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...
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 designed three clever experiments to find out.
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 items if participants were forced to spend the bulk of their study time on them. So, in Experiment 2, participants...
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...
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...
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 10-15 minutes 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, we have often already used a significant portion of our lesson time.
For the vast majority of students, I've found that 90-minute lessons work best. With 90-minute lessons, we can go through the warm up period and spend more than an hour at our most productive level. Lessons are long enough to ensure students learn a lot each lesson, but not so long that they are struggling to pay attention by the end.
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...
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...
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 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 are the actual test.
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
The ACT stands for American College Testing. It is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, Mathematics, Reading, Science and an optional Writing Test.
The ACT is a curriculum-based achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school.
There are several strategies you can use to help you better prepare for the ACT.
Practice Pacing Yourself
Become Familiar with the Test Directions for Each Test
Read Each Question Carefully
Answer the Easy Questions First
Answer Every Question
Review your Work
Bubble in Groups
If you know testing is one of your weaknesses, consider getting a tutor or joining a test preparation course.
Did you know students can request a copy of their ACT test multiple choice questions, their answers & an answer key within three months of taking the test? There is a $20 fee, but I think this is a pretty great deal! I’m working with a student right now, who ordered a copy of his questions and answers, and I can’t wait to take a look at it to see what types of questions he was most challenged by, so I can focus our tutoring sessions on these types of questions. I'm also planning to use the test to retest him on some sections.
When I first took the SAT, I sat in a classroom with desks that were connected to chairs. One problem: these desks were less than the size of a piece of paper. Whenever I tried to flip pages, my materials fell on the floor, my pencil rolled off my desk, and I had to spend the time flipping each individual page rather than keeping my booklet open. This wasted a lot of time, and I'm sure I could have done better if the desk hadn't been stressing me out so much.
Even though most people don't think about it, it's important to know where you are taking the SAT or ACT. Is it at a high school? Or a college where desks might be much smaller? If you can't go check out the testing site in person, try to talk to people in your area to see what they thought of the site. They might have some productive advice: "There's no AC in the building" or "the chairs were very comfortable". You'll never know until you ask.
The other thing I recommend is to take the test...
If you're reading this then you probably just got the same nasty surprise as I did earlier this month. The ACT is changing the writing prompt starting in September, and students need to shift gears, A.S.A.P.!
Let's start with timing. Students now get 40 minutes for the Writing Test. They'll need the extra ten minutes, because the prompt, writing task, and planning stages have all been expanded.
remember the old prompt? Sure, you've been teaching it up until a few hours, days, or maybe weeks ago. It included 4-5 sentences on a subject having to do with education and schooling, subjects at the forefront of high school students' minds. The first sentence introduced a problem faced by students or schools. The second and third sentences introduced two sides of an argument, pro- and con-, and an argument supporting each side. Finally, the prompt ended with a...
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...
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...
There are many great texts, blog posts and other resources to help students prepare for the SAT, ACT and similar examinations. For my own part, when working with a student who is trying to prepare for a test of this nature, we approach the battle from two fronts; test-taking strategy and subject skill.
The first thing to do -- and this should be done at least a year in advance -- is to visit the website of whichever test one is taking and learn about the test, itself. The testing organization sites contain important information about the test content, sample questions, as well as general advice for successful testing. Many either contain or at least link to complete (and free) practice tests.
When preparing for a test of nearly any kind, the preparation should mimic -- and, if possible, exceed the difficulty of -- the anticipated test. Time yourself strictly, working through sample tests with realistic questions. That is, do the practice sessions as if...
ACT 2014-2015 prep season is here! The first test is only 10 weeks away, so now is the time to start ACT tutoring for your high school student. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions about ACT prep strategies, goal scores, or general test prep questions. :)
I would like to share with you, potential and current students, success stories of just a few of my Wyzant test prep students. As you can see, whether you start below or above the average exam score, these stats prove that "where there is a will, there's a way!" Way to go, Students!!
"A1" - ACT prep (18 hrs tutoring)
ACT composite increased from 19 to 28 (47%), up 17 points (189%) in English!
"A2" - ACT prep (20 hrs tutoring)
ACT composite increased from 27 to 30 (47%), up 4 points (15%) in English and 4 points (15%) in Science!
"F" - ACT prep (8 hrs tutoring)
ACT composite increased from 28 to 35 (25%), up 12 points (52%) in English!
"H" - ACT prep (10 hrs tutoring)
ACT composite increased from 22 to 28 (27%), up 12 points (60%) in Science!
"M1" - ACT prep (10 hrs tutoring)
ACT composite increased from 18 to 25 (39%), up 9 points (56%) in Math!
"M2" - ACT prep (8 hrs tutoring)