Best tips for Acing the ACT or SAT

There’s a great quote which states (paraphrased): “If you think you are, you are.” Research on test-taking confirms this statement. If you are nervous about your test performance (read, telling yourself “I’m not going to do well”), then it actually impairs your test performance. To ease their anxiety, students can follow these tips:

1. . . . teaching yourself in advance to think differently about the test, Dr. Driscoll says. Envision yourself in a situation you find challenging and invigorating; a soccer player might imagine scoring a goal, or a mountain climber might envision herself topping a ridge, he says. Then switch your mental image to the testing room and imagine yourself feeling the same way. With practice, you’ll be able to summon up more confidence on test day.

2. . . . reducing “novelty and stress on the day of the exam” can prevent choking under pressure, says Sian Beilock, a researcher and author on cognitive performance. If you are taking the exam in an unfamiliar place, visit the room in advance.

3. . . . setting aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down your worries, says Dr. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. She and a fellow researcher tested 106 ninth-graders for anxiety before their first high-pressure exam, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts right before the test. The anxious kids who did the writing exercise performed as well on the test as the students who had been calm all along. But anxious students who didn’t do the writing performed more poorly. Expressing one’s worries in writing, Dr. Beilock says, unburdens the brain.

via Toughest Exam Question: What Is the Best Way to Study? –

Two additional pre-test tips that I constantly share with my students are getting a full-night’s rest before the test. So many teens have become accustomed to staying up late, that they don’t even realize the sub-optimal performance of doing so. My own teen is a great example of that! Secondly, eating oatmeal on the morning of the test also improves your performance. Even when my children were in elementary school, I would make oatmeal each morning of the testing period for achievement tests. I read about the research on oatmeal several years ago  and it still holds true.

Salisbury, Indian Mountain, and Hotchkiss integrate world-class athletics and academic rigor

In Day 2 of my western Connecticut prep school campus visits, I’m admittedly overwhelmed by the diversity of program offerings in this region. Connecticut is not a big state but is dense with prep schools. Today I visited Salisbury School, Indian Mountain School, and The Hotchkiss School.


Salisbury serves 300 male students from around the world. The science center included a wonderful library, a physics lab, a chemistry lab, and a separate biology lab. My tour guide expressed that he wasn’t too keen on attending an all-boys school but realized that girls would be a distraction. Besides that, the school hosts dance each week so he’s still able to intermingle with girls socially.

The first stop on my tour was the boathouse, which is a sight to behold. It’s big, clean, and houses all the boats rowed by their world-class rowing program. An administrator proudly stated that “We grow rowers!” highlighting that many young men join the team with little to no experience. However, many advances to D1 level crew teams. The other athletic facilities were just as impressive . . . squash courts, hockey rink, lacrosse fields. Not to mention that their football team is strong in its division.

Salisbury understands boys, how to teach, how to engage, and how to nurture them both academically and socially.


There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!
There are 85 guitarists among the 180 students in the upper school. 140 musicians overall!

Indian Mountain School is a junior boarding school that I was excited to visit in person. In my prior conversations with administrators, I sensed that it was a special place for students to develop into their own. The lower school has students in grades PK-4, while the upper school ushers students in grades 5-9 through early adolescence. Students will typically board in grades 7th, 8th, and 9th. For the teachers, administrators, and other staff, this really is a life commitment/decision. The responsibility is even greater in supporting these youth.

The team of adults who work there, live on campus, coach, and organize activities provide all the support services imaginable. The support services are balanced with student leadership opportunities. Students are given just as many opportunities to take risks. Each class experiences an outdoor adventure that bonds them in unforgettable ways. The overall thrust of the community was character development.

An administrator shared a quote in his office, which speaks to the character and quality of Indian Mountain School: “In all things, a lesson.”


The flags adorning the Hotchkiss dining hall showcase the 69 countries represented on campus.
The flags adorning the Hotchkiss dining hall showcase the 69 countries represented on campus.

Hotchkiss is a school that you have to see to believe. Admittedly, I was overwhelmed by its campus size, facilities, and student involvement. A surprise day-off was announced prior to my arrival, so, as you can imagine, the students were happy and taking advantage of the many opportunities to order food, leave campus, or play games on the field.

The students I met were involved in so many activities – athletics, theatre, community service, as well as AP coursework. There are about 500+ students at Hotchkiss but its size rivaled most small colleges I’ve visited. An administrator described it as a “small school within a large school.”

From the science center to the fine arts offerings to the radio station to the Olympic-sized swimming pools to the school-owned farm, students have unlimited opportunities to explore and discover their interests. The academic rigor at Hotchkiss is well-known so students must learn fairly quickly how to balance their coursework with all these other enticing offerings.

Forman, Gunnery, and Cheshire serve a range of students with potential

Forman School

I visited three prep schools in western Connecticut today. The schools are all different in terms of campus, mission, and other factors. One common theme for the day, however, would be “transition!” Each school has a degree of changes happening on their campuses. On a scale of stability (1) to topsy-turvy (10), I would place Forman at 3; Gunnery at 6; Cheshire at 10+.


The head of school, teachers, administrators, and students I met at Forman were clear on their strengths and the profile of students that succeed there. The campus is spacious and scenic with rolling hills with a complement of relatively modern buildings. Students who attend Forman must have a diagnosed learning difference, such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and executive function. All staff is trained in the support of students with these learning differences. In the 9th and 10th grade years, students focus on skill development. Then in 11th and 12th-grade years, students continue building strategies that work for them and self-advocacy in preparation for college. All students must have 2 years of intensive writing. Given that Forman accepts students in junior year or post-graduate, it’s not clear how they maintain a consistent, in-depth experience for all students.


Gunnery faculty can “fog” the classroom windows to avoid outside distractions…

The emphasis at Gunnery is on character, social-emotional wellness, and morality. Unique to Gunnery, all students participate in public speaking through the junior year; sophomores must take a course in ethics, and the senior year includes a capstone project with community service. Gunnery has an enrollment of 285 students. The fine arts department at gunnery actively seeks to connect students with practitioners. A great example mentioned by the art teacher – a female Gunnery student who has an interest in fashion is now working with a former Vogue pattern maker to learn how to sew!

The current head of school at Gunnery has announced her retirement. How will the school change once a new head of school is installed? How will prospective students know what to expect in their first year?


Cheshire was founded in 1794.

Juniors this year at Cheshire have the opportunity to take IB courses and/or AP courses. Their summer program, which started 3 years ago is growing. A math lab just opened this year. There were numerous other initiatives that began this year. The biggest change for this school of 325 students . . . . “5 heads of school in 9 years.”

The current head of school has been there for 3 years thus far. Continued longevity to him as the school transitions through these initiatives!


Does the Mindset of Teens today match with Teaching and Learning?

Reading this list from Beloit College reminded me of how much life has changed in the last two decades and the implications it has for how we communicate with this new generation of students. Just recently when I was listening to NPR in the car with my teenager, there was a story that featured the sound of AOL dial-up. To my amazement, he was not familiar with this sound at all! Thus the concept of waiting to get on-line is a foreign concept. To extend that further, the concept of the waiting period, is a foreign concept for many teens.

When things happen at such a rapid pace these days, it has implications for learning that I find fascinating and worrisome at the same time. A big question for teaching and learning includes “How should  we communicate with teens so that they will stay engaged in the classroom?” For some students who thrive on over-stimulation, “Does it still make sense for classrooms to be structured so rigidly with a teacher at the head and desks facing the teacher?” Even when I visit college campuses today, this is the model for many of the classrooms.

Given that this is the “Mindset” for entering Freshmen . . .

1 There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.

. . .

23 There has never been an official Communist Party in Russia.

24 “Yadda, yadda, yadda” has always come in handy to make long stories short.

25 Video games have always had ratings.

26 Chicken soup has always been soul food.

27 The Rocky Horror Picture Show has always been available on TV.

. . .

29 Arnold Palmer has always been a drink.

30 Dial-up is soooooooooo last century!

. . .

37 Music has always been available via free downloads.

. ..

40 Sears has never sold anything out of a Big Book that could also serve as a doorstop.

. . .

44 They’re the first generation to grow up hearing about the dangerous overuse of antibiotics.

.  . .

47 No state has ever failed to observe Martin Luther King Day.

48 While they’ve been playing outside, their parents have always worried about nasty new bugs borne by birds and mosquitoes.

49 Public schools have always made space available for advertising.

. . .

53 Charter schools have always been an alternative.

. . .

57 They’ve often broken up with their significant others via texting, Facebook, or MySpace.

via The Mindset List: 2015 List.


. . . how should teaching and learning change for our students . . . preschool, middle school, high school, and college students?


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How to be a successful College Student – What the research says

August is a month fraught with both excitement and anxiety over starting college or returning to college if you’re a sophomore or upperclassmen. This morning along, I met with a reporter who is writing an article about separation anxiety and the emotional roller-coaster for both parents and students who are starting college. We talked at length about various stressors and what families can do during this major life transition.

Then, about an hour ago, I got a great text from one of my families. It was a picture of my client Tori moving into her dorm room today! I loved the picture and the text because it highlighted the excitement of starting college. There are so many butterflies in anticipation of meeting your roommate(s), getting your room set-up and stocked, and sleeping in a new bed! It’s all the start of a new and unfamiliar experience for Tori, as well as hundreds of thousands of college freshmen this month.

Here’s the rub. . . College graduation overall in our country today is about 55%. Slightly less than  80% of our freshman return for the sophomore year. When students drop out after freshman year, it costs us nationally over $4.14 billion dollars. Our show in July focused on the Freshman year transition.

Today on The Education Doctor® Radio we extended that conversation with our guest, Professor Eric Bettinger of Stanford University, and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Professor Bettinger has studied and published in the field of higher education for many years. His work includes the role of teacher characteristics and class sizes in college, the role of need-based financial aid, and the complexity of the college application process.  We were honored to have him share his expertise and he gave our families some new insights about what it takes to be successful in college. A key tip for students applying to college and those currently enrolled is planning ahead for deadlines, according to Professor Bettinger.

Here is a recording to the show: (Yes, I do need to get transcripts soon . . . :-))

Click to listen to Interview with Prof Eric Bettinger of Stanford on How to Be a Successful College Student

More interesting posts to check out:

How to get into the University of Chicago

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When can I take the ACT?


If you’re planning to take the ACT in September, today is the last day to register. From August 13 to August 26, all late registrants will be required to pay an extra fee of $21 (ouch!). This will be in addition to $34 for ACT alone or $49.50 for ACT with writing. Please be sure to check the fine print on the college websites. The last thing you want to do is take the test without the writing and find out later that it’s required by one of the colleges where you’re applying.

Here are the other test dates for this year:

Test date

October 22, 2011

Deadline to register

September 16, 2011

Late registration

September 17 – 30, 2011

December 10, 2011 November 4, 2011 November 5 – 18, 2011
February 11, 2012* January 13, 2012 January 14 – 20, 2012
April 14, 2012 March 9, 2012 March 10 – 23, 2012
June 9, 2012


*No NY tests in February

May 4, 2012 May 5 – 18, 2012


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


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Volunteer abroad during Gap Year: Is this an option for College-Bound Students?

In my travels around the country, I talk with a lot of families who are curious about the term “gap year.” It’s a term that originated in Britain and has made its way over the pond in the last 3 decades or so.

What exactly is a gap year?

It is a break in formal education, usually between high school and college where students continue learning through a cultural immersion, volunteer opportunity in the US or abroad, deeper skill development in their sport, arts, language, or academics. It’s a time of reflection and maturity. More importantly, it is a period of purpose and intention.

A gap year is not a vacation, nor a year of hanging out for the sake of hanging out.  The purpose and intentional aspect of a gap year is important because it suggests that the gap year is most effective when it’s planned in advance.

For many incoming freshmen who decide to defer their matriculation to  college, the colleges will grant deferred admission if you outline your plans for how your time will be spent during the gap year. For students who want to have a more competitive application for college, they may apply to college during the start of the gap year and the applicant must state how their gap year time is being spent. So having a plan for how the gap year will be structured is critical for college-bound students.

On our radio show today, we spoke with Andrew MacKenzie and Anna Walker of Africa and Asia Venture in Britain. Gap years have been popular in Britain for many years and their program has been around since 1993! Their program offers opportunities for cultural immersion and volunteer experiences in Africa, Asia, and The Americas.

Several of the topics covered in this discussion included:

  • Benefits of participating in such a program
  • Deferred admission vs. applying to college during their gap year
  • Trends in students pursuing a gap year
  • And of course . . . safety and security measures that families must consider prior to any cultural immersion or volunteer abroad opportunity

You can listen to this podcast on volunteer abroad gap year programs and learn Anna’s tips on travel insurance and resources that families must consult when vetting these programs!


Our radio show is broadcast regularly on blogtalkradio. Please join our Facebook page for show updates. You may also send show topic suggestions or guest ideas to radio at compasseducationstrategies dot com.

Get into University of Chicago with these 4 Tips!

University of Chicago

Last year, the University of Chicago received far more applications beyond its admitted class size of 1,400. Even if it is somewhat of a reach to be admitted, potential applicants should still consider UChicago if it is a good match. The best way to get a feel for whether it’s a fit is through visiting. Although I lived on the campus of UChicago years ago, I visited recently to learn about the campus through the lens of my students.

The admissions presenter and the student guide emphasized the academic structure. This emphasis couldn’t have been more different from the presentation and tour at the University of Cincinnati, as noted in my recent posting. Thus, potential applicants to UChicago should be familiar with the important role of the Common Core and how it shapes the culture of UChicago.

I learned also through my recent visit to the campus that potential applicants may improve their chances of admissions by paying attention to these tips:

  • Complete the Chicago Supplement, even if you use the Common Application
  • Do not make lists, as your essay. All essays should be written in a paragraphed format
  • Re-take the SAT/ACT, if you think you will do better on a re-take . . . UChicago super scores!
  • Express yourself in the essay, so that the readers get to know who you are. The application review considers all aspects of your submission, not just your transcript or test scores.

University of Chicago

In addition to its urban campus and high-quality academics, I was impressed to learn that UChicago students have so many options to build community and enjoy the college experience. There are over 400 student organizations, and my personal favorite is the Zombie Readiness Task Force. Although there is no quidditch team (you can always create one!), there is “broomball” instead!

Can’t blame Rahm Emanuel’s decision about schooling his kids

Enroute to Midway Airport in Chicago this morning, all the rage on the radio airwaves was the fact that the new mayor, Rahm Emanuel is sending his own children to the prestigious University of Chicago Lab Schools. (This is the same school that President Obama’s daughters also attended.) The radio announcer belabored the point that the Mayor would be “spending $27,000 per year for each of his three children to attend this school”, yet the Mayor is encouraging Chicagoans to support and send their children to the public schools.

Critics of the Mayor’s school choice for his children assert that he should choose public school as the leading city official. Likewise, during his early tenure, he’s been promoting the city schools, reportedly leaving voicemail reminders to announce the start of school.

In a TV interview, he lost his temper when the reporter questioned his choice:

. . . with Mary Ann Ahern of NBC Chicago, the reporter asks the mayor about where his children will be going to school. Rumor has it, she added, that his kids would be attending the prestigious, private University of Chicago Lab School.”Great! So, it’s a rumor,” the mayor responded, apparently irritated. But Ahern persisted. Why not just say? After all, the kids are “in a public position now,” she said. Then he got cold.

“Oh, Mary Ann, let me break the news to you. My children are not in a public position. The mayor is. … No, no, no, you have to appreciate this. My children are not an instrument of me being mayor. My children are my children. And that may be news for you, and that may be new for you, Mary Ann, but I want you to understand — no, no, no, you have to understand this. I’m making this decision as a father.”

. . .But where a politician sends his children to school has long been a matter of public curiosity — think back no further than when President Obama chose Sidwell Friends for his kids, for instance. And for a mayor who has made the city’s schools a central focus of his administration, you might imagine that he would be prepared for a question about his own school choice for his children. Instead, though, as he reportedly said on the phone to Ahern after the interview, “My children are private and you will not do this.”

via Rahm Emanuel’s Temper Flares Over Question About Kids’ Schooling VIDEO.

As an educational researcher over the past 10+ years, I’ve spent a lot of time observing classrooms, meeting with district administrators. I have met many teachers and school officials in these public districts whose own children atten school in an independent (the term ‘private’ is so 1980’s) school or other district.

Just as I don’t blame those teachers and district officials, I don’t blame Rahm Emmanuel for making the best decision for his family. Can he still be a strong proponent of public schoos? YES, he can. Can those teachers and school offices care about the students they serve although their own children are in another district? YES, most certainly.

I especially understand how challenging it can be to find a great fit for all three of his children. When I work with families who are relocating, it can be challenging to find districts with strong feeders and high schools. My own children are in high, middle, and elementary grades. Few public school districts have preK-12 all on one campus as the Lab School does.

Three children from the same family can each have different learning needs as well. What worked for my boys in a public school district would not have worked for my daughter. I was able to find one school that satisfied their different learning and social needs, which happened to be a preK-12 independent school. It’s been a huge financial sacrifice that I’ve had to weather, but I had no other choice at the time. Do I care about the quality of public schools in my community and the students they serve? YES, I most certainly do and I am a strong proponent of public schools that work. Public schools are not, however, the best for every family. But when they are, the results can be great.

I am a product of Headstart and Memphis City Schools through high school graduation. My husband is a product of Dayton Public Schools through high school graduation. My sons attend public elementary schools through 5th grade. My daughter has been and continues to attend independent schools. Different times . . . different students . . . different choices.

How have your own school choices changed or remained the same?

If your family is relocating, please keep reading . . .

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably relocated before. As stressful as it is, I have moved eleven times since college. I moved from Palo Alto to New Hampshire. New Hampshire to Phoenix. Phoenix to Memphis. Memphis to New York City. New York City to San Francisco. San Francisco to Detroit. Detroit to Cleveland. Cleveland to San Francisco. San Francisco to Chicago. Chicago to San Francisco. San Francisco to Dayton.

Each time is a challenge, especially when relocating with children. I’ll be frank in sharing with you that much of my work is conducted in California, New York and Chicago but one of the things that keeps me based in Dayton is that I know how difficult it can be to navigate the school systems for my three children all over again in another city. However, if I had to move, I would bite the bullet and do it. For those who are listening and faced with a relocation, it may seem daunting but there are many more resources available today that can assist in the transition to a new community.

Marie Schwartz, who is the founder and President of Teen Life Media, based in Boston knows the relocation process well. In her move to Boston, she not only had to navigate the educational options in a new city, but in that process, became a resource to other families who were seeking options for their own children in the local area. My hope is that as we learn about Marie’s work and its expansion into other markets that it will make your family’s relocation feel a bit less daunting.

Listen for how to survive your next Relocation!