Monday, December 19, 2016

Conquer SAT & ACT Math with Math Toolbox (Part 3)

This is the third part in a series of how to conquer SAT and ACT Math by utilizing a Math Toolbox. For the complete list of the tools in the Math Toolbox and Part 1, visit here

Now that you mastered how to best use your pencil and your calculator, it is time to learn how to use the math tools you don't carry in your pocket on test day.  

The first of said tools is mental math

I mentioned mental math in the last post by stating that a calculator is not needed for every calculation since many problems can be solved in your head. The truth is, if you have to pull out your calculator for every problem on the SAT calculator math section or the entire ACT math section, you will waste a lot of time. 

Instead of using the calculator as a crutch, learn to leverage your mental math

Mental math isn't really that hard. Say you have to multiply 408 by 12. Sounds like a problem that requires a calculator, right? Actually, it doesn't. 408 x 12 is the same as (400 x 12) + (8 x 12). With mental math, you break calculations down into manageable chunks. 4 x 12 is 48, so 400 x 12 is 4800. 8 x 12 is 96 so your final answer is a pretty easy sum of 4800 + 96 or 4,896. 

Another useful trick with mental math is estimating. Often on the SAT and ACT, you can eliminate answer choices and get closer to the correct answer quickly by estimating. For example, let's say there is a question asking the area of an L-shaped pool. You could calculate the area of one section of the pool then add that to the calculation of the area of the other section. This would mean two different calculations which means lots of time. 

On the other hand, with mental math, you could estimate the area of both sections pretty quickly and eliminate any answer choices that are too small or too large. In most situations, this means you would eliminate as many as three answer choices.

Now, with the hard work already done, you can back into the correct answer much faster by looking at the remaining answer choices. But more on the back door in a future blog post as that is another tool in your math toolbox.

Ultimately, mental math can take you far when it comes to saving time and uncovering correct answers. Calculators are a useful tool but they can slow you down. Let your brain do some heavy lifting and watch correct answers appear faster. 

Next post will address the next math tool: translating. 

For more test-taking tips, contact CROSSWALK and learn how we prepare students stress-free for the SAT, ACT, PSAT, SSAT and more. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Conquer SAT & ACT Math with Math Toolbox (Part 2)

This is the second part in a series of how to conquer SAT and ACT Math by utilizing a Math Toolbox. For the complete list of the tools in the Math Toolbox and Part 1, visit here

Along with your pencil, the calculator is a pretty obvious resource for the test. You can use a calculator on the entire ACT math portion. The SAT and PSAT only allow calculators on one of the two math sections (no calculator on the SSAT by the way).

Nevertheless, a calculator can actually hinder your performance on the test if you don't use it wisely. A calculator can cause you to spend lots of extra time. Many students feel the need to use the calculator for every calculation. The test is designed such that, if you need to use a calculator for every problem, you might not be able to finish the test in time. 

Also, a calculator does not allow you to visually track all of your calculations. If you do all calculations on the calculator and you don't jot down any notes in your test booklet, it can be challenging to check your work and confirm the correct answer. 

So how do you effectively use a calculator as a part of your Math Toolbox? 

First of all, be sure you do all of your practice and studying with the same calculator you use on test day. Many students use their cell phone calculators when they practice for the test for reasons of convenience. Since cell phones are not allowed into the test, students have to learn the keys and format of a new calculator on test day. Major time waster! 

Secondly, learn to leverage your mental math skills instead of taking out a calculator for every calculation. Next blog post will detail the power of mental math, but for now, just be sure you understand that there are many calculations you can do in your head that are faster than plugging and plotting on a calculator. 

Finally, a calculator should not replace note taking. Getting pencil to paper and making a mess of your test booklet is the path to determining and confirming the correct answer. 

In all, your calculator should ultimately help you with both speed and accuracy on math problems on the SAT, ACT and PSAT. Use it wisely, and it can be one of the most productive tools in your Math Toolbox. 

For more test taking tips and tools, contact CROSSWALK today. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Conquer SAT & ACT Math with Math Toolbox (Part 1)

For many students, SAT and ACT math differ greatly from school or classroom math. A typical math class in school is content driven: learn a specific concept, practice the concept and take a test on all of the concepts from the chapter. 

On the other hand, SAT and ACT math problems leverage context and not content. Word problems, for example, challenge students to sift through the words and numbers in order to determine an equation. Similarly, other problems on the SAT or ACT require multiple steps that force students to use more than one content-based skill--like both algebra and geometry on one problem--to reach a solution. 

Given the significant difference between the content approach in school and the context approach on the SAT and ACT, some of the best math students falter on the SAT and ACT. 

Nevertheless, success for any student is attainable on the SAT and ACT when you have a Math Toolbox. The Math Toolbox is not a revolutionary idea. Simply put, the Math Toolbox is a series of different ways to solve a math problem. On the SAT and the ACT, each math problem may necessitate a different set of tools. 

With that, the Math Toolbox we help our students develop consists of the following six tools: 
  • Pencil
  • Calculator
  • Mental Math
  • Translation 
  • Back Door
  • Plug and Chug
This blog post, the first in a series of six, will detail how to best use the first tool: your pencil. Be sure to follow this blog for the rest of the series and details on each tool in the CROSSWALK Math Toolbox.

With respect to the pencil, it is obviously one of the few things you can carry into the test. Since you can walk into the test with a pencil, let's really learn how to use it. 

The pencil allows you to do several things to get to the right answer more efficiently:  
  • Annotate the question: Questions on the SAT and ACT math can be misleading or tricky. For example, an algebra problem may get you to solve for "x" but the question is "What is 2x?" Use a pencil to circle the question so you know what is being asked. 
  • Annotate and jot down the information you have: Notes are extremely helpful in word problems. Jotting down notes helps sift through the context to determine what information you need to find out versus what information you have. Create a table for what you know and figure out what you need to find out. 
  • Draw pictures for logic problems and geometry: When in doubt, draw it out. The simple act of getting pencil to paper will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to get to the solution faster. 
  • Make quick calculations: Your test booklet should end up looking like a messy conglomeration of notes and calculations. Use the space provided to make and track your steps. Perhaps most importantly, be sure to check your work when you are ready to finalize an answer.  
In all, the pencil is an obvious tool that every student has. Use it the right way and it can be one tool to help you score points.

For more Math Toolbox tools, follow this blog or contact CROSSWALK today. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Mastery Learning vs Test Scores

If you haven't seen Sal Khan's Ted Talk on Mastery Learning, take just ten minutes and view it here: 

Cool stuff that is not so revolutionary. And easily implemented in a lot of classrooms. 

Learning should be about the foundation and building skills to add to the foundation. Not test scores, but benchmarks that allow a student to demonstrate comfort and confidence with the material to then add more. 

Much of what CROSSWALK does is score driven since we focus on ACT, SAT, PSAT, SSAT and standardized test results. 

Despite this focus on test scores, the common denominator for score improvement is building out the foundation of the basic reading and math skills. 

Test taking is a skill, like playing an instrument or picking up a new sport. Time on task drives improvement. And the more complete your foundation, the faster your path towards mastery. 

Learn more by contacting CROSSWALK today. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How The Odd Couple Helps SAT and ACT Prep

Originally a Broadway play by Neil Simon in 1965, The Odd Couple was a television show I remember watching as a kid.

The premise is comedic genius: an uptight neat freak and an easygoing slob live together in one apartment. Hilarity ensues as polar opposites struggle to coexist. 

While The Odd Couple has been remade on both the big and small screens, "the odd couple" is also a viable test-taking strategy

Consider the following odd couple: the test booklet is the easygoing slob and the answer sheet is the uptight neat freak. 

On your test booklet, you should make notes, annotate passages, draw pictures and cross out wrong answers. In other words, use all of the space and sloppiness necessary to understand questions, make calculations and write notes to help you uncover the correct answer. 

Your answer sheet, on the other hand, should be neat, tidy and free of any stray marks. A computer will ultimately read your answer sheet so it should be precise and accurate. 

Getting sloppy with your test booklet can help you pick apart the test to get to the right answer. Once your messiness leads you to the correct answer, get very neat and tidy with the bubbles on your answer sheet. 

The Odd Couple isn't just a famous play, movie or television show. It is a way to ensure you maximize your score on just about any standardized test.

If you are preparing for the ACT, SAT, PSAT, SSAT or another standardized test, contact CROSSWALK and learn how we can help you achieve the score you desire

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Best Part of Tutoring: Success Stories!

Despite my almost two decades of teaching test prep, there is one thing that will never get old: hearing from students about their successes. 

Here is a recent e-mail that put a smile on my face (name is changed to protect the students): 

"I wanted to let you know that Sierra just received her test score from the September ACT and she did so well. She increased from a 28 to a 31. She is really happy and we wanted to thank both of you for your help."

Sierra spent some time with two of our tutors, but more importantly she put in the practice time. 

And here is a text that brings me joy (name is changed here, too): 

"Bianca got a 30 on the ACT! Thank you. She did better in the science part. The first thing she said after she left the test venue was that your strategies really helped, how you taught her to approach each question, etc." 

Bianca, too, put in the time. 

As much as I share in the student's success, the real story for both of these students is that they put in hours of practice and preparation. 

Test-taking is a skill. And like any skill, test-taking improves with consistent and quality practice.

Want to be a CROSSWALK success story? Contact us here to learn more. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Ideal Mindset for Test Day

With less than a week away from the next SAT, it is time to get your mindset prepared for the big day. 

My students and followers of this blog know that I wax poetic about a growth mindset. The opposite of a fixed mindset, a growth mindset is the thinking that you can learn new things with dedication, hard work and effort. With a growth mindset, an old dog can learn new tricks. 

The problem with a growth mindset is that it takes time. If you are taking the SAT on Saturday, you don't have the time to develop a growth mindset. 

Fret not as there is a mindset that is ideal for test day. Better yet, it takes very little time to establish. 

The mindset that is ideal for test day is the 3F mindset. The 3F mindset means fun, focused and free. It is the same kind of mindset you would use when you tackle a jigsaw puzzle, a board game or something like a sudoku. 

When facing these kind of puzzles, you have fun, you stay focused and you set yourself free within the challenge you undertake. 

So on test day, try to pretend that the SAT or ACT is a fun challenge. Each test question is a crossword puzzle, Rubik's Cube or other logic challenge. 

Setting your mind to fun, focused and free will allow your critical thinking skills to perform at the optimum level

On the other hand, if you approach test day with a bunch of anxiety, you will not be able to use your best problem-solving skills. 

Put differently, the ideal mindset for test day is a healthy attitude. Your attitude can thus create the optimum aptitude. Sure, test day may not be the most fun thing to do, but as a major step in your college application process, you may as well approach it with a free, fun and focused attitude. 

Zig Ziglar once said that your attitude determines your altitude. I would add that your attitude can determine your aptitude. 

For more test day tips, contact CROSSWALK. Private tutoring, test prep, SAT and ACT Boot Camps is what CROSSWALK does best. Contact us today to learn more. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Upcoming Boot Camp (PSAT, ACT, SAT)

Exciting news: I will be hosting a Test Prep Boot Camp on the campus of the York School on October 9th from 9am-3pm. 

While this
Boot Camp is offered to York students, the event represents a great crash course in how to get ready for the PSAT with some SAT and ACT testing topics covered. 

So if you have a small group of students that could use a PSAT, SAT or ACT prep course, consider a CROSSWALK Test Prep Boot Camp for your students. I have conducted similar workshops for years and would be happy to work with you to set one up for your school, team, club or circle of friends.

One-day Boot Camps are a great introduction to test content and strategies. Most students will need more practice than what we do in a Boot Camp so we conclude each Boot Camp by preparing individualized study plans for each student. 

Feel free to contact me about setting a Boot Camp. 

CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's test prep and academic tutoring go-to resource. Learn more by visiting

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Buyer Beware: Khan Academy and SAT Prep

That the College Board partnered with the Khan Academy to offer free SAT resources is a glorious arrangement. 

Long the subject of criticism that SAT prep resources were exclusively available to higher income families, the College Board made a strategic move with the relaunch of the new SAT in early 2016 to make many online resources free of charge via Khan Academy. 

This partnership was intended to even the playing field a bit since reports showed that the SAT favored higher income and more educated families

Now, it seems, that consumers are getting what they paid for. 

Thanks to one of CROSSWALK's top tutors, Dan Marks, it has come to our attention that the SAT resources on Khan Academy contain many errors. Dan has uncovered some wonkiness in both reading and math sections on the Khan materials and his findings are echoed by other tutors via online chat threads and discussion forums. There is even some debate as to who is really writing these questions. 

Personally, I stick to the official study guide book with my students. Purchasing the College Board's Official Study Guide to the SAT continues to be, in my opinion, the best bang for your buck. $25 for accurate questions, loads of study resources and full-length practice tests is an economical and worthwhile investment. 

So sad that the mantra, "you get what you pay for" turns out to be true for Khan Academy and SAT prep. I hope that both the College Board and Khan Academy take a deep dive into the online forums, comments and feedback in order to make their resources as useful as the guidebook. 

If you find yourself in need of support for the SAT, ACT, PSAT, SSAT or academic subjects, contact CROSSWALK today. We offer private Skype and face-to-face tutoring as well as group classes and other resources to help you succeed in the classroom and on test day. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hiring a Tutor is Fruitless Unless...

Another true confession of an SAT/ACT tutor: hiring a tutor for test prep does not automatically guarantee a score increase

Hiring a tutor is fruitless unless...

  •  ...a student has time to boost a test score. There are no quick fixes. Test prep takes time. 
  • ...a student is stress-free. Anxiety and stress do not foster learning so an over-scheduled and overstressed student will not see any point increase. 
  • ...a student is motivated to put in the work. Tutoring sessions are only productive if the student puts in the practice time between sessions. No practice, no improvement. 
This last point may be the most important. Students need to care about improvement. The best tutors can teach test content and strategies until they are blue in the face, but if the student does not care, there is no point to the sessions. 

If you are considering hiring a private tutor for SAT or ACT prep, ask yourself: Do you have time? Are you stress-free? Are you motivated? 

If you answer "no" to any of those questions, perhaps you can avoid spending money on tutoring sessions that might not be productive. Instead, try the do-it-yourself approach or figure out ways to find time, reduce stress and increase motivation. 

If you answered "yes" to the questions above and need a tutor, contact CROSSWALK today. CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for ACT prep, SAT prep and academic tutoring. We offer face-to-face tutoring as well as Skype tutoring. Learn more here

    Wednesday, July 27, 2016

    True Confessions of an SAT/ACT Tutor: No Quick Fixes

    As August approaches, my phone starts to ring a bit more. Parents look at the calendar and realize that only weeks remain until their high school senior takes the SAT or ACT for the last time. So they call me in hopes of finding a good tutor for a quick fix, last-minute push to boost a test score. 

    "There is not much time to make a difference," I always respond. "I can walk through some things but truth be told, the quick fix is rare and not much will happen in a month." 

    While I am always happy to meet with any student facing the SAT and ACT, I must confess that scores rarely increase very much if I only have a few weeks to work with the student. 

    There are exceptions to this, but in general, test improvement takes time. My students and followers of this blog now that time on task is the key to boosting a score

    Test-taking is like any skill: the first time you try it, you are not very good. But when you dedicate quality practice over time, you get better

    So here is the confession: not much will change in a test score if the tutor only has a couple of weeks or months to make a difference. 

    This means that students should plan ahead. Start your test prep with at least three months lead time. Six months is better and a 12-18 months is really where we see students make the biggest leaps. 

    I always confess to a family that short and sweet does not yield much yet this rarely dissuades them from wanting a quick fix. 

    The quick fix is rare so be sure you plan for the long term

    For more test prep advice, contact CROSSWALK. We offer private tutors and group classes for SAT and ACT prep as well as academic tutoring for all subjects. Learn more at our website,

    Monday, July 11, 2016

    850+ Reasons to NOT Stress About ACT & SAT

    My students know my mantra, "stress is the enemy of test performance." In a given class, I might repeat this phrase five or ten times.

    Science proves that an unstressed brain learns more efficiently than a stressed brain. Science also proves that stress fosters anxiety which leads to poor test performance

    While a little stress can keep students focused and on task, too much stress will push test scores down. The SAT and the ACT are not content-driven tests that reward cramming and all-night study sessions. 

    As such, the recommended approach to SAT and ACT prep is to avoid stress. If you remove stress from the process, you can practice problem sets with your best problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. 

    But if you are not convinced with my one reason to avoid stress, here are 850 additional reasons to avoid stress. 

    This link will take you to a list of over 850 school that do not use ACT or SAT scores to admit a substantial number of students. The list is produced by FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. 

    In other words, there are over 850 schools that will ignore your test scores and instead focus on your GPA, your letters of recommendation, your essays and the many other elements in your application package to consider your admission. 

    More importantly, there are many excellent schools on this list. Perhaps some schools are unfamiliar to you but all of these schools offer tremendous educational opportunities. Chances are, there is a school on this list that can offer exactly what you are seeking in a college experience.

    So avoid stress in your ACT and SAT preparation. Find the motivation to keep working at it if you want your score to improve, but don't forget that are many schools that will consider the other elements your bring to the table before considering your test score. 

    For more stress-free test preparation, contact CROSSWALK. The Monterey Peninsula's local resource for SAT/ACT/PSAT/SSAT prep, CROSSWALK offers face-to-face tutoring and Skype tutoring for standardized tests and academic subjects. 

    Thursday, June 23, 2016

    Who is Navigating Your College Admission Journey?

    Every journey needs a navigator. If your college admission process does not have a navigator yet, consider Marisela Gomez of Collegewise.

    Marisela and I partnered on a presentation earlier in the year at the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel with great success. I was able to bring some test prep tips to the audience while she laid out some excellent college application and admission advice.

    Marisela represents Collegewise, "America's largest and most well-regarded private college counseling service" according to their marketing materials. While Collegewise offers outstanding services for those seeking college admission, the real gem is Marisela.

    Marisela Gomez is the Director of the South Bay Collegewise office. Prior to joining Collegewise, Marisela spent 12 years as an admissions officer and enrollment manager at her alma mater, Santa Clara University. Marisela has read over 20,000 applications, is fluent in English and Spanish and holds a master’s degree in educational administration from Santa Clara University.

    Most importantly, she is passionate about helping kids get into the college(s) of their choice. She has a unique ability to work with both parents and students through the college application process. A diligent counselor, Marisela serves as a knowledgeable navigator through the journey to college admission.

    If your journey needs a navigator, contact Marisela by email at or call her at 831.578.1409.

    And along the way, if you need test prep advice, contact CROSSWALK. The Monterey Peninsula's local resource for academic tutoring and test prep for the past 14 years, CROSSWALK offers face-to-face tutoring, Skype tutoring and group classes for SAT, ACT, PSAT, SSAT and all academic classes. Learn more at

    Monday, June 13, 2016

    All Aboard Summer Test Prep Train

    The summer ACT and SAT (and PSAT) test prep train is about to depart on Tuesday, June 21. Spots are filling up, so act now if you want to sign up. 

    Per last blog post, the summer schedule is posted here

    If you are not sure why to attend this summer summer ACT and SAT prep program with CROSSWALK, here are just some of the reasons to sign up: 

    • No wasted classes: choose the most interesting ones for you and pay by the class.
    • Save money when you pay for the entire program. 
    • Evening classes should allow students to work or study during the day.
    • Both ACT and SAT (and PSAT too!) are covered. It's like two prep courses in one! 
    • With over 10+ years teaching test prep, I will make sure students walk out more confident, comfortable and prepared to take on test day. 
    There are a few spots available so act now as the train is filling up. All classes take place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. 

    Contact CROSSWALK right here to learn more. CROSSWALK is the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for SAT prep, ACT prep, academic tutoring and learning support.

    Wednesday, May 25, 2016

    Summer ACT & SAT Prep Tailored to Your Needs

    The countdown is on: only a few more weeks of the school year then, SUMMER BREAK!

    With summer break comes sun, fun and...test prep

    That is right. If you are a rising junior or senior, it is time to get started or ramp up your SAT and ACT prep

    Fret not because CROSSWALK has a great summer test prep plan available to both Monterey Peninsula locals and anyone with the ability to Skype. All sessions are conducted by Brooke Higgins, Founder and Lead Test Prep Instructor for CROSSWALK

    The best part of this summer plan is that you pick and choose the classes that work for you. Or save some money and sign up for the whole program. Whatever works for you this summer.

    Here is an overview of the summer sessions: 

    SAT vs ACT: Compare, Contrast and Diagnose
    SAT and ACT: Play the Numbers Game
    SAT and ACT: Tackle Math Problems
    SAT and ACT: Read for Details
    SAT and ACT: Spot English Errors
    SAT and ACT: Interpret Science Data and Passages
    SAT and ACT: Maximize Your Essay Score
    SAT and ACT: Create a Study Plan for More Success

    Not too stressful, right? 

    Interested? Contact CROSSWALK to learn more. Remember: you can pay by the class or do all of them, whatever works for your budget and schedule. Sessions take place at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach or via Skype. 

    Alternatively, if you need private tutoring, CROSSWALK can also offer face-to-face tutors or tutoring via Skype. Contact us today to reserve your spot. 

    Summer is upon us so get planning for your test prep today! 

    CROSSWALK has been the Monterey Peninsula's local resource for test prep and tutoring for over ten years. Contact CROSSWALK today to learn more