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Summer: Relax your brain or retain your knowledge?

I was a fairly typical young person and, like my peers, counted down the days until summer. My mother was a math professor, so I never stopped doing math during the summer, but felt like other parts of my brain became a little mushy in the summer. Come September, it was difficult to get back into the swing of writing papers and studying history and memorizing diagrams. I was out of practice and lost my routine. As an adult, I have almost continually taken classes, because I enjoy learning and find that from class to class, I need to maintain a routine, i.e. a study area and a time of day that I complete my assignments. I have also found that reviewing material a week or two before the course begins helps me to start the class with more confidence and competence. I am a big believer in confidence fueling success and I wonder if younger students practiced assignments in the week or two prior to return to school, if that confidence would help the transition to the school year... read more

How to solve simultaneous equations.

Normally, an equation has a single solution when it contains only one undefined variable.  For example, take the equation 3x + 7 = 19.   3x + 7 = 19     [original equation] 3x = 12     [subtracted 7 from both sides] x = 4     [divided both sides by 3]   This is one case of a larger trend in algebra.  As I've already said, you can solve an equation for one answer when it contains a single variable.  However, this is derived from the larger rule that you can solve a set of equations where there are as many distinct equations as there are variables.  These are called simultaneous equations, and occur any time that two equations are both true over a certain domain.  In the more practical sense, this is what you should do if an exam asks you to solve for a value and gives you two different equations to use.   To solve simultaneous equations, we can use three strategies... read more

Recommended Materials for SAT Study

  With the wealth of SAT prep materials out there, it can be tough to find the best resources for SAT study. I've been tutoring for the SAT for over a decade, and these are the materials I've found to be the most helpful.     SAT General Study   For all-around SAT preparation, nothing beats The Official SAT Study Guide, published by the College Board. With ten full practice tests, this book contains plenty of study material for all sections of the test. Because the questions are written by the College Board and, in many cases, have appeared on actual administered SATs, they accurately reflect what students will see on test day. (I've never found a test written by a third-party company that comes close to matching actual SAT questions, and I do not recommend third-party practice tests for study.) Working through the questions in this book is the best, most effective way for any student to prepare for the test.   In... read more

SAT / ACT Test Taking Tips

Be Prepared! The night before, collect: plenty of sharpened #2 pencils an eraser a small pencil sharpener (in case your pencils break during the exam) a watch (you cannot rely on the proctor and there may not be a wall clock or it may be on the wall behind your seat) your calculator your admission ticket your identification  directions to the testing center tissues medicine (if necessary) disposable earplugs (if you find the background noise of people coughing and fidgeting distracting)   (https://sat.collegeboard.org/register/sat-test-day-checklist)   (http://www.actstudent.org/testprep/taking/) It may be helpful to collect these items in a clear plastic (Ziploc) bag that you can grab and go in the morning. If you have to search for these items in the morning, you are likely to forget something or become frazzled. Eat a substantial breakfast that will provide you with sufficient energy throughout the test... read more

How Many Practice SATs Should You Take?

Practice is the key to SAT mastery. No matter what preparatory course you take, what tutor you hire, or what study guides you purchase, all of your resources are for naught if you don’t devote significant time and effort towards practice exams. Knocking out a healthy load of practice tests is particularly important for standardized exams. Why? Because standardization means that the test makers (a.k.a. the College Board) are bound by an obligatory adherence to consistency. As such, from year to year, while the precise questions vary, the core subjects and concepts are constant. Moreover, the style of questions is uniform. Translation: the more questions you see, the fewer curve balls can be hurled your way. With enough practice, you can familiarize yourself with the majority of possible question types, which will (1) improve your test taking abilities and (2) bolster your confidence come test day. Another reason why practice tests are so important is that they... read more

SAT Prep - Tackling Tough Math Questions

Nailing an 800 on the math portion of the SAT can be a tricky feat, even if you are steadfastly familiar with all of the requisite formulas and rules. A difficult problem can overwhelm even the most prepared individual come test day. Time constraints, test surroundings, and the overall weight of the exam can unnerve the most grounded students. So what do you do when panic strikes and your mind draws a blank? How do you re-center yourself and charge forward with ferocity and confidence? What you do is this: write everything down from the problem. This is the most important part of the problem solving process. As you peruse the question, write down the pertinent data and establish relationships by setting up equations. This exercise will help you see solutions that were previously difficult to decipher. As you work on practice tests and sample problems, you must work diligently to form a solid habit of writing down important bits of information as you plow through... read more

Should I hire a Tutor? - Advice for Parents

Should I get a tutor? Will it help my child? These are some of the most common questions posed to tutors by parents of students struggling in school. Tutoring can be expensive and difficult to schedule so parents must decide whether the time and money will be well spent. Instead of relying on a crystal ball, use these factors to help make the decision. 1. Does the student spend an appropriate amount of time on homework and studies? While it can help with study skills, organization, and motivation, tutoring cannot be expected to keep the student on track unless you plan on having a session every night. If you can make sure the student puts in effort outside of tutoring, she will be more likely benefit from it. 2. Does the student have difficulty learning from the textbook? If this is the case, the student will probably respond to one-on-one instruction that is more personalized. A tutor will help bring the subject to life and engage the student. A good tutor will... read more

Preventing Silly Mistakes On The SAT And ACT

The “silly mistake” is quite possibly the most mischievous and irksome of the math demons. It is a sly beast that lurks in the deepest recesses of your mind, emerging only periodically to sully your scores in a most disturbing way. Because of its crafty nature, it is able to lull you into the false belief that your thorough understanding of mathematic concepts will keep you safe from its clutches. But, as I’m sure you know, “silly mistakes” afflict even the most soundly prepared students. What exactly constitutes a “silly mistake?” Here are some common examples for standardized tests: Misreading the question (or failing to read the entire instructions) Filling in the wrong bubble on your answer sheet Making a slight arithmetic error Incorrectly copying down the original problem Turning a negative number into a positive number (or vice versa) I don’t care who you are, what your educational background is, or where you go to school… you have been... read more

A review of online and mobile resources for SAT test preparation!

SAT PREP! As a seasoned SAT tutor, my students have informed me of many different online resources for SAT prep. Some have been quite useful, while others are not so much. In this post, I will rank 5 resource links to SAT review websites or apps that I find helpful in preparing for the SAT. Keep in mind that these resources may be immensely helpful but are not perfect solutions for stand-alone SAT preparation. The best SAT preparation is done with a live tutor who is knowledgable about the SAT itself and about the different strategies for test-taking that work best for each individual.   Top 5 SAT Prep Resources 1. CollegeBoard.com's  full practice SAT exam is the very first place every student should begin. Who better to provide SAT test prep, than the makers of the SAT?! 2. INeedAPencil is a great free resource for an entire comprehensive prep program funded by the CK-12 Foundation. 3. Number2 is another free resource with... read more

How to write an inequality equation from two boundary inequalities of a variable

I couldn't solve an SAT math problem (farmer picking pumpkins of the right weight and asking what ranges will he NOT pick) where I manipulated the word problem on a number line graph to give  x<2 and x>10.  I was asked to pick the answer that could be the correct one.   The answers I had to choose from were in the form of absolute value inequality equations, I solved all five answers and found that the answer (D)  |x-6| >4  was the correct answer.  This is one way to do this, grunt work/crank it out, but I want to explain to my student (AND MYSELF) how to do it analytically.   It appears that what I want to do is generate an absolute value inequality equation from data, seems simple enough, but I cannot find any references on the internet where this is done, it's always the other way.   Can someone explain to me the logic of how to do it?   From looking at the steps I went through to solve the... read more

Math - Check your work!!

Whenever you complete a math problem, it is paramount to go back and double check your work. Remember, no one is perfect and mistakes will be made from time to time. The first step is to always ask yourself "Does this answer make sense"? For example, if you're working on a geometry problem and you're trying to calculate an angle of a polygon, and you determine the answer is 110°, look at the angle and ask "Does this answer makes sense, does this angle look like it's greater than a right angle or a 90° angle"? If not, you know you've made an error and can go back to find the mistake. You can do it!!

Things a good tutor should say and discuss with you:

As the school year ramps up again, I wanted to put out a modified version of a Memo of Understanding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memo_of_understanding for parents and students. It seems each year in the rush to get through the first weeks of school parents and students forget the basic first good steps and then the spiral downwards occurs and then the need for obtaining a tutor and then the ‘wish for promises’ from a tutor. Pay attention to your child’s folder or agenda book. A student is generally not able to self regulate until well into high school. Some people never quite figure it out. Be the best person you can be by helping your child check for due dates, completeness, work turned in on time. Not only will this help your child learn to create and regulate a schedule, it prevents the following types of conversations I always disliked as a teacher ("Can you just give my child one big assignment to make up for the D/F so they can pass"; "I am going to... read more

What to Watch out for on Standardized Tests

Hey folks,  I am sure many of you have plans of going to college or finishing up that last hectic year of school.  Well with these endeavors comes not only tests and quizzes created by books and your professors/teachers, but you also have to take nation and statewide test in order to pass and/or qualify for a position in a higher learning institute.  Such tests include the SAT, ACT, MCAT, etc.  What you want to remember about taking these tests is that these tests are testing you ability to locate small mistakes and easy to miss information.  They also want you to understand this material.  You have to be prepared for these easy to miss situations.  For example, I am sure you all have done a math question, felt like you did it perfectly correct only to find out that you actually got it incorrect.  Furthermore, the answer you got appeared as one of the answer choices!  Or you were on the right track to answering correctly, but made... read more

The Redesigned SAT: What You Need To Know

The news broke recently that the College Board is once again changing the SAT. These new changes, scheduled to be implemented in spring 2016, represent a pretty large departure from the SAT of the past. The College Board states that this new SAT will “ask students to apply a deep understanding of the few things shown by current research to matter most for college readiness and success.” Here are the changes that will have the biggest effect on test preparation, as I see them: An Increased Focus on Evidence-Based Analysis The new SAT will place a higher priority on analysis based on evidence. In the critical reading and writing sections students will now be asked to support their answers with evidence, including citing portions of the passages. In effect, the new SAT will require students not only to know the correct answer, but to be able to explain why the answer is correct, and point to specific evidence in the passage that supports their choice. The essay... read more

MAJOR SAT news (for younger students)

The College Board has revealed the nature of long-suspected changes to the SAT.  Please note that this new-format test will NOT be given until 2016.  So if you're on here right now looking for SAT prep, you're probably still taking the old test.  Students who are currently freshmen will be taking the new test for the first time in their junior year, assuming normal patterns of taking a first SAT in junior year.  (By the way, I do not recommend the practice I've seen in some families of taking a first SAT in sophomore year.  The test has content which is beyond most sophomore curricula.  The PSAT is a much better diagnostic vehicle at that age than the real SAT.)   This article explains the new SAT in the best way that I have seen.  In short, guessing will no longer be penalized, the essay will become optional (reverting scores to the familiar 1600 range), some math questions will not have a calculator, and the reading passages... read more

Are You Bold Enough to Hear the Truth? Everyone Can Get 2000+ on SAT

   You probably heard people telling you that "Oh, you can't really improve you SAT score!" That is true from one perspective. According to College Board, the national average improvement on SAT is only 40 points! That is really disappointing considering the fact that the total score is 2400. However, even though this is totally true, does that necessarily suggests that you cannot improve your SAT score? If you are bold enough for the truth, the answer is: no. Because honestly, most students who took the SAT for the second or third time, did not spent enough time and effort studying for the exam. If they did not study, how would you expect them to improve? You cannot just simply take the exam and expect the score to raise by itself.        Although SAT is more of an "ability" test, that you cannot really study, you can still study it and improve your ability and hence, improve your score! Why do I say that? Because... read more

SAT or ACT? It's Easy to Determine

I assume you already know these two exams, so how to pick which one to take? The Best Option (only apply to those who still have a lot of time to prep for the test ex. Freshmen, Sophomore, or Junior who has nothing else to do): Take both test. Do the practice tests (only the ones that are very close to real one) and see which one you score higher. And then, choose the one that you scored higher!    Otherwise SAT -- if you are more into English ACT-- if you are more comfortable with math and science   In addition, because SAT is more of a "reasoning" test that tests your ability, it is more tricky to most students. And for ACT, it is more a straight forward test that test you on certain required topics. But in conclusion, you have to study for it before you take the actual exam. You have no idea how many students mess with these serious exams and ruin their chances of getting into dream colleges.    If... read more

Preparing for the May SAT

I am currently teaching SAT courses in the Bay Area, and a lot of students have been enrolling in my math classes.   I wanted to summarize what I think are important aspects of test preparation, as this crucial testing period begins:   1) Know the format of the test 2) Understand how the guessing penalty affects your strategy (e.g. a person scoring a 500 has a different strategy than someone scoring a 700 in math) 3) Do at least 15 practice problems per day. 4) Try to do a full length practice SAT every 3 weeks 5) Target your areas of weakness (and know what your weaknesses are) 6) Don't rush during the test. Rushing only leads to careless mistakes. 7) Be open to new strategies. Sometimes, the way we do things might get us to the right answer, but there may be a more efficient way. The SAT isn't just about accuracy - it's about doing things efficiently. 8) Know your strategies of last resort. Plugging in the answer choices is a... read more

Advice to my younger self- the student

IF I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice on how to be a better student, be more successful in school, life, etc, I would definitely tell myself that being involved in everything comes at a cost. It is better to find a few things that you like to do, do them well and often, than feeling stressed because there is so much on your plate at one time. Being a 'Jack of all Trades' it is natural for me to dip my toes in different waters- all at the same time, but that does not mean that I can give 100% to any of them at that time. While I was able to get good grades (A- average) while in school, I was impressed by how much better I did- and felt about my work- the few times that I scaled back on my activities. Another piece of advice that I wish that I could bestow upon my younger self would be to learn how to speak up in a group setting when someone is not fulfilling their part of an agreement. Now, this said, the best way to do this would be in a tactful... read more

Physical Exercise and Nutrition DO affect our brain performance and brain health.

As you may know, I am a big fan of the well-known author and brain specialist, Dr. Daniel Amen. He mentions in several of his books that Physical Exercise is good for the brain. I have read of research studies that showed a clear correlation between IMPROVEMENT in students' test scores in math and science, and their level of physical activity (for example, when math class followed PE class, the students had significantly higher scores). Maybe we should schedule PE before all math classes in our schools. What do you think about that idea? This morning I read an online article on the myhealthnewsdaily site, entitled "6 Foods That Are Good for Your Brain," and another article about how Physical Exercise helps maintain healthy brain in older adults too. The second article, "For a Healthy Brain, Physical Exercise Trumps Mental Workout" was found under Yahoo News. The remainder of this note is quoted from that article: Regular physical exercise appears... read more

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