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A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SAT

A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SATFor many high school juniors and seniors, the SAT causes a lot of stress and anxiety. In their quest to get the perfect score, they’ve turned prepping for high stakes tests into a multi-billion dollar industry. While there’s some value to the expensive prep courses and gigantic test prep books, you don’t need a fancy program to help you improve your score. In many cases, you can ensure you do well on the SAT by doing some free prep work at home and using some key strategies while taking the test. We’ve rounded up some of the best tips to help you conquer the SAT.

Get to Know the Format of the Test
One of the best tips for doing well on the SAT, or any other big test, is to get to know the format. Do you know how many sections are on the SAT? Do you know how many questions you have to answer in each section?

We’ll help you out.

How much time do you have to finish the SAT? 3 hours (65 for reading, 35 for writing, 25 minutes for no-calculator math, 55 minutes for calculator-allowed math), plus 50 minutes if you complete the essay

How many sections are on the SAT? Five: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (with calculator), Math (no calculator), and Essay (optional)

How many questions do you have to answer in each section? 55 reading, 44 writing, 58 math, 1 optional essay

Beyond that, you need to know how the questions are asked. For example, you’ll be asked to answer 13 student-produced response math questions. You’ll also have to know how to read the underlined portions of the passages to answer the writing and language questions.

A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SAT General Tips
Answer every question
The current test does not have a guessing penalty, so it is better to answer every question, even if you have to guess. Use the process of elimination to eliminate at least one answer choice and improve your odds of getting the question correct.

Determine how much time you have to answer each question
Don’t spend a lot of time during the test looking at the clock, but as you practice for the SAT learn each amount of time feels like. If you’re spending too long on a question, move on and come back to it at the end.

Change the way you bubble
Consider bubbling at the end of each section or page so you don’t have to flip back and forth between the test and answer sheet. This will buy you some time. Just circle your answers in the test booklet and flip to the answer sheet at the end of each section or page.

Double check your answers at the end of the test
If you have time, go back and make sure you bubbled in the correct answer for each problem. Circle the answers in your test booklet to make this process smoother.

Try to answer the question without looking at the choices
Immediately after you read a question, take a second to see if an answer comes into your head. Then read the answer choices. If the answer you came up with is one of the choices, chances are it’s the right answer.

Underline key parts of the question
Many questions contain key words that tell you what to do. Underline these words to help you stay focused as you answer the questions.

Don’t fall for traps
Make sure you answer what is being asked. The most obvious wrong answer will always be one of the answer options, so it’s easy to get tripped up.

Trust your gut
You can easily get caught into the trap of second-guessing yourself. If your gut says it’s correct, then stick with the answer and move on to the next question.

Take some time to relax before the test
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are for the SAT; if you’re stressed out, you won’t perform as well. The day before the test be sure to get some sleep and take some time to do something fun. Go see a movie. Play a video game. Hang out with your friends. Don’t spend all your time thinking about the test.

Tips for Taking Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is an important part of preparing for the SAT. Don’t just sit and click through sample questions online. Instead, print out or get a practice book that has multiple practice tests in it. As you complete each test, try to mimic test day conditions, including following the time limits, using an answer sheet, and creating a test-like atmosphere.

When you’re finished with a practice test, score yourself. For any questions you missed, before reading the answer explanation, see if you can determine how to come up with the correct answer on your own. Also look over your answers and see if you can find a pattern of errors. Did you miss certain question types or specific math or ELA skills? If so, you know that you need to brush up on those areas before test day.

Brush Up on the Basics

Because the SAT covers so much information, there isn’t nearly enough time to learn it all again. However, you can brush up on some of the basics to help you do your best on your test. Some skills to look at in order to prepare include:

  • Grammar Rules
  • Math formulas
  • Data interpretation and graphing skills
  • Making calculations without a calculator

A Comprehensive Guide to the SAT Reading and Writing
The SAT largely measures language arts and math skills. The reading and writing sections have changed over the years. Not only has an optional writing section been added, but the emphasis on definining higher-level vocabulary words and completing analogies has been decreased. In the reading section, you’ll be asked to read high-level passages and answer questions. In the writing section, you’ll be asked questions related to grammar, spelling, conventions, and general writing techniques.

Here are some tips to help you do your best on the reading and writing sections of the test:

1. Read the questions first
If a question is passage-based, it helps to have a purpose for reading. Look at the questions related to the passage before you start reading so you know if you’re looking for parts of the passage related to a particular idea or character.

2. Read grammar questions and answer choices aloud
While you can’t talk loudly during the test, you can whisper the sentences that are part of grammar questions to yourself. Often you’ll hear an error better than you can see in on the page.

3. Pay attention to connotation and context
In reading and grammar, connotation and context play a large role. By looking at both, you may be able to distinguish between two very similar answer choices and choose the correct one.

4. Look for small errors
The SAT question writers are not trying to trick you with grammar questions, but they may include some very small errors in answer choices to make them incorrect. Pay close attention to punctuation marks, plurals, pronoun-antecedent agreement, parallel structure, and subject-verb agreement.

5. See if one question clues another
Question writers work hard to avoid cluing (where one question gives you the answer to another) in a test, but sometimes, particularly in evidence-based questions, you can often find some help.

6. Read all passage introductions
Often there’s a lot of useful information in the short paragraphs that introduce the passages and questions in the reading and writing sections. There can be a lot of helpful information in the instructions on other parts of the test too, so make sure you read all of them carefully.

For more help with the reading and writing questions on the SAT, use Help Teaching’s SAT worksheets to brush up on your vocabulary, identify sentence errors, and read some SAT reading passages.

A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the SAT Mathematics
The math section of the SAT has both multiple choice and open-ended math questions. There’s also a section where you’re not allowed to use a calculator. The open-ended format can see intimidating, but if you prepare for the test, you can feel confident in your answers no matter what type of question is asked.

Here are some tips to help:

1. Substitute in a number
When answer choices do not have numbers, rather equations or expressions, you can still plug in a logical number and see which one works. Pick a logical number or numbers if needed. For example, 1 is a good starting place, 100 if you are dealing with percents, multiples of 10 if angle measures, etc.

2. Substitute in answer choices
Substituting the answers choices in for variable is a huge time saver – “plug and chug”. You’re looking to get the correct answer as efficiently as possible, not please your math teacher!

3. Simplify or rewrite in another form when you can
Sometimes a question masquerades as something more complex when all you really need to do is simplify it. For example, an improper fraction may reduce to a whole number.

4. Brush up on time savers
These include the Pythagorean Triple (3-4-5 and 5-12-13 specifically). Remember that any multiples of those numbers are also triples (6-8-10, 10-24-26). You can also brush up on special right triangle rules or other ones learned in school.

5. When in doubt, draw it out
Draw a picture, graph, table, diagram whenever you can to help visualize the problem.

6. Memorize and become familiar with formulas
The SAT will give you a reference sheet with common formulas, but it’s time-consuming to constantly take it out and refer to it. If you are familiar with common formulas, you can answer most of the questions on the test without referring to the formula sheet.

In addition to the tips above, you can find resources to help you prepare for the SAT on Help Teaching’s SAT Preparation Resources page.

Still worried you won’t do well? Don’t stress. Not all colleges require the SAT or ACT. Check out FairTest to discover a list of colleges and universities that are “test optional” or “test flexible” when considering students for admission.

Brain Breaks: Helping Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving

Brain Breaks: Helping Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving
Let’s face it, learning can be overwhelming. With so much information coming in at once, sometimes students just need a break. That’s where brain breaks come in. Brain breaks are short, focused activities designed to help students recharge and refocus. Although typically used with preschool and elementary grades, brain breaks can be used with students of all ages.

Why Brain Breaks?

Brain breaks have found their way into thousands of classrooms around the world, and it’s not just because they’re fun. Research involving children’s brains shows that movement and exercise can improve behavior and academic performance in the classroom. That’s why you’ll often see preschoolers spinning in circles, climbing around, and touching things with their hands as part of their learning process. Other types of brain breaks, such as breathing exercises, also have benefits backed by research. For example, deep breathing exercises can help decrease the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety in children.

Types of Brain Breaks

The goal of brain breaks is to get students to step back, clear their heads, and give them a couple minutes to recharge. This can be done in multiple ways. Some common forms of brain breaks include:

  • Physical movement
  • Calming exercises
  • Creative activities
  • Engaging media
  • Social interaction

While physical movement is the most common type of brain break used in the classroom, teachers can incorporate different types of brain breaks based on factors such as the time of day, the time of year, and their individual students’ needs.

Physical Movement
Research shows that students need to move throughout the day. Physical brain breaks get students out of their seats and give them a chance to get in a bit of exercise. Examples of physical brain breaks include:

Calming Exercises
Learning can be stressful, especially during testing season. Calming exercises help students release any anxiety and tension they have built up inside. They also teach students techniques for handling stressful scenarios in other settings. Examples of calming brain breaks include:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Guided imagery
  • Listening to calming music
  • Sitting in silence
  • Yoga poses

Creative Activities
Creative activities give students the opportunity to exercise a different part of the brain. A lot of learning involves logic and reasoning. Bringing creative activities into the classroom can help students connect the two sides of their brain. Examples of creative brain breaks include:

  • Drawing a picture
  • Answering a creative prompt
  • Completing a role play activity
  • Playing with clay
  • Making music

Engaging Media
Students love the Internet and one particular activity they enjoy is watching videos. Sites like YouTube are full of short, highly entertaining videos. Since brain breaks are all about getting students to relax and refocus, showing a funny video or playing a popular song can be an effective way to get students, particularly those at the secondary level, to recharge in the middle of a class.

Social Interaction
Similarly, giving students, particularly those at the secondary level, a chance to simply sit and talk to one another can be exactly the break they need. Give students 2-3 minutes where they can talk about whatever they want without the stress of having to have all the right answers. To keep conversations from getting out of hand, consider choosing a random question for students to discuss with one another. You can also play a game such as “Would You Rather?” or “Two Truths and Lie” to give students something to talk about.

Resources for Incorporating Brain Breaks in the Classroom

Lots of teachers and educational organizations use brain breaks on a daily basis. Here are some resources you can use to find brain breaks to incorporate into your own classroom:

20 Three-Minute Brain Breaks from Minds in Bloom includes activities that range from physical to social. Our favorite is 5-4-3-2-1 which has students do five different movements in descending order. Example: Five jumping jacks, four arms up and down, etc.

20 Brain Break Clips  from Teach Train Love includes songs that teachers can play to get kids moving in the classroom. A favorite video that we think makes a good brain break? The Gummy Bear Song.

20 Brain Breaks from Beg, Borrow, and Teach are organized by time-limit. The site suggests writing the ideas on color-coded popsicle sticks and choosing one every time you need a brain break for the classroom.

12 of the Funniest YouTube Videos for Kids from Cool Mom Tech is a great list of videos to use as brain breaks. We think the Mr. Raisin Toast series is a great pick!

How to Do Yoga in Your Classroom is a nice how-to guide from Kids Yoga Stories and includes a list of other calming activities for kids.

20 Themed Brain Break Ideas from Pink Oatmeal includes over 20 activities involving yoga, dinosaurs, and an alphabet theme.

67 Kid-Friendly Brain Break Songs and Musicians from Really Good Stuff is a great list of songs to play when you want to encourage kids to get up and dance for a few minutes during the day.

Brain Breaks Guide is full of different activities to use with kids in elementary and middle school.

GoNoodle is a site that provides tons of brain break activities for teachers. Sign up for a free account, and then set up a class to get activities organized by grade-level.

Do Nothing for Two Minutes is a two-minute timer with relaxing images and background music. If two minutes seems like a long time, work up to it. Start with 30 second, then a minute, and then two minutes.

HelpTeaching’s Physical Education Worksheets offers free games and other activities to get students moving in the classroom.

Whatever brain breaks you choose, there are few things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep the brain breaks short. 2-3 minutes is enough to get students ready to learn again.
  2. Explain to students the purpose of brain breaks. This will help main control in the classroom and may get more students involved.
  3. Choose activities that benefit students. You may like yoga, but your students might think it’s crazy. If you can’t get them engaged in activity, it won’t benefit them.

Don’t let your students experience the brain breaks alone either. Adults need brain breaks too, so jump right in and enjoy them with your students.

Do you use brain breaks with your students? If so, we’d love to hear some of your favorite activities and resources.

Announcing a Partnership with StudyLock

We are very eStudyLock App Logoxcited to announce the release of a brand-new version of StudyLock, an educational application that helps parents manage how their children interact with their smart devices for which Help Teaching is the exclusive content provider.

StudyLock is an intelligent educational system from Big Mage Studio, a talented and experienced developer with a great talent for designing engaging apps that kids love, that locks selected apps and games on the children mobile devices and only gives access after they answer a series of educational questions specifically selected for their grade. The questions available through StudyLock are geared for children and teens in grades 3-10.

The questions kids and teens must answer to unlock their devices are all provided by Help Teaching’s content contributors. Our contributors have over 20 years of combined teaching experience and are committed to providing the highest quality of content for use by StudyLock™. It’s the same high-quality content you’ll find as part of Help Teaching’s premium printable worksheets and lessons. Questions are broken into five categories: math, history, science, language arts, and health. All math and language arts questions are aligned to the Common Core State Standards too, ensuring that the content is focused on the knowledge and skills kids need to know. Parents can also create custom questions that are specific to their child needs.

Study Lock Quiz Screenshot

In addition to giving access to exclusive premium content from Help Teaching, StudyLock offers parents the ability to:

– Monitor app and game usage
– Remotely block access to particular apps and games
– Send on-screen messages/reminders
– Track a child’s progress in key subject areas

Through their partnership, StudyLock and Help Teaching provide parents with a comprehensive resource to monitor children and teens’ academic progress and provide them with tools to improve their skills. Parents can choose to have progress reports e-mailed to them and quickly see which standards their kids and teens need the most help with. Once parents determine where their kids need the most help, they can head over to Help Teaching to discover more resources to help them improve their skills.

The StudyLock app is free to download from Google Play or the Amazon app store and is supported by all Android devices – smartphones and tablets – running Android 4.1 or higher.

For more information about StudyLock, visit http://studylockapp.com/. If you would like to support StudyLock and its mission, you can do so via the StudyLock Kickstarter campaign.

5 Ways to Improve Study Skills

5 Ways to Improve Study Skills As students gear up for state tests and finals, it’s time to start taking a look at how they study. Knowing how to study not only helps boost students’ performance on major exams, it also helps them go into the exam with confidence. Even students who already know how to study can stand to re-evaluate their study skills to make sure they’re maximizing their brain power. These strategies for improving study skills will not only help students learn how to study, they’ll also help make their study time more effective.

1. Start Early

Despite its popularity, cramming for an exam rarely works. Focusing on a lot of the same information at once may make students feel confident that they know it, but often it doesn’t stick. Instead of cramming for exams, students should start studying early and gradually review the information over time. This helps them learn and review a variety of information at once and in smaller amounts, making it easier for the information to stick. It also removes some of the stress because they don’t have to spend the night before a test studying instead of getting a good night’s sleep.

2. Find Your Optimal Study Environment

Sometimes students know the basics of studying, but they don’t do it in the best environment. They may think they can study with the TV on and radio blaring or while sitting in the library with their friends, but that’s not always the case. Students should conduct an honest and thorough evaluation of their study environment to see whether it’s really working for them. One way to do this is to read a paragraph in the normal study environment, test what they remember, and then switch to a quieter environment, read another paragraph and see if they remember more or less.

A few questions to ask when finding the optimal study environment include:

  • What do I hear around me? Does it distract me from what I’m reading/doing?
  • What do I smell around me? Does it make me feel positive or negative?
  • How is the lighting? Is it too dark? Too bright?
  • Am I comfortable? Too comfortable?
  • Do I have all the resources I need around me?
  • What objects/sounds/smells/etc. take me away from my studying in this environment?

Answering these questions will help students determine whether their study environment is working and what they need to add or remove to create the optimal study environment.

3. Learn How to Study

Of  course students can study all the time in the optimal study environment, but it doesn’t do any good if they don’t know how to study. Studying involves more than re-reading highlighted notes or flipping through a stack of flashcards. HowtoStudy.com offers a guide to help students learn how to study. The guide covers aspects of studying such as creating a study plan, taking effective notes, managing stress, and learning how to effectively study and brush up on your skills before a test. While the guide has been designed for college students, many of its principles also work well for students in middle school and high school. Too often students get to college without knowing how to study, so it’s good to teach them how to study while the stakes are lower and they have their parents and teachers around to support them.

4. Think Positive

When students have trouble with a subject and develop a negative attitude, no amount of studying will work. Instead, the negativity will overpower most of the learning that takes place. The goal of studying is to help students learn to master difficult concepts and become more confident in the material and they must approach studying with that mindset.

Parents and teachers can help encourage students to think positive by encouraging them with phrases such as “I know you can get this” or “you’re almost there.” Adding motivational quotes, posters, or other positive pictures and phrases to the study environment can also help students subconsciously think more positively about themselves and their abilities. When studying, students also shouldn’t start with the most difficult material they need to learn. Instead, they should start with easier material so they experience success early on and, therefore, are more motivated to keep going.

5. Use Study Skills Worksheets and Organizers

Study skills worksheets and organizers, like those found as part of Help Teaching’s free printables collection can help students learn the key words, vocabularies, and strategies needed to become better at studying. These worksheets will also help students by helping them with concepts such as creating a study calendar, learning what foods to eat while studying, and even just getting a handle on the vocabulary related to studying.

Focusing on the details involved with studying before actually looking at the material can help students vastly improve their study skills and, therefore, improve their performance on major exams. The following resources offer more advice to help students make studying more effective:

  • AcademicTips.org covers the basics of studying and offers other resources, such as inspirational stories and funny jokes, to help students de-stress and feel confident while studying.
  • The How to Study Infographic from Rasumussen College breaks down the basics of studying, including research-based facts on the optimal studying strategies.
  • Study Guides and Strategies provides hundreds of free guides designed to help students learn to study and provide them with material to study related to major subject areas.
  • HowToStudy.org organizes its study skills by subject, showing students that sometimes they must study different for a math test than a science exam.

Have some study tips or resources that you love? Share them in the comments.