Category Archives: Reflections

04 Oct 2013

The Wonderlic

For better or worse, college football has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and more than ever, players are being likened closer to employees than students. There is even a popular movement among ex-college athletes and fans to allow performance-based compensation for student-athletes at top tier universities. Obviously this trend is a bit disconcerting considering that these student-athletes are, first and foremost, students, and receive full scholarships to attend their respective universities. But, as fall turns to winter and winter to spring, those student athletes worthy enough to be invited to the NFL combine will be forced to demonstrate more than just their physical prowess to gain admission into the rarified air of the NFL… All athletes invited to the combine are required to take an SAT-like test known affectionately by football fans simply as the Wonderlic.

The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test is a 12 minute, 50 question exam designed to assess aptitude, analytical thinking, and has been employed by the NFL for the last 40 years. Interestingly, many player scores and questions are in the public domain, meaning that neither Dallas Cowboys corner back, Morris Claiborne, will ever be able to live down his 4, nor will Tennessee Titans quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, escape the shadow of his 48. So, in the interest of welcoming fall and football back into our lives, and with popular fall SAT dates drawing nigh, we offer an educational break to compete against some of your favorite (or least favorite) Sunday players. For an added SAT boost, stay true to the clock. The hardest aspect of the wonderlic may very well be the time limit, which provides a perfect opportunity to practice budgeting your time on test day!

Attached are links to previous exams as well as a list of memorable scores in modern football history.

Good luck 😉

Wonderlic Test

Memorable Scores

27 Aug 2013

What your IPod says about your SAT scores.

Famous (or infamous) hacker and WikiScanner creator, Virgil Griffith, completed an interesting project mapping out a correlation between SAT scores and Music preference.  Albeit not the most scientific of studies, Virgil creatively aggregated students’ self-reported music preferences on Facebook, and plotted them against their schools’ average SAT scores.

Even more interesting than his methodology, are his results.  Virgil scientifically (well, sort of) established a link between Lil Wayne and Pitbull’s mind numbing music and actual mind numbing.  According to his data, students who listed Lil Wayne as a favorite musician score the worst on the SAT – roughly in the 30th percentile (that’s below 900 using only Critical Reading & Math scores).  Soca and Nickleback listeners don’t perform much better with average scores hovering around 900 and 996 respectively.  I guess Nickleback’s lead vocalist, Chad Kroeger, wasn’t kidding when he whined “I never made it as a wise man”. Musicians that top the list are Counting Crows, Radiohead, and Sufjan Stevens (no huge surprise considering his tendency to pepper lyrics with words like eminent and futile).

Of course these findings may be completely correlative and not causative, but it probably doesn’t hurt to occasionally forego the Lil Wayne in favor of some Sufjan Stephens or Counting Crows to get those synapses firing before test day.  Plus a cool chart is a cool chart, as my grandmother always used to say.

Check out where your musical preferences place your SAT scores after the break!

 

http://img.labnol.org/files/music-that-makes-you-dumb.png

23 Aug 2013

Success in Small Envelopes: The Silver Lining of College Rejection

With colleges accepting fewer and fewer students and application pools overflowing, the possibility of receiving the coveted “big envelope” of admission is becoming as slim as the dreaded rejection envelope.  Although the goal is and always will be to receive an offer of admission from your “dream school” the consequences of rejection are not nearly as life ending as one may fear.  As highschoolers across the country begin the arduous process of brainstorming, drafting, redrafting, scrapping, and rehashing college applications, it is important to keep perspective on what its all for.  The college application process is not simply a game to be won, but a journey to find a school that matches the interests, talents, convictions and goals of an applicant.  In several cases, initial rejection has been the springboard that has launched the most famously successful into careers with big payouts.

 

Steven Spielberg

Billionaire Director of our most iconic movies of the last two decades tops our list with a grand total of three rejections… from the same school.  Steven Spielberg was so convinced that the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts was the first and most essential stop on his way to silver screen success that he applied and was rejected on three separate occasions.  Obviously, the Jurassic Park, Terminator, E.T., Saving Private Ryan and Shindler’s List Director found an alternative road to success, capturing five Oscars and countless imaginations along the way.  Today, Spielberg holds an honorary degree from USC and sits on the schools Board of Trustees – who’s laughing now?

 

Meredith Viera

Beloved anchor of the Today Show, and one time host of hit television series “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire”, Viera was turned away from Harvard’s doors hat in hand.  Viera later enrolled at  nearby Tufts University where she met her mentor who offered her an internship that inspired her to pursue a very successful career in broadcast journalism.  Had she not been initially been rejected from Harvard, she “doubts [she] would have pursued a career in journalism.”

 

John Kerry

Former Democratic nominee for President of the United States, long sitting senator, and current Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry has not always been the lauded leader of the more liberal party we know today.  In 1962, he was one of many gangly teenagers to have a dream crushed by the Harvard University admissions committee.  When asked about his rejection, Kerry stated, “I never would have fit in at a total jock school.”   But, the lure of Harvard held strong – in 1973, Kerry tried and failed again to attend Harvard, this time, as a law student. Sec. Kerry took his talents first to Yale University and then to Boston College Law School, going on to become one of the most respected and long serving legislators of the last few decades.  Of course, marrying someone with the last name Heinz didn’t hurt.

 

Warren Buffet

The Oracle of Oklahoma, the CEO of value inventing, and the world’s most well known and oft imitated investor, Warren Buffet joins our list of “rejects”.  Similarly Crimson-ly challenged, Buffet was rejected from Harvard Business School at the age of 19.  Looking back, he say’s “Harvard wouldn’t have been a good fit. But at the time, I had this feeling of dread”.  Ultimately, Buffet landed at the prestigious Columbia Business School where legendary investors, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, mentored and influenced the young tycoon’s investing approach.  By 2008, Buffet’s schooling and intellect had resulted in $62 billion in investments and he is considered one of the pre-eminent market movers… in the world.  Take that Harvard!

 

Tom Brokaw

Nightly news legendary anchor, Tom Brokaw has reported and recorded his fair share of failures.  Brokaw, who self describes himself as majoring in “partying and co-eds” while completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa was shocked when he received his rejection letter from Harvard’s Journalism school.  The former anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News called his rejection from Harvard “the initial stumble” that was “critical in getting me launched.” According to the Wall Street Journal, the denial was instrumental in inspiring the revered newsman to commit to journalism… and to stop partying so much!

 

Ted Turner

Finally, Ted Turner, the most famous undereducated success story of… hmmm, maybe ever.  Mr. Turner, who attended Brown University for 3 years, never earned a collegiate degree of any kind (though he was awarded an honorary B.A. from Brown 1989).  After his Junior year, Turner was forced to move back home to manage his late father’s billboard business, and managed to grow it into the multinational multi billion dollar cable news conglomerate, CNN.  The rest as they say is history.

09 Oct 2012

Five Ways to De-stress after the SAT

High school seniors: How did this Saturday’s administration of the SAT go?

Wait! Don’t answer that!

Why?

…Because now that the test is over, you should be focused on de-stressing. After all, scores won’t be released for another three weeks! Why get all worked up evaluating your test-performance when you don’t even know your grade?

Yes. I thought you would agree with me. That’s why I wrote this blog entry on five ways to de-stress after the SAT. With these strategies, you can decompress and remain relaxed while you wait for your scores.

1.)
Let go of your mistakes

Pencils down!  Turn in the test. Take a deep breath and… Crap! I just remembered the meaning of that vocab word! And it was the answer! Or: Shoot! I should have used the Pythagorean Theorem to solve that math problem I left blank!

An especially crappy aspect of the SAT is that we tend to realize our mistakes once the test is over—and obsess about them endlessly. While reflecting on your test experience is important, it is NOT useful to consume yourself with questions missed. This is because fixating on questions bombed without also acknowledging those we aced can lead us to think we failed the test. In reality, we probably did just fine.

If you truly believe you BOMBED the test (as in, you didn’t answer the questions, got a vomit-inducing migraine, or wrote your essay on Fifty Shades of Gray) you can cancel your scores. Once you decide to do this, however, there is no going back. You must accept this decision without regret, and then start prepping for the next SAT.

2.)
Grab lunch with friends

The only fun part of the SAT is eating lunch when it’s over. Once dismissed from the test-site, head to the diner with a few of your friends to eat and laugh off post-SAT stress.

3.)
Exercise or Meditate

Exercise is a fantastic way to let go of stress built up during the exam. Not only does exercise trigger the brain to produce endorphins (natural, mood-enhancing hormones) but exercise also requires you to focus on your body’s movements in the present moment—that is, away from the SAT. Finally, exercise is literally exhausting. After a good workout, you’ll simply feel too tired to worry about how you scored on the SAT.

Meditation is also an excellent way to dispense with stress accrued through the day. My last blog entry focused on the benefits of meditation for students. Without restating the whole thing here, I will say that meditation teaches us to accept and let go of frustrations and mistakes. Like exercise, meditation also commands deep, unwavering focus. If you are having trouble enacting de-stressing technique #1, meditation should help you let go of your mistakes and tolerate uncertainty about your scores.

4.)
Spend some time with the television  

Months of test-prep on top of regular school work, socializing, and extracurricular activities means you probably missed out on a lot of TV. Celebrate the fact that the SAT is done by watching a movie/TV or by doing another completely passive (but thoroughly relaxing) activity.

Even if you’re planning to test again, allow yourself a couple of study-free days to enjoy some free time and bathe in the television’s soft blue glow.

5.)
Remind yourself that all will be fine—even if you bombed the SAT.

As much as the SAT matters… it really doesn’t matter.

Solid SAT scores are a vital part of your application to college, but it’s important to remember that admissions officials also consider your grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and personal statement. In other words, the SAT is not the be-all and end-all that determines your fate.

Even if lower-than-desired SAT scores keep you from admission to your top-choice school, you may find yourself at a college better suited to your interests, current academic skillset, and style of learning. In this case, lower-than-desired SAT scores would actually have benefited your personal, social, and academic growth.

The SAT means working hard to do your best on a grueling test, and then putting the experience behind you. Now that the test is over, you should rejoice! No matter your score, you should feel proud of yourself; you have just completed a necessary step on the pathway to college.

 

Glossary
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Accrue: to accumulate

24 Jul 2012

Should you study while listening to music?

Imagine that it’s late at night and you’re driving down an empty, abandoned road. You’d really like to accelerate to 60 miles per hour and go for a joyride, but there is literally a stop sign at every corner. You can’t gain speed because you’re constantly coming to a complete stop.

This is basically what happens when you listen to stimulating music while studying. Music—filled with changing notes, fluxing tempos, and passionate lyrics—periodically begs you to pay attention. Every time the music catches your ear, you are interrupted from your studies. As a result, it becomes harder to achieve that state of deep, meditative focus necessary to painlessly, efficiently and meaningfully complete your work.

In this blog entry, I will explain the drawbacks and benefits of studying while listening to music. Following this, I will provide suggestions for creating a playlist that is appropriate for study.

Multitasking… it’s a myth!

True focus requires total absorption in the assignment at hand. When engrossed in a task, we become completely ignorant of irrelevant information. We forget our bodies, our surroundings and we lose sense of time. This is because the brain is simply incapable of paying attention to more than one thing at once. Multitasking, in other words, is an urban myth.

Eric Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, explained this concept in an interview for NPR. According to Miller, when we think we are multitasking, we are actually quickly but completely switching focus between different things. Attempting to do two things at once thus does not heighten your productivity; it slows you down because each task is to the other a distraction.

And so, the verdict is in…
Listening to music while studying is distracting!

A 2010 study confirms that the pitfalls of multitasking apply to studying while listening to music. The study assessed the impact of different noise climates on young adults’ ability to memorize and recall a list of letters. Subjects were tested in silence, while listening to music, while listening to a voice repeat the number three, or while listening to a voice recite random numbers.

The study found that participants were best able to memorize the list when studying in silence or while listening to the voice repeat the number three. By contrast, participants did poorly if they had studied while listening to music or to a voice reciting random numbers. In short, the study suggests that predictable noise conditions nurture concentration. Whereas monotonous repetition is easily tuned out, stimulating and interesting sounds are distracting.

…But are there any benefits to hitting the books with headphones on?

Because we learn best in predictable, un-stimulating noise conditions and we’re fundamentally incapable of concentrating on two things at once, we can safely conclude that studying to music is a bad idea. So, why do many students still do it?

Just as white noise can help the sleepless rest, music may bring focus to students who are bombarded by disruptive thoughts. In addition, music can help us tune out chaotic surroundings. For such students, music is an agent of seclusion and a shield against distraction.

Research from the 1990s has also suggested that listening to music—especially classical music—helps the brain transfer newly learned information to long-term memory. Such research proposes that the brain processes information more effectively when both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are activated. Whereas studying excites the left hemisphere of the brain, classical music activates the right.

This research further submits that listening to music excites the senses, elevates mood and reduces blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In short, listening to music primes the mind for methodical study.

So, listening to music while studying is distracting AND beneficial?! What should I do???

To increase motivation and avoid distraction, students should assemble a study playlist that consists mainly of pleasant but monotonous sounds. These sounds will readily fade to background noise while also blocking distracting thoughts and surroundings. Some suggestions include:

Exciting music has a place in our study playlist too. As we saw above, stimulating music simultaneously reduces stress and energizes the mind; in short, it prepares you to study. Therefore, for maximum results, students should BEGIN their playlists with ear-catching instrumental songs. Listen to these songs before you begin to study in earnest. Including one such song to mark every hour of your playlist will also signal your mind to take an occasional rest.

Some awesome and exciting (mostly) instrumental artists to check out:

You are now prepared to create the ultimate study playlist! However, don’t forget to experiment by studying to different artist and songs!

17 Jul 2012

Seven Great Foods for Stressed Students

Worried about schoolwork, college apps, or standardized tests? Why not eat your way to a calmer, more focused state of mind?

Studies show that eating certain foods can reduce stress and boost students’ performance on tests and in school. In this blog entry, I will provide information on seven such foods. Get ready to get snacking!

1. Carbohydrates!

 Ah, carbs—our kindest, most empathetic food. Eating a bunch of carbs when you’re stressed or sad is like getting a big hug from Mother Nature. This is because carbohydrates encourage the brain to produce serotonin, a feel-good chemical that regulates depression and anxiety.

It’s best to eat complex carbohydrates including whole-grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, brown rice and millet. Because they digest more slowly than white carbs, complex carbohydrates will also boost your  focus without resulting in an energy crash later on.

2. Oranges and Blueberries!

 Fruits like oranges and blueberries with a high concentration of vitamin C help reduce stress hormones like cortisol. In addition, blueberries are chock-full of anthocyanin compounds, which protect brain neurons linked to memory.

One 2010 study found that older adults who drank 2.5 cups of blueberry juice daily for two months improved their scores on learning and memory  tests by 20%. Studies involving rats have also shown that eating blueberries leads to improved learning ability and motor skills.

3. Fish oil tablets!

I could spend about 10 blog entries raving about fish oil’s myriad benefits. In addition to preventing heart disease, clarifying acne, aiding weight loss and promoting healthy hair, fish oil will guarantee your calm and focus.

Fish oil is replete with omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Such fatty acids are not only necessary for our bodies to function, but they also treat depression, anxiety and ADHD. In general, fish oil aids one’s ability to concentrate, calm down and think clearly.

Fatty fish like salmon, anchovies and tuna contain high levels of DHA and EPA, but they also contain too much mercury for us to eat them very often. By taking a daily fish oil supplement, you will ensure your brain’s fill of these delicious fatty acids. Your brain will reward you with its highest performance.

Note: Small amounts of vitamin E are often added to fish oil tablets to prevent them from going rancid. When selecting your fish oil supplement, make sure that it contains vitamin E. Also, be sure to thoroughly research any supplement you consider to make sure all harmful chemicals—like mercury—have been removed.

4. Nuts and Seeds!

 Rich in vitamin E, nuts—especially almonds—spike cognitive acuity and combat anxiety. Nuts’ high fiber and beneficial fat content also makes them an excellent snack when you need an immediate, but slow-burning, energy boost.

Walnuts and flax seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids—just like fish oil!

Finally, sunflower seeds are a wonderful source of folate, which spurs dopamine production. Dopamine is a reward chemical in our brains that induces feelings of pleasure.

5. Coffee!

It’s true! Drinking 1–3 of cups of coffee each day is a great way to augment mental performance.

According to an article in Time Magazine, drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline—the chemical agent of intense focus. As a result, the well-rested individual who drinks caffeine is more able to concentrate on repetitive, boring tasks for extended periods of time. When you’re sleep deprived, you can count on caffeine to redeem your reaction time, concentration and logical reasoning abilities.

Drinking caffeine also promotes the release of dopamine, the chemical in our brains responsible for feelings of bliss and satisfaction. In keeping with this, drinking caffeine has been proven to improve mood and boost energy levels. Caffeine, in other words, can seriously motivate us to tackle our work!

Bonus: Research shows that drinking 2 cups of (strong) coffee per day helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Beware, however, of consuming caffeine and other stimulants when you’re stressed. If you’re already feeling slightly panicky and overexcited, a shot of espresso will NOT help you slow down, relax and focus.

If you need a boost but recoil at coffee’s taste, try dark chocolate! A generic cup of coffee contains about 130 mg. of caffeine. In comparison, a bar of regular dark chocolate (50–70% cocoa) contains about 70 mg. of caffeine. Dark chocolate is also loaded with flavonoids, a chemical with relaxing properties that is also found in chamomile tea.

6. Avocado!

Avocado is one of the hippest and happiest brain foods in town. The monosaturated fat in avocado benefits blood circulation. In turn, our brains function and think better.

Avocados are also full of potassium (half of an avocado has more potassium than a medium sized-banana!), which helps reduce high blood pressure—one of the symptoms of stress.

7. Water!

Not technically a food, but staying hydrated is essential for maintaining a good mood. Even slight dehydration can increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the brain—a catch-22, since many symptoms of stress (like sweating, heavy breathing and increased heart-rate) cause your body to lose water.

Water also makes you smarter. According to a recent study, college students who brought water with them to an exam scored higher than students that did not. Although the study didn’t address how water spurred this spike, it certainly suggests that constant sipping will help you do better in school.

Glossary:
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

myriad: a very great number of things
acuity: sharpness; acuteness; keenness
augment: to make larger in size
recoil: to draw back in alarm, horror or disgust

28 Jun 2012

How to Achieve Your Goals, Part 2: Getting into a Good Routine

When I was in high school, I hated the idea of routine. It sounded so stiff, fixed, and boring. I wanted to be passionate! Friends, teachers, and parents should see me as spontaneous and creative, I thought.

As I have gotten older, however, I’ve come to realize that routines and goals are like yin and yang—they are interdependent and bring one another to fruition. Routines allow us to take control of our lives. Instead of flaking out, procrastinating, or becoming overwhelmed by banal tasks, routine followers calmly navigate their daily duties and make steady progress toward long-term goals.

On Tuesday, I explained that long-term goals must be broken down into a series of small steps. Since achieving long-term goals means prioritizing such steps, we must work them into our daily routines. In this blog entry, I will therefore outline a good daily routine for high school students that emphasizes daily progress toward long-term goals.

A Good Daily Routine for High School Students:

Before Bed:

1.) A few hours before bed, identify twomain goals for the next day. These can be large and time consuming, like writing an essay, or as simple as signing up for SAT prep. Your two main goals are the most important tasks you have for the day. Even if you get nothing else done, completing your two main goals will mean you’ve had a productive day.

2.) After you’ve identified your 2 main goals, write a longer list of things to do if you have time.

3.) Prepare for the next day by laying out your clothes, packing your lunch, and making sure everything you need for school is already in your backpack.

4.) Relax a little by reading a book before bed. Not only is this an enjoyable activity, but independent reading will also help you prepare for the SAT/ACT!

5.) Go to bed early enough to guarantee you’ll feel rested in the morning.

 

In the Morning:

1.) Wake up in plenty of time to get ready for school. Nothing throws off a productive day like rushing out of the house unclean, unkempt, and unprepared.

2.) Eat breakfast!

3.) Do a little reading or a crossword puzzle over breakfast or on your way to school. This light mental workout will have you sharp and focused just in time for school.

After School and Extracurricular Activities:

1.) Take a break, but do not let this break turn into procrastination. Taking a break is a productive activity; it refreshes your mind so you can continue attacking important tasks. A productive break lasts about 30 minutes–1 hour.

2.) Get to work on the 2 main goals you identified the night before. As these are your most important tasks for the day, you should complete them before working on anything else. Remember, procrastinating by doing less important (though still productive) tasks is still procrastinating! Starting work on these projects right away will also ensure you have enough time to do them well.

3.) Finish your homework and/or household chores. If one of your main goals was a homework assignment, you have one less thing to worry about!

4.) Take 30 minutes–1 hour every day to work on tasks you dread and tend to put off. For some students, this will turn into SAT/ACT study time. Dedicating a specific (short!) amount of time each day to working on dreaded tasks not only ensures steady progress, but it will also make these tasks feel less daunting.

5.) At some point, you’ll obviously need to eat dinner. Eat something nutritious! 

 

Before Bed (We’ve come full circle, eh?)

1.) Reflect for a bit on the day that has just passed. Did you manage your daily responsibilities and accomplish your main goals? If not, why? Did you procrastinate? Forget to do something? Or were your main goals too ambitious to complete in one day? Now is the time to think about what went wrong so you can make adjustments for tomorrow.

2.) Repeat the process. You know the drill.

 

Glossary:
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Fruition: completion; accomplishment; maturity
Banal: commonplace; everyday; mundane
Abide by: to follow

26 Jun 2012

How to Achieve Your Goals, Part 1: Planning for Long-Term Success

One day, Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, was asked by a young student, “How do you get to Mount Olympus?” Aristotle replied, “By simply ensuring that each step you take is toward Mount Olympus.”

Aristotle’s response is surprising. Usually when someone asks me for directions, I lay out a comprehensive plan. Walk straight for 5 blocks, I might say. Turn right at the church and you’ll see the mountain on your left. Instead of specifying a plan or worrying about the future, however, Aristotle instructs his student to simply concentrate on the present step. Only when this step is complete should the student concern himself with the next.

Back in February, Marcus (an awesome tutor here at Sentia) argued for the importance of setting goals when studying for admissions tests. In this blog entry, I will give some suggestions for how to make these goals actually happen. To do this, we don’t need to create a comprehensive final plan. We merely must identify and complete a series of next steps.

 How to Achieve Your Long-Term Goals:

 1.) Define your goals.

To achieve your goals, you must first figure out what they are. Since you have stumbled across the Sentia Education blog, I’m going to assume you’re a student aiming for a college or graduate degree. A lofty goal indeed!

Once you’ve identified your ultimate, long-term goal (COLLEGE! GRAD SCHOOL!), you must make a list of sub-goals. Sub-goals are all the projects you’ll need to complete before attaining your ultimate goal. For example, most colleges require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Thus, if you’re a high school student applying to college, taking the SAT or ACT is an important sub-goal.

As you move forward with the method I describe below, you will continue to break your goals down into smaller and smaller pieces.

 2.) Force yourself to Just Get Started!

Beginning work on a big project can be daunting—especially if you’re not sure where to start or how much work you’ll need to do. In the germinal stage of any endeavor, it’s generally best to suspend such worries and focus on getting something—anything—done. This is the first step. Once you have taken the first step, you will find it easier to identify the next.

Setting a precise, limited work-time will make it easier to start work on your goal. To begin, challenge yourself to work for 30 minutes today. Stop working after 30 minutes, no matter how paltry your progress. You have made admirable headway just by forcing yourself to sit down, “break the ice,” and attack your goal. (Keep working, of course, if you’re being productive and don’t want to stop!)

When you are finished for today, schedule your next short work session. And so forth.

3.) Break your goal into a series of small tasks.

 The first step here is figuring out exactly how long you have to complete your goal. Then, you will make a list of things you know you need to do to complete this goal.

For instance, if you’re studying for the SAT, one of your first actions will be to register for the exam. Perhaps you will take it this October?

There are 15 weeks between now and the October 6 SAT. What do you need to do before then? A diligent student might write: I need to take & review practice sections; learn grammar concepts; and memorize 300 vocab words.

Continue to break down this list until you have a series of mini-goals to complete at specific times in the immediate future. Once again, our diligent student might here resolve to: learn 20 vocab words each week to memorize 300 in 15 weeks; take and review 3 practice sections each week; study grammar concepts for 1 hour each week.

 And there we have it! We have defined our next steps.

4.) Make a schedule of times to complete your mini-goals.

Once you’ve established a series of mini-goals, you will want to create a regular work-schedule to get them done. Creating a schedule for completing your mini-goals will not only cause the overall project to feel less overwhelming, but it will also force you to make this work a priority.

Treat each one of your scheduled work-sessions as a commitment you cannot break. I cannot emphasize this enough. Unless there is a serious (and I mean serious) emergency, you must honor and abide by the schedule you make.

Tip: Establishing a regular place (or—better yet—a few places) to go to work on your goal will help these sessions feel more like actual appointments. In addition, your brain will begin to associate such special spots with working on your goal, so you can get focused faster.

5.) Monitor your progress every step of the way.

 Let’s say you’re studying for the SAT. You have made a schedule whereby you take 3 practice exam sections each week. On Monday, you take a Math section, grade it, and learn you got all but 4 questions wrong. Ouch!

Sounds like it’s time to re-evaluate your work schedule and set some new mini-goals!

At this moment in time, you might set a mini-goal of getting a Sentia tutor to help you with math. You might also set a goal of re-learning concepts covered in the questions you got wrong. In either case, you are rethinking your plan to counter unexpected challenges. In other words, you less concerned with sticking to a pre-formed plan than with identifying and taking the appropriate next steps.

Glossary:
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

 Lofty: exalted in rank, dignity, or character; noble
Germinal: being in the earliest stage of development
Paltry: ridiculously small

19 Jun 2012

Why do tests matter, anyway?

On Wednesday, the New York Post reported that parents are pulling their kids out of the young, progressive and $32,000 per-year Blue School at tremendous rates because their kids are “barely learning to read.”

Originally founded in 2006 as a playgroup by members of the Blue Man Group and their wives, the Blue School places a premium on curiosity, collaboration, and creative exploration. Students and teachers work in teams to establish and construct curriculum. There are no required books or set arrival times. Grade levels currently range from prekindergarten to third grade, although a fourth grade is being added next year.

Instead of tests, Blue School teachers use “observations, field notes, photographs, portfolios, and other appropriate forms of documentation” to evaluate student progress—a system that allows teachers to assess development holistically and without comparing students to one another. Students are encouraged to learn through play, projects and reflection on their environment. Curriculum is emergent, which means that material is taught as it becomes relevant to students’ explorations and interests. Sounds like a dream!

…Until you realize second graders at the Blue School still can’t read.

Before the backdrop of recent outcry against the growing importance of standardized tests, the Blue School’s radical methods appear to represent desperate moves to get away from the mania—attempts to refocus education on the process of learning, rather than on its end results. Emphasis on standardized testing is at an all-time high; such tests determine not only the fate of NYC teachers and schools, but also whether students are permitted to advance to the next grade level. Success on standardized tests is also a prerequisite for admission to elite NYC high schools and universities nationwide.

Criticism of standardized tests seems to flow in two, interrelated directions. On one hand, parents are frustrated that measurement of their children’s achievement and potential has boiled down to a single score. Such feelings were manifest in the media’s treatment of the “talking pineapple question”, a nonsense story paired with nonsensical questions that recently appeared on New York State 8th grade ELA exams. Parents, teachers, and students alike were outraged that such a screaming error could appear on high-stakes exams. In response, the state eventually decided not to count the question when calculating scores.

Critics are also concerned about the effects of standardized tests on teaching. Under overwhelming pressure to get students to perform, some teachers are now prioritizing the pedagogy of “teaching to the test.” In other words, rather than exploring subjects in depth to instill comprehensive understanding, many teachers are relying on “drill and kill” methods that may improve scores, but foster only superficial comprehension of a given topic.

These are serious problems that must be addressed, but eliminating tests altogether is not the answer. Working in the admissions test-prep industry, I have come to see standardized tests like the SAT as useful teaching tools. Tests function to direct and structure curriculum; they focus teacher and student attention on developing and improving skills that are necessary for success in school and beyond. Furthermore, standardized tests like the SAT ask students to apply skills they have learned in new ways to solve tricky questions. Studying for such tests can actually train students to approach problems from diverse angles and find creative solutions.

The high stakes of tests are important here too—many highschoolers commit to independent reading only after they experience the brutality of Critical Reading on the SAT. In other words, the tangible goals and rewards associated with tests can nurture student motivation. Also and perhaps most importantly, studying for tests like the SAT teaches students to proceed with confidence, diligence, and determination despite not initially being the best at something.

It remains to be seen whether the Blue School’s alternative teaching methods can eventually instill core academic skills like literacy and math. For now, it seems the school is facing a harsh reality that validating free and independent exploration cannot come at the expense of giving students structure, direction, and discipline. Both elements must combine for children to grow into capable, responsible, and curious learners.

 

21 May 2012

Stories of success shirk fears of failure!

Last week, Yahoo! News and The New York Times gave us the stories of Chris Navas and Gac Filipaj—two individuals who sprung from humble circumstances to attain Ivy League degrees.

In Chris Navas’ narrative, a cascade of coincidences leads an academically apathetic young man to earn a spot at Dartmouth University’s medical school. The story begins when Navas, a high school dropout who holds a day job building boilers, signs up for a 200-level “behavioral neuroscience” class—simply because it works for his schedule. Normally a “do just what it takes to pass” kind of student, Navas didn’t expect to be good at neuroscience. Nevertheless, he found himself captivated by the teacher’s descriptions of breakthrough neuroscientific research and began reading unassigned chapters in the text. Before long, Navas had secured a spot in the honors neuroscience program and was working at a lab that studies learning and memory. He will begin medical school at Dartmouth this fall.

Navas explains his fortune as a force of luck. “The mentors made the difference,” he said, according to The New York Times. “I was just some kid working in a boiler company. I had no vision of becoming a doctor. I got lucky, over and over.”

Navas’ story certainly suggests fate played a hand in his scholastic path. After all, Navas signed up for “behavioral neuroscience” on a whim, without plans to become a doctor or a neuroscience major… without even particular interest in the topic! But, since there’s no lesson in luck, I’d prefer to highlight aspects of agency in Navas’ tale.

Chris Navas strikes me as a person who not only is tremendously brave, but also delves heart and soul into the activities he enjoys. As The New York Times explains, post-high-school, Navas had no plan. He picked up work as a secretary at a refrigeration company. One day all the mechanics were out, so Navas’ boss sent him to fix a broken refrigerator. Navas rose to the occasion, undaunted by his lack of training in refrigeration mechanics. He took school lightly because it wasn’t his thing, and didn’t worry too much about the future. Instead, he worked fervently at bodybuilding, his passion. When he became aware of his fascination with neuroscience, he pursued it relentlessly. He didn’t tell himself it was too late, dwell upon past mistakes, or focus on competition that lay ahead. He just did it because he loved it.

Similar bravery, passion, and perseverance can be seen in Gac Filipaj. Middle-aged and nearly done with law school, Filipaj was forced to start his life over when he fled Montenegro (then a Yugoslavian republic facing civil war) in 1992. Once in America, Filipaj lived with his uncle in the Bronx, worked as a restaurant busboy, and began to ask after the best schools in NYC. When he learned of Columbia University, he applied for a job.

Filipaj’s native language is Albanian, so his first hurdle as a degree-seeking American was to learn English. Once fluent, he took on the challenge of balancing Ivy-League-level coursework with a fulltime job as a janitor at Columbia. Yahoo! News reports Filipaj regularly pulled all-nighters during exam time or to finish a paper. Then he would go to class, and then to his 2:30–11:00pm shift at work.

Twelve years later, Filipaj donned a cap and gown to receive his bachelor’s degree—with honors—in Roman and Greek classics. In graduating, Filipaj reveals himself as someone who is able to take life as it comes and who won’t be discouraged, no matter the work required nor the magnitude of setback. Ultimately Filipaj would like to attain a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in Roman and Greek classics, so he can teach. For now, he is trying to get a “better job,” perhaps as a supervisor of other custodians.

Filipaj and Navas’ experiences demonstrate the power of hard work, passion, and faith in one’s abilities to trump even the most disheartening circumstances. When you love something and are determined to succeed at it, no task is too hard and no amount of work is too much. In turn, no goal is beyond your reach.

Glossary:
These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Apathetic: marked by lack of interest or concern
Fervent: having or showing great intensity of spirit
Disheartening: very discouraging