Why Students Must Keep a Journal

In this unprecedented era of isolation, students are urged to keep a journal for several reasons:

  • Writing down your thoughts is relaxing and inspirational
  • Writing regularly makes you a better writer and improves communication skills
  • Writing down observations and thoughts increases creativity
  • Writing consistently may give you ideas for your college application essays
  • Making lists is not only productive but helps you gain self-confidence as tasks are completed
  • Writing allows you to gain insight and perspective as you read prior posts

So take a blank notebook and start writing, by hand!  Write consistently. It does not matter what subject you write about.  Just jot down thoughts and observations until you decide to focus on specific subjects.  Maybe these entries will be subject matter for your common application essay which can be found by clicking here

A Brutally Honest Post


Hundreds of times I have heard the following from parents, “My child has a 90 plus average in High School, but she performs horribly on the SAT.  She is just a bad test taker”. My reply, “How can she possibly have a 90 plus average, if she is a lousy test taker? Aren’t her grades based on quizzes, tests, and written essays?” “Well, they inevitably retort, “I mean she is a poor standardized test taker”

Ok, now I am going to be brutally honest. If your child is in the top 25% of his or her High School class but cannot crack the 50th percentile nationwide on the SAT or the ACT, then your child will struggle in college.

In 1972, the average Verbal score on the SAT was approximately 530. By 2017, the average verbal score had dropped to 495. During a similar period, the average High School GPA rose from 3.27 in 1998 to 3.38 in 2016.

How can this be? Two Words-Grade Inflation. Admissions officers are aware of rampant nationwide grade inflation. Grade Inflation dilutes the value of the High School transcript because there is no way for an admissions officer to compare a student in Iowa with a student in Long Island, NY who have similar G.P.A.’s. In order to account for grade inflation there must be some sort of standard apples to apples tie breaker. Hence, the reliance on standardized SAT and ACT scores.

So back to the original conundrum—how is it possible for all the students to excel in High School yet fail miserably on the SAT or ACT? The answer is-Reading!!! Students don’t read so they lack critical reading skills, poor vocabulary, poor command of grammar and poor comprehension. In the Passage Based Reading section, they don’t pick up the tone or mood of passage, they cannot read between the lines, and they cannot spot critical points of the thesis or main idea.

In Math, they are unable to problem solve complex word problems because they don’t understand what the problem is asking.

How does one get better at reading? Read, read, read. Read for fun, read something which interests you. Don’t sit there all-day texting and playing video games. Take an interest in something. Be consistent. Set aside 15 minutes per day and just read. Read with your pen. Make notes in the margins, underline things which interest you such as quotes, expert opinions, funny or sarcastic sentences. Be curious as you read. Ask questions such as “  wonder what its like to? What is the problem and how will it be solved? Why did the author write this?

It is never too late. Parents please encourage your children to develop a love for reading as early as possible in their lives. They will be forever in your debt.


Tricks, Tips & Secrets…………..


Whenever a new parent calls me about tutoring, he or she inevitably asks “What tips and tricks are you going to teach my child to master the test?”

My response, “If he or she wants to learn tricks, hire a magician!”

The point being– there are no shortcuts which will make a non-reader become a brilliant reader; there is no magic pixie dust which will automatically turn your student into a problem solver, master of grammar, critical thinker or logical reasoner.

Think about this– How did your son or daughter become a skilled dancer, artist, writer, athlete, musician, singer, or actor? Answer-Years of practice, every day, several hours each week, no days off, no weeks off.

Only when the student has acquired the necessary fundamental skills of reading, writing, critical thinking and problem solving will any “tips and tricks”add any value to her overall scores on standardized tests.

Ask successful students how they achieved their testing goals.  I bet none will tell you that “tricks and tips” were responsible.  I bet they will all say, “Hard Work”.

So start early, encourage your child to do something each day, no days off and eventually your child will master anything he or she sets her mind to.

Summer Reading Club

On our Facebook Page we will be posting several articles each week from the NY Times and other publications on a variety of topics.  Everyone is invited to read these articles, define the words we put out there and join in the discussion.  This will accomplish many things–it will help you become a better reader; it will help increase your word power; it will make you a better writer; and it will give you a greater depth of knowledge about many different subjects.  To access our Facebook Page Click HereSAT Reading

Servers Who Refuse to Write Down Your Order


How many times has this happened to you?  At a family function 6 to 10 of you are sitting at a round table when the server comes over to take the drink and salad order.  He or she politely listens to everyone with hands behind the back.  Not writing anything down!  Amazing you think– this person has a steel trap memory.  She can probably tell me that I was born on a Tuesday 55 years ago.

Ah, but then the food comes.  Uncle Bob asked for a lemon in his drink and got a lime instead.  You wanted dressing on the side with no onions but not surprisingly, your salad is smothered with both dressing and onions.  Yuck!

What does this have to do with test taking?  Great question.  Many of my students try to figure out complex (and sometimes simple) math problems in their head.  Many times this will result in sloppy mistakes and even worse– a blank test booklet makes it impossible to re-check your work should you have extra time!

As soon as I see this, I tell them the above waiter story which they can all relate.  I also tell them solving a math problem is not like enjoying art at a museum.  Math is a systematic step by step logical progression.  Yet many like to solve a math problem by tilting their heads, sizing up the shape or pattern and filling in a blank as enjoying some piece of abstract art.

Math is not abstract art.  Math is precise. Math is not subject to interpretation.  There can be no debate about the correct answer.  Don’t try to be cool while solving math problems.  This is not Jeopardy where you must buzz in before your opponent.  You will not impress me and you will certainly not be impressed with your score if you continue to juggle things in your head.



Math Problems With Only Two Outcomes

Recognizing when there are only two possible outcomes to an SAT Math Problem will save time and the potential for errors in calculation. For example, if 30% of books are on sale, then 70% of the books are not on sale. If  2/5th of the students in Mrs. Smith’s kindergarten class are girls, then you must immediately realize that 3/5th of Mrs. Smith’s kindergarten class are boys.  If it rains 3 out of 5 days in a month, then it did not rain 2 out of 5 days in that month.

This binomial logic also helps with problems involving discounting.  Understand that 20% off the existing price is the same as 80% of the original price.  The natural tendency is to figure out what the 20% discount is and then subtract this amount from the original price.  This involves two calculations, extra time and the potential to make a careless mistake.  Why not just multiply the original price by .80?

Back to School

Summer is winding down and for most High School Seniors this means revving up ACT Prep (for late Sept) , SAT Prep (for early Oct) working on your first essay draft for college applications, getting your program card, and setting up a meeting with your guidance counselor–  WOW!

For those coming up from middle school this means adjusting to life as a High School Freshman. For Sophomores and Juniors this means keeping up the same expected standard of excellence.

Enjoy the last passing days of summer and get mentally prepared for the tasks ahead.

What You Should Be Doing Now

High School Juniors registered for the March SAT should be completing one practice test per week until test day.  There are 2 weeks left–  So, a minimum of two practice tests should be completed, scored and reviewed.

Those taking the May SAT should be arranging tutors and/or SAT prep classes as well as ACT prep classes.

High School Sophomores should be focusing on their grades, their after school community service, their vocabulary and their reading skills.

Thinking Fast and Slow

As I was reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Princeton Professor and Nobel Prize recipient Daniel Kahneman, I came across the following mental exercise on p. 44

A bat and ball cost $1.10

The bat costs $1 more than the ball

How much does the ball cost?

If you answered 10 cents, you used your intuitive mind.  You were too lazy or you rushed through the problem by trying to figure this out off the top your head.  You did not “work to find the answer”  You did not want to invest the time to write down a simple equation or check your work.  If you answered 10 cents then the total cost would be $1.20 (.10 for the ball, $1.10 for the bat)

You should have made a simple equation x+x+1 = 1.10. Solve for x gets you .05.  Checking your work the ball is .05 and the bat is 1.05 for a total value of $1.10.

Why is this important?  Because the test makers will always fool the student who rushes.  The student who rushes will always fall for the trick answer because he and she refuses to take a few extra seconds to think things through.

Be Thankful

Be thankful for riding out the storm.  Be thankful for learning things–new vocabulary words, the ability to write creatively, problem solving skills, thinking outside the box.  Be thankful for the personal growth which comes with learning.  Be thankful for preparing to become college ready.  Be thankful for the opportunities which will be presented to you in the coming year.

Be thankful that we live in a country which allows us to learn and to improve ourselves.