Category Archives: Exams

Five tips on how to “study better” for an exam: extending memorization for brain memory and recall

memoryWhen students say they don’t “test well” or that they “don’t know how to study,” parents and teachers often respond with suggestions — and criticism — to, well, just “study harder.” Great. But what does “study harder” actually mean?

We can see how “studying harder” might actually work if we divide learning into the two distinct parts of:

  • Factual Knowledge
  • Application of Knowledge

The first is straight memory, while the second requires its application, by which we mean extension through comparison, analysis, evaluation, and so on. Thereby “studying harder” requires development of first, factual knowledge, and, second, using it. Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 3: how to take a test (or, reading instructions & not running out of time)

Test Prep help from the A+ ClubWhen a parent of a middle or high school teen worries that “my student doesn’t test” well, what’s missing is a combination of goal setting, preparation and execution.

As discussed in the previous posts on “Successful Assessments,” testing success consists of:

  • Identifying teacher/ test expectations (“no surprises”)
  • Preparing effectively (learning v. cramming)
  • Executing on test day (test taking strategies)

Test prep above all else

“Easy” tests are those students have or are effectively prepared for: if the student knows what to expect and prepares for it, the results will be strong.

That said, there are still a few things a student can do to better results on the test day.

A couple do-nots on test day include: Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 2: how to prepare for a test (or learning all along not just cramming)

Successful Test Prep from the A+ ClubParents concerned about their teen’s middle and high school exam and test prep might consider that studying isn’t just a matter of reviewing notes and study guides. Successful testing requires ongoing learning.

Here are some strategies for parents to empower their student’s exam prep and overall academic success.

In our series on  Successful Assessment: how to prepare for a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?), we are reviewing the essential parts of successful testing:

  1. No Surprises (identified teacher expectations)
  2. Student Prepared (successful learning)
  3. Student had time to finish (successful test execution)

This post regards student preparation. It’s one thing to know what will be on a test (see Part 1: Identifying Expectations) and also to understand it . But can you perform it yourself? Continue reading

A Successful Assessment pt 1: how to know what will be on the test (or identifying teacher expectations)

Successful Testing from the A+ ClubFor successful testing, students need to know what will be on the test. Sounds obvious, but parents don’t want to hear from their teens that there were “surprises” on a test or that they studied for the wrong thing.

This edition of the Successful Assessment will review how to help your teenage student identify what will be on a test.

As outlined in the introductory post, How to approach a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?), at the A+ Club, we help middle, high school and college students succeed on formal assessments, what we usually call “quizzes” and “tests.”  Our quick measure of a successful assessment means:

  1. No Surprises (identified teacher expectations)
  2. Student Prepared (successful learning)
  3. Student had time to finish (successful test execution)

No surprises!

“No Surprises” on a test means the student knew what to expect, knew what to study, and was familiar with every part or aspect of the test. Continue reading

A Successful Assessment: how to approach a test (or why doesn’t my child test well?)

We often hear from parents that “my child doesn’t test well.”

Teens have lots of excuses for their grades, and blaming it on the test is one that parents fall for all the time.

In the A+ Club, we measure middle, high school and college student success on a test or major assessment in terms of 1) identifying teacher expectations; 2) student preparation;  and 3) successful execution on the test day. Continue reading

“I don’t test well” — or do you just not prepare enough?

Testing issues?

You understand it in class, but not when you have to do it on the test?

You do all your homework, but then the teacher pops a question you never saw before?

Actually, you test precisely as well as you learn.

Nice try, though.

We hear this from parents as much as from students:

“My daughter does all her homework but she just doesn’t test well.”

And then

“I think she has test anxiety.”

It’s almost comforting to know that your child doesn’t test well. One would want to sympathize with that, because it would seem to explain things. But it’s just not true.

Here are the components of “testing well”:

  1. Identify teacher expectations

  2. Internalize them through repetitive practice.

“Testing” is demonstration of learning in what we call a “formal assessment.” Certainly there are additional pressures and conditions to render a formal assessment more difficult than homework or classwork. There’s the time limit, there’s the formality of the situation, and the discomfort a teacher getting serious all of a sudden. But that doesn’t change the fact that none of those additional challenges do anything but emphasize preparedness — or lack thereof.

Guided v. Independent Practice

For students who simply do not engage the workflow that teachers expect, they will not “test well” unless they are exceptionally bright and can learn on the fly without studying. Their grades will still suffer, because middle and high school grades are usually no more than 30 or 40 percent from formal assessments.

So acing every test without doing any homework starts you off on a B or C, and maintaining even those grades requires 100% on tests and quizzes. Good luck with that.

For students who follow in the classroom, who understand teacher expectations, and who do the homework and studying that’s required of them — and still do not “test well,” it’s not a “testing” issue. It’s the learning.

A couple of things may be going on:

1. Compliance without learning:

What we call “overly compliant” students are more concerned with fulfilling the form of teacher (or parent) expectations without actually engaging its substance. When this happens, homework and studying happen without real learning. It shows up as high  homework (process) and low test (learning) grades.

2. Lack of lesson internalization:

Whether or not the student engages the expected workflow, if test scores are low, then the student is simply not studying enough. Experts will tell you how it takes 30 distinct acts of learning/practicing something to fully internalize, i.e., to full know it.

With school work, those 30 or whatever acts of learning start with the teacher’s first lesson, then continue through the “guided practice,” in which the teacher shows and leads the students in the lesson (setting expectations, engaging students, building relevancy and breaking it down for understanding — you know, all those things a good teacher does…) and on to enough “independent” practice through which the student has applied the teacher’s learning her or himself.

A quick way to measure “internalization” is to try to teach it to someone else. If you can’t explain it to someone who doesn’t already know it, then you don’t really know it. This is how a parent can engage a child in studying topics that the parent doesn’t know about: “explain it to me.” If the student can’t, then the student needs more learning, be it guided or independent practice or both.

But here’s the crutch: is it important enough to the student to apply him or herself to it fully?


So let’s add an additional component to “testing well”:

3. Making it important enough to study and practice enough (relevancy and commitment)

Overly compliant students do not engage lessons meaningfully, as do other sorts of underperformers who may procrastinate, lack  executive function and other secretarial skills and do not process and practice enough independently.

Just as we would ask the internally-motivated student who learns only topics of interest, the overly compliant, externally-motivated student must adopt that curiosity and drive to learn of the intrinsic learner in order to get past “I don’t test well.”

Both sets must apply themselves with adequate  preparation, practice, and purpose in order to raise those test grades, even in an unenjoyable class.

Heh, it’s only a grade — which actually matters.

So quit making excuses about “testing issues” and get to work really learning it so that when you do have to spit it back out on a test amidst formal, “sit-down and shut-up,” nerve-wracking settings, it’s actually easy — because you already and truly know it.

– Michael

Why do students cheat? Procrastination and cheating

Shhhh… academic dishonesty going on.

Well, yeah, students cheat. Schools look upon it as a horrible violation of civic rules, a sure sign of a life of failure ahead, and they threaten dire consequences for it. Frankly, it’s more like a speeding violation than the theft that it is: cheaters rarely get caught, and usually just for the big things (call it “reckless cheating”).

As with speeding, treating cheating as an offense against mankind won’t stop it. Like all things in schools, the snap of the finger just doesn’t magically transform children into little angels and prodigies. So they cheat. Continue reading

Three Simple Ways to Make Memorization Easier from The A+ Club

While it is best to retain information through a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter at hand,

sometimes that’s asking too much.

Particularly for young students who cannot yet choose their field of study, passing a test might call for some rigorous and effective memorization. The A+ Club from LLC helps students learn the executive function skills many lack through our online tutoring and mentoring programs in a variety of subjects. Expert educators also offer advice and strategies, such as the following memorization tips, to help students help themselves.

Check out some of The A+ Club’s tips for retaining information: Continue reading

SAT Time!

scantron_MH900402266Is it really possible to improve your SAT or ACT scores?

If you’re like me and you spent good money on SAT prep classes for your child and you came away unsure about whether or not it was a good thing, know this: any preparation and practice for the SAT or ACT tests is a good thing.  But do those SAT prep classes and programs really help students get fundamentally better or do they only help them perform somewhat better on that exam day?

I’ve been asking everyone I can about what it takes to innately improve SAT scores, and those answers are guesses at best. Practice, practice, practice is the rule. Not very scientific. But neither is any other solution out there. The best we can tell, student improvement comes from more careful and more practiced reading of SAT / ACT questions themselves, and not just from vocabulary or math practice. That helps, of course. But without understanding the questions as fully as possible, without the most comprehension of the questions and the information conveyed, there is no improvement beyond just knowing the answer, which, of course, is memorization and not skill — and skill is what these tests are designed to measure.

At The A+ Club we call this “Question Attack.” In the work we have done with our SAT tutoring students, we have seen some nice gains in scores. Our tutors, either high-level college students or high school teachers, work with students to address their question comprehension. Doesn’t matter if it’s math or verbal — it’s understanding the question, getting information from it is crucial for better performance. Reading can be improved upon, so reading questions more strenuously is a matter of confidence, focus, and practice.


To back up our view of reading, I just learned this weekend that students of Latin outperform students of other foreign languages on the SAT verbal tests, and that includes Spanish, French, German, Italian and Hebrew students. See here for The Latin Advantage. The reason for it is simple, in that Latin empowers word comprehension which then empowers holistic comprehension so that students understand more of each question and thereby avoid the tricks built in to the multiple choice format.

SAT questions operate by presenting five possible answers. Of these, generally, two are wholly wrong (although tricky about it), two are plausible in that the question text suggests or references them so that incomplete reading of the question can mislead, and only one is fully or precisely correct.  Try out this Critical Reading: an analysis of right and wrong answer choices discussion post.  Understanding that there is no single strategy or trick to scoring better on these exams, our point, fairly well addressed at this website, is that better scores will result from better reading of questions, including — and especially  — in math. I’m not a math person, and I scored higher in math than verbal. I never understood why until we recently began this investigation: my math scores were the result of careful reading of the questions and not a reflection of my math skills.

Spelling and More Latin

Just now the Wall Street Journal runs a book review of “Spell it Out” by David Crystal, a history of English spelling. It’s fascinating stuff, especially such things as the origin of the “h” in ghost and ghastly. It came from Flemish printers who were hired by the first important English publisher, William Caxton. The Flemish experts knew the printing press better than the English language, so they adjusted some words to look more like their own language, thus the “gh” in some words. They also spelled goose “ghoose, and goat “ghoat,” but those spellings didn’t take. Still, we’re stuck with “ghost.”

Elsewhere, the review of Crystal’s book explains how Latin comprehension helps make sense of English words:

Later, etymology played a part in spelling reform. Mr. Crystal paraphrases the Renaissance attitude: ‘If a word comes ultimately from Latin, let’s see if there’s anything in the Latin spelling that would help fix it in the English mind.’ This is why there is a b in debt and a p in
receipt. A knowledge of Latin helps with other English spellings. If you know that supercilium was the Latin for “eyebrow,” you will spell
supercilious with a c rather than an s at its heart. Admirable ends “-able” because it derives from the Latin admirare; audible ends “-ible” because it comes from audire.

Truly, it’s worth it to spend some time in that dead old, ancient Roman language.

Test Dates

Well, here come the tests, as per the charts below. To help you along, you may wish to take advantage of our 2-hour SAT tutoring special: 50% off for two hours with one of our high-level college student tutors. Normally $40/ hour, we’ll give you two hours for that amount so that you can try it out and see the power of attacking and comprehending questions.  Our college student tutors, by the way, are marvelous. They are caring, motivated, and want to help high school students succeed.

Let me know your thoughts and questions!

– Michael

SAT .S. registration dates and deadlines for 2013-14

Test Dates Test U.S. Registration Deadlines
(Expire at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, U.S.A.)
Regular Late (a fee applies)
October 5, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests September 6, 2013 September 20, 2013
November 2, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests October 3, 2013 October 18, 2013
December 7, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests November 8, 2013 November 22, 2013
January 25, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests December 27, 2013 January 10, 2014
March 8, 2014 SAT only February 7, 2014 February 21, 2014
May 3, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests April 4, 2014 April 18, 2014
June 7, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests May 9, 2014 May 23, 2014

ACT Test Dates in the U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada

Test Date Registration Deadline (Late Fee Required)
September 21, 2013 August 23, 2013 August 24–September 6, 2013
October 26, 2013 September 27, 2013 September 28–October 11, 2013
December 14, 2013 November 8, 2013 November 9–22, 2013
February 8, 2014* January 10, 2014 January 11–24, 2014
April 12, 2014 March 7, 2014 March 8–21, 2014
June 14, 2014 May 9, 2014 May 10–23, 2014