Psych Central

Standardized Tests (SAT, PSAT, etc) Articles

Mindsets, Grades and Test Scores

Friday, April 11th, 2014

London with Hannah Aug 2010 031Dear Friends,
I was delighted to arrive home from my spring break and find good SAT results from my students who had taken the test for the second time in March. In every case, their consistent hard work between the two testings had produced significant gains of 50, 100 or more points!

Students are always exhilarated to see their efforts pay off, and I am also always thrilled, because it drives home to them this critically important life lesson: Hard work is what makes improvement happen.

Here in the US, we arguably don’t teach this lesson very well. Our culture is very talent-focused;

For Better Grades and Scores, Students Need This Kind of Practice

Friday, November 15th, 2013
Fall is the time when first-quarter grades come out, and many students would like to improve.

Fall is the time when first-quarter grades come out, and many students would like to improve.

When I teach my SAT class, I begin by administering to my new students two sections of a practice test out of the Official SAT Guide.

Invariably, some student informs me, “I’ve done this test already.” Many kids come to my class having already purchased the SAT Guide and done some practice on their own.

“Do it again,” I tell them, and I find that, not only do these kids NOT score perfectly the second time around, their scores are indistinguishable from those of the rest of the class; if they hadn’t told me they had done these sections before, nothing in their scores would have tipped me off.

Helping Your Student Face Test-Prep Fear

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

P9160358I’ve been a test-prep coach for decades, tutoring students for the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and ACT, and of course I’m very comfortable with the material by now.

Last month, my own daughter was getting ready to take the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), so I tried a few practice LSAT sections myself…and, guess what?

I found them stunningly, amazingly difficult! And, I made TONS of mistakes!

For example, on my first reading passage, I answered the eight questions, and got SIX of them wrong!!! 

This was an excellent experience for me, because I felt something I’ve lost touch with: I felt a sinking, dizzying fear of this difficult material.

Does Your Student Know About Khan Academy?

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

P7150013When I taught my SAT class this summer, I asked students to raise their hands if they used Khan Academy; only half the class had even heard of it!

Khan is a powerful, free resource for help in math, science, history, and SAT prep. Please do go to and familiarize yourself with all Khan has to offer (including topics of interest to parents such as medicine, banking  and art history), and then make sure your child knows how to navigate the site.

Here are some Khan Academy highlights:

Try Some Vocabulary for Breakfast!

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Vocabulary development is not just for school, not just for the SAT and ACT, not just for students. It’s a terrific way to promote brain health by staying mentally active. Plus, vocabulary study helps people of every age to stay connected to literature, science and current events, because the more words you know, the easier and more enjoyable reading is. Vocab study ought to be a lifelong habit!

Making Friends with the SAT (or ACT)

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

spring sights FFC April 23 2010 015Did you ever have an honest yet tactless friend, a well-meaning pal who loudly points out the spinach in your teeth and eagerly agrees that Yup, those pants do make your rear end look huge?

The SAT (or ACT) is that sort of friend, a supplier of  not-always-flattering truths.  Those scores are a reality bite, and although many students are dismayed, I don’t think they are usually surprised.

I suggest that students view their SAT or ACT results as a wake-up call, a spotlight shining onto the skills they ought to finally get a handle on.

Too many students drag their weak academic areas around with them like a ball and chain, trying to ignore them, too frightened and confused to know how to fix them.

And most students experience an enormous sense of relief and empowerment when they improve in a skill that’s been holding them back.

So make NOW be the time you make a dent in that weak vocabulary…or improve those critical reading skills…or brush up those shaky math concepts.

One great thing about these standardized tests? Some focused work in a specific area, done consistently between now and the next test, can make a noticeable and satisfying difference. I suggest you select one or two areas you need to improve on and concentrate on those.

And, here are some great free resources you can take advantage of:

  • The SAT website gives some good information and tips on how to improve your scores, plus a free full-length online practice test.
  • Here’s a link to many good videos containing specific advice on how to handle many kinds of SAT and ACT questions.
  • Khan Academy has a ton of helpful test prep and math help videos and exercises.
  • I’ve created this simple calendar/checklist to help students stay on track with their daily SAT/ACT practice. Print a copy and hang it in a prominent location (refrigerator door, bathroom mirror, etc) so that family members will all look for those check marks and help reinforce daily practice.
  • Visit my website for other free resources and ideas.
[signs of ...

Follow Along with My SAT Class for Free

Monday, February 4th, 2013

I’ve been teaching an SAT preparation class at one of my local community colleges.

It’s my third time teaching this class, and I’m finally feeling like I’m getting the curriculum shaped into a form I like a lot.

I’m trying to create something more than just an SAT class:  I blend in research-based study tips, plus I’m trying to get my students embarked on some good habits that they’ll need to succeed in college and in life:

  • Studying with focus (which includes doing without cellphone and music)
  • Studying consistently, over time (not cramming the day before the test)
  • Keeping a Study Journal so as to plan, track progress, and stay motivated
  • Practicing by writing (annotating, working math problems on paper) not by just looking over one’s notes (a very ineffective method)
  • Quizzing and testing oneself as a study method, as well as to assess progress (good old-fashioned flash cards are a great learning method, because the brain learns best with quizzing and repetition).

After each class, I’ve been posting on my website my outline, notes and assignments.

I’ve also inserted links to many useful and free online videos, worksheets and interactive practice. My students use these posts for review or to catch up if they miss a class, and…

Anyone who wants to follow along at home each week is welcome to access all of these materials and use them as a FREE do-it-yourself SAT prep class!

We’ve had two classes so far (there will be six in all):

Session One (January 26)

Session Two (February 2)

I will post notes for the remaining classes after I teach them, on the following dates: Feb 9, 16, 23 and March 2.  Just go to my website,, click on the “Tests” page, and visit the purple box.

A student who follows my notes and does the work ought to be well-prepared for the March 9 SAT or any other SAT this year. (Make sure and register soon for the March 9 exam!)

It would thrill me to have any or all of you …

Can Limiting Choice Make Writing Flow?

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Do we need other people in order to understand ourselves better?

Take just a few seconds to consider this question.

OK, now: unless you were too rushed or distracted to actually invest those few seconds, you found that your mind automatically began forming a reply.

Questions can be great for kicking the brain into a productive mode, because:

  • Questions stimulate thinking, and…
  • Questions provide focus.

Some Learning for Dessert

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

[I've been devoting my Thursday blog posts to the topic of All Things Academic: reading, writing, 'rithmetic and the other school subjects.]

Here’s a Thanksgiving feast for your brain, a few of my favorite websites for educational games and videos:

Sporcle has quizzes on all sorts of subject matter. How well do you know the countries of Africa, or the periodic table, or sports teams? What countries have the highest populations of turkeys?

On Quizlet you can make your own flash cards (online or printed), or use sets in their extensive collection. Brush up on your vocabulary (excellent for test prep!) or your times tables or your French verbs. I really like their “Scatter” game, one of several flashcard-flipping options you can try.

Getting Back Into the Writing Groove

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

Several factors have thrown me off my nice, comfortable writing routine, including some extra part-time work and then a freak snowstorm that left us without power or Internet access for a week.

I stopped blogging because my routine had been disrupted. My morning writing time was no longer available, and that’s when my head was in “writing mode.”


Subscribe to this Blog:

Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner

Recent Comments
  • Joe: Ten days ago I said goodbye to my best friend Caesar. He was an eight and a half year old Aussie who was full of...
  • Kim: Eleven days ago, my fiancé and I lost our sweet boy, Finn – our amazing, loving, gentle cat….my...
  • Kim: Eleven days ago, my fiancé and I lost our sweet Finn, our beloved cat, and my engagement gift to my fiancé. He...
  • oldblackdog: I had a math teacher — way back in high school – and you always had to show the steps....
  • va: I’m definitely a do it in my head mathematician. I abhor teachers who require work and formulas...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code

Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!