Entries Tagged as 'Test Taking'

Parallelism in Writing

Understanding and identifying parallelism is common in grammar reviews as well as on standardized tests.

Parallelism can be achieved by making sure there is balance on both sides of a conjunction (and, but, yet, & so).  Conjunctions are typically found between independent clauses and in lists.

First, find the conjunction.  Then look for balance.  You can tell if something is not balanced if the parts of speech are different or if there is a modifier on one side and not the other.  If you see an imbalance, correct it.

For example:

My favorite meals are pizza, spaghetti, and ordering subs. 
Pizza and spaghetti are nouns.  Ordering subs?  That is an action.

Fix the imbalance:  My favorite meals are pizza, spaghetti, and subs. 


What learning style are you?

Do you learn best when information is presented visually, when someone explains information, or when you try something hands-on?

Take the quiz here (click on “Take the inventory”) or read summaries about the different styles.

New Year’s Resolution: Citizenship

If your New Year’s Resolutions include taking the citizenship test this year, start by studying these questions.  You can find more information on this topic at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, where you can learn more about the test, study materials, and watch a video about the naturalization process.

Happy New Year!

A Poem about the Timed Writing Test

I was tutoring a boy to help him write better paragraphs.  During our last session before his timed writing test, he said, “I’m never going to remember all of this.”  So, I jotted this down to help him remember:

Organizing, outlining, formatting, then…

editing for grammar – use a pencil, not a pen.

Including complex sentences, make sure your verbs agree.

Adding vocab words, metaphors, creating similes…

When you’re ready and you think you’re done, you’d better not forget

to reread before submitting and edit, Edit, EDIT!

Mechanical Pencils and Other Inconspicuous Time Theives

Observing a nervous young student whose mechanical pencil kept breaking during a test made me think of other ways that seemingly minor interruptions affect our concentration and productivity.

This boy was already nervous because of his impending test.  He habitually looked at the clock to see how much time remained to finish his practice paragraph.  Not only that…he was also being interrupted…

…by his pencil?

Yes! In fact, he was so nervous that he pressed down so hard while writing that the lead broke 5 times in 20 minutes.  Every time it broke, he would stop, click the lead, and glance at the clock.  By the time he returned to the assignment, his focus was lost.  The interruptions themselves do not take that much time, but regaining concentration does!

Research here and here indicates that he would lose time in resuming his original task.  Even more surprisingly, the length of time of an interruption doesn’t correlate to the length of time to refocus.  In other words, even small interruptions can lead to big time wasters.

So, parents, think twice when your children do their homework in a noisy crowded room.  Consider arranging a quiet study area.

Students, think about and address all the distractions that you have every day.

  • Remove the clock from your field of vision
  • Turn off your phone (beeps, buzzes, clicks, and tones are stealing your valuable study time)
  • Disable pop-up ads on your computer
  • Write in a notebook and type it later to avoid the temptation of logging onto Facebook or Twitter (at least while studying)

So, remember, it takes longer to refocus after hearing the phone than it does to just hear the phone.  Prepare for and minimize the distractions while you study, and you’ll be done with your homework before you know it!

Tip for Tuesday: Comprehension Questions

Read the entire question.

It might sound obvious, but I’ve seen so many kids do this: start reading a question, and suddenly, about half way through reading it, rush to the choices.  This technique might result in selecting the wrong answer…

…but it ALWAYS results in guessing.  If you don’t read the complete question, you don’t have all the information to answer the question.  Without that, you are guessing.  So, take the extra couple of seconds to finish the question.

High School Graduation Exam Standards

From the New York Times (1/11/10), by Ian Urbina

People who have studied the exams, which affect two-thirds of the nation’s public school students, say they often fall short of officials’ ambitious goals.

“The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them,” said John Robert Warren, an expert on exit exams and a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Read more.

Tips for Studying Alone

Click here to listen.

A young person in middle school asked me to think of ways to study when you don’t have study partners or a person to help you.  So, I’ve developed this list.

S = Skim your material before you begin studying so you will have an idea of what you will need to focus on in class.

T = Take your time. Don’t wait until the last minute.  Manage your time appropriately.  Ask your teacher how much time you have between the beginning of a unit and the test.  Read a little extra each day (10-20 minutes for people in school and 30-45 minutes for people in college) in addition to your regular homework.

U = Understand your material.  This might be hard for you if you aren’t familiar with a new topic.  One possible solution is to write questions to ask your teacher or peers when you see them again.  Keep the list of questions handy so you can easily write them down or ask them in class.

D = Do research online.  Sometimes a quick search on the topic will give you a good idea on what you’re studying.  www.dictionary.com helps with new vocabulary words.

Y = Yes!  Keep a positive attitude.  If you need a short break, take it, but don’t give up!

If you remember to S.T.U.D.Y., you shouldn’t have a problem!

Listen to more tips.

There are so many ways to have fun studying, even if you are alone.  Here are some more ideas…

  • Study with a computer nearby for quick references.
  • Turn off music, TV, and cell phones to avoid distraction.  These simple acts will help you focus.
  • Call a friend to see what they think of the material – but keep the conversation short and stay on topic!
  • Ask your teacher for a few extra minutes 1-1 to explain a specific question.
  • Turn chapter headings into questions.
  • Design your own list of new vocabulary words (sometimes the words they give you just aren’t enough).
  • Know how to explain what you don’t know (instead of saying “I don’t understand,” think of a more specific question).
  • Make relationships between ideas and concepts.
  • Making flashcards are easy and help your note taking abilities.
  • Pretend like the teacher has asked you to write questions you think should be on the test.

Feel free to add to this list…


Good Luck!

When Mnemonic Devices Work (and when they don’t)

Test day was approaching, and I still had many lists to learn, characteristics to distinguish, and questions to answer, so I decided to rely on the oldest memory trick in the book…mnemonics.  The strategy worked well to some extent, but there were adjustments I needed to get the most out of using it.  Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Mnemonics work when…

  • memorizing lists of things
  • the words are short
  • an acronym is used
  • words create a sentence
  • the words closely represent the word they stand for
  • the sentences or acronyms are meaningful to the person who plans on using them

Mnemonics don’t work so well when…

  • classifying things according to their qualities
  • using long words that are more difficult to remember than the actual test item
  • a string of words are disconnected
  • sharing mnemonics
  • memorizing isn’t the goal (e.g. if you have to compare and contrast)

I passed the test, but I don’t owe it all to mnemonics.  I gave myself plenty of time to study, reviewed all of the course material, made comparison charts, and was able to meet the course objectives.

So, when left to your own devices, choose mnemonic devices, but don’t forget to alternate according to the purpose of the activity.

Link to SAT Prep Questions

Here’s a link to download the SAT Question of the day for soon-to-be SAT-takers.

The Official SAT Question of the Day