Have a High Schooler? The Impact of Coronavirus on AP Exams and College Admissions

COVID-19 has thrown us all for a loop, and this is especially true for high schoolers. At a time when grades and test scores matter most, there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the air. Just recently, The College Board (they produce the Advanced Placement exams) and the International Baccalaureate Organization announced sweeping changes. Here’s the skinny on AP and IB exams: 

The International Baccalaureate program has canceled all exams this school year. Colleges say they’ll evaluate a student’s mastery of the material by reviewing their quarterly grades since they won’t have a final exam. It’s hard to know exactly how this will work, and each college will likely have its own process.


AP exams will go forward, but they’ll be very different than in years past. Here’s what students can expect:

  • All tests will be online and taken from home. My first thought was about test security, but The College Board states that “exam questions are designed and administered in ways that prevent cheating” and that they use various security tools “including plagiarism detection software.”
  • There will be a choice of two dates for each test (one relatively soon for students who want to study and be done with it, and one later on, perhaps in June, for those who want more time to prepare).
  • On the date and time of the test, a link will be sent to each student to access the 45-minute exam.
  • Test questions are free response, not multiple choice. The College Board is the process of writing exam questions that will be based on material from earlier on in the year. Students should expect to see material that they’ve already covered in class.
  • Colleges will review grades and test scores just like they’ve done in the past when deciding to give college credit for AP courses.
  • You can learn more here


As you can see, there are big changes for AP and IB testing this year. Here’s the good news: They’re not all bad. My personal opinion is that this is actually a huge advantage to students who are willing to put in the time to study. 

High schoolers aren’t being tugged in so many different directions by volumes of homework, after-school sports, part-time jobs, and other extracurriculars right now. If they’re motivated to study correctly (not just re-reading the material, which is never an effective study method), they could see a big payoff for their efforts.

High AP exam scores not only allow students to earn college credit, thereby saving money on tuition, but they’re also a huge advantage on college applications. At a time when many schools are going ‘test-optional,’ meaning they don’t require the SAT and ACT, they’re scrutinizing AP scores more than ever before as another data point.

What does all this mean for your child? Most importantly, there’s no reason to panic. These changes don’t have to be viewed as a bad thing. Instead, use these announcements as a reminder to start studying now—and correctly. 

Not sure where to begin? Check out our recent blog on effective study strategies for some ideas. Or schedule a consult with us to learn more about our online tutoring services. Our tutors will remain up-to-date on these changes and can help your child prepare accordingly.

Click the video below to see my latest appearance on NBC Washington where I spoke about the impact of Coronavirus on high school seniors!

Virginia Schools Out for the Year and Assignments Are ‘Optional and Ungraded’

If you live in Virginia, you may have been as shocked as I was yesterday when Governor Northam announced that schools throughout the state will be closed for the year. Yep, not 30 days or 60, but the rest of the school year.

And if your kids attend Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) or another district where students’ work is ‘optional and ungraded’, this is especially difficult. When kids know that homework isn’t required or graded, they’re far less likely to do it.  

Here’s how the discussion goes in many households:

Mom: “Johnny, you really need to be doing some homework.”

Johnny: “Why? It’s ‘optional and ungraded’ and no one else is.”

Mom: “You need to keep learning. Your brain will go to mush if you don’t do something.”

Johnny: “My teacher says it doesn’t even count, so I don’t see the point.”

As a parent, it’s hard to have the right answers. We all want our kids to be learning and progressing but give most kids an ‘out’ and they’ll take it.

This ‘optional and ungraded’ policy is pitting parents against kids. The situation of being cooped up at home is bad enough, but having to convince your child to step away from Netflix or Fortnite to continue learning is making it even worse. No parent wants to be the ‘homeschool police’.

So I’ve created a special e-book, Homeschooling During COVID-19: 7 Stress-free Ways to Keep Your Child On Track, to lessen the load. And I’m giving it away for free. 

Simply click on the linked title above to download. I hope you find it to be helpful.

If you check out that guide and still want some extra assistance, please know we’re here for you. Each family’s needs are unique right now, so we’re offering free consults to help you create a custom plan for your child—whether they need daily instruction or an accountability check-in a few times a week. 

Just schedule a free consult or learn more here.

These times truly are unprecedented, but we’re in this together. Download that free e-book. Schedule that free consult. Shoot us an email if you need to. We’re here for you!

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How to keep kids motivated 😩

Are your kids struggling to stay motivated and focused? Or are they simply driving you up a wall?

There’s a good reason for that—we’re in the middle of what I call “the winter slump.” Winter Break already feels like a distant memory, but Spring Break still feels impossibly far away. For kids, parents, and teachers alike, these weeks can drag on and on. 

Last week, I sat down with our head tutor, Jan Rowe, to learn her best tips for keeping students motivated in these colder months. Watch the video below to hear her ideas, or scroll on down for my recap!

#1: Be positive and focus on your child’s accomplishments.

If the mountain of work in front of your child feels too overwhelming, encourage them to look back instead. When they can celebrate how far they’ve come, it can make it easier to tackle the next assignment in front of them.

Jan shared about a recent student who struggled to get started with a research paper. To kick start her writing process, Jan encouraged the student to focus on what came easily to her the last time she’d written a paper. Then, she started with those easy wins that fit her natural strengths. Those little victories gave the student a sense of accomplishment that powered her through the harder work, too.


#2: Get up and move!

Cold winter weather can make it difficult to get outside and stay active. As a result, kids can get cabin fever. The restlessness then makes it harder for them to focus. When this happens, look for ways to encourage your child to get up and move while they study!

If you’re quizzing your child on spelling words, let them move around the room, wiggle, and stretch as they spell each word. If your child is studying for a test, put post-it notes on the wall, and let them move the notes around as they ask and answer questions. (Added Bonus: This allows them to see and make connections to the material in a new way, too!)


#3: Switch it up.

If one subject or assignment has your child moaning and complaining, don’t feel the need to force the issue. Sometimes, a simple switch in focus is all it takes to get them back on track.

Encourage your child to transition to a new assignment, ideally one where they feel more confident. This can give them the boost they need to return to the more challenging topic later—with renewed confidence!


Bonus Tip: Bring in outside help!

If these tips still aren’t enough to pull your child out of their winter slump, don’t fear! Our tutors are here to help. 

Whether your child can’t seem to get their footing in one particular class or is unorganized and falling behind in this long stretch between breaks, working with a private tutor can make all the difference. 

Click below to schedule a free consultation and get your child matched with their ideal tutor today!

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3 Habits of Highly Effective Students 🌟

After 21 years of working with students, I’ve discovered that the most effective ones don’t usually obsess over big, long-term goals like the ones many of us set at the start of a new year. Instead, they focus on the simple daily habits they know will generate the results they want.

Daily habits are much easier to stick to than abstract goals—and they’re more likely to get you to that big finish line anyway! Here are 3 habits of highly effective students that your child can begin to practice any day of the year.


Habit #1: Effective Students Study Strategically

While most students resort to reading over class notes when it’s time to study, successful students take a more strategic approach. More specifically, they move beyond information review to information retrieval. This means taking the time and focused effort required to recall information without looking at the answer on the study guide. 

Students can practice information retrieval by creating and taking practice tests, working slowly through a stack of flashcards (without rushing to flip them over!), or writing out short essays about the concepts being studied. This strategic study approach improves a student’s ability to both understand the materials now and recall them on test day—a win-win!


Habit #2: Effective Students Plan Ahead

The most effective students practice short-term and long-term planning. Short-term planning means creating a to-do list each day. Successful students think ahead about the blocks of time in their day and plan when they’ll tackle each item on their list.

Long-term planning means using a planner or app to track upcoming due dates and tests. This helps students avoid late-night cram sessions (which studies show aren’t that effective anyway). Instead, effective students learn to set aside time each day leading up to big due dates or tests to make progress without stressing themselves out.


Habit #3: Effective Students Limit Distractions

For generations, kids have had a knack for getting distracted during homework time. But there’s no denying that today’s students have an unprecedented number of distractions clamoring for their attention.

Effective students know how to silence some of that noise by heading to the library, downloading a focus app, or setting timers for shorter blocks of focused study time. The methods vary by student, but the important part is having a plan in place to limit distractions and focus fully on the work in front of them.


Bonus Tip: Effective Students Know When to Seek Help!

Ok, this one isn’t so much a habit as a mindset, but it’s true. Effective students and their parents aren’t afraid to seek help when disorganized systems are holding them back.

Maybe you read through these habits and thought, “Ok, Ann, that’s all well and good, but I can’t make my child do any of this.” And I get that! I had the same struggle when my own kids were in school… until I invited a tutor into our home to help them out.

That’s why we offer executive function coaches who can come to your home and work one-on-one with your child. These coaches know how to diffuse the tension of the homework battle and guide kids to systems that will work for them—including these three habits of highly effective students.

Click below to schedule a free consultation and learn more about guiding your own child to effective systems (without all the pushback).

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Our 3 most popular posts of 2019 👏

Do you ever look around at other parents and think, “Why does everyone else seem to have it all together? Am I the only one figuring this out as I go?”

The truth is every parent is making educated guesses on what’s best for their child, and every parent second guesses themselves from time to time! And, as parents, where do we turn for answers? The internet!

Over the past year, some of the posts on our website have attracted tens of thousands of readers like you. Today, I want to share with you our three most popular posts from 2019 so you can see what questions your fellow parents are asking—and get the advice we’ve shared with them!

Check out the posts below, then forward this email to a fellow parent as a reminder that we’re all in this together… and no one has it all figured out!


#1: How to Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide for Parents


No parent wants to see a bad grade on their child’s report card. If it does happen to your child, it can be really hard to know how to respond. Perhaps that’s why this post has been our most-read post of the year with over 31,000 views.

Check it out for helpful tips concerning…  

  • What to do if your child comes home with bad grades (and how to talk to them about it)
  • Whether to punish your child for bad grades or reward them for good grades
  • How to investigate why your child got the grade and what to do about it moving forward

With report cards coming up after the break, this is a great piece to read now or bookmark for later. Here’s to hoping you won’t ever need it… but being prepared just in case!


#2: This $5 Tool Makes Homework Much Easier


So what’s the simple tool our tutors love? Whiteboards! 

They’re not flashy or tech-savvy, but they still work wonders with elementary, middle, and high schoolers. Read on to learn what you need to know to make this whiteboard trick work in your household.

Read our post to discover…

  • Why planning for an entire month isn’t realistic, but planning for one day at a time is too short-sighted
  • The best way to avoid stress later in the week
  • The truth about kids being disorganized or falling behind

Schedule a call with us if your child could use a little extra help.


#3: What’s your child’s homework personality?


How is the school year going for you and your family so far? It’s around this time of year that assignments can pile up, calendars can fill up, and stress can build for the entire family. Add a child’s disorganization or poor time management to the mix, and things quickly go from bad to worse.

Read our post to learn about...

  • Focus Apps for Tick Tock Tommy
  • Planning Ahead with Last Minute Lucy
  • Weekly Check-ins with Hot Headed Harry
  • Clean Sweeps with Backpack Bonnie

If your child resists your efforts to help, know you’re not alone. I’ve been there! And that’s why I’ve created a special Executive Function Coaching program to connect your child with an expert tutor who can coach her to find and implement systems that will work for her… without any work on your part!

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Why studying math is so hard? 😫

If you’ve been around Educational Connections for a while, you’ve probably heard me talk about my first encounter with tutoring—and it wasn’t as a tutor. I was a student. It was the summer between fourth and fifth grade, and I simply could not figure out long division.

All the steps confused and frustrated me, and I never could seem to get it right. That summer, my mom got me my first tutor. I biked to her house every week until I finally mastered long division and regained my self-confidence.

I bring up that story today to say this: Math concepts are hard to study. I experienced it myself as a student, and we hear it from kids and parents every day. 

The biggest challenge is that math is incredibly hands-on. You can’t just throw some definitions on an index card or quiz your child aloud on the ride to school. Fortunately, our head tutor Jan Rowe has a technique that can help.

Watch this short video to see how you can turn the math homework your child is already doing into a helpful study tool that can be used again and again before their next big math test:

Don’t you just love how simple that is? Here’s all you need to do to use this strategy with your child. (It works for all ages!)


1. Grab some graph paper.

This isn’t required, but many students find it easier to keep track of numbers when using graph paper to line them up properly.


2. Write the steps on the right side of the sheet.

Using your child’s textbook or notes from class, help them write out the steps on the right side of the sheet, so they can easily follow them as they work through their homework problem.


3. Work the problem on the left side of the page.

Help your child write the homework problem on the left side of the page, beside the steps they need to follow. This allows them to stay focused and on-track, especially when working through a lot of steps.


4. Keep the homework sheet handy for easy access later.

Now that you have a sample problem and the steps to solve it on one easy-to-read piece of paper, don’t throw it away! Store any practice sheets you create in one convenient place, so your child can use them to review steps and work through more sample problems leading up to their next big test.

It’s that simple! This strategy isn’t complicated, time-consuming, or expensive to try, and it makes studying math much easier and more effective. Try it out with your child this week, then hit reply to let me know how it went!


Studying math is hard. We can help!

If your child needs a bit of extra support to conquer confusing math concepts, please don’t feel like you have to relearn it all yourself just to help out. (Math has changed so much since we were kids, hasn’t it?) 

Instead, click below to request a tutor, and we’ll send someone to your home to help your child one-on-one. It’s the easiest way to give your child the skills and, more importantly, the confidence they need to conquer math, school, and any other challenges life throws their way!

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Has your child tried this simple (but effective) study strategy? 📖

Does your child beg for your help with their homework? Or do they resent your attempts to lend a hand? Either way, it can be difficult to encourage independence while still giving your child the support they need to succeed in the classroom.

That’s why I love the simple study strategy our head tutor will share with you in today’s short video. It can be used as a tool for independent study or in a group, with a tutor, or one-on-one with you. And it only takes a few minutes to set up!

As Jan Rowe explains in this video, all you need for this simple homework tool is a pack of Post-It notes and three poster boards labeled To Learn, To Review, and Got It! 


To Learn

Help your child prepare to study by putting questions on the front of each Post-It note with the correct answer on the back. Refer to their study guide, past homework assignments, class notes, or the textbook to compile everything they need to know for the test.


To Review

Once the Post-Its are on the To Learn poster, a friend, parent, sibling, or tutor can easily quiz them—or, since the answer is on the back, they can quiz themselves! Whenever they get a question right (without peeking!), the Post-It can be moved to the To Review poster board.


Got It!

Once Post-Its are on the To Review board, encourage your child to take a break to work on another subject or eat dinner. When they come back, they can review the Post-Its on the To Review board and, as they get them correct, move them to the Got It! Board.

Watching the information move from To Learn to To Review to Got It! will help your child study for their next test and build their confidence as they see all the content they’ve already mastered.


Need More Study Strategies?

If your child continues to struggle with confidence or performance in a particular subject, don’t let them struggle alone—or try to shoulder the burden of helping them on your own. Let us match your child with their ideal tutor who can come to your home and share more strategies like this one. They’ll make homework time fun and help your child build the confidence and independence they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond!

6 Proven Strategies for Better Grades

If your child is resolved to perform their best in school this year—or to at least tackle first semester finals with confidence—I’m sharing six study habits today that will help. Each of these learning strategies from The Learning Scientists is backed by decades of cognitive research and is proven to help students study effectively, retain what they learn, and perform their best. In other words, they’ll help your child work smarter instead of harder!

(Full Disclosure: Sometimes kids push back when their parents suggest strategies like these—and that’s normal! You can avoid those homework battles and set your child up for success in 2020 by getting a tutor for some extra support. Just click here to schedule your free consult.)


#1: Space out studying over time.

If your child has ever stayed up late cramming for a test, you already know how stressful that can be. As it turns out, it’s not very effective either. Students perform best when they spread out their studying over time, so encourage your child to study for a small window of time each day leading up to exams. Spacing out their studying will make homework feel less intimidating and help with recall on test day—it’s a win-win!


#2: Practice retrieving information.

When told to study for a test, most students default to simply reading over class notes. But for best results, students should practice bringing information to mind on their own. Encourage your child to try writing or sketching everything they remember on a particular subject before checking class notes for accuracy and missed points. Simple tools like flashcards and practice tests (they can even create their own!) also help with information retrieval.


#3: Elaborate on big ideas with many details.

The best way to wrap your mind around a big idea is to elaborate on it with smaller details and make connections to other ideas. As your child studies a new topic, engage them in conversation about how things work and why. Encourage them to ask questions and seek out answers or to create a list comparing and contrasting two different ideas. Diving into those little details can really make the big picture come into focus.


#4: Switch between ideas while studying.

When you’re building muscles in the gym, you don’t pick one exercise (like push-ups) and do them over and over for your entire workout. Instead, you pick a variety of exercises and rotate between them. Effective studying works the same way. Instead of picking one idea or topic to study for an entire session, allow your child to pick a few and rotate. By switching between ideas while they study, your child can strengthen their mental muscles, make connections between topics, and increase their mastery of all the materials.


#5: Use concrete examples to understand abstract ideas.

When a topic feels confusing or abstract, the best way to increase understanding and commit it to memory is to explore concrete examples. Kids can compile examples their teacher gave in class, find them in their textbook, or try to come up with more on their own or with friends. As students list examples, they should also practice explaining why each example works so they can better understand the big idea behind it.


#6: Combine words and visuals.

Students of all ages learn best when they can combine words with visuals. When students come across visuals in their class materials, they should stop and use words to describe them. On the other hand, when they have a chunk of text, they should stop and create a visual—like an infographic, diagram, or even a cartoon strip—to illustrate the ideas. This practice of putting words and images together will help your child grasp the material now and recall it later.

Each of these strategies can help your child study and succeed in any subject, but we also know that students will simply find some subjects harder than others. If a particular class has you and your child banging your heads against the wall, please remember you’re not in this alone! 

Just click below to schedule a consult, and we’ll connect you with an in-home tutor who’s an expert in that subject area.

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Kids Out of School? Here’s our 6 Hour Solution

There is a lot of uncertainty as we enter the next phase of COVID-19. The disruption to our daily lives is hard to overstate. Our kids will be feeling the stress of that uncertainty for sure—even if they don’t show it.  

Having a routine is essential to success. Routine gives us structure and a sense of accomplishment. Keeping our kids in a routine will help with their stress level, keep their brains in ‘work’ mode vs. ‘summer vacation’ mode, and help parents not turn into babysitters!  

We have some solid recommendations to help you. 

  • Have regular times for waking up, eating lunch, and having dinner.
  • Create a routine for ‘study time’ (preferably the same time each day for a set amount of time). This can include reading for pleasure.
  • Review your child’s assignment portal. Create a list of work that can be done. It’s likely that schools will push out assignments soon.


Looking for structure without being the task master? We have a six-hour solution designed to cover you for the next four weeks. Here’s how it works:

  • Within 24 hours, your student is matched with one of our expert instructors for interactive, online support.
  • The six hours can be used at your discretion. For example, middle and high school students might use hour-long sessions, whereas an elementary child might be best dividing the time over 45-minute sessions.
  • During that time, we’ll provide structure and predictability, whether your student has assignments from school or little to do. 
  • This may be in the form of review/preview for math, reading comprehension and writing for English, or creating a calendar and to-do list to hone those executive functions. 

Our team can help students design an effective roadmap for how to keep their skills fresh. Contact us to learn more about our Six-Hour Solution. 

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Do Juniors Still Need to Take the SAT/ACT as Many Schools Become “Test-Optional”?

For decades, the college application process has begun with high school juniors taking college admissions tests. But with many colleges and universities becoming “test-optional” (meaning that they do not require SAT or ACT scores to be submitted with an application), many students with test anxiety are beginning to wonder if testing at all is really necessary.

While the “test-optional” movement is worth understanding as you apply for college, most students find that taking either the SAT or ACT is still a good idea. Read on to learn why.


Understanding Test-Optional Policies

As mentioned, colleges with test-optional programs still accept SAT/ACT scores but no longer require applicants to submit them. Instead, students are evaluated for admission based on their grades and other factors like letters of recommendation, essays, and extracurricular activities. Some schools even accept creative portfolios, video profiles, business plans, or scientific research projects as alternate evidence of a student’s potential. 

This trend is fairly new but gaining momentum. In fact, over 1,000 schools have some type of test-optional admission policy now. At first glance, this sounds fantastic, at least to kids that may not be great test-takers, but there are caveats.

For example, at George Mason University, you need to have a GPA above 3.5 for test-optional consideration, and not every department is included. The Computer Science and Engineering programs still require test scores. Home-school applicants and those applying as Division I athletes are also required to submit scores. These caveats vary by school, so it’s important for applicants to fully understand each school’s requirements before applying without test scores.


Why Testing Is Still a Good Idea

Even with a growing number of schools offering some sort of test-optional consideration, most schools are still not test-optional. Considering that students apply to between 5 and 8 schools, it’s highly unlikely that all the schools on a student’s list will be test-optional. For that reason, it’s still a good idea to take the SAT or ACT before applying to schools. 

It’s also important to remember that just because you take the test doesn’t mean you have to submit the scores to a test-optional school. If you have a strong application that can stand out from the masses without a test score—and you believe your test score will detract from rather than add to that application—you can always choose to submit an application without your scores to a test-optional school.