THE ESSAI FILES: 5. AATMIK

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We asked Aatmik to reflect upon his life and learning so far in terms of a colour.  

A: I had a navy-blue childhood. Solid, serious, academic – the colour of my school blazer.

When I look back now I think I probably peaked in fifth grade. It sounds strange, but in elementary school I breezed through classes and topped tests. It was towards the end of middle school when work became more challenging that I gradually lost my motivation and settled into the role of a consistent procrastinator. I never lost the desire to expand my knowledge though, and the stability of my childhood provided the foundations I needed to grow personally and intellectually

E: The picture you’ve painted so far is of a linear, happily uneventful childhood in Delhi. No bumps in the road?

A: Well I guess… wait, actually…. No, it’s nothing. It’s just, when I think about the past few years there was one thing that stands out against the normality.

E: Hold up! That sounds like a story!

A: Hmm, it’s about a girl.

E: This is going to be interview gold Aatmik! The readers need to know what happened.

Aatmik looks embarrassed.

Essai refuses to change the subject.

A: Fine, okay, I’ll tell you the story.

It started when I was in 8th grade at a quizzing tournament.

E: Ahh just like all the best love stories do….

A: I was sitting with my team when I caught sight of a girl in the row in front. I think I almost fell in love with her straight away.

E: A Romeo and Juliet moment?

A: Not exactly, we didn’t get off to the best start! My team was playing pretty competitively, and we kept blocking hints from the quizmaster. This annoyed her, and then in the final round of the competition she challenged the quizmaster from the audience when he accepted my answer of ‘butterfly’ instead of ‘butterfly effect’!

E: So not a heady romantic whirlwind from the off...

A: I found it attractive that she was prepared to call me out on my bullshit – it’s not often people will do that. I knew I’d have to work hard to win her, so my 8th grade self got down to some dedicated social media ‘research’.

E: What was your plan?

A: I wrote rhyming riddles based on her pop-culture interests and posted them anonymously on her Ask.fm profile.

E: Wow. And they say romance is dead.. Maybe the millennials are just re-inventing it. Anyway, did the puzzles prove a success?

A: They definitely impressed her, and eventually I revealed my identity. We started talking on Facebook, and there was an instant connection between us. We had a lot in common, and eventually I managed to convince her that I wasn’t a pompous git (even though I might sometimes act like one) and we became an ‘official’ couple.

E: So it was happy ever after?

A: No, in short. Half a year later her family relocated to Pune, and although we tried to make it work long-distance, she broke up with me in April 2016.

E: That’s devastating! Were you able to move on?

A: It did take me a really long time to get over it. I think that heartbreak can be seen as analogous to a diminishing geometric series – over time it reduces but never disappears completely.

E: Aw thanks for sharing that story! So after this happened it seems like you threw yourself into as many distractions as possible – Debater, quizzer, policy researcher – schoolwork wasn’t enough of a challenge for you?

A: Participating in these extra-curriculars was more of a natural progression of my interests than a conscious choice to expand my activities list. I’ve always paid attention to the newspapers and current affairs, and I think I naturally gravitated towards the quiz team as a place where I could use all the facts and knowledge I’d been chasing throughout my early years. I shot up the ranks of the team pretty quickly, and soon was in a position to learn a lot from the 12th graders I suddenly had access to. With debating, it was more a case of channeling my natural love for a good argument.

E: So aside from getting into arguments for fun, how were your academic interests developing at this point?

A: Up until middle school, I (and my parents) had assumed that science was my ‘thing’ – I was even selected for the IIT track. But my heart was not in it, and when I stopped putting effort into my studies I realised that I wasn’t going to become a scientist, doctor, or engineer. In contrast, literature was becoming increasingly influential in my life. I’d moved on from my early diet of Harry Potter and Enid Blyton and begun to explore the Modernist Western canon – Asimov, Salman Rushdie, the Beat writers. Through these books, my knowledge of the wider world continued to expand, and I became especially interested in US politics.  When I had to pick some APs I chose micro-economics, which I found fascinating, but I still didn’t have any clear idea of what direction I wanted to take my studies in the future.

E: The summer you first came to essai you were in 11th grade and you’d just published your own research paper. Tell us, how exactly does a high-school student turn an interest in economics into a fully-fledged academic report?

A: It started when I participated in a Model United Nations debate on drug policy. I had gotten really into the research, and came across the work of a Harvard professor who advocated the legalization of marijuana. I read a lot of his work, and decided to email him to ask if I could help him with his current projects. He was kind enough to send me his research notes and set me a small assignment related to his latest project. This encouraged me to start writing a research paper about African trade economics, inspired by another MUN conference I’d participated in. I tried emailing various professors to find a collaborator or co-author, but when I received no responses I just wrote the paper on my own.

E: Did this experience give you confidence when it came to write your college application essays?

A: Actually, despite the fact that I’d written a lot before, it was only when I started working with essai that I developed the confidence to put exactly what I wanted to say down on paper. Indian culture is very much oriented towards ‘taking the safe option’, which translates into students being afraid to write anything in their applications which might make them look bad or stand out from the crowd. At essai, I was given the support to find and develop my own ideas, and guided as to how I could make them work as essays. This meant that I was able to very quickly overcome my natural skepticism and begin to enjoy the whole application process.

E: That’s encouraging to hear. Do you think essai can do anything else to help students overcome this societal pressure to conform to a certain mould throughout their application?  

A: I think that essai should start getting students to come in as early as possible – this would allow them to have a greater impact in overcoming any negative influences. Having conversations with students in Grade 9 or even younger would give them perspective about what they really need to do to get into college, and would give them the time to take up new hobbies or sports and really excel at them. It would also allow more time for their social projects to develop and grow in exciting directions.

E: You’ve put a lot of thought in to the direction essai should be taking in the future – but what about your future?

A: Haha.. when it comes to my own future I am very much a pragmatist. I am self-aware enough to recognize that I love good food, high culture, and good art, and so realistically, I’ll need to pursue a career that allows me to enjoy all of this. I do feel the pressure from my family and background to go into a ‘prestigious’ position, but above all else I want to be successful and happy in my career, so I’ll keep my options open and see what happens.

E: Do you see yourself staying in India long-term?

A: Again, I’ll be honest and admit that despite spending my whole life so far in Delhi, I’m not a fan of India. It’s hard to describe exactly why, but I do feel like I need to escape the crowds, chaos, dirt, and pollution.

E: You don’t feel any kind of guilt at leaving your ‘home’ country?

A: I don’t think I should feel guilty about wanting to live in a place which is more aligned to my personal and cultural interests. Maybe it’s something to do with the value of self-centeredness which the Indian education system seems to instill, but I don’t feel a sense of responsibility to stay in India, and I don't think many other people of my generation do either.

E: That’s interesting. I think a lot of other teens would agree with you about this point, and it certainly provides food for thought as we bring this interview to a close. Thank you so much for talking to us, Aatmik – we look forward to following up this interview when you come back and visit us from Princeton!

 

 

 

THE ESSAI FILES: 4. ZEFAAN

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In this edition of essai files we traverse cinema, music, and education with  AES 12th-grader and former essai student Zeefan Kanwar.

“I don’t know where the ideas for my work come from but I know what my message is. Open your eyes- engage with reality- recognise humanity. Step outside of your materialism and your ego-centrism and start to appreciate everything you’ve got.” Zefaan Kanwar, 2018  

E: Let’s start by talking about when you first got behind the camera. Do you remember the exact moment?

Z: My 10th grade English class. We were told to make a short performance of the scene in Macbeth in which Banquo is killed by the assassins, but I decided to film the scene instead.  No-one else did this, but I loved how using the camera as a tool enabled me to be more creative and put my own twist on Shakespeare. My classmates liked my work, and after that point I didn’t really look back!

E: And what happened next?

Z: My friend Nolan introduced me to Pulp Fiction, and  I was completely blown away by the angles, the lighting, the colours. I can’t describe the way they made me feel. I became hooked on the non-linearity of the narrative, on the way Tarantino messes with the audience’s mind. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar had a similar impact on me- when I left the cinema I knew I wanted to make movies that were capable of provoking such emotion and thought in my audience.

E:  How did you go about trying to achieve this in your early work?

Z: I tried to create content that defied people’s expectations. The first proper short film script I wrote was supposed to be an entry for a competition, but it ended up a 90-page thriller about a guy seeking revenge for his father’s murder. He invites all the suspects to his house and kills them off one by one.

E: Sounds dark! What came next? And did you have any kind of unifying ideas or sources of inspiration at this point?

Z: The next movie I made was a silly piece about a guy hallucinating that he’s at India Gate, when actually he’s just crashing around his own house. At the start there really was no ‘message’ or logic to movies I made- they were very much one-dimensional pieces.  I just wanted to entertain myself, entertain my audience, and ideally mess with their minds a little. It wasn’t until later on that I focused on conveying a message in my work.

E: What message was this? And what brought about the shift in focus for your film-making?

Z: It wasn’t until I started at AES in fifth grade that I realised how much my life was centred around demanding more, the best, always competing. I was humbled when I realised how different my attitudes were to those of my new classmates, and shocked at how self-centred I’d become.. My eyes were opened to the vast inequality in Indian society, and I began to feel more and more committed to delivering this wake-up call to others.

E: One of your short films was created in order to do just that. Tell us about ‘Rahul’.

Z: I had jumped at the chance to participate in a school CAS project in a city slum, but was struggling to come up with a realistic, achievable plan to help improve the lives of the inhabitants. My  school seniors had installed latrines, but I wanted to start a debate about the causes of the problems rather than try to fix the symptoms. Eventually I had the idea that I could use my camera to tell the story of just one boy, and then use (t)his story to spread a bigger message about social inequality - especially educational inequality- in slums across the country.

E: The film is incredibly touching and inspiring, and the cinematography and editing is pretty sophisticated even in this early piece. Did anyone teach you how to create and edit film?

Z: I never had any formal ‘training’ to make movies. I guess I have learnt a lot through experimentation- and also through being incredibly interested in the methods of other directors. I watched a lot of video essays on YouTube- such as the Every Frame a Painting series- where I picked up the language and ideas I needed to get a better understanding of how good movies are made. I find it fascinating to watch documentaries or ‘behind the scenes’ clips featuring movie giants like Kubrick and Tarantino. When I’m watching I try to ‘enter the minds’ of these super-talented directors in order to understand why they made the decisions they did.

E: So would you say you are inspired by big names like these?  

Z: Stanley Kubrick is my biggest influence for sure, and also the director I most look up to. Kubrick doesn’t rely on trends to make his movies a success- he’s brave enough to trust his creative instinct. Also, there are so many different themes and interpretations buried within each of his films that every person can create their own interpretation. These elements combine to make Kubrick’s work both timeless and universal.

E: Most recently you’ve thrown a bit of a curve ball at us with the release of several rap music tracks. We can honestly say we weren’t expecting that! Does this signal a move away from the camera and towards the microphone?

Z: Definitely not- my heart will always be in film production! But at the end of last summer I felt completely creatively drained and needed to take a break. I’d just got back from an internship with a small production company in New York, where I’d had a chaotic and pressured experience directing my own film with a team behind me for the first time. We had problems with the actors, I couldn’t get the shots wanted, and the whole filming process on the streets of the city was very rushed. I learnt a huge amount from the experience, but it totally exhausted me. When I got back to Delhi, a few of my friends were recording music and DJing, and one day I joined in one of their sessions. One thing led to another, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to put together an album. I was really surprised by how popular it became on Spotify! Most of the tracks, like ‘Snake’, are my own experiments with mimicking the typical rap style which is so popular at the moment. .

E: But how does the larger-than-life, rap-star Zefaan coexist with the social-campaigner, down-to-earth  Zefaan? How was it possible for the same guy to create such polar-opposite pieces as Snake and Rahul?
 

Z: I guess I’m still trying to figure that out myself! But I know that the stereotypical rap music is not the direction my work is going to take from now on. I’ve got the fun, frivolous stuff  out of my system, and I’m ready to get back to spreading my social message. I think my most recent track ‘Alone’- which I created the lyrics and beats for- marks the end of my creative break.
 

E: What’s the track about?
 

Z: Being alone.

 

E: Right.. Well it seems like you’re getting ready to start taking your work seriously as you prepare to leave for college in the summer. Did you get stressed at all during the application process?

Z: I was pretty nervous about getting in to a good college- but then I remembered that no matter what happens I’ll always have my mindset and my health!

E: Haha we like your philosophy! The essai team loved working with you on your film-school applications, mainly because it was clear that you really were passionate about what you were applying for. Did this make it easy for you to write your essays?

Z: I don’t think anyone could say that the essay writing process was ‘easy’, but Nick and Silvio definitely asked me the right questions. The whole process worked so well because they always showed an interest in whatever I was doing, and this made me feel like a ‘real person’ with a real interest in cinema.

E: Was taking the ACT as smooth a process as your college applications? You only came to us for the English section...

Z: Yeah, I’d started my ACT prep somewhere else, but just couldn’t get my English score above a 26. I came to essai for help, and after actually learning about the ‘basics’- like clauses- I jumped straight up to a 31 after one class. I still use so much of the stuff I learnt- like the rules for semicolons!

*Farhad nearly sobs with pride*

E: On that note, it’s time for the colour question. Assign essai a shade!

Z: *Thinks deeply for a long time* Brown. I just feel it.

E: No explanation needed? Okay..! Now, we need to ask you this- if you were going to make a short film about essai, what would you do?

Z: I would make a drama, and Ganesh would be the protagonist. So much potential there...

E: Now there’s a film we want to see! What about if essai were a film- which one would we be?

Z: *Thinks deeply again*. I think you’d be ‘Fitzcarraldo’ - it’s a movie that was made in West-Germany in 1982, about an Irish man who tries to move a steamship over a mountain in order to tap rubber so he can raise enough money to build an opera house in the jungle.

E: So we are equally as determined to do the impossible? Or just foolhardy!?

Z: Hmm maybe a bit of both? Actually, one of my favourite quotes of all time comes from the director of that movie- Werner Herzog. He was talking about the Peruvian jungle in which he shot Fitzcarraldo, but I think it can be understood in the context of the whole world. He said:

“Taking a close look at what's around us there is some sort of a harmony. It is the harmony of... overwhelming and collective murder...We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication... overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order...We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.”

E: That’s a wrap! We can’t wait to see what you produce next Zefaan. Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ESSAI FILES: 3. WOLFY

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essai finds Wolfy waiting for us in *her* chair near the front door of the office- earphones in. She’s displaying her ‘Brown Class of 2022’ sticker proudly on her laptop.

E: Let's start with the question everyone wants to know the answer to. How did you become the Wolf? 

W: Farhad caught me listening to Shakira before class and that was that. 

E: And now you're essai's cover girl ! (If you don't get this reference you need to check out our website now)

W: looks embarrassed
Honestly I didn't even realise you were taking photos that day! 

E:  Oh Wolfy! You’ve always been a favourite of ours. But have you always been such a wonderful student?

W: I’m not a model student at school- i’m certainly not the teachers’ pet!  But I’ve always worked hard in my own time. I used to get a sense of self-validation from excelling at school, but over time, and under my parent’s encouragement, that’s turned into a self-motivation to pursue the things I am passionate about. I’ve also had some really inspiring teachers who have played an important role in turning me in to the student I am today.

E: Do you remember any one teacher in particular?

W: I had an English teacher last year who really taught me how to think about literature in a new way. 

E: Tell us more...

W: We read a Manto short story about a father and daughter fleeing post-Partition violence in India, in which the daughter was separated from her father and raped. The father organised a search party, who found his daughter on the side of the road, but she never recovered from the experience and she stopped speaking. When I first read the story I thought that the girl was a weak character. 

E: What made you change your opinion? 

W:  My teacher helped me to see how the girl had dealt with the trauma by separating her mentality from her physicality, and how she was actually representing immense strength. I learnt to appreciate and recognise the complexities of characters in literature in a way I’d never considered before, and this hugely added to my appreciation of the texts I’ve read since. This teacher was also a feminist, someone I really looked up to, and I’ll always remember those classes as the time when I re-learnt how to think.  

E:  You’ve told us how you moved to Delhi in your early teens; that’s an awkward age to make such a big transition. Do you think you’ve settled in over here yet?

W: It was actually when I started school in Delhi that I began to feel as if I was finally coming out of my shell and developing my own personality. Although I’d always done well at school in the past I’d been quite shy and withdrawn, but by Year 9 at the British School I was really flourishing. I won awards for best sportsperson and best all-rounder, which hugely boosted my confidence and motivated me. 

E: But what was it like to attended an international school in what is supposed to be your ‘home’ city? Do you think it has set you apart from the ‘reality’ in some way?

W: I do feel that my international school experience might have put me in a bit of a bubble- a sealed-off space which I’m still trying to figure out how to escape. I adore living in Delhi though- it’s my home and I’ll come back here after college for sure.

E: The Delhi chaos drives us insane sometimes, so it amazes us that a girl who seems as organised and put together as you do can flourish in such an environment! Can you explain it?

W: It sounds strange but I like the chaos, the jams, the horns, the vegetable sellers.  I like to sit in the car and just take the opportunity to move slowly, watch, listen, and absorb my surroundings. This is how I connect with my city.

E: It’s hard to imagine a whirlwind like you ever slowing down! But we admire your style of positive engagement with the city madness. Moving on to talk about us now-  where does essai fit into the educational terrain of Delhi?

W; essai is the closest thing to IB-style education I’ve seen in Delhi- meaning that students are given the opportunity to think creatively and apply their knowledge according to their passions.

E: How did this ethos compare to your expectations? And given that you probably could’ve gotten a good score on the ACT by yourself, why did you stick with us?

W: I just based my expectations on what I’d already been exposed to- I was expecting a high pressure environment where I didn’t necessarily get on with the teachers, but luckily essai blew these expectations out of the water!

E: How so? 

W: essai is relaxed and calm, but smart and motivated at the same time. essai teachers develop a personal relationship with their students- something I didn’t get at school- as they truly want them to succeed. I had a lot of small/ 1-1 classes in which the teachers really broke down the passages and questions for me. I remember one reading class with Farhad and Dilshaan- we were discussing a passage but then somehow got side-tracked into a discussion of the movie ‘Titanic’. This developed into a full-on debate over whether Rose and Jack could have ever had a successful relationship or if it was doomed to fail from the start! I took the role of pessimist- they’d never have bridged the social gulf which separated them.

E: We remember that! Did you ever hit any icebergs on you ACT voyage or was it all plain sailing and pop-culture debates?

W: Actually, the week before I took my first attempt at ACT I freaked out and nearly backed out, but luckily Farhad (who later told me that he had just come out of a massage!) calmed me down by persuading me that I’d worked hard and that the most important thing was just to give it a go. I got a 34 on my first attempt, which I was really pleased with. 

E: And to think you nearly didn’t even give the test! After ACT you came back to essai for your essays. Why couldn’t you stay away?

W: I missed the chilled environment. I wanted to try to do it alone, but despite my best efforts I couldn’t find anything I was passionate enough about to write essays on. When I finally realised that I want to keep my options as wide open as possible, I decided to come back to essai for help.

E: No one can resist the lure of R-19! In the end, were you able to form the narrative you needed for a strong common app and supplements?

W: I worked better in the office than when I was sat at home by myself. I was given the time to think freely and creatively when writing my essays. My favourite counselling moment was during a recent session with Sonali when we sat outside in the winter sunshine drinking green tea, wearing shades, laptops on laps. It really changed my attitude towards the whole process when  Nick told me that you shouldn’t be writing to impress a college- you should be writing for yourself- about you. I ended up writing about my experience of trying to re-assimilate in a country that was supposed to be my home

E: Farhad wanted your essay to be about Top Gun!

W: Oh yes! I used to be so obsessed with it, but now my friends have forbidden me from mentioning the movie because they’re so sick of it.

E:  Top Gun 2 comes out this summer- time to re-start the obsession?? Anyway, it’s time for the fun questions now. First- if you could choose three jobs in the future what would they be?

W: answers very quickly- she must have been expecting this one! They would have to be:  owning a shack in Goa, working for Goldman Sachs, and discovering a living specimen of the megladon! Perhaps not in that order though…

E: Err.. the megladon?

W: It’s a specieis of prehistoric shark- did I mention I’m obsessed with sharks? There are rumours that it still exists today, and I believe it does and that I’ll be the one to prove it. You know that they found the remains of a Great White shark at the bottom of the ocean? Nothing but the megladon could have killed a Great White.

E: struggling keep up with this rush of information and enthusiasm...Woah slow down we can't type that fast!

W: Sorry!  I’m always being told that I speak too quickly… I think it’s because I have so many thoughts in my head and I need to get them out! I guess it can sometimes be a nervous thing too- I tend to overthink things and stress myself out.

E: We love your speed- just as long as you let us catch up with you!
So if essai was an object?

W:  It would be a full moon! It guides you…

E: And it only appears once a month?! What about if we were a food item?

W: I know for sure- Lemon crushed ice. My favourite snack. Chilled out to the max!

E: And a colour?

W :Light blue- it’s such a caring colour.

E: essai blue of course! What about if we were a celebrity?

W: A Celebrity? I would choose Emma Watson. She’s intelligent, interesting, different, fun-  someone I really look up to.

E: We approve of that one. And Emma Watson was also a Brown student! Now we know you’re a big music fan- we have great memories of you in your chair by the door with a song  playing in your earphones. So which songs have been the soundtrack to your ACT/college application experience?

W: Haha great question! I’d narrow it down to Eye of the Tiger, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Little Bird by Annie Lennox , ACDC, and She Wolf of course!

E: And finally, we have asked past interviewees to make a prediction about our future- what’s your prediction?

W: I think essai will continue to expand and eventually become really big- but I just want you to continue to give the same amount of dedication and care to each student who comes to you!

E: Of course we will! Thanks for coming in Wolfy- we can’t wait for you to come back and intern with us this summer.

 

THE ESSAI FILES: 2. TECHNO

 

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon when Techno drops in to the office for his interview. He explains that he’s just been to visit his NGO partner, and that he’s tired from a night spent live streaming a Miami music festival.

E: Good to see you Techno! We wanted to interview you because you’ve been a part of essai for over two years now- from ACT to counselling to essays- there aren’t many students who know us like you do! Actually- maybe we should be feeling worried about what you’re going to say…

T: I started my ACT prep at a different centre, but I quit after one class. I didn’t get along with the teacher, and I was put in a group even though I was promised a one-on-one. When I came to essai I knew instantly that I was going to like it. I did my diagnostic the morning after a long night (so I was feeling a little worse for wear), and I’m pretty sure that Nick had me figured out right away. He’s the kind of guy who understands what kids are like, and so I knew I could trust him.

E: You definitely seemed to get off to a great start with your ACT prep. Was the experience in line with your expectations?

T: My friends had hyped up the ACT so much- everyone told me how difficult it was- so I was pretty nervous at first. But everything was actually so much easier than I expected, because essai taught me to understand the basic rules and strategies which you can rely on for each section. The chilled atmosphere made me feel like I could be honest and ask questions without being judged. I always felt confident in class and counselling sessions, because I knew that no-one was going to get cross with me for making mistakes or having doubts.

E: So Farhad never told you off in class?

T: Well- he did try to scold me sometimes, but usually he’d just make me laugh instead. We’d always make bets with each other- I think at one point I promised to buy him a Jaguar if I scored over 33.

E: Farhad is still waiting for you to deliver on that bet…

T: Haha. Actually, I think we betted on my score being over 35, and I got a 33, so that means no car! The test went really well but I wasn’t expecting such a good result. I remember when I received the score I couldn’t believe it. I must have opened and shut the website about 5 times- I was jumping with happiness on the street!

 E: If only someone had filmed it…

T: Math was my worst section- probably because I was always late for class. Oh, and I did badly on the essay- I was super tired so decided to skip out the middle paragraphs. I figured they weren’t necessary.

*essai facepalms*

E: Techno we can’t believe you… Let’s move on! With a great ACT score under your belt, you decided to make the transition across the office for your college counselling. Why did you stick at essai, and how was your experience?

T: Well I wasn’t happy with my other counsellor, as I felt that she didn’t have any confidence in my abilities. Luckily Nick agreed to work with me instead, and the transition into counselling felt pretty easy. My relationship with Nick- then later Silvio and Sonali- was very supportive. People at essai didn’t judge me- they helped me to come up with a solution to my problems rather than criticising me.

E: You’re already making moves in the world of music production- how did essai support you with this passion?  

T: I feel like I really grew as a producer whilst I was here. Nick was totally behind me even when my other teachers told me I was wasting my time. He even came to watch me DJing! It was incredible how the essay team managed to perfectly merge my interests in computer science with my love for music in my application essays. It was like they really understood how coding helps me to be a producer, and how music makes me a better coder.

Since I started coming to essai I’ve helped orgaise performances in Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai, and Hyderabad, and I’ve recently released a track and performed live with the 56th ranked DJ in the world.

E: Hey don’t forget about us when you make the big time! What are your ambitions for the future?

T: Well of course I’ll be heading to the US for college.

*Techno gestures proudly at the green and gold acceptance folder he’s placed on the desk*.
 I’m hoping to be a part of the music scene whilst I’m there, and pursue a career in production or with a Start-Up after graduation. Who knows, maybe I’ll even start my own music-tech business?!

E: And what about essai’s future? What do you want us to become?

T: I want it to stay the same. It has grown a lot in the two years I’ve been here, but the new members of the team haven’t changed the atmosphere, and I wouldn’t want that to happen. I really believe that everyone who’s looking for a counsellor/ACT teacher should come to essai!

Disclaimer - essai did not pay or bribe Techno to say this

E: Thanks Techno! Some fun quick fire questions to close. If essai were…

An emoji they’d be: The cool guy shades one. No explanation needed.

A music genre they’d be: Chill House. It’s versatile music- you can work to and it helps you concentrate.

A colour they’d be: Turquoise, because that’s my favourite!

 

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The Essai Files: 1. Virat

This is the first of the Essai Files- a series of interviews with past and current essai students. 

Virat started coming to essai in the Summer of 2016. During his holidays from Marlborough School in the UK, he worked with the team first for his ACT preparation and then on his college applications. We arranged a cross-continental Skype date to find out more about his essai experience...

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E: Thanks for agreeing to the interview Virat! Let’s start at the very beginning. Tell us how you first heard about essai.  

V: Essai was recommended to me by someone, but I  remember being reluctant to go in for a first meeting and my diagnostic. I thought I was a strong independent man who don’t need no help- especially not with ACT! But in the end my Mum dragged me in.  

E: And what were your initial expectations?

V: I guess I had this picture in my mind of Nick and Farhad as these two smart young guys with tucked in checked shirts…... unfortunately these expectations were not matched!  

E: Maybe we should buy some checked shirts as a staff uniform… Anyway- think back to your very first day at essai. What was it like?  

V: I remember my diagnostic- I did really well and felt quite surprised. But Silvio intimidated me! He was rocking a beard, looking very wise and mature, with a certain enigmatic, foreign mystique.

E: Wow, Silvio will be inspired to re-grow that beard after reading this!  Now that we are on the topic of counsellors, who would you say is your favourite counselor, and how would you describe him or her in five words?

V: You’re putting me on the spot here! I’m going to have to say Ganesh. Funny, friendly, nice french fries. That’s five words right? But being serious, Sonali 100%- she’s patient, easily distracted, fun, and she let me drink her water once.

E: Okay that was more than 5 words but we’ll let it slide. Let’s jump back to your experience with studying for the ACT. What did you find most challenging?

V: I found the ACT really frustrating - the content wasn’t the biggest problem for me, but it was hard not being able to come into the office for regular classes when I was back at school in the UK. It was great when I was in Delhi though- I’d come for extra classes all the time, and the fact that essai is a fun team of people (and the other students are also good fun) meant that I found the environment relaxed but also focused.

E: We’re all about the fun and the focus here, it’s true. So overall, what did you end up taking from the whole process of essay writing and college applications?

V: Working on my essays at essai was the first time I had had the freedom to write outside of the classroom, and it actually made me realise that it was something that I enjoyed and wanted to do more of in the future. I was surprised at how much fun the process actually was- it was a good opportunity to reflect on the various experiences I’ve had in my life so far, and I think that as I found a narrative to weave them all together I was able to develop a certain degree of self-understanding. I also realised that although I had been reluctant to do the internships, when I looked back on the experience it was clear how invaluable they’d been, and how much I’d learnt. In the end, the editing process was the only painful part of the essay writing!

E: I bet some of our current students are wishing that they had this much love for essays!
Can you think of the single most important thing that essai taught you?

V: Essai taught me that I should believe in myself, and value my talents and traits. I learnt not to think that self-confidence and ambition is bad, or the same as arrogance, and I developed the self-confidence to go after what I wanted.

E: Yes! Every student needs this attitude.
Most memorable moment at essai?

V: There are too many to choose from! Probably getting Sonali coffee. Or maybe Nick and Sonali’s arguments over my essay. Having a cake with candles in the office on my birthday was also a really great memory.

E: That cake was so good… Okay just a few more questions now. Pick one person from essai. Give him/her a colour. Why?

V: I’m picking Farhad- can I give him a coloured item of clothing rather than a colour? It’s got to be the plain, single coloured T-shirt. I just always picture him wearing one.  He needs some graphic tees in his repertoire!

E: Okay we’ll allow that one. Tell us something we don’t know about you.

V: I have a really great fashion sense. Maybe Farhad could take some tips from my wardrobe? (see above).  

E: We’ll suggest that to him. He’ll be thrilled.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

V: Hopefully I’ll be travelling the world- trekking through the Grand Canyon or something.

E:Who or what inspires you?

V: Hard question! So many ‘inspirational’ people turn out to be racists or sexual deviants or whatever. I’ll go with Peter Singer. Or Slavoj Zizek.

E: You’ve spent a lot of time in the office over the past few years. Do you have a favourite part?

V: The nook of course! It’s very homely- I love how it was once open and then became its own space.

E: It’s been great chatting to you Virat. Let’s end on this- what are you most excited about for the coming year?

V: USA! USA!

Look out for the next interview in the series...coming soon! 

Welcome to the CUCUverse...

Get ready readers, on December 20th, CUCU- a brand new app developed by members of the essai team- is launching. 

This is the next stage in reading’s evolution: the “Reavolution” 

  CUCU is coming

CUCU is coming

The claim that reading is dying, on its deathbed, breathing its last is no great insight. That might be an exaggeration, but the truth is a stone’s throw away. To search for scapegoats such as the world, change, children, and Instagram is easy and might even be correct (or at least part of the story). But what if it’s not the whole story? What if reading is to blame? What if we were to blame for not innovating in the field of reading? For not ‘renovating’!  Bad humor aside, this is our view. This is the view of a team of educators who has conjured up CUCU from the classroom and put it into your phone, into your hands, and now hopefully in your mind.

Our experience in the classroom has taught us a few things. Firstly, that reading ought to be interactive. When our students encountered a reading which their teacher peppered with questions, contextualising facts and vignettes, they not only paid more attention but also became more curious- surely a holy grail of education.

Another thing we have learnt is that 'reading' is not a monolith. Rather, it is a diverse skillset, involving your working memory, vocabulary, critical thinking, ability to contextualise, and speed. If we accept this, then there is no such thing as being a 'bad reader'- you could simply be weak in one of the foundational skills causing the whole castle to collapse! Unfortunately, large class sizes and a lack of diagnostic tools make it impossible for a teacher to figure out the precise stumbling block for each student.

This is a sad situation. When a person falls out of love with reading, it's often because he believes that he is 'not good' at it, or because he is simply not inspired by his reading material. Unfortunately, teachers and parents have stumbled upon the wrong solution: read more. But the CUCU team believes that reading is like a sport- one which can only be enjoyed if you have received the right instruction. If you just keep failing you’re bound to quit. Anyone who has played golf, or yoga for that matter, will empathise with this analogy.

So yes, reading can be understood as a sport. And this is the road that lead us to CUCU. And like all sports, CUCU has an element of competition- a recognition of how cool it is to be a good reader. The CUCU team gets jealous when they meet someone who reads fast, comprehends, remembers, and lets the words and thoughts from a book merge with the words and thoughts of his life. The CUCU leaderboard is intended to reward careful and regular practice - an incentive NOT just to read more, but to read well.

Alright. You get the bigger picture. Onwards. How does CUCU work? Simple. Just choose one of the articles from the cucutheque to get started. The texts, which have been selected to expand your knowledge as well as model top-quality writing, converse with you. In each interaction you will be scored according to your accuracy in answering questions, as well as for your reading pace (yes the clock is ticking- up there in the right corner). You can flip back, but CUCU keeps track of that too, and it will harm your total score.

Although the classic CUCU question is multiple-choice, there’s a variety of forms to keep you on your toes. Furthermore, the questions fall into different categories, and you’ll get a score for each at the end. The Vocabulary questions will test you on the meanings of words in or out of their context, whilst Critical Thinking questions will test you on your general understanding of how the author links facts and arguments to make a whole.  Contextualisation questions aim to measure your general knowledge in the subject area of the article, and Focus questions are paired with your ‘flip-back’ tendency to generate a measure of your ability to immediately recall stuff that you just read (i.e. your “working memory”). Your Speed score comes from how quickly you complete the CUCU, as well as your answers to the questions following the speed reading section that displays only chunks of words at a time, forcing you to really get in the game.

That's it! You're fully prepared to download the app on December 20th and find out what CUCU thinks of your reading skills. Have fun, play safe, and CUCU on!

THE WORLD HISTORY TEST: A NECESSITY

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The Subject Test. Yet another way for universities to gain a more complete image of who you are as an applicant.

Here are the subjects the tests are offered in followed by a few words of wisdom (all the bolded ones are actual options):  

Literature- if you thought the ACT reading was hard, think again…
US History- a curriculum barely touched in Indian schools
World History- a very good option for all non-science students
Math I- pointless (you did this math on the ACT)
Math II- everyone needs to take this
Chemistry- great, if Chemistry is one of your subjects
Biology- great, if Biology is one of your subjects (or you can really mug up)
Physics- great, if Physics is one of your subjects
Languages- no Hindi!

As you may notice, there isn’t an economics or commerce subject test, so for all non-science students, the options become a little limited.

Lucky for you, there is the World History test- a 1-hour test, with 95 multiple choice questions. While it is a long, extensive and fast test, thankfully College Board is aware of this and even getting up to 20 questions wrong will earn you a perfect 800 (35 wrong will get you a 700)! The test covers all historical themes (political and diplomatic, intellectual and cultural, social and economic) from prehistoric times to the present.

The content is not only interesting, but the knowledge is something that transcends beyond just the test and can truly build on your critical reading and comprehension skills. The New York Times just did a study explaining that while comprehension does require a broad vocabulary, equally important is the role of factual knowledge. In addition to being great dinner party conversation (you will surely impress all the Auntie’s), this factual knowledge builds context allowing for comprehension to be much easier!

While the facts may seem daunting (and too many), you should know that this is not only a test of memorisation, but also a test of your ability to think historically and reasonably deduce answers- a key tool for many economists or business leaders.

If Physics, Bio and Chemistry are not your thing, just remember that the World History test is the perfect, and necessary, answer to your SAT Subject Test woes. And it’s an added plus that we teach it here at essai!  

Get in touch for more information on the World History test! 

The Philosophy of the ACT

“I just don’t understand WHY we’re forced to sit through such a challenging test! Can’t the colleges just look at our school grades and reports?”

This was exclaimed just last week by an Essai student in a fit of despair brought on by a particularly fiendish math problem, and it’s a question which is often voiced by teachers and students alike. In order to find some sort of answer, we must delve deep into the ACT’s ‘technical manual’, which contains a detailed justification for the structure and content of the test.

College faculty members were asked which knowledge and skill areas were most important to success in college courses, and also asked to identify which of these areas students should have mastered before embarking on their college careers. The content of the test is the product of this consultation, and the four subjects – English, Math, Reading and Science (which is predominantly data interpretation and analysis) – were chosen because a grasp of their fundamentals is essential for any college-bound student, regardless of their intended programme of study.

The manual states that the underlying principle behind the ACT test is “the belief that student’s preparation for college and the workplace is best assessed by measuring, as directly as possible, the academic skills that they will need to perform college-level work”.

The paper itself is purported to “measure what students are able to do with what they have learned in school”. This means that rather than assessing abstract qualities such as ‘intelligence’ or testing students on their memorisation of specific syllabus content, it aims to facilitate the integration of knowledge and skills from major curriculum areas with information provided in the test. Thus, the focus is placed on determining whether a student is capable of solving problems, grasping implied meanings, draw inferences, and evaluate ideas.

This well-founded rational should certainly provide reassurance to ACT candidates – especially the emphasis that high test scores are not simply a matter of innate ability, but reflect a level of achievement earned through dedicated practice and consistent effort.

 

 

 

 

3 Books to READ this Diwali Break!

Yes, students, reading can happen over breaks. And yes, it will help your ACT scores and college applications (by increasing your vocabulary, improving your information retention, and sharpening comprehension)!

What more could you want?

Don’t believe us? Read this : https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-playbook/2014/06/02/enhance-summer-sat-act-prep-with-reading-you-enjoy

However, for those of you who do believe us, take a look at these three books that we highly recommend:

1. Moonwalking with Einstein : The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
The book follows a year long journey of Joshua Foer training for the US Memory Championships. Under the guidance of the top "mental athletes", Foer masters ancient techniques to memorise entire speeches and books in a matter of minutes and hours, rather than days.  It draws on cutting-edge research, explaining the tricks of the trade, allowing us to better understand the techniques between human remembering and how we can all improve our own memory! 

Can't remember that last science concept for the ACT? Learn from Josua Foer!

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
At the age of thirty-six, Paul Kalanithi a neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. The book chronicles Kalanithi's journey from a young, ambitious medical student, into a neurosurgeon at Stanford, to a patient and finally, a new father confronting his own mortality. The author battles questions regarding the challenge of facing death, and what life can mean in such a situation. 

For any of you Atul Gawande fans, the forward is written by him! Read it now! 

3. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
The book follows the two-worlds of Starr Carter- the poor neighbourhood she was born and raised in and the fancy suburban school she currently attends. When Starr is the sole witness to the shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil, at the hands of a police officer, her world is turned upside down.Khalil’s death becomes a national headline, with people calling him a thug or drug dealer. Protests begin in the community, and local cops begin to intimidate Starr and her family. All everyone wants to know is: what really happened that night? 

Order it here

Get your books today, and celebrate Diwali with pages instead of patakas (haha)! 

(FUN)ctions Part Two- Transformations

Welcome back to our series on functions! In Part Two we're all about transformations...

A transformed function is one which has been altered in a specific way, resulting in a different appearance on the x/y coordinate grid. This could mean being shifted up, down, to the right or left. Functions can also be reflected in the x axis or the y axis. 

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 Look at this example- a visual representation ofwhat happens when you alter a function according to the rules above.

 

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 ACT Practice

What is relationship between f(x) and g(x) ? 

A. g(x)= f(x+5)
B. g(x)= f(x+3)-5
C. g(x) = f(x-3)-5
D. f(x)= g(x+7)+3 

 

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 Answer: To transform f(x) into g(x), the parabola needs to move 3 units to the left, and 5 units down (be careful when reading the axes numbering). So the answer is B.

A Joyfully, Selfish Profile : The Squash Guy

The Squash Guy was a strong science student (low 80s in PCM-CS) at a school with major US student outflow. He was part of his school’s highly selective Computer Science club and had a very strong ACT score (34). The Squash Guy had another important feather in his cap: he was a top-15 ranked Indian squash player with major tournament experience and a glowing recommendation from his coach (who had worked with other US-bound student-athletes from India).

He is a memorable example of pragmatic profile-building through joyful selfishness. He came to us when he was in the middle of Grade 11, wondering if he should leave squash and prioritize his academics. However, the Squash Guy hadn’t participated in any major academic projects, hadn’t attended any summer schools, hadn’t researched with any professors – in short, he didn’t really have any academic profile to build on. We advised the Squash Guy to remember Rule #3: never start from scratch.

We came up with a plan for him to aggressively pursue squash (at the time his ranking was hovering in the mid-20s), and it worked: he played tournaments, improved his ranking, and eventually caught the eye of two serious college programs. The Squash Guy is the perfect example of the practical benefits of simply doing what you love, and doing it as often and as well as you can. This is the best kind of college admissions: at virtually no other time in life will you be pragmatically rewarded for pursuing your passion single-mindedly. The Squash Guy took a risk in electing to follow his love of squash, and he ended up being recruited by Columbia. However, even at other non-sporting colleges his squash still served as an ‘amplifier’ for his school grades (evidenced by his admission to Carnegie Mellon’s highly selective School of Computer Science).

The moral of the story?

Colleges will take it a little easier on you grade-wise if you can prove you’re a Student-plus.

Notes from a Lexicomane: why extending your vocabulary is amongst the best ACT preparation you can do.

If there’s one thing that teachers can agree on, it’s that the majority of high school students do not have a sufficiently broad knowledge of English vocabulary.  Although some blame the ‘dumbing down’ of TV shows and popular media, whilst others lament the decline in reading as a pastime, the fact remains that eloquence is an increasingly rare trait. 

Lack of linguistic breadth is a major hurdle which must be overcome by students hoping to score well in their ACT Reading and English tests. This is owing to the frequency of unfamiliar words which the tests are designed to expose students to, as well as the specific ‘vocabulary-in-context’ questions. 

Here’s an example of the sort of question you are likely to encounter:

“Your index finger is one of the most sensitive regions of the human body, owing to the fact that a large number of nerves are concentrated at the tip”. 

As used in this sentence, the word concentrated most nearly means:
A: extracted
B: paid attention to
C: gathered together
D: directed to one topic

The vey best advice which you can take when it comes to building vocabulary is simply to READ MORE! This may sound simple, and it is, but you need to be sure to read a wide variety of different texts in order to maximise your progress. This means that your reading needs to span genres, cultures and historical periods. Yet you needn’t only focus on reading books- reading journal articles, news items and well-written blogs can be just as beneficial if you are being exposed to new words. 

It is important to ensure that you are not skipping over the words you don’t understand- look them up and write them down! There are numerous dictionary apps which enable quick discovery of definitions and synonyms, as well as allowing you to build up personalised word lists. Many even offer a ‘word of the day’ feature, which may prove invaluable if you want to impress your friends with your magniloquence. If you’re looking for a shortcut to boost your linguistic talents, try downloading the free app ‘vocabulary.com’, which claims to “combines the world’s smartest dictionary with an adaptive learning game that will have you mastering new words in no time.”

Have you got a favourite word? What are your top tips for improving your vocabulary? Comment below to join the discussion…

 

answer = C
Lexicomane= a person who loves words
Magniloquence= use of impressive vocabulary

(FUN)ction Graphs

Calling all Math students…Could you answer this simple question on function graphs?  

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Correct answer, C.  See the end of this post for the explanation. 

If you got the answer straight away, well done! You’ve clearly given the sine, cosine and tangent functions the attention they deserve. But don’t panic if you got it wrong- you are not alone. The majority of ACT Math students really struggle when faced with this type of question, and this blog post has been created to help you out.  

Learning what the linear graphs of sin, cos and tan look like on the x/y plane is ESSENTIAL.

I repeat- ESSENTIAL.

It’s only once you are secure in this knowledge that you can learn how to transform them (coincidently, our blog topic for next week)! 

Lets start from the beginning…

f(θ)=sin(θ) is known as the sine function: 
 

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The wave repeats every 2π radians, or every 360° (i.e. it has a period of 360°). It’s maximum y value is 1, and minimum is -1. It crosses the y axis at (0,0).

f(θ)= cos (θ) is the cosine function:

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Just like the sine function, the wave has a period of 360°. It’s maximum y value is 1, and minimum is -1. However, the cosine function crosses the y axis at (0,1). See how it ‘follows’ the sine wave at 90° behind?

 f(θ)= tan(θ) is the tangent function:  

It is not a rising and falling wave like the other two- it’s y values range from negative infinity to positive infinity, and it crosses the y axes once every π radians, or 180°. However, it does pass through the origin, point (0,0), like the sine wave. 

Notice how every 180° there is an x value for which there is no apparent corresponding y value? This is because tan(90°), tan(270°), etc (and tan( π/2), tan(3π/2)) is equal to either positive or negative infinity- meaning that it is is officially undefined.

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Undeniably, it is easiest and fastest just to remember what each function looks like (i.e. the maximum and minimum y values, y-axis intercept, period etc.).
However,  if you forget what any of these functions look like, it is possible to quickly check using your calculator to create a table like the one below. You can then sketch a rough diagram to jolt your memory or clear up any confusion. 

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So now let’s go back to the first question and see how we can use our new knowledge to solve it easily.

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If we look at the sine wave and the cosine wave plotted onto the same x/y plane, we can see that the x value for their first intersection in the POSITIVE x quadrant is 45°. Therefore our answer must be C

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Totally terrible, very bad writing mistake #1

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Students love their emphatic adverbs – otherwise known as the completely unnecessary, totally redundant (hah! See what I did there?) usage of the words “very”, “completely”, “extremely” and the likes.  It’s okay – I’m quite guilty of it too.

So, what’s the real issue here? The problem comes in when your writing starts relying almost exclusively on emphatic adverbs for describing things. Consider the following sentences:

The hall was completely silent. 

The hall was so silent, that not a whisper could be heard from the students.

What’s the difference between the two sentences? Not the meaning, because they both convey the same message: the hall was silent. But if I ask you, “how silent was the hall?” the only thing you can say from reading the first sentence is, “completely silent”. The difference, as you probably guessed, is in the quality of description. The second sentence packs a lot more descriptive detail than the first. So, how silent was the hall? Completely silent – not a whisper could be heard from the students. A far more vivid picture than the first! Always remember: effective writing uses emphatic adverbs to increase the effect of (and not in lieu of) a description.

Happy writing, and stay tuned for the totally terrible, very bad writing mistake #2! 

Click here for more information on our counselling services ! 

How much do you know about Beyonce & modifiers?

You may love Beyonce, but did you know that before her solo career she was actually part of a chart-topping R&B group called Destiny’s Child? Fix the following modifier errors to learn about how one of today’s icons got her start:

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, [1] singing was something Beyoncé did from a young age. Her vocal talents were discovered almost accidentally: one day after dance class as a kid, Beyoncé’s instructor was humming a song, and Beyoncé chimed in with the lyrics, beautifully hitting all the high-pitched notes. Not long after, Beyoncé began competing in local singing competitions. Joined by childhood friends Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, and three other young girls, [2] Girl’s Tyme formed as a group with Beyoncé. The group traveled from Texas to California to compete on Star Search, a national television show. Unfortunately, however, Girl’s Tyme did not win.

Motivated to succeed in the music world, [3] giving up was not an option. Eventually, their hard work payed off. In 1996, the group signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and became known as Destiny’s Child. With hits like “Say My Name,” “Bills, Bills, Bills,” and “Jumpin Jumpin,” [4] success came quickly to the group in the R&B world.

However, success didn’t come without setbacks. Unhappy with the group’s management, [5] quitting felt like the only option for two of the group’s members, LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett. Destiny’s Child was thrust into the entertainment spotlight with Beyoncé largely at the center of the negative media attention. Consequently, Beyoncé fell into depression, and the group struggled for a brief period.

After regaining some stability and some shuffling in group members, Destiny’s Child was composed of three women: Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams. As one of the most successful R&B groups of its time, [6] many chart-topping albums were made by Destiny’s Child, like Survivor, and the group went on to win multiple Grammy awards.

Finally in 2001, the group announced that they would be taking a hiatus so that the members could pursue individual singing careers.

Answers:

1. The modifier in this sentence is “Born and raised in Houston, Texas”, which describes, or modifies, Beyonce. Thus, “Beyonce” must immediately follow the modifier and the comma. A correct version of the bold portion could read Beyonce grew up singing and dancing. 

2. Everything preceding the comma in this sentence describes a person. Our hint is the word ‘joined’. Someone must be joined by the names listed, and in this case that someone is Beyonce. Thus, again, her name must follow the comma. A correct version of the bold portion could read Beyonce became a member of the singing group Girls Tyme.

3. As it reads, this sentences gives the impression that “giving up” was motivated to succeed in the music world, which obviously doesn’t make sense. A better version of the sentence might read Motivated to succeed in the music world, the group didn’t give up.

4. The modifier in this sentence is describing Destiny’s Child, so Destiny’s Child must immediately follow the comma. The bold portion could instead read Destiny’s Child quickly became successful in the R&B world.

5. The bold portion should begin with whoever was upset with the group’s management. It should then read two of the group’s members, LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett, quit the group.

6. The modifier here is clearly referring to Destiny’s Child, so the bold portion should read Destiny’s Child made many chart-topping albums, like Survivor,.

Student Spotlight: The Math Girl

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A highly accomplished student with outstanding grades at a high school which had limited US student outflow. In many ways, she was something of an academic prodigy: she took her first AP test when she was 14 and cleared the SAT with a 2250 when she was 15. That summer, she attended SUMac – a highly selective math camp at Stanford – and subsequently embarked on a major research project with an IIT professor, using Graph Theory to model traffic flow in Delhi for improved emergency response time, founded her school Math Club and started an independent math magazine. Additionally, she participated in a substantial internship with Barclays Bank, founded and led her own NGO “Leap of Faith” working with education and job training initiatives in a small village, and was a talented painter, flautist, and national-level badminton player. 

This student did many things right. She demonstrated a specialised academic passion while managing to participate an impressive array of verifiable extracurricular activities (exemplifying what it means to be a student-plus). but, mostly, she made her own structure to pursue her love of math at an increasingly high level. It is very difficult to do this well (particularly for academics). Most students would only have gotten excellent grades, taken AP tests, and crack the SAT. However, this student demonstrated curiosity and resourcefulness in having independent research options to continue following her love of mathematics.

The Math Girl was unique in that her academic strength and her social service strength were almost identically (very) strong – which is why, when we were helping her decide how to frame her Common App essay, we ended up feeling that her best bet would be to combine these two outstanding aspects of her profile into a coherent whole. Math and social service isn’t something that usually go together, and we found this duality fascinating. Evidently, so did Stanford – as she not only got in via ED, but received a handwritten note about her essays from the Dean of Admissions.

ACT 68G ENGLISH QUESTION 46 : THE ESSENTIAL APPOSITIVE

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This is a great sentence and question that tests your knowledge of commas, appositives, introductory phrases. 

Lets first deal with the question: to comma or not to comma. Should there be a comma before Levi Strauss? After Levi Strauss? On either side of Levi Strauss? Or just no comma at all? In order to answer this question, it is important to know what concept is being tested here. It is a question about appositives. 

The real question to ask yourself is whether Levi Strauss is essential to the sentence or not. You could also ask yourself if there is more than one “clothing store owner” in the world. If there is more than one “clothing store owner” in the world, then Levi Strauss becomes essential to the sentence. Levi Strauss is the subject. Levi Strauss cannot be between commas. He is essential (in more ways than one - my wardrobe would be very different had Levi Strauss been non-essential). 

When a name is essential to a clause, it (the name) cannot go between commas. However, if the sentence had read “The founder of Levi Strauss & Co, Levi Strauss, was an important man in the history of fashion” then we would have commas around Levi Strauss. Why? Because he was the only founder. His name is non-essential. By saying the founder of Levi Strauss & Co, we already know that we are talking about Levi Strauss. Got it? If a name is non-essential, we put it between commas.

The next question I am often faced with as a teacher is why is F not correct. Why can’t there be a comma before Levi Strauss. That would put clothing store owner between commas, make it non-essential, and the sentence would read In the late 1800s Levi Strauss patented… This is an important question, and it is important to know here that the comma after “In the late 1800s” is used for something else. It is being used to set off the introductory phrase “In the late 1800s”. That comma is essential. In other words, the real clause starts with “Clothing store owner…”

This brings me to one of my big lessons on English grammar: commas are NOT about pauses. It would SOUND good if one had a comma before Levi Strauss, but commas are not musical objects. They are punctuation marks that have purpose. Their purpose is NOT TO CREATE PAUSES. 

The answer to question 46 can actually be explained later in the sentence when commas are placed around “tiny metal studs”. Why are there commas around “tiny metal studs”? Because they are irrelevant to the sentence! They are simply describing what rivets are. Therefore, if the sentence would have read “In the late 1800s, Levi Strauss, a clothing store owner, patented the practice…” there would have been commas around “a clothing store owner”. Why? Because being a clothing store owner is non-essential! It is simply adding a little more information to the subject of the sentence - Levi Strauss.

Do Something, Then Do It Better

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Gone are the days of only grades and strong test scores solely determining your place at Harvard and the likes. With over 250,000 applicants to the Ivy Leagues each year and acceptance rates lower than 6% (Princeton, Harvard), straight A’s and a strong ACT score, unfortunately, no longer cut it!

Hello, Profile! What is a profile, you may ask? It is a demonstrated, coordinated, and coherent record of increasing engagement over time in a chosen field. A chosen field can be anything, from a social initiative supporting women’s health to competitive ice skating, but should be something outside of the classroom. By no means does this mean that a profile, should not be connected to the classroom or academics. Far from it. However, illustrating that demonstrated and increasing engagement in a particular field, is key to a strong profile!

Let’s try to build Rahul’s profile. Rahul is a grade 11 student who is interested in studying business and has been playing the piano for 12 years. He then passes the Grade 8 level Trinity exam in the next few months. At the end of grade 11, he organises a benefit concert, with a group of external young musicians, to raise funds for a local charity. The event is being sponsored by a large corporation and there will be food and drink vendors.

Notice how playing the piano was his chosen field, yet was only the first stage of what turned out to be a multi-stage progression of Rahul’s interest in music and business. In other words, simply playing the piano is great; having passed the Trinity Grade 8 Level exam is outstanding; and going above and beyond to use your talent for social good, ultimately connecting his efforts in music to his interest in business (by working with corporations and external vendors) is absolutely fabulous

10% = 100%?!

Imagine a text that goes ' Ugly mess called sprawl. Communities destroyed. Laws and policies. Incentives for sprawl. Why so concerned about sprawl? About more than bricks and mortar. Corroding the sense of community. One form of sprawl, strip malls. Sprawl's other form, spread-out residential subdivisions. Affordable housing. Who picks up extra costs? We all do. Higher taxes. Government riddled with policies that encourage sprawl. Current zoning laws. Impossible to create compact walkable environment. Insist on sensible land-use panning.'

These are 75 words from a 750 ACT reading passage, so ten percent of the text. A bit stream of consciousness? Yes maybe, but you get a lot from just reading these ten percent.

The text is about sprawl. Sprawl is not good. It destroys communities. We don't care because we think we can save money. But sprawl increases taxes, so we lose money somewhere else. There are two types of sprawl: commercial and residential. Stopping sprawl is difficult because zoning laws support the spread of sprawl. The solution is to have more sensible land-use planning.

This is pretty much all you need to know about the text before having a shot at answering the questions. Surprisingly, all of it is in only a very small portion of the text.

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So, one of the key skills in the ACT reading section is to identify the most important parts of a text and don't get lost in the details.

One of the big dangers of tackling a reading passage is to get lost in the details it contains. If you try to keep everything you read in you head, you'll end up understanding nothing at all. 

In the ACT you don't read in a conventional sense. The aim is not to read each and every last word but to find the really important words that make up the framework of the text. This type of reading should actually rather be called searching or rummaging

Imagine you're in a messy antiques shop looking for a couple of specific items. How are you going to proceed? Painstakingly examine each and every item? No, probably not. The way to find what you want before going crazy is to scan the piles of items for signs of something interesting. The same counts for the ACT reading passage: you just want to find the items you are looking for.

A lot of the time, when students have problems dealing with the reading sections, this is only due to the fact that they don't understand that conventional reading and ACT reading are two very different activities

Contact us here for more info about ACT prep with Essai.

 

DIY in the ACT reading

These questions have one thing in common: they are very general. They ask you to find the main point of a passage, the tone of the author, or the function of a paragraph. . 

The ACT is a multiple choice test. That's great. Imagine you had to find all the answers yourself: what a nightmare! The answers are all there; you just have to eliminate all the wrong ones, but in general questions the options are frequently traps rather than props.

The options are here to mess with your common sense. They try to make you overthink. This is why the most important thing to do when you get to that kind of question is to first make your own answer: DIY, do it yourself!

What's the main point of a passage or paragraph? What's the author's attitude to the topic? Good or bad? You know this. It's all very basic. Just don't go straight to the options; first make up your mind what you would answer if there were no options to chose from. Only then go and check which of the options best matches your DIY answer. 

That's how you avoid choosing an answer you would never give yourself. Don't let go of your common sense. One of the most important skills in the ACT reading section is to be able to keep two or three important main points in your head and use them to eliminate nonsensical options. 

Contact us here for more info about ACT prep with Essai.