In timed essays, such as the 25-minute essay on the SAT, students aren’t expected to write comprehensive treatises on the subjects they choose; on the contrary, they are expected to come up with only a handful of good ideas and explain them.

Most common mistake: In class, when this word comes up, a LOT of students say that they think this word means understandable. It doesn’t. Be careful!

See the word in an SAT sample question: Solve this sample sentence completion question:

heard vs. heard of

2010-05-02 in English, Grammar, Vocabulary

Here’s a common exchange in class at TestMagic:

  • Ray, do you know what ironic means?
  • ironic? No… But I’ve heard of it.

I’ll confess that the first few times I heard this usage, I imagined a group of people standing around discussing the word ironic: “Hey, Jessie, how about that new word today in class?” “Yeah, that was pretty unexpected. Like when the teacher wrote it up on the board, it looked like iron. I TOTALLY thought the teacher was going to write iron. But then right when the teacher should’ve stopped, he just kept going!” “Yeah! With an i and a c!” “Yeah, that was hecka tight!” “By the way, did you get the definition?” “Definition?? No, I was too busy trying to make anagrams with it.” “Cool word, though, huh?” “Yeah, cool word. It’ll be cool to use it in speech one day.”

Sort of an absurd conversation, right? Well, absurd if you know that the participants are discussing a word. It sounds like they’re discussing… a person, right? Right.

So, here’s the rule: Read the rest of this entry →

SAT Vocab: ironic

2010-05-02 in English, Grammar, Vocabulary

SAT vocab: What does “ironic” mean?

Definition: contrary in a poignant, improbable, and often humorous way to what might have been expected (Ex: it was ironic that the fitness expert died at a young age of a heart attack).

(N.B. There are many other definitions of ironic; I want to focus on this one only for this entry.)

Part of Speech: adj

Pronunciations: eye-RON-ick
or, if you prefer the IPA: /aɪˈɹɒn.ɪk/

Example: It is ironic that Jim Fixx, largely responsible for popularizing running as a sport, died of a heart attack after his daily run at the relatively young age of 52.

Discussion: ironic is an interesting word for many reasons, including the simple fact that the word irony is used in a wide variety of ways. I think a lot of people cringe when they hear the word irony because they think of dramatic irony and are confused by the term. (Dramatic irony simply refers to a situation in which the audience knows something that one or more of the characters doesn’t. For example, have you ever seen a movie and known who the killer or attacker or whatever was? But the character didn’t? And was having lunch with the killer? That situation uses dramatic irony; the idea is that the suspense is somehow heightened since the viewer feels an urge to act or communicate with the character. Hey! OMG! That’s the killer! Don’t go down that alley with him! (Or her.) If you’ve had that feeling, then you’ve experienced the effect of dramatic irony. :) )

But the word ironic in recent years has commonly come to mean something different, especially in modern American culture. We say, for example, that it’s ironic that a doctor, whose primary objective as a physician is to promote health, should smoke. Or that a person of the cloth should engage in untoward conduct.

In a later entry, I plan to discuss a related word, ironically. And please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions!

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