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Marshaling the cognitive resources and committing the amount of time required to earn good grades and high test scores takes effort. The rewards from these achievements are often delayed, while the rewards from having fun with your friends, playing video games, interacting on social media, watching tv, etc. are more immediate. What strategies can you use to help overcome this mismatch? In the framework explored in this paper, the authors propose that the decision to delay gratification is mediated by two systems: a "cool" cognitive system, and a "hot" emotional system. The more the hot system dominates, the more likely you are to succumb to temptation. Thankfully, as we get older, the cool system matures and thus makes it easier for many of us to delay gratification. We are most vulnerable to the hot system when we are young. You’ve probably seen the marshmallow experiment in which young children are placed in front of a table with a marshmallow... read more

Many people think of tutoring as a remedial endeavor, but that really isn't the right way to think about it. The fact of the matter is that classroom instruction can never be tailored to individual students, which means that learning is rarely optimal. By necessity, teachers must teach to the middle of the class. The teacher's pace, style, and goals are geared to the class as a whole, not specific students. With enrichment tutoring, on the other hand, lessons are specifically tailored to the individual student. There are at least three situations in which enrichment tutoring can be beneficial: when a student is not excelling, when a student is not being challenged, and when a student is preparing for the ISEE and/or SSAT. First, when a student is not excelling in a particular subject, it is often because the class is moving too quickly, the teacher's style is out of sync with the student's learning style, the student did not build a strong enough foundation in previous... read more

You might wonder what emotion has to do with learning, and why I am writing a blog about sleep and emotion. If you think about it, though, how you to react challenging situations - the emotions you feel, and the cognitions, physiology, and behaviors that accompany them - can have a profound impact on how you learn. Indeed, emotional reactivity can have a profound impact in multiple domains, but in this blog we will focus on its impact on learning. Modern neuroscience is not necessary to understand that sleep is fundamentally important. However, it increasingly allows us to understand why that is the case. Andrea Goldstein and Matt Walker reviewed the literature on sleep and emotion and make a compelling case for the causal role of sleep in optimal affective brain function. For our purposes, I want to focus on the overarching theme of how sleep deprivation diminishes effective emotional reactivity. When people are sleep deprived for even one night, functional... read more

When you're studying before a test, the question of how to allocate your study time inevitably arises. What should you study first? Where should you spend the most time? Janet Metcalfe and Nate Kornell have an interesting, and intuitive answer, to this question. Metcalfe designed three clever experiments to tease out the underlying dynamics of this effect. In the first experiment, participants were allowed to choose how to allocate their study time. They were tasked with learning English-Spanish word pairs of varying difficulty (easy, medium, and difficult), under three different timing conditions (5s, 15s, or 60s). In each trial, one pair from each category appeared and participants could choose where to spend their study time. The most important takeaway from this experiment was that, under tight timing conditions, allocating study time to the easiest items was the most effective strategy. However, Metcalfe suspected that advantage would shift to medium... read more

The Importance of Study Skills Study, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is the “devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, especially by means of books; a detailed investigation and analysis of a subject or situation.” Merriam-Webster defines study as an “application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge”. My personal definition is a combination of both. To study is to devote time and energy/attention to gain an understanding and knowledge of a subject. Study skills, therefore, are the set of strategies that are used to adequately acquire and gain knowledge about a chosen topic or subject. When we possess these skills or strategies, we are able to increase the efficiency of learning. We are also able to increase the likelihood that what we are to be learning is retained in our long term memory for future use. Which brings us to the definition of learning. Learning is a lifelong skill, that when successful and... read more

We all know we do better when we're well-rested than when we're not. Modern sleep research has started to uncover exactly why that's the case. In terms of memory, there are at least two important reasons to make sure you're getting enough sleep. First, we better remember what we learned the day before. This is because sleep plays an essential role in the conversion of short-term memory to long-term memory. Short-term memory relies heavily on a brain region known as the hippocampus (named after the Greek word for seahorse, given its shape), while long-term memory relies on a broad network of cortical association areas. When we learn new information, the hippocampus is very active, and when we sleep, it turns out that the activity of our hippocampus predicts how well we will remember what we learned when we wake up. Researchers have even found interesting ways to manipulate and improve this process. For example, in one study, experimenters paired the scent of a rose with a spatial... read more

When I worked for Kaplan, they required all private tutoring lessons to be two hours. That surprised me because I thought of lessons as one-hour affairs. However, I soon discovered that we could get through a lot more in one two-hour lesson than we could in two one-hour lessons. Why? For starters, each lesson always starts with a few pleasantries and takes a couple of minutes to get going. Furthermore, it usually takes 15 minutes or so for students' minds to warm up and perform at their best. So by the time we are at our best flow, if the lesson is only one hour together, we have often used a quarter to a third of our lesson time. In my experience, I've found that 90 minutes works well for most students (exceptions: young students, and students who begin tutoring very close to their test date). With 90 minutes, we can go through the warm up period and spend more than an hour at our most productive level. And 90 minutes isn't so long that it strains students' attention... read more

During the school year, many of the students I work with have jam-packed schedules replete with extracurriculars, sports, and demanding classes. Adding test prep into the mix can complicate schedules even further. So why not take advantage of the time students have off during the summer to get ahead, so that when school resumes they won't have a heavy additional workload to worry about?    There are many reasons why summer classes benefit students. One of the most obvious relates to what is known as the "summer slide." Most students lose about two months of grade-level mathematical proficiency over the summer. In fact, in a meta-analysis of 39 studies that examined the effect of summer vacation on academic achievement, researchers found that summer break was detrimental for both math and reading skills, and that the amount of deterioration increased with grade-level.    Many times I work with sophomores and juniors in high school... read more

The Economist recently published an article with some surprising research findings about stress. Contrary to popular belief, stress is not always bad, nor is it the amount of stress that matters. Rather, the key determinant of its impact on performance and health is largely psychological.    In one study, researchers divided a set of GRE test takers into two groups. Saliva samples were taken to establish baseline stress levels for all participants. Then one group was told that stress during practice exams is natural and can improve performance, while the other group just took the test. Saliva samples were taken at the end of the exam, and the results from both groups indicated similar levels of stress. BUT, the group that had learned stress can be helpful scored higher on the practice test (and, several months later, on the actual GRE) than those who just took the test.    Even more impressively, in 2012 a group of researchers scoured through... read more

I started my Physics course this Summer telling my students they are not allowed to say "I don't know," unless they can't read, listen to a recording, watch a video, or ask a question of someone more knowledgeable. When I was in school we did not have access to information like students do today.  In my humble opinion, students need to bulk up on two things like body builders do using supplements. What are those two things students need to bulk up with? Asking quality questions and learning how they learn.  Take for example, Google is an awesome resource, but if you ask the wrong question or use terms inappropriately, you will not get the answer you seek. Ask a bad question one gets a bad answer. Ask a wrong question one gets a wrong answer. Ask an incomplete question one may very well get an incomplete answer. Its that simple. Quality of questions is paramount and good questions come from meticulous vocabulary management. Therefore, students must become... read more

Sometimes I work with students who perform well during our lessons, but who struggle when it comes to actually taking the test. It turns out the reason for this might be genetic.    When we experience stress, our prefrontal cortex is flooded with dopamine. Some of us are coded with a gene that slowly removes the dopamine, while others have a variant that rapidly removes it. The prefrontal cortex is critical for planning and decision-making, and it performs best when an optimal level of dopamine is maintained. Normally, on many cognitive tests, people with the slow variant of the gene perform better. But in stressful, high-stakes situations the opposite happens: those with the fast variant do better. Thus people with the slow variant have been dubbed Worriers, and those with the fast variant, Warriors.    However, being a Worrier does not mean you will inevitably be a victim of chronic underperformance in stressful situations. In one of the studies... read more

Students are often frustrated when trying to learn a foreign language because they can't organize the material like they are used to doing in other subjects.  Language is fluid and we are able to finally understand foreign words when we let go and allow the right side of our brains to take over.  Much of understanding is intuitive and contextual, so give yourself permission to guess what is being said or written.  The key is to think through the words and let them come alive in your brain, so you can use them later.  That's how you learned your native tongue.  Grammar should be a supplement to your language acquisition, not the main player.  I always recommend online courses with pictures, sound and familiar scenes between a play on stage, but in German.   You know the German word Kindergarten because you have heard it so many times in the context of your life.  That is how you can learn new German words....find a program... read more

Our understanding of the relationship between memory and learning continues to improve. Why not benefit from the latest research by incorporating some of these findings into your own study habits? I help my students come up with creative ways to do this all the time, and wanted to share one of the more helpful summaries I've come across about what works and what doesn't.    Here are a few highlights: Link new information to things you already know Actively participate in your own learning Create both a visual and a verbal memory for the same information Whenever possible, study in an environment that is similar to the testing environment Spread studying out over several days, rather than cramming Avoid multitasking when learning difficult or dense material Review information you're trying to memorize right before you go to sleep Quiz yourself frequently to practice retrieving these memories, making them stronger in the process   You... read more

A few good questions and thoughtful answers can make tutoring an actual learning process. This is substantially different from cramming sessions, emergency sessions to pass a class and homework 'completion'. I ask parents and students (where it is age/capacity appropriate) to explain their goals and expected outcomes. This question serves three significant purposes for the student and myself. (1) Is the student interested in learning or in getting by? (2) Does the student have commitment/perseverance or are they looking for an easy out? (3) Setting realistic expectations for outcomes. If the student is not interested in learning and will not be committed, I am not the correct tutor for the job. There are tutors who specialize in cram sessions. Setting expectations appropriately prevents surprises from happening to ardent wishes. An example of expectation setting is explaining to parents the following examples and being clear on this information: (http://talk... read more

We all have one: that one subject that our brains just refuse to understand, and no matter how much we study or how hard we work, we never feel like we really truly GET what is going on.   For me, that subject was always Physics. No junior high or high school teacher could ever answer the unending string of "...but WHY?" questions that I needed answered before I could understand even the most basic concepts of our Introductory course. It wasn't that I couldn't understand, but rather that I wasn't being taught these ideas in a way that made sense to me.    As an adult, Physics is now actually one of my favorite subjects to read about because I have found some books written for people just like me, people who need explanations fulls of examples and explanations and lots of pictures! I may never discover black holes or split an atom, but I now know enough that I can understand the people who do those things. :-)     So,... read more

Over the years, I have noticed that many students do not like to take their practice test scores at face value. When students get scores below their goal, the temptation to rationalize is strong.   "On Test Day, I will take it much more seriously, so I'm sure my result will be higher."  "I was distracted during XYZ sections, so my score on those isn't as accurate as it could be." "I only really focused on the Math sections, that's why I didn't do as well on the others."  "I made a lot of careless mistakes."   I'm not saying these are excuses - it's possible that they are accurate explanations - but even still, thinking this way will not serve you well.    For starters, if you're not taking your practice tests as seriously as you would the actual test, that's a problem. The whole point of practice tests is to prepare you for the real thing, so you should treat them as if they... read more

I have been a tutor for many years. I have been an advocate for bullied kids for several years as well. But only recently did I begin to see that even tutors can offer relief to kids who are bullied, and point bystanders in a proper direction as well. The tutor's secret is really simple: we don't even have to know whether or if the students we work with are having bullying problems. All we have to know is that they sometimes exhibit the same symptoms as a bullied kid, and those symptoms can be brought on by stress. The student who needs a tutor is often dealing with stress already, because the homework isn't done, he doesn't know how to do it - not the first thing, time is running out and there's nobody to help.   When I was younger, you know how I handled that kind of stress? By hoping the problem would go away. I would go into class the next day, the teacher would relent and say "hey, this is too hard for you guys, so let's go over... read more

I published this article on my blog and I believe that it will help students, tutors and parents alike so I decided to re-blog here.  Time management is such an important skill! The article published by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension entitled “Thirteen Timely Tips for More Effective Time Management” proved to be very beneficial as well as the Time Management Quiz. They highlight the importance of prioritizing, goal setting and eliminating distractions. I found five time managements tools that can help us achieve our goals. StayFocusd – This is a Google Chrome extension that blocks you from going to time-wasting sites. It works like a timer, and asks you to set the maximum time you want to waste on your customized time-killer sites before they’re blocked. This tool would be perfect for parents to use with students who go to school online. It would help them to keep their kids on track and not chatting on twitter or posting photos on Instagram. This tool... read more

Many of my students dread conjugating verbs. They dread it even more when the verbs are irregular and have the same meaning!!  The verbs ser and estar both mean "to be", so what is the difference between the two?? Ser is used to describe things that are permanent or often unchangeable.  For example, Yo soy de Estados Unidos.(I am from the United States).  The form of ser used in the sentence is soy.  You can not change where you are from. Ser is also used to describe characteristics, professions, religions and nationalities.       Estar is used to describe things that are temporary. For example, Yo estoy en Florida para las vacaciones(I am in Florida for vacation). I am vacationing in Florida, but I am not from there.  There is a little rhyme that is printed in the textbook, Realidades, which helps you remember when to use the verb, estar.  The rhyme goes, For how you... read more

Everyone knows that in order to do well in school you have to study. No-brainer (all-brainer?). However, what a lot of people don’t know is that what you do while you study can make or break your GPA. I’m not talking about the material you’re studying, because professors usually make PowerPoints or study guides to help you narrow down the material. I’m talking about the little habits that you developed that you didn’t know even played a role. So, without further ado, here are the 5 habits you should try to break immediately when you study.   1. You aren’t taking breaks   Sometimes students think that if they’re going to study, they need to sit down and get it over with. Maybe they think they can power through and that if they take a break they’re wasting valuable time. This couldn’t be more wrong! If you’ve ever heard of HIIT (high intensity interval training) routines, you know that this type of training is used all of the time and is meant to give you “more... read more

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