Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Best Test Prep Gifts are FREE

The holidays are here. Time for giving, loving and spending time with those that are special to you. 

This is also the time that many high school juniors start to turn their attention towards college. As students enter the second half of their junior year, they should start to consider which school or schools might be a good fit. 

Inherent to the college search is research into what test scores are needed to get into the school(s) of choice. The best test prep starts with the end in mind: figure out what score you need and map out your strategy to get there

Since this a fairly involved process, most every student needs support along the way. And in the spirit of giving, here are three gifts that you can give to your student or child as they embark on this journey:

A Stress-Free Environment: As I tell my students, stress is the enemy of performance. If there is stress in your life, it will manifest itself on your test score. Stress reduces ones ability to focus which makes problem solving and logical thought more difficult. The ability to solve problems and think logically is what will determine success on a test, so the student that is stress-free will indubitably score better. Support the student through any challenges (i.e. not just test prep) and remove as much stress as possible particularly as test day approaches. 

Achievable Goals: Getting the best score you can on the SAT or ACT can be a long process. Test-taking, for many, is a new skill and learning a new skill can be overwhelming. Avoid the overwhelming feeling by setting manageable goals. For example, set a goal to complete at least three full-length practice tests before you take an official test. Or, set a goal to master graphing functions by March. Set and achieve small goals along the way and get to your end goal easier. 

Resources: Every student needs some resources for test prep. The good news is that there are two key free resources for test prep: the downloadable ACT test prep guide and SAT prep resources via the Khan Academy. You can also subscribe to this blog for study tips and hints directly to your inbox for free! These gifts cost nothing and are highly valuable. Nowadays, it is not totally necessary to hire a tutor or take a course. Many things students can do on their own. 

Yes, the holidays are here. If you know a student about to embark on the test prep journey, give them resources, goals and a stress-free environment and watch them soar.

If you have any questions about test prep and academic tutoring, contact CROSSWALK

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stop Calling Students "Bad Test Takers"

Here's a typical conversation with a parent of a student embarking on SAT or ACT prep:

Parent: Do you tutor SAT and ACT?
Me: Yes, I most certainly do. 
Parent: My child is a bad test taker. Can you help them? 

Put the brakes on right there. 

"Bad test taker" might be the worst label you could ever give a child. "Bad test taker" is baggage that will weigh down any student for years and years. 

Unfortunately, many parents and teachers alike feel that labeling a student as a "bad test taker" is a viable excuse for student performance. If a student performs poorly on a test, the adult can say, "don't worry, you are just a bad test taker but you have other skills." 

What appears to be a loving and caring statement is actually quite damaging. 

Truth be told, there is no such thing as a "bad test taker."  

Someone that feels like a "bad test taker" simply experiences anxiety over tests. Anxiety leads to fear, fear leads to survival instincts, and survival instincts supplant logical thought making test-taking more difficult. Think about how most people respond to a bee: instead of logically staying still, many panic and try to escape. 

For many students, this can be a vicious cycle: test anxiety becomes fear, fear reduces the ability to think logically, performance suffers and the student generates more test anxiety. 

Sow do you break the cycle? Two simple ways: 1) manage anxiety and 2) adopt a growth mindset. 

First, managing anxiety is a skill that will help on tests and in life. Approach a problem with a clear and calm demeanor. Don't let the "flight or fight" survival instincts take control of logical problem solving. If fear or anxiety starts to creep in, take a step back and relax. Tests are not life-threatening. Approach test day as if you were embarking on a new opportunity. Tests can be a challenge but they should not instill fear. 

Second, a growth mindset is the absolute key to learning. A growth mindset is the thinking that one's brain is capable of learning new things. Once you believe you can learn new things, you can learn new things. Conversely, if you don't think you can learn new things then you won't learn new things. 

Yes, our brains have certain strengths and weaknesses, but we shouldn't get caught in the fixed mindset that we cannot change our brains. The science behind a growth mindset shows that the more growth you think you are capable of achieving, the more growth you can actually achieve. In other words, you can teach an old dog new tricks, or you can learn new test-taking strategies. 

So if you consider yourself a bad test taker, stop that thinking right now. Change that fixed mindset and view tests as a new opportunity to learn. Adopt a growth mindset and manage test anxiety with a calm and relaxed approach. Break the cycle of fear and poor performance, learn some new approaches to test-taking and watch your test scores improve.

For more tips and hints, contact CROSSWALK. CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's resource for ACT prep, SAT prep and academic tutoring.