When is it Better to Study in Groups or Study by Yourself?

High School, Study Skills, Study Tips, Teaching
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When does it make the most sense to study with your peers and on your own?  Here is what I have found to be most helpful for students:

  • If you are working on memorizing information, studying on your own is usually a better bet.  It is possible that you could be productive in working on memorization while in the company of your friends, but it is far more likely that you will become too easily distracted and end up wasting lots of time. 
  • If you are working on understanding concepts, studying with other people can be quite helpful.  Teachers who have taught the same topic many, many times may skip over problem solving steps that you don’t fully understand.  Tackling conceptual issues with your friends can help you (1) see each and every step of solving a problem and (2) be comfortable asking questions that you wouldn’t want to ask in front of a class of 25-30 students. 

Technology has made it possible to do a hybrid of individual and group that is extremely effective.  If you have a massive exam coming up for which your teacher has given you a review sheet, divide and conquer using google docs.  For example, if you have 4 friends with whom you are studying, divide the review sheet into fourths.  Then, each of you can write detailed summaries of your part of it and share it on google docs with the other people in your group.  You can find google docs here:

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks!

10 Great Study Resources to Prepare for Tests in School

High School, Study Skills, Study Tips, Teaching
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Here are 10 great places you can go to get extra help in studying for your upcoming tests in school: 

1.       Online Textbook Resources.  Virtually every major textbook has a companion website complete with practice quizzes, chapter summaries and multimedia learning tools.  Strangely, most teachers never have their students use these resources.  So, use them yourself!   Here are a couple of great examples:

If you can’t find the exact companion website for your particular textbook, make sure you have googled it.  If that fails, try to find a textbook that covers the same topic of your class, but actually has a good companion website that you can use. 

2.       Khan Academy.  Wonderful website that has inspired much of what we have created here.  Particularly with Math and Science, this can give you in-depth instruction on topics that are giving you difficulty:

3.       Youtube.   You will find tutorials on virtually any subject – when I taught high school, some of the “philosophy in 30 seconds” videos were remarkable in helping students quickly grasp a difficult concept.  Search for yourself:

4.       School Resources.  Your library may have access to fantastic subscription databases and study tools that you can use.  They probably paid hundreds or thousands  of dollars for these, so put them to use!  If your school library doesn’t have them, check with your public library.  For an article detailing some of the changes that school libraries have made, please see here:

5.  Past Tests.  Talk to your teacher about using past tests for practice, or try to borrow them from other students (without cheating of course!).  Using these will help you see how the teacher generally asks questions so that you will know how to focus your studying. 

6.  They have a great collection of subject notes, particularly for AP exams.  Great to use as a supplement to your textbook:

7.  Powerpoint Search.  There is no need for you to learn from a terrible powerpoint in class – there are PLENTY of powerpoints out there that you can use free of charge.  Simply go to google, type in term for which you want a powerpoint, and then type in “ filetype:ppt ”.  When I taught high school, I often used this to save time in making lecture notes for my classes.  

8.  College Help Sites for THEIR students, with writing especially.  Many top-notch colleges have compiled outstanding resources for their struggling students, and you can access them for yourself!  Here are two of my favorites:

9.  Ask students in same class at OTHER SCHOOLS to share what THEIR teacher has done.  If you are in an Advanced Placement or Honors Course, reach out to your friends who attend a school where the teacher of the same course you are in is doing a much better job than your teacher.  See what resources, notes and old tests you can check out from them. 

10.  Purchase the teacher editions and AP resources yourself.  As long as you are not cheating by looking at a test bank that you know a teacher is using to generate test questions, I see nothing wrong with supplementing your learning by acquiring the textbook teacher editions and resources for yourself.  If several of your peers are in a similar situation, pool your money and purchase the book together.  You can find the teacher editions for most any textbook on  If you would like access to teacher resources for AP courses, here is where you can find them:

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Why We Should Avoid Wordiness in our Writing

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT English, ACT Writing, College Application Essays, High School, SAT Essay, SAT Prep, SAT Writing, Study Tips, Teaching, Tutoring
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One of the worst habits that students develop in their high school classes is that of writing in a wordy fashion.   Students find that if they write longer and longer papers, their grades often get better and better.  They also discover that in classroom discussions and Socratic Seminars, the more they monopolize the discussion, the higher their “participation” grade.  Our grading system has a built-in tendency to inflate grades for those who inflate the length of what they create.    

As a former teacher, I understand how difficult it is to ignore the length of a student’s response when evaluating it.  It is much easier to justify a higher grade for a student who has put in more time to write an extended response than someone who has created a relatively brief analysis.  Why?  You can say that “Johnny put in so much more work into writing his essay than you did because his essay is twice the length.”  When grading a massive stack of papers, the tendency to start “scanning” the papers rather than reading them super-carefully is a temptation to which quite a few teachers will succumb.  Not to scare any teachers, but I have known of a case where a student put swear words in the middle of his essay to see if his teacher would actually catch them.  The teacher did not, and the student shared this episode with all his friends, significantly damaging the teacher’s reputation. 

Both students and teachers can change the expectations of the school grading process if they are aware of 5 ways that wordy writing will cause problems on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, during the college admissions process, and in the workforce:

1.       You Won’t Develop Your Ideas on the SAT or ACT Essays.  The SAT only gives you two pages and 25 minutes for its essay, and the ACT only provides you 4 pages and 30 minutes.  If you are accustomed to writing in a wordy way, you will spend forever introducing your topic and not enough time developing your ideas and examples. 

2.       On the SAT and ACT Grammar Questions, You Will Consistently Pick the Wordy Answers.  Don’t get me wrong  – often, being more descriptive is exactly what is called for.  However, if you have it ingrained into your mind that the more you write, the better your writing is, you will pick the longest, most complex answers, even when they are not appropriate. 

3.       Your College Essays Will Be Pure Fluff.  When you write your Common Application Essay, you will be limited to 500 words.  If you are not used to packing a big punch in a short essay, you will not stand out among the thousands of applicants. 

4.       Job Applications.  For the foreseeable future, the job market will be extraordinarily competitive.  You will only have one chance to impress a potential employer with a fantastic cover letter.  It is critical that you are able to succinctly convey what makes you an incredible applicant. 

5.       Business Communications.  Whether in business meetings, conference calls or company-wide emails, no one wants to listen to someone blab on and on.  Your bosses and coworkers will respect you if they know that when you speak, you will immediately convey something of substance and value. 

So what can teachers and students do to avoid wordy writing?  First of all, if you are aware of a tendency to write wordily, that is half the battle.  You’ll recognize when you’re doing it and that will empower you to stop it.  Second, I would like to see more school assignments that require word maximums instead of word minimums.  Word minimums are the norm, and they encourage students to be verbose.  By requiring word maximums, students will learn to be more concise and precise in their writing, and teachers will be able to evaluate much more thoroughly since they won’t be overwhelmed with endless piles of grading.  This paradigm shift will help students do better on standardized tests, their college applications, and in the real world. 

I hope you found this piece helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart


Pros and Cons of Doing a Gap Year Between High School and College

College Admissions, College Applications, High School, Test Anxiety
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There is no rule saying that you have to go to college immediately after high school.  So often, we become stuck in doing things simply because they are “the next thing” to do.  You may want to think about doing a Gap Year – take a year off between high school graduation and college to do a whole host of things.  Here are several reasons to do a gap year. 

1.       You want to see what different careers are like.  The best way to see what a career actually entails is to do some job shadowing.  If you are coming out of high school and you feel torn among several career options, taking the time to do some internships or apprenticeships may be a great way to spend a year. 

2.       You want to build work skills.  With as competitive as it has become to find jobs after college graduation, having a year of real world work experience may set you apart from other applicants.  If you are in a financial position to be able to do unpaid internships, you’ll have no trouble finding opportunities to build great work skills.  If you must work part time, try to fit in at least one day a week of job shadowing in areas about which you are more passionate. 

3.       You know that you need to build your independence and self-discipline.  Freshman year is a time when many students “go nuts” since they are out from under the watchful eyes of their parents.  If you know that you are not prepared to handle yourself in a totally free environment, take a bit of time to get yourself together before having a terrible freshman year experience. 

4.       You want to travel.  The year before college is a fantastic time to see the world.  Even if you have little spending money, you could find a job teaching English in another country, being a tour guide, or house sitting for a wealthy family.  Travel may help you clarify your thoughts about what you want to do with your life before you invest tens of thousands of dollars in your education. 

5.       You want to improve your college applications.  Perhaps you’ve already been accepted to a school, but you would really like to go to a more selective institution.  You can potentially use a gap year to improve your college application.  You can focus on improving your AP, ACT and SAT test scores, and more importantly, having some in-depth extracurricular involvement that will distinguish you from other applicants. 

6.       You are already in, but you need a break before starting.  Many colleges will allow you to defer admission for a year if you would like to spend some time working or travelling prior to matriculation.    

Now, here are some reasons not to do a gap year. 

1.       You don’t want to lose academic skills.  It is said that the first 2 months of school after summer break are spent reviewing material from the previous year.  If you know that you are going to have a difficult time getting back in the academic groove, you may as well go to college right after high school. 

2.       You feel ready and eager for the independence of college.  Many students, more frequently female ones in my observation, find that they are ready to move on from the confines of high school and living with their parents. If you are ready to spread your wings, having a gap year when you will have to live at home may be an absolute nightmare.  If you are particularly ready to move on to the next level, you may consider graduating a year early!  I know many students who have done this. 

3.       You are planning on lots of education after college.  If you are planning on becoming a doctor, earning a Ph.D. or doing post-doctoral research, you probably don’t want to add another year to when you will be able to begin your career.   (Then again, if you want to avoid burn-out and the fear of regretting that you have only been in school you entire life, taking a gap year may in fact be a good idea!)    

Thanks for reading.  If you found this helpful, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  –Brian Stewart


6 Ways to Find a Private Tutor in Any Subject for High School Students

High School, Teaching, Tutoring
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Hiring a private tutor through a large company will always result in most of your money going to the tutoring company and only some of it going to the tutor.  What are some ways you can get the biggest bang for your buck and find people to help you with subject specific tutoring in Math, Chemistry, Physics, Writing and more?  Here are 6 ideas:

1.       See what is available for free at school!  You may not need to pay for a private tutor at all if you  can take advantage of the resources typically available at school.  Come to a teacher’s room before or after school to seek out help.  Use study halls efficiently – usually there is some teacher in the subject in which you are struggling who is available to help you during your study hall.  Are there other students who can offer you peer tutoring?  Can you form a study group?  Can you use online databases and subscription services through your school library?  Exhaust these options before shelling out hundreds of dollars for private tutoring. 

2.       Check with a local college!  Contact local colleges to see if any of the professors or departments would recommend any of their undergraduate or graduate students as a tutor.  Undergraduate/graduate students may not have the most teaching experience, but they will be very familiar with the subject material, will be able to relate to a high school student better due to a lack of age difference, and will probably be far more willing to tutor at a reasonable rate than an older professor would.  Community colleges are great places to check out as well!  Many of the professors there might be more willing to tutor your child, as their regular compensation may not be as high as that at a major university. 

3.       Ask a student who took the class previously!  One of the big struggles in subject-specific tutoring is for the tutor to determine what exactly is being covered on the assessments in a class.  A student who has taken a class before will be in a great position to share the typical types of questions that a certain teacher might ask, enabling you to save a lot of guesswork in your studying.  A former student will likely be willing to tutor at a reasonable rate, and might be sold on the idea of using the tutoring as a resume booster for college applications. 

4.       Ask teachers at your high school who are in the same subject area.  Because of obvious conflict-of-interest issues, a teacher cannot be paid for private instruction for a student in the same subject/class for which that teacher will be evaluating him or her.  Teachers at your school who are not teaching you directly, on the other hand, will be available to do private tutoring.  You will likely have to pay a higher fee for a full-time teacher to do this, as they already have a day job.  The big advantages are that they should know the material inside and out, and that they are accustomed to teaching high school students all the time anyway.  Many teachers I know who do individual tutoring are delighted to do the one-on-one because they are so used to having to make lessons to satisfy a class of 30 kids.  When they have to satisfy only one student, they feel quite liberated to conduct their craft at the highest level. 

5.       Call the school central office for a recommended tutoring list.  Unbeknownst to many parents, the central administrative offices of school districts usually compile lists of recommended tutors across a variety of subjects.  If your particular school office does not have such a list, ask another school in your area.  Better yet, contact a private school to see if they have a tutoring list – private schools are more likely to have parents willing to pay for private tutoring, and are more accustomed to fielding tutoring questions from parents on a regular basis. 

6.       Ask your local library for a tutor list.  Public Libraries are the great hang-out of private tutors.  They provide a safe, quiet meeting place for tutors and students.  Many libraries compile lists of local tutors; some even offer free homework help services.  If nothing else, you may go to a library where many tutors meet and ask the librarians if they know of anyone who helps in a subject area.  You might even go up to a tutor to ask for a business card if you are so inclined! 

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, please pass it along to your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

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