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SAT or ACT? Or Both?

cropped-dreamstime_m_7945041.jpgJuniors in high school are busy students.  Adding to their academic and extra-curricular burden is the prep for the SAT or ACT tests.  Which test is best for me?  Do I have to take both?  Most college applications require SAT or ACT scores so students need to map out when they are going to take these tests before they send their applications in the Fall of their Senior year.   (See collegeboard.com for SAT test dates or ACT.org for ACT test dates)

 

Most colleges that we encounter will accept either SAT or ACT scores.  College advisors at area high schools often recommend that you take both.  Many students also respond to the desire to do well on both tests.  However, you only need an acceptable score on ONE test to be accepted.

 

We recommend that you take a free practice SAT test and ACT test.  (Students usually have PSAT scores that we can use in place of a practice SAT test.)  The SAT and ACT tests have different sections and different timing issues for the students.

 

Students who are better at math may gravitate to the SAT because the SAT score is 50% math.  Whereas, students who are more talented in Reading/ English may prefer the ACT because it is only 25% math and the other 75%–reading, English, and science—relies on stronger reading skills.

 

Many of our students are studying to improve their SAT/ACT scores to earn scholarships to out of state schools, like Oklahoma State, University of Oklahoma, and U of Arkansas.  Other students are trying to earn scholarships at private colleges–TCU, Baylor, SMU—or gain acceptance into the honors programs.  It is common for students to earn $32-40,000 in scholarships by raising their scores.

 

Give us a call (972-359-0222) and set up a free 15-minute consultation to help you choose which test is best for you.  Our program can help you prepare for both the SAT and ACT and we will guide you through your Junior/Senior years as you test and apply to college.

The Changing Face of Higher Ed

Recently, The Atlantic published Derek Newton’s “Higher Education Is Not a Mixtape,” in which he argues that – contrary to many popular arguments and articles – higher education is not going the way of the music industry (i.e. people won’t begin shopping for individual professors instead of for universities the way they now shop for individual songs instead of for entire albums). Along the way, Newton makes some compelling points:

Though many universities have not done a great job of keeping up with technological advancements or at keeping costs down, many of the people making arguments for the tech future of higher ed are also personally and financially invested in the companies and technologies necessary to make this future possible. Moreover, the arguments for increased technology and the “unbundling” of higher ed also seem to be missing a basic truth: Unlike music – which listeners buy because of the artist, not the artist’s record label – students “shop for schools, not professors” knowing that their future career success is often tied, at least initially and in part, to the reputation of their university.

However, a simple (and obvious) response to many of Newton’s arguments is: Yes…for now.

As a more recent graduate of an MA program, I well remember just what “distance learning” and “online learning” courses can look like – and it wasn’t pretty. This gets back to Newton’s concession that many schools and degree programs haven’t done a great job of keeping up with the technological times, so that if they do offer online courses and learning opportunities, many of them aren’t yet all that they could be (which means that many students either elect not to use them or view them as a last resort). But this isn’t something that’s likely to last for much longer, and improved distance learning tech could very well lead to an “unbundling” of universities, to a marketplace for professors and courses over entire schools.

Given the constraints of rising tuition rates coupled with the increased number of non-traditional students (e.g. middle-aged and older adults coming back to school for degrees, training, certifications, and so forth), online learning opportunities and distance courses are likely to only increase in number and quality over the next few years. These increases will undoubtedly change the way people view online opportunities and, in turn, how they shop within the industry of higher education generally.

What’s more, many institutions, like Ft. Worth’s TCU for example, now offer comparatively cheap, non-degree opportunities (both online and in-person) to students (traditional and non-traditional alike) who are interested in auditing particular courses rather than in pursuing a full degree. This trend may be evidence that certain demographics are in fact interested in shopping for higher ed opportunities on a professor or course-basis rather than on a university-basis, similar to the trend of buying a $0.99 song rather than a full album.

In my opinion, Newton throws his best possible argument for the traditional college experience under the bus by only barely mentioning it in his final paragraph:

In the current system, it may not be efficient to maintain fine-arts programs, but most people think it’s important to have them. It has long been part of colleges’ mission to expose students to new ideas and disciplines. On campus, even business students, for example, are typically required to study literature and other topics in the humanities. Some may call that inefficient; others call it essential.

As a liberal arts student myself with three degrees, including English and American Studies, I appreciate better than most the difficulties and benefits of pursuing an education that doesn’t directly lead to an obvious, lucrative career path. And there certainly are difficulties – jokes bashing the putative usefulness or wisdom of liberal arts degrees are classic and many professors within these fields do an amazingly poor job of discussing with students just how many career opportunities are (or will be, could be) available to them. Thus, many students either prematurely cross liberal arts programs off their list or graduate from them without a full appreciation of just how flexible and useful they can truly be.

To me, the bashing or general rejection of liberal arts degrees only shows a lack of creativity on part of all involved. A degree in English, after all, doesn’t limit a person to Writer, Teacher, or Unemployed. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I am Large. I contain Multitudes.” There is more to a student than their degree just as there is more to a degree than its acronym. Education, like life, will – in large part – be what you make of it. Similarly, there are more jobs out there, more possibilities and opportunities than you can ever account for, because they – like the higher ed industry itself – are always changing. And that’s part of what a liberal arts degree is great for: teaching students how to think (for more on this particular point, see David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech) and how to grow with changing times.

Ultimately, I think the future of higher ed falls somewhere in the middle here, in a combination of distance/online and in-person learning, of professor-shopping and university-shopping. As our student bodies change and grow more diverse, so must our learning opportunities. This isn’t a time to throw away all we’ve built in higher ed, but neither is it a time to try stalling change and growth.

*For those who’re interested, here’s the audio of Wallace’s speech:

Further & Related Readings:

Books That Make Us Cry (Part One) Collected by Donalyn Miller

Nerdy Book Club

Last spring, one of my fifth-graders, Heavenly, spent all of recess sitting under a tree finishing the final chapters of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. Strolling around the playground, I gave Heavenly a wide berth when I walked near her reading spot. I knew where Heavenly was in the story and I didn’t want to intrude.

When Heavenly finished the book, she found me on the playground. I could see as she walked toward me that her eyes brimmed with tears. Remembering the ending and my own emotional response—and seeing Heavenly’s forlorn face—I began to sniffle a bit, too.

Heavenly wrapped me in a limp hug and cried. While I patted her shoulder, Heavenly and I whispered back and forth about the book’s conclusion and our hopes for the main character, Carley Conners’ future.

“Mrs. Miller, why do you always recommend sad books to me?” Heavenly asked.

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Is Multitasking Bad for the Brain?

Thank you to St. John’s for this great article on the potential negatives of multitasking. Multitasking is a great villain in many of our working, studying, and learning lives because it drapes itself in a cloak of usefulness, of productivity, when in fact it creates just the opposite: lowered efficiency, less productivity, poorer quality of work, and so on.

NPR has also recently come out with an article related to this issue: “We’re Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That’s Bad For Business.” According to “We’re Not Taking…,” the pressure to not only multitask but to constantly be on-hand and on-the-clock is leading us as employees (and likely as students as well) to work longer yet less effective and less creative hours.

“Fewer American workers are taking time for lunch. Research shows that only 1 in 5 five people steps away for a midday meal. Most workers are simply eating at their desks.

But studies have also found that the longer you stay at work, the more important it is to get outside of the office, even if it’s just for a few minutes, because creativity can take a hit when you don’t change environments.”

Just a brief stroll around the block during the work day could give you that boost of energy and creativity you need to finish the day strongly.

Just a brief stroll around the block could give you that boost of energy and creativity you need to finish the day strongly.

This might not seem to affect students quite as much given that elementary, middle, and high school students all have mandatory lunch breaks, but if you think your example of constantly being on the clock, of using lunchtime, dinnertime, breakfast time (all the time) as work time isn’t being seen and absorbed by your children, then you’re sorely mistaken.

As parents and teachers, we are the ones who lay the groundwork for our children; we’re the ones creating the rules and norms to be inherited by our young thinkers and students. So, if not for the sake of your own health and creativity, take a break for the sake of your kids’–take a break for the sake of their future, for your own happiness as well as theirs.

SJES Student Support

With the internet in our pockets these days, multitasking seems to be at an all-time high. I’m a big multitasker myself, especially when I’m at home. After work, I move a million miles a minute: washing dishes, packing breakfast and lunch for the next day, prepping dinner, and picking up around the house – all while checking email each time my phone beeps. I race through these tasks, often dropping food on the floor, and I wonder if doing so many things at once is helping me be any more efficient?

multitasking cartoonAccording to countless research studies, it’s true that multitasking decreases your quality of work and slows you down. For example, writing an email and talking on the phone both use the same part of the brain. So, these competing tasks decrease the brain’s efficiency; you would be better off hanging up the phone and then taking the extra time…

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Read Like You Mean It

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Consistently Contradictory

Reblogged from Angelo State University’s Navigating Higher Ed blog:

Back when I was young and still played sports, a baseball coach told us our goal each day was to “practice like we mean it.” The idea, and it’s a cliché we’ve all heard before, is that championships might be won on the playing field but winning foundations are built in the weight room and at practice every day.

I’ve often thought we would be well-served to apply some athletic principles to academic activities.

Of course, it’s possible I just want to blow a whistle really loud during class and wear shorts to work.

The reality, though, is that hard work and intentionality transcend the activity in which you are engaged. There aren’t many jobs or hobbies where being lazy and haphazard helps you gain mastery. You might be the best athlete on the field or the smartest student in…

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Time-Management Advice & Other Tips for Academic Success

Entering a new grade or school, whether in elementary, high school, or college, can be absolutely nerve-wracking — from fears of not making friends to the basics of simply learning how to find your way to each physical classroom (I still have nightmares about not being able to find the right classroom). And each new level – transitioning from elementary to middle to high school to college – comes with its own unique stresses and concerns.

Elementary School: What if I fall behind? What if I don’t make friends?

High School: What if I bomb the SATs? What if I don’t get into college? What if I choose the wrong college?

College: What if I choose the wrong major? What if I drop-out? What if I don’t get into grad school? What if I don’t get a job? What if I can’t balance work and school and health/social life?

Well, the good news is that no one’s alone in these fears and anxieties. The even better news is that teachers at every level – teachers worth their salt, anyway – are well aware of these stresses and are eager to see their students push past them and into success. Below, we’ve compiled a short list of tips and advice for how to help overcome some of these fears for 2015.



Note: We draw from and reference the following sources, and highly encourage you to visit them and read the articles in full.

A Professor’s Pointers for Success in College: 21 Easy-to-Follow Tips” by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead, St. Lawrence University, with The Huffington Post

Top 12 Time-Management Tips” by Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, with US News



  1. Keep careful stock of your course syllabi, assignments, and attendance policies. This may seem obvious but, in both high school and college, these rules/expectations can vary significantly from teacher to teacher. It’s vital to making a good impression and to maintaining your own schedule that you keep aware of deadlines, required readings, attendance, and so forth. (For more, see Halstead)
  2. Don’t keep your head down. Especially in a new grade, classroom, and/or school, it can often seem like the best policy to lay low for a while till you know the ropes. However, this can actually be counterproductive to your ultimate goals of making friends, having good student-teacher relationships, and keeping on top of your work. If, instead of keeping your head down, you take the time to introduce yourself to others (student and teacher), raise your hand to answer and/or ask the occasional question, and just generally approach others with your daily concerns and joys, then you’ll quickly find yourself with a terrific group of friends and an impressed passel of teachers (no matter how new or introverted you are). By establishing these relationships right off the bat, you also set yourself up with a stronger safety net for making mistakes – people will be more understanding of you running (very) occasionally late, for example, if they already know your name and have a favorable impression of you. (For more, see Halstead)
  3. Pump up your writing skills. Whether it’s an essay, short story, book report, or email, make sure your writing is always a clear, respectful, and positive reflection of yourself. This means using a teacher’s full title when contacting them via email (e.g. Ms. Ryan for [most] elementary teachers, Dean Ryan for a college dean, Professor Ryan for a professor [this is often better, actually, than saying “Dr.” Ryan as not all professors are full doctors yet], Assistant Principal Ryan for – you get the idea); not using ALL CAPS in written communication; using clear, proper grammar and spelling in all written works (as much for clarity’s sake as for professionalism); and always including courtesy details such as full headings on all papers, page numbers, and so forth. For help with improving your writing skills, be sure to talk to your teachers and librarians; meet with tutors; read a lot; take up writing-heavy hobbies such as creative writing, blogging, or letter writing; and take full advantage of any Writing Center services your school provides. (For more, see Halstead)
  4. Know Thyself – Are you a morning person or a night owl? And no, I don’t mean: Are you weirdly peppy in the morning or do you prefer to stay out late partying? I mean: Do you get more done if you block time in the morning to do your homework or review your notes, or do you have an easier time completing your work if you do it first thing after school, or perhaps even in the later evening after dinner? Everyone has a different personal schedule that works best for them. Knowing your preferences (and being honest with yourself about them), will be a great step in the right direction of getting your work done well and on time. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)
  5. Be patient and make sure you take the time you need. Today, kids and young adults are learning to read and interact with new information in very different ways than their parents did as students, whether by following blogs, Twitter, 24-hour TV news, or online hubs like Vox and The Huffington Post. However, while all of these have their time, place, and value, they aren’t the same as sitting down to read a book or other piece of long-form writing. Because of this, many students today don’t recognize until it’s too late just how much time is actually necessary to read and study and write intelligently about long-form works. Sure they’ve read plenty of novels in the past, but leisure-reading isn’t the same animal (and we all know it!).  So, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into your academic reading-and-writing groove, and don’t let other seemingly-complementary items (like film documentaries or extra seminars) unnecessarily (or stressfully) clutter up your schedule. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)

 

U.S. Report Card: 2013

Our Nation’s Report Card for 2013 has been available online for months now, but many Americans don’t even know it exists. Here are the basics:

The Nation’s Report CardTM informs the public about the academic achievement of elementary and secondary students in the United States. Report cards communicate the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a continuing and nationally representative measure of achievement in various subjects over time.

If you haven’t already checked out our report card for 2013, go ahead and give it a whirl. This is a terrific tool for learning more about the U.S.’s complicated education system and all the ways it’s bettering and neglecting us. You can check out everything from achievement gaps to report cards specific to certain school subjects to report cards specific to your state (and a ton more!).

For an example, consider their “Results for 2013 NAEP Mathematics and Reading Assessments Are In”:

Nationally representative samples of more than 376,000 fourth-graders and 341,000 eighth-graders were assessed in either mathematics or reading in 2013. Results are reported for public and private school students in the nation, and for public school students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Department of Defense schools.

On top of this assessment, they provide both graphs and written explanation of the data to make the results as clear and understandable as possible.

Example graph (the images are much sharper on the official website):

(2013 NAEP assessments)

math

This data is useful not only for teachers, policymakers, and administrators, but can be useful for students and parents as well. Try using this as a tool to not only engage with your students/children about their personal education (strengths and weaknesses, concerns and goals, etc.), but about what they (your students/kids) might like to see change or improved in their own schools.

Have you or your kids or your teacher friends/colleagues been complaining about certain parts of their education or school system for a while now? Well, there might be some credence to the complaints—and educating yourself with data from the Nation’s Report Card can be a great way to begin making (or learning how to make) substantive change happen at the local level.

If you want to arm your kids with the best knowledge out there, then you ought to do the same for yourself.

Click here to download a copy of the U.S.’s 2013 Report Card.

NPR’s 2015 Education Predictions

Check out the full article from NPR by clicking here for yet more predictions and details related to those provided below.

A few of the highlights:

  1. Blending on-site (classroom) learning with distance (technology-based) learning.
  2. Greater scrutiny of and concern related to student data.
  3. © Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationThe renewal of or substantive departure from No Child Left Behind.
  4. More online and game-based teaching practices.
  5. The introduction of Kindergarten Entry Assessments (KEAs).

In 2015, education systems will cut through the clutter and invest the needed resources to develop and administer developmentally appropriate KEAs and thus improve instruction for young children.

— Rhian Evans Allvin, Executive Director, National Association for the Education of Young Children


Further/Related Reading Suggestions

Demystifying College App Essays: Here’s One for the Juniors & Seniors Out There

As a former tutor and college admission office assistant, I am well acquainted with just how crazed and stressful college application days can be. However, it wasn’t until this past summer when I was helping some prospective students think through the brambles of college application questions that I realized just how milky and obfuscating these prompts and questions can be.

Here’s just one of the many tangled questions my poor students faced:

“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

While on the face of it this prompt may seem simple enough, upon closer examination, it can quickly become clear just how unclear and muddled things truly are. First, there is the “Some students” comment, which suggests that there are students out there so water-thin as to have identities capable of complete capture within the confines of a college application. Insulting, confusing, and arrogant, yes, but above all this phrasing is simply confusing. So then, for those few special students with some deeper, more complex identity, what question exactly are they answering – or, more precisely, what question is this prompt actually asking? What are the readers of such a prompt looking for?

First, they’re looking to see that you take enough confidence in yourself to read such a prompt and agree: Why yes, I am an individual with a complex identity that’s yet to be captured by this standard application.

Second, they’re looking for a story. Note the wording, “please share your story”—this implies not only that the reader wants something personal and engaging (i.e. not academic or even overly formal), but also something that is uniquely and entirely you.

And that’s the tricky part. While the you in this prompt about identity and stories may seem like the most obvious element, it’s also the element that most student writers seem quickest to neglect. Oftentimes this prompt is answered with a story regarding some learning experience or “life altering” event—and while these would certainly be acceptable starting places for an answer to such a prompt, it’s in the description of the experience or the event that students often lose the “them-ness” of their story, burying their own specialness and unique identity in the details of a mission trip, life lesson, or mentor. Don’t let the you be lost from these stories—the reader, after all, isn’t interested in reading about a mission trip to aid impoverished children or about the awesomeness of your eighth grade basketball coach; they’re interested in you. So, when you find yourself faced with something like this prompt, a question that wants you to at once agree that your identity is too big for a college essay and then challenges you to still try and cram it into one, don’t let yourself be distracted by the trappings—touch quickly on the setting and circumstance of your story and then get to the protagonist, our hero: YOU.

And then there are the chestnuts like:

“Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”

Sigh! It’s prompts like this one that make me roll my eyes and respond, Please briefly elaborate on at least one of your motives or goals for making this ridiculous request of exhausted college applicants. My recommendation for any poor students faced with such a question? Get straight to the point.

First, pick only your most interesting and unique activity or work experience. Again, this may seem to go without saying, but oftentimes students will reach out for some less-intriguing office job experience because it seems more “adult” or “professional” somehow. But really, I think we can all agree that we’d much rather read that crazy story about you being the Cow for your local Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. This story would do much more than simply highlight something you learned about conflict management (those people who “save spots” in line for friends? yeah, those people should know that that is NOT cool!); this story would also better entertain your readers while showcasing just how brave and fun you can be. Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of an entertaining story. If you can entertain your readers while sharing something sincere about yourself, it’ll stick in their memory better, give them a better overall experience of reviewing your application, and leave them with a much more impressive show of your writing ability.

Second (and again), get straight to the point. A lot of students end up wasting time and words on describing the job or extracurricular activity itself when, really, this is yet another question about you and your experiences. No one wants to read about the job qualifications or responsibilities of Whatever Office or about the meeting notes of Yeah-Yeah-Yeah Club. These readers want to know A) What Job/Activity, B) Why You Chose It For Elaboration, and C) YOU. And, if you hadn’t already guessed, B and C are definitely the most important elements of this equation. Jump off of A as soon as you can in order to get to the meat of the story (that’s you!).

Remember, they wouldn’t be asking about this if they weren’t hoping to learn yet more about how you react to different situations, what you’ve learned, what challenges you’ve undertaken, and/or what experiences have inspired you.

Then there are gems like this:

“XXXX University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to XXXX.”

….really?

The truth is, these questions are never as simple as they seem on first read. So, take your time. Consider them from all angles and all word choices. And then get straight to your point—don’t make anyone wait around to find out how fascinating you are or what goals you plan to achieve.

And here are a few extra tips and readings to help you along your way:

  • College Board’s “8 Tips for Crafting Your Best College Essay
    • Especially, brainstorm and be specific! First do the work of reflecting on what your strongest traits and most unique experiences are, and then pick out one to three (depending on the prompt) to start getting specific about – bring out the sensory details, the reflective details, the details that give it all meaning particular to you
  • US News’ “10 Tips for Writing the College Application Essay
    • The highlights: be concise, honest, and coherent. Don’t let your rush to share your accomplishments and experiences muddle the storyline or embellish the facts. Be genuine and strive for clarity.

Study How You Study

First, let me thank Latinas Uprising for this terrific post about studying and the forming of strong study habits. And though this post is written from the perspective of a law student, the advice included here can be useful for students of virtually any age from middle school and up. There are two things in particular about this post — two ideas it presents — that, I think, set it a part from the many other posts on studying out there in the blogosphere:

1.
That studying is not a given skill and that studying, contrary to what is apparently popular belief, doesn’t look or work the same way for every student. As Latinas Uprising explains, “For me, it wasn’t until I was a 2L that I finally figured out a way to study where I would really understand the material. Before I found ‘my method’, I tried different things like flash cards and case briefings, but none of it seemed to really help the material stick. It wasn’t until I fell back on what I had done successfully in college and gave myself permission to stray from the way law students ‘should’ study, that I finally started to really comprehend my cases.” In other words, studying itself takes patience and practice — don’t let yourself be convinced that you simply aren’t good at a given subject. Instead, try exploring new styles and schedules for studying until you find what works for you.

And 2.
That studying requires more than simply the act of studying — studying requires creativity in scheduling and, above all, discipline. As Latinas Uprising explains of her newfound studying success: “Yes, it would take up all my weekend. Yes, it sucked. But I preferred having my weeknights free because my boyfriend (now husband) and I had started to live together, and I wanted to commit some time to the relationship (a life outside of law school? Crazy concept, right?!). Mostly, I ended up sticking to this ‘no weekend ever’ plan because I enjoyed not feeling as if I was just barely holding my head above water during the week.” Can you dig that wild news? Well, it’s true — to study successfully, you don’t always need to revisit the material on a daily basis. It all depends on the needs of your schedule and the unique ways that you learn best. This requires not only flexibility and discipline, but creativity as well — don’t let yourself get stuck on an idea of what studying is supposed to look like and when it is supposed to take place. If studying in the morning each day works best for you because you’d prefer to have your evenings free for a significant other, the advancement of a hobby, participation in an extracurricular activity, etc., then give it a try! If focusing the bulk of your homework time to the weekends might work best for you and your schedule, then give it a try!

The main takeaway is, learning to study takes time — don’t let a few stresses and bumps along the way discourage you from pushing forward.

Latinas Uprising

We previously discussed how to prep for 1L week and –surprise–the main focus was getting prepped for studying.  But it’s worthwhile to delve into “how to study” a little deeper.

I say this a lot, but it’s actually really important to realize that you will be most successful if you study how you study. Think back on all the college classes where you excelled and mimic those study habits.  Note that I wrote excelled, not: barely put in the work but somehow still passed–that won’t fly in law school.  The reason why this is important is because law school has the tendency to push people into doing the same thing.  According to them, if briefing cases works for one student then it should work for all of them.  The reality is that we all have different capacities and methods of understanding.  Definitely try case briefing, but if it’s not working–move…

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