Nikki is a New York-based writer and tutor with Varsity Tutors, specializing in the Verbal and Writing Sections of the SAT. Before moving to New York, Nikki earned her M.F.A from Brown University as well as a B.A. in History, Psychology and Theater and Performance Studies from Georgetown University, for which she won a Tropaia Award for Academic and Artistic Excellence. She is a published poet and former Assistant Editor of The Georgetown Independent. She is also a professional Actor and teaches Voice and Speech, International Phonetic Alphabet, and dialects. In her spare time, she enjoys chocolate, travel, classic movies and playing, singing and writing songs with the folk-rock band 3pile.
When was the last time you read a book that had nothing to do with class? Was it a romance novel? A dystopian fantasy? A celebrity memoir? Did you lazily breeze through it on a beach or flip through it in a bookstore?
My next question might seem totally unrelated, but I promise, it’s not. What are the biggest challenges of the Verbal and Writing Sections of the SAT?
In my experience tutoring the SAT, students struggle most with grammar, vocabulary, and even with brainstorming examples for their essay. We work together to find strategies so that they can figure out the meanings of those unknown words, outline their essays and check the structure of a sentence for grammatical correctness. But there is another study strategy that most students simply don’t think about and it’s much more fun than making flashcards for common prefixes and suffixes: reading.
Now, when I say “reading”, I sadly do not mean reading a Buzzfeed article about Taylor Swift’s love life or Chelsea Handler’s latest memoir. As much as I enjoy reading Buzzfied and as much as I would argue that reading anything expands your vocabulary, I would also argue that there is more direct benefit to be had from reading that challenges you—reading that includes more words you’ve never heard before, more complex sentence structure and more complex human stories and situations. And what kind of reading has all three of these?
Yes, I am talking about The Classics. Maybe you’re thinking, “Ugh, I already read enough of those for class.” I totally understand how you feel. Often analyzing a book for weeks at a time is enough to make you want to swear off “The Classics” for life—even if the book is as famous as The Great Gatsby and the author is as legendary as F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But that is amazing thing about extra-curricular reading: it’s extracurricular. That means you choose the book and you choose how you read it. Want to whiz through Crime and Punishment in three days? Go for it. Do you want to take a leisurely month to finish Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility or take a break in the middle of Dumas’s revenge epic The Count of Monte Cristo? It’s up to you. You can choose whether you prefer a gripping short story like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat or a Downton Abbey-style drama like Brideshead Revisited. Do you want to read something contemporary and accessible? Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is an American Classic with direct, incredibly modern language but it will still challenge you with new vocabulary and still give you impressive source material for examples on an SAT Writing exam.
So if you are serious about improving your Verbal and Writing scores on the SAT or if you simply want to become a better writer and reader, pick up a book that challenges you. Check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble and your local library for inspiration, do research online about great books that people love, read reviews and check ratings. But do not get side-tracked into internet traps like endless, aimless youtube rambles or obsessively checking facebook, twitter and instragram. Just for a while, whether it’s all day or for twenty minutes, pick up a book and read. It will make all the difference.