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Tag: test prep

Ready Set Go: 2018 College Application Season

ready set go, college applications, college planning, university, college prep, education, academics, tutoring, college counseling,, test prep

Ready Set Go

Once upon a time, American high school juniors had a genuine summer break. But frolicking in the sand at the local beach or working a summer job as a barista were the revels of many high school scholars of the past.

What the heck? Why?

University competition, and a lot of it.

So, what better time is there to begin the long procession of the college application season than midummer when our weary students are free of their pesky school schedule?

Since college app deadlines arrive as early as November 1st, successful college hopefuls begin their perilous odyssey toward college acceptance… right about now.

 

Ready Set Go: 3 Quick Tips

Before launching headfirst into the shallow end of the unknown, parents and students would do best to wade in cautiously, but expeditiously.

Students certainly have to hit the ground running to meet deadlines, but first, consider a few preliminary planning tools to map out an effective college planning trajectory.

1. The ChecklistThe Research Phase

Freshman Profile– Do the numbers stack up? Test scores, GPA, etc?

Campus environment– Clubs, sports, culture, weather, location, large/ small

Room and Board– On campus or off campus?

Meal Plans– College meal plan or do it yourself?

Programs or Majors of Study- Biology or Pre-Veterinary Studies?

Total Expense– Tuition, books, room and board, meals, medical, loans/ interest etc.

Transportation– Car, bike, or public?

 

2. The SpreadsheetThe Action Phase

Application Deadlines– Early or Regular Decision?

Application Fees– $75 or $90?

Important Documents– Letters of Rec, Test Scores, Tax Returns, ID, Transcripts

Application Essays Required– None or 5?

Interviews– Private schools only 

Scholarships Available– How many? For what amount?

Applications Submitted/ Not Submitted– Earlier is better to avoid any electronic hiccups.

 

3. The Backup Plan

Don’t get stuck on just one or two schools. Cast a wide net of prospective universities. We all have our dreams, but students must be adaptable.  If a student doesn’t gain admission to his or her first choice, the smart planner will have lined up a gamut of suitable alternatives. Ensure you have choices and many of them.

The “worst” worst case scenario is applying to 2 or 3 schools and ending up with 3 “unfortunately, we are unable to move forward with your candidacy at this time” letters.

The “best” worst case scenario is that a student must select the best college out of 10. Be in this group; its a solid place to be.

 

Ready Set Go: The Take Away

Selecting universities and getting the details right are key, so take your time. Get organized, set up a methodical plan and work it. Parents and students may choose to involve teachers, school counselors, or private college planners to seek professional guidance and calm the overactive nerves of students and families as they confront high stakes and monumental stress. 

Half the battle is preparation and organization; checklists and spreadsheets are your friends, so lean on them and often.

The time to gear up and get planning is just around the corner. Happy college application season!

Ready, set, go!

College Preparation: Nature, Nurture or Somewhere In Between

Development, Brain Growth, Nature vs Nurture, education, tutoring, teaching, parenting, college readiness, test prep, cognitition

Nature vs Nurture

Is it nature or is it nurture? Every so often we meet a student who appears to have it all. She seems naturally gifted in every sense: the captain of the varsity tennis team, a Calculus BC mathlete not to mention her high school’s poet laureate, and the first chair violinist. Most would assume she is innately adept at everything, a person who will succeed in any endeavor regardless of circumstance.

Why? Because she was “born with it.” Nature, right?

Not so fast.

MedicineNet, an online publication that features doctors, psychologists and other healthcare providers, suggests an alternative understanding. According to its recent article,  “Nature vs Nurture: Is It In Our Genes Or In Our Environment,

In the context of the nature vs. nurture debate, ‘nature’ refers to biological/genetic predispositions’ impact on human traits, and nurture describes the influence of learning and other influences from one’s environment.

Nurture or one’s environment refines and molds the human brain as a student matures from gestation through adolescence. Whether a student is “born with” higher or lower levels of cognition, environment plays a crucial role in influencing cerebral development during an individual’s formative years.

Historically, nature and nurture in the context of human intelligence and growth have been ceaselessly pitted against one another as incompatible adversaries. For decades, scientists and psychologists insisted that those who are “gifted and talented” have been gifted and talented from day one; those students who fail to show signs of youthful genius never will.

For example, The Time’s of Higher Education’s 1997 essay, “Nature’s Defeat of Nurture,” contends that nature or genes dominate an individual’s growth, aptitude and behavior based on twin studies. Several twins, two children born at the same birth, raised in similar if not the same environment, formed disparate personalities and exhibited differing traits throughout their lives. Therefore, the foremost psychologists in this article argued, “…the common shared environment – the family, the neighborhood, the parents’ income and education, their way of raising children – has no effect on the development of personality.” However, in light of recent analyses, this interpretation has largely been proven inconclusive.

Subsequent studies have since revealed that environment is indeed a powerful player in the brain growth game, even when individuals are raised in parallel environments. According to a 2013 NCBI study of human behavior, researchers  deduced the following:

There was general agreement that everybody’s behavior is influenced to varying degrees by both genetic and environmental factors but deterministic accounts of causation, except in exceptional circumstances, were rejected.- National Center for Biotechnology Information

In short, genetic fixity or rudimentary determinism is not the sole or even primary contributor to a one’s intellectual, personal or creative makeup.

Nature and Nurture

Today, psychologists and educators have discovered “nature’s partner is nurture.” Nature is not nurture’s bullish foe, but rather, nurture is nature’s encouraging mentor. Thus, nurture plays a significant role in any student’s intellectual, social-emotional and creative development. Our superstar tennis champion, mathlete-poet, and violinist has most certainly experienced a supportive learning environment both at home and in school, which has expeditiously nurtured her innate talents and skills.

So, how do hereditary (nature) and cultivated (nurture) traits engineer the academic success and college achievement of diverse students?

We are all born with our initial cognitive potential and family/ community resources; our students are born of their parents genes and into their family’s socioeconomic status. Consequently, some will have a head start due to the circumstances of their privilege; others will experience far fewer advantages as they leap from life’s “starting blocks.”

Nonetheless, nature and nurture coexist. As such, there are abundant ‘free of charge” resources available to all students who range in age, learning style, and inherent ability. Therefore, educators and families should foster “nurturing” environments that will support any student’s university preparation at little to no monetary cost.

Pre-K to 5th Grade- Start Em’ Young!

  1. READ, READ, READ (Nurture, Nurture, Nurture)

*Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library  offers free books to low income students around the world. Check your local area for availability

*The local library is your friend. If your branch doesn’t have your book, they can order it from another location at no cost to patrons

  1. Additional Free Help for Parents
  • Boys and Girls Clubs provide educational, social and other developmental skills coaching
  • Khan Academy (all ages) is a free online resource that hosts numerous learning programs from English and math instruction to SAT help
  • Friends, family and trusted neighbors can also create the nurturing community young students need. If parents struggle with Common Core math, maybe an older sibling who’s already successfully completed the course can jump in!

Middle School- Get Ready!

  1. Enter Enhanced Digital Learning
  • Quill.org is an excellent free online resource for grades 1-9 writing and grammar coaching, lessons and projects
  • iCivics by Common Sense Education, appropriate for grades 6-12, assists teachers, students and parents as they investigate local, state and federal laws, rights, responsibilities and government functions through online interactive games, projects and puzzles
  • Get-the-Math,  another free online opportunity, introduces middle school learners to real life math scenarios, which encourage students to think beyond the textbook and appreciate the ways in which math applies to music, architecture, video game creation and civil engineering
  1. Rapid Brain Development
  • While mood swings and difficult behavior are afoot in the lives of  middle school youth who have been stricken by the onset of puberty, changes in behavior and personality have recently been attributed more to rapid brain development rather than pure hormonal mutiny (Nature)
  • In school and at home methods that sustain students in this challenging developmental stage in healthy ways include:

*Positive Reinforcement– Clearly state what a student is doing well in the moment (it remains ill advised to toss a piece a candy in a kid’s direction every time he does his homework)

*Confidence and Team Building Activities– Rock climbing, hiking, trust falls, scavenger hunts, setting small goals and accomplishing them, arts and crafts, or simply carving out time to listen and suspend judgment are just some activities that promote self-esteem and reduce angst

*A little TLC  or “tender loving care” goes a long way. A “Tween” is on her path to self-discovery while her brain’s prefrontal cortex, the logical command center, battles its amygdala, the emotional vortex of the “lizard brain,” the brain’s most primitive part. Let the girl wear her earbuds and have some down time. We’ll all need it once “teenagedom” is in full swing.

High School and the Road to University

Stay tuned for my next installment about “nurturing” college bound high school students as they prepare for a competitive future through journaling, test preparation, nutrition, internships, and time management, among other techniques.

In truth, not every student will become a hybrid of Einstein meets tennis champion, but educators and families can all work together to build a safe academic space for all students where they will “grow into” their gifts and talents as they mature into professional adults.

I Have Less; Can I Achieve My Best Test?

achievement gap, testing, SAT, tutoring, education, college, literacy, students,, teaching

How do I ace a test, the SAT, or any standardized test? How can they expect me to know everything? What if I don’t have the skills or the advantages?

They, whether a teacher, professor, ETS (Educational Testing Service), or the College Board, absolutely do not expect you to know everything that could potentially arise on an exam. In fact, that is precisely what they don’t want.

However, an increasingly globalized international climate has advanced educational accessibility for students with disabilities. Additionally, educators and public schools are painfully aware of the educational inequities among subgroups and have enacted policies in the United states to lessen the Achievement Gap, the persistent disparity in educational opportunities due to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, etc. Many public schools and districts have pursued feasible and affordable reforms, which include picking students up at their homes, extending campus hours to accommodate economically disadvantaged students so they have a place to study and use computers, or facilitating after school peer tutoring.

Nevertheless, there is so much more to do. According to Marina Bolotinikova, author of Harvard Magazine’s article, “FAS’s Inequality in America Initiative,” educational imbalances continue to exist even now in 2017 at even some of the most elite universities, including Harvard itself.

We have people who are looking at inequality across race, gender, and class, but also thinking about the different domains of inequality–education, health, the labor market. We have all this on campus, but they’re not always in conversation…The idea here is to pursue a strategy that’s focused on greater collaboration, some new investment, and more dialogue.

On the other hand, prior to Harvard’s initiative, 21st century educators have supported progress along many avenues to “even the playing field” with the advent of student chromebooks, better cheap wifi, enhancing school libraries with used or donated books, and offering online courses and school approved websites. To be sure, students around the globe and across the country are better equipped “to know” and learn more than in previous eras. And yet, educational inequality persists. Not all students have access to private tutors, good schools, educated parents and technology in the home.

So, how do students with less, born and raised in neighborhoods that are so violent, sometimes they avoid school to avoid getting jumped? How do food insecure, homeless, and/or minority youth do well enough on tests to “pass go” and level up? How do young girls who are prescribed as homemakers, not college students,  transcend barriers? What about the SAT, a test so daunting, even students with every resource at their disposal struggle to hit their target score?

In many cases, the best source for success is you, the high school student.

So, let’s ask some fundamental questions and brainstorm some real-word solutions.

What can I do to build skills in reading comprehension and math?

  1. Read more outside of school assignments. Read a variety of materials: newspapers, novels, graphic novels, biographies.
  • Most library cards are free
  • Schools often have materials on hand in their libraries
  • Print out online publications at school; it’s cost free to you.
  • Visit the College Board for free test taking tips and practice tests
  1. Annotate what you read.
  • Underline main ideas
  • Circle and define new vocabulary in the margins, on a separate sheet of paper or make your own quizlet online
  • Stop every paragraph or two and ask, “What did I just read?”
  1. Explore purplemath or mathisfun, websites that will help you review and clarify:
  • Exponents
  • Arithmetic (PEMDAS)
  • Algebra
  • Coordinate Plane Geometry
  • Geometry
  • Basic Trig

What strategies can I use on multiple choice tests and college entrance exams?

  1. Process of Elimination
  • For each answer choice, ask, “Is it wrong?” If it’s not wrong, do not cross it out. Keep it. The choice may not be great, but it may be the least wrong.
  • Underline the word or words that make an answer choice wrong; then, cross it out.
  • The answer that’s not wrong is the correct answer
  1. Annotate all test questions, whether math or English.
  • Hunt for the most specific words and underline them.
  • Ignore everything else- it wastes your time to read words you don’t need.
  • In the following example, inferred, both, and agree are your key words:

It can be inferred from both passages that the authors would most likely agree that

  1. Don’t do anything you don’t have to do on a multiple choice test.
  • Less is more
  • Keep it simple
  • Let your answer choices guide you, particularly in math
    • Sometimes solving half the problem is all that is required.
  1. Set up a Khan Academy account online and practice for free.

The world of educational opportunity remains a far cry from egalitarian or “equal,” but there are resources available to students of every circumstance. If your school or home doesn’t have what you need, perhaps a bus pass and the public library will. Combined with determination, hard work and basic resources, every student can succeed if you have the desire.

Breaking Bad Habits: The Right ACT Attitude

Hawk Educational Solutions, ACT, college, tutoring, college counseling, college admissions, test prep, SAT

Developing Bad Habits

As students gain academic experience, they cannot help but develop coping mechanisms or “bad habits,” which they wholly believe will enable their survival under the competitive pressure of college admissions. These behavioral patterns often serve them well…until they don’t.

For better or worse, we mimic the behavior of others, mistakenly accept bad advice as truth and obstinately cling to our ways and means of achievement even if these methods imperil our future goals. Consequently, “undoing” erroneous habits and rigid ways of thinking is essential for students to make genuine progress toward college acceptance.

It only stands to reason then that students, parents and educators alike must adopt a more adaptable and flexible attitude when approaching college entrance to ensure eventual student success.

Without Pretense or Euphemism, the ACT is a Beast of a Test

  • Many tout it as “knowledge based,” when in fact the ACT requires nuanced reasoning, particularly in the Reading and English sections.
  • Time is of the essence; in other words, you rarely have enough of it. In fact, students have only 35 minutes to complete 40 questions in both the Reading and Science sections, which boils down to 48 seconds per question! This barely accounts for time to read and truly comprehend the text.
  • Lastly, the ACT is deceiving; in other words, it is not an honest, straightforward exam. Specifically, questions supply answer choices that contain misleading details from the passage that may be true in one context, but don’t actually answer the question at hand.
  • Eliminate wrong answers before taking a stab at choosing the correct one.

Given Its Rigorous Timing and Trickery, Might the ACT Be One of Many “Bad Habits?”

  • There is an abundance of costly SAT/ACT diagnostic tests, abbreviated exams that tout accurate predictions of which one is the more appropriate. 
  • The long and short of these magical shortcuts; they are not magic and rarely reveal an accurate picture.
  • Rather, students can print a free online ACT and SAT, and complete each full length exam on their own or with a parent. Don’t forget to set the stop watch- timing is everything!

Be Willing to Confront and Accept the Frustrating Facts: The ACT is Not Your Friend

  • Some college counselors and for-profit testing companies are often the perpetrators of bad advice that steer impressionable teens in the wrong direction.
  • At ages as young as fourteen, some students are convinced that there’s only one way to succeed even when their testing data suggests alternative methods are necessary.
  • For example, a young scholar may believe the ACT is the only route to college admittance even when he’s scoring a 16 out of 36with guided instruction– which is an unacceptable score for any undergraduate institution.
  • In actuality, the new “overhauled” SAT is usually the better test generally for one reason: more time per question.
  • It’s imperative to switch gears if the ACT isn’t working and try something different!

Success Involves Many Avenues; When One Dead Ends, Follow Another

  • Take both the SAT and ACT to start.
  • Prep for the test with the higher score- See the Study Point Score Conversion Chart here
  • If you’re scoring comparably or at roughly the same level on both, analyze which areas you’re scoring better or worse in; if the science section of the ACT is dragging you down, the ACT may not be your test.
  • If you are a slower reader, the ACT is definitely not your test!
  • If you’re scoring poorly on both, even with test prep, consider other options:
  1. Retake certain high school courses that you didn’t pass the first time around to fortify your basic English and math skills.
  2. Consider community college; if you perform well in your classes, you can save a boatload of cash and skip both ACT and SAT to transfer to a four-year.
  3. Don’t get stuck! Attempting the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is one definition of insanity! When it’s time, move on.

To achieve college acceptance, you must first accept yourself. Unless you’re a gifted test-taker to begin with, the ACT will assuredly be a brutal, if not impossible journey.

If the ACT isn’t working, there are better choices that will reveal themselves to you if you’re mind is open and you adapt your behavior. Break some “bad habits;” turn left instead of right this time- try the SAT or junior college- or reverse course altogether and shore up basic skills before moving forward.

You will arrive at the gates of the university you were meant to attend when you finally step foot on the right path!

What about Summer? 5 Benefits of the New Summer SAT

Summer SAT, SAT prep, college readiness, college planning, tutoring, teaching, higher education

What about Summer?

Thinking about a blissful summer sojourn, not the summer SAT? Perhaps a six week program with Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the Young Writer’s Camp at UCSD, playing some Park and Rec club soccer or tennis, jet setting around the globe, or just gaming with friends next door?

Perhaps, we should reconsider the summer plan, or at the very least, make some room in the schedule; the College Board is finally offering the golden ticket- an opportunity to tackle the SAT over the summer for the first time!

First, let’s put it on the calendar, August 26th, 2017! More importantly, let’s list why summer preparation is better than the alternative, cramming it into an already inundated and stressful school year.

5 Benefits of the Summer SAT and Test Prep

  1. Minimize Test Prep’s Competition, with..
  • Sports and athletics
  • AP courses and exams
  • Rigorous academics
  • Clubs and extracurricular activities
  1. Increase Preparation, Decrease Stress
  • Schedule routine practice 3-4 times per week
  • Meet with a qualified Test Prep instructor as needed
  • Simulate the exam and take full practice tests
  • Take some time out- meditate, hike or nap. It is summer after all!
  1. Focus on College Preparation as a Whole
  • Target your “match” and “reach” college prospects
  • Align your target exam score with your target universities
  • Think scholarships: Higher SAT scores and GPA’s = more funding!
  • Create or research college planning checklists, which include testing
  1. Use the SAT Essay as a College Writing Resource, because it requires
  • reading comprehension and analysis
  • citing evidence and providing relevant commentary
  • effective grammar usage and word choice
  • classic essay organization and structure
  • quality revision and editing
  1. Time- There’s so much more of it!
  • Drag your books to the beach or pack em’ in your suitcase
  • Haul them out on work breaks or while riding the bus
  • If you have no other homework, summer is the time to focus!

Spare just some of that precious summer time; chances are, it’ll be harder to master the SAT during the school year with one more high stakes ball to juggle, especially as an 11th grader. Avoid amplifying the school year’s nail biting pressure by attempting a summer test prep program. Whether it’s self-study, light weight tutoring or a comprehensive curriculum, you’ll likely be better off for it!

In It to Win It: Long-term Test Prep

test prep, tutoring, college, higher education, college admissionsClearly, parents want the best for their children. Unfortunately, many hope for “quick fixes” and short term solutions to catapult their student into test taking stardom. As the college admission season quickly closes in on our high school juniors, many parents still wait to the last minute to plan for crucial college entrance exams. According to Top Universities, “While some students do thrive on last-minute ‘cramming,’ its widely accepted for most of us, this not the best way to approach an exam.” As a test prep provider, I frequently receive requests from parents whose students “just need to score high enough for an athletics scholarship” or reach eligibility for their “dream” engineering college like Harvey Mudd; “Can you get my kid to a perfect score over a weekend? How about in a month?” Unfortunately, unless your student is already nearing his or her ideal score, the answer is a blunt “no.” The reality is that genuine progress requires patience, time and hard work.

In most cases, students are not natural born standardized test takers. In fact, many who need additional help require prolonged investment in personalized instruction, resources, and practice. The SAT and ACT, for instance, are not straightforward exams; they are designed to trick, fool and “weed out” university hopefuls from the competitive pool of potential applicants. College entrance exams are brutal, cruel, and purposefully deceitful, so if students are not already academically strong, they will not meet the necessary score unless they have access to substantial test preparation.

Six Successful Test Prep Tips

1.Avoid large classes through major test prep companies and universities. These are expensive and ineffective, particularly since they only offer  “cookie cutter,” “one size fits all” approaches. The vast majority of attendees walk away with more questions and fewer answers.

2. Go with one-on-one instruction. Find your local highly rated entrepreneurial instructor; they generally offer better service and results at a lower cost. Google, Thumbtack and Yelp are all good places to start!

3. Invest in two to six months of exam preparation in advance of the target test. Meet with an experienced instructor or tutor, ideally a credentialed teacher who can actually teach, once or twice per week for one to two hours. Lessons should be consistent or students won’t retain new content and strategy.

4. Prioritize exam preparation. Its high stakes, so lets act like it. Too often, other interests get in the way. Sports, homework, part-time jobs or even travel often supersede test prep. If these don’t allow for regular practice and meetings with your instructor, something has to change or the score won’t!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice. In addition to instruction, students must take the initiative. Ideally, practice should happen daily, but three times a week is sufficient in most cases. Check out Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT 2017: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions for independent practice

6. Kindly, but firmly hold your students accountable. “No pain, no gain!” Having worked with teens for over 18 years, excuses arise. Although some are legitimate of course, others are deployed to merely “get out” of doing the work, which is imperative for improvement!

For most students, getting results is far from easy. Dedication on the part of students, parents and teachers must be present to ensure exam day success.

 Stay tuned for the next installment of free college admissions tips!

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