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A lot of people don't connect clear speaking with writing skills, but I've noticed that lots of students, from elementary school through college make errors in spelling and grammar because of the influence of hearing others pronounce words incorrectly. For example,  "I don't know weather I'm going" or "Could you be quite, please? or "Me and my friend are...." The first two contain errors in spelling; the third has an error in grammar.  But the way people pronounce words or use ungrammatical speech can "crossover" into written language.  And the less someone reads, the more apt this is to happen.  I observe these errors a lot when I'm tutoring.   I studied voice articulation with someone considered to be the "best" teacher of this subject in the country, and proper pronunciation was drilled into me.  Here's a little exercise to practice differentiating "whether" from "weather."   Here... read more

You may have heard that the Scholastic Aptitude Test is being redesigned, with a new version being introduced in 2016.  The testing company that creates the SAT has said that they will strive to make the test more relevant and more reflective of the content that high school students cover in their classwork. Therefore, there will be a reduced need to learn obscure words that are rarely ever used in speech or even in writing, like the word "tyro."  I doubt whether anyone uses that word other than in learning it for the SAT.    One might ask, why after all these years, has the SAT administrators and developers decided to change the test?  Didn't they know that they were asking the "wrong" questions 20 years ago?  Didn't they consider how they were causing undue stress and anxiety among students taking the test over the years (and we are talking about a huge number of students)! How many?  About 3,000,000 each year. ... 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

So you are wondering about another rule that English teachers tell you that is really a "myth."  It's that you can't begin a sentence with 'and,' 'but,' 'or,' 'yet,' or 'so.'  Well, you can.   Your teacher might correct you when you begin a sentence with "and." However, as long as your sentence is an independent clause, it's fine, and many of the best writers start sentences with those words mentioned above, including the word "and."   In fact, it would be very embarrassing if there were a rule that stated one couldn't begin a sentence with 'and.' Just look at the beginning of the King James Bible:   In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.   And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.   And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.   And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.   The... read more

Whether you're in middle school, high school, or college, it is almost certain that you will have writing assignments wherein you're required to take a position on a topic, and argue your position by providing a thesis and supporting points.   For example, a typical subject might be "The death penalty should be abolished," or "High schools should institute a pass/fail grading policy rather than providing a letter grade." Additionally, "Personal Statement" essays that colleges require students to write as part of their application process have similar requirements. Your task is to present a well-developed essay about why the college should consider you as a prime candidate for admission.   Regardless of the topic, though, one thing is certain: a well-written essay will most likely receive a higher grade than a poorly-written one.  But there's another thing about writing these essays that, perhaps is not CERTAIN, but VERY LIKELY. ... read more

Have you ever wondered just who is reading that personal statement you have to submit (along with the rest of your material) when applying to a college or university. Here's a statement from one such reader (No, I didn't write it).             *             *              *            *             *               *                *                     * "The key fact to know about your audience (and yes, you are writing for a specific audience... read more

Educational administration, whether at a small college or a major university, requires a lot of tactical efforts, not just educational efforts. Think about all those courses and who must determine their time slots and assign classroom space. Think of the first day of a semester when students are rushing to find out where their class meets. Imagine if you had a job where your office location changed several times a year! But even with all that planning, so many colleges seem to select a different classroom for a final exam than the classroom in which the course was conducted. The problem--according to a good deal of psychological research--is that you do best when your exam is in the same room as the one you study in.  Think about this. Lots of students find a study space that they find just right, and it becomes "their" space. Students sit down in a classroom filled with empty chairs, and that chair you first selected ends up being the one you always go to. So,... read more

Have you taken a full year or two of a foreign language, and wish to have an enjoyable way to increase, improve, and expand your vocabulary and comprehension of the language in 'real' life? Here is an easy and rewarding way to do so. First, let's figure what you usually 'need' for foreign language study: material in the language you're studying; a way to look up or translate unfamiliar words and expressions; a program that provides 'thematic' content, like 'a trip to the mall,' 'a visit to the beach,' or 'preparing a party.' But wait a minute! Are those 'learning units' really interesting? They don't do much for me. But here's an idea worth trying. Look for a complete season of a TV show or mini-series that is available on DVD, AND comes with BOTH subtitles and dubbing in the language you're studying. You can easily get that information from the product page. Then rent the DVDs. You might even buy them and it would be less money that the software programs that cost in the hundreds... read more

Here's a thought. A student in Philadelphia (close to where I used to live) received a perfect 2400 on her Scholastic Aptitude Test recently. To what did she attribute her high score? Well, she has read a lot ever since she was in primary school. But more importantly, she LIKES to read. Have you noticed that you often do well in a subject or a sport or just about any activity if you actually enjoy doing it? I think that's just common sense, but since I have a background in social science research, I'm sure hundreds of researchers have done studies to test out this "hypothesis." "But how did she get a perfect score on the math section," you might be thinking. Well, she also likes to read math books too. Think about it. Reading is reading, so if you read a book about math or science, and enjoy what you're reading, even if the book has "exercises" or "tests" for you to complete, the chances are you will do well on those too. One way people... read more

Have you scheduled a time to take one of the standardized tests listed in the subject line? Are you thinking about signing up to take one of them? Have you taken one already, but have decided to take it again in the hopes of getting a higher score? Have you taken one of the tests, and found the experience so rewarding, you plan to sign up and take the same test simply for the enjoyment? (If you’re in the latter category, I’d seriously examine your core values ; < ). Regardless, if you must take one, and nearly everyone does that plans to enroll in a college, university, professional school, or private school, here is a suggestion that I haven’t read about in any of the testing prep manuals or on any of the websites devoted to improving one’s score on these tests. And that advice is to beware of the “positive I’m correct about this answer ‘rush’” This phenomenon may occur on the multiple-choice segments of these tests because, of course, you want to finish and get out of... read more

Flashcards have been used for a long time by students that want to broaden their vocabulary, whether for learning a second language or increasing one's vocabulary of your primary language. Before computers, students often used index cards and wrote a word on one side, and the meaning of the word, or the equivalent word in another language on the other side. Now there are all sorts of flashcard websites and flashcard software programs available that basically do the same thing electronically. But regardless of the medium you use, there are some ways to use flashcards that are better than others. I'm going to recommend one way that I find very helpful. Instead of just randomly selecting 20 or 50 or 100 words, and trying to memorize them via flashcards, select vocabulary words that are in context. What this means is that it's better to create flashcards based on a reading passage or book or essay you've read, and then selecting words from what you've read and creating flashcards for... read more

The two basic reference books for writers are the dictionary and the thesaurus. There are several good ones available--both in hard copy and online. However, if you want to find the exact word you need for a particular subject or build your vocabulary, whether the subject is technology, geography, history, architecture, business, politics, history, and so on, there are two books you should definitely own. These are THE ULTIMATE VISUAL DICTIONARY published by DK, and WORD MENU published by Random House. THE ULTIMATE VISUAL DICTIONARY provides you with excellent graphics, cutaways, and illustrations of objects ranging from the Hubble Telescope to the violin, and labels each part of the object. For example, did you know a modern drum set that a rock band uses has at least three cymbals: the ride cymbal, the crash cymbal, and the hi-hat cymbal? You can learn what they are, what they look like, and what they do. Do you know what the frontal notch, supraorbital notch, and supraorbital... read more

Math majors have included professional athletes, actors, writers (including the author of the original Dracula), not just students in white shirts and nerdy glasses. Here is a list of a few famous ones. Harry Blackmun - Supreme Court Justice Ahmed Chalabi ~ controversial Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, has a PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago Lewis Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson) ~ author of Alice’s adventures in wonderland and Through the looking glass, was a mathematician and logician who taught at Christ Church College Oxford. He was the author of a number of books on mathematics. Danny Glover ~ This actor, well-known with his buddy movies with Mel Gibson, has a degree in Statistics and worked as a statistician. Stephen Sondheim ~ Maybe his ability to write songs with perfect melody has to do with being a math major. Art Garfunkel ~ Paul Simon’s long-time collaborator, has a masters degree in mathematics from Columbia University (he left the PhD... read more

If you are studying a foreign language or would like to, consider the various ways you can use film to make your studying more interesting. Here are some suggestions. DVDs often come with original language and dubbed language choices, as well as a choice of subtitle languages (and some have cloze-captioning for the hard of hearing options). If you’re studying French, for example, you could get a French-language film that has subtitles in English, and match the English text with the French dialogue. You may also be able to program the DVD for French subtitling as well. Having two channels of communication delivering similar information helps one re-inforce the other. The dubbing won’t be – word-for-word -- the same as the subtitling, but that, in fact is still helpful, since you’ll learn two ways of expressing the same thing. These simple “mix and match” choices can help you with vocabulary, comprehension, colloquial expressions, and hear how a “real” foreign language is spoken—which... read more

If you are studying for the AP English Literature test or taking English or Literature in high school or college, you probably have had to study Shakespeare, or perhaps plays from the modern period like those written by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, or Thornton Wilder. It's not easy to see a production of these plays unless you're lucky enough to be studying at the same time a production os showing nearby. There's nothing like live theatre, but you can see excellent productions of most of Shakespeare's plays as well as productions of plays by modern authors if you have a library card. No, they're isn't a production running in your library's auditorium, but most libraries have electronic services holdings that allow you to download a production right to your computer--and it's free! My local library's electronic holdinngs has two productions of Hamlet alone. Do you like group study? Well, why not download a play, and hold a theatre study session in your home, or in fact, most anywhere... read more

Students of all ages often wish they could have an electronic version of a book on study skills, a reference book, a book on math, a foreign language, or a book for learning English. Of course, you can always buy a download from the major vendors on the internet, but often we just need these books for a few weeks. You can gain access to lots of these electronic learning material for free if you have a library card. Most libraries nowadays allow you to download an e-book or audiobook for a three- or four-week period. It's just like checking out a book at the library. The only difference is that you check it out on line, and download the book to your computer. After the borrowing period, the library's software simply removes the electronic source from your computer. Ask your local librarian about the electronic services available.

This is an old joke. What do you call a person that speaks one language? American! If you grow up in the United States, there's a good chance your experience with learning a second language (other than English) wasn't a pleasant one. There are probably dozens of reasons why. You hear responses like, "Everyone speaks English," "I don't have a chance to interact with people that speak a different language." "Learning a second language is hard!" These responses have some truth to them, but when I first began to study Spanish in Mexico while I was in college, it was a great experience! Learning a second language can open up a whole new world for you. You can actually see things in a slightly different perspective, and that helps you get along better with all types of people. You can make a lot more friends if you speak more than one language, for obvious reasons. But on the practical side, think about what you learn in school that will be helpful... read more

So you think literature, writing, history, philosophy, art aren’t “practical subjects”? Think again! Here is what Matthew W. Barrett, CEO of Barclay's Bank had to say about the subject: “If you can get me a young person who can divine the patterns of imagery in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it would take me just a half hour to teach that person how to break down a balance sheet. Teach kids the humanities, and give them a broad liberal education, and I’ll teach them business skills. I hate schools that have been co-opted by business. I’d rather you taught people to think, because the limiting factor in executive development these days is people who can’t do lateral thinking. Instead, they have a vocational skill or a technical skill, and it runs out of gas very, very early. The ones who will end up in the top 20 jobs in the organization worldwide are people who can stand back and examine the context in which business operates and can connect the dots in creative ways and... read more

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