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.

ACT Science Test: No science required

Many test-takers have told us that they chose the SAT over the ACT because they were uncertain/cautious/leery/petrified of the science part of the test.  But never fear, here I come to save the day! (cue Mighty Mouse theme)

The truth of the matter is that the Science Test is a misnomer – instead it should be called the ACT Science-y Test, the ACT Science-Lite Test, or maybe the ACT Loosely-Related-to-Scientific-Thinking Test.

 

SAT and ACT New Security Procedures

Since the SAT cheating ring debacle in 2011, the makers of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams have been wracking their brains about how to tighten security. They are so serious and committed to dealing with this issue that they have even hired a former Director of the FBI to help them develop these new security measures. We’ve been watching events unfold and here is the summary of the changes coming to the September 2012 ACT and October 2012 SAT.

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.

Word Challenge V: Two Words, One Speech – Frederick Douglass!

Part V of our six part series examines the words of Frederick Douglass.  Written by Akil Bello, co-founder of Bell Curves, this entry was originally posted by Riise on 2/13/12.

In keeping with the theme of Independence Day, this week’s speech was delivered by Fredrick Douglass on that date in 1852. This speech is not only a great oration it also provides an interesting insight into the time and place of its delivery. Douglass had been invited to speak as part of an Independence Day celebration by the leading citizens of Rochester, NY. The line highlighted below shows not only the depth of his language mastery but also his opinion of the state of American “independence” and the arrogance of inviting him to participate in the Independence Day events, given that he was an escaped slave who had been freed, and was still fighting for freedom for all other slaves.

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions, whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilant shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!”

Word Challenge III: Two Words, One Speech – Sister Catt’s

Word Challenge: Two Words, One Speech – Sister Catt’s

In Part III of our Word Challenge series, Bell Curves co-founder Akil Bello examines the powerful words of one of our foremothers who spent her life fighting for women’s rights.  Originally posted by Riise on 1/30/12.

From the founding of the US to the early 20th century, the majority of women in the United States were by law not allowed to vote. It took a motivated group of people over 70 years, from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 to ratification of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, to change this law. We remember these women today for their hard work and persistence (and sometimes for that odd-shaped Susan B Anthony dollar coin you get as change in a subway kiosk or vending machine) .

Word Challenge I: Two Words One Speech – MLK

Word Challenge: Two Words, One Speech- MLK

This marks the first installment of an innovative series written by Bell Curves co-founder Akil Bello for Riise to College‘s blog in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr Day.  It was originally posted on 1/16/12. 

By examining famous speeches by great orators we can see how vocabulary words are used to inspire change, and also how these same words might appear on standardized tests like the SAT. 

Our first vocabulary challenge comes to you on MLK Day and inspired by his 1963 speech, “I   Have a Dream.” Not only is  this speech uplifting in its message but it also demonstrates the scope and beauty of the English language. As you celebrate MLK Day, Black History Month, and Presidents’ Day, take the opportunity to explore and appreciate the things that brought these various people to the public eye. As you complete assignments in school exploring MLK’s message of Civil Rights and equality, make sure you take time to appreciate the beauty of the words he chose and the importance of a well-developed vocabulary. As you read his words accept the challenge of improving your vocabulary so that one day you may deliver an equally rousing oration that could go on to inspire generations of children.

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:

Test Prep Tip: Loving the Wrong Answer

No matter what test you take (SSAT, ISEE, SHSAT, PSAT, PLAN, SAT, ACT, etc) when you are preparing, your best friend is the wrong answer, if you use it as an opportunity to learn. This is the first in a series of tips on using fallacious answers to help you in your studies and on test day.

To properly take advantage of the wrong answers, you have to first understand that there are different types of wrong answers. The Loving the Wrong Answer series will discuss the major types of wrong answers, and how to use them to help you become a better test-taker.

Study Tips: Brain Space

Image by Zillafag

In this installment of our new (and ongoing) series of study tips, we bring more cognitive neuroscience (Ooooh! SAT vocabulary makes everything sound big and fancy, but cognitive neuroscience simply means the study of how we think) to bear with distributed learning.

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