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...
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 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...
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
Way back in 2010,
one of my first blog post series on this site took the form of a five-part series on rules for effective time management. For the next few Ellen's Choices, I've decided to go back through these rules and apply them to the world of preparing for the SAT (or any standardized test).
So let's begin with Part 1: All-Nighters Are Evil
Ellen’s Rules for Effective Time Management
1. Never pull an all-nighter.
2. NEVER pull an all-nighter!
Seriously! I mean it. All-nighters are downright useless. Besides the fact that this concept breaks almost all of my other rules for effective time management in one go, all-nighters cause fatigue, stress you out, and just end up producing sub-par work. You can’t write well when you’re tired, and staying up all night studying just means you’ll be yawning all the way through the test the next day. If you haven’t learned the information on the test by the night before, you’re not going to learn...
A regular schedule is the most successful structure for tutoring, and I offer discounts for sessions scheduled on a regular basis (see Session Fees).
I also tutor individuals who want single sessions, have irregular schedules, need immediate help, or simply are not sure.
I try to be as flexible as possible, and am usually able to stay longer than scheduled if needed. I will not charge for up to 15 minutes extra if it was not previously arranged.
I offer online tutoring as well as in-person, so please let me know if you are interested in occasional online sessions to supplement regular. If you are a regular student, please feel free to contact me outside of sessions for questions or help, at no charge if less than 20 minutes.
All of my fees are negotiable! If you have a request please contact me before the session is scheduled.
Individual student rates for standard subjects:...
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...
The SAT or ACT is the dreaded standardized test that students begin taking typically in 11th grade. From my personal experience, the SAT was nothing but a nuisance; you have to wake up at the crack-of-dawn on a Saturday morning and sit in a testing room for approximately three hours. As I advise high school students and parents about the SAT and ACT, I get the question "How many times did you take the exam?" very frequently. I took the SAT three times and two SAT Subject Tests twice with plenty of study and review time in between.
I recommend taking the exam at least twice. The first time is the worst, you are nervous, sweaty, and not accustomed to the SAT unless you have been doing serious prep. After you receive your score and the breakdown in each area, you should work towards improving (if needed) and sign up to take the exam again in at least 3 months.
As far as the SAT Subject Tests, I recommend for...
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...
Overview: Current SAT vs. Redesigned SAT
Details of the new SAT have been a mystery since the new format was announced last year. We have been doing our best over the past several months to keep our students up-to-date by scouring the internet for reliable information. Collegeboard.com recently published the key differences between the old test and the new test. Since this information comes directly from the source, we have decided to disply the key differences between the old and new tests here:
OLD TEST TIMING: 3 hours and 45 minutes
NEW TEST TIMING: 3 hours (plus 50 minutes for the Essay [optional])
OLD TEST COMPONENTS
NEW TEST COMPONENTS
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
Writing and Language Test
OLD TEST EMPHASIS
Emphasis on general reasoning skills
Emphasis on vocabulary, often in limited contexts
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...
When beginning to tutor a student preparing for the SAT, there are a couple steps that will lead to greater student success than just working through practice problems.
1. Explain what types of questions will be asked on the exam
The SAT is an exam that works by using the same certain types of questions. For example, in the Reading section there will be types of questions that focus on the main idea of a passage or others that ask the reader to compare and contrast two shorter paragraphs. Getting your student familiar with the types of questions that will be used on the exam is a very effective way to practice and avoid any test-day surprises.
2. Identify which questions your student struggles with the most
Once you cover what types of common questions are on the exam, you can determine which your student finds the easiest and which need some work. It isn’t helpful to study questions that aren’t difficult for your student, so find the types of...
Schedule for SAT Crash Course:
Lesson 1: Test Basics, Sentence Completions (singles and doubles), Short Paragraphs
Lesson 2: Long Passages (Narrative, Expository, Persuasive)
Lesson 3: Double Passages, Difficult Passages, Essay
Lesson 4: Grammar Basics (Voice, Parallelism, Continuity, Conciseness)
Lesson 5: Verb and Pronoun Errors
Lesson 6: Modifier, Comparative, Idiom, Confused Word Errors
SAT English Basics
Reading Section: (70 minutes)
Sentence Completions 19 Questions Worth 30%
Reading Passages 48 Questions Worth 70%
Writing Section: (60 minutes)
Grammar: Worth 70%
Identifying Sentence Errors 18 Questions
Improving Sentences 25 Questions
Improving Paragraphs 6 Questions
Essay (25 minutes) Graded from 2-12 Worth 30%
1 point given for each question answered correctly. -¼ point for each question answered incorrectly. No points for unanswered questions.
The first thing you should know about studying for the SAT is: You can’t. You don’t know exactly what material is going to be on the test until the day you sit down and open your booklet. You will never be able to predict exactly which questions will be asked and precisely what you must know in order to get all of the questions correct.
So if you can’t study for the SAT, how are you supposed to do well on it? Practice. You can learn the
types of questions that you’ll be tested on, and you can practice answering questions from past exams.
The SAT isn’t designed to trick you; its purpose is to determine your aptitude for (“a natural ability for”) reading, math, and writing. The test is scoring how good you are at these crucial subjects on a scale from 200 to 800.
This test is more about knowing how to answer the questions than the answers themselves. Whether you’re narrowing down choices for a reading sentence completion, setting up a math equation,...
The best preparation for the SAT essay section is two-fold: first, learn and use new sophisticated vocabulary words to help in expressing your ideas more clearly; second, practice outlining and writing several essay questions each weekend. I encourage my students to send me essays to grade, in between lessons, since I can help turn a '3' or '4' essay into a '6' score!
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...
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
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.
Number2 is another free resource with an all...
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...