Saturday, October 5, 2013

Doing your best on the SAT or PSAT

Approach it like the game it is. I don't mean that in any disparaging (i.e., insulting) way. The fact is that "the name of the game" is to maximize the number of questions you answer correctly. Preparing for the SAT or PSAT means, then, doing everything in your power to make it more likely that you will answer more questions correctly. Period.

The humorist, Dave Barry, once wrote that the secret to losing weight is diet and exercise, but that no American is going to exercise, so that leaves diet.

Similarly, the secret to doing your best on the PSAT or SAT is preparation and strategy, but no American is going to prepare, so that leaves strategy.

If that's you, and it's not too late, reconsider!! The best strategy for these tests—or for anything in life—is preparation.

Ideally that means that you do all of the following things: do your best in your algebra, geometry, and English classes (read ahead, have regular study groups with 2 or 3 classmates); always be reading high-level writing (not teen romances) or journalism (national-level newspapers and news or literary magazines); and take practice tests (ideally ones published by the College Board, the actual publisher of these tests) and use them to learn how you make mistakes and what you can do to not make them on the real test.

When I tutor kids in the SAT, the American (or Americanized) kids don't do any studying in the week between tutoring sessions. The children of Asian immigrant parents have completed an entire 3.5 hour SAT test by the time I come back the following week (and sometimes even two of them!!). So while I go through every single problem with the American(ized) student, including the ones that are easy and don't really require my presence, all the while trying to catch them up to the studious students (never going to happen at the rate each is going), with the studious student we are spending our time working only on the questions they didn't understand, focusing all my time with them on improving their abilities in just the areas where they need improving.

The secret, of course, is you don't actually have to be Asian or have Asian immigrant parents to study this way, or to reap the benefits of studying this way. You just have to decide to do it, plan to do it, and do your best to keep sticking to that plan.

This is the book I use with all my students:

It contains 10 complete SAT tests from previous years. If you did all ten, including the essays, under timed testing conditions, that would be about 40 hours of practice. In reality, probably quite a bit longer. Even if you do less than that, the advantage here is that these are actual SAT tests!

There is so much that could be said about doing your best on these tests, too much, and so much of it depends on each student and where they are with the subjects and with test taking in general. But there are a few quick things that can apply to just about anybody, even if you are reading this the night before or a couple days before the test.

For the ESSAY:

In the first two minutes, write down what you are trying to prove, or to convince your reader of (i.e., your belief, your theory, your point, your argument, your thesis) in one clear sentence, then write down two or three examples that will support your point. For example:

THESIS: There is a right way (and a wrong way) to make a root beer float.

I. Ingredient quality
II. Proper preparation
(III. The RBF experience)

See that? One clear sentence. Two (or possibly three) supports for your argument. You should be able to think of a few things to say about each support, but you only have 25 minutes, so save them for the essay itself.

Next, write your essay, but do your best to leave yourself five minutes at the end!

In your introduction, imitate news and magazine articles by starting off saying something that will make someone curious, or interested in reading more: "Humans have been making root beer floats almost since the discovery of fire."

Maybe not true, and you might want to insert "Just kidding." (Not "jk.") or some disclaimer in sentence two, but now that you got their attention, make your point by writing down the thesis from earlier. Now, in this same paragraph, make some mention of your supports.

For your first body paragraph, talk about your first support, and bring in details that will convince the reader that your thesis (opinion) is right. For the second body paragraph, do the same for the second support. If you have time for a third body paragraph, go ahead with that, but for many or most students it would probably be better to just skip it and do the concluding paragraph.

In the concluding paragraph, make sure to mention your thesis and your supports again, then move on to something a little more general, then something even more general: "As we have seen, there is indeed a correct way to make a great root beer float. Soft serve ice cream and a warm bottle of cheap root beer, mixed into a paper cup, may cost $5 at the fair, but for the real RBF experience, nothing but the best quality, hard vanilla ice cream and cold root beer in a chilled glass will do. Even junk food, if prepared properly, can still be good; it does not have to be garbage! Anything worth doing—or eating—is worth doing well."

In your remaining five minutes (or three, or one, or ten), use all your time to look over and carefully read your essay. The more errors (spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.) that you can find and correct, the better your essay score will probably be. This is probably where you will pick up most points, so do your best to leave a few minutes for this editing work.

In short: Plan (Thesis and supports), Write (Intro: Thesis and supports, Body: supports with details, Conclusion: Thesis, supports, and more general statement to end.), and Edit (look for and fix anything that is wrong).

For the MATH:

Know that a line is also a 180 degree angle, and that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees (and that a circle has 360 degrees). That is why, when someone turns their life around, we say "He did a 180." and why, when someone does "donuts" in a parking lot with their car, we say "She was doing 360s."

It's also helpful to remember C=2πr and A=πr2. C is circumference, which is the distance around a circle (think of taking a "fer"ry around the "circ"le). A is the area inside a circle, so it makes sense that the r (radius) is squared in this one, because that means the answer will be in "square meters" or "square inches," just as an area should be.

If you have a week to go until the test, learn to recognize and manipulate the numbers in 45-45-90 triangles and 30-60-90 triangles. Worst case, that information is included at the beginning of the math test, but it helps to have understood it before the test. If it's the night before, then getting more sleep will do more for you than staying up to learn this, since it probably only shows up in two problems tops, anyway.

If you finish working a math problem, don't just mark the answer you got. Check the question again first! True, it may have taken you a lot of work to find out that "x = 12," and it is tempting to just mark "12," but that is a horrible idea if the original question was "What is x + 2 ?"

On the math, take notes on the diagram or in the test booklet the first time you read the problem. The more you can pull the information out of the "story problem" format and into something more visual, the better your chances of solving the problem.

Don't trust your brain. Use the calculator. Or at least double check every thing as you do it. I can't count the number of times I have seen smart students solve a difficult problem by doing everything right except, somewhere in the middle, saying to themselves "2 x 3 is 5."

For the math, and all other sections really, my joke is that the three things to do are "1. Be careful. 2. Be careful. 3. Be careful." A better way to put that might be "1. Be careful. 2. Double check everything. 3. Do everything you can to be certain your answer is the right one." A corollary to that might be: "Don't rush. Use all your time." Ideally, you will want a few minutes available at the end to re-check your answers and maybe to try answering any problem that was taking too long (so you circled the problem number in the test booklet [not the answer sheet] and moved on in search of easier points).

For the READING:

For reading comprehension, yes, you really should read the whole passage and think about what you read as you read it. (If you are a super slow reader, then you can just skip to the questions and jump to lines 12-15 or whatever they tell you to read for each question, but everyone else would do better to read everything before answering the questions!!) If you know that the answer has to be A) or D), don't just pick one; go back to the reading and figure out which one is better, A) or D), then pick the better one.

For the vocabulary questions, cover the answers and do your best to use the clues in the sentence to pick out the kinds of words that should go in the blanks. Once you have thought of some words (or at least tried to), uncover the answers and see which one jumps out at you as being the right one. If one does, that's probably right. If not, then process of elimination to eliminate the ones that are obviously wrong, then your best guess of which of the remaining ones is right. [BIG HINT: If you do not know what a word means, DO NOT eliminate it! "I don't know that word, so that can't be the answer." sounds good, but makes no logical sense, if you think about it.]

For the WRITING:

For the sentence error questions, watch out for things like:

"the camels of the other school was..." (dumb example, I know)

"the other school was..." sounds great, but "school" is part of the prepositional phrase "of the other school," which describes the camels. The subject of "was" is not the school; it is the camels. "the camels (of the other school) was..." should be "the camels were" not "the camels was," so the sentence should have been "the camels of the other school were..." If you understand this and watch out for this trap, it should earn you lots of points.

For these same questions, try to notice when you read them if there is any point in the sentence where you slow down. That is usually your brain's way of telling you that something is wrong there. If you slowed down where the B was, the error is probably B.

BIG HINT NUMBER TWO: If you get to the end of the sentence and you did not see any error, DO NOT PICK "NO ERROR"! There are just two reasons that you might think there is no error. Reason number one: there was an error, but you did not see it. Reason number two: there was no error. So if you think there is "no error," instead of marking "no error," read the sentence carefully one or two more times. If you still think there is no error, then by all means, mark "no error," and chances are you will be right—just don't mark that after only the first time through the sentence!

For the REWRITING questions, just know that the vast majority of the time the correct answer is either the shortest answer or the next-shortest answer, so look at those answers first. Obviously, that won't always be true, and it is best to consider all of them and think everything through, but it still can be very helpful to know this.

For the test generally:

Go in psyched up to do your best and to get as many points as you can.

If you can eliminate even just one answer choice, it is probably worthwhile to put down an answer, even if it is a guess. It is better, of course, to narrow it down as much as possible; if not to one answer (ideal, especially if you have a way of knowing that is right), then at least to two. If you can eliminate only one, still go ahead and guess and mark an answer (because you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket). If you can not eliminate any answers, though, you are better off skipping that question without answering it (because the odds are against you at that point instead of even, or in your favor).

If you finish early, use all the time you have left to double check the problems you circled or marked with question marks. Why not get more points if you can?

Make sure your answer isn't just the one you agree with most. Instead it needs to be the best answer to the question, based on the information in the test (not based on your own personal beliefs).

In math and reading comprehension, make sure that the answer you pick is the answer to the question you were asked.

On the open-ended math questions (no A, B, C, D, E to choose from), there is no penalty for putting down a wrong answer.

Rack up as many points as possible by doing everything you can to answer as many questions correctly as possible. Do the reading, do the work, narrow down your choices, double check everything, be careful, be careful, be careful, and use every minute and every opportunity you have to try to improve your score.

If you find this really helped you a lot, and you have a couple dollars you want to shoot my way, you can at PayPal using the e-mail Appreciated, of course.

Buying the SAT book through the link above will not add anything to your price, but will earn me a modest commission, which I usually just spend with Amazon anyway.

So, get a good night's rest, get to the test center early with your registration information, calculator, and sharpened pencils with erasers, and GOOD LUCK!

And remember, all anyone can do is their best, after you are admitted to college no one really cares about your SAT score ever again, and worst case you can always take the SAT test again and do better next time if you have to.

Do your best!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The joaquimoly diet

Unfortunately, it's not as delicious as that sounds. It is, though, what has always worked for me.

1) Stop drinking things out of straws. Even diet and no-calorie drinks have ingredients that are not the most natural or best for you, or at the very least they get you accustomed to a sweetness that you then seek out in everything else you drink or eat. On the extreme end, there are those 400 calorie drinks that do nothing to satisfy your hunger, and which overwhelm the 25 calories you burned walking a quarter mile round trip to get them. (Oh, you went to the drive-thru? Never mind.)

2) Learn how to cook, or at least how to stir-fry vegetables. Meals out are designed to make you crave them. The reason tomato soup made with cream tastes "just like restaurant soup" is, well, because restaurants have no qualms about dumping as much cream/butter, fat/oil/grease, salt, and sugar as necessary to make you think their food is "the BEST!" If you must eat at a restaurant, do it no more than once a week, and stop eating when you have eaten half the food on your plate. Eat the other half tomorrow for lunch.

How to stir-fry vegetables: On shopping day, buy lots of several kinds of vegetables, especially bok choy, but also things like carrots, celery, new potatoes (thin-skinned, not baking), onions, garlic, possibly mushrooms, broccoli, summer squash (thin-skinned), anything you like, really. That day or the next, chop up enough to fill a big bowl into small enough pieces that they will find the bottom of the pan when you are stir-frying them. Keep the garlic and the leafy parts of the bok choi separate from the other chopped vegetables. Make a big batch of rice.* Whenever you are hungry, warm the rice, and get out the vegetables, the oil (preferable sesame oil), and a pan. Put the pan on high heat, put in 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil, add vegetables (keeping heat on high), and stir like mad (at least constantly). When they are starting to show signs of being cooked (approx. 3 minutes), add the chopped bok choi leaves and chopped garlic and cook for another minute, possibly two. Remove from heat. Turn off burners. Quickly put some rice on the plate, the stir-fried vegetables on the rice, and sprinkle some ground ginger and some salt over the vegetables until it tastes good to you. Return uncooked chopped vegetables and, when cooled, the rice, to the fridge until time for the next 10-minute-or-less meal.

3) Start breakfast with a really good piece of fruit, fresh fruit. My favorite is a really ripe mango, but watermelon, canteloupe (muskmelon), strawberries, a banana, red bananas, a good pear, or almost anything will do. Alternatively, hot oatmeal poured over a sliced ripe banana or over thawed, crushed blackberries with a little sugar, but no milk (see point one about liquid calories), is also delicious. After the fruit, then go ahead and have a home-made muffin (see point two about commercially-prepared foods) or two or three, preferably also with fruit in them (apple, raisins, blueberries, cranberries).

4) Don't go to bed until you have walked for at least 30 minutes (in addition to the walking you normally do during the day), preferrably 45. Sixty (60) minutes is actually too much to do everyday (in my experience, anyway). If you are considering doing that much or more, you really need to talk with your doctor and/or your psychologist, or you could actually do yourself some real harm. (You are not your weight, and you are good enough already.) Alternatively, run for 15 to 22.5 minutes. You can do this first thing in the morning, at lunch, after work, or right before going to bed, but do it sometime before going to bed on at least five out of every seven days.

5) Garden. If you have never done it before, just get a pot that is at least one-foot deep (this is important, so roots have enough room!), get a tomato plant (at the right time of year for your location—when there is no frost) and some good potting soil and a tomato cage, and put it all together somewhere where it will see the sun most of the day and where you will see it every day, to keep it watered enough to not dry out, and to remember to fertilize it maybe once a month, if it looks like it could be doing better. If you want to expand beyond a tomato plant, do a cherry tomato plant. Then maybe a zucchini plant. Stick to the easy stuff so you will have success until you start feeling like being more adventurous. For true maximum show for little work, plant some "mammoth" sunflower seeds, in the ground, in a sunny location where you will see them frequently and water them.

6) Don't eat on the couch in front of the TV; otherwise, you will tend to mindlessly eat way too much of the wrong kinds of food.

7) If you won't be able to resist it, leave it at the store. Don't buy it. Don't bring it home. If you want ice cream, make yourself get up and go out to the ice cream shop, and then get a single scoop. It's more social and more fun, anyway.

8) Tell yourself the truth. Don't believe that "these calories won't count" or whatever other excuse (lie) you usually tell yourself. Tell yourself the truth, and then either act accordingly, or just be truthful about what you are doing.

9) It's O.K. to be hungry sometimes. If you are never really hungry, you are probably eating more than you need to for your activity level. I am not advocating anything drastic here (or in any of these points). I am just saying that it is not the end of the world to be hungry now and then throughout the day, say for an hour or two before eating. It's also not the end of the world to not be absolutely full, or even a tiny bit hungry, when heading to bed. If you are really hungry, though, by all means eat something, just not too much. I remember reading that the Okinawans follow the practice of "hara hachi bu" (80 percent full)— eating only until they are 80% full. I don't follow that, exactly, but when I know that eating more would, truthfully, be eating too much, I usually stop right there (and maybe just eat any remaining pieces of tomato on the plate; too good, and not particularly fattening, anyway).

And that, my friends, or my Russian blogviews-spam bots, is the totally non-extreme, non-commercial, non-celebrity-related, non-advertised, and rather common-sense way to be healthy (or healthier). Basically it boils down to this: A) give priority to fresh fruits and vegetables, B) avoid liquid calories and commercially prepared drinks and foods (cook at home), and C) walk 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week.

Fresh produce, water (or black tea or coffee or mate), home cooking, and exercise.

It's almost too simple and too easy, and it is, and that's because I am not trying to sell you something. If anything, doing what I suggest here will also save you a lot of money. If it does, just start a new habit of socking most of it away at the beginning of the month, or every week, and then pretending you have to live on the rest. Then, when you are healthier and richer, let me know—and spread the word. :  )

Brought to you by bok choy.

The usual disclaimer: Not intended to be taken as nutritional or medical advice. For that, talk to a nutritionist or a doctor.

*For rice, 2+ cups water for every 1 cup rice. For white rice, bring to a boil then reduce, covered, to warm (simmer) for 15 minutes. For brown rice, do the same, but simmer for 35 minutes. It is better to have too much water than too little. (Easier to pour off excess water than to scrape burnt rice off the bottom of the pot.)

Totally spaced (absolutely forgot to add) this last point:

10) Don't eat red meat, and eat eggs in moderation. Both have recently been closely tied to hardening of the arteries, which is a main cause of heart attacks. There are other negative health effects, too, which you can read about elsewhere, especially on sites with no ties to the USDA, the U.S. government generally, or to ranchers or egg farmers. (WHO sites, EU sites, or Canadian sites tend to provide less biased, more scientific, information.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

When do I think of you?

When do I think of you?

Mostly when I am getting ready for bed. And when I am waking up. Sometimes, during the day. More often than I would expect, when I dream. In church, virtually every time.

What do I think about you?

A far, far greater variety of things than you would imagine or think possible.

What do I wish you knew?

In short, everything. More than you will ever know.

What do I wish for you?

That you will be happy where you are.

And that some day you will understand.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Two boats and a helicopter

You can find that story on Google.

It has been in my thoughts lately as I realize that you can't save a person in danger of drowning (metaphorically, that is), if they don't realize what they are getting themselves into, or if they misinterpret your attempt to throw them a lifeline as something else. Sometimes, after giving it a few good tries, you just have to stop trying to save them and watch them drown. It's not the first time.

It doesn't help that there is a certain level of excitement in doing the wrong thing and in gathering an audience to watch you drown, and even to support you while you do it!

It's pore over books, by the way, not "pour over."

And a friend you know only through the Internet is not a friend, but a person onto whom you can project your fantasies and fill in the blanks the way you want them to be filled in. The real person on the other end is not the one you imagine him or her to be, and will probably get you into some real trouble in between the time you meet them for real and the time you realize who they really are.

Signed, the voice (and victim) of more than one such experience.

Pay more attention to the real people in your real life. Beware of the virtual world and virtual relationships. And when you go on and on about being miserable and broken and not understanding life, and some pitying stranger is kind enough to offer you a resource that will teach you what you don't already know and will allow you to not only understand life, but have it make sense and have meaning, at least give it a look. As hard as it is for you to go through what you are going through, it is almost harder to watch, knowing just how fixable it is if you would just read and understand what is taught here:

Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves

Monday, February 11, 2013

Conversions for unusual units of time

Once in a blue moon = once every 2.71 years, on average

Once every death of a Pope = once every 12.75 years, on average, considering only the period from 1903 to 2005, given that all previous times occurred before 1900, which is about when being seen by a doctor started becoming more likely to help you than to hurt you.

Once every resignation of a Pope (or "abdication of a Pope") = once every 247.875 years to 495.75 years, on average, not counting Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, and depending on whether it was only four other Popes that have resigned or eight that have. Alternatively, if you want to consider only Pope Benedict XVI and the previous Pope to resign (Pope Gregory XII, in 1415), then you could say "once every 698 years."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

This world needs help

Nearly every day I see new evidence that the world has the wrong priorities. The headlong rush into greater and greater techno-narcissism and techno-isolationism only twists those priorities even more out of whack.

I could sit here and write a detailed blog post about it...

...but I would rather go out into the real world, do something good and productive, and find ways to be kind to real people.

The rest of the world would do well--hopefully even better for a change--to get up, go out, and do the same.

I will say that when it starts becoming all about you, that is a sign you are headed in the opposite direction from where you need to be going.

Stop it. Drop it. And roll yourself 180 degrees around (now facing the world and the other people in it). Now go out, be kind, be helpful, and to the best of your ability leave your self and your preoccupation with yourself behind and go serve noble purposes and others and no longer serve, prop up, nourish, and defend your ego. There's no need to do that last part anyway. You are already fine. Already worthy of love. Already have nothing you must prove, to others or even to yourself. You're good. Now get out there and make the world better for everyone else.

The world needs help.

The world needs your help.

Love knows no limits. Kindness is free.