Pick of the Litter

Pick of the Litter

Many years ago I set a small goal for myself, to pick up one piece of litter every day. While I was still teaching there were few days when I didn’t pass by garbage walking from my car to the school. I would often gather up two or three items – this would make up for the weekends when, perhaps, I wasn’t in a litter zone. Now that I am retired I usually carry out my one-a-day ritual when in the city. I figure if one in ten people picked up a piece of garbage every tenth day then we would be close to having litter-free communities.

Last weekend I was in the city and had a number of stops to make. As I was nearing a parking spot outside a mall I noticed a man walking across the lot. At one point he stopped, bent down and pick up a cardboard coffee tray that had been discarded. I rolled my window down and thanked him for doing so. We both agreed that this world would be a better place if people were more considerate. This reminded me of an incident that took place ten years earlier.

I had been awarded an educational leave (sabbatical). I would be participating in a French Immersion course in the north of the province. In anticipation of this I enrolled in a conversational French class at the local college. I was hoping to recapture some of the language skills I had learned when in high school. Classes were once a week.

Each night on my way to class I would stop at a coffee shop not far from the college. On this particular evening I saw something that was rather upsetting. As my car was approaching a parking spot I noticed am arm extend from a vehicle and a cardboard coffee tray and paper bag were dropped on the ground. I couldn’t believe it. By the time I pulled up beside the car the window had been closed. I decided to be part of the solution.

Now I must admit that when I looked over at the vehicle I expected to see some teenagers (sorry teenagers – I admit that I was stereotyping). To my surprise I saw an elderly couple in the car. I rolled my window down and pointed to the ground.

You dropped something. Something fell out of your car.”

The woman looked at me. She turned to the man seated in the driver’s seat. He leaned ahead and looked at me.

Something fell out of your car”, I repeated.

The window was lowered. I again pointed to the ground, “Something fell out of your car.”

They looked at each other. By this time I had stepped out of my vehicle.

The woman said, “It’s garbage. I meant to toss it.”

I stood still. I gave them the best basset hound face I could muster. “You mean, you meant to litter?”

……… YES”, she replied in a rather stern voice.

The man looked like he wanted to punch me; but hey, I didn’t do anything wrong. I was playing the good guy.

How about this. I’ll pick it up for you and place it in the garbage can over there.”

She hesitated. In the same voice she said, “OK.”

As I picked up the tray and bag they drove off. I watched them leave then disposed of the garbage.

By doing so I had met my litter picking quota for the next two days. I felt pretty good.

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ACT vs. SAT Reading Passages

There are many factors that can help a student determine which test they should take – the ACT or the SAT. Variables such as strengths, weaknesses, timing, or style can all play a role in making this important decision.

Perhaps you are a student who feels confident in your math skills, so you can handle whatever math questions these tests throw at you.  However, your reading is an area in which you could use some additional help.  The reading passages will be the issue that justifies your choice.

If that is the case then this post should prove beneficial.  We are going to breakdown the differences between the ACT and SAT reading passages in order to help you make the difficult decision of which test is the right test for you.

Number of Passages

The SAT has 5 reading passages while the ACT has 4 reading passages.


Number of Questions

Every test you take for the ACT will have a total of 40 questions with 10 questions per passage.

While overall, the SAT will always have 52 questions, the amount of questions per passage will vary.



How much time will you have to tackle the reading passages?

Overall, for the SAT you will have 65 minutes, which breaks down to 13 minutes per passage.

You will have 35 minutes for the ACT passage, which means 8 minutes and 24 seconds per passage.


Passage Types

On the ACT, the reading passages will include one of each of the following: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science.   The Social Science and Natural Science passages tend to be more straightforward, and therefore less challenging.  While the Humanities and Prose Fiction passages require more analysis which lends towards more difficulty when reading these passages.  On occasion, one of these reading passages will be a paired passage.

On the SAT, the reading passages have one Literature passage, one History passage, one Social Studies passage (economics, Sociology, Psychology or another Social Studies passage), and two Science passages (there is a possibility that one of them will be a paired passage).  The difficulty level varies and very much depends on your familiarity with the subject and the complexity of the topic.


Question Types

The question types on the ACT will be the following: detail, words in context, generalization, cause and effect, inference, main idea, point of view, and except questions.

For the SAT, expect these question types: evidence, arguments, words in context, and synthesis (questions based on analyzing a graph).



For the most part the reading passages you encounter on the ACT test are going to be more about what is actually in the passage.  However, this does mean that the reading passages in the ACT are going to be a little drier.

On the SAT test, the reading passages discuss more interesting topics.  But it will require that you dig deeper and analyze the passage for what the author is attempting to say rather than just what he is saying.



The challenge with the ACT is time.  While the questions are more straightforward and the passages are more direct than the SAT test, you have significantly less time to read and answer the questions.  So if you struggle to read quickly, consider trying the SAT.

The struggle with the SAT is the level of critical thinking skills required to answer the reading passage questions.  If analysis is something that you find to be tough, try a practice ACT first to see if it fits your strengths.



Overall, both present their own unique set of challenges.  It really comes down to what type of student you are and an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.

Still not sure which test is for you?  Sign up for a diagnostic SAT and ACT test to get a breakdown of your score.  We will even set up a consultation with our SAT and ACT experts to help you figure out which test is the best fit for you.


Cristopher Tolkien Makes an Appearance

I’m always a bit leery but also drawn in when a famous writer’s offspring attempts to ride a progenitor’s coattails to fame, fortune and probably an enlarged bank account.


Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson expand Frank Herbert’s Dune Universe.

Brian Herbert’s attempts to expand his father’s Dune universe are a typical case in point.  They are interesting science fiction books in a familiar universe but… but they break no new ground.  This is probably the biggest attack on his father’s legacy that was committed here because the original Dune books were beloved precisely because they were new and fresh. Core fans will read them, of course, bit I doubt they’ll be considered part of the canon anytime soon (at least not by me).

But Herbert’s books (with an assist from Anderson, clearly) aren’t bad.  If it wasn’t for the legacy, we’d all have liked them without further comment.  Much worse was the disastrous attempt at authoring an epic Fantasy by Nicolai Tolstoy (grandson of Leo), which resulted in the only time I have ever voluntarily abandoned a book in the middle of it in the last 30 years.

So it was with mixed feelings that I picked up the Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle Earth series some years ago.  That first book was a difficult read, but I was fascinated by the textual history that Tolkien Jr had managed to piece together from his fathers papers.  It is a stunning piece of academic research taken on by probably the only person with both the access and motivation to succeed in it.

I’ve since read the six books that followed which brings us all the way through the history of the writing of the tales that eventually became the Silmarillion to the text of the Lord of the Rings.  The book which prompted this post, and which I’ll be concentrating on here, is the seventh, The Treason of Isengard.


The Treason of Isengard, Book 7 of the History of Middle Earth and Book 2 of the History of the Lord of the Rings

Like its predecessors, this volume presents older drafts of the material with commentary on when changes were likely made, and when names evolved into the current versions that everyone knows and loves.

As a writer, I find JRR Tolkien’s process mesmerizing and terrifying.  Mesmerizing because watching text evolve so methodically is an education in and of itself and Terrifying because the man spent his entire adult life continuously tweaking his text.  Were it not for editorial pressure and deadlines, he probably would have kept toying with the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings until the day he died, much like he did with Silmarillion.

The reason to read this series isn’t because it will bring you a new appreciation of LotR – we all know it and love it (or despise it) for our own reasons, and this won’t change it, but it will bring you a type of writing process that will feel very alien to nearly every one of us.

If I wrote my books like that, I’d simply go insane, but it’s undeniably effective.  The layers of myth upon myth back through the ages that shine through in the Lord of the Rings are there because Tolkien actually wrote them, and rewrote them and wrote them yet again as he composed the Silmarillion and the associated poems.

In this particular case, I don’t begrudge the son a single cent, and actually prefer that his series exists instead of having original writing from Christopher.


Not the Greatest French Film of All Time, Interesting Nonetheless


Les Enfants du Paradis Movie Poster

As we continue our slow journey through the 1001 Films one must supposedly watch before one dies (maybe if we never finish the list we’ll live forever?) we encounter a bunch of films which are reputed to be or voted as the greatest something or other.   The major conclusion one can immediately take from these is that an amazing number of important-sounding institutions exist which seem dedicated to choosing the greatest films of whatever country, and none of them can agree on which one it is.

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945) was voted the greatest film ever in one poll of French film industry people.  Yes, I know that it was obvious that the French would select a French film for the honor, but it’s pretty amazing that they happened to select this one.  It isn’t.

It’s also been called the French equivalent of Gone with the Wind.  It also isn’t.

What it is is an interesting flick with a fascinating production history.

The plot is noteworthy .  Everyone is in love with the girl, but no one gets her.  Additional interest is given to it by having her suitors span the social range from a mime and a criminal to a count.  Loads of fun and hijinks and melodrama ensue, and the film does entertain.  The ending is also worth waiting for, as it is neither a conventional happy ending or a typical tragic one.  The only person who dies richly deserves it.

The most noteworthy thing about it, however, is that it was produced in Vichy France under the strict and watchful eye of the German censors with a cast and crew that mixed resistance elements with collaborators in what must have been the ultimate example of workplace politics.

Imagine attempting to shoot a large-scale film in a country ravaged by war, with Nazis telling you what to cut out of it and a director, Marcel Carné, who tries to sneak a lot of the stuff that is supposedly forbidden back in, in a different guise.  The sets were a shambles, which was a drawback for a film with a lot of outdoors street scenes, and one can only imagine what kind of scarcity conditions they had to operate under as the allies advanced.


Robert Le Vigan – French actor convicted of collaborating with the Nazis in Vichy France.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the film are the story of Robert Le Vigan who was removed from the production, accused of being a collaborator and disappeared.  He was later tried and sent to prison, but in the meantime they needed a replacement for him, and chose one of the Renoir brothers (yes, the son of the painter).

Collaborators, of course, weren’t tried under the Vichy régime, so you are correct in guessing that the movie wasn’t finished until the allies liberated France.  It is speculated that Carné himself created production delays that ensured the film would only be released in a free France.  Whether that is true or a product of Carné’s propaganda is open to debate, but it does cement the legend.

So, perhaps it’s not the film itself but the context and symbolism which engendered the French industry’s fascination with it.  It’s both understandable and forgivable, and the film isn’t bad either.

ACT vs. SAT Math Sections

Whether you are an interested parent or prospective student, there have been many changes to the SAT and ACT tests, so it can be difficult to keep track of it all.  As the ACT and SAT Director for Oxford Tutoring, I want to break it down the differences between the ACT and SAT math sections to help you determine which test is right for you.  Without further delay, let’s begin!



The ACT has 60 questions but the source of these questions comes from more areas of math.  Here is a chart for the ACT:


The SAT has 58 questions and more than half of it is focused on algebra-based concepts.  Here is a chart of what percentage of each math subject can be found on the SAT.sat-math-chart


The ACT has one big section with 60 questions and 60 minutes.  That means, to get it all done, on average, you only have 1 minute per question. This is quite a bit less than what you have on the SAT.

The SAT is divided into two math sections.  The first section requires you to complete 20 questions in 25 minutes, and the second section contains 38 questions to be finished in 55 minutes.  This gives you 1 minute and 15 seconds per question for the first section, and 1 minute and 30 seconds per question for the second section.

Order of Difficulty

The ACT always has the first 20 questions as easy, the next 20 are medium, and the last 20 are considered difficult.  Their questions are a lot more direct, and will look more similar to math questions seen in school.

The SAT, on the other hand, somewhat follows a pattern of difficulty with questions in the beginning generally, but not always, being easier than the questions at the end.  The majority of the questions on the SAT require strong reading and analysis skills, and then once you have figured out what the question is asking, then you can proceed to solve the problem.

Although the difficulty does not directly affect the scoring, it does help people plan on how much time to spend on a question.

Calculator Usage

For the ACT, you will be able to use your calculator for the entire math section.   So there will be some questions that require use of a calculator, but it is useful to remember that not every question will need it.

One of the reasons the SAT has two math sections is that the first one is a non-calculator section and the second one allows calculator utilization.  So, strong arithmetic and mental math skills are very helpful with this section since you cannot check your answers with a calculator.   It also requires you to manipulate formulas to make the mental math easier.

Answer Options

The ACT will always have 5 multiple choice options to choose from when answering.

The SAT has either 4 multiple choice options or free response where the student must write on the answer.


The SAT also has few formulas given in the beginning of each math section, whereas the ACT does not provide any formulas.

Guessing Penalty

There is no guessing penalty for either test.

Final Verdict

Overall, students who are good problem solvers usually prefer the SAT compared to the ACT.  For them, it is easier to quickly solve the problem and it is less strain of a strain than the ACT.

An ideal candidate for the SAT will have covered math through Algebra 2, and likes riddles, or games like Sudoku.

Students who prefer more common math problems and have a diverse math background prefer the ACT because the questions are easier to process, and require more of the math skills than analytical skills.

An ideal candidate for the ACT will have covered math through Pre-calculus, and can recall formulas from previous math classes.

Want to make sure you find the test that is right for you?  Take a ACT or SAT diagnostic test at Oxford Tutoring.  (949) 681-0388.


David Lord


Meet the author: David Lord is the SAT and ACT Director and Math and Science Instructor at Oxford Tutoring Center in Orange County, California. He has helped hundreds of students achieve the SAT and ACT test scores they want and accepted into their desired college. He reaches his students through challenging them and asking questions to make sure they are absorbing the material they are being taught.

Spotlight on Tom Beeman – Oxford Tutoring Tutor

written by Tom Beeman – Spanish tutor at Oxford Tutoring

Tutoring is a great experience for everyone involved in it.  For the student, it gives them the added help they need either to close the learning gaps or to further their knowledge outside of what is provided in the classroom.  But the positivity that comes from tutoring also applies to the tutor as well.  Having been a tutor at Oxford for almost 3 years I have experienced these joys first-hand.

As a high school teacher, I do my best to reach all my students, but with the large numbers in each class, it is difficult to meet the individual needs to each student.  However, tutoring gives me a great opportunity to spend a full hour just with one student focusing on the needs of only that student.  Tutoring Spanish gives me the opportunity not just to assist with completing any assignments the student has, but it gives me an opportunity to re-teach the material to increase long-term retention and application of the language outside the classroom.  It also allows me to provide additional resources for the student to use independently when he/she doesn’t have access to a teacher or tutor.

While I enjoy working with the student who comes in for a one-time session, my biggest satisfaction as a tutor comes from working with long-term students.  This gives me time to assess the students’ skills as well as their needs to be able to help them reach their end goal.  I’ve been fortunate to have a few students who I have been able to tutor over multiple school years.  This long-term tutoring has allowed me to get to know my students’ learning style to better cater my tutoring to meet their needs.  I have had the pleasure of seeing my students grow in their knowledge in the language and comfort level of using it as well.  It’s great when I see a student engaging in the target language without being prompted.  One example has to do with the difference between tennis vs. tennis shoes in Spanish.  The difference between the two is minimal and the first time I taught this to one of my students, it was a serious learning moment.  But over the course of time, it then became an inside joke between the two of us and one of us would bring it up any time sports-related vocabulary would appear.

But to me, being a tutor is not just about helping students with their academics.  It’s also about building a professional rapport with them to help with the whole person.  You get to know their favorite subjects, extracurricular activities they participate in at school, their college and career goals, etc.  Understanding their personalities allows me tailor how I tutor them so that they are learning in a way in which they understand best and they feel like they are being heard.  By helping them with their long-term goals, they become more enthusiastic about tutoring and are more likely to succeed.  It’s great when these students come back after they no longer need tutoring or have graduated from school and tell stories about how they were in a situation where they are able to communicate in Spanish.

For me, tutoring is a natural extension of my career as a teacher. I enjoy working with my tutoring students and seeing them grow as much as I do my classroom students.  One day, I hope they will see the value of tutoring and will become tutors themselves so that they can help others just as I have helped them.

About the Author: A credentialed teacher, Tom Beeman tutors Spanish 1 -3 and Spanish AP. He enjoys working one-on-one with his students to help them learn that it is possible to become fluent in a second language.  When he is not tutoring, he enjoys spending time with his friends and attending teacher conferences to improve his skills as a teacher and a tutor.