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.



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.

Are Your Priorities Straight?

Many students fail to see the big picture. They claim they have “no time” for SAT prep. Amazingly, they have time for practice, games, rehearsal, recitals, shows, driver’s ed, the mall, the movies and hanging out. How is this possible? Priorities! If there is time for play, there certainly is time for work. Allocate some of that play time for study time. If you do your work early on the weekends when everyone is asleep, you won’t be borrowing from time with your friends. Every Saturday and Sunday morning wake up early and prep for an hour. Start ten weeks prior to test day. That’s a full 20 hours of prep in addition to any private tutoring or prep class. Everyone can do that math!

The Benefits of Private Tutoring

  • Lessons take place in the quiet of your own home or designated area, without the distractions of others, without iPods, cellphones and the TV blaring
  • Flexible scheduling– after school or on the weekends
  • No travel time required.  We come to you!  A great benefit for the busy student who often must run out of the house after the lesson to go to another activity
  • Personal access to your instructor in between lessons;  via email or phone
  • Tailored lessons focus solely on the student’s weaknesses
  • Valuable skills learned from weekly lessons eventually become habit-forming

When To Use a Calculator

Use a calculator under these situations:

1. When working with very large numbers

2. When working with decimals

3. When solving a difficult graphing or function question.

4. After setting up the problem correctly with your pencil, use your calculator to solve whatever equation, ratio or matrix you have scribbled on the page.

Do not use your calculator as the primary source for solving math problems.  It cannot think for you. Use your calculator at the end of the solution not the beginning.  Use your calculator to check for arithmetic errors and to confirm what you already know.

Become a Creative Writer

Many of our students fare poorly on their initial SAT essay, low marks that often hurt their overall writing scores. Usually, these students score poorly on their first SAT essays because they have had no prior spontaneous creative writing experience. Every essay they have been required to write in High School has been pre-assigned, outlined, drafted, re-drafted and edited.

Unlike the typical High School essay assignment, SAT essay topics are never disclosed prior to test day. Because the student is unaware of the essay topic until the exam starts, the student is forced to “think on their feet” and argue a thesis that they may or may not have previously thought about. Students do not have the safety net of grammar or spell check, luxuries that assist them during every take-home paper they write for school. Furthermore, the finished product must be written in their own hand, in pencil and in 25 minutes! A daunting task indeed.

To avoid the potential of “writer’s block” on the SAT, we urge that High School students immediately start practicing and learning creative writing skills. We instruct our students to buy a composition notebook to use as an informal journal. We also urge our students to recognize the time of day which they feel they are the most creative. At such time, they are required to write down their thoughts and observations using vivid and descriptive language. No specific topics are mandated, but yesterday’s severe weather would have provided an excellent opportunity for students looking to hone their creative writing techniques.

Journal entries must be completed everyday until they become habit. After a month or so, we review the entries and make our suggestions. Usually, we suggest ways for the student to achieve a balance of descriptiveness and brevity. We encourage our writers to mix up their sentence structure, decrease the wordiness of their entries, avoid the passive voice, and vary their descriptive language. Most importantly, we also teach our students to avoid writing like a child! When a student writes in “baby” language, we work with the student on rewrites to achieve a more adult voice in their pieces.
Bottom line- put the pencil to the page every day, let the ideas and observations flow, and a writer will eventually be born.

Perfectionists Need Not Try The SAT!

While perfectionism may be a great trait in sports, on the job and in life, do not try to be perfect on the SAT.  Only a very small percentage of all test takers will ever achieve the elusive 2400 score.  For the rest of us, our mission is not to be perfect, but to answer as many questions correctly and in a timely manner without getting bogged down on an impossible question.

The SAT is a moderately timed test, you must work at an average pace.  You do not need to be a speed reader, but you cannot stare at the page for several minutes either.  For math, you do not have to solve every problem in 10 seconds, but you cannot spend 5 minutes calculating and crossing out, calculating and crossing out, etc., etc.

Perfectionists are loath to omit a question for fear they are giving up.  Trust us, your life will not change and you will still get into a great university if you get over your perfectionism and learn to strategically omit the impossible questions.