2020 was hard. It presented challenges for every person. But, it’s difficult to wrap our heads around the obstacles students faced. Schools completely closed, some re-opened, others were virtual, and many operated in a hybrid environment. Many changed their learning platform multiple times.
Nearly all of the activities that kids expect to participate in were heavily modified or postponed altogether. It will likely be years before we truly understand the impact the pandemic had on learning.
Despite all of the problems, students and teachers pushed forward. Now, as the world re-opens, many kids are preparing for their final year of high school or gearing up for the first semester of their freshman year in the fall.
Schools are returning to “normal” class schedules and activities, but COVID has left a permanent mark on the college experience.
Colleges and universities are waving standardized test requirements, which have been a staple of the admissions process for decades.
Last year, when many colleges moved to online learning, a significant number of students decided to take a gap year. Now, many of them are planning to enroll, creating a more competitive environment.
Preparation for college is as important as it has ever been. More emphasis is placed on essay writing. And mock testing is still a major part of getting ready for college, especially if a child can score well on exams.
There’s a lot to think about for your child’s college future. We’re here to walk you through some of the most important things to keep in mind.
Mapping Out the Road to College
Simply preparing for college is a lot of work. You have application deadlines, scholarship requirements to meet, campus visits, and interviews.
On top of everything, you’re still working, and your kids most likely have many other activities outside of school (which is a good thing for the college application!).
Even if you have experience applying for college and scholarships, it can be challenging to help your child navigate college preparation.
Our team understands the college admissions process. We know what it takes to get your child’s application noticed. And we can help you walk through the journey by managing deadlines, keeping track of applications, and submitting information at the right time.
We can map out the college prep journey for you. That’s one less thing you and your child have to worry about.
Why Mock Test Prep is Still Important
Many schools have moved to test-optional applications, meaning they will not require a standardized test score on an application.
This trend began before the pandemic but is accelerated by many students’ difficult learning environment. Now, some of the top universities in the country are waving test requirements.
Many students are likely celebrating the fact that they don’t need to take these hours-long tests, but it’s not time to dismiss the mock exams just yet.
Despite the shift away from testing, your child will still find value in taking mock tests.
A mock test can determine whether they should take the SAT or ACT. Even if a school is test-optional, you should still submit good scores to enhance the application.
Mock tests can also be a simulation for college testing environments. Most high school kids do not sit through a timed test in the classroom. Putting them through a timed scenario will better equip them for test-taking at a higher level.
College Prep Is Not a Solo Journey
College applications are challenging during normal times and even more so after a school year like we just experienced. Many kids are re-thinking what they want out of a college experience.
The busyness of life prevents many kids and parents from sitting down and mapping out the college prep experience.
While there is some great info online (and some not-so-great information), using Google as a guide is not the most reliable method to plan for college.
Sending your child to school is an investment. It costs time, money, and energy for you and your child. By working together, we can take much of the stress from your plate while setting up your kids for success during their college experience.
What you do leading up to their first year can be a major determinant in their path as they go through school.
So reach out to us. Let’s talk about your child’s goals and needs. And if we can help take some of the burdens off your shoulders, we’ll be glad to work on your college road map.
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!
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.
If the SAT/ACT is on the horizon for you or your child, you may want to know about some recently announced changes to the ACT. Read on to learn about these three changes and how they could help students succeed in showcasing their full potential to colleges and universities.
#1: Online Testing Allows for Faster Turnaround in Scores
For decades, students have sat down to take the ACT with paper and pencil. While that traditional method will still be available, students will soon have the option to take the test online at test centers across the country. (All changes will go into effect September 2020.)
The online test will feature the same format, content, and timing of the pen-and-paper exam, but there’s still a considerable benefit to testing online. Instead of waiting weeks for their results, online testers will get their scores in as little as two days.
This faster turnaround time enables students to use their score immediately on college applications or, if they’re unhappy with the results, make a plan right away to study, retest, and succeed.
#2: Section Retesting Allows for Second Chances Without All the Stress
The ACT features four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science (plus an optional Writing section). While retesting has been available to students for quite some time, that retest has always required students to retake the entire exam. This is time-consuming and stressful. Students must continue studying for all four sections or risk pulling up one section’s score only to see another section’s drop on the retest.
According to the latest ACT announcement, however, students will soon be able to just retest the section or sections they’d like to improve. This gives students a second (or third) chance to put their best foot forward without the stress of studying for and retesting all four sections.
Not only will retesting save students time both in test prep and on actual test day, but it will also make the exam more coachable. Students who identify an area of difficulty will be able to seek out a tutor to help them focus their efforts and fine-tune their scores in one area until they succeed.
#3: An ACT Superscore Allows Students to Showcase Their Full Potential
Right now, the ACT’s composite score is calculated by averaging a student’s scores in each of the four sections. Each sitting of the test produces one composite score, so a student needs to perform their very best in every section all in one test day to achieve their best possible composite score.
Soon, however, the ACT will calculate a superscore—the average of a student’s four best section scores across all attempts, whether those attempts were full tests or section retests. This allows students to showcase their full potential and achieve a higher score to put on college applications.
Not all schools accept a superscore, but many do. And with the ACT now making the superscore a part of their official scoring process, we may see even more accept this “best result” score in the near future.
Does the ACT Now Make It Easier for Students to Succeed?
Many students will find these changes do, in fact, make it easier for them to succeed—especially if they’re willing to work hard to improve their scores in individual sections.
The ACT wants students to choose their test over their competition (the College Board’s SAT), so they’ve announced these changes to offer students a better experience and ensure them that the ACT will represent their best work.
That being said, these announcements are only one piece of a larger puzzle. Several key differences in concepts and approaches determine which test will better reflect a student’s strengths and potential.
Which Test is Best for Your Child, the SAT or ACT?
Because every school in the country accepts both the SAT and ACT, it’s important to know which test a student will score best on. About one-third of students score better on one test over another on baseline exams. For the other two-thirds, it’s personal preference. I’ve always found it’s a best practice to have students sit for both exams in a practice format (we offer these for free in the community as do other organizations) to determine their ideal fit. By choosing one test to prepare for instead of both, students can hone their efforts and save time, money, and a whole lot of stress.
I hope your school year is off to a great and stress-free start! But if the new routine has you or your child a little overwhelmed, the quick tips I’ll share with you today can help. I recently sat down with NBC to share these 4 secrets to a successful school year. Read on to hear my advice so you can beat the stress and enjoy a strong start to another year!
Stick to a routine.
Are you already begging or battling with your child to set aside their devices and get their homework done? If so, it may be time to settle into a daily routine.
When you establish a set time for homework every afternoon (and stick to it!), you can often eliminate the daily homework struggle altogether. Elementary school students usually focus best about 30 minutes after getting home. Older kids may prefer to start closer to or even after dinner.
Know your child’s homework personality.
Should your child do homework in their room? In the kitchen? At a desk? On the couch? Many parents are surprised to find there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It really depends on your child’s personality.
Does your child focus best when surrounded by the hum of activity? Then they may do their best work at the kitchen table while you’re preparing dinner. Is your child easily distracted from the work in front of them? Then they may need a quiet homework space in the dining room, home office, or their room—away from the TV and other distractions—for stress-free, successful studying sessions.
Focus less on figuring out the “right” place to do homework and, instead, work together to figure out what’s best for your child’s personality and routine.
Use tools that keep you organized.
No matter your child’s personality or executive function skills, organizational systems are critical for keeping papers and deadlines straight without adding to your own mental load as the parent.
Some of my favorite tools include…
A launching pad by the door where children can stash everything they’ll need for school the next day (from bookbags to sports equipment to musical instruments),
A whiteboard for writing down a weekly to-do list and tracking daily homework assignments, and
A hanging accordion folder behind a closet or bedroom door for filing papers neatly and out of the way.
Use “weird windows” in your child’s busy schedule.
Today’s students are busier than ever, so many have to get creative if they’re going to find time to study or get work done.
Teach your child to maximize their efficiency by using “weird windows” for homework. This means using those snippets of time that might be spent on Instagram or Snapchat (while waiting for the bus to take them to a lacrosse game, for example) to chip away at assignments or study for an upcoming exam.
Learning to make the most of weird windows not only helps students get work done around a busy schedule now, but also strengthens executive function skills that will set them up to excel into adulthood.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Wait to Seek Help
Adjusting to a new school year is hard for students and parents. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember your family doesn’t have to tackle the transition alone!
Whether your child needs subject tutoring to stay on track in a challenging class or executive function coaching to improve their organization and time management skills, we can help. We’ll match your child with their ideal tutor, then send that tutor to your home for private, convenient tutoring sessions.
Don’t wait for a lackluster report card or bad bout of anxiety to give us a call. Contact us today to give your child the gift of a smoother, more successful school year!
When I first started EC Tutoring 20 years ago, homework was normal, expected, and commonplace. Today, after years of pushback and debate, very few elementary schools assign much homework throughout the year.
Things have certainly changed. But is that change good?
On the plus side, parents are free to let their kids participate in extracurriculars or simply play outside without worrying about a late-night homework battle.
But without homework as a benchmark, it can be hard to know whether your child is up to speed academically. This can put more pressure on parents to figure out how to keep kids focused and motivated without being the bad guy.
That pressure can even carry over into the summer. In fact, it’s now common for parents to experience a new type of summer anxiety over questions like…
How can I help my child retain what they learned last year?
What should I be doing to help my child prepare for next year?
Does my child deserve a total break or should I keep them academically engaged? If so, how?
How much summer practice is enough? How much is too much?
If you’re feeling anxious over keeping your kid on track this summer, you are not alone.
This has become a common stressor for parents in the “post-homework” age. But you don’t have to carry the weight of your child’s academic progress on your shoulders alone.
We’re here to help!
Our summer tutors have years of experience in keeping elementary school kids academically engaged over the summer with special activities and games that make review and learning fun.
When your child is matched with a summer tutor, you can relax and enjoy your summer, knowing your child will enter next year confident and prepared.
Tutoring is a common and well-established intervention for middle and high school students. If done correctly:
They understand the material they’re studying better.
Their grades and test scores go up.
Their confidence improves.
But what about elementary school?
At this point in most kids development, they’re truly “learning how to learn” and building a foundation for the future.
The classes are less objective and demanding. And there’s far less homework, quizzes, and exams to go off of in order to evaluate their level of understanding.
So if your child is struggling in elementary school, how much would tutoring actually help?
There’s a study that came out of the U.S. Department of Education in the early 2000’s, which I refer back to often. In it, they compiled a number of meta-analyses (evaluations of the multiple pieces of scientific literature) on exactly this topic. Here are a few of the most relevant conclusions they came to (quoting directly from the paper):
A meta-analysis of 29 studies of supplemental, adult-instructed, one-to-one reading interventions for elementary school students at risk of reading failure was conducted and showed interventions that used trained volunteers or college students, were highly effective
An Oregon tutoring program that included two weekly 30-minute sessions, led to increases in words per minute read aloud from 45 to 61.5 by the end of second grade, and increases from 77 words to 91 words by the end of the third grade.
A British tutoring program involving 2,372 elementary and junior high students who were tutored by trained parents and peers for an average of 8.6 weeks improved their reading comprehension 4.4 times the normal rate and word recognition 3.3 times the normal rate. Four months after the end of tutoring, the average tutee was still improving at twice the normal rate in both comprehension and word recognition.
They also had some recommendations in terms of the structure of elementary tutoring programs in order to make them most effective. They should have:
Close coordination with the student’s teacher
Intensive and ongoing training for tutors
Well-structured tutoring sessions
Careful monitoring and reinforcement of progress
Frequent and regular tutoring sessions
More sessions per week result in greater gains
In short: yes, tutoring works exceptionally well for elementary school students, especially if they’re behind in reading. And considering that educational gaps tend to grow over time if left unaddressed, we consider it to be just as important as middle and high school tutoring.
Have a question about how this might apply to your elementary student?
Contact us here or leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you shortly!
If you’re like most parents in our area, the once-far-off idea of your son or daughter heading off to college starts to come into focus as soon as your child hits high school.
Not only are classes starting to get more “college-like,” they’re actually beginning to count for something. The march towards college applications has started, and you’re starting to assemble in the back of your mind the laundry list of requirements college will need to see.
Where do they want to attend?
What do they need to do in order to get in?
When should we start thinking about the SAT or ACT?
We get these questions all the time from our tutoring and test prep clients, so we figured we’d put together some information for you on probably the most stressful aspect of that process: the SAT and ACT.
Ann (our president and founder) sat down with our Test Prep Manager Nicole for a brief chat about what the SAT/ACT preparation roadmap looks like for 9th, 10th, and 11th graders to give you their advice on how to best approach it.
You can read our entire interview, or just skip to the appropriate section using the links below.
Nicole: Ann, what do you recommend a ninth grader do to get ready for the SAT or ACT?
Ann: I think 9th grade is early to start preparing, considering you have plenty of time. You don’t have to stress out too much but it’s also the year things start to count. I suggest taking the PSAT if their school offers it. Not all schools offer it to 9th graders. However, if it is offered, kids should absolutely take advantage of it, although it might feel too early. It’s important to get yourself on a track for success now and that begins with lots of practice!
10th Grade: The New Junior Year For Test Prep
Nicole: What about 10th graders? What should they do?
Ann: You know it’s interesting Nicole, we’ve seen great results when kids take tests early. Twenty years ago, when I first started Educational Connection in March 1998, students almost always took the test in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year. However, we’ve seen a huge shift in the last couple of years where kids are taking the tests sooner. For that reason, it’s important for kids to start with the PSAT if their school offers it in 10th grade.
Now, the PSAT is really valuable because nobody sees it. It doesn’t get sent to colleges; meaning there’s no disadvantage of taking it several times. Taking the PSAT allows parents and students to get a better understanding of how their child might score on the actual exam. Therefore, I believe taking advantage of the PSAT during the fall of the 10th grade year is helpful. I’ve also found that it’s beneficial for students that may want to take the test in their junior year to start the summer after their sophomore year.
For example, my son Will, started prepping for the PSAT during the summer, at the end of his sophomore year. In his case, prepping during the summertime was very helpful because he played a varsity sport in the fall semester and I knew that he wouldn’t have the time to prepare for the test while he was busy with sports. Therefore, Will began prepping in the summer and took the fall off. He then resumed prepping after his sport season was over.
Generally, taking the PSAT in 10th grade can be a valuable testing experience as it will tell you where you need to improve for junior year. It’s a good idea to consider summer prep before the start of junior year.
Nicole: Often, we’ve seen most students do most of their prep to take the SAT during their junior year. Today, that’s not the case. Students are taking standardized tests earlier. What would you recommend as a game plan for a junior?
Ann: Although kids are taking tests earlier, it is most common for students to take their first exam in the winter or spring of their junior year. Before, colleges wanted to see all the student’s scores, but today, that’s no longer the case. Students now have the option to choose the scores they want to send to colleges. For that reason, kids no longer feel so much pressure taking it early. Now if your child has, for example, a spring sport and wants to take it early in their junior year, they can certainly do that. However, we always recommend that before going out for the actual test, kids take a practice test. This is helpful since they are taking the practice test in an authentic test environment. Keep in mind that this practice test won’t ever be in the student’s record. Generally, taking practice tests has proven to be valuable because it is both diagnostic and predictive, as it tells you where you’re headed and what weaknesses you can turn into strengths to achieve your junior year goals.
11th Grade: It’s Crunch Time
Ann: Nicole, what should 11th graders know about the SAT or ACT?
Nicole: 11th grade is a crucial year since this is the time students register for and take their SAT/ACT tests. Most students are taking it for the first time in the winter or spring of their junior year. This will ensure more time to take the test more than once. Often, students reach their desired score prior to their senior year, after having it done two or three times.
What’s crucial to do early in the junior year is to figure out which test is best for the student. At this point, they’ve probably taken the PSAT several times. It’s also a good idea to have taken the practice ACT test during their junior year. Once the practice ACT and PSAT have been taken, we can then compare both scores and help you decide which test represents your natural strength.
Now, while it is common for students to take both tests, I have seen that taking a practice test early allows you to focus your time on the one test you’re performing better on. As you’ve previously mentioned, when taking practice tests, it is important to have a test-taking environment that is similar to the environment the student will have for their actual test. Having a proctor and other test-takers present during the practice test ensures stability. The other benefit is that students are not required to register. I believe this is a terrific way to familiarize yourself with the structure, content and process of the SAT/ACT. More importantly, I think the biggest benefit is that the score is shared with you. Kids often like this because they don’t have to worry about the score existing somewhere with the ACT or the college board. For most kids, the first time their scores are released, they often aren’t in line with what they’re expecting. This can be damaging to the student’s self-confidence if they consider it a real test.
Ann: That’s a great point Nicole. Thank you for sharing that. How many times do kids typically take the test?
Nicole: Usually two to three times. It’s nice to allow yourself room to take it three times if you need to. A common schedule that we’re seeing for a lot of kids is to take the first test in the late winter or early spring of junior year, the second test by the end of spring semester during junior year, and then finally, one in the early summer. Both the SAT and the ACT now offer summer options, as I believe it’s a great opportunity for student who need that third administration before the start of their senior year.
Ann: Let’s talk about senior year. It was very common for students to take it once during the spring semester of their junior year and then to take it again during the fall semester of their senior year. We have found that it’s no longer the case anymore. What are you seeing for kids in their senior year today?
Nicole: A lot of kids, if they start early, have the goal to get done before they’re a senior, which is fantastic. If you start early and you plan ahead, that’s a great option. That said, if you find that you still need to take it once more or that you’re not happy with your final results, you still have the fall of your senior year to do that.
It’s important to keep in mind that leading up to that test, you are studying and doing some type of prep. In this case, it would be ideal to begin during the summertime between 11th and 12th grade. Whether it’s self-study or working with a tutor, you want to make sure that you are not taking off all summer. When students leave the studying until fall time, they are more likely to see their scores drop.
Ann: I definitely understand that since they haven’t been immersed in learning and haven’t read and practiced math. Even if you’ve prepped for some time, it is not enough time to make up for, considering you are off of school.
We talked a little bit about practice tests and using them as a determinant for whether one should take the SAT or ACT, but what else can practice tests be used for?
Nicole: Practice tests are the single greatest thing you can do to help get ready for the test. With these tests, whether you go SAT or ACT, they’re a marathon. It’s not only important to know the content and the strategy, but you also need to be prepared to know how you sustain yourself throughout that long test.
When we look back and see the kids that have made the biggest improvements from their baseline score to what they actually score when they sit for their administration, we have noticed that it’s the kids that are coming to practice tests that score highly. Therefore, we encourage all of our kids to complete a practice test more than once. The more practice, the greater investment of your time.
Ann: For kids that have signed up with us and that are in a package, it’s free for them?
Nicole: Yes it is free!
Ann: For those in the community, they can come out and take a practice test anytime that we offer it as well. I highly recommend doing so as it is a super valuable tool! The content, the strategies, and the simulated practice tests are the number one way kids can boost their scores.
Well great Nicole, thank you. Is there anything else that you think might be helpful for parents to know when it comes to the timeline?
Nicole: Start early and plan ahead.
Ann: All right, thank you! Remember, start early and plan ahead!
Next Steps To Prepare for the SAT/ACT
Okay, hope that gave you a good picture of what the road ahead looks like for your child and their SAT or ACT preparation.
What’s next? Here are a few actions you can take depending on which grade your child is in currently.
If your child is in 9th grade:
Have them take the PSAT if it’s offered at your school. It’s a great opportunity to get introduced to the SAT format and establish a baseline score.
Register for a mock test if you’d like to get a head start on preparing. Although it’s not necessary at this stage, we have seen the earlier kids start, the more their scores improve over time.
If your child is in 10th grade:
Make sure to take the PSAT. This is the year for which the PSAT is most valuable. If they took it in 9th grade, it will be a great opportunity to get another score in (that doesn’t count, so the pressure is low) and see where they stand. That will then help inform you on what the best next steps are to prepare for taking the SAT for real.
Register for a mock test for both the SAT and ACT. If your child took the PSAT, this will be yet another opportunity to get practice and build their test-taking skills. We also recommend taking an ACT mock test as well, because some students perform better in that test format. We then offer free consultations to help you decide which test your child would be better off focusing on, and which areas you should direct their test preparation over the next year. Send us a message or feel free to call us at (703) 934-8282.
If your child is in 11th grade:
Decide whether you will focus on the SAT or ACT. Feel free to contact us or call and we can help you determine which one would be best based on your child’s practice ACT or PSAT/practice SAT scores. Also, still feel free to register for any of the free mock tests we offer on most Saturdays.
Register for your first SAT/ACT for winter or spring of their Junior year. Get a test scheduled on the books so that you have something to plan around. Taking it during this time period will also allow enough time to take the test again prior to college applications in case they need to work on their score further.
Make a test prep plan and commit to some form of practice. There are plenty of independent study options out there which are helpful once you know what your child needs to work on. We also offer Test Prep Packages that guarantee improved scores, and can help accelerate your child’s progress (especially if they’re late to start). Contact us here, or call (703) 934-8282 for more information.
And best of luck!
This can be a stressful time, but if you take the appropriate steps, your child can be prepared, confident, and ready to achieve a score that will help them put their best foot forward on college applications.
Most school nights play out as if they were cribbed right out of a family sitcom script.
Mom:“Hi Nick, did you get your math homework done after you got home from school like you said you would?”
Nick: *Looking up from his Xbox controller* “Oh it’s not that much, so it’ll only take me like 10 minutes later.”
Then, when “later” rolls around…
Mom:“Nick are you done yet? It’s getting close to bedtime!”
Nick:“I will, I will… Just five more minutes I promise!”
We all know where that conversation goes from here. And although it may be infuriating and all too common, one thing is exceedingly clear:
Instilling a strong sense of time management for teens is a huge challenge as a parent. So in this post we cover 10 of our best tips for tackling this problem, and helping your child get their schoolwork done on time.
Time Management For Teens: The Soft Internal Clock
When it comes to time management and planning ahead, there are two types of kids:
Type 1: Kids with a loud internal clock, who have a fabulous sense of time, and can self-monitor how long things are taking and make adjustments.
These are the kids where if their alarm clock goes off at 7am in the morning, they’re able to shower, eat breakfast, and get out the door to meet the bus at 8am without fail.
Type 2: Kids with a soft internal clock: who struggle to be on time, maintain deadlines, and plan ahead appropriately.
These kids are much less aware of passing time, and are usually the kid you have to poke, prod, and micro-manage to get the to make sure they’re out the door on time in the morning (and sometimes you even have to drive them because they’re late!).
This concept comes from my friend Ari Tuckman, a psychologist who works with adults with ADHD, and it almost perfectly describes the kids we see all the time. And without fail, it’s the kids with the soft internal clock the we need strong routines and strategies to help manage their time more effectively.
Tip #1: Wear a watch
Research shows that when kids wear an analog watch (not a digital watch) it helps them better understand elapsed time.
Tip #2: Make sure there are analog clocks in the house
Additionally, when there are analog clocks in the area where they’re working, that’s helpful as well. So if they do their work in your home office, or the dining room, or kitchen, make sure there’s an analog clock there easily visible to them.
Tip #3: Work on each class every day, no matter what
Now many of our middle and high school students these days are on block scheduling.
For some kids this is great! For others, especially those who struggle with time management, it’s much more difficult for them to plan ahead and avoid doing their homework at the last minute for a class they have every other day.
For example: let’s say your child’s math teacher routinely assigns homework on Monday that is then due Wednesday. If you have a soft clock kid, chances are they won’t even start this homework until 10pm on Tuesday night!
Instead, encourage your child just to get started the night it’s assigned. This could be as simple as pulling it out, putting their name on it, and starting work on the first problem or two. That way, the wheels have started turning, maybe they’ve identified some questions they need to ask their teacher, and they already have some momentum going on that task so it’s smaller and more manageable on Tuesday.
In fact, the easiest thing to do might be to encourage working on every subject, every day (even if it’s just five minutes) to keep this process going.
Tip #4: Use the right tools
Finally, a huge “time management for teens” principle is simply having the right tools available. And this benefits soft internal clock kids the most.
Using a planner or an assignment book to look ahead and plan out their work
Using a to-do list to break down their assignments into smaller pieces so they can more accurately predict how long they will take
Using alarms or digital calendar reminders (if they work off of a computer most of the time)
Executive Functioning: How kids control themselves
Struggles with time management may also be attributed it to weak executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills boil down to our ability to regulate emotions and reasoning.
We see a large number of children with ADHD who struggle with time management, and it is not because they are lazy or unmotivated, it is because of this link to their executive functioning skills.
One way to examine if your child may struggle with weak executive functioning skills is to observe their habits and ask yourself the following questions:
Are they having a hard time getting started?
After they have started the task, are they having difficulty sustaining effort?
Can they inhibit themselves from outside stimuli and distractions?
Can they shift from one task to the next with reasonable effort?
Regardless of where you child fits in, there are actions you can take to help them improve and work around their executive functioning deficiencies.
Tip #5: Remove the barrier to entry
Many times students feel overwhelmed and underprepared, and in order to ease this anxiety have them break larger tasks into smaller tasks, and make the “barrier to entry” almost nonexistent. By setting the threshold for getting started so incredibly low that it is almost positive that he or she will be successful in completing the task will help get the ball rolling by making the student feel a sense of confidence that they can move forward.
Two different ways to do this are to focus on either time or task.
To focus on time, set a timer for 5-10 minutes. Have them commit: “I’m going to read for 10 minutes and then I can take a short break before restarting.” And then step though that process, bit by bit. Alternatively, you can chose to focus on task and focus on, for example, only 5 out of the 30 vocabulary words you have to study.
Here are some examples of how students can lower the bar to reduce procrastination:
It’s Wednesday and you are tired. You have a Spanish test on Friday. You want to put off studying today and push it all to tomorrow, Thursday, which is what you typically do
In the past, this hasn’t really worked because you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. You end up staying up late and are exhausted the next day.
You give yourself a very easy task that you know you can easily accomplish.
You decide to study just five vocabulary words since learning vocab is the easiest thing for you.
You have an essay due for your English class and you’re feeling overwhelmed. You have good ideas, but getting them onto paper is hard.
You think you need extra adrenaline to get it done. You decide to watch TV and to start writing right before bed when you’re pressured to finish.
Instead of viewing the essay as “all or nothing”, you figure out what you can easily do to get started.
You set a simple task for yourself – to write the first sentence before you eat dinner.
Chemistry is a tough subject and you need extra help from your teacher. Meeting with her after school would be beneficial.
You are starving and want to go to Chipotle, but you also don’t know how to solve those darned chemical equations.
In lieu of getting help with the whole assignment, you ask your teacher for help with the first question only.
You meet with your teacher for just a few minutes, ensure that you understand how to do the work, and then bolt to Chipotle.
Both of these strategies give a small sense of accomplishment and often times one the timer or the task is completed it is easy to keep going without a break. After all, success breeds success.
Tip #6: Set small goals
To tack on to the previous tip, help your student prioritize their assignments and tasks and set goals! And make sure they celebrate each small win.
Then, the better they become at setting small goals and accomplishing them the easier and less scary those big goals will seem in the future. It will also help them get better at estimating what they can achieve and planning ahead accordingly.
Tip #7: Write it out
And finally, for many students just getting their plans down on paper can do a number of positive things.
First, it helps them get organized by getting all of the information out of their head. When everything is written down in front of them, it’s easier to see how much they have to do, and whether they’ll have enough time to do it all.
Second, like we mentioned earlier, it helps “lower the barrier” to getting started. All they need to do is go to their planner where they wrote it down, and pick out the first thing on the list to get started on.
And third, it facilitates the goal setting process. Having to write down tasks that have to be done requires them to start thinking about how they will do it, how long it will take, and when they’ll get it done by. As your child realizes what is and isn’t able to be accomplished, their predictions will get better and better over time.
Emotion Management: Avoiding what make us feel bad
According to Dr. Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada-a leading researcher on the topic, emotion is at the core of procrastination.
A huge problem for individuals is the thought that they must be in a good mood to tackle an uninteresting task. Instead of working on the task that needs done, they will chose to do something more pleasurable such as play a video game, or scroll through their phone.
This is an attempt at something researchers refer to as “mood repair”, and let me tell you… it almost never works. In fact, this approach ends in being disappointed in oneself because of wasted time and they often feel even worse because they are now faced with a missed deadline or some kind of negative feedback.
Simply suggesting that the attempted “mood repair” is actually sabotaging their efforts may help. Knowing that you are at a fork in the road and you have two choices is a good place to start: the choice between doing the more pleasurable thing and actually starting the task. Realizing this feeling and knowing when you are about to procrastinate is an important first step because it enables you to take action.
That being said, here’s our final set of tips on how to tackle the emotional aspect of time management for teens.
Tip #8: Encourage “time travel”
Researcher Fuschia Sirois from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec identified an approach called “time travel”. She studied 4,000 people and found that those who could project themselves into the future and think about how great it would feel to finish a task were more likely to ward off procrastination.
They were also trained to imagine how awful the would feel if they chose to put off their work, to anchor them against a future negative emotion. This type of visualization has been shown to be an effective strategy, and may just work for your procrastinating student as well.
Tip #9: Pair work with reward
Another way to decrease the negative emotion associated with doing schoolwork, is to pair it with a reward. This is the concept of “reward substitution.”
Here’s Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, explaining this idea:
So for example, you could set up a system where each completed homework assignment is immediately followed by 15 minutes of video games, or your kid’s favorite snack. Eventually, if repeated enough, they’ll start to associate the positive emotions of the reward with the activity of completing their work itself, reducing the need for a the reward over time.
Tip #10: Use 80% positive, 20% negative feedback (not the other way around)
Finally, along those same lines, kids generally don’t like to do things they feel poorly about. And one of the most reliable predictors of how a child will feel about their performance in any domain, is the ratio of positive to negative feedback they receive.
As it turns out, kids with weak executive functioning, ADHD, and other academic struggles receive negative feedback about 80% of the time they are at school. This doesn’t bode well for feeling positive about their schoolwork.
So try to flip the script and give positive reinforcement 80% of the time when they’re at home. Don’t avoid pointing out their mistakes, but do make sure to balance that by pointing out all of the good things they’re doing as well. Slowly but surely you’ll shift the balance of their attitude towards their work if you maintain this practice over time.
Helping Your Child Manage Time: Next Steps
How do you think your child fits into the pictures we’ve laid out?
What strategies do you think will work best for them?
Let us know in the comments! We all learn best by comparing notes and seeing what works and what doesn’t, so we’d love to hear from you.
‘Tis the season for final exams, unit assessments and chapter tests. What does it take to ace these exams? It’s not just the time that’s put in; it’s also the method of studying that produces the best results. Over the years, I’ve seen bright kids that don’t get the grades they were hoping for on these end-of-year tests. They almost always fall into one of three camps when it comes to studying (or not).
These are the kids who do fairly well throughout the quarter, especially on quizzes, but do poorly on cumulative exams. They are smart students who manage to get by during the year without putting too much time into their homework and to studying. The studying they do is often at the last minute. If they have a test on Thursday, they start getting ready on Wednesday night. These kids don’t have a strong sense of urgency until they are right up against a deadline. This type of cramming can pay off in the immediate term, but when they need to learn information on a deeper level, it backfires. Cramming only puts information into short-term memory, whereas learning it over many nights and sleeping on it (by the way, sleep is a fantastic study tool) stores it into long-term memory. It’s not uncommon for Crammers to have two other traits – disorganization and procrastination.
These kids are very hard workers, and they are often fairly well organized. They do well on quizzes and some tests that mostly require memorization. They put a lot of time into studying but don’t see the results because they have a hard time connecting the dots. For example, in history, they may learn about two important battles, but may see them as separate events, not completely understanding how they’re connected. They may not understand how one situation or circumstance affects the whole. So they have trouble making sense of the bigger picture. In math, they can learn a skill in isolation, but have difficulty applying it to problems outside of the specific skill learned. These kids need lots of practice making connections because it doesn’t always come easily to them.
For these students, school has been a breeze. They never really had to study when they were younger, and always got good grades. These are the kids that may not love academics, but they can sit in class, absorb the information, and do well on the test without much effort.
They’re good at critical thinking and analyzing information. But as the work gets harder and more complex, they lack the study habits to perform to their fullest potential. These are the students who could get straight A’s but instead get B’s because they lack the proper study skills. They need direct guidance and a study plan to learn the material quicker and more efficiently.
So, how can studying be tailored to the Crammer, Memorizer, or the Absorber?
Here’s a quick breakdown on ways that will benefit each of these types of students and some other tips that work for virtually any kind of learner.
First, the Crammer has to want to change. In order for a different way of studying to work, he or she must recognize the problem and be willing to make modifications. If it’s not seen as an issue, all the parental suggestions in the world won’t work.
I’ve found that crammers are willing to plan ahead if they don’t feel like they have to do any more work than necessary and if they see the changes result in better grades (and they almost always do). The good news is that they often don’t have to put in more time, they just need to use it more efficiently.
Studies show that when students use a concept called Distributed Practice, they are far more likely to do better on tests. For example, if your child has a test on Friday, he could study for an hour on Thursday night, but he would actually get a better grade if he took the same amount of time and distributed it over multiple days — 20 minutes Tuesday, 20 on Wednesday, and 20 on Thursday. The reason he’ll get a better grade is not because he’s reviewed the material multiple times; it’s that he’s slept on it. When you learn information and then sleep on it, you’re consolidating that information into long-term memory. However, when you cram for a test, that information is learned at a superficial level, really for regurgitation the next day. It’s going into short-term memory. Long-term memory is more beneficial, because when you have a test later on, say a month later, you’re much more likely to be able to retrieve it.
Crammers also respond well to the suggestion of using “weird windows“. Sometimes, students think they need lengthy, dedicated time in which to study. And if they don’t have the perfect time and if they’re not in the ideal mood, they won’t do it. In actuality, they can use any chunk of time to get studying done. An example of a ”weird window” is the 15 minutes he or she’s waiting at a doctor’s office or that 20 minutes right before lacrosse practice starts. Those are weird windows, and you can chunk time for studying by getting a lot done in short periods of time.
Memorizers do best when they study with others. In humanities subjects that require lots of critical thinking, listening to others’ points of view and how they connect one idea to another is helpful. Memorizers need to study in a multi-sensory way (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic). When left on their own, these kids study by rereading (reviewing their notes or study guide solely by reading the information over multiple times). This isn’t the best way to retain material because you’re only using one sense, the visual mode. By also studying auditorily, you’re incorporating one more modality – and now you’re up to two!
You can make learning stick even more if you add in the kinesthetic (also known as tactile) modality. Anytime you engage in “self-talk” by asking yourself, “What’s important here?” or “How is this topic connected to the other one?” and jot those notes down, you’re learning kinesthetically, by writing. Writing or typing forces the learner to synthesize the information which is valuable for retention on test day. Working with a subject tutor who can help kids create this “self-talk” and learn to study in a multi-modal way, is highly beneficial.
The Absorber is usually a quick study, but like the Memorizer, his main method of studying is rereading. Rereading is by far the most inefficient way to study since it uses just one modality. Absorbers do well when they learn how to use study guides effectively.
When kids are young, teachers provide study guides in the form of a fill in the blank worksheet with questions about what is going to be tested. A great way to use a study guide is to make multiple blank copies of it and to first fill it out as best you can without referring to any information. You’re trying to retrieve what you have in your head and put it down on paper. Then, when you absolutely can’t remember anything else, you can go back to your information, which might include your notes or the book, and pull that information out and write it down. Basically, you only want to study what you know. Use this method three times on three blank study guides, and then you’ll really have it mastered for the exam.
As kids get older, teachers don’t give study guides out as regularly. Instead, students can make their own. In fact, research shows that when high school students make their own study guide, they achieve better grades on test day. How do you do this? Well, you can take the main headlines from class notes or book chapters and turn them into questions and then jot down answers to those questions. Maybe there is a section in the book on the causes of the Revolutionary War. You can change that into “What are the causes of the Revolutionary War?”, and in an outline format, jot down the answers. When you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re requiring your brain to consolidate information and remember the important parts.
At the end of the day, when parents and kids understand study personalities and tailor the preparation process accordingly, final exam grades will be a whole lot better.