Study Gradually, Starting NOW, To Be Ready For Final Exams

Many otherwise good students didn't do as well as they had hoped on their midterm exams. They couldn't remember the quantities of material, or they couldn't pull isolated facts and procedures together and use them in a coordinated way.

What's the point of working so hard to learn, a student may wonder, if the material is just going to fall out of my head? 

The brain holds onto information which it has used actively and repeatedly. Research shows that the way to get information to stick in long-term memory is to keep quizzing yourself, using flash cards and practice tests.

Try these study strategies to hold on to what you learn and be ready for final exams in May or June:

Study a bit every day. Cramming might get you through a test, but what you "learned" will then quickly fall away, leaving you to study the very same stuff all over again before the final exam. You should be studying all along, by taking some time every day to rework a few math problems from old tests or homework, rewrite a paragraph from an essay that was returned to you, flip a few flashcards from a previous chapter, etc.

Study the same way you'll be tested. Rereading notes and highlighting aren't great study strategies, because on the test you'll need to retrieve and apply the material, not just read it. Study by using flash cards, working math problems on paper, and writing short answers and paragraphs, because these methods are similar to what you'll need to do on exam day.
Strive to understand. Your brain is very practical, and it doesn't hold on to material it doesn't understand (because what good is that?) So, make sure you take the time to understand what you are learning; this is hard at first when you know very little, but it makes learning easier and easier as you become more knowledgeable.


Tools To Get You Studying for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE and Other Tests

Several of my students took the first New SAT on March 5, and they found the test wasn't nearly as hard as they had feared. Like all new things, standardized tests become less scary and more manageable with familiarity and practice.

There are plenty of resources out there to help you get ready for any standardized test you'll be taking, from elementary level through grad school. I've collected a few of my favorites below.


Pythagorean Pitfalls: Help for Math Students

As I go on my tutoring rounds, I wind up reteaching and clarifying the same material over and over. Certain topics and concepts are just plain hard for students to wrap their heads around.

Many kids in grades 6-10 are currently covering Pythagorean Theorem or other geometry topics, and many are struggling (as usual!) with the word problems.

If you are a parent, thinking Yipes ! I don't remember Pythagorean Theorem, the good news is that most students find the actual formula pretty do-able. But, they need help in reading the problem and drawing the diagram.

Here's a sample problem from one textbook:


Ratios Are Hard For Student Brains To Learn

Right now, algebra students are studying unit rates, proportions and dimensional analysis. Geometry students are working on similar figures and triangle proportionality theorems.

All of these topics are hard for the same reason: They involve ratios, which may seem easy for adults but are actually deeply challenging for the learning brain to grasp.

A ratio is the comparison of two numbers, usually using a fraction bar. If there are two dogs and three cats in a room, I could write that the ratio of dogs to cats is 2/3.

Like so many things (reading, driving), ratios become second nature with enough practice, and people lose touch with how difficult they were to learn. And like reading and driving, ratios are hard for the brain because they involve simultaneity of thought. The brain is required to multi-task; it must think about the 2 dogs while at the same time thinking about the 3 cats.


Willpower-Friendly Tips For Students And Adults

Willpower is strongest at the beginning of the day and when glucose levels in the bloodstream are adequate.
You can perform better and succeed in getting tasks accomplished if you plan accordingly:

Bring a snack to long exams such as the SAT.
Avoid making decisions before lunch or at the end of the day.
Plan your day ahead of time (that morning or the night before) and then follow your schedule. Don't just float through the day...


The Surprising Key to Willpower

New Year's is the classic time to resolve to form new habits, but most of us then abandon our good intentions by mid-February, if not before.

It turns out that our willpower comes, not from the sincerity of our resolve, but from the glucose level in our bloodstream.The brain runs on glucose. Even when not working hard, the brain consumes 25% of circulating glucose, even though it only takes up 3% of the body's weight.

Decision-making is especially taxing, and the brain burns glucose like crazy when it's forced to make lots of fine-grained choices over an extended period of time.