Category Archives: Uncategorized

02 Jul 2020

A Student’s Guide to Avoiding Screen Fatigue

If you’re spending more time than usual looking at your computer screen recently, you are in good company. Whether you’re using online study materials, reading an ebook for pleasure, or working remotely for an internship, it’s likely that you’ve experienced a touch (or more) of screen fatigue. 

What is screen fatigue, you might ask? Symptoms include impaired vision, strained eye muscles, inability to focus your vision, poor posture, headaches, as well as shoulder and neck discomfort. Additionally, there is mounting research indicating that excess blue-light exposure from screens interferes with our ability to set our circadian rhythm, which is essential for restful sleep. (And the importance of restful sleep cannot be overstated.) 

All that is to say, it is important to be intentional about the way we interact with our screens in order to get the most out of our screentime. For students especially, as schools go remote and exams are offered online, the shift from paper-based to computer-based education requires new strategies for effective, meaningful learning. 

We’ve pulled together the following tips for avoiding screen fatigue and setting yourself up for successful online learning… 

1. Curate your physical and virtual spaces 

Your physical environment can play a huge role in your level of focus and motivation. Finding a quiet space away from distractions is an obvious and essential part of curating a space that is conducive to learning. Don’t forget to curate your virtual space as well, by turning your phone on “do not disturb” mode and installing an ad blocker on your web browser.

2. Customize your on-screen experience

Be sure to consider what’s most comfortable for your eyes. Most online reading platforms allow you to increase font size, contrast, and select non-white backgrounds. These are all easy ways to eliminate the need to squint and strain your eye muscles. If you have trouble tracking while you read or you’re simply looking to take your online reading game to the next level, consider checking out BeeLine Reader. This Chrome extension uses an eye-guiding color gradient trick to pull your eyes from one line to the next, which can help increase reading speed and enhance focus. Plus, they’ve launched an initiative to provide free access for university students and K-12 teachers in response to COVID-19!

3. Perfect your lighting

Whether you’re reading a book or a computer monitor, lighting is key. If possible, avoid having a window behind you while looking at your computer screen. This will decrease the glare on your screen and make on-screen reading more enjoyable. Similarly, using a small table lamp, rather than a bright overhead light, may make your online reading experience more pleasant. 

4. Use the 20-20-20 rule 

If you struggle maintaining focus while staring at your screen, the anti-fatigue 20-20-20 technique may come in handy. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away. (Set a timer on your desk to remind you at 20 minute intervals to look away from your screen for 20 seconds. Soon it will become a habit and your eyes will thank you!) 

5. Hydrate 

Hydration, like sleep, often feels like a magic cure-all. In the case of online learning, hydration is essential because eye tissue is predominantly water. So, if you become dehydrated, your eyes will feel extra dry. No matter how absorbed you are in your online course or reading material, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. 

6. Know when to take a break!

We want to support you in meeting all of your academic and test prep goals, but we recognize that an essential part of success is knowing when to take a break. If your schedule allows, try to use your weekends to reduce screen time and spend some time outdoors. Take advantage of whatever hobbies or activities help you feel refreshed and motivated. This positive momentum will carry over to the next time you sit down to tackle an online problem set or reading assignment. 

As new hybrid learning models take shape for the fall semester, we will be brainstorming more strategies for remote learning. So, stay tuned! As always, at Sentia we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

01 May 2020

COVID-Related News: ACT / SAT / AP

We hope you’re staying safe and well. With daily updates and changes on the standardized testing front, we are here to provide the most up-to-date COVID-related news. As always, we want to ensure that you feel supported in the test prep process. At this unprecedented time, having clarity on the when’s, where’s, and how’s of taking your SAT, ACT, or AP exams is essential. Here’s what we know: 

ACT Updates: 

Though ACT June test dates have not been officially cancelled, there is still a strong likelihood of June cancellations. We recommend that students registered for the June administration utilize the Flexible Scheduling option to change their June test date to July for free. At this time, July seems a safer bet and officially changing your test date may relieve some of the uncertainty-induced stress and allow you to create a more productive test preparation schedule.

Without any formal announcement, ACT has also opened up their July test date to New York state! Currently, there are no available testing sites in NYC, but this could change, so keep an eye on your registration portal. 

Looking ahead to the fall, ACT will be offering three previously planned test dates on September 12th, October 24th, and December 12th. While we don’t have full details on timeline yet, ACT will also be unveiling their new at-home digital testing option in the late fall / early winter. 

This option would allow students to take the test at home on a computer, which would certainly be a game changer. (This is becoming a trend in the world of standardized testing, check out what we have to say about the new online LSAT.)

In other ACT news, starting in September 2020 students who have already taken the full ACT exam will have the option to retake one or more specific sections of the test. Section retakes will eventually be offered digitally as well, which will be a test-taking timesaver and speed up the wait time for receiving scores. 

SAT Updates: 

Continue preparing for the August exam! (See our previous post about June cancellations and recommendation.) The College Board plans to provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of 2020 beginning in August, public health permitting. This means that students will be able to test on August 29th, September 26th (new!), October 3rd, November 7th, or December 5th. Remember, most colleges will accept scores through the November administration for early applications, so rising seniors still have four remaining opportunities to test.

According to College Board, students will be notified during the week of May 26th about registration for these test dates, but we recommend keeping an eye on your email and the website in case anything changes. Rising seniors without test scores and students registered for June test dates will be granted priority access before registration opens up for everyone else. The College Board will be sending out clarifying information on what that priority access looks like on the week of May 26th, as well. 

AP Exam Updates: 

AP exams will look very different this year: all exams will be delivered online, to be taken at home. The tests will be limited to 45 minutes and the multiple choice portion of all exams will be eliminated. Additionally, exams will be open note. Check out these tips for success on open note exams and stay tuned for more tips on how to approach the new exam format. 

AP exams will be offered May 11th – 22nd, with make-up exams offered June 1st – 5th. Though having more time to prepare for your AP exams may seem appealing, all students should plan to take their tests during the May testing window. If you encounter any issues in May, the June testing window will serve as a contingency plan. No additional make-up dates will be offered, so it is crucial to plan to take your exam(s) in May! 

This year, AP exams will only include content that is typically covered by teachers through early March. The College Board assures us that they are committed to upholding the integrity of their AP exams, especially under such unusual circumstances, which will mean extra attention to exam security and fairness. They will be utilizing tools to detect plagiarism and other testing irregularities. 

Despite these major changes, the College Board is determined to honor the time and effort that high school students have poured into their AP classes this year. They are enthusiastic that colleges will give credit to students with qualifying 2020 AP scores. Many top colleges including Yale and the UC schools have publicly pledged support for granting 2020 AP credit. Many other colleges, however, are still evaluating how they will handle incoming scores. Because of the changes made this year, it’s possible that there will be no official mandate for schools to offer AP credit. As more colleges comment publicly on the matter and set a precedent, the landscape of 2020 AP credit will become clearer.

We know this testing season holds many unforeseen changes. As always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or need additional support. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™ — especially in such uncertain times.

17 Mar 2020

Coronavirus Survival Guide for Parents: Best Practices in the Transition to Online Schooling

If you’re reading this it’s likely that you have one (or more) kids suddenly at home all day, every day with no end date in sight. One of the comments we are hearing most frequently from the families with whom we work is the difficulty of juggling space and schedule. With so many parents working remotely and students attending school from home, the house is suddenly feeling a lot smaller.

We’ve been working with homeschooled students and those temporarily unable to attend day school for over a decade and many of the lessons we’ve learned are applicable to the unprecedented situation with which we are grappling today. Here are some suggestions:

#1 Figure out your space
If you’re working from home and the kids are too, you should spend a half hour deciding where everyone is going to work.

Particularly if your family is sharing a small space, it’s crucial to think about noise first and foremost. Are you taking work-related calls from home? Set yourself up in a space where you’re least likely to experience noise bleed, even if it’s not where you usually work from home. Issue everyone a “do not disturb” post-it – kids can use it when they’re in a tutorial session or online class and you can stick it on the door or wall when you’re on a work call.

Working from home can make it feel as if the work day never ends – and that’s true for students too. Designate a shared space in the home as a screen-free family zone to relax and unwind together at the end of the day.

#2 Plan your schedule
Stability and consistency are the key to emotional and academic growth, particularly for teenagers.

Students are reporting to us that their schools are fairly closely replicating their traditional day-to-day schedules for online learning. But where there is flexibility, decide together how you’ll use individual learning time and then allow your child the opportunity to fill those gaps with mentally stimulating work that will challenge them.

Most of our students are using some of this “found time” to get in some extra preparation for the rescheduled standardized tests that will be administered near the end of the school year. This is also a great time to practice a hobby – or even read a book simply for pleasure!

For students who need a little more structure, post each child’s daily schedule on a whiteboard or wall of a shared space and perform three check-ins each day: the first to set goals for the day, the second at the conclusion of the school day to discuss a homework plan, and the third before bedtime to strategize for the coming day. If you have multiple children, try to delegate some responsibility to your eldest child to “lead” these mini-meetings. Encourage your child to write out tasks and goals on a notebook before bed to release thoughts of nagging tasks to come and set him or her up a restful night’s sleep.

#3 Decide when screens go off
At Sentia, most of our tutoring is performed remotely; Zoom video tutorials are how our students learn from their Sentia Tutors. But as educators we recognize there are times when screens should, and must, go off. We love puzzles and board games (overcome the steep learning curve and try Settlers of Catan – it’s a Sentia favorite) or take a family stroll. And Dr. Monica Lewin, Sentia’s Director of Learning and Teaching, reminds us all (me included!) to avoid bright artificial light before bedtime. Instead, do some journaling in an old-fashioned notebook to jumpstart your creativity or take notes or to organize your tasks for the next day.

#4 Communicate with teachers
Find out how assessments will be performed: what constitutes “class participation” for a grade in an online lecture? Are “in class” exams timed and how will they be delivered? What about pop quizzes and daily homework assignments? Will slides be delivered digitally or are students expected to take free form notes? Ask your child’s teacher questions and don’t be afraid to request more frequent updates on grades than you might otherwise during the traditional school year.

#5 Help your kids communicate with teachers too!
We’ve learned that students who are temporarily unable to attend school can sometimes struggle to adjust to modified teacher relationships. With no study hall or individual meeting times, it’s harder to ask for extra help when students need it and even more difficult for teachers to identify who is struggling. Encourage your child to perform weekly check ins – by phone or email – with each of his or her teachers.

#6 Respect your tech
Manage your internet pipeline. Netflix and videogames take up a lot of bandwidth. If your whole family needs to work online, limit streaming activity to off peak hours so Zoom calls and google docs (two tools we use a lot with our students) continue to work seamlessly.

Digital natives are adept at using technology in and out of the classroom. If your daughter describes playing Fortnite as “hanging out with friends” or snapchats pictures of the floor to maintain “streaks,” ask her about it. Phones and computers are – for most teens – a central way in which they maintain friendships when separated by physical distance. That’s especially important in times of uncertainty and anxiety.

If your student needs help staying on track with school assignments, we’re here to help. Sentia’s Academic Mentorship tutoring is significantly discounted for families affected by COVID-19 school closures. Contact us today to create a bespoke program tailored perfectly to your family’s unique needs.

At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™.

P.S. Join us on Friday March 20th at 1pm EST for a webinar with Billy Wheelan to learn how to use schedule changes to your advantage and get the scores you need for admission to your dream school.

Sign up now!

20 Dec 2019

If your application was deferred, here’s what you should do.

It’s normal to be a little disappointed that you didn’t get a simple “yes” from your school of choice. 

If your application has been deferred, you have been moved from the early pool of applicants to the Regular Decision pool. You will be competing against all applicants who submit their applications Regular Decision. However, there are many things you can do to increase your chances of acceptance in the Regular Decision round. 

Being deferred is a sign that you are qualified for the school; it usually means there is a weak spot in your application profile, or you need to find a way to distinguish yourself more. This is the time to pull out all of the stops, and go the extra mile to gain acceptance!

 

Step 1.  Read the college’s deferral letter. Sometimes, they will give you specific things you can do to improve your application and specific things NOT to do. Then, reflect on your application – could your personal statement have been tighter? Were there any typos in your application? This won’t help your application to your deferral school, but it will help with your Regular Decision applications that will be due soon. You should also identify any additional leadership opportunities that could enhance your application. 

Step 2. The next thing to do is to get on the phone and call the admissions office directly. Ask to speak to your Regional Admissions Officer; usually you need to leave your name and number and they call you back (remember to specify when you are available to take the call). You want to accomplish two things with this phone call:

  1. Find out how you can improve your chances of admission
  2. Make a connection with the officer, and reiterate how the school is one of your top choices and you would love to attend.

Stay positive throughout, and don’t make any excuses; simply try to get some information. If you can, briefly tell them about one or two new developments, and ask if you can email them updates. That’s all; a short conversation is totally fine, but YOU need to call–not a college counselor, and not your parents. 

Step 3.  Write your first deferral letter, and send it out by January 15th. To write this letter, start by reiterating that the school is your top choice, and you are still committed to attending. Follow this statement with 2-3 updates on any defining accomplishments you have achieved since you submitted your application. Conclude by thanking the admissions committee for taking the time to review your letter. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post in which we will describe how to create this letter, and what to write in it!  

This step is extremely important. You should also plan to send another of these letters in late February with additional updates, so make sure to keep your grades up, and rack up special accomplishments if possible. 

Step 4.  Turn your attention to recommendations. A good package of recommendations would include the following.

  • 2 letters from Alumna of the school. If you have any family or friends who are Alumna, ask them to write you a letter of support and send it to your Admissions Officer. The purpose of this letter is for them to “vouch” for you, but it doesn’t have to be a lengthy recommendation. Make sure to remind your recommenders to include their contact information within the letter itself. 
  • A recommendation from a Senior year teacher, coach or mentor. This will be a more formal recommendation to add to your file, and they should tailor their letter to this school.

Step 5. Talk to your Guidance Counselor about sending a Mid-Year transcript with your most recent grades (assuming they are good!). Colleges will be re-evaluating your application packet when it is time to decide who is admitted and who is not. Showing them that your grades have improved since you first applied will give admissions offers a good impression of your commitment to your studies. It may earn you more points towards being placed in the “admitted” category.

Being deferred means you’re still in the running. These steps will give you what you need to distinguish yourself. And, learning to advocate for yourself in the right way is a valuable life-skill! While you certainly do not want to overwhelm or harass admissions officers, showing your continued interest– and your persistence when it comes to achieving your goals– can improve your chances of moving out of the deferred pile into “accepted.” 

In the meantime, finish up your other applications. Even though you may feel disheartened, make sure your Regular Decision applications are as strong as possible. Don’t neglect these just because you’re holding out hope you’ll get in to your first choice school. You’ll need options– and who knows, you may end up with a change of heart later on! 

07 Feb 2018

Senioritis… The good, the bad and the ugly

You have accomplished the most amazing challenge you have ever undertaken in your life – you have been accepted to college! All your efforts have been rewarded with those magic words, “we are pleased to inform you of your acceptance”. Congratulations!

So what do you do now?  Or maybe the question is, what DON’T you do?

To avoid succumbing to Senioritis, keep these in mind:

Good Grades Matter

Think of your entire high school career as an audition for college. You can’t give up before the final curtain.  Keep those grades up and GPA in good shape.  You may be a second semester senior but don’t lose your focus.  You’re still a student!

 

Acceptance is not a guarantee

It can be very tempting to sit back and relax and not expend too much energy on anything. But don’t be fooled into thinking that once you’ve been accepted, you’re in no matter what. Your entire senior year is important. Once you complete your senior year and receive your diploma, college are still going to look at your grades – including the ones from your senior spring semester. If your GPA drops significantly it can tell colleges that you don’t care about academics. And they can rescind your acceptance. That’s right–you essentially get “un”accepted!

 

A good GPA leads to good scholarships and grants

Many scholarship and grant opportunities–as well as other forms of financial aid–often have requirements that include a certain minimum GPA level. The higher your GPA is, the more scholarships and grants you could qualify for.

Set short-term and long-term goals for yourself.

Having clear goals is the simplest way to stay motivated. Write down your goals for this semester, and be specific about how you’re going to achieve them. For example: What grades do you want in each of your classes? Do you need a specific GPA to maintain a scholarship or financial aid? What skills do you want to improve on before heading off to college?

 

Focus on earning college credit.

If you’re taking Advanced Placement or other college-level classes, you may need a certain grade or test score to get college credit. Doing well in these classes can help you place into more advanced courses, graduate early, and spend less on tuition—all very good things. Studying hard now can make a big impact on your college career.

 

Stay active and challenged

A lot of time is spent on completing applications, writing essays, going on college visits, researching majors and campus life.  Now that you’ve been accepted you’ll have more free time. While you continue to focus on academics, there is also time now to do fun (and enriching) things.

By senior year you have most likely taken most required courses and there should be room in your schedule for elective classes. Elective classes are those that you take not to fulfill a requirement, but because they interest you. So much of our motivation to learn lies in intellectual curiosity, and it can thus behoove seniors to indulge this instinct.

Taking courses because they are easy is a tactic that many students use, but this is not an effective way to avoid senioritis – your lack of effort in your easy classes may bleed into your challenging classes and threaten your grades. Signing up for courses that make you want to work hard may just increase your motivation in all of your studies.

You can also use your extra time to pursue your passions or hobbies, join a club or organization that you are interested in, cultivate your relationships with friends and family (you’ll miss them when you leave for college), read a good book, and plan your summer. Second semester is a great time for all of these things.

Get prepared for college life

You’re about to be on your own and you’re going to have be fully independent.  Second semester senior year is the time to figure out and practice things like how to have a balanced and healthy diet to sustain you through hours of tougher homework, how to deal with the extra free time that results from the less-structured college life, how to manage your money, how to do your laundry, and how to clean you room!