The Manigault Institute

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January - April  2018

Should My Child Prep Early for the SAT or ACT and if so, Why? 
  by Sandra L. Manigault

My experiences as an SAT/ACT instructor and former mathematics teacher (college and high school) have convinced me that many students need to begin prepping earlier than the senior year for these tests. Unlike classroom tests (and quizzes) the SAT and ACT require much higher levels of cognitive ability than remembering facts and skills taught in school courses. Whereas good students frequently can “cram” for ordinary tests, this cannot be done for the SAT or ACT. Here’s why. And here’s what certain “markers” tell us about students.

1) GPA. 
Today many competitive students have a GPA in excess of 4.0. Made possible by the taking of several advanced placement courses, these students often apply to colleges with GPAs unheard of a generation ago. This is due to advance placement courses weighing an A as 5.0 as opposed to 4.0. If a GPA is below 4.0 this does not mean one’s child is necessarily a weaker student, only that he or she has not taken a comparable battery of AP classes. However, these students need to augment their college applications with higher SAT or ACT scores than would be presented without preparation.

2) SAT scores below 1200.
For the SAT a score of 500 (or slightly higher) is the median, with half of the SAT testing pool scoring above and half below this number. To be considerably above “average” and competitive, given the worldwide demand for American colleges, one needs scores preferably close to or in the 600s.

3) Non-readers
Conscientious students do all of their homework assignments. They read whatever is assigned. However, how do they read? Do they read an assignment from start to finish, or do they first read the questions at the end of a chapter, and then scan the chapter to find the answers? This may seem like an expedient way to get one’s homework done. But this process does not train a student to read inferentially or build vocabulary in context. Nor, does it prepare a student to answer the sophisticated questions on the SAT (or ACT). Additionally, observation tells me that superior test takers read for pleasure, devour books for the thrill of it, and if not now, they did at one time. Such students are served on several fronts: comprehension, vocabulary, speed, and tolerance.

4) Math limitations
Is your son or daughter an independent problem solver? Or, must he (or she) be shown first how to do a problem and apply a concept? Independent problem solvers, those willing and able to figure things out on their own, often do well without preparation for the SAT provided they remember the theory and concepts undergirding geometry, algebra one, algebra two, and trigonometry. Because SAT questions are based on specific knowledge, both skills are needed to do well. (ACT questions likewise are based directly on conceptual knowledge from algebra, geometry, and trig courses.)
Does she like word problems? I don’t think the typical student does. But on the new SAT many of the word problems require significantly more reading than on the previous version of the test. Again speed, accuracy, independence of thought, and creativity make the difference.

5) Knowledge of Grammar
This English subtest, which appears on both the SAT and ACT is comprised of several short flawed passages, which must be read, deciphered, edited, and corrected. The problem is that many English courses do not emphasize grammar and syntax. Hence students haven’t a clue as to how to speed through this test. (Students who attend private schools often are at an advantage here, where the curriculum is not SOL driven.)

6) Ease with Writing
The new SAT essay question starts with an essay. This given essay must be read and digested before the student begins to write his own. (Not a nice test question in my opinion.) Students in AP English are better prepared for this question than those who are not. Fortunately, we address this and all of the other required skills in our 39-hour course, which is the beauty of comprehensive preparation.

7) Summary
This obviously is not a test for which one can cram. Nor, is one served by taking a quick “strategies only” course. We do not remediate students. How could we? But we help them refine their skill set, and do our best to ascertain that our students understand and know how to use the critical information they need to do SAT questions.
Why not help your son or daughter by giving them early exposure and seeing to it that they have enough time to master what they need to learn. Early exposure to good SAT (or ACT) preparation also will give them a firmer foundation upon which to build and reinforce the high GPA desired.

One last thing - a college president once told me, “Before his admissions people read a student’s resume, they examined the student’s transcript to verify the numbers.”

Sandra L. Manigault, M.A., is the co-owner of The Manigault Institute, which prepares students for the SAT and ACT. She was a math test editor for the American Council on Education, taught math in NYC, Fairfax County, and is retired from No. VA Comm. College. Sandra is also the author of several books. For more info please call (540) 720-0861 or visit for SAT updates, or to see Sandra’s books.


Our SAT SUMMER INTENSIVE  begins on July 25th.  This course will run on Wednesdays and Saturdays as follows from 8 AM - 2:30 PM: 7/25, 7/28, 8/1, 8/4, 8/8, and 8/11.  This class will cover all aspects of the SAT and prepare students for the August and October SATs.  Our regular fall SAT class will begin on September 22nd and continue for six consecutive Saturdays in preparation for the November SAT.  Both courses will be  taught at 400 Corporate Drive in  Stafford, Virginia.  See our SAT Preparation page for full details.

Sandra Manigault, Author and Educator, will appear in Maryland at the BARR conference on September 14 & 15.  She will be featuring her books including her latest work, VANESSA - a Love Story and its sequel.  For more information please see

SPECIAL PRICING for The  Book for Math Empowerment is available at  Also - The Children's Book for Math Empowerment is available at that site with free shipping.
Both books are designed to avert math anxiety and empower students to do math more easily, effectively, and with less resistance.

                                  ADDITIONAL NEWS UPDATE

Sandra was a guest on The Writer's Haven Show and interviewed by TV host V. Helena to discuss her new novel VANESSA - a Love Story.   Her archived interview may be seen on YouTube at The Writer's Haven Show with V. Helena  (S1 E2).  Sandra was also a guest on "Ingrid's World."  You may see her archived interview from February (Episode 62).


Spring, Summer, Fall  2018

Tips for Parents and Students 
by Sandra and Donald Manigault 


1. Know what kind of exam your child is taking. Is it a paper and pencil test or is it an on-line test?The experience is not the same and will not yield comparable results. Students should not find out the day of the test which style they will be taking. If you have a choice, choose the paper and pencil test. (More information about the differences will be available at our parent orientation.)

2. Make sure your child gets at least 7 - 8 hours of sleep the Friday before the SAT. We have seen too many students take the test on 5 - 6 hours of sleep because they were playing on the football team or in marching band. As parents you can start working collectively to compel your school to stop scheduling football games the night before the SAT. If the NFL can play on Sunday (or Saturday), so can a high school team.  

3. Know how well your child can work without a calculator. On the newly revised SAT there are two math sections. One is done without a calculator and one is done with a calculator. Both are challenging. The first section, done without a calculator, requires that students be able to format their own solutions. Guessing does not work on this test.

4. Make sure a significant amount of time is devoted over the summer to reading a broad spectrum of expository information. The classics that are assigned for AP classes are good, but may not be sufficient. Broaden what is available for reading at home and on vacation.

5. In our class students are given homework, which must be submitted each week. We scrutinize their homework and make suggestions/corrections. It is important they follow directions and do their work in a timely fashion for the best results. You can help by keeping them on task and helping them remember that success requires sacrifice.

6. Our instructors make themselves available by phone or email during the week to answer questions for our students. They are encouraged to reach out to us if they need to or have questions. Questions may also be addressed to


Test preparation starts with your understanding of the importance of learning and your capacity to absorb and retain information. Over the years we have seen students work hard and have seen many actually surpass their own expectations. 

Here are some specific steps to increasing your SAT scores in our course.

1. It is important to believe in your ability to master anything that you put to your mind, and work diligently to achieve your desired goals. 

2. It is wise to challenge yourself to acknowledge any areas of weakness, especially any areas that may have been neglected in some preceding courses. 

3. You should always come to class well rested, pay full attention, and take impeccable notes. Ask questions when you don’t understand something being taught.

4. You should know that our instructors at The Manigault Institute are professional in their approach to understanding this unique SAT process, and are dedicated to imparting their knowledge to you. 

5. We encourage you to study your class notes to master concepts or approaches to questions before starting your next homework assignment. Please recognize that some of your learning habits may need to change in order for you to reach your goals.

6. Set as your goal to place the highest priority on obtaining a superior score on each section of the SAT - English (grammar), reading comprehension, mathematics, essay. 

7. All SAT homework should be done thoughtfully (and neatly) since getting into the best college is your priority. Memorize math formulas, vocabulary, and grammar rules, and be sure to learn how to do each type of reading comprehension question.

8. Practice daily, knowing that this practice (which has been designed to maximize your potential) is the price for your success.

At The Manigault Institute we have been preparing students for the SAT since the 1970s. We have an excellent program and at least six (6) of our students have received a score of 800 on one or more sections of the SAT in recent years. Many of our students have been awarded admission to some of America’s best colleges, including UVA, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, Davidson College, Princeton, West Point, and more. Complete information about our two 2017 fall classes is available at or by calling (540) 720-0861.


by Sandra Manigault

This time while you are enjoying the summer might be a good time to discover 
your own special talents as well.  When we were children we had a few special things we liked to do most.  Some of us liked to read.  Others of us, if you were like me, discovered the joys of reading well into our adult years.  But few activities allow one to relax and still keep the brain as engaged as that of enjoying a good book that we want to read.  

Whereas many people, and students in particular, erroneously believe that they cannot write freely or write well, that does not have to be true.  I learned that lesson myself.  Always struggling to write in high school, (especially those obnoxious "What I did over the summer" essays), struggling less in college (because our essays were often directed toward an interesting play or movie we had seen), I gradually learned the secret well past the age of 40.  The secret was to journal every day, until the issue of writer's block was no longer an issue.  I actually took a class in which the author of our "textbook" encouraged us to journal.  She actually did not call it journaling.  She called it doing the "morning pages."  The "she" in question was author, Julia Cameron, whose work and books I will treasure the rest of my life.  Her book, The Artist's Way, literally changed my life, and is the reason I can write freely, and now am the author of four books.  

As you may conclude she requested that the writing be done in the morning, and there was a specific reason for this.  In the mornings our minds are fresher, but often need "clearing" from whatever has been troubling us from the day before.  As we write, we clear the space for our own creativity (or problem solving ability) to merge.  All I can say is that the process works.

Want to know more?  Why not get your own copy?  More insights on writing may be found on my new website:  Enjoy!


For Adults Only!  
by Sandra Manigault

Have you ever wanted to do something different?  Travel to a different place?  Try on a new hobby? Learn how to paint or write a novel?  Most of us spend decades doing what we "should," never making the time to do what our hearts really desire.  I should know.  For years I wanted to be a visual artist. It took many years, but I finally realized that goal when I began to do my own art.  In our home there are now three paintings on display that are mine, in addition to the dozens that are Donald's.  Many are abstract, colorful, and wonderful to look at.  In addition I am adding a new phase to my art in my designer card collection.

As many of you know three of my books have been around for some time.  The Book for Math Empowerment and The Children's Book for Math Empowerment were written as tools to help students of all ages overcome their math anxiety.  As a math teacher I could never quite understand why people had such an aversion to mathematics.   In my teaching and in these books I explored many avenues to make math easier to understand.

My memoir, Fragments of a Woman's Life, brought out another side of my writing.  Crafting it taught me how to probe my consciousness and commit my feelings on paper about a number of experiences and people in my life. It tells just enough to see who I really am without boring the reader with every detail from the time I was on the planet.  (I wonder how anyone writes an autobiography.  A memoir, if well written, can tell us quite a lot about the average person.)

Writing "Fragments..." also convinced me that every woman needs a memoir --- not for herself, not for her children --- but for progeny that may never know her.  Her life story, if told by her children, will always be filtered through their experiences.  When told from her perspective, her story takes on a different meaning, both now and years after she is no longer on the planet.

I am passionate about writing and would like to assist other women write their stories.  For this purpose I created "LEGACIES."  In this eclectic workshop, just for women, there is plenty of room for self-expression and creative exploration.  It takes just one day to get the motivation and courage to get started.  (More about "LEGACIES" will also be featured on my new website.)

Coming in the fall of 2017 will be my first novel - Vanessa - a Love Story.  It is great reading for a woman's book club, or just great entertainment after one has had a busy, exhausting week at work.  Novel writing is much, much different than crafting a memoir or writing non-fiction.  There are questions a writer asks in fiction-mode that never surface for other genres.  It is the more difficult literary form, which makes me wonder why so many people write them.

VANESSA - a Love Story and my other books are now available on my new personal website  and on Amazon. Won't you join me in exploring that part of you which wants to spread your wings and fly?

Should My Child Take the SAT or the ACT?  (Updated March 2017)
by Sandra Manigault

Probably both!  All colleges now accept both tests.  Some students prefer to take the SAT, especially if they performed well on the new PSAT.  Others prefer to take a chance on the ACT. When a student takes both tests, he/she will have a better chance of getting into the college of choice.  Why?  Because she or he will do better on one than on the other.  Is the ACT a more "student friendly" test?  I believe that it is.  If a student would prefer to see math questions that look more familiar, and do reading comprehension that is not so challenging, then yes.  But, this is not to say that the ACT is easy.  

What both the SAT and ACT have in common now is a nearly identical "English" test.  This "English" test, (not to be confused with the reading comprehension subtests), consists of multiple passages that are flawed and require corrections and editing in grammar, punctuation, and style.  This is not easy for most high school students because many have not learned "grammar" as did their parents and grandparents.  What students also face in taking the ACT is a science test that challenges them to read and understand graphs and data.  

For those students who choose to take the SAT, it is vital that they prepare to be independent problem solvers, and prepare to format math solutions without a calculator.  The new SAT has a 38-question section in which calculators are permitted, and one 20-question section in which calculators are not.

So, should your child take the SAT or the ACT?  Your choice.   

Supplementing Textbooks  Posted (Fall 2016)
by Sandra Manigault

Years ago I became aware of an interesting phenomenon with the textbooks from which I was teaching:  Not every textbook was effective --- not for the student and not for the teacher.  As a math teacher it was very clear to me that the best texts were those which a student could read easily and keep up in class, even if she were absent.  Additionally, from my perspective, the best text was also one for which I did not have to spent inordinate amounts of time supplementing material that had been insufficiently presented in the book. 

I recall when my department at NVCC chose a pre-calculus book that was actually too advanced for our population, replacing one that, in my opinion, did a superior job.  The book that was replaced explained everything, and illustrated how a problem was to be formatted and why. The book that was adopted to replace it offered fewer complete explanations, but illustrated how to do the math with TI-83 applications.  (Some years later the more advanced book was replaced with something more "student friendly.")

What I have described here is a common experience for teachers.  Common sense is often not the ruling criteria in selecting a good text.  This happens, I am sure, in subjects other than mathematics.  In our fall SAT prep course  I promised our class to give them the names of some great supplementary math books, just in case they wound up with books that they felt were not adequate.  Two of the books mentioned were Bittinger's Intermediate Algebra and Jerome Kauffman's College Algebra and Trigonometry.

Over the years I have also recommended to parents a New York Company that for generations   helped students who had to take the "Regents" examinations --- New York State's superior version of our SOLs.  Amsco School Publications specializes in short comprehensive textbooks in all subjects: grammar, social studies, sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), foreign languages (ex.  Spanish, I, II, III), algebra I, II, plane geometry (the original version), trigonometry, and more.  

Other wonderful books to supplement whatever is being used at school are Gary Spina's Mountain Man's Field Guide to Grammar, a great grammar text written specifically for mature high schoolers or college students who reluctantly or never learned their grammar.  For everyone there is The Dictionary of Concise Writing (author TBA), a funny book and brilliant treatise designed to halt the pompous blabbering on paper to which many of us are addicted. Also valuable is anything by Superior Books of Bowling Green, Kentucky, a company that publishes/distributes some very exciting books that are truly superior. I credit them with the "space encyclopedia" that launched our son's interest in astronomy and physics.  (Patrick went on to get his Ph.D. in physics.) 

It would be unthinkable to recommend all of these wonderful books without touting my own: The Book for Math Empowerment:  Rethinking the Subject of Mathematics, a psychological journey through the ins and outs of math and why it has not been working.  Also, available is The Children's Book for Math Empowerment, which is designed not only to explain how to be an "A" student, but also why it is important to get organized and practice those piano and violin lesson. Both are available here and on

As you prepare to engage the ritual of holiday spending, hopefully you will see fit to fill those Christmas stockings with something that will have a lasting impact on the young minds you are teaching or raising.  And, if you are as happily addicted to good fiction as am I, then I've got some good recommendations for you too --- in another blog post.

by Sandra Manigault

Each year as I recall how I learned to write as a high school student, I remember being conditioned to write these discrete, perfect little sentences.  The process was tedious and difficult, because it required that I create and edit at the same time.  As an adult I discovered both the joys of reading and writing.  What made the difference in writing was that I was encouraged, through the work of Julia Cameron, to journal.  This meant a more free-spirited type of writing.  I was given permission to create and not worry about the editing piece.  What I have come to understand is that creating is a "right-brain" process, and editing is a "left-brain" process.  One needs to create first and edit afterwards.  This is how I wrote my first three books.  Although the process is one I usually describe in detail in my LEGACIES workshops, it is one that works best, I believe, for anyone trying to get a book written.  Too often people quit the process of writing due to frustration when they should be getting their books written and later published. 

Had I been an avid reader as a high school student, I would not have majored in mathematics. Now that I am an avid reader, books are something I cannot live without.  In fact, when I finish one novel I usually move onto another in less than a week. The joy of reading, or the lack thereof, I believe has a lot to do with the concept "point of view."  This concept I understood only as an adult, and has much to do with the frame of reference from which an author writes. No wonder as a teen I did not gravitate to books by 50-something year-old men who lived a century before I was born.  I must also say that there are many, many gifted, contemporary writers. We are not restricted to reading only the "classics" as they required us to do in high school.  Additionally, books today come in different formats, although I still like to turn the pages and mark up the book when it belongs to me.


As the school year opens it is important that students not repeat the drama that made their last school year challenging. Two pairs of subjects come to mind when I think about this, namely mathematics and writing for older students, and mathematics and reading for younger students. Mathematics seems to be the "bad boy" of academe, but need not be. Parents/teachers can remedy this by requiring students to become more assertive by asking more questions in class, and by taking more responsibility for what they need to know but do not know. 

REALITY CHECK: Math will always require more time and effort than most other subjects for the majority of us. Two books that can help bring about this "reality check" and explain what needs to take place are The Book for Math Empowerment: Rethinking the Subject of Mathematics, and The Children's Book for Math Empowerment. Each addresses what many other self-help math books do not - namely the psychology of learning mathematics and the mental shifts that must occur to excel at it. Both books are available through

In regard to the writing issue, the best remedy is obviously to write, and to understand that good writing takes place in stages. One cannot write freely and edit at the same time. Crafting those "perfect little sentences" is a chore, whereas writing should be a pleasure. A good book to "fix" many writing issues is The Right to Write by Julia Cameron, whose books can work wonders for older students and adults.

To fix the reading issue, one must read. It took me many years to learn to love to read. However, what I learned is that one must find one's favorite authors and then read everything those authors have published. In a later post I will share some of my favorite authors with you. In the meanwhile I wish all of you parents and students a great school year.

Sandra Manigault, M.A.

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