Conquer that Math (or Science) Final!

Finals are here, and there’s a whole bunch of subjects to conquer. Check out last year’s post on how to “Lower Finals Stress” for some good studying tips. For this post, however, my students’ most challenging classes are their math and science classes… and the most challenging problems are the word problems. Thus, this post focuses very specifically on attacking word problems, because they have been my most requested topic this past month. If you are facing a difficult math problem (or chemistry or physics problem, etc.), ask yourself these questions…

1) What is the problem telling you?

In order to get to the answer, you have to know where to start. As a character says in Alice in Wonderland, “Start at the beginning!” Seriously: start at the beginning of the problem. Most students start at the end, with the question–which is definitely very important and I’ll address that next–but to begin a problem, look at “the givens” first. Most problems give you exactly what you need, nothing more, nothing less. Often, after recognizing the given info, your brain will automatically know what it needs to do, because it is the lesson you’ve been working on.

2) What is the problem asking for?

Many students just start guessing at what they need to do, without actually looking at what the problem is asking. If your brain didn’t automatically know what to do with the givens, then looking at the actual question will tell you exactly what you need. It may say, “Calculate the circumference” or “what is the length?” What is the unknown piece that the problem wants you to find?

3) What is the formula you need?

What is the formula or equation you need to find that unknown piece? Think of the lessons from the previous weeks. There are usually only a few equations or methods that you’ve learned. What is the formula that combines the question and the givens? Do you have all the pieces you need for this formula? If not, you’re probably only missing one piece–what is the formula to find THAT piece?

4) Plug in and solve.

Once you figure out the formula(s) you need, you now have a plan. Plug in (aka substitute) the pieces that you have, to find the piece that you need. If you have another formula to use after the first one, then continue plugging in your pieces, to get to your answer.

5) When you get an answer, does it answer the problem’s question?

This is important! Most students get an answer, and they don’t think of whether it answers the question being asked. Perhaps it’s just the answer to the first formula you needed. Check to make sure the answer you got makes sense. If the question asked for a “total,” then your answer should probably be bigger than the starting numbers; if you got a smaller number, then you might have done something incorrectly.

Oh, and please label your answer with the correct units. This goes along with making sure the answer makes sense. If you are solving for length but you label your answer with kilograms, then something is off.

If you need more math help, check out my post on “How to Help with Math Homework.” For more science help, check out “How to Help with Science Homework.” With consistent practice, you’ll improve at math and science so much that you might even like doing the problems!

Good luck, and happy learning!

The End is Nigh…

The end of the semester and school year, that is! With just a handful of weeks left, how can your student have a successful end of the year? What can be done to help your student’s focus? There are projects, essays, and tests… So much work to do, how can your student tackle it all?

1) Make a schedule. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: time management is key to successful studying. List what needs to be done, assess how much time each task will take, and make a written schedule. Yes, WRITE IT DOWN. Writing down the schedule (specific tasks on each day) helps clarify what should be happening on each day. This gives the student clear and measurable goals. The internet has free printable calendars that can be used if your student needs to see the whole month at once. Otherwise, the student can just make a simple list on a plain piece of paper.

2) Take advantage of school programs. Every high school and most middle schools now have some kind of free on-campus tutoring or after-school help. Take advantage of them! Sign up for an after-school prep class in the subject that needs help. Volunteer faculty and (past) students help out in these programs, so usually there’s more than one person who can help the student understand the material. There may even be other class members at these school-sponsored events. So take advantage of the free help that’s all around.

3) Study better, not longer! If the student made a schedule (per step 1 above), we can see that there’s probably not enough time to spend on every task, as much as we would like anyhow. Join or start a study group, if one of the school programs doesn’t fit your student’s needs. Being able to teach a subject to others leads to better comprehension, better retention, and better grades!

As I stated in “Managing time effectively,” developing better study skills actually helps students study less. This is because better study habits result in more efficient studying. When we help the students in our lives become better scholars, everyone wins.

Happy learning!

Enjoy the break!

If you are in school or know someone in school, I’m sure excited cries of “Spring Break, woohoo!” have been filling the air. Depending on the school or district, this year’s Spring Breaks have been going since the end of March. Most high schoolers are out this week or next week though. If the student in your life is on “Spring Break, woohoo!” right now, here are some tips to make it a good one.

1) Give them a break. Everyone needs some time to relax. Just as adults need to unwind, so do students. Spring Break is a mini-vacation for students–a breather between the first half of the semester and the second half. Young students (including teenagers!) have short attention spans and need the break to recharge their minds and energies. Allow them to let go of the stresses for a little bit. Let them “let loose.” Motivation to do schoolwork comes easier after taking a short break to recollect your thoughts.

2) Do the homework early. I know, I just said to give everyone a break. However, in reality, teachers do assign homework, usually projects, over the break. Encourage your student to get it out of the way by doing it the first few days of break. That way, the project or essay won’t be looming over the whole break. It’s easier to enjoy the time off when the student isn’t dreading a big homework assignment. Once the assignment is done, the student can feel accomplished AND not have to think about homework!

3) Enjoy something together. Letting them enjoy the break on their own is fun, but also try to find some time to bond with the students in your life. If they’re around for the break–this will usually be the younger ones–plan an activity together. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant thing: just something that you don’t often get to do on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps that’s going to the beach or the mall. Play games together. Take a day trip to a nearby typically-tourist attraction. It can be something you’ve done before or something new. It’s the moments we share together that make life worth living, so spend some time on the break TOGETHER. Create a memory.

Have fun and happy learning!

Get started on that project!

Spring Break is in a couple weeks (if you aren’t on it already), and that means a couple more tests and probably a project due. Check out my previous posts if you’re stressing about tests. Preparing for tests and studying effectively for them are important things to know. So is understanding how to take tests efficiently. However, today’s post is about that upcoming project looming over you. Where do you even start???

1) Understand the project components and the time schedule. Read the project assignment, and understand what needs to be done. Projects (and essays and the like) usually have multiple tasks that need to be completed. It is important to understand what all those pieces are, so that you can plan accordingly. Once you understand what is needed, then you can organize your time with mini-deadlines. Managing your time wisely STARTS with understanding how many things needs to be done and how long each of those things will take.

2) Gather your research. Some projects need research or background work before you can even start on them. Thankfully, some teachers include “find research” as part of the project task. However, as you get older (upper high school or college), it is less likely that the teacher will tell you to gather research. It will be up to you! This step is important because projects are often about a “bigger picture” or bigger concept. When you gather research, you are learning about the background of the lesson, which in turn gives you a better understanding of the project.

3) Set aside larger amounts of time. As stated above, managing your time wisely starts with understanding how long each task will take. A project or essay takes longer to do than a regular homework assignment! So, not only can’t you expect to finish it in less than an hour, but you also have to estimate how much actual time it is going to take. Managing your time well means taking this into consideration. Schedule larger blocks of time (for each task!) than you normally would for a regular assignment. A good estimate is, decide how long you think a task will take, and then double it. This doubling will help account for problems that arise, taking a break, or just plain spacing out.

Now that you’re ready, get started on that project. The better you work, the sooner it will be done. Then you can enjoy your Spring Break. Let me know if you need help!

Happy learning!

Time to take some tests!

This past month, I have seen some hectic studying and some haphazard practice test-taking! There’s a lot of stress in the air, and it’s understandable. Students are worried about their state and national tests, as well as their regular class tests. All the questions I’ve received these past two months have been about studying for–and taking–tests. Since we’ve already covered some tips here and here on studying for tests, let’s see what can be done about TAKING the actual tests.

1) Underline and make notes. The CA High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), the SAT, the ACT, pretty much all the AP tests… they all have reading components. The student reads a selection and then has to answer questions about that reading. How can students remember what they read? Answer: by taking notes, just as they do with reading material in English class, History class, whatever.

However, because it is a test, the notes don’t have to be long. For example, just underline or jot down the main idea of a paragraph. Underline or circle examples of good imagery. Make a note about what the tone of the reading was, and so forth. Taking notes, even quick ones, will help you understand and remember the material better. Then, when you’re looking for the answer to a question, you’ll also be able to spot ideas faster if you have jotted things down. Your eyes are naturally drawn to your writing. So they’ll see that you wrote “main idea: we should take care of Nature” much easier than finding the answer in the reading again.

2) Answer the question in your mind BEFORE looking at the answer choices. (This deals with multiple choice questions, of course, but all the aforementioned tests are multiple choice.) Tests like these tend to put similar (or even WRONG!) answers into the answer choices. I hear all the time that “reading the answer choices just confused me.” I highly recommend answering the question yourself first, and then looking at the choices to find the one that matches the answer that you already thought in your head. By doing this, it reduces the chances of the answer choices planting ideas into your head. If you have to cover up the choices to prevent yourself from reading them before you’ve thought of something, then do it!

3) Manage the time wisely. Time is limited, and it should be used carefully. Understand how much time you have to take the test: how long can you spend on each question? In each section, answer all your easy questions first. This will give you a boost of confidence. It will also get you through a bunch of questions quickly, which means you can focus a little more time on the harder questions. Good time management helps reduce the feeling of being rushed.

Also, keep an eye on the clock (time remaining) so that you have enough time to finish. Students have told me, “I didn’t know I was running out of time!” That should never happen. Even if you may not have enough time to complete what you wanted, you should always know when time is coming to an end.

And last of all, BREATHE! If you’ve prepared and gotten a good night’s sleep, it should all be okay.

Good luck and happy learning!

How to Decrease Stress during Studying

As I spoke about in my last blog post, state and standardized testing is upon us! Many students are busy preparing and studying (or maybe not studying…) for these tests, and they are stressing out because they still have their regular tests to worry about! There are so many tests; how is a student supposed to study for them all? Well, in addition to implementing the overall tips from “Preparing for big tests!” here are a few extra tips to help your student focus on the “right” material.

1) Study what you “kind of” know. Many students make the mistake of spending time studying the topics that they already know–or worse, they spend their time trying to study EVERYTHING. Neither of these is actually very helpful when a student has limited time. Even though reviewing material that you know helps boost confidence (and that’s fine at first), after a “once-over,” the student should move on to material that is less familiar. For more efficient studying, before starting, students should quickly group each skill or chapter that will be on the test into one of three categories: 1) stuff you know, 2) stuff you “kind of” know, and 3) stuff you don’t know at all (and probably have already tried to understand, fruitlessly).

Once the topics are categorized, students can then move through them more efficiently. Go over the #1 material once, then move on to the #2 material. This is where students should spend most of their time: solidifying #2 topics, not breezing through #1 material or trying to learn the more difficult #3 material. Students should only move onto #3 material once the #2 topics have moved into the #1 group.

How do we know what should go in the #3 group? Easy: when the student looks at the topic and says, “I have NO IDEA what this means.” It is more efficient to strengthen somewhat-familiar material (and move it into long-term memory) than to pick up pieces of material that make the student want to cry. Thiscategorizationmethod decreases the frustration and helplessness that students feel while studying.

A good example of this is when young students work on the multiplication facts, aka “the times table.” Often, students only like to review the 2s and 5s because they have those down solid. Few students want to work on the 3s and 4s and definitely not 6s, 7s, 8s, or 9s. However, after a quick review of the 2s and 5s, students should move on to the 3s… and STAY on the 3s until they have it down, then move on to the 4s. Many parents who try to help tend to run the 2s through 12s in quick succession, then start over again at the 2s and try to run through to the 12s again. Too much at once; that’s exhausting! As a friend said, “that’s too much elephant to eat at once.” Students should work on chewing and swallowing one piece of the elephant first, before chewing on the next piece. Don’t try to chew all the pieces at the same time.

2) Plan your studying. Make a schedule for what to study on what day, at what time. One of the biggest hurdles that students have is time management. This creates a lot of test anxiety to overcome. “There’s SO MUCH to do. I don’t have enough time to study EVERYTHING!” I have no doubt there is a lot of material. Some courses cover eight chapters (or more) in just four weeks! So scheduling when to study what is crucial to a student’s success.

By partitioning the study time, it is easier to see if there is actually enough time AND help focus the studying on one topic at a time. For example, if the student has 11 days to study eight chapters, obviously, do Chapter 1 on day 1, Chapter 2 on day 2, etc. That leaves a couple extra days to take a break or re-categorize (see tip 1 above). And if Chapter 3 is on day 3, remember only to study Chapter 3 on that day! This way, the studying is focused, and at the end of the day, hopefully that chapter has moved into the #1 category, which will help build feelings of accomplishment and confidence.

3) And seriously, get a tutor or join a study group! Many students aren’t able to understand everything during the class period. If you are one of these students, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Getting third-party help is how successful students succeed. Study groups are helpful because they give students the chance to teach others what they know and get help on what they don’t. Everyone has absorbed different parts of the material, and by sharing with one another, it reinforces and increases what each person knows.

If one-on-one help is preferred, there are tutors on campus and privately (such as myself) who can provide more individualized studying. Some of the most successful students use tutors because a tutor can properly guide the direction of a student’s studying.

Good luck and happy learning!

Preparing for big tests!

If your high school student hasn’t started yet, it is definitely time to prepare for the upcoming statewide and nationwide tests! The beginning of March has students facing the CA High School Exit Exam (or CAHSEE, for short) and the SAT. Within a couple more months, students have the ACT and the AP tests.

Every high schooler has to pass the CAHSEE in order to graduate high school (some exceptions are allowed). Then if the student wants to go straight to college/university, it is required at nearly all of the 3,000+ colleges in the U.S. that the student take the SAT and/or ACT. These tests help colleges gauge a student’s potential for academic success by comparing scores with other college-bound students. Even though some colleges are starting to make these tests optional for applicants, it’s likely still going to be a while before your students don’t have to worry about them. So how can you help the student in your life prepare for these tests?

1) Review the basics! Every properly-developed building needs a foundation, and so does your student’s education. To build up English (Language Arts) skills, read consistently and analyze the reading. Whether it’s a magazine/internet article or a full-sized novel, reading builds vocabulary and comprehension. To refresh math skills, all libraries have great resources to review any math topic. It’s amazing how important fractions, decimals and percents are to everyday life.

2) Take advantage of prep classes. Many high schools offer a CAHSEE preparation class as a full regular period. Teachers review every topic on the CAHSEE with worksheets and practice tests. Students who take advantage of the review lessons in prep classes have much greater success. Schools also offer prep classes for the SAT and ACT. And while your student’s AP class IS the prep class for the AP test, there are still outside prep courses available. Outside prep courses are available from many local schools, agencies and centers. Libraries also offer low- or no-cost workshops for most of these tests.

3) Use internet resources. The internet is FULL of help. Even just checking out the websites for each of the tests can be help enough. CollegeBoard has materials for the SAT and AP tests. ACT information can be found here, and CAHSEE information can be found here. However, if your student needs more than these…

4) Find a tutor or other individualized prep course! Preparing students for these tests for the past decade, I have developed many techniques to help each individual succeed to his or her fullest potential. Individual one-on-one instruction is the best approach for most students because it can focus on exactly what the student needs, instead of the more general overview of larger classes. Contact me for more information!

Good luck and happy learning!

Why coding?

What is all this “coding” that people are talking about, and why is it important? There have been several articles recently about coding. It is important. It is accessible. It is empowering. In December, many important role models in the tech industry (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a couple) stepped up to promote what they called “The Hour of Code.” The Hour of Code was aimed at encouraging schools to provide computer science classes. The “code” part is more of a general idea that the basics of computer science are relevant to everybody. Still, what makes it important and relevant?

1) Learning about computers and coding teaches great problem-solving skills. The more a student uses his/her brain, the more adept it becomes at solving problems. If your student plays video games, these skills are already developing. By going through mazes, solving in-game puzzles, and cooperating with others, the student is developing important life skills. Increase the student’s future relevance by going “behind the scenes” with coding lessons.

2) Students learn spatial reasoning skills. What is spatial reasoning? In short, it is the ability to visualize images in your mind and manipulate them. It is “thinking in 3-D.” Why is it important? When students improve their spatial reasoning skills, their math and science skills improve. Indeed, the younger that children understand shapes and how they interact, the quicker they will be able to grasp mathematical concepts, which helps the fields of construction, architecture, computer science, chemistry, city planning, graphic design, music… you get my drift. Spatial reasoning also has been shown to lead to more creative problem solvers! Thus, understanding the world three-dimensionally has a huge impact on solving the world. If a student can’t “see” the problem to understand it, the student is less likely to be able to solve it.

3) Technology is the future… er, the present. Technology is here. Today’s generation is dealing with technology before they can talk. A friend’s then-one year old could use the family’s smart tablet to access kids’ videos! Therefore, the students already have a natural understanding of how technology works. Once again, teaching them how to create it is a natural extension of this understanding.

The jobs of this generation’s future will be rooted in understanding how technology works and how to make it. That is the importance of coding. If we teach our students to understand how to code, it will open doors of careers for them. Not everyone will become a computer programmer or write an app, but understanding it will lead to better jobs overall. Better jobs mean better futures for our families! Check out any of the following sites, and let me know what you think.

Happy learning!

How to Help with Writing Homework

(image courtesy Differentiation Station)

“How do I get started on this paper?”

“My teacher wants me to write HOW MANY pages?!”

Writing is the second-most frustrating task that students have. (The first is anything math-related. Check out “How to Help with Math Homework.”) Writing takes a lot of practice, and that practice takes time. It is an absolutely necessary skill though, so it must be practiced. Often, someone’s first impression of you is how you write, whether it’s a college application, a resume, a dating profile, or a tweet. So how can we tackle the assignment at hand?

1) Discuss the assignment. I have found that many students don’t even understand what the assignment is, much less how to start. Yes, please make sure your student understands the assignment. Is the writing assignment a (more informal) story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end? Or does the writing need to be a (more formal) expository or persuasive essay, presenting facts or opinions? What needs to be included in the final product? Have the student tell you, not the other way around. That way, the idea behind the assignment takes root in the student’s mind.

2) Writing is about communication. Understanding that is crucial. Writing–communication–is about getting someone else to understand what you are saying or what you want them to know. So figure out the main idea (thesis, moral) of what needs to be said. A good friend told me once, “You have information that needs to be shared. Once you understand that, the words will fight to get out.”

3) Develop a plan. Essays don’t always write themselves, even if the idea is there. Help the student form a plan of how the message will be communicated. Usually, that starts with a story. Here are key ways for the student to plan what he wants to say.

–Brainstorm. Just write down the topic and anything that comes to mind about it. It doesn’t have to be neat. As mentioned before, brainstorming is a STORM from your BRAIN. If the essay has a prompt, does the student agree or disagree? What are examples of why?

–Make an outline. Outlines help us organize our thoughts into an order, especially the ones that just exploded onto the paper during the brainstorm. Find the main idea of what’s going to be said. What is the purpose? Then pull out and arrange the thoughts that support it. Not everything from the brainstorm might make it into the outline or final paper. That’s okay. Stick to the outline.

4) Proofread! Did the main idea’s point get across? Are the examples strong in their support? Revise the drafts until the answers are ‘yes’! The main idea and the support examples should be clear in how they link to each other. The ideas in the essay should be communicated in an easy-to-understand manner, even if the ideas are complex. Lastly, check for grammar and other technical errors.

Remember to model good habits at home–and BE PATIENT. Developing writing skills takes time, especially if it isn’t practiced. So take the time to share in writing (and reading!)with each other. Perhaps keep a journal or write notes to each other. Get more helpful ideas from last year’s“Just Start Writing!” post (wow, exactly a year ago), or message me for more personal help.

Happy learning!

Happy New Year, 2014!

Happy New Year, everybody!

January is always an exciting month of change. For those students whose semesters didn’t end in December, keep in mind that Finals are just around the corner! Figure out what you need to get the grade you want, and put it into effect. I’m here to help if you need guidance and study help. Here are some tips to start 2014 on the right foot.

1) Make goals, not resolutions. Everyone tries to make resolutions but few people actually stick with them for more than a couple weeks. This is because resolutions are often about a past failure, and this is subconscious sabotage. Therefore, make goals. Goals are desired results, not necessarily based on any past failures, and focus on long-term success.

2) Be realistic. Make the goals attainable: it’s nearly impossible to go from an F to an A–but an F to a C, or a B to an A, is doable. Keeping goals realistic helps you stay on task and keeps the goals from being discouraging. To make realistic goals, make smaller goals/objectives as stepping stones to the bigger, long-term goals above. Breaking down the overall goals divides them into manageable components. For example, the smaller objective of “understand one section of the current chapter” is a specific target that can be clearly measured. The final grade ends up an attainable, realistic goal when the smaller steps are reached.

3) Ask for help. Some students aren’t comfortable asking for help, whether they feel insecure about their abilities or that someone might judge them or some other reason. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, successful students are usually the ones who ask for help. Study with a classmate or join a study group. Work with a tutor (check me out!) or ask the teacher for pointers. Successful students rarely achieve their success on their own. They study hard and ask for help when they don’t understand. There are plenty of resources; seek them out!

Have a great 2014. Happy learning!