How To Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide For Parents

How to Handle Bad Grades on Report Cards

There’s an undercurrent that runs through most conversations we have with our kids about school and bad grades.

With some families it’s more explicit:

“We expect you to do well and earn A’s and B’s on your report card.”

With other families it’s less so, but still implied:

“We expect you to go into school each day and give it your best effort, no matter what.”

Regardless, it’s always a challenge to figure out how to react as a parent when report cards come home, or when you log in to see the grades, and the results are less than stellar.

Common Thoughts About Bad Grades on Report Cards

On the one hand, bad grades represent a failure. They’re the one objective measure we have of how well our children are progressing through school. If they really understood the material, studied for the exams, and stayed organized and diligent, it would be pretty hard not to earn at least a B in most elementary, middle, and high school classes.

On the other hand, bad grades are not always a fair indication of how hard your child is trying, how much they’re learning, or what their potential for success later on in life is. Plus many students are still playing catch up after spending so much time away from campus during Covid shutdowns and quarantines. From that angle, we shouldn’t overreact to a C or D, especially because your son or daughter probably feels guilty about it already. But we should put stock into a C or D because that tells us they don’t have mastery over the content that counts.

In this post we’ll explore:

  • What to do if your child comes home with bad grades and how to talk to them about it
  • Whether you should punish your child for bad grades (or reward them for good grades)
  • And how to investigate why it’s happening and what to do about it moving forward

Read on to find out and click here to receive more tips and strategies to help boost your child’s grades!

What do I do if my child gets a bad grade?

You may have high expectations for your child’s grades, or you may be a bit more laissez faire about the whole thing. Regardless, the answer to “How should parents react to a bad report card?” pretty clear: there is a right and wrong way to approach it.

Here are a few initial tips on how to deal with a bad report card when it first comes home.

Step 1: Give it some distance

The first thing you want to do is to make sure you do not react in the moment.

tape measure

It’s tempting to want to express your frustration (believe me, I’ve been there!), especially if this isn’t a new issue.

Step 2: Schedule a time to talk

Instead, wait until you’ve calmed down a little bit and schedule a time to talk. Say to your child, “let’s sit down after dinner to talk about this.”

This will help to avoid a screaming match, which is the quickest way to guarantee nothing productive will come out of the situation.

Step 3: Create an open discussion, and state the feeling

Now that you have a time on the books, the next question is:

How do I talk to my kids about a bad grade?

How to Talk to Kids About a Bad Grade

First off, you’re going to want to start the conversation off with the phrase, “I noticed” and avoid saying, “you.” Often this will alleviate any feelings of blame and allow for a more open discussion.

For example, you might say, “I noticed that your math grade is a lot lower than we both thought it would be. Help me understand what happened,” rather than, “You did not do well in math. This is unacceptable.”

The phrase, “help me understand,” will give your child a chance to explain himself and explain what went wrong. Listen to what your child has to say and state the feeling.

Try saying, “it sounds like you’re having a hard time with algebra and it’s making you frustrated.” By stating the feeling (but not dwelling on it), you’ve shown your child that you’re on their team.

From there you’ll want to ask questions like, “what do you think you can do to get the grade up?” This will create a sense of accountability and also make your child come up with a solution. Because your child helped to create the solution, he or she will be more invested and more likely to follow through.

Punishments and Rewards for Bad Grades: Do they work?

The instant you see a less-than-stellar report card grade, it’s probably your immediate reaction to punish and restrict activities.

phone and earbuds

Either that, or it’s probably to offer some form of reward for turning it around. You’ll want to fight those urges. Here’s what to do instead.

Should I punish my child for a bad grade?

The short answer is: the punishment should be appropriate. Many parents threaten to take their child out of sports or extracurricular activities, but this isn’t an effective solution.

The research says that parents should avoid taking away activities that boost their child’s confidence, such as sports or clubs. With that being said, it is recommended to tie privileges (like video game time, or time out with friends) to academic processes.

For example, you may say to your child, “when you show me that your homework is completed with a respectful attitude, then you can play video games for 30 minutes.” Try using a “when/then” phrase to boost accountability and tie actions to rewards.

Should I reward for grades?

Here, the answer is a little less clear, but in general avoid external rewards if you can. I’ve talked to parents who have tried offering their child just about anything and everything for straight A’s from money to a new car to a trip to Disney World.

But unfortunately, no matter how grandiose the reward, the straight A’s never come. Research tells us that rewarding for grades doesn’t work because it’s too long-term and students lose steam pretty quickly. Students also need to feel an intrinsic motivation for studying, and providing external rewards tends to extinguish their internal drive (especially when they encounter difficulty).

How To Improve: Tips for turning bad grades around

Okay so now that you’ve taken a step back, and assessed your initial response to your child’s poor performance, not it’s time to talk about how to proceed.

Why is my child getting a bad grade?

Before doing anything else, this is the question to answer, because then we can determine the best steps to take to address the underlying cause.

bad grades image 4

Students often bring home bad grades for one of two reasons: they don’t understand the content or they don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed. There is a third reason this year. Many students are also having a tough time keeping up their grades due to hardships brought on by Covid, including high absence rates.

During the 2020-2021 school year 1 in 5 students in Illinois were classified as chronically absent and that led to “steep declines in student achievement,” according to the recently released Illinois State Report Card. Early reports across the country show absentee rates are still high this fall, because of illness (personal or family) and mass school quarantines.

If your student’s bad grade is the result of a contextual issue, then it is usually isolated to one subject (often math/science or English/history). However, if the student is struggling with “soft skills,” things such as organization, time management, and study skills (also known as executive functioning skills), it will probably affect every subject.

Discuss the issue with your child’s teacher, consider enrolling the child in a homework club after school, or seek out a tutor who can focus on your child’s areas of concern.

Turn the lens inward

The research is in: authoritative parenting (warm but firm) is ideal when it comes to academic performance.

In fact, a study by Laurence Steinberg, Julie Elmen, and Nina Mounts, found that students who are raised in homes with parents using an authoritative approach earn higher grades in schools than their peers.

The problem is, a lot of times when good-intentioned authoritative parents become excessively frustrated or worried, they can slip into helicopter (excessively involved) parenting mode. This can give the wrong message to your child. According to Cathi Cohen, LCSW and president of InStep PC:

“If it goes too far it becomes an issue where you’re not helping your child develop resilience or become autonomous. You’re giving them the message through helicopter parenting that they can’t do it without your help. It undermines the child’s natural need to be independent.”

Her advice: take a step back.

“A child has to be allowed to fail and flounder… Helicopter parents are always trying to do their best to help their child succeed, but sometimes it’s okay to let go of the handle bars and its okay if your child falls.”

How do you do that? How do you let go without having your child fall apart?

“You have to treat letting go kind of like a game of Jenga. When you take it out of the box, it is very safe with scaffolding supports in place, and has a lot of structure. As you go through the game, you pull out little pieces and see if it still stands. In a lot of ways, this is how our kids are and they initially need these scaffolding supports.

But as they get older, you want to slowly take out pieces from the Jenga tower. You don’t want to remove eight blocks at a time, just one. Start with something small, like a homework routine; then teach the skill, and remove the support. See if they are successful and steady for three weeks and then move onto the next skill. Don’t move on until they’ve been successful for 3 weeks.”

Bottom line: check your parenting style and make sure you’re not slipping into helicopter mode. And then ask yourself what you can do to tackle the grades issue while still allowing your child to figure it out independently.

Address organization habits

You may have heard the expression, “a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind;” the same principle could be said about backpacks, binders, and lockers. Often times if a student is struggling with school, disorganization may be playing a part. Luckily, the end of the quarter is the perfect time to get organized.

bad grades image 5

Some things you can try include:

  • Set up a regular school “check in” time to talk about school each week.
  • Figure out a homework routine that doesn’t involve constant reminders.
  • Get backpacks and assignments organized and ready to go the night before.
  • Schedule a 20 minute “clean sweep” session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean

Just as an example (there are more we recommend here).

Work on study skills

We hear this all the time at Educational Connections: students are spending hours studying, but just not seeing the results. As it turns out, most children haven’t actually developed optimal study skills. For example, 84% of kids study by re-reading content, which is actually the most inefficient way of learning. Determine whether study skills may be a potential culprit.

Some areas you could address (among others) include:

bad grades image 6

  • Setting aside study time before starting homework.
  • Having your child use study guides to test themselves rather than just simply reviewing.
  • Set up an optimal study environment that minimizes distractions (this can include distraction-blocking apps as well).

Next Steps For Parents: Be proactive with bad grades

Most importantly, as a parent you want to be proactive about your approach, whatever you end up deciding to do. If you can get ahead of the curve and have a plan of attack, your chances of successfully navigating the dangerous emotional waters of a bad report card go up dramatically.

If you need outside help, we’re always here for you!

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Preventing Procrastination from Undermining Student Success

Preventing Procrastination from Undermining Student Success

I once worked with a college sophomore from McLean, VA named Sarah, who had failed out of James Madison University due to her poor time management skills. She was a solid student in high school, given that it was a very structured environment. Once she had so much free time in college, havoc ensued. She was a procrastinator and these habits ate away at her self-esteem.   

In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons why many students, like Sarah, fall into the procrastination trap and how to help them find a way out. 

What researchers say about procrastination 

Forgiveness as a solution to procrastination

Sarah certainly isn’t alone in her struggles to stay on task. An estimated 70% of all students in North America procrastinate, according to researchers at the American Psychological Association. This can lead to late-night cram sessions, lower grades, and higher stress. 

The numbers are even more alarming on college campuses where students suddenly find themselves a whole lot of freedom and a growing workload. Researchers at The University of Calgary found between 80% and 95% of college students admit to procrastinating on coursework.  

The reasons behind procrastination vary, but many educators and researchers will tell you that most college students aren’t doing it because they’re unmotivated or don’t care about their work. It’s often due to poor time management, fear of failing, or confusion about where to even start. The implications of chronic procrastination in higher ed can include dropped classes, wasted tuition money, or worse.  

Top Reasons for Dropping out of College by

Today 1 in 3 students who enroll in college still won’t have a bachelor’s degree six years later. That’s according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Financial issues top the list of reasons why students drop out, but the unhealthy habit of procrastination and poor grades prevent many other students from ever earning a degree. 

The Two Types of Academic Procrastination 

My experience has been that there are two types of procrastination when it comes to schoolwork – functional and dysfunctional.    

Two Types of Academic Procrastination

Functional procrastinators always manage to get their work done and don’t seem to stress over their tendency to put things off. Let’s say your son has a math assignment due on Friday.  He doesn’t start it until 9 pm on Thursday night, but he completes it even though he has to stay up late. This type of procrastination is functional. 

But what if your daughter had two weeks to write a research paper that was due on February 25th and she did not start it until late on the 23rd? She still needs to write her thesis, gather research, create an outline, etc. Although she somehow manages to get it done, the quality is suspect at best, she’s stressed out of her mind, and you are furious with yet another last-minute project. That’s dysfunctional procrastination.   

And although some kids learn from their mistakes, others don’t. 

Poor Executive Function is Often an Underlying Reason 

When I started working with Sarah, she had transferred from James Madison to Old Dominion University. Although things were better at her new school, they still weren’t great.  

Sarah was actually trying very hard. She would often plop herself down in the library for two hours straight, but she got nothing done by the end of the two hours. In a nutshell, she felt overwhelmed and underprepared. She had no strategies to get started even though she was in the right environment (the library). 

This scenario occurred over and over again even though she swore she would do better next time. Sarah engaged in this vicious cycle of negative self-talk. Comments like, “I’m just lazy” or “Why can’t I just do this? I’m a loser” were common. The more she beat herself up, the worse the problem became. 

When I met Sarah she was on academic probation. I started working with her on executive function skills and helped her to lower her expectations of working diligently for two hours. She needed to minimize the barrier to entry by just working for 5 or 10 minutes to start.  

Sarah picked up many more strategies, but perhaps the most important one was that she learned to forgive herself.  

Two Effective Ways to Help a Procrastinator 

1. Curing Procrastination with Forgiveness 

It’s typical for people to become demoralized when procrastination is the norm. When this behavior occurs frequently, students (and adults) usually get angry with themselves for lack of initiative. But studies show this negative dialogue makes the problem worse. 

In a study by Dr. Michael Wohl at Carlton University, college freshmen who had the habit of engaging in self-doubt were randomly put into two groups prior to an exam. After the test, one group was instructed in the art of forgiveness. Instead of beating themselves up for putting off studying, they forgave themselves. The students who forgave themselves procrastinated far less than the other group when it came to studying for the next exam

2. Time Travel as a Solution to Procrastination

Time travel as a cure for procrastination

Another strategy, researched by Fuschia Sirois from Bishop’s University in Quebec, is called “time travel.” Sirois studied the mindsets of 4,000 people. He found that those who could project themselves into the future, and imagine how great it would feel to finish a task, were more likely to ward off procrastination

And it wasn’t only good thoughts they were trained to imagine. They also thought about how awful they would feel if they gave in to the “I’ll do it later” syndrome.  Visualization is a common strategy used for athletes and it can be just the ticket for procrastinators, too.

How to Get Your Student Help 

Although Sarah still put tasks off from time to time, her dysfunctional procrastination became functional and her grades skyrocketed as we worked together to strengthen her executive function skills. What made me the happiest was that she had a new outlook on school! 

If procrastination is impacting your child’s grades and mindset or leading to tension and conflict, a skilled executive function coach can help. Our coaches focus on research-based strategies to get students of all ages organized, motivated, and on a path to developing effective habits for lasting change. 

Executive Function Coaching at Educational Connections


Math Anxiety: 7 Steps To Conquer It

Get help for math anxiety

When new concepts don’t add up and math anxiety sets in, students are stressed and parents often feel overwhelmed

It’s something Educational Connections’ Coach Amanda McGill sees often. McGill recently started working with a 5th grader named Sofia who was struggling with fractions, decimals, and multiplication. 

“The anxiety would just shut her down,” explained McGill. “She was just throwing numbers on the paper and guessing in hopes that something might stick.” 

Just one month into their one-on-one math sessions, Sofia now enjoys the challenge of figuring out problems. 

“She had a math test this week and the teacher let me know that she got 100% and her confidence is so much better,” explained McGill. “She is very proud of her accomplishments.”

What is math anxiety?

How do you feel reading through this list of concepts?

math anxiety notebook
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Order of Operations
  • Multivariable Algebraic Equations
  • Distributive Property
  • Factoring

Do these words make your heart flutter with excitement? Or do you feel panic and dread?

If the answer is the former, consider yourself lucky, because math is probably “your thing.”

If it’s the latter, then don’t worry… you’re not alone. Because math anxiety is a real problem for both students, and even adults later on in life.

As a teacher, I had many students over the years with a natural knack for numbers. I also taught many that had hardly any “math sense.”

These students could often tackle rote math problems, but throw in a few complicated word problems and they’d feel overwhelmed.

My experience has taught me that apprehension about math and all the physical effects that go along with it (elevated heart rate, queasy stomach, inability to focus) are very real. I’ve seen it in students I’ve taught in the classroom and those that I’ve tutored.

And I’ve always wondered what causes such uneasiness in the first place. So in this post, we’ll dive into what math anxiety really is, its most common causes, and how you (as a parent) can help your student.

How math anxiety affects the brain

Let’s first take a look at how our brains process information.

When students solve problems the information first flows through the amygdala, the part of the brain known as the “emotion center.” It’s only then, after about a millisecond, that the information is transmitted into the prefrontal cortex, where critical thinking and reasoning occur.

math anxiety image 2

This is important in the case of math anxiety because the amygdala is the “filter” that the information goes through first before it gets processed by the analytical part of the brain. And when math is perceived as a “threat,” the amygdala in students, who feel this way, becomes overactive. This leads to the prefrontal cortex being underutilized.

In fact, an individual with math anxiety does not just dislike the subject, he or she feels actual negative emotions when it comes to performing activities that involve numerical or math skills.

And according to a recent study of college students, the sheer suggestion of a math examination triggered a stress response in students with math anxiety, actually cutting off the working memory necessary to solve those same problems.

Researchers say genetics and mindset are to blame

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reveals that this common problem is actually two-fold.

First, students who have significant difficulty in math come by it genetically. Researchers followed 216 identical twins and 298 same-sex fraternal twins over seven years. They found:

  • Genetic factors related to general anxiety and math cognition accounted for 40% of the variance in math anxiety.
  • The other 60% of variance was explained by environmental factors, including negative experiences with math at an early age and learned behaviors.

Teachers and parents can even pass down their negative attitudes and own anxiety over math. A lot of anxiety surrounding the subject actually comes from classrooms that do not establish or promote a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset focus on effort and true learning instead of test scores and correct answers.

So ironically, to explain the cause behind anxiety towards math, what we have is actually… well… a math problem:


How to help your child conquer math anxiety

Keep in mind that every child has their strengths and weaknesses, and some students may simply struggle in math even if they don’t have anxiety. There are steps you can take as a parent to help your child improve in math and achieve the level of competence they need to succeed in school.

Step 1: Understand that your child is not lazy or unmotivated

Realize that motivation will wane in a subject that is naturally difficult. It makes sense that when a task is hard, humans will naturally avoid it. That’s why poor math students will procrastinate when it comes to homework or avoid it totally.

math anxiety image 3

Studying for math tests will never be at the top of the “to do” list if your child struggles with it. Simply having the understanding that your child isn’t lazy or unmotivated is important, because you can then start to address some of the underlying causes.

Step 2: Realize that math is 100% cumulative

Aside from foreign languages, math is the one subject that’s 100% cumulative. It’s among the most requested subject when parents call our office requesting a tutor. I often use the analogy of a construction worker putting up scaffolding. Without a strong foundation, the next level will not sit firmly.

Think of fractions. If you cannot find the greatest common factor with ease, you will not be able to add fractions with unlike denominators. One skill builds upon the next, and because of this, it’s critical to understand that you can’t simply “catch up” as you might in another subject.

Step 3: Do not delay if your child is having difficulty

Because math skills are amassed, problems rarely if ever improve without intervention. Simply telling your child to “study harder” will not make a difference. Get assistance in the form of a tutor or extra help from the teacher. If they are procrastinating and missing assignments they will begin to fall further behind. This is a huge worry because it can lead to further stress and anxiety.

A study out of Stanford University found that when third graders with math learning disabilities went through just 8 weeks of one-on-one tutoring for arithmetic, the “abnormal brain function” specific to learning math in these children (as measured by fMRI) completely disappeared, and their performance improved accordingly.

math anxiety image 4

This is all just to say: intervention can work, so take action earlier rather than later.

Step 4: Do not push advanced classes

The trend these days is for students to take advanced math classes early on. This begins with Algebra in 7th or 8th grade. This approach is a good one for many students but not for all. Those experiencing significant math anxieties may be further stymied because they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. Although your child may be capable of keeping up, don’t force advanced classes if they’re not ready.

Step 5: Praise effort, not intelligence

Growing up, I had a very hard time in math. My mother used to say, “You’re just like me. I was terrible at math, too. It runs in the family.” Looking back, I know she was trying to make me feel better, but the opposite happened. I started to think that math ability was genetic and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I started to give up. 

As parents, we want to foster effort, not intelligence. Study after study shows that when teachers or parents notice effort, students start to associate hard work with progress. They are less likely to agree with the notion that math is a fixed ability (that you either have it or you don’t). That has a huge impact on their performance in school. I highly recommend Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In it, she details how the right type of praise can motivate kids.

Step 6: Don’t say: “Don’t worry about it”

If you have a child who is anxious about math and exhibits test anxiety, whatever you do, do not use the words, “Don’t worry about it.” I can guarantee you that your child will worry about it. It’s impossible for nervous students to turn their worry switch off on a dime.

Instead, ask your child the following questions:

  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “What exactly is stressing you out?”

Then let them air out what they’re thinking about. When children are able to express their feelings, anxiety lessens, and you can then move on more readily towards solving the problem.

Step 7: Tackle “Test Anxiety” and allow the math to follow

Test anxiety in any subject increases when students sit down to take a test knowing they are not fully prepared, regardless if they have specific trouble in math. So one effective approach to the problem is to help establish a test preparation routine for any exam your child is taking, math or otherwise. Those habits will then inevitably spill over to math.

The old adage “you can’t study for math” is simply not true. The best way for a student to prepare is to make a practice test and solve the problems as if it is a real exam. This allows the student to know which problems he cannot solve and to practice accordingly. In many instances, proper preparation decreases stress on test days, which may be a big factor contributing to your child’s anxiety towards math as a whole.

Take action

In the end, problems with math tend not to be simply just a “bump in the road.” And because of its cumulative nature, if not addressed and worked through, they can become chronic and significant. 

Relying on the resources from your child’s school might not be enough to tackle math anxiety, like in Sofia’s case. 

“I think a positive of the coaching is that I am able to break things down into manageable steps, do it one-on-one, and make sure she knows it is OK to say ‘I don’t understand’ no matter how many times she needs to say that,” explained McGill. 

Be aware and jump in early if you see symptoms of math anxiety starting to creep in with your own child so their self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning aren’t left behind.

If your child is struggling with math, we’re always here to help!

5 Ways to Help with Homework Without Nagging

Homework without nagging and begging

It’s a stressful battle that breaks out in many homes each school night. And for many parents, figuring out effective ways to help their child do homework without nagging is a struggle. 
In this blog, we will break down five ways to reduce the nightly drama and ease your family’s frustration surrounding homework. 

1. Discover your child’s homework personality. 

Helping your child get organized and stay focused is key to helping with daily homework without nagging and begging. Of course, every child is different. It can be helpful to identify your child’s “homework personality.” Are they a Last Minute Lucy or Hot Headed Harry? 

Take this quick quiz to discover your child’s homework personality. Based on the results, you will learn a simple but powerful executive function hack to help.

homework personality quiz

2. Stick to a routine for homework. 

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 develop 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. 

3. Set a spot and eliminate distractions. 

homework without nagging in the kitchen

Should your child do homework in their room? In the kitchen? At a desk or 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, cell phones, 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. 

4. Introduce tools that keep your child 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 for helping with homework without nagging 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 
  • A hanging accordion folder behind a closet or bedroom door for filing papers neatly and out of the way

5. Use “weird windows” in your child’s busy schedule.  

use weird windows for homework

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 TikTok (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

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember your family doesn’t have to struggle alone! There are ways to help your child do nightly homework without nagging and begging.
Whether your child needs subject tutoring to stay on track or get ahead, test prep help, or executive function coaching to improve their organization and time management skills, we can help. We will hand-select a coach for your child, then schedule private and convenient virtual tutoring sessions. 
It’s a great time to get started! We will include one free session with every package purchased by Dec. 15, 2021. Give your child the gift of a smoother, more successful school year! 

Small Business Saturday Free Session at Educational Connections

Taking Better Notes: 5 Effective Strategies for Students

Better notes

Note-taking is a vital, handy tool in school and later in life. It helps keep you alert, organized, and focused on what you’re listening to. It basically forces you to pay attention so you know what to write down. People who take better notes often remember specific details better than those who only listen.

In one study at Ohio University, researchers found students who regularly took notes scored 13% higher on tests than students who didn’t write information down in class.

5 Types of Note-Taking

Different note-taking strategies aren’t always taught in the classroom and sometimes students need help understanding why it’s so important and the best ways to go about it. In this blog, we’ll explain five different note-taking strategies to set your student up for success.

1. Freestyle Method

Freestyle note-taking consists of writing down everything that you hear, in any format. It is a great method for students who need to quickly jot down notes and have time to process the information later. However, freestyle note-taking can be very disorganized and hard to study.

2. Outline Method

Many students have better luck staying organized with the outline method. This consists of writing a heading (the main topic), subheadings, and details under each subheading. The outline method is great for students who are able to synthesize information while listening to the teacher. 

Better note taking the outline method

Brianna Bown, M.Ed., a virtual tutor at Educational Connections, says when students use the outline method their notes are already organized and simple to skim through, which makes it easier to study.

“If you have a student who likes the freestyle method, then they can take their notes and later put them into the outline method,” explained Brown.

3. Cornell Note Method

This is a research-based method, that’s best for middle, high school, and college students. The Cornell method helps students connect everything they are writing to a question

“Teachers love to see that students are thinking from a question-based perspective because they’re going to be asked a ton of questions on tests and in class. So if they organize their thought process, it’s going to keep them stay on task.”

To use the Cornell Method, students can draw two simple columns with one merged column on the bottom. The key ideas or terms should be written in the left column and all of the important details related to the main ideas should go in the right column. 

The bottom section is reserved for a summary. Here the student should reflect on what they have just learned in their own words.

“You can take various notes, but if you don’t sit down and analyze it, of what it means to you, it’s not going to be effective. Because you can write it down and then it’s out of your brain.”

4. Creative Note-Taking Methods

Many visual learners enjoy taking their freestyle notes and turning them into colorful drawings or illustrations. These are great strategies for students who love to be creative.

To make a web, students can write the topic in the center and have subheadings branch off from it. When creating a mind map, students can write the main ideas and connect them with keywords, details, and pictures. Both methods can help draw connections between ideas and concepts.

5. Digital Note-Taking Methods

For many students, notetaking has moved from a notebook to a laptop. The benefits of digital note-taking include easy organization and a smaller chance of losing notes after class.

However, there are many studies including this one that found students are often more distracted in class when using a digital device to take notes. Also, it’s much easier to try to type everything you hear. Researchers found that taking verbatim digital notes can reduce how much a student remembers compared to when they paraphrase while writing by hand.

There’s a variety of programs students can use to take digital notes, including Microsoft’s OneNote and Google Docs. a virtual post-it note board that does not require a subscription. It allows students to easily create a note for each topic, which they can type or draw on. They can then drag and drop the notecards in order of importance. For example, they can move cards that contain information they already know to the bottom of the pile and move everything they need to focus on to the top. in use during a tutoring session can be a great tool during virtual tutoring sessions, as illustrated here by an Educational Connections academic coach.

Important Notes on Better Note-Taking 

No matter the method of notetaking, it’s always important for students to watch someone model the process. This shows the student the proper way to organize notes and includes a thorough explanation of the thought process they can use in class. 

Students should also get in the habit of:

  • Paraphrasing– Put information into your own words to reinforce the meaning.
  • Using abbreviations– It’s okay to abbreviate and write in incomplete sentences as long as you can understand what you wrote.
  • Using main ideas, supporting details, and bullet points– This helps keep the notes organized.
  • Highlighting/color coding and underlining- This can help with memorization, but don’t overdo it and use too many colors or lines.
  • Drawing pictures or using photos- Drawing a picture of the topic or adding a digital photo (while digital notetaking) can be an effective way to help with memorization.
  • Including the date and page numbers– This will help the student keep track of their notes.

Teaching Healthy Note-Taking Habits

Getting in the habit of keeping concise, well-organized notes will make reviewing and studying that much easier. And the benefits of developing great note-taking skills will extend well beyond the classroom. 

If your student needs help learning to take better notes and to keep organized, our executive function coaches are here to help. 

College Admissions During COVID: What Parents Should Know

For years, there have been three significant admissions factors for students applying to selective or competitive colleges.

1. Grades in college prep courses.

3. The strength of curriculum and level of challenge in a student’s course selection. (Did they take AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses?)

3. Admissions test scores on the SAT or ACT.

That’s not to say that the college admissions process was ever stress-free, but the admissions factors were fairly straightforward. This year, of course, COVID continues to throw all of that— much like everything else in our lives— for a loop. 

With so many test-optional colleges now, many parents are rethinking testing requirements or wondering if their child should still prepare for the ACT/SAT.

To offer some clarity on what to expect in an unexpected year, we have a special 4-part series on everything parents should know about college admissions during COVID.

Read them in order, or click a topic below to jump straight to any post that interests you:

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

SAT/ACT: Picking Test Dates and Prepping

Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

We know there’s a lot to consider this year, but remember: You’re not in this alone!

If you still have questions about college admissions during COVID, test prep, or anything else, just click below to schedule a free consultation with one of our Education Experts. We’re here for you!

College Admissions Coaching Consultation

Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider

In a year with so many changes and uncertainties, it’s good to know what you can control in the test prep and college admissions process.

In this final post of our 4-part series, we’re talking about a few of the things your child can control when working to strengthen their college applications.

How Personalized Help can Improve ACT and SAT Scores

One thing your child can do to strengthen an application is to work to achieve their best possible score on the SAT or ACT. Once your child has mock test or actual scores in hand, there are three ways a tutor or academic coach can help improve those scores.

1. Review Test-Taking StrategiesTest-taking strategies are things like using the process of elimination or working backward to get to an answer when you aren’t sure right away. These are “best practices” and can vary based on the test and section. 

2. Work on Targeted Content Review – Maybe your child needs to brush up on geometry because it’s been a while. Or perhaps grammar rules weren’t their strength, and they need a refresh of that content. Focusing on those weak spots can help improve scores.

3. Take Full-length Practice Tests – We’re currently offering mock tests virtually so kids can take them safely at home. They mimic the real test so students can practice and improve their pacing and boost their mental stamina before test day. 

In each of these areas, students need to know and work on their weaknesses. It seems counterintuitive since students often hear, “Work on the things you love to do and focus on your strengths!” But when it comes to test prep, focusing on weaker areas helps to improve scores more than a generic approach or focusing on areas where the student is already strong.

Our coaches combine these three methods to tackle students’ weaknesses and improve scores. We’re so confident in our approach that we even offer a test prep guarantee! If a student completes a test prep package program and their scores fail to increase, we will provide three complimentary sessions.

Focus on Essays

Working on weaknesses to improve test scores is one of the key things students can do to improve college admissions applications. Another? Getting help with college application essays—and starting early.

No matter how a school considers test scores, essays have become vitally important. Juniors can take control by working on application essays and test prep during their junior year and over the summer. Then, when senior year arrives, they can focus on their grades. Fall semester grades are still important for applications!

Plus, working ahead on these things can enable seniors to get in their applications by the early action deadline of November 1st. This reduces stress in their senior year so they can focus on their grades and enjoy every moment of a very special year—and so can you!

What is The Road to College?

To make this entire process easier for you and your family, we offer The Road to College, a special college admissions program for high school students. The Road to College is our way of making the college admissions process as stress-free as possible. Click here to learn more and schedule a consultation. We’re here for you! 

Thank you for joining us for this special 4-part series on college admissions during COVID!

College Admissions Coaching Consultation

Do you need help identifying the best test or test dates for your child?

Are you looking for a virtual test prep tutoring program guaranteed to raise your child’s scores?

If so, click here to contact us or to schedule a free consultation with one of our Education Specialists.

SAT/ACT: Picking Dates and Prepping

Once you’ve decided whether or not your child should test and take practice tests, it’s time to pick your child’s SAT and ACT test dates and begin test prep.

Pick Test Dates Strategically

We encourage students to strategically select their ACT or SAT dates. Research shows that most students achieve their best score in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. We suspect it’s because they’re older, they’re more mature, and they have more curriculum under their belt. 

With that in mind, it really is okay to take a fall test. But you want to consider if your child will have the capacity to test again in the late winter or spring. We recommend pairing test dates, which means planning for two test dates.  After the first test, the student can identify areas of weakness. Then, they can practice, practice, practice to improve their score in those areas on the second attempt.  

For the ACT, for example, you could pick a December and a February date, or maybe a February and an April date. For the SAT, maybe it’s a December and March date, or perhaps a March and May date.

If you’re not sure which dates are best for your child, we can help! We do this all the time and offer free consultations for exactly this purpose. Click here to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll use your child’s PSAT score or SAT/ACT practice score to determine the best test timing for your child.

Decide How to Prepare

There are essentially three ways a child can prepare for the SAT/ACT.

1. Independent Prep – If you have a very independent, motivated student with strong practice test results, they might be fine buying a book or using an online resource to practice independently. 

2. Group ClassesYour child can take a group class with lots of other kids. Right now, many of those are happening virtually. If a student is relatively strong in all areas and just wants to review test-taking strategies and get general practice, this might be a fit. But it doesn’t provide time or space for customization based on a child’s particular needs for improvement.

3. Private TutoringThe advantage of one-to-one tutoring— and the reason it’s the only option we offer— is that it can be customized to each child. Our academic coaches can work with your child to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. By focusing personalized instruction on the skills a child finds most challenging, the academic coach is more likely to help boost their score.

Start Planning Now

Whichever path you choose, don’t wait until close to test day to begin! The brain works best when you space things out rather than cramming at the last minute.

Most students benefit from starting test prep about two to five months before their first test, depending on how much they need to work on. We recommend weekly sessions with practice homework in between to best prepare students and build their confidence.

To learn more about our test prep coaching click here. Our Educational Experts are happy to answer your questions and handpick a College Admissions Coach for your child’s testing needs.

College Admissions Coaching Consultation

Read our last post in this special series on college admissions: Control What You Can: Test Prep Factors to Consider in COVID-19.

SAT/ACT Test Prep: First Steps

Unless your high schooler is applying to all test-blind schools (which is highly unlikely!), they should start focusing on SAT and ACT test prep during their sophomore and junior years.

So where do you begin? This blog breaks down everything parents should know to help their kids start prepping for college entrance exams.

Start with a Practice Test

Our first recommendation to juniors is to figure out which test they’re going to take. The SAT or the ACT? They can use practice tests to identify which test they’ll naturally score better on.

Since every college in America accepts both tests with no preference for one over the other, we recommend each student start by taking two practice tests— one for the SAT and one for the ACT. 

Schedule a Proctored Mock Test

If your child hasn’t yet taken practice tests, that’s the first step. To make it safe and easy, Educational Connections offers virtual, proctored mock tests on Saturday mornings.

You can click here to view our upcoming practice test dates and register for one. We’ve made it very easy to test right in your home so you can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

After a student takes both mock tests, we can analyze the results to identify their best direction moving forward. For about ⅓ of students, there’s a clear best choice. The other ⅔ score about the same on both and base their decision on their comfort level with each test. 

Compare the SAT and ACT

If your child is one of those who score similarly on both practice tests, it’s helpful to understand the differences so you can make an informed decision about which one to take.

Let’s explore how they’re alike and different.

The SAT is considered a power test. There are fewer questions, but they’re wordier. They require critical thinking and lots of analysis. The challenge with this test is in trying to understand what exactly they’re asking you to do. 

The ACT, on the other hand, is considered a speed test. There are more questions, but they’re shorter and a bit more straightforward. Kids often say things like, “The ACT feels more like what I’ve learned in school, but the difficulty with the ACT is actually the pacing and the speed.”

The SAT has two math sections. One allows students to use a calculator and one does not. These sections add up to 800 points. There’s also evidence-based reading and writing for another 800 points, giving students a potential total of 1600 points.

The ACT has four sections: math, reading, writing (which is more like grammar), and science. The science section makes some students anxious, especially if they don’t love science, but the questions are more like reading comprehension questions. Students are presented with graphs and charts, and they’re asked to extrapolate information. It’s very coachable if you have a tutor to help. The total for all four ACT sections is 36 points. 

Both tests are long. The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The ACT is only 15 minutes shorter, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes. For students with IEPs and 504 plans, the ACT has recently streamlined accommodation eligibility requirements. You can read about the changes here.

Help is Available to Decide Which Test is Best

If you’re not sure which test is best for your child, we can help you make an informed decision based on mock test results. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a test prep specialist, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider.

College Admissions Coaching Consultation

Once your child has completed mock tests and selected either the SAT or ACT to focus on, it’s time to dive into test prep.

Check out the next blog in our college admissions series to learn more: SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19.

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Changed the SAT and ACT

Since COVID cancellations made it so difficult for students to test last year, many colleges and universities stopped requiring an SAT or ACT result for admissions. Many of those changes are here to stay for students applying for the freshman class of 2022.

  • Submitting test scores is now optional at many schools. You can see a full list here.
  • At many schools, the following admissions factors may now hold greater weight:
    • Grades in college prep classes
    • The strength of curriculum
    • Admissions essays
    • Extracurricular activities
    • Recommendation letters
    • AP/IB test scores

So should your high schooler take the SAT and ACT? Read on to learn more.

Test-Required, Test-Optional, and Test-Blind Changes from COVID

Many colleges and universities now fall into three different categories:

  1. Test-Required – These schools will require students to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.
  2. Test-Optional – Students can choose whether or not to submit a test score. While not submitting a test doesn’t hurt, submitting a good test score can help. Most students choose to test. Then, they decide whether to submit the results based on the strength of their application with or without them.
  3. Test-Blind – These schools won’t consider test scores at all, even if they’re terrific. They’ll just focus on other factors.

The specifics of these policies can vary from school to school, even within one state, so it’s important to look into the guidelines for the schools on your child’s list.

In Georgia, public universities didn’t require test scores for admissions in 2021 because of COVID, but they will go back to requiring standardized test scores for 2022 enrollments.

In Virginia, many schools are extending test-optional policies in 2022. UVA is test-optional for students entering in Fall 2022, along with Virginia Tech, James Madison, George Mason, Christopher Newport, and William & Mary.

Our admission review process is based on a comprehensive, holistic approach that considers multiple factors in making decisions. A test-optional policy provides students with additional ownership in the process by allowing them to decide whether or not they wish for SAT/ACT scores to be included as part of their application review.

William & Mary Admissions

Should My Child Take the SAT and ACT?

Unless every school on your child’s list is test-blind (which is unlikely), they’ll want to at least take the test— but they don’t need to automatically report their scores! We highly recommend that most students study for and take the SAT/ACT, even if every school went test-optional after COVID.

Even schools that require SAT or ACT scores allow for “score choice.” This means the student can pick their best score from all of their attempts to share with schools. You can wait until your child is done with all of their test attempts and report only their best score to colleges.

What is Super Scoring?

With “super scoring,” the college will cherry-pick your child’s best sub-scores from each attempt. For example, let’s say your child takes the SAT and gets a 500 on math and a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing. They retake it, and the scores reverse. They get a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing but only a 500 in math. With super scoring, the school will take their 600 in reading and writing from the first attempt and their 600 in math for the second attempt. Their final score would become 1200, which is better than the 1100 they actually scored each time. 

A new change to the ACT is that the ACT will automatically super score. So if you take the ACT twice, colleges will only see your super score. With super scoring, testing multiple times can’t hurt and can only help! This is good to know because a small score increase can make a big difference and open up more options for a student.

Start Prepping and Practicing Now

With all of this in mind, it’s good to get the ball rolling on practice tests and test prep— just know you don’t need to automatically report scores right away. Educational Connections offers proctored, virtual mock tests for the SAT and ACT. To get the most accurate results, we only use official full-length tests published by the College Board and the ACT. Click below to register.

Mock Test Dates at for SAT and ACT

Read our next post in this college admissions series: The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep.

Does my child need to take the SAT/ACT?

Walking your child through the college admissions process can be overwhelming. From SAT/ACT test prep and admissions essays to college tours and financial aid applications, the to-do list is long and complex.

When your child’s school of choice turns out to be test-optional, you may wonder if you can strike the SAT/ACT from your list altogether.

FAQs for Test-Optional College Admissions

We understand the desire to simplify the process, but skipping out on these tests may not be the best option for your child. In this blog, we’re tackling your common questions about test-optional schools. Read on to learn what you can do to increase the chances of your child receiving that coveted acceptance letter! 

What does test-optional mean?

Before we get into the application process for test-optional schools, let’s get on the same page about what that term means. Each school your child applies to will fall into one of three categories:

  • Test-Required – These colleges require that you send in an SAT or ACT score in order to be considered for admission.
  • Test-Blind – These colleges do not look at SAT or ACT scores for their applicants. 
  • Test-Optional – These colleges leave it up to each applicant to decide whether or not to submit scores. 

While test-optional schools have been around for a while, we’re seeing more and more schools move in that direction, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Going test-optional is a way for colleges to offer flexibility after a year in which a global pandemic made it much more difficult to prep for and take the SAT/ACT.

Plus, going test-optional has greatly increased the number of applications those colleges and universities have received. Kids are throwing their hat into the ring at selective schools where they would not have otherwise applied because they didn’t have the test scores. With more applicants, colleges can be more selective and improve their admissions statistics, so we suspect many schools will stay test-optional for a while longer.

What do test-optional colleges consider when admitting applicants?

All colleges, test-optional or not, try to look at the big picture when reviewing applicants. Your child’s grades, strength of curriculum, extracurricular involvement, and performance in college-prep courses will all be taken into account along with other factors, especially essays. 

At a test-optional college, you get to decide whether or not the SAT/ACT tests will be part of that big picture review. If you opt not to submit the scores, they’ll simply consider the rest of your application in full without them. When you do submit them, however, they will weigh those into the decision. We don’t know how heavily test-optional schools weigh submitted scores, but we do know that they take them into consideration.

Whether or not your child should submit scores will depend on the overall strength of an application with or without the scores.

Should my child study for and take the SAT/ACT? 

We highly recommend that most students study for and take the SAT/ACT, even if every school on their list is test-optional. If they take the test and don’t like their score, they can simply not submit it. There’s no harm done.  However, if they take it and score well, they can strengthen their application and perhaps be admitted to a school where they would have otherwise been waitlisted or rejected.

(You may be asking, “No harm done?! What about all the lost time and effort?” If you’re worried a strong score is too out of reach to be worth the time and effort, we recommend starting with an inexpensive mock test. Then, you can review the results with our specialists and determine what a realistic goal is for your child.)

Right now, grades, especially in college-prep courses, are the most important factor on applications for college admissions. While extracurriculars have always played a role in applications, the challenges of the last year have eliminated or greatly reduced students’ abilities to participate in sports, clubs, jobs, and volunteer opportunities. With this in mind, there could be extra weight put on grades. A strong performance on the SAT/ACT can bring some balance back to the application and, to some extent, make up for less-than-stellar grades.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to put a test prep plan into place for your child. If your child is a junior, it’s not too late to start studying for a test in the late spring, summer, or even fall. If your child is applying early decision or early action with a November 1st deadline, they can take the test as late as September or October of their senior year and still have the test make it on to their application.

Since grades are the most important application factor right now, your child may need space to finish their junior year strong first. They may need to use the summer for test prep and take the ACT in mid-July or the SAT at the end of August. Then, they can focus on current schoolwork without added interruption or stress. 

Note: The ideal timeline for test prep and test-taking will depend on your child’s particular courseload, needs, and plans. Click here to schedule a free consultation with our team, and we can help you chart a course that works best for your student.

Should my child submit his or her SAT/ACT scores to a test-optional school?

Once your child studies for the SAT/ACT and achieves his or her best-possible score, you’ll be able to decide whether or not to submit those scores to test-optional schools. Again, this will depend on how strong your child’s application is without vs. without those scores. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend submitting scores if they fall within the upper portion of the mid 50th percentile of the range that a school typically accepts

For example, James Madison University accepted applicants with an average SAT score of 1120-1290 and an average ACT score of 23-28 last year. If you apply to James Madison and your score falls within the upper 50th percentile of those ranges, we recommend submitting your score.

Your score can be an additional data point for the school to identify you as a good match for them. It can also set you apart from similar applicants who didn’t submit a score.

If your child takes part in our college application coaching or test prep tutoring, we’re happy to help you consider the options and make the best decision for your child. 

Just click below to set up a free consultation and learn more about these services.

At the end of the day, performing their very best on the SAT/ACT can never hurt and just might help your child get into their test-optional school of choice. And performing their best starts now with a clearly-charted plan for test prep and test-taking!

We hope we’ve helped answer some of your questions about test-optional schools, but we also know that the college application process is overwhelming. Remember—you don’t have to do it alone!

Our college application coaches and test prep tutors can help your family navigate this important process with more confidence and less stress. Just click here to get started with a free consultation. We’re here for you!