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Michael I.
Georgetown Educated Financial Consultant & Experienced Tutor
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SAT
TutorMe
Question:

What is the most optimal way to study and prepare for the SAT?

Michael I.
Answer:

The SAT is not designed to test how smart or intelligent you are; it is designed to see how well you can read and take a test. Preparing for the SAT is a lot like going to the gym: the more you go, the more comfortable and able you become. No one ever got into shape by exercising once a week for 3 hours and doing nothing the other six days. Likewise, it's much more difficult to get higher scores with long but infrequent practice sessions. Spending 45 minutes daily on practicing something useful is far more effective than low-quantity, high-duration bulk sessions. Perhaps ever more so than how much time one spends practicing is what one chooses to practice. It would be unwise to practice math if one already scores a 780 (out of 800). It is vital to know one's strengths and weaknesses and devote a lot of practice time to the areas in which it is possible to gain the most points. The way to do this is through practice tests. Regardless of the score, the practice test is even more valuable when it tells you what you don't know. High scores are nice, but finding areas that one can improve upon is critical for succeeding on the real thing. Every student has different skills and learns differently, but succeeding on the SAT is something that, broadly speaking, can be standardized and taught to a multitude of students.

Economics
TutorMe
Question:

What are some solutions that could help alleviate the retirement savings crisis that Americans seemingly find themselves in?

Michael I.
Answer:

Before discussing solutions, it is imperative to have a basic grasp of the problem. It is widely reported that social programs designed to avoid old-age poverty, like Social Security, are financially unstable. Those programs were designed over 50 years ago when life expediencies were much shorter and economic conditions were vastly different. Fast-forward to today, and it seems highly unlikely (due to political realities) that the government will be able to step in and pass major legislation that prolongs social safety net systems without inflicting too much harm on present retirees. Thus, one solution could come from the private sector. While not perfect, workplace retirement plans like 401(k) and 403(b) plans do help workers save for retirement and can lift some of the burden off of government. Unfortunately, many of these plans are still 'opt-in' plans, which means that workers have to take the initiative and consent to these plans. Research shows that most people usually don't do this and will stick with the default choice, whatever it may be. Hence, retirement savings could become 'opt-out' which would require workers to voluntarily pull themselves out of the plan. Built into this could be annual increasing contributions so that individuals have to do as little work as possible when it comes to choosing to save. For individuals with lower incomes, there could (assuming political feasibility) be larger changes that could create benefits. Instead of making everyone eligible for Social Security, it could be restricted based off of age and income so that while everyone would still pay into the system, not everyone would draw out benefits. This has the option to extend the solvency of these programs and increase the amount of money each person still eligible receives. Another option to help individuals with lower incomes could be the start of early savings accounts with a small government contribution that could help them pay for some of life's larger expenses, such as college. Education is critically important to upward economic mobility, and a small contribution at a child's birth in an investment account managed by the parents that would grow over time could help young people avoid debt in their 20s which would enable them to save more after school. Early saving creates more time for growth and compounding which would pay tremendous dividends over time and make it that much easier for people to retire, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Government
TutorMe
Question:

Would electing members of the House of Representatives by proportional vote represent an improvement over the status quo?

Michael I.
Answer:

Aside from personal party affiliation, opinions to this question are almost definitely shaped both by the state in which one lives and whether one resides in an urban or rural location. For those living in more rural areas, the answer to the question would almost certainly be no. First, such a change would end the traditional over-representation that rural populaces have enjoyed in the House. Surely, they would argue, that mega population centers would, if they voted together, easily outvote them constantly and thus they would lose much of the representation that they currently enjoy. While the present system may be flawed, proportional representation could swing the imbalance the other way instead of creating balance. In the status quo, the representatives of rural communities usually have one or two major concerns and can cater their energy and political clout directly to those issues, especially on issues like agriculture that tend to be dominated by rural areas. On the other hand, proportional representation could be an effective way to end gerrymandering and hold true to the "one person one vote" principle established by the Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr. No more would one party win a majority of the votes in a state overall but win a minority of the seats from that state. With no electoral districts, there would have to be a drastic change at the state party level about who candidates are, and who gets priority seating after the votes are counted. Fortunately, many European nations provide solid models to show how feasible this is. Political and racial minorities would arguably have more power because they would no longer be divided into districts at the state level that would water down their vote and render it basically meaningless. A final idea to consider is that of third parties. In the status quo, it is extremely difficult for someone who is not a Democrat or Republican to win a congressional seat. However, in a proportional system, it becomes possible for third-party candidates to gain representation. Even a small number of third-party candidates in the House would drastically alter leadership, policy priorities, and the balance of power. There is the potential for a major party to need a smaller party to form a coalition style government and this could breed some sort of compromise by necessity--something that is sorely lacking in Washington today. While the compromise aspect may be beneficial, there are obvious pitfalls of a coalition government, most notably instability and fragility. Should coalitions not be able to last for the two-year terms of representatives, it would be unclear how Congress could function, and because the House controls all spending and taxation bills, that could throw government budgets and spending bills into flux which create an entirely new arena of policy and political consequences.

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