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The hard truth about the SAT and ACT exams is this: While some universities may be ceasing or phasing out the use of these test scores in their admission process now, this still leaves us with the majority of top and mid-level colleges that continue looking to these scores to help them make important admission and scholarship decisions. This means that, for better or for worse, SAT and ACT prep continues to be a necessary investment for most students.
There is mounting evidence to show that these standardized exams favor not simply the wealthy, but specifically wealthy white males. In a recent report from William C. Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, and Valerie W. Franks, a former Bates assistant dean of admissions, “they reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or ACT scores,” and found that “those who didn’t submit SATs were more likely to be minority students, women, Pell grant recipients or the first in their families to go to college” (Todd Balf, The New York Times, 2014). They also found that there was “no significant difference in college GPA or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who did not” (Balf, NYT, 2014). This means that even for women, minority, and lower-income students who are every bit as intelligent, creative, and scholastically successful as their wealthier, white, male peers, they are still likely to find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to the SAT and ACT exams.
This is certainly evidence to suggest that our general college admission process is in need of a dramatic overall and fast. But so long as these exams are still administered across the country each year and their scores still looked to as a major admissions metric, this prejudice is also evidence of an increased need for affordable test-prep for all. As Todd Balf explains in “The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul” for the The New York Times,
“While more colleges are choosing to opt out of standardized testing, an estimated 80 percent of four-year colleges still require either SAT or ACT scores, according to David Hawkins at Nacac, and admissions officers report feeling bound to the tests as a way to filter the overwhelming numbers of applicants” (2014).
In his Atlantic article “The SAT-Prep Industry Isn’t Going Anywhere,” James Murphy agrees with this assessment, explaining,
“The problem, though, is not test prep but the test. It is not teachers and tutors who make students anxious; it is the SAT. … Although more schools than ever are making SAT scores optional for application, good test prep will remain important as long as high-stakes, time-constrained, multiple-choice exams are being used to determine who gets admitted to the most selective colleges and universities. … It is important not to confuse the medicine with the sickness.” (2014)
And this really is the keynote of this article: The SAT and ACT exams are flawed, yes; problematic, certainly; stress-inducing, definitely; but they are still here. They are still being used and looked to and depended upon. And for as long as they are, test-prep will continue to be necessary the same way that extra tutoring is often necessary for student success in everyday classwork.
David Sedaris had it right when, in Me Talk Pretty One Day, he complained:
“I’d hoped the language might come on its own, the way it comes to babies, but people don’t talk to foreigners the way they talk to babies. They don’t hypnotize you with bright objects and repeat the same words over and over, handing out little treats when you finally say ‘potty’ or ‘wawa.’”
Learning a new language isn’t easy, but it’s a skill that’s valuable and special like none other. However, there are always some languages that are easier to learn than others depending on your own native language. In this post, we’ll be focusing on the comparative ease a native English speaker may have with learning Spanish than many other languages.
Spanish is incredibly similar to English in many ways and is thus one of the easiest for native English speakers to learn. What’s more, apart from English and Mandarin Chinese, Spanish is arguably one of the most useful languages for a person to learn today (the third most spoken in the world).
According to the University of Oregon’s Department of Romance Languages, “Spanish is the official language of over twenty countries in the world, and it is the de facto second language of the United States.”
Of course, for certain parts of the U.S., Spanish is more important than others (for example, learning Spanish will likely be much more valuable to a native English speaker who lives in Texas than one who lives in North Dakota).
But what does it mean for Spanish to be ranked as one of the languages most closely related to English and one of the easiest for English speakers to learn? Quite simply, it means that, by the measures created by The Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State, it should (supposedly) only take a student 23-24 weeks of study (for 2-3 hours per day) to achieve Speaking Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Speech and Reading Level 3: General Professional Proficiency in Reading (amounting to a total of 575-600 hours of study). Now, I know that this may seem like a tremendous time commitment at first glance. But when you really think about it, when you really consider the awesomeness of achieving fluency in another language after not even half a year of study, those 600 hours might not seem quite so intimidating.
These are the keys to the study and learning of any foreign language:
- constant practice,
- an unwillingness to be beaten by the intimidating largeness of another language,
- and an unwillingness to allow oneself to be embarrassed about sounding silly every once in a while.
It won’t be easy – but it’s within your reach! And it’s certainly well worth your time and efforts.
After all, learning a foreign language has more benefits than simply helping you pass a class or find your way to the bathroom in a foreign country. Learning a foreign language can help you “improve the functionality of your brain by challenging it to recognize, negotiate meaning, and communicate in different language systems”; improve your memory; help you strengthen your brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia; improve your decision-making skills; and even improve your mastery of your English (assuming, of course, that you’re a native English speaker) and English grammar (Anne Merritt, “Why learn a foreign language? Benefits of bilingualism,” The Telegraph).
Some Spanish Language Studying Tips:
- Sign up with a Foreign Language Tutor! Though tutors don’t come free, they come with a ton of benefits that simply can’t be found elsewhere: individualized attention, another person dedicated to helping keep you accountable and focused, a safe and quiet space to study, a safe environment to practice speaking and reading skills with another person, and an expertise that often includes cultural tips and insights not found in many texts and workbooks
- Have a set time every day for you to practice your foreign language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening)
- Try a variety of different workbooks and systems out until you find that which best suits your needs (both learning and financial)
- Try watching films in Spanish without subtitles and see how well your listening comprehension skills improve day-by-day; engaging with these kinds of arts are not only useful for boosting listening comprehension but also for learning about important slang and cultural mores
Spring rains got you down? Lack of spring rains got you down? Don’t let it keep you there! Now is the time to start anew! Here are a few places and creative ideas to get you started, whether you’re a parent, student, or teacher:
- (It’s still not too late to) Check out Oxford Learning’s “Start the Year Off Right with Academic Resolutions!” for tips on setting (and achieving) academic resolutions
- Check out Nerd of Passion’s blog post, “Keeping a Science ‘Sketchbook,’” for ideas on how to connect art with science and keep yourself feeling fresh, up-to-date, and creative with your learning all year long
“Creative artists keeps a sketchbook where it is filled with sketches, rough works and unfinished art whenever inspiration strikes and they have new ideas. Writers have journals for very similar purposes where they write random drafts, pen down their thoughts and record events.”
- Take a look at Educational Technology & Mobile Learning’s “20 Apps and Tips to Help Students Study Better” (Disclaimer: Tutoring 101 cannot speak from personal experience regarding all of the apps discussed here)
- Whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher, try taking up a new hobby or discipline this year. Don’t get outdoors much? Take up gardening or a sport, or start walking neighbors’ dogs for extra pocket money. Like working with your hands? Try woodworking, drawing, book-making, or sculpture. Pay that guitar you never play some attention! Try listening to those Spanish tapes you never even opened! Give yoga or meditation a go! Taking up something entirely new is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing while making your down-time more productive and rewarding.
- Start a blog of your own! Blogs are terrific for connecting with others, whether you’re a mom or dad looking for new parenting ideas, a teacher looking to freshen up a lesson plan, or a student in need of a poetry outlet – blogs can be a great resource as well as a great tool for exercising those writing, reading, and research muscles
- A Special Note for Teachers of Online Courses: Give Errol Craig Sull’s “Student Engagement in the Online Classroom” from The Chronicle of Higher Education a read if you’re looking for tips on how to keep your students interested and participating in distance/online courses.
- Drop us a line, of course! At Tutoring 101, we have plenty of tutors who are ready and excited to help you have the best school year possible
- Get down to business on SAT/ACT prep—spring is definitely a key time in getting ready for summer-scheduled exams. For more ideas on this end, visit here
Study at least 3 times per week
- You can pick whatever day and time works best for you, but you need at least 3 study dates per week in order to keep the information fresh, catch mistakes, and engrain your understanding of larger concepts and ideas
Always do your practice problems
- As a student, “practice problems” may seem like nothing more than an annoyance or busy work. As a working adult, I can assure you that most of us would love it if our work came with “practice problems,” opportunities to rehearse what’s coming next and learn from our mistakes before said mistakes actually count against us. Don’t ever let the word “practice” make you feel like something is less important or valuable on your syllabus – the opportunity to practice and prepare/ask questions is a deeply valuable resource built to serve your best interests
Do your chapter reviews!!
- Like “practice problems,” chapter reviews can seem annoying or uselessly busying. However, these are a key opportunity to not only establish a study routine, but to discover what components of each chapter you ought to focus said study routine on – making your study time all the more efficient, purposeful, and useful. Getting into the habit of reviewing new information soon after you’ve read or encountered it (whether through a lecture, presentation, or other such thing) will serve you well throughout the rest of your life. Nothing impresses more than a keen memory and eye for detail – skills that are flexed and bulked up when you dedicate time to reviewing new information as promptly as possible. Don’t wait till you’ve already forgotten information to review it. Instead, review new information while it’s still fresh in your mind. Keeping it fresh and regularly renewed will help seed it in your mind so that you can begin to puzzle-piece things together in new and more innovative ways later on.
Watch videos and read extracurricular books on the subject
- Whether your teacher provides you with online materials or you happen upon some useful resources on your own, finding new ways of interacting with and reviewing your study assignments will not only help you learn new things about the materials, but will help you to take that next crucial step beyond memorization and into the realm of invention.
- Use Your Institution: You know your kids better than anyone.
- Get to the Root Cause: Are your kids struggling to pay attention or are the subjects themselves eluding them?
- Look Beyond the Score: Don’t settle for your kids’ grades and test scores as a barometer of how they’re really doing in school.
According to Parents:
- “Slipping Grades: If you believe that your child can do better than he did on his latest report card, or if you’ve noticed a gradual or sudden decline in his test scores, communicate with his teacher about your concerns. …”
- “Not Managing Time Well: If your child puts off projects and postpone homework, she may not be able to keep up as workloads increase. …”
- “Being Consistently Confused: Sometimes a child is underperforming because he simply doesn’t understand the homework. …”
- “Lacking Confidence: It is natural to be uncertain when learning a new concept, but it is not constructive when a child is told she isn’t smart enough to do well in school. …”
- “Decreasing Parental Supervision: When parents take on additional commitments outside of the family, it may be impossible to maintain the same level of homework help they had been providing their child. …”
- “Learning Disabilities: Tutoring sessions are also beneficial for children who have been diagnosed with a learning disorder, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or a visual processing problem. …”
- “If your child is old enough to receive report cards, you can tell pretty quickly whether or not he might need help when you see his grades.”
- “Beyond slipping grades, look out for a lack of enthusiasm for math.”
- “That loss in interest could signal that your child needs help, but it also may mean that he or she is bored. That’s where a tutor can come in.”
According to CBS, a few key ways to recognize whether or not your kids might benefit from tutoring are:
- “Continued failing grades in school.”
- “Child is constantly making excuses as to why he or she is not doing homework. The student is unhappy in school or having problems in general that you are aware of.”
- “The teacher sends notes home to you and you have to go to school because there is disruptive behavior, a pattern that goes on for at least a full school year.”
And according to KSL News:
- “Does your child have continual bad grades that do not seem to improve?”
- “Does your child have behavior problems at school? Behavior problems at school do not always indicate a need for a tutor. Some students have behavior problems because they do not seem to understand what is being taught and some have behavior problems because they are simply bored with the subject material.”
- “Does your child regularly say they hate school?”
- “When working on homework assignments, does it seem to take your child longer to finish them than you would expect?”
- “When confronted about unfinished schoolwork, does your child makes excuses as to why it is not finished?”
The latest and hottest education buzzword is Grit.
Consider Tovia Smith’s “Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?”: “Around the nation, schools are beginning to see grit as key to students’ success – and just as important to teach as reading and math. Experts define grit as persistence, determination, and resilience” – it’s one of the hardest qualities to instill in people, and perhaps especially so in today’s American culture of extremes (where parents are often labelled as either helicopters or completely checked out, and where nearly all students are made to feel entirely risk-averse when it comes to their education (such that they are either labelled as uncreative test-taking machines or as lazy, dumb, and/or entitled brats)).
But still, it’s grit that has everyone up in arms in the education world right now, and it’s grit that has everyone scratching their heads as they try to find new means of supporting and encouraging grit-development in themselves and their kids.
Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant for being the first to coin “grit” as the next step, as that special mystery ingredient needed to better prepare new generations for the future. Much of Duckworth’s story and work is laid bare in Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. In How Children Succeed, Tough discusses not only Duckworth’s research, but also the work of other prominent grit-studiers like Dr. Walter Mischel of Columbia University. In particular, Tough is careful to explain Mischel’s (now famous) Marshmallow Test (it’s a fascinating chapter!). The marshmallow test is deceptively simple: In his test group, Mischel gives each child a single marshmallow and then tells them that they can either eat the one marshmallow immediately, or wait a few minutes and get to eat two marshmallows. It’s a test of delayed gratification, of self-control, and of being able to imagine a new, perhaps sweeter future. But there’s more to grit than having the willpower to delay gratification—grit also encompasses the ability to face down and persevere against mistakes, setbacks, and rejection.
Grit is also, in other words, the ability to accept failure as a part of life and learning, rather than as a source of shame or stupidity.
Take, for example, the ability to expertly play an instrument. Many people have this dream or desire, but very few have the ability. Why? Most people likely could become at least decent musicians if they chose to practice often enough—but that’s just it. The choosing to act. The deciding to act. The act of taking purposeful action.
While many people may go into music lessons with the understanding that mastering an instrument takes time and practice, few people have the ability to handle the kind of delay in gratification necessary to really put in all that time, and perhaps even fewer have the ability to then also persevere despite any and all roadblocks that might crop up: lack of natural talent, consistent mistakes that may feel embarrassing, not wanting to practice for feelings of embarrassment, not placing in a music competition, receiving bad reviews, etc.
Grit, as the popular argument now goes, may be the answer to these challenges.
After all, what is natural talent worth if someone’s not willing or doesn’t feel able to put in the work necessary to let said talent flourish?
As Jonathan Rowson, Scottish chess grand master, once wrote: “When it comes to ambition, it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it.” (qtd. in Tough 130) –An idea that hits directly on Duckworth’s theories regarding grit and success: “The problem with self-control techniques like the ones that the most disciplined marshmallow resisters employed is that they work only when a child knows what he or she wants.” (Tough 64)
But how can we as teachers, friends, parents, and students begin to better foster this element of grit in ourselves and each other?
While there’s no hard and fast way to “teach” grit, people are coming up with some pretty interesting and inventive techniques for trying to foster this elusive trait. Here are just a few ideas to consider:
- Some schools are ceasing use of words like “smart” to compliment and encourage students—the type of words that “suggest [it’s] some kind of a natural intelligence that enables you to do so well”—in favor of words and phrases that empower students regardless of natural talents, encourage grit, and give them credit for working hard, being brave, being creative, and/or for handling a failure or mistake well (June Davenport qtd. in Smith, “On The Syllabus: Lessons in Grit”)
- According to Vicki Zakrzewski’s “Two Ways to Foster Grit” (with Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, University of California, Berkeley): 1) “Teach students about the impact of thoughts and beliefs on their ability to succeed. Students who have created a habit of telling themselves that they are bad at everything and that failure is inevitable will have a hard time with grit.” And 2) “Teach students how to work with their emotions. … For example, when a student who holds the belief, ‘I am bad at math, therefore I am a bad person’ (a common belief amongst some students who fear failure) faces an obstacle, emotions such as fear, despair, or anger may arise so quickly that the student doesn’t have time to change his or her thinking to fend off the emotion. … To help these students, educators should first teach them to recognize and label emotional responses so that they become aware when their emotions are spinning out of control. They should then follow this with methods for calming difficult emotions.” (This really is a fascinating article. You can (and probably should) read the entire thing: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/two_ways_to_foster_grit)
- Create safe spaces for you and your kids to learn, take risks, and make mistakes. Risks and mistakes should be thought of as simply a natural part of the learning process – not as a sign of failure, weakness, lack of talent, or stupidity. As Smith further explains in her “Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?”: “One way to make kids more tenacious, the thinking goes, is to show them how grit has been important to the success of others, and how mistakes and failures are normal parts of learning — not reasons to quit.” –and Jason Baehr, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, agrees, stating that: “‘You can create a classroom culture in which struggle and risk-taking is valued more than just getting the right answer.’” You can also try talking with your kids about who their heroes are and how grit has helped those heroes succeed—perhaps an avid reader of Stephen King might look to the years when King struggled with rejection letter after rejection letter from publishers; perhaps a sports fan might look to some of the losing games his or her favorite players have endured during their athletic careers; and so on and so on.
- Let ’em squirm! Though it might be tempting to drop clues or rush along some bit of homework or quiz question in order to avoid a bit of awkwardness or struggle, don’t do it! By giving unasked for hints and help, you end up only reinforcing the idea to your students and kids that struggling or taking time to think are bad things, embarrassing things, abnormal things. “At the Lenox Academy for Gifted Middle School Students in Brooklyn … When a kid struggles to answer a question, … teachers resist the urge to swoop in and offer hints. Instead, they let students squirm a little through an awkward silence. The idea is to get kids comfortable with struggle so they see it as just a normal part of learning.”
- Tovia Smith’s “Does Teaching Kids To Get ‘Gritty’ Help Them Get Ahead?“
- Tovia Smith’s “On the Syllabus: Lessons in Grit“
- Dr. Angela Duckworth, MacArthur Fellows Program
- Vicki Zakrzewski’s “Two Ways to Foster Grit“
- Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
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:
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.
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.
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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