ACT Prep - The Friday Before Test Day

For those of you taking the ACT in the next couple days, your fastidious and dedicated preparation routine is coming to an end. Whether you studied five hours a day for three months, two hours a day for one month, or merely crammed the last week and a half, it doesn’t matter anymore. All of that is immaterial now. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and exhale. Release any lingering rumination about what you could have done, should have done, or might have altered within your study routine. Let. It. Go. It’s nearly game time, and the only thing left for you to do is get yourself ready for the big test.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of students preparing for both the SAT and the ACT. For some reason, I routinely encounter students possessed by the urge to study relentlessly the day before the test. This is NOT advisable for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the likelihood that you will absorb anything of value that close to the test day is slim to none. Second, cramming the day before will likely shake your confidence. You will be hypersensitive and overly critical; therefore, any mistakes or unfamiliar material might send you into a tailspin.

Third, your brain, like every muscle in your body, needs to rest.  A vigorous workout of practice problems will impede its ability to function at a high caliber come test day. Finally, studying the night before can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you are not well rested, you will be shooting yourself in the foot before the test even begins.

To make sure that you give yourself the best chance possible for success, I have prepared a chronologically ordered “to do” list for those of you who are about to take the ACT. I wish you all the best of luck.

Friday before the exam

4 PM – Review the following checklist to ensure that you are completely ready for the test

  • Photo ID – ensure that you have a valid photo ID
  • Admission ticket – print out your admission ticket
  • Three #2 pencils and erasers – you will need backups in case one or two break
  • Calculator with fresh batteries
  • Watch – make sure that it is an approved device that does not make any noise
  • Test center location – look up the location of the test center as well as the entrance on test day
  • Set your alarm

5 PM - Exercise

If you like to play basketball, go shoot some hoops with your friends. If soccer is your thing, then kick a ball around for an hour. A solid workout will boost your serotonin levels and reduce your stress. It will kick up your metabolism while tiring out your body, ensuring that you are able to get a solid night’s rest.

6 PM – Eat a healthy but filling dinner

Nutritionists recommend eating lean meats (such as fish or chicken) along with a healthy portion of green vegetables the night before an exam.  Personally, I like eating a sesame based fish stir-fry with broccoli, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and onions.

7 PM – Do something fun and relaxing

If you love to read, curl up with your favorite book. If you are a cinephile, I recommend watching a great movie. A quick word of caution: don’t dive into something new or overly exciting. An intriguing movie or captivating novel could potentially spike your adrenaline making it harder for you to fall asleep. Choose something that you are already familiar with.

9 PM – Go to sleep

Enough said.

Saturday, ACT test day

6-7 AM – Breakfast

Depending on the length of your commute, you should wake up early enough to have a nice and relaxing breakfast. Nutritionists recommend a combination of eggs, oatmeal, and fresh fruit. You should try to avoid overly sweet items or caffeinated beverages as they can cause drastic energy swings, potentially leaving you susceptible to a mid-test crash. If, however, you are accustomed to always taking exams after a cup of coffee, I recommend that you stick to your test taking routine.

7:30 AM – Arrive at test center

You are required to arrive at your test center no later than 8:00 am. Should you be arriving at 7:50? Maybe 7:55? No. You do not want to leave anything to chance on test day. Give yourself an adequate cushion so that you will most definitely be on time. Moreover, a tight timeframe will stress you out. This added anxiety is not only emotionally disruptive, but it can lead to an energy crash later in the test day.

...

One last piece of advice: do not talk about the exam to anyone during the breaks. Sometimes students are tempted to compare responses in an effort to verify their answers on previous sections. This is a completely counterproductive activity. It can potentially shake your confidence and derail your progress for whatever sections remain.


The Power Of Willpower: Five Tips To Strengthen Your Discipline

Willpower is unique to humanity.  It is the keystone characteristic that is directly responsible for our technological advancement over the last several hundred thousand years.  Willpower can be defined as the capacity to restrain our impulses and resist temptation in order to maximize our long-term success.  It is the expulsion of energy to fight off innate survival based urges to exponentially increase future advantages and benefits.  It is the driving force behind all civilizations, and it is what prods humankind forward to learn and grow.

When we turn down a bite of cheesecake, step away from a mind numbing reality sitcom, or push off a nap to get some work done, the credit goes to willpower.  It is this ghost like aura of control and discipline that we rely on to extend our existence and maximize our accomplishments.  When we watch highly successful individuals exercise routinely, read voraciously, and work tirelessly, we are impressed with their ability to resist instant gratification.  Most of us struggle to hold ourselves back from daily pleasures so as to work on self-improvement.  But how do the chosen few make it happen?  Are they the lucky recipients of steadfast genes, predisposed to adeptly control their yearnings better than the rest of us?

To some extent, yes.  Certain individuals are superiorly calibrated to fight off fleeting desires in the short term.  But, what’s far more important is the revelation by psychologists that willpower is akin to a muscle.   Regardless of how weak one’s innate level of willpower is, it can be trained and strengthened to rival the willpower of those super ambitious and successful folks we all admire.  According to Roy Baumeister, an eminent social psychologist and famed expert on the subject, willpower can be bolstered with great success.  This is an extraordinarily important discovery since willpower, in Baumeister’s opinion, is “the key to success and a happy life.”

For many students who struggle with mathematics, having a sturdy level of willpower is the difference between finishing an assignment and turning in a half-hearted problem set.  It is the difference between spending an extra hour and a half preparing for an exam, or merely skimming a chapter review the night before.  In sum, it is the difference between excellence and mediocrity.

For students who truly enjoy mathematics, there is no war to wage.  Math is fun, and homework will be done thoroughly and completely as a means of gratification.  But for those students who have to fight urges to play video games, watch movies, skateboard, or read novels while trudging through their math homework, willpower is what will save the day.

So how can willpower be developed?  How can students engineer a perfect level of self-control and discipline?  Just like actual muscle fibers, willpower must be exercised in the right away.  Overexertion can be exhausting and counterproductive, whereas just the right amount of use can (1) optimize productivity and (2) augment one’s willpower capacity.  For folks who are interested in bolstering their willpower muscle, here are five quick tips:

  1. Stay fueled up with healthy meals – using willpower has been shown to deplete levels of glucose in the brain.  Since it can often require great effort to stave off temptation, it is recommended that students maintain a healthy and regular diet replete with nutrients.  Healthy meals will give the willpower muscle the fuel it needs to operate at its highest levels.
  2. Maintain a positive attitude – being happy and positive makes individuals far more able to employ their willpower.  When students feel down or depressed, a common reaction is to dive into things that provide instant gratification.  This could be an unhealthy meal, a lengthy break involving television or video games, or a long nap.  Feeling happy and positive makes it much easier to stay on task.
  3. Partake in a healthy number of extracurricular activities – the reason why participating in many activities is beneficial is because it exercises the willpower muscle.  When students have obligations and commitments that cannot be avoided, it trains them to push off their fleeting desires to focus on something in particular.  Enrolling children in piano lessons and karate isn’t to make them professional musicians or seasoned MMA fighters.  The most important aspect of extracurricular involvement is the development of strong willpower, something that will be applicable and useful during school and beyond.
  4. Apply willpower sparingly and gradually – trying to hold back on too many things can spell disaster.  If someone is attempting to stick to homework, avoid fatty foods, stop watching TV, and exercise regularly all at once, he will find it highly challenging.  Why?  Because his willpower will be depleted very quickly.  This means that the end result will likely be failure on all fronts.  Instead of overcommitting, students should pick something in particular to focus on.  Once someone grows accustomed to a single task, that action will have morphed into a habit requiring very little effort to maintain.  At this point, one can then deploy his willpower elsewhere.
  5. Offer rewards each time a task is accomplished – every time a student successfully fights off temptation, he deserves a reward.  Not only will this reinforce positive behavior, but it will help to rest and replenish the willpower muscle.

Math Anxiety: What It Is And How To Defeat It

Let me guess… the question that is currently floating through your brain is as follows: what the heck is “math anxiety?”  While it may sound bizarre and made up, math anxiety is an actual condition that is quite common amongst students.  It is similar to other sorts of anxiety or fear a person might encounter when doing something that is personally terrifying such as public speaking, interacting with strangers, or being around scary animals.  The symbols and the operations can feel overwhelming for some, and that can trigger a subsequent anxiety reaction that completely stifles one’s brain and prevents a person from properly absorbing any material.

The Cause Of Math Anxiety

Math anxiety is a learned reaction.  Students who have negative experiences with math early on tend to have bad emotions and limiting beliefs tied to mathematics. Once these reactions and beliefs are established, students will subconsciously return to those bad feelings whenever mathematics is brought up.  When a student approaches math with low self-confidence, poor emotions, and an overall belief that he/she will be unable to grasp the concepts, the snowball of anxiety builds even more.  The inevitable difficulty with the new concepts reinforces the limiting belief, and the student continues to feel stifled and defeated.

There are several underlying factors that provide excellent fuel for these negative emotions and beliefs to materialize.  These are commonly held misnomers about the field of mathematics.  First and foremost, there is the erroneous notion that math is a confusing, convoluted subject matter that is inherently difficult to grasp. Many people believe that the inability to understand math is normal, and that there are a chosen few that enjoy and understand mathematics (while the rest of the population must simply accept their poor understanding as an unlucky genetic trait).

There are other ridiculous misconceptions that cloud young students’ minds.  For example, there is a distasteful attitude in the U.S. that women are naturally less adept with mathematics than men.  Parents and educators seem to promulgate the idea that below average mathematics skills are par for the course for female students.  This is a toxic and utterly false belief, and the passive acceptance of this attitude furthers this nonsensical notion.  My parents, for example, had a completely different perspective when raising my sister.  My dad encouraged her throughout school and insisted that mathematical comprehension was of the utmost importance.  Moreover, he cemented within her the belief that she could perform at the highest level if she chose to apply herself.  As a result, she went on to earn an 800 on the math portion of the SAT, a 5 on both of her calculus AP exams, and a chemical engineering degree from MIT.  Not too shabby.  Yes, my sister is very bright, but a key component to her success was a proper mentality and a solid inner belief.

Finally, some people have the backwards notion that you are either creative or logical.  If you fall into the former category, math will simply not be part of your repertoire.  This is patently false.  At the end of the day, math is a highly creative endeavor.  It requires a great deal of complex thinking and clever manipulation that is completely creative in nature.  If you look at music production and song writing, an activity that would most certainly be identified as a creative pursuit, there is a great deal of overlap with mathematics.  Music is bound by mathematical rules that allow for all sorts of manipulation within the scope of major and minor scales.  This is akin to variable manipulation in Algebra and Calculus.  It’s funny, but most people presume that an affinity for music comes with a general inability to understand math.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

How To Solve Math Anxiety

Yes, math anxiety is solvable, just like any other potentially debilitating self-limiting belief.  Below are my top four suggestions for tackling this unsightly menace.

  1. Seek To Understand The Concepts Behind The Formulas – most students who struggle with math attempt to memorize formulas and then apply them in a highly mechanical manner.  While this approach might yield favorable results for easier problems, it falters when it comes to more difficult permutations.  Instead of simply sticking to rote memorization, students should seek to understand the principles behind the formulas.  For example, it is one thing recognize that a variable can be isolated by adding and subtracting variables and constants, but it is something entirely different to understand the concept that equations are like little seesaws that remain stable so long as you affect both sides equally.  Doing something to one side will throw it off balance and topple it, but carefully modifying both sides of the equation proportionately allows one to manipulate the whole thing while preserving its integrity and message.  Once this concept is firm in a student's mind, the application of the rules becomes much easier and more enjoyable.
  2. Eradicate Self-Limiting Beliefs – if someone feel anxious when he/she sits down to tackle a math problem, it’s likely because he/she thinks that math greatness is unattainable.  Take my word for it… this is a false belief. But students can’t just take my word for it; they need to actually internally accept the idea that they are capable of performing well in math.  One awesome method (that some might denounce as hokey) is to adopt a math related mantra.  A mantra is a positive saying that is to be repeated in one’s head or out loud.  For example, a sample mantra could be “I am awesome at math,” or “I can understand anything.”  A student should choose one that resonates with him/her, and then repeat it several times when he/she begins a math assignment, starts an exam, or experiences any trouble working through math problems.  The cool thing about mantras is that people can actually rewire their brains and extract their self-limiting beliefs with enough practice.
  3. Get Extra Help – for those who feel stifled by mathematics, asking questions in class can create more anxiety and stress.  Because struggling students often refrain from digging deeper in class, their progress and confidence are further hampered.  If this is the case, the best solution is to get outside help.  Working with a tutor or a teacher outside of the classroom creates a pressure free environment for the student to ask questions and have concepts explained in a carefully tailored manner.  If the classroom setting is not working, a helping hand can slide everything neatly into place. Then, once the student’s confidence is bolstered and he/she begins to feel comfortable, the extra help can eventually be removed.
  4. Perform Practice Problems Before An Exam – the biggest mistake I see young students make is that they don’t do practice problems before an exam.  What is their preferred method of studying?  They review the textbook and look over their notes the night before a big test.  While that is a highly effective method of studying for most classes, this will not cut it for math.  Not at all.  Instead, students must develop a habit of doing a number of practice problems before an exam.  This will not only uncover any problem areas and weaknesses, but it will serve to firm up concepts in a remarkable way.  When it comes to math, only practice makes perfect.

SAT Prep - How To Boost Your Math Score

So you just took a practice test and you’re devastated by your results.  You thought you would net more points, but lo and behold, your score is painfully below your expectations.  Your math score is especially poor, but you’ve never been good at math.  What is a good plan of action?  Let the math score linger at a subpar level while focusing all of your energy on the verbal portion, right?  Wrong.

First of all, even if you’ve historically done poorly in math, you can easily turn that around with a few months of devoted practice.  Second, math is the area where you can see the most marked transformation as far as testing abilities.  You can certainly improve your score in the verbal section, but the base of knowledge for both the writing and reading sections is far broader.  The English language is highly complex, and it takes most of us a great many years before we learn and understand all the intricacies.

Math, in comparison, is much simpler.  The rules and terms are significantly fewer in number, and trying to learn and apply the concepts in a short time period is much more realistic than memorizing a bunch of vocabulary words and mastering the breadth of grammatical nuances in existence.  Don’t get me wrong, you need to focus on the verbal section too, but my point is that you shouldn’t write off the math portion as a lost cause.  In fact, math is the area where you should double down on your study time.  You will be amazed at what you can achieve if you prepare in the right manner.  So how do you go about breaking your personal math barrier?  Here’s how.

  1. Master Mental Math – yes, I’m aware that you can use a calculator on the SAT, but quick arithmetic skills will drastically augment your ability to succeed.  Why?  Because the SAT is administered under a serious time constraint.  You will have 50 minutes to complete 44 multiple-choice questions and 20 minutes to complete 10 grid-in questions.  That’s not a lot of time.  Having to refer to your calculator for basic arithmetic will unnecessarily impede your ability to race through the exam.  Lack of quickness can spell disaster even if you are very familiar and comfortable with all of the concepts.
  2. Memorize The Formulas And Rules Covered On The Exam – the SAT covers a finite universe of math.  The core topics are as follows: (1) numbers and operations; (2) algebra and functions; (3) geometry and measurement; and (4) data analysis, statistics, and probability.  The College Board provides candidates with a test prep book that reviews all of the pertinent concepts under these categories.  You can go to your local library, check out the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide, and review these concepts for free.  If you give yourself ample time to prepare, you can easily master all of the basic principals.  This will ensure that you are at least capable of nailing each and every math problem.
  3. Take A Prep Course – there is a very small percentage of people that can annihilate standardized tests without a prep course.  Accordingly, I recommend that all students enroll in some course.  The strategies and methods of each course are certainly helpful, but the key benefit is having a structured study plan.  It is essential that you develop a rhythmic study routine that does not linger or falter.  You need to review math concepts and go over practice problems in unison.  Now, precisely which prep course you choose can vary depending on your budget, time constraint, and your current testing abilities.  You should certainly shop around, from recognized names to private entities, to see which company or tutor is right for you.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice – there are loads of practice tests available for sale.  You can purchase them at a bookstore or use the repository of practice exams at your chosen test prep company.  Most tutoring and prep courses will have you take approximately three or four exams as part of the standard class, but I encourage you to take many, many more.  When I prepared for the SAT, I took 15 practice tests.  What’s the benefit of taking so many practice exams?  There are several.  First, the SAT is standardized. This means that from year to year, while the precise material varies, the core subjects and concepts are constant.  Translation: the more questions you see, the fewer curve balls can be thrown at you.  With enough practice, you can familiarize yourself with the entire universe of possible question types. This will not only improve your test taking abilities, but it will bolster your confidence come test day.  Second, practice problems make you exercise your brain in a critical manner.  It’s one thing to know a concept, but it’s another thing to put that concept into use.  The more practice you get, the more comfortable you will be with the concepts, and the more speed you will have when chugging through the math section.  Finally, practicing thoroughly will expose your weak spots.  You may think you know the entirety of the subject matter, but the practice tests will weed out your areas of uncertainty.  I recommend that students take at least 10 practice exams.
  5. Study Over The Summer – most kids wait until the school year to start preparing for the SAT.  I highly recommend you get a jumpstart over the summer. High school curriculums are tough enough as they are, but adding on a rigorous study routine is a sure fire recipe for disaster.  You will likely have to sacrifice either your schoolwork or your SAT preparation, neither of which is a good option.  So, if you want to be ahead of the curve, sign up for a program that spans the summer and put in a solid effort.  Take as many practice tests as you can, go over as much material as possible, and ask your tutors for the maximum amount of help.

Tailoring Math Education To Different Learning Styles

Math can be a puzzling and often frustrating subject for students.  Some pupils seem to effortlessly pluck A+’s from the heavens, while others grind away to earn average grades at best.  Why the discrepancy?  Are some brains simply predisposed to math success, while others are hopelessly misaligned?  Of course not.  If I believed that, I wouldn’t be teaching math.  So what’s the deal?  Why the blaring gap in math performance?  One key factor is learning styles.  Despite what your folks might say, people learn in different ways.  Some students naturally thrive in standard Prussian style classroom settings; others, however, only truly soar in different environments that are better tailored to their particular strengths.  If a student is struggling in math at school, it could be because the standard curriculum is not in sync with his/her learning style.  This article will (1) run through the seven learning styles, (2) explain how to identify where students fit on the learning style spectrum, and (3) advise how to optimize math education accordingly.

Social/Interpersonal

Social learners prefer to learn in groups surrounded by other people.  They are often charged up by the presence of their classmates, and usually derive energy from social interactions.  They are the prototypical extroverts.

Telltale Signs Of A Social Learner

  1. They are known for possessing a wide network of friends and associates
  2. They feel excitement and energy when around other people (i.e. extroverted)
  3. They are particularly adept at negotiating and resolving conflicts

Suggestions For Math Education

While learning math in a group setting can be difficult for many, folks who thrive in social environments are best served when surrounded by their peers.  Working in teams to complete homework assignments and prep for exams can often charge the energy levels of a social learner.   Moreover, creating a supportive network of caring classmates can help nurture an interpersonal child struggling to improve his/her grades.

Solitary/Intrapersonal

Solitary learners thrive in isolation.  They often do their best when working alone and using self-study.  Reading books can be an especially effective learning vehicle for these individuals.

Telltale Signs Of A Solitary Learner

  1. They prefer solitary activities
  2. They spend a great deal of time reflecting introspectively
  3. They recharge their energy levels while alone (i.e. introverted)

Suggestions For Math Education

Solitary learners are usually folks that thrive in our modern education system. Their characteristics set them up nicely to achieve high marks in standard academia.  But, however, to help an intrapersonal learner soar even higher, it is important to recognize that these students are designed to work alone and in isolation.  So, finding a spot free of disturbances is often the first step to maximizing their abilities.  In addition, it is useful to simply recognize that the majority of information they learn will usually be absorbed at home while studying (as opposed to in class during the lecture).

Verbal/Linguistic

Verbal learners, as the name suggests, prefer learning with words in both speech and writing.  These types of minds soak up knowledge through various mediums centered around language.  Words naturally resonate with these folks.

Telltale Signs Of A Verbal Learner

  1. They have a natural affinity for words when reading, writing, listening, and speaking
  2. They have an uncanny ability to recall definitions and spellings of words
  3. They enjoy creative writing such as poetry

Suggestions For Math Education

For these folks, I recommend sitting down with a teacher or tutor after class to hear in depth explanations.  While the material may not sink in during chalkboard lectures, verbal learners will be more likely to pick up math lessons that are conveyed in plain English.  Words, after all, are their bread and butter when learning.  They should steer clear of relying too heavily on symbols and drawings.  Instead, they should seek word-based explanations, either written or oral, from a teacher.

Logical/Mathematical

Logical learners do their best when employing logic and reasoning.  They are effective problem solvers and typically succeed with task-based learning.  These minds often do well with standard math education.

Telltale Signs Of A Logical Learner

  1. They enjoy asking questions and finding solutions
  2. They are often preoccupied with puzzles and other logic based games
  3. They have a knack for mathematics and other variable based subjects

Suggestions For Math Education

Since logical minded people often enjoy games and puzzles, it makes sense to frame math problems in the same mantle.  Now, I have always felt that math assignments are inherently similar to logic games or puzzles, and are naturally fun for folks who like these types of challenges.  But, for the logical brains out there that still find it hard to enjoy their math homework, I recommend searching out math-based games.  One decent website for such games is http://www.coolmath-games.com.  In addition, I suggest employing rules during study time to make practice problems feel more like a game.  For example, adding time constraints can make the practice problems feel more like a game.  Additionally, keeping track of percentages and trying to beat out old scores is another way to make the process more fun.

Visual/Spatial

Visual learners are specially built to use pictures and spatial tools.  They learn well when lesson plans incorporate photos, videos, visual maps, and other pictorial based instructions.

Telltale Signs Of A Visual Learner

  1. They visualize problems clearly in their minds
  2. They tend to learn better from pictures and movies than word based mediums
  3. They are naturally drawn to activities that involve visual design

Suggestions For Math Education

For the mind that learns with pictures and images, I suggest infusing math education with loads of drawings related to each concept.  They should be encouraged to draw out diagrams and use visual cues to ease memorization of various operations and theorems.  In addition, they should color code their notes and study materials.  This will help their visual brains organize and assimilate various pieces of information.

Aural/Musical

Aural learners are best equipped to understand and store information absorbed via sound and music.  Their ears are particularly adept at deconstructing and parsing heavy mixes of tones.  They will often do better with books on tape versus printed versions.

Telltale Signs Of An Aural Learner

  1. They deeply enjoy listening to and making music
  2. They have a natural understanding of music and its various elements
  3. They tend to connect emotional experiences with various sounds and songs

Suggestions For Math Education

Many aural learners enjoy listening to music.  I suggest that they play pleasant music in the background while learning mathematics.  This will evoke positive emotions and stir up a bit of energy while working.  Just make sure that the music is not overly distracting or played too loud.  In addition, musical minded people should try to organize formulas and operations into musical patterns or rhymes.  For example, coming up with a rhyme or melody to remember the quadratic equation would be more effective than simply attempting to remember the visual image of the formula.  Finally, when reviewing notes and examples from the textbook, they should read aloud so as to stimulate their aural memory.

Physical/Kinesthetic

Physical learners learn best by touch and movement.  A lot of superb athletes tend to fall into this category as physical processes and activities seem to sync well with their learning and memorizing capabilities.

Telltale Signs Of A Physical Learner

  1. They enjoy physical activities such as dance or athletics
  2. They spend a great deal of time being active and physically engaged
  3. They like to express themselves using a wide range of physical gestures

Suggestions For Math Education

For physical learners, devising a specially tailored strategy to approach math is a little trickier, but still doable.  Since these types tend to learn best when active, it is important for them to stay in motion while studying.  This could involve squeezing a stress ball while working, or simply taking a break every 20 or 30 minutes to walk around the room.  Hands on models are terrific as well when applicable.  If there is a tangible learning device that the student can actually touch and interact with, all the better.


6 Things To Consider In A Math Tutor

Finding an excellent tutor can make a tremendous impact on a child’s ability to succeed academically.  While some kids are able to independently digest in class lectures and textbook explanations, others benefit greatly from an additional system of support.  Parsing through the material after school with a guiding hand can fully illuminate subjects that are otherwise difficult to grasp.  Translation: with the right set of mentors, all students can develop into confident adults with healthy GPAs.  Most parents are well versed in the art of finding a nicely fitting academic institution, but very few are aware of the highly nuanced process for vetting a tutor.  Here are six key components that parents should evaluate when searching for a tutor:

  1. Experience Tutoring Or Teaching – it goes without saying that experience is critical in any field.  It is particularly important in teaching, however, because there are a wide variety of students and respective learning styles.  Some kids are visual learners, others auditory, and still others learn by doing as opposed to watching.  With an abundance of experience comes a greater level of exposure to these various learning styles. As such, there is a higher likelihood that an experienced tutor will be able to seamlessly adapt his/her teaching techniques to your child’s specific needs.
  2. Trial Period – not all tutors will be a good fit with your child’s personality. Even if you find the most academically credentialed and seasoned educator, he/she might simply fail to mesh with your child’s personality.  Accordingly, it is important that your potential tutor offers a trial period.  This will give your family an opportunity to meet with the tutor and examine his/her methods and general demeanor.  If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, you can move on without incurring any unnecessary financial loss.
  3. Relates Well With Children – teaching certainly requires an ability to work well with children.  But what, precisely, does that mean?  From my experience as well as watching other prominent tutors, there are a few different pieces to this puzzle.  First, you want to choose a tutor that your child can look up to and emulate.  Your son or daughter will be more likely to work hard and adhere to his/her tutor’s study plan if that underlying level of respect exists.  Second, you want an educator who makes the sessions fun. Going through material is not always a blast for kids, but enthusiastic and positive personas can transform an otherwise painful session to an exciting and energizing event.  Finally, you need to choose a tutor who is able to patiently teach the material.  Sometimes kids will be charged up and on point; other times, they might feel lethargic or unmotivated.  Your tutor needs to be mentally and emotionally equipped to ride the ups and downs without buckling.
  4. Compatible With The Parents As Well As The Students – when it comes to private tutoring, there is a great need for a solid relationship with the parents as well as the kids.  When working one on one with a student, the tutor is not simply throwing out information in the hopes that the child absorbs some of the material.  Instead, the tutor must carefully develop a tailored plan that involves feedback from both the student and the parents. The parents, the child, and the tutor must merge into a seamless team with identical goals.  Everyone needs to be in the loop in order to ensure the highest satisfaction and optimal results.  Accordingly, a solid relationship with the parents is critical to a healthy academic progression.
  5. Establishes Clear Goals – moving forward without distinct benchmarks is like sailing without a destination.  Kids, like adults, need identifiable goals to keep them centered and focused.  It is important that your child’s tutor sets reasonable objectives each session.  Just to be clear, I’m not talking about setting a numerical goal for test results.  That, in fact, can be counterproductive.   While academic success is the end goal, percentages and grades should not be dwelled upon.  What needs to happen instead is the identification of process related goals pertaining to the (1) completion of additional problems sets, (2) adoption of certain methodologies, and/or (3) recalibration of a student’s state of mind.
  6. Scheduling Flexibility – while it is important to have well established meeting times with your tutor, it is also helpful if your tutor has a reasonable amount of flexibility to accommodate your child’s fluctuating demands. Kids can have a number of last minute events pop that might mandate an impromptu session.  For example, a midterm could manifest on a random day that requires a session.  Or a dance recital could emerge that causes the cancellation of a pre-existing session.  With all of the extra-curricular activities and academic obligations that kids face, a tutor needs to be able to handle the ebbs and flows of a student’s schedule.

6 Tips For Math Excellence: How To Jump From An "A" To An "A+"

A new student of mine came to me with a difficult problem: “how can I go from an ‘A’ to an ‘A+?’”  Now, I know what you’re thinking… she needs to get a grip.  An “A” is an excellent grade, right?  Certainly.  But my student yearns to jump to the honors mathematics section, which is only reachable via an “A+.”  So now that I’ve established that this is a totally valid request, how do I make it happen?  How can someone, who is already achieving a high level of success, bridge that final gap to test taking perfection?  Here are six ways an “A” student can modify their routine to grab the highly coveted and often elusive “A+.”

  1. Master Mental Math – yes indeed, mental math will come in handy here. For most students struggling to nab that 100%, speed (or lack thereof) is often the culprit.  One of the key reasons why students can’t get through an exam quickly is because their mental arithmetic is lagging.  They spend an unnecessary amount of time either writing out arithmetic longhand or plugging numbers into a calculator.  Once you can fast track your brain to process the calculations on its own, you can shave a substantial amount of minutes off of each exam.  Translation: you will have more time to check through your exam once you are finished.
  2. Highlight Answers That You Are Less Than 80% Sure Of – once you finish your exam, you will need to double-check your work.  This is absolutely imperative.   But even if you don’t have time to review every single question and calculation, you can maximize your odds of a perfect score with a focused review.  For example, if you keep track of the problems that cause you a greater degree of difficulty and check those first, you will increase your chances of a flawless performance.  I advise my students to place a star next to any problem where their certainty is less than 80%.
  3.  Write Clearly And Neatly – silly mistakes are a huge reason for point losses on math exams.  Whether someone incorrectly copies the exam question or inadvertently mixes up the order of two variables, a simple and quick mental oversight can cost a student valuable points.  Unfortunately, these losses are not indicative of any lack of understanding.  Almost all students who fall victim to these errors have an excellent comprehension of the material.  Nonetheless, they are penalized for mental blips.  To avoid this pitfall, write neatly and clearly.  This will reduce your silly mistakes and allow your grasp of the material to shine through on test day.
  4. Take Several Timed Practice Exams Before The Real Deal – the key to solid exam preparation is mimicking the actual exam atmosphere during practice tests.  That means eliminating all distractions, sitting up straight in a chair, and working under a time constraint.  The more dedicated you are to this type of practice, the less intimidating the actual exam will feel.  As your nerves calm, your chances of nailing every question will go up.
  5. Stop Using Calculators On Homework And Exams – once your mental math is up to par, put your calculator away when it comes to basic arithmetic.  Not just on homework, but on exams as well.  Go through all the questions with just your mental calculations.  Your speed will increase, and with practice, so will your accuracy.  Then, after every answer has been completed, feel free to whip out your calculator to double-check your work. Now remember, I am not suggesting this strategy for those with weak mental math skills.  You must first exercise those mental muscles before doing away with your calculator.
  6. Pump Up Your Mental State Before An Exam Or Quiz – are you ready for some psychological pointers?  Look, I know you might be sneering at this tip, but I’m serious about this.  How you feel when you go into a test can adversely affect your performance.  Here is a quick list of pointers to make sure your mental state is steady and ready:
  • Arrive early to your exam so that you don’t spike your adrenaline levels.  If you rush into the exam with a great deal of stress, you could experience a crash in energy midway through the exam.
  • Take on a “Power Pose” for at least 2 minutes before the exam begins. “Power Poses” are stances that powerful or confident people often take. Believe it or not, striking a strong pose before an exam can lower your anxiety levels and boost your confidence.  For more information on “Power Poses,” check out the following article: How "Power Poses" Can Help Your Career.
  • Make sure to eat brain-boosting foods on test day.  Good food choices include protein rich items such as eggs, nuts, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Stay away from simple carbohydrates and sugars.

Getting an A+ is tough.  Not only does it require an excellent grasp of the material, but it also mandates a high level of discipline.  If you are truly dedicated to achieving this ultra high mark, then internalize these tips and study hard.  Good luck!


5 Reasons Why Math is Awesome

When imagining the types of people who love math, your brain likely conjures up images of coke bottle glasses, pocket protectors, suspenders, and personality types riddled with social awkwardness.  I totally get it… math is lame and only complete weirdoes enjoy it.  But just for the record, I love math.  There, I said it.  You can judge me all you want, but believe it or not, I’m a relatively normal guy.  All subjects, from science to history, music to philosophy, fascinate me.  Math, however, has a special place in my heart.  How could this be?  How is it that this totally boring and bizarre subject has captivated my mind for so long?  Let me break it down.  Here are my top five reasons why math is awesome.

1. Instant Gratification

When I was in law school, I learned very quickly that my internal grasp and comfort with a subject would not necessarily ensure success on an exam.  For example, even if I felt like I knew the answer on an essay question, my response would be scrutinized with a fair amount of subjectivity.  The professor may not like my writing style, or alternatively he may disagree with my chosen approach.  The bottom line is that I could not gauge my performance very accurately after I completed my test.

But math is wonderfully different.  Once you become reasonably familiar with the subject matter, whether it is geometry, algebra, calculus, or whatever, you have a pretty good idea that you’ve answered a question correctly before it is graded.  Firstly, the answers usually seem to make sense if they are correct.  Secondly, you can usually test out your response to make certain that it works in whatever equation you were trying to solve.  So, when you take the time to review your work, you have a pretty solid notion of how you’ve done with each question.  When you’ve got it right, you know it.  It’s a pretty awesome feeling to walk out of a final exam with a reasonable certainty that you’ve nailed the questions.

2. Even Playing Field

Depending on your educational background or particular upbringing, you may have a stronger than average grasp of the English language.  This can provide a stark advantage in writing classes that is very difficult to overcome.  For students who are substantially behind with their reading and writing abilities, bridging the gap can be a tremendously tough task.  Vocabulary is often slowly developed over years of constant exposure.  It’s no wonder that children who grow up with a deep passion for reading tend to reign supreme above their classmates who sincerely dislike perusing novels and magazines.

But math is different.  No matter your background, regardless of how much time you’ve spent studying math, you can ramp up your abilities in a very short period of time.  The processes can be learned very quickly, and with the right guidance, anyone can turn their grades around within a semester.  All that is required on the student’s part is a heartfelt desire to improve.

3. Cool Real Life Applications

Even if you don’t want to be an engineer or a scientist, you cannot deny the awesome technological advances that have found their way to your doorstep with the help of mathematics.  Math is the keystone in our current understanding of the modern universe.  It is the tool we use to develop bridges, skyscrapers, and all sorts of complex machinery.  It is a core foundation behind computer science, the awesome subject matter that is responsible for so much of our incredible capabilities today.  Math is the language of our universe, and as we plow forward in our understanding of this vast landscape, we move closer to unlocking more and more incredible technological secrets.

4. Intimidating At First, Yet Easy To Master

So many students come to me after great frustration with math.  “Look,” they say, “I can handle all of my other classes, but I am truly hopeless with formulas and equations.  I just don’t get it.”  This is music to my ears.  Why?  Because (1) I realize this is complete nonsense and (2) I know that my student will be singing a different tune in a small time span.  Yes, I recognize that math can seem intimidating for students, but the truth remains that with a bit of focus, you can go from being a “C” student to an “A” student practically overnight.

If English is your problem area, you have a long road before you can improve.  It will take a great deal of time dedicated to reading, writing, and understanding basic grammatical rules.  Language is unbelievably complex, and a great deal of effort is necessary to lunge forward.  But with math, once you have opened your mind to the possibility that you can achieve greatness, you can make tremendous strides.  So, if you are committed, you can very quickly turn your greatest weakness into one of your most treasured strengths.

5. Math Prowess Commands Respect And Admiration

Whether you work as an engineer, doctor, or attorney, a strong command of mathematics earns you respect and admiration.  Even if your work does not require solid computational skills, your colleagues will generally presume you are an intelligent and competent worker if you can zip through basic calculations.

No matter where you go or what you do, people will constantly try to assess your intelligence until you have proven yourself.  Demonstrating a strong ability with numbers can put you ahead of the curve during an interview or a preliminary meeting.   This fact makes math even more fun to practice.  The notion that my reputation will be bolstered by my ability to process numbers quickly provides a terrific incentive to keep my math skills sharp.


The Importance of Mental Math

Dazzling pocket PCs are aplenty for the children of today.  Kids roll into the classroom with iPhones, Blackberries, and various Android devices capable of supporting myriad complex applications.  We are living in a wonderful age where handheld computers help us tremendously and continuously.  Alongside all of the fancy apps (that allow us to manage everything from our finances to our fantasy football teams) is a standard utility application that accompanies every smartphone: the basic calculator.  Need to carry out some quick arithmetic to figure out how much money you owe your buddy?  Pull out your phone and type away.  It's that simple.  So why the heck do kids need to memorize the multiplication table?  Because it is still crucial to a successful math career and a promising life thereafter.  Don't believe me?  Here are four reasons why mental math is still tremendously important and absolutely foundational.

1. Confidence Is Key

You have likely heard people utter the following nonsensical words: "I'm not a math person."  Hmmm.  Well, I guess some people have it and some don't.  I used to think that I must be a math person because I enjoyed it and was good at it.  Lucky me, right?

Wrong.  Let's break it down.  People often derive enjoyment from activities that they are comfortable with.  You typically find that the best basketball players love basketball, the best writers love English class, the best artists love painting, and so on and so forth.  So, it naturally follows that achieving a high level of skill in a particular area could induce an accompanying feeling of pleasure.  This may not be 100% true, but there is certainly a very high correlation between proficiency and enjoyment.

Once a child starts thinking that math is hard or they are simply unable to compete with their cohorts, the downward spiral of poor math performance ensues.  Kids believe they are not good, they don't try as hard, and eventually they are the not-so-proud owners of a slew of subpar grades.  In contrast, those kids that simply believe they are good at math will soar to the top, diving into the material and confidently attacking their math homework.  These kids will continuously feed their positive beliefs about their math abilities and eventually perform well throughout high school.

So how do you embed these positive beliefs?  Enter mental math.  Once you can master the multiplication table, something that is fairly simple to learn with some daily practice, you can uproot those negative beliefs about your math abilities.  You will suddenly feel confident and able, and this will inevitably influence your approach and attitude as you climb higher and higher through the math curriculum.  Confidence is the utmost important component to math success.  If you nurture it early on, you will have no problem reaching the top.  How am I so sure?  Because this is precisely how I began my successful journey in mathematics.

2. Mastering The SAT

You may not like the SAT, but you must learn to live with it.  It is several hours on a Saturday morning that will prove to be, pound for pound, minute for minute, the most important component of your college application.  Think about it like this: you will have spent hundreds of hours taking exams during your high school career, but the SAT, a mere three hours and forty-five minutes, will prove to be exponentially more critical to your success than any one of those subject exams.

Accordingly, your mental math skills are critical.  Why?  While it’s true that calculators are now allowed on the SAT, you will seriously hamper your progress if you rely on the device for arithmetic.  No matter how much you hate multiplying and dividing in your head, you need to get comfortable with it in order to race through the math section.  Even if you understand the operations and principles, the time constraint will get you if you're still working out basic multiplication on the keypad of a calculator.  That's why mastery of arithmetic is critical for a high SAT score.

3. Quick Mental Math = Better Performance On Tests

Even if your school teacher permits the use of calculators on an exam, solid mental math will bolster your confidence and increase your speed.  When I was in high school, I was so fast with mental multiplication that I wouldn't even use my calculator until I had raced through the entire exam.  This then gave me ample opportunity to review my answers and make certain that I had not fallen victim to a silly error along the way.

The ability to quickly make calculations in your head will pay dividends in all high school subjects including calculus.  It simply does not cease to be useful.

4. People Presume High Intelligence Accompanies Computational Skills

Now, as silly as outside perceptions are, they are quite critical to your eventual success in the business world.  Accordingly, you want people to have great first impressions of you.  One terrific way to dazzle your acquaintances and coworkers is commanding an excellent expertise with numbers.  When people reach into their pockets to grab a calculator, you can stand their calmly and shout out the answer before your friends have had a chance to even load their calculator application.  What will the reaction be?  "Wow, you're smart."  No joke.

Let's be real on this point.  Wowing your friends and coworkers isn't going to make or break your career, but it will certainly grease the wheels as you travel down the career highway.  People will develop a presumption of intelligence about you, and you can harness that presumption to reach your goals.