Monthly Archives: January 2012

26 Jan 2012

Set the Perfect Study Plan!

Last week, we told you that the best way to avoid test-day anxiety was to be prepared for the test (which should make sense, right?) and suggested a few tips on how to stop procrastinating and start studying today. Those who perused the posting carefully may recall that our second tip was to make a study plan. We’re sure you’ve been trembling with anticipation about just how to approach such a seemingly difficult travail, but now you can relax, for today’s post is all about making the best study plan possible—and in just 7 short steps!

Step 1: Take a Practice Test Right Away

Regardless of which test you’re studying for, your first step should be to take a sample test. Treat it like you would the real thing—take the test in one sitting (yes, it makes for a long day) with proper timing on each section. This way, the score you get will be an accurate reflection of your abilities.

After you’ve taken the test, score it and look at the questions you got wrong. The trick is to make this test a diagnostic for what you need to study. Thus, identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you noticed that you got all the questions on geometry right but continually missed questions about percentages, you would know that geometry is a strength area and does not need as much focus as percentages do going forward.

Step 2: Set a Realistic Goal

Use your diagnostic score to set a realistic goal for yourself. Keep in mind the kinds of scores you’ll need to get into the schools of your choice, and make sure you have enough time to achieve your goal score. You are a better gauge of your abilities than anyone else, so you should be able to know what you’re capable of. But remember, don’t push yourself too hard—it’s virtually impossible to get a perfect score on any standardized test.

Step 3: Identify Short-Term and Long-Term Study Projects

With your goal set and your weaknesses identified, separate what you need to study into categories of short-term and long-term projects. If you’re taking the SAT, for instance, memorizing the most common SAT vocabulary words will definitely be a long-term project, something you should work on every week from now until test day. But other things you need to work on—like the aforementioned percentage questions—would probably be something to brush up on once, early in your studying. You always want to start your studies with your biggest weakness so you can maximize your test score right away. Then, as you get closer to test-day, start working on things you didn’t need as much improvement on, but don’t waste time relearning your strengths. If you got every geometry question right, you cannot ameliorate your geometry score anyway, so don’t waste your valuable study time on it.

Step 4: Make a Calendar

The first step to making a calendar is to pick a test date. Try to give yourself a few months to study, but also make sure to leave a second test date open after that test date so you can retake the exam (if necessary) before your college applications are due. On your calendar, mark off specific areas of study each week, and set aside at least (we mean at an absolute minimum) two hours per week of actual studying time. The purpose of the calendar is to make sure you aren’t just sitting down and opening an SAT book blindly—you should be sitting down knowing what you’re supposed to be studying that week and the weeks after that.

Step 5: Keep Testing Yourself

In your calendar, build in time for monthly checkpoints, full-length practice exams so you can track your progress and reevaluate your study plan. Make sure what you’re doing is working and causing score increases; if it’s not, reevaluate, and maybe add more study time each week to your calendar.

Step 6: Stick to Your Plan

This should go without saying! You’re making a plan to be followed, not just a plan to look at and ignore. Don’t let anything get in the way of this study plan! Make sure that each week there is time set aside for your studying, and treat that time as a commitment that cannot be avoided, a permanent appointment that cannot be canceled. Letting even one week pass without following your plan can derail the whole project, so don’t let that happen.

Step 7: Peak at the Right Time, Then Relax

Finally, on your study plan, build in time to relax, especially the week of the test. Ideally, your plan would increase the amount of time you study per week as you get closer to the test, with the acme of study time reached about two weeks before test day. After that, take one last diagnostic, and use the weeks before the test to only focus on the small details you struggled with on said final diagnostic.

Then, and this is of the utmost import, make sure to build two days of relaxation in right before the test. Don’t plan on doing any strenuous studying those days, and instead just use the time to recover before the big day and review the vocabulary words and math formulas you’ve already memorized. Make sure you’re going into test day fully recharged and rested, because you’ll need a clear head and lots of energy for the real thing.

But, if you’ve made and followed a successful study plan, the real thing should be practically old hat for you…

These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Peruse: read carefully
: painful labor
: improve
: Peak, top, pinnacle

23 Jan 2012

Khan Academy for SAT Math: A Review

Thousands of students are thrilled to study at Khan Academy—a nonprofit, online learning center that distributes detailed videos on motley subjects, ranging from Art History to Organic Chemistry. In each video, site creator Salman Khan couples patient, step-by-step voiceover instructions with clear, color-coded visuals to ensure no student is left confused.

A great blessing to any scholar of the SAT, the website also includes over 100 videos that explain every math problem in the old version of  the College Board’s “Official SAT Study Guide.” If you’re using the College Board’s second edition of this book, just note that tests 4-10 are identical to tests 2-8 in the old version.

For more thorough content review, refer to Khan’s math playlist. This section of the website holds over 1600 videos to treat just about every math topic—from basic addition to calculus. The site also has many exercises, so students can practice using new concepts and advance their skills.

Extremely clear, thorough, and easy to follow, these videos are an excellent resource for students who have fallen behind in math and need to re-learn certain topics to prepare for the SAT.  Still unconvinced? Check out the video of Khan explaining some SAT practice problems, below.


These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Motley: made up of different colors or parts

18 Jan 2012

Avoid Tomorrow's Anxieties Today: 3 Tricks to Start Studying

We’ve already given some pointers on avoiding test-day anxiety, but the number one way to avoid such jitters is to be prepared for the test. Here are the three best tricks we have for getting started on a long-term study plan and avoiding tomorrow’s anxiety.

1. Don’t Procrastinate

Everybody procrastinates, since everyone would rather put off today’s problems until tomorrow. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. The longer you put off studying for the test, the more work you’ll have to do at a later date. This means that you’re actually creating more stress for the future than you would otherwise handle in the present, because the amount of stress you’ll have the week before the test will be infinitely greater than the total amount you would have had over the months leading up to the test if you were to attack the test in small pieces instead of all at once…which leads us to Tip #2.

2. Make a Study Plan Today

This is probably the most beneficial piece of advice we have. Don’t try to go into test preparation blindly—rather, take a practice test, and see what you need to study. Then, make a plan for how to study it. Keep track of long term projects, such as memorizing and learning vocabulary words, and shorter ones, such as brushing up on grammar rules. Try to practice a couple hours a week at minimum, and expand the amount of time you need to study as the test approaches.

3. Make Studying Fun

To be frank, there is nothing fun about studying for exams like the ACT or SAT. However, you can motivate yourself to study by making your brain associate it with something else fun. Get in the habit of rewarding yourself after a lesson by doing an activity you like, preferably something you wouldn’t normally get to do, something that is a treat for you. Treat yourself, because you deserve it: after all, you’ve shown initiative in preparing for a successful future by not procrastinating. In doing so, you’re tricking your brain into associating something you don’t want to do (SAT prep) with something you do want to do.

Food can be a great motivator too. I (in my tutoring career) once had a student whose mother bought him his favorite snack food before every lesson with me, thus triggering in his brain that studying for the SAT meant getting his favorite food. As a result, he was more motivated to study because studying had an immediate upside instead of just the usual boring long-term upside of a perfect score. Little tricks like this work wonders, which is why I champion them so much.

In the future, we’ll give some more pointers about what sorts of steps should be included in your study plan , but for now, just remember our first tip—don’t procrastinate. Start your studying today by taking a practice SAT test and beginning to learn vocabulary. Also, remember, studying for the test should be a marathon, not a sprint. If you can wrap your brain around that fact—that mastering the test will take a seemingly interminable amount of time and cannot be crammed for—you’ll already be more relaxed about the process than your friends who don’t understand that.

These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Procrastination: the act of putting off or delaying something that requires immediate attention
: helpful, useful
:  support militantly
: monotonously continued or unceasing

17 Jan 2012

Career Planning in High School: Pros & Cons

While many people don’t begin career planning until they have entered (or graduated from) college, there are the lucky few that know precisely what they want to do, seemingly from the moment they were born. I’ve often wished I was of this breed, for there is something seriously appealing about forming plan and then championing your way through the less-settled parts of life.

Guess what, high school student? You’re well-poised to begin this process of picking a career, and there are many online resources to help you do this. You can begin by visiting Rutgers University’s career planner for high school students. This website attempts to breakdown some methods by which high-schoolers can select and plan for their future careers. In short, you should use this time to explore your talents and inclinations, and then volunteer, work part-time, or research specific careers that appeal to you. Once you have made a decision, plan ahead to ensure safe travels on your chosen path. Not only should you select a college with an appropriate major, but you might also start thinking beyond that. Understanding how to break into the field will help you best use your college time.

But is this information antiquated? According to a blog post by Penelope Trunk, unlike in the past, young people today will change careers about four times in their lives.  Trunk further argues that while school may teach you knowledge and skills, it is not a place where students discover who they are or where they fit into the world. All of this suggests that over-committing to a particular career before thoroughly understanding one’s values and abilities is futile—if not wasteful. “Try being lost,” Trunk says. “It’s normal.”

Although Trunk’s article targets 20-somethings who are considering graduate school after desperately prying the job market’s jaws, her points have bearing on pre-college concerns. I, for one, had little idea what I wanted to do with my life during (or even after) high school. It was only post-graduation that such questions became urgent to me. Several of my friends have likewise complained about feeling pressured to pick a college major too fast, which suggests that even the profoundly exploratory college years are too sheltered to elicit certainty. In other words, perhaps your lifestyle and values must be seriously challenged before you can really identify what’s important to you. Maybe it’s only through the process of fighting that one learns what is worth fighting for.

None of this means that high school students shouldn’t begin to form ideas about what they like and want to do, nor does it suggest that high school is the time to decide on a career trajectory. Rather, it should remind you, oh wise high-schooler, that you now possess the maturity and the wisdom to begin contemplating the skills you have and the activities you enjoy and how you may wish to apply them to your education, career and beyond.

These key vocabulary words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors

Anachronistic: No longer in use; outmoded in design or style
:  to bring out

05 Jan 2012

Tips for Managing Test Anxiety

Have you ever “gone blank” or felt paralyzed by fear while studying or taking a test? If so, you may have experienced test anxiety. Although it’s normal to feel nervous before a big test (mild excitement can even keep you alert and adrenalized), sometimes healthy energy gives way to distracting distress. This blog entry will identify a few symptoms of and provide some suggestions for managing test anxiety.

Common Symptoms of Test-Anxiety:

— Physical symptoms: sleeplessness, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, lightheadedness
— Thoughts of Worry and Dread: Uncontrollable, self-deprecating and overdramatic thoughts like “I’m bad at taking tests,” “I can’t do this,” or “I’m going to fail.”
— Impairment: Inability to focus, “going blank” and confusion

What to do if you’re experiencing test anxiety:

— If you are having troubling thoughts, accept them and try to move on: Automatic thoughts like, “I’m bad at taking tests,” “I can’t do this,” or “I’m going to fail,” may feel fleetingly good, since they provide an excuse to not try, but they are ultimately useless and untrue. If you find yourself bombarded by such thoughts, accept their presence, and then try to refocus and move on.
— Remind yourself that you are more than your score: Your test score is not a measure of your talent, abilities or worth as a person. It only measures your knowledge and how hard you have studied. If you are not doing well, simply use this as a wake-up call to work harder in the future.
— Prepare for the Test: This should be obvious. It is highly unlikely you will do well on a test for which you are unprepared. Thoroughly review test directions, format and covered material so you know what to expect on test day.
— Do NOT compare yourself to others: However well or poorly others are doing is not relevant to your own performance. In fact, comparing yourself to others will only give you a false sense of security and/or dread. How about using some of this contemplative energy to prepare for the test?
— Take a break: If you become anxious while studying, go for a walk, call a friend or watch TV to calm down. If you start to panic during the test, take a break while in your seat. Close your eyes and try some deep breathing, or repeat a relaxing and encouraging mantra. Don’t worry about wasting time: you will use your time more effectively if you are able to calm down and focus.
— Set realistic goals: Be mindful of the tremendous space between perfection and failure. Just because you didn’t get 100%, doesn’t mean you haven’t succeeded or done well.
— Finally, remember that there is always a second chance: There is always hope, even in the most seemingly bleak situations. Don’t forget that you can (and most people do) retake college entrance examinations if something went wrong, if you were unprepared, or if you just feel you can do better.

02 Jan 2012

How has SAT scoring changed over time?

Have you ever wondered about your parents’ SAT scores? My parents won’t tell me theirs, but even if they did, I couldn’t take them at face value. This is because prior to 1995 SAT scores were alloted according to a different scale.

In 2002, the College Board issued a report that explains the methods by which SAT scores are scaled, or translated into a score from 200 – 800. SAT scaling helps admissions teams compare scores from distinct tests administered to different groups of students throughout the year. In other words, SAT scaling lets admissions committees know that an applicant who scored a 2050 in October has comparable knowledge and skills to someone who scored a 2050 in June.

In April 1941, SAT scores were scaled so that an average raw score translated to roughly 500. In June the same year, SAT scores were linked to this original set via a process called common item equating. Until 1995, all subsequent administrations were likewise linked to the original April 1941 scores, thus permitting the fair comparison of examinees over time. As the test became more popular, however, and more students from less rigorous schools began taking it, averages dropped to around 422 Verbal and 475 Math. In 1995, SAT scores were thus re-centered to counter this trend and make the “new” average score around 500.

Some educational organizations censured the change, stating that it was merely an attempt to evade international embarrassment about declining test scores. Such organizations explained that even though the number of test-takers had grown by over 500,000, the number of students with a Verbal score above 600 had plummeted from 112,530 in 1972 to a sad 73,080 in 1993.

Still curious about how your parents’ scores match up to your own? Use this official College Board table to adjust pre-1995 Math and Verbal scores to today’s scale.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Censure: strong or vehement expression of disapproval
: to distribute; allocate