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I mentioned this problem from one of my earliest blog posts with one of my students last week, so I thought I'd bring it back as this week's Math Journey.  Enjoy!   ~   The SAT messes with your head. Don't feel embarrassed, it messes with everyone's head. It's designed to. The SAT is a test of your critical reasoning skills, meaning it's actually far more about logic and figuring out the correct course of action than it is about actually knowing the material. This is nowhere more evident than on the Math section. The SAT Math trips up so many students because they expect it to behave like a math test. The truth is, the SAT Math is about figuring out how to answer each problem using as little actual math as possible. It's all about working quickly, and the questions are structured such that they conceal the quick logic and context-based route behind the facade of a more complicated math question. They're trying to psych you out; to make you... read more

Ellen's Rules for Effective Time Management, Part 2 3. Know when it’s time to take breaks. Spending a good chunk of time on one subject is good; it helps you settle into a rhythm and lets your brain get into the correct frame of reference for the subject. But there exists a horizon beyond which no progress can or will be made. It’s the point at which your brain has become over-saturated with the current material, and if you continue on you’ll just end up working yourself into circles of frustration. In paper writing, it’s the point at which anything you wrote would make sense to you regardless because you’ve been reading the same few paragraphs to yourself for hours. In math, it’s the point at which you will just end up confusing yourself more and more as you try desperately to work it out. When that moment arrives, you know it’s time to take your break. 4. TAKE BREAKS. I don’t care how much work you have, there’s always enough time for a fifteen-minute break... read more

Quickly after beginning work as a tutor, I came to realize that parents are the black belts of scheduling. They not only have to keep up with a number of annoying adult responsibilities, but they also have to keep up with their children's calendars. Parents' organizational skills (and possibly their sanity) are put to a very difficult test daily. So, to all my expertly organized parents out there, in this post I hope to let you in on a scheduling detail that often slips through the cracks but can make a big difference in a student's SAT or ACT scores.   One of the biggest obstacles I face when preparing a student for the SAT or ACT is the student's test schedule. Far too often, my student is signed up for two tests that are only a month apart. For example, a couple of my past students have been signed up for an SAT in May and then another in June. This short turnaround gives me very little time to receive the student's scores and prep the student in the areas he or... read more

As the school year ramps up again, I wanted to put out a modified version of a 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 talk to... read more

  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 addition... read more

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)   (   ( 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

Almost every college or university requires students to submit an ACT or SAT score.  This score affects not only your admission application but also scholarship opportunities and which classes you will be able to enroll in.  The vast majority of students do little to no preparation work before taking these exams.  They may feel that all their hard work in high school should have prepared them already.  Although this is partially true, it is actually quite easy to raise your score a significant amount by just putting in a little bit more work.  Students can see composite ACT scores raise 5 or more points and SAT scores raise 300 or more points.  Why is this?   1)  Both the ACT and SAT test many of the same concepts repeatedly and by learning these core concepts, you will easily get a higher score.     2)  You will get more familiar with the format of the test and start to see patterns in how they ask questions.  Once... read more

Okay, we have all made a math mistake, but for one reason or another we never took advantage of that opportunity to commit the correct step to memory. I have news for you. You can still remedy the situation. Here is how you achieve it. 1. For every time that you’ve made a wrong step in solving a problem, repeat the correct step three times. 2. If it is a multi-step problem, WRITE all the steps in the correct order at least three times. 3. READ out all the correct steps to yourself at least three times so that you HEAR the correct steps. Here is the rationale for this strategy. We have multiple ways of learning for a reason and we need to make use of multiple intelligences in order to maximize our ability to understand and memorize the correct steps. Once we commit the correct procedure into long-term memory, we are essentially freeing our short-term memory to work on other tasks. This way we won't get stumped months later when we come across the problem. So this strategy is a win!... read more

I recently sent this as advice to one of my clients having trouble with linear systems of inequalities. I thought I would share it here on my blog for students, parents, and tutors who have use for it. EXPLANATION OF LINEAR SYSTEMS OF INEQUALITIES A system with regular lines (the ones with equals signs in them that you have done before) shows the single point where the two lines cross each other on the graph. The X and Y at that point are the two numbers that make the equal sign true. For instance, with the equations 3 = 5X +Y and 10 = 2X -Y, the answer is x = 7/13 and y = 4/13 because if you plug those numbers into both equations you get true statements, 3=3 and 10=10. The point (7/13, 4/13) is the point where the two lines cross each other. Inequalities, where you have "less than" or "greater than" signs work the same way. But, instead of getting a point where the equations are true, you get a whole area on the graph where they are true. So, the answer... read more

Tutoring is expensive. But, there are several factors that relate to cost besides here-and-now price. It is the ultimate (sometimes long-term) bottom line that you need to calculate to determine if hiring a tutor is cost effective. But, what does "cost effective" mean? One way of looking at the term "cost effective" is to determine if the value you receive in return for your investment is larger than the investment. For example, if tutoring sessions cost you $100, but you passed an employment test that allowed you to earn an extra $0.50 per hour; then you would see the return for the money that you paid for the tutoring in less than two weeks (based upon your increased hourly rate of pay). Tutoring with that kind of pay back would be cost effective, and the monetary benefit would be easy to calculate. Other pay backs for tutoring might not be as easy to calculate, but equally substantial. For example, if tutoring costs you $200 but enables you to increase... read more

During the school year, my students balance classes, sports, social lives, and sleep. Their schedules are hectic. During tutoring lessons, students often only have time to focus on the immediate assignments at hand in their classes. We usually have little time for test prep unless the student and parent has specifically requested that we focus solely on the SAT or ACT. So, when is the best time to study for the SAT or ACT? You guessed it. Summer vacation.    Many of my students have a summer schedule that gives their school year calendar a run for it's money. However, their busy summers do not contain nearly as many academic activities as their school year schedules. Most have summer sports, camp, or jobs. This is the perfect time to balance those physical and social activities with test prep. In addition, students can learn the ropes of the SAT or ACT better when they are not juggling other classes and tests. Every kind of standardized test is unique and it takes... read more

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

My top tips for 'outside the box' - 1. If possible 'interview' the student by phone before the first lesson to establish a bit of a rapport, and to show that you are there as the student's tutor, not the parents' ally.   2. Bring chocolate if you are having a long session, once you have asked if your student likes chocolate. I believe in rewards for hard work, and a 90 minute plus session is hard work!   3. I give students some tools for instant relaxation, which they all enjoy learning.   4. Often, especially with anxious students, I help them with visualization of a  successful test report coming in the mail!   5. I make sure that the last 2-3 minutes are used to record the homework, and to note what pages we left off, if we were in the middle of a review section.   Re how I tutor for math:     My approach is to individualize the lessons - first do a diagnostic assessment of what areas... read more

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 to... read more

Over the last few years, the SAT has lost a tremendous amount of market share to the ACT. Over 1.84 million high school graduates sat for the ACT in 2014, while only 1.67 million took the SAT. The College Board changed the SAT to look more like its competitor. Both exams now feature: *An optional essay *Longer sections – The old SAT had 10 sections. Each was around 20 minutes in length. Both the new SAT and the ACT have four sections (the exact number depends on how you count), which average around 45 minutes. *More science related content. The ACT has a Science section. The new SAT will not, but includes these concepts in the Reading and Math sections). *No penalty for guessing. *No esoteric vocabulary. Gone are the days when people described five dollar words as SAT words!

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 will... read more

Many parents and students are yearning for the prospect of increasing their point average on SATs. This fall I had many students who were willing to spend long hours pursuing their college dreams. It became apparent that test anxiety was trying to steal their vision of their future. What we found to work successfully was to give them timed SAT tests under similar test conditions. This seemed to lessen their anxiety when the time came to take the actual test. The thought that they understood the timing, the types of questions, reviewed their mistakes and learned from their mistakes all added to great achievement and lower anxiety come test day.

summer vacation is the perfect time for starting to study for the fall college admissions tests.  It's also a great time to keep those math skills up so that you don't lose any of the skills that you learned last year.  So many students lose so much of the skills that they have gained in the past year, and math is just like anything else, don't practice and you'll lose all that you learned.

Some basic tips for students preparing for the SAT exams.    If your goal is to score high on the exams (and who doesn't want to score high) then you must start preparing early and spend the time. The preparation must be organized into a daily study schedule with a detailed list of tasks. A high score on the SAT translates directly into money in your financial aid package in college.   How to organize the preparation: 1. Study time should be scheduled for the time when you are most alert. For most people, this is the morning hours and it is entirely possible to study an hour before the start of the school day - if you go to sleep early. 2. Cut back or eliminate other social activities to properly prepare for the SAT 3. Purchase a preparatory book (used from Amazon is ideal) and use that book to organize a daily schedule for studying 4. Read printed material that you DON'T like - especially newspapers like the New York Times, Washington...

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