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.

Word Challenge VI: Two Words, One Speech – Our President’s!

The sixth and final entry in the Word Challenge: Two Words, One Speech series, ends with our current commander in chief. Written by Bell Curves co-founder Akil Bello, this entry was posted on 4RIISE.com

In the final installment of our speeches series, I offer to you a man triply fitting for mention on this President’s Day. A man known as one of the greatest orators of our time. A man of historic stature and prodigious ability. This week’s speech comes to us from the first African-American President of the United States of America: Barack Obama.

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 IV: Two Words, One Speech – You’ll Never Guess!

This entry was posted on 4RIISE.com on 2/6/12. Part IV of our ongoing Word Challenge series proves that great speeches can inspire and entertain.

Great speeches use deliberate language and strong vocabulary to sway the audience to a point of view, address injustice, or simply to inspire. We’ve looked a at few figures in US history who have done all those things and more. Not all great speeches happen in Congress or on Inauguration Day, however, or are even given by real-life people. Some speeches take place on Independence Day, or more specifically in “Independence Day” the movie.

Vocab from context vs Vocab in Context

We probably all remember being told “if you see a word you don’t know try to understand the meaning from context.” While this was pretty good strategy for early readers (let’s say through 6th grade), the older you get the less it works.  Trying to learn vocabulary from context as you get older is fraught with peril (is fraught a typo?). Let’s explore the difference between vocabulary in context and vocabulary from context. We also explore some strategies on how to use this to help us with the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and GRE.

Learning vocabulary from context
Children’s books are often written with the intention of helping children acquire new words. To help children learn new words, these authors of children’s books will often use a word and then immediately define it in the context of the text. That text might look like this:

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.

ISEE and SSAT: Parents Just Don’t Understand

Not much has changed since DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince rapped “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” And while we can’t explain what would motivate a teenager to run off with the family car without permission we can answer the most common questions we’ve had about the SSAT and ISEE.  Here are some answers to some of the more common questions about these two tests:

 

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.

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