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The Secret Behind Huge Score Improvements: Deep Structure Learning

Deep Structure Learning fosters a deeper comprehension and critical connection of concepts, preparing students not just for tests, but for a lifetime of learning. It's also the secret beyond eye-popping score increases.

Ari Freuman

on April 25, 2024
Deep Structure Learning

The big mistake found in many traditional test prep methods—and I would argue in teaching in general—is the emphasis on surface-level instruction: “learn this trick,” “if you see x do y,” “memorize this formula,” and so on. Certainly, surface-level instruction has its place, as when I teach my mother how to send email attachments. However, for the makers of the SAT and ACT, the highest priority is to craft tests that are resistant to such simplistic teaching tactics. For instance, although most students have memorized the distance formula, the test makers ensure that nearly every distance question on the SAT and ACT requires an understanding of its basis in the Pythagorean theorem. This approach by the test makers means that modalities which focus solely on surface techniques are bound to fail spectacularly.

On the March SAT, many students—and even some tutors—were lured into this tactic once more with Desmos, the powerful graphing calculator embedded into the SAT software. A litany of anecdotal evidence reminded us once more that the if-you-see-this-do-that approach fails, even with advanced technology. In other words, the Desmos reliant students felt under-equipped. As one observant tutor facetiously noted, “you were better off not even knowing what a Desmos was.” The way I would put it is: Desmos improves efficiency, but there’s no substitute for Deep Structure Learning.

What is Deep Structure Learning? Deep structure learning transcends basic memorization of facts. This approach involves grasping the principles that undergird test questions. It encourages students to connect ideas, think critically, and apply their understanding in various situations.

Unlike surface learning, which is often limited to short-term recall of specifics, deep structure learning equips students with robust analytical and evaluative skills. This foundation is not only crucial for success on the SAT and ACT but also for ongoing academic achievements and real-world challenges.

Why Deep Structure Learning is Crucial For Headline Score Improvements. The SAT and ACT are designed to evaluate a student’s readiness for college by testing their ability to think critically and apply knowledge effectively. Here’s why deep structure learning is essential:

  • Understanding vs. Memorization: These exams frequently present questions in new contexts, requiring students to apply well-understood concepts rather than merely recall facts.
  • Critical Thinking: The tests assess students’ abilities to reason and think logically, which are sharpened through deep structure learning.
  • Long-Term Retention: Material that is deeply understood is retained longer and can be recalled swiftly during the pressures of timed tests.
  • Adaptability: A solid understanding of fundamental principles allows students to adapt to varying question formats and levels of difficulty.

Some Ways We foster Deep Structure Learning:

  • Encourage Curiosity: We create an environment that values inquisitiveness, guiding students to delve deeply into topics by exploring the “why” and “how,” not just the “what.” This approach helps build a foundation for critical thinking and problem-solving.
  • Promote Understanding: Our tutors encourage students to articulate concepts in their own words, which solidifies their understanding. We also facilitate discussions that allow students to explain material to others, further reinforcing their mastery of the subjects.
  • Connect Ideas: We assist students in making connections between different subjects and real-life scenarios. This holistic approach aids in transferring knowledge across various domains and enhances adaptability during exams.
  • Embrace Challenges: We support our students in tackling challenging problems and learning from setbacks. Developing resilience through these experiences is key to deep learning and overall academic success.
  • Limit Cramming: We advocate for consistent study habits over last-minute cramming, which often leads to superficial learning. Regular, thoughtful engagement with material ensures deeper understanding and better performance on tests.


Putting It All Together: Achieving high scores on the SAT and ACT is ultimately about developing a profound comprehension of the material. This concept is not new among psychologists and education experts. It’s also intuitively understood by strong tutors. By embracing deep structure learning, students not only enhance their test performance but also cultivate critical thinking skills that will benefit them throughout their educational journey and beyond. At Ivy Tutor, we are committed to guiding our students through this enriching process with the support and encouragement they need to unlock their full potential—and headline score improvements.


Ari Freuman

Ari began his journey into test prep while working on his Master’s degree in Psychology at SUNY New Paltz and continued through his second Master’s in Statistics. Thanks to insights from his graduate-level studies, Ari became one of the top private tutors in the New York metropolitan era, where he earned a reputation as the original “Ivy Tutor.” Ari decided to create Ivy Tutor when he realized how difficult it was, at any price point, to find tutors who could reliably help students reach their scoring potential.


The College admissions process can be incredibly stressful for students and their families. Ivy Tutor removes uncertainty from the test taking process, providing clear strategy and grounded guidance.

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