Tips from an Expert Tutor

The question I am asked the most often after revealing that I’m a professional standardized test tutor is, “How should I study for Test X?” The reply is always invariably a petition for more information such as the materials being used, past testing history, study habits, and anticipated testing schedule, all of which is just a baseline amount of information that I would then use to offer the most basic and topical plan of action. The reason for such a skeletal plan is because of a very simple reason:  every student’s needs are different and if I haven’t spent any time observing a student’s habits and logical process then I can’t say what he or she needs. The effectiveness of tutoring lies in the customization and personalized guidance. A large part of a tutor’s job is identifying where in the process of answering a question, between reading it to choosing the correct answer, is there a disconnect.  The tutor then formulates a way for that particular student to most effectively bridge that gap. With that said, here are three of the most common issues many of my students face across different tests have.

 

1.            Lacking the fundamental knowledge base that is being tested.

2.            Having difficulty recognizing the topics being tested by the questions.

3.            Executing a strategy for specific question types consistently.

 

The first issue is usually the easiest to diagnose. This issue is most notable with math questions but can manifest with verbal questions (albeit less alarmingly and thus usually more ignored, unfortunately). My opinion on this issue, shared by the pedagogy of Bell Curves, is that regardless of how much test-taking savvy you have, if you don’t know the base content (e.g. geometry formulas, grammar rules, argument structure, etc.) there is absolutely no way to consistently answer questions correctly. The solution is pretty straightforward  – study the material until you understand the rules and their applications.

The College Board Fails the Test, Again!

Recently the College Board again stuck its foot in its proverbial mouth and for me has reopened the never-ending debate about its role in higher education (I’ll be blogging more on this soon). But the latest flub from CB makes us wonder if they need to just put Olivia Pope on retainer to rescue them from a seemingly infinite string of blunders. The latest, which has yet to be named but I’ll call “Summergate,” again starkly raises  questions from “What role does the College Board play?” and “Is the College Board a self-appointed gatekeeper to higher education?” to “Is the College Board driving elitism and bias in education?” and “Is the College Board biased against low income, urban, and minority students?”

ACT vs SAT: Fee Waiver Throwdown

There are many great debates in the country today: Democrat vs Republic, Charter schools vs Public schools, Robert Frost vs E.E. Cummings, Lebron vs Kobe, McDonald’s vs Burger King … the list goes on and on. We’d like to weigh in on one of the most important debates of our time: The SAT or the ACT?

College-bound students today are having this debate in numbers that their predecessors, ancestors, and older siblings never did. In part due to the ubiquity (SAT word!) of acceptance of either test, and in part due to the growing awareness of testing options, students are now more frequently asking themselves “which one should I take?” The answers are as varied as are the answers to all of the debates mentioned above, and as passionately defended. We’re going to try to be the voice of reason and help you make the decision by providing as much information and perspective as we can. There are a lot of factors that go into making this decision, from what a particular school is looking for to what subjects the student excels in, but here’s something else to consider: fee waivers.  Or more specifically, what fee waivers do and do not include. Today’s post will help you understand this often overlooked difference and how it might help make the difference for you.

SAT scores: When another 50 (or 100) points makes no difference

When you’ve been doing test preparation and college admissions advising as long as I have, one invariably has this conversation with bright, ambitious students or their parents.

“I scored a 2200 on my SAT.   If I take it again and get a 2300, will that ensure I get into (insert name of preferred college or university here)?”

The answer is there is no score that will ensure acceptance into a given school—

College Scholarships: It’s Not Too Late!

In the Bell Curves office, we hear parents and students ask this same question over and over:

“How am I going to pay for college?”

So we turned to one of our favorite college-counselor-admissions-gurus, Angela Conley, for advice on finding money to pay for college.  She offered us some good counsel in response.  Angela says:
Many high school seniors (and parents) believe that the college process is over around this time of year and everything that can be done has been: the college and scholarship applications were sent . They believe that at this stage there is nothing left to do and there are no more opportunities out there.

SSAT and ISEE: What makes these tests so darn hard?!?

Admissions tests (while this post is focused on the SSAT and ISEE, it’s also applicable to the SAT and ACT) are notoriously difficult for students and confusing to parents, especially when otherwise high-performing students get “low” scores. While there are many possible reasons for a student to under-perform on a test, we’ll tackle some of the most common. Hopefully this will give you some insight into how to help your child succeed on a standardized admission tests. Here are a few reasons students struggle with admissions tests:

Starting Prep Early: SAT Vocabulary Strategies

Earlier this year we joined SAT aficionados and college counselors on Twitter for the bi-weekly #CampusChat. The topic was SAT vocabulary and it sparked a zany hour of interesting words being used in fun context. By our estimation the prize for most interesting use of SAT vocab was taken by Suzanne Schaeffer (mostly because of her fun digs at Bell Curves founder @akilbello). If you’re interested you can see the full twitter transcript here.

This chat got the juices flowing over in BC central and sparked us to ask our teachers for recommendations for short-term (less than 6 months) and longer term vocab acquisition tools and tricks. In this blog we’ll address some of the long term vocabulary strategies that parents can use to help their children develop college-ready vocabularies.

Test prep tips: How parents, counselors, and mentors can help

One of the biggest challenges for parents and mentors is how to support a student as she transitions to high school and later to college.  The older the student is, the more she studies content that the parent or mentor no longer remembers, or has to navigate a system that is new or different from what parents and mentors experienced (we all know college admissions looks very different than it did 20 years ago).

Overwhelmed parents often mistakenly leave the preparation for SAT, ACT, and college admissions to schools or tutors. Many parents will be shelling out money to provide children access to test preparation tools and educational support, but we can’t let that be the end of our involvement. These tips will help you support your child’s test preparation (and college readiness) efforts even when you don’t fully understand the content or know the system. Here are two tips for helping your child even when you don’t quite get it:


Be the Planner

One of the best roles for parents as students approach high school and college should be as the “keeper of the calendar.” A parent should help the child make a plan and stick to that plan. This plan should be jointly created by you and your child (and maybe even an admissions counselor) and be revised periodically. You should include registration deadlines, filing deadlines, recommended test dates, summer enrichment activities, sports, etc so that both of you will have target dates readily available. There are lots of online college planners available online to give you a starting point. One such site to check out is http://www.knowhow2go.org/ .  In general, all planning for transition from one level of school to the next should start at least 18 months before you expect to start. So to go from junior high to high school, parents need to have the calendar planned out by the spring of 7th grade. Here are a few things the parent or mentor can help schedule and plan for:

Academic record: Make sure the right classes are taken and excelled in.

Enrichment activities: Help find enrichment activities for the summers and weekends that will help students prepare for school and life (internships, academic summer programs, creative outlets, etc).

Extracurricular activities: Guide students to explore their areas of interest via programs and clubs that will allow them to participate for the long term and gain leadership experience.

Interviewing skills: Practice for the types of questions asked will put the child at ease.

Applications: Be the monitor and proofreader and make sure applications are filled out properly and submitted before deadlines.

Test scores: Make sure they reflect the student’s abilities by preparing in advance and taking the exam more than once if necessary and applicable.


Be the Student

One of the best ways parents and mentors can help a student prepare for admissions tests (and concurrently make sure that the student is doing their work) is by having the student teach them. We often learn more and better when we are forced to explain to others. You can help your child lock in classroom lessons by not simply asking him if he did his homework, but instead by asking him to teach a problem to you. This way you can participate actively in his learning, support him by letting him see you struggle, encourage him by letting him see you figure it out with his guidance, and reinforce the work by helping him “study” by teaching. Since you know your child best, you’ll know best how to motivate him. You can make this competitive (by challenging him to get more of the questions right than you), you can make it supportive (by showing him that you struggle with the test as well), or you can make it a bonding experience (by sharing the challenge of figuring out problems). The key is to work with them and allow them to show you what they are learning from their prep book, prep class, or prep tutor.


Blog connections:

An awesome example of a parent helping their child with testing can be found by checking out our friend Debbie’s blog. To help and support her son she took every SAT offered in 2011 and blogged about the process.

We cross-posted this blog by Lawrence Watkins, who traced his success, summer program by summer program.

———————-

For more advice about college admissions, testing, and supporting your students, check out our free events, courses, and tutoring options.

Getting Ready for College: Helping your college counselor help you!

Students often complain that their college counselors didn’t help them- or at least not as much as they would have liked! However, students and parents must acknowledge how involved their counselors’ jobs are. Before cursing their counselor, families should read on and be reminded of these facts about counselors:

SAT Q&A: Scores and Score Choice

We’ve had many questions over the years about SAT score reporting policies and more recently the Score Choice policies. Hopefully this will shed some light on these policies and help make the testing and application process a little less of a mystery.

  • (877) 223-3828
CONNECT WITH US
COPYRIGHT ©2002 - 2014 BELL CURVES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. All tests names are registered trademarks of the respective testing companies, which do not endorse and are not affiliated with Bell Curves.
BELL CURVES - 25 West 36th Street Street, 8th Floor - New York, NY 10018 Bell Curves is an educational services and test preparation company. It delivers high-quality consulting services, test preparation programs, and self-study resources to students throughout the country.
Equal Opportunity Employer - Privacy Policy - Refund Policy