Friday, February 23, 2018

This is what your student-athlete needs to do junior year!

Click on this link from the Learning Illumination Center, a nonprofit dedicated "to educate and elevate student-athletes to become future leaders by offering learning opportunities for them and the adults in their lives."

High School Juniors:  It's Time to Prepare!

(It's the third article down.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ms. Cindy's ACT Math Book

It's here!  I've finished my ACT math book!  I wrote this one because I wasn't completely happy with the other books out there.

This book is designed for students who are currently scoring in the 20's who would like to score in the high 20's or low 30's.  (If you want to score a 36 you might still find this book helpful.)  It includes over 80 worked examples and over 250 exercises with explained answers.  Calculator advice is included throughout the book instead of being tacked on at the end (or missing altogether.)

The book opens with test-taking advice, and there are targeted exercises so you can practice what I preach.  The answer explanations throughout the book will alert you to test-taking strategies you could have used.  Last, but not least, there is solid advice on which question types you will want to skip if you know you can't finish and how to recognize them when you see them, as well as advice on how to eliminate answer choices to increase your odds if you have to "guess."

If you think you want a copy, you can order it here: (Note that the link might not show up if you're using ad block.)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Which calculator should you use on your SAT or ACT?

Until 1994 you couldn’t use a calculator on the SAT.  The test was designed to be taken without a calculator and top students have made it a point to take the test without one.  That will change in March of 2016.  With the addition of precalculus problems, a scientific calculator will become necessary so that the test-taker can find the Arctangent of 3.2 or the natural log of 17.  This has been true for the ACT for years.

Which calculator will serve you best on your college entrance exam?  If you are a top math student, you probably already own a scientific calculator.  As long as your calculator will find sines,  cosines and their inverses, as well as logarthms and natural logarithms, you should be fine.  Don’t try out a new brand of calculator on the test.  Use the one you are familiar with.

Using a familiar calculator is even more important if you are not a top math student.  However, if you have plenty of time before your test, it might be worth your while to get familiar with a better calculator.  It might even be to your advantage to take more than one.

Texas Instruments has had a near monopoly on the school calculator market with their TI-83, TI-84, and TI-NSpire calculators.  (Note that the TI-NSpire CAS model is not approved for the test.) Most schools have classroom sets of one of these models and some require all students in certain math classes to rent or purchase one of these calculators.  While these are versatile little machines, they aren’t as efficient for certain functions.  If you struggle to finish in time, you might want to supplement with a different model.


A student recently introduced me to the CASIO fx-991ES.  I was impressed by how intuitive it was to use.  It takes fewer key-strokes to use certain key functions, and there are fewer instances in which you have to remember which menu to use.  Its only drawback is that it is not a graphing calculator.  However, at under $20, it is an affordable addition to your test-taking arsenal.

You can order one here:


Sunday, January 28, 2018

What SAT/ACT prep books are still on my shelf? (ACT edition)

With the transition to the “new” SAT and the somewhat less comprehensive changes to the ACT, my prep resources have undergone a change.  Some books have been culled out or replaced with updated editions, and several new titles have been added.  This is the ACT edition.  Click here for the SAT edition.

Here are the winners:

For ACT English:

The Complete Guide to ACT English, Second Edition by Erica Meltzer



This is one of the most-used books on my shelf.  Sometimes I even use it for SAT students who need punctuation help.

For ACT math:

Ms. Cindy's ACT Math Book by Cynthia Hemminger


Full disclosure:  I wrote this one.  If you buy it I'll get a little money.  (I'm hoping to recoup my costs; I doubt any of the authors on this page are getting rich off of this.)  This book suits my tutoring style, and I will have many of my students buy it.  However, if you are scoring in the 30's already and you really want that 36, you might want a book with more problems and less explanation, such as the following:

The College Panda ACT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook by Nielson Phu



This book has a LOT of practice problems.  It is fairly comprehensive.  It is the first book off the shelf after mine.

I also pull in problems from my SAT math section.

For ACT Reading:

I’m still looking!  If you have any suggestions, let me know!

ACT Science:

For the Love of ACT Science by Michael Cerro



Is there another ACT Science book?  Not that I know of.  I quite like this one, but I would love to see it expanded.

The “losers”:

Top 50 Skills for a Top Score by Brian Leaf

I used this one for certain students back in the day, but the test has changed over the past several years, and this book hasn’t.

For the Love of ACT Math by Private Prep

This book has a lot going for it, but it doesn’t suit my style.  It looks like it would be really good for someone who needs work in all or most areas of math and who has a lot of time to prep before the test.  It was really designed for you to start at the beginning and march your way through.  It has a LOT of problems, but they aren’t organized in a way that would work for someone trying to take an a la carte approach.  You would also need a high tolerance for “dad jokes” and the ability/willingness to go online for the answer explanations.   I will include a link to order this one in case it sounds like a good match for you.



Manhattan Prep 5 lb Book of ACT Practice Problems

Once I discovered this book, I used it heavily for about a year.  Then the test emphases shifted, but the book hasn’t been updated.  Now it’s gathering dust.  It’s still on my shelf mainly because it’s the right size and heft to keep the other books from flopping over.  I should just find a nice-looking bookend instead.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

What SAT/ACT prep books are still on my shelf? (SAT edition)

With the transition to the “new” SAT and the somewhat less comprehensive changes to the ACT, my prep resources have undergone a change.  Some books have been culled out or replaced with updated editions, and several new titles have been added.  This is the SAT edition.  Click here for the ACT edition.

Here are the winners:

For the overall test:

The Official SAT Study Guide, 2018 edition



The only parts I ever use are the practice tests.  These are available for free online, but you would need to print them out.  Depending on your printer, it might be cheaper to buy the book.  This was not true of last year’s book, which only contained 4 tests.

For SAT reading comprehension:

The Complete Guide to SAT Reading, Third Edition by Erica Meltzer



This book, which anchored my SAT shelf in the “olden days”, has been completely overhauled for the revised SAT.  It’s really all you need.

For SAT writing and language:

The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, Fourth Edition by Erica Meltzer



Again, this guide was a staple prior to the SAT overhaul.  Ms. Meltzer was proactive in getting an overhauled guide to the test-prep community as quickly as possible.  That haste meant that there were a number of errors.  With this edition, those problems have been dealt with.  I do supplement with the ACT version (see below) for some students.

For SAT Math:

I really haven’t settled on just one.  Which book I recommend varies from student to student, and, while I generally have students acquire just one, a given students will end up using most of these while working with me, even if it’s just one set of exercises.

Kaplan’s Math Workbook for the New SAT



This is the one I use with students who are currently scoring less than 600 on an SAT or PSAT.  I like the way it starts off with linear equations and systems, and I like the way it divides the problems into easy, medium and hard so that we can work on the problems that will appear at the beginning of the test and avoid frustrating the student with those end-of-test problems that he or she will likely guess on anyway.

The College Panda SAT Math: Advanced Guide and Workbook by Nielson Phu



This book is first off the shelf for students who are already scoring 600+ and would like to score 700+.  It has a TON of problems in it, and I really like the treatment of probability and statistics which is one of the main areas those students need to concentrate on.

PWN the SAT Math Guide, Fourth Edition by Mike McClenathan



A previous edition anchored my SAT math section prior to the SAT revision.  Mr. McClenathan  helpfully published this quickly, but subsequent released tests have added some insight that indicates this book is a little off-the-mark.  I’m hoping for an update soon.  It is designed for students who have always done really well in math class, and are then surprised and disappointed by a less-than-stellar math SAT score.  As I tell my students, the problems go from zero to sixty in under 6 seconds.  There’s not a lot of easy or medium practice in there.

A Guide to the Math SAT by Richard Corn



There are some excellent problems in here, but I don’t pull it out quite as often because the book is weakest in the areas in which my students need the most help.   That wouldn’t necessarily be true for everyone, though – my students tend to be clustered at a handful of schools, so they share a lot of characteristics.

The losers:

Top 50 Skills for a Top Score by Brian Leaf

I used this one for certain students back in the day, but the updated version for the new SAT just doesn’t cut it.

Dr. John Chung’s New SAT Math, 2016

The bulk of this book is 10 complete practice tests.  Back when this book came out, we only had 4 official practice tests and extras were appreciated even if they weren’t quite as good as the official tests.  Now that we have more official tests, I don’t use this anymore.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

VIP Kids

Say hello to guest blogger DeAnna Ranheim who is here to talk about VIPKIDS:

I get to travel to China every morning and visit adorable and eager Chinese students from the comfort of my own home! And if that isn’t exciting enough… I get paid to do it!

My name is DeAnna Ranheim and I am the mother of two adopted kids. My son, Brennan, was adopted from S. Korea when he was four months old and my daughter, Katelyn, was adopted from China when she was four years old. It’s been a wonderful journey and I love talking about both of my adoption stories which were such different experiences. What they both had in common, though, was the expenses that went with adoption.

I wanted to share this amazing opportunity for anyone that would like to make extra money. I made over $900.00 in July while I was on vacation! I was finished working by 8:30 AM each morning and had the entire day left to play in the sun! The best part is that you make your own schedule and work as little or as much as you’d like.

The company I work for is called VIPKIDS and I’ve been working for them since March of 2017. I love this company and I love the kids I get to teach each morning. Each class is only 25 minutes long and the teaching material is provided for every lesson! It’s so easy and so much fun! I only teach one student at a time and have several regular students that I see each week! It’s been so much fun watching their English skills improve and getting to know them more and more!



VIPKID is exploding in China and has over 200,000 students!: VIPKID was recently voted number 5 on Forbes Top 100 Companies Offering Remote Jobs List. As the company grows, they are hiring more teachers, but also raising the bar. They are looking for people with one year teaching experience (although a teaching degree is not required). You also need to be a native English speaker (no accent) and have a bachelor’s degree. In order to teach, you’ll need headphones with an attached microphone and some props (toy letters and DIY finger puppets are my favorite). A good computer with a camera and a stable internet connection are obligatory.

The pay rate is anywhere from $9.00 a lesson up to $12 a lesson ($18- $24 an hour). It is such easy money and truly my favorite job I’ve ever had! If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please use my referral link to sign up and then I can add you to my private FB group to answer any questions and help you through the interview process. https://t.vipkid.com.cn/?refereeId=3609168&partnerId=6891010 and my referral code is 025CUO.

Sincerely- DeAnna


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Study Materials Review: The College Panda ACT Math

Ever since a student introduced me to the College Panda SAT math books by Nelson Phu, I’ve kept an eye out for an ACT version.  A couple of weeks ago I spotted it.  I ordered both the ACT Math:  Advanced Guide and Workbook and the ACT Math Workbook:  More Advanced Practice by Topic.  Like the SAT book, the ACT book is light on test strategies.  Any gains you make will be strictly due to improvements in your math capabilities. 

In the first guide, the explanations are clear, but strictly math-based.  There is no mention of calculator use.  Math purists often make it a point to take their college entrance exams without using their calculators, but I rarely see those students.  Most of my students appreciate a word or two on the best use of their calculators.  The answers to the exercises are explained, but the explanations are ….succinct.  Usually, they just walk you through any algebra involved.  There is no mention of ways to avoid the algebra altogether by, say, noticing that the slope of the line must be positive and that there’s only one answer choice that offers that option. 

Most of the time, the primary weakness in an ACT math book is a failure to cover certain topics at all.  This book is better than the competition in this area.  The only topic I couldn’t find – I haven’t read it cover to cover – is vectors.  I will say that the coverage of the miscellaneous topics (matrices, Venn diagrams, sequences and ellipses) is cursory, but it is there.  There is a nice selection of problems at the end of each chapter.

When I ordered the books, I wondered about the title of second one:  Did the “more” mean more practice, or did it mean more advanced?  It means more practice, and I’m not sure whether I’m pleased or disappointed.  The ACT Math Workbook covers the same topics as the Advanced Guide.  The main difference is that the explanations have been left out, so the volume is slimmer – and less expensive.  The problems in each book are different, and, unfortunately, if you wanted to see the full spectrum of problem types for each topic, you would need both books.  However, if you are working with a tutor, you could use the slimmer Math Workbook and count on your tutor to fill in any missing problem types.

Overall, I recommend these books.  Up until now, I have used my own ACT materials with my students,  but I will consider having those students who are comfortable with their calculators purchase the ACT Math Workbook and then supplementing with my own materials.

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If you need to order one – or both – you can do so here: