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In a journal article recently published, research shows that MRI can predict the efficacy of math tutoring on students published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled "Neural predictors of individual differences in response to math tutoring in primary-grade school children?". Researchers found an association with pre-tutoring increased hippocampal volume along with tracts to other surrounding brain structures better predicts a student's amount of improvement with tutoring lessons. The hippocampus is involved in the functioning of various types of memory. Commonly accepted characteristics of memory skills, previous math skills, prior math performance, or intelligent quotient (IQ) did not predict as well as fMRI. Also correlated were tracts connect to the pre-frontal cortex, which controls areas of planning, attention, and memory. fMRI scanning is a magnetic resonance based imaging for the brain which shows functional activity in the... read more

Many of my students have a first tough barrier - they have low confidence that they can score high. The first response I usually have is - "of course you can!" That is why the mind is the most powerful tool - and I recommend suspending disbelief that they can truly improve. Usually crossing this first step is the first barrier to overcome, and it is a common challenge. That is why I believe that positive feedback mixed in with practice designed to boost their confidence is important in the early stages. It is very common to see students taking multiple SATs and ACTs only to score in the same range, and further reinforce this testing "inertia". The solution from the tutor's perspective is to prove to the students themselves that they can certainly achieve by leading them at first in small achievements, then gradually letting them maximize their potential in their own unique ways.

From my tutoring experiences, the most daunting barrier that I have encountered is test taking anxiety. This is usually apparent when students who take tests in the comfort of their home score extremely well. However, once they wander into the unfamiliar test center territories, reactionary reflexes takes over, and the test becomes a tale of struggle and survival! Or the test becomes extremely difficult to the point of being overwhelming. In fact, one of the ways I help students overcome this test taking anxiety is to familiarize them to the conditions that they will experience on test day, including working with mimicking exam conditions, and having them take a complete test in one block of time with breaks reflecting the actual test as much as possible. Also working on approaches to questions commonly seen helps to increase their resourcefulness when a challenge is encountered. Usually, the first practice examination is a shock. The second one does become more comfortable... read more

Many parents ask what is the method in increasing test scores for SATs, ACTs, and PSATs. In actuality, there is no secret at all. I view my role as to expand the student's repertoire of skills and strategy on the test. However, the internalization of all these to bear to fruition relies on the student going back to our assigned homework assignments and practicing the application. With multiple attempts on practice testing, I have seen students improve consistently and dramatically. In fact, the amount of homework assigned that is finished directly correlates to the score improvement. I actually assign pre-class homework even for the first time in many cases to jumpstart the expectation that homework is a must!

Many students take the PSAT's and think that this is the 'practice SAT's'. While this may not be the SATs, they are in fact used to qualify students for scholarships, namely the National Merit Scholarship. Each state has a qualifying score for students to enter into the semi-final, final, and scholar designations which are based on how high they score. Most students will take these in 10th and 11th grade. PSATs are a good test to predict how well students will go on to perform on the SATs. PSAT are different than the SATs in that there are fewer questions. The structure is the same as it contains reading, writing, and mathematics.

For those of you taking the MCAT's, remember that you want to keep time on your side. My strategies that I teach involve spending the least amount of time for problems. Usually because knowledge should be reflexively used, I urge students to minimize deriving equations or using numbers with multiple decimal places. Therefore, MCAT test takers should prepare before-hand, like any challenge, well in advance. The first technique is to memorize the major equations. I recommend memorizing 90 something of the most used equations. This sounds tough, but imagine on test taking day trying to derive the equation for the energy of a photon specifically into another form of energy. Compare this to having the equation memorized and using it in one step to get to your answer. Get the point? I recommend a straight shot approach to the correct answer, and my students agree! With practice, choosing the right answer starts from learning and applying the material the right way.

It is no surprise that many words in the English vocabulary have roots in other languages. The English language is a very robust collection of vocabulary stemming from Greek and Latin origins. For the SAT and many other standardized tests, knowing prefixes, roots, and suffixes can help the test taker out of a bind when an unfamiliar word surfaces. By learning these roots, it becomes easier to learn new vocabulary. This study is called etymologies. Die hard spelling bee contestants use this in their advantage when spelling words based on their root. In fact, looking up an unfamiliar word in the dictionary will often show you the origin and the language where it came from. Paying attention to these will give an edge to testing.

As I always tell me tutees, SAT math word problems require you to fully setup the problem before you can start answering. Many times, I see my tutees trying to plug numbers into an equation and getting an answer too quickly. Most times, the rush to answer the problem results in not understanding what is being asked. Word problems are tricky because they are subconsciously trying to funnel test takers into a wrong choice that seems so right at the beginning. So I tell them to take a step back, be patient, and understand each piece of information. Writing down the information in a format they understand is critical. This way, students avoid reading something that was not there to begin with or actually start processing information that they should in a quicker manner.

What is SAT Reading? Normally, reading skills are drawn from years of analysis of texts that English students encounter, whether picking apart Chaucer, Fitzgerald, or Shakespeare. Now SAT reading is reading under time pressure. Generally, when we read for pleasure, we take our time relishing each word and appreciate the intrinsic rhythm and pace that the author has chosen to convey. However, in the SATs, this pleasure approach usually takes a backseat, and different strategies are necessary to adapt to answering questions right. The strategy I convey is to get the most questions correct. We accomplish this through reading the questions first, and then dissecting the text into paragraphs, topic sentences, and inflections. Words like 'however', 'significantly', and 'moreover' take on new importance. This skill, once learned, usually requires practice, ideally with a tutor, to perfect. While SAT strategic reading skills cannot replace skills learned during English class, they... read more

When I teach optimizing test scoring, I have found that this is best served on three fronts. This has worked well for me and my students, as I started tutoring while at Harvard, and have scored consistently in the top over the years. 1) Testing knowledge and reading comprehension - Probably the most important, knowing subject matter being tested means more than mastering concepts. Many times, the knowledge is a prerequisite for building confidence that is necessary in performing well on the test as a whole. Application of concepts is usually emphasized on these tests, and surprisingly, extensive deep knowledge is not usually tested. In addition, perfecting reading comprehension and being proficient with critical thinking is a must. As many of us have experienced, it is all too common when we see a passage essay on Victorian era absinthe or the pondering of philosophical Taoist teachings that may seem to have little to do with core knowledge. In most cases, it is this point... read more

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