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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

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

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

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

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

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 can't speak for every tutor, but I know that if you work with me I have certain expectations of you in order to ensure that you will see the greatest possible improvement in your score. Luckily, they are really quite simple, and adhering to them makes a huge difference. I've attached a PDF version to summarize my Top 5 Test Prep Essentials that you can download, but I will review each of them below too.    For starters, I may be stating the obvious, but you absolutely must complete all homework assignments. All my assignments are tailored to your current performance and designed to help you achieve your goal score. Many students aspire to achieve dramatic improvements, and I fully believe such improvements are possible. BUT, in order to achieve such goals, it is imperative that you complete every homework assignment. If there is a notable gap between your current score and your goal score, that is perfectly ok, but it makes the homework that much more important... read more

Ready for a little riddle? Sure you are! I'm going to list seven phrases, three words each. Without looking it up, I want you to tell me what all twenty-one (7 times 3) of these words have in common. There is only one right answer. Ready? Piff! Paff! Puff! Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! Pim! Pam! Pum! Riks! Raks! Poks! Cric! Crac! Croc! Pif! Paf! Pof! Knap! Knetter! Knak! So what do you think? Any ideas? I'll give you a minute to think it over. You're giving up? Already? Wait, let me give you a hint. I left out one of the phrases: Snap! Crackle! Pop! Starting to get where I'm going with this? As it turns out, those phrases are the onomatopoetic sounds RICE KRISPIES cereal produces, according to its marketing in other countries, from Germany to Mexico to Finland. That's right, in Germany, pour some milk over your RICE KRISPIES and you hear "Knisper... read more

Standardized test math doesn't behave like normal math. On a normal math test, your knowledge of the concepts and material is being tested, using (hopefully) fair test questions. On a standardized test, though, they're looking for you to think outside the box, to apply math concepts and algorithms to unusual situations, and to really understand what they're looking for and find the quickest way to go about it. Let's take a question from a recent GRE student's lesson: If 4x – 5y = 10 and 6y – 3x = 22, then what is x + y? Now, this is a set of two equations with two variables each, so it looks to me like a perfect candidate for solving as a system. If I were solving this one on a regular math test, I'd start off trying the substitution method, since I'm more comfortable with that one. So let's explore that one first: I'll start by solving the first equation for y: 4x – 5y = 10 - 5y = 10 – 4x y = (-10/5) – (4/-5)x y = -2 + (4/5)x Then... read more

Alas! You have to take the GRE in order to get into the program of your choice. Keep in mind that if you do not prepare well, you may have to take the test again, which will cost you probably around $200 or more. If you do not prepare well and it sets your studies back a year, that could cost you a year of earning potential in your lifetime. That's not a fun math problem. Maybe you need that extra year to prepare, but if you are ready, why go at the GRE in a less than 100% manner?   Let's say you already have your fall date set and you have two months or less to prepare for the exam. Here is what I recommend. Research the GRE stats of the university you are considering. Contact your POI (person of interest) and find out how well you need to perform on the GRE. If you need to score in the 90th percentile in the quantitative portion, that's something you need to know. Your POI may say that you need to score in the 60th, but if everyone who was admitted in the previous... read more

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. Addition... read more

The general form for a box-and-whisker plot is really easy. Let's take a simple data set.   8.2, 15.9, 12.8, 7.4, 24.7, 23.2, 9.6, 7.9, 8.3, 10.2   First, we need to take those data and put them in numerical order.  When we do that, this is what the data set looks like: 7.4, 7.9, 8.2, 8.3, 9.6, 10.2, 12.8, 15.9, 23.2, 24.7   [Note: Any computer program that runs spreadsheets or statistical analysis will probably accept the data in any sequence.  Ordering the data is only necessary when doing this process by hand.] Once ordered, we need to find the median of the set. The median means the "middle" value. In this case, the set has 10 values, so there's no singular "middle" value of the set when ordered least to greatest. To create one, we'll take the two middle values and average them. (9.6 + 10.2)/2 = 9.9 [The only reason we took an average is because there is not "middle"... read more

Summer is the best time to start studying for college/career entrance exams. Since there is no school and homework, you will not feel overwhelmed when it is time to study. Studying for just an hour a day, 5 days a week, will increase your chances of getting a higher score and you will still have time to enjoy the summer. Alternate subjects weekly. Familiarize yourself with all the subjects on the test. Purchase a test preparation book to get question examples. By the end of the summer, you should have done every problem in the book, including the practice exams. If you need additional help, ask your tutor. Study with others. You will be more motivated to study this summer if you are involved in a study group. Find students that are taking the same exam. Ask your tutor to for a group study session. Knowing that there are other students with the same goal as you can help your study sessions be less stressful. Know your calculator. If a calculator is permitted... read more

Having worked with hundreds of test-takers on standardized exams over the years, I have tutored students of all abilities and levels of commitment to their studies. Most students want to know how many hours of tutoring are necessary to achieve the results they desire. While there is no single number of hours uniformly required for all students, for all exams, I do recommend as a rule of thumb that you spend as many hours working on your own as you have spent working with your tutor. To maximize the benefit of working with a tutor for a standardized test, it is necessary to implement, and then practice, the strategies you've learned on your own. Ideally, a student matches the time spent studying independently hour for hour with the time spent tutoring (similarly, university courses typically advise a minimum of one hour of study for every hour spent in class). It is to your advantage to meet with your tutor frequently, and early, enough that the tools you acquire to succeed on your... read more

For anyone that is preparing or thinking about preparing for one of the standardized 'high stakes' tests (you know which ones) -- the SAT, GRE, GMAT, ISEE, SSAT, and so on -- there's something you really should know about test development.   But first consider this. Wouldn't it be sensible for tests to discover what your strengths are and what you do well in?  Of course! But who said these tests or the test developers are sensible?  In fact, why should they be?  Here are two things test developers don't want you to know   1) Test developers usually (meaning not EVERY test is created this way, although most are) try to trick students into providing the wrong answer. Huh?    2) Standardized tests are intentionally designed so that many or even most students will not complete them within the given time limit.   Now why would these nice testing companies engage in these practices?  Select the best choice... read more

ACT www.actstudent.org/testprep/ www.princetonreview.com/college/free-act-practice-test.aspx ; www.mhpracticeplus.com/act.php ; www.kaptest.com/College/Getting-into-College/free-practice-tests-workshops.html phone apps: ACTStudent, ACT Test Prep TestBank,  SAT http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-practice-test http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-practice-questions www.princetonreview.com/college/free-sat-practice-test.aspx http://www.kaptest.com/College/Getting-into-College/free-practice-tests-workshops.html phone apps: College Board The Official SAT Question of the Day, Ace the ACT, The Princeton Review SAT Lite, Mind Snacks SAT Vocab, SAT flashcard review, Intelli Power Vocab GRE www.princetonreview.com/grad/free-gre-practice-test.aspx www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/ www.kaptest.com/gre/study-resources/gre-free-practice-test ; http://www.greguide.com/gre-practice-tests.html ; phone... read more

Do the terms "preposition," "verb," "article," and "modal verb" sometimes stump you? Typically, students are taught the word "preposition" in 1st grade. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that if I had seen that long word at the top of a worksheet in 1st grade, I would have skipped right over it, coding "preposition" as a long word that simply did not fit in my schema of the world. Fast forward to middle, high school, and college, and I see that many native speakers often find one or more grammatical device or structure challenging. Grammar lessons learned in elementary school can easily slip from one's mind, leaving students to struggle when applying their skills to essay writing, earning them phrases such as "wrong modifier!" "run-on!" and "awkward!" splattered in red ink all over their graded assignments.   It is one thing to not remember rules of grammar correctly,... read more

My name is Scott L. and I am one of the top graduate school entrance exam instructors in the nation. This is because I have a genuine understanding of the tests and how they are constructed. This blog will offer general guidance on how to proceed on a step-by-step basis. If you have any questions or would like to know more about how I can help you prepare for this challenge, please email me directly through WyzAnt. -- Signs that a GRE/GMAT student is heading down the right GRE/GMAT path (or the wrong GRE/GMAT path). You are moving in the right direction if: You have begun earnest preparation at least 6 weeks before your scheduled or proposed test date; you can accept the fact that you have to re-learn (not re-fresh!) math concepts you last thought about 5-10 years ago; and you can accept the fact that your reading level and vocabulary are probably nowhere near where they need to be for GRE/GMAT success (This is true in nearly all cases, no matter what your experience... read more

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