Your ACT Score Does Not Define You (but it IS this week)

Your ACT Score Does Not Define You (but it IS this week)

While I don’t necessarily encourage students to wait until the last minute if they want to prepare, I definitely understand that it happens. Life gets in the way. People get sick. Schoolwork piles up.  Stressful things happen. Let’s not let the ACT be one of them.

One thing I will say is how incredibly frustrating it can be to watch student after student come into my office and beat themselves up over test scores or become so stressed they can hardly focus or call on any strategies they may have learned.  So often, I watch as students shut down beforehand or hear of them shutting down during because they don’t even want to try or feel they are just going to fail anyhow. Then, there’s the never ending talk about scores – whether it be self talk, student chatter or reminders about how important this test is from parents.

Due to the frustration of watching students struggle and stress (and the joy of watching as they find more confidence and success), I am sharing below a few quick and simple strategies my clients have found to be efficient and effective over the years.

Students, please, if you remember anything of what you read here, please remember this:


I have worked with hundreds of students over the past fourteen years, and can say that hands down many of the most intelligent, witty, engaging, creative, communicative, intellectual, and interesting ones have truly struggled with standardized testing.  The scores are NOT a reflection of how intelligent you are, but few are able to shake the feeling that they aren’t smart when those numbers do not come out as high as they had hoped.  I have also worked with many a student who had a difficult time in school or managing tasks or with grades, but scored in the 30s on the ACT.  I have seen students rock the ACT but come home from college or receive failing grades because they had not developed the necessary skills to truly find success, manage stress and accomplish what they had set out to do.

So, I ask of you the following. Do your best, but remain calm. The test results do NOT predict your future. If you choose to go to college, you WILL find a school that is a good fit for you regardless of your score.  Try not to compare yourself to others- we all have our strengths and areas of opportunity. Get some sleep, take a few deep breaths, don’t put too much pressure on yourself, use your strategies and check out the tips below – then, go and knock it out!

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Our top few favorite tips:


  • Go straight to the questions.
  • Treat the “NO CHANGE” option equally, and as if it were simply the underlined portion of text from the paragraph in its place.
  • Try marking the beginning and end of sentences off with parentheses to help guide you – this saves you time and mental energy in going back and forth, skimming to find the start of each question every time you replace and test an option – not to mention, spacing between lines within a paragraph are often spread out, making it difficult to keep sentences together.
  • Choose the SHORTEST/ most concise option first and try that one (for Qs with no intro question). If it works, pick it and move on
  • For each question, quickly skim the answer choices and ask yourself what’s different between these (commas? word choice? transition words? length of phrase?). This helps you think of which rules or strategies you’ll need for this question.
  • For comprehension related questions, try to do a quick skim of the topic sentences or paragraphs for the main idea (ex: history of potatoes, John Doe’s background info, how bubbles are formed, other inventions) and make a QUICK note in the margin.  This helps see the focus and big picture – plus, it helps with the questions about paragraph location and author’s purpose.


  • Go to the END of the question first. This one is a fan favorite. By reading WHAT the question is asking before you go back and read the details and numbers, it helps you focus on what type of problem it is or what you are looking for in the end AS you are reading.
  • Draw and write on the test. Circle key words. Translate information (ex:  a=3.2, L=8cm ) as you read.
  • Remember, many problems look more complicated than they really are.
  • Ignore extra language. Sometimes “for all real numbers, such that the domain is… find _____” REALLY just means “solve”.
  • If pacing is an issue or you are running short on time, try using the Easy-Medium-Hard approach – if the problem is easier or can be done quickly, DO IT RIGHT AWAY.  If it is one that you feel you can do, but need more time, mark with an “M” and come back later.  If you truly have no idea or can’t imagine figuring it out, either guess or mark with an “H”.  After you finish the easy Qs, come back and do ALL mediums.  THEN, if you have time, go back and complete the hard questions. If you do run out of time, at least you are guessing on the questions you may not have figured out anyhow.


  • Choose your strategy.  You can read the passage first IF you are able to read and comprehend quickly, then move on to questions. Many students, however, find they run short on time and prefer to either preview the questions then read or skim OR only read the introduction, topic sentences and conclusion.
  • Regardless of strategy, it is also helpful to make quick notes in the margin – just a couple of key words to remind you of the topic of the paragraph. This helps with comprehension questions
  • Be sure to check ALL parts of the answer choices. Often, there are two components to each answer option.  Sometimes one is true, but the other is not.  Don’t be fooled by a partially correct answer.
  • Remember to keep an eye on the time.


  • It is usually not necessary to read all of the background information. It’s best to not overthink the science section.
  • Go straight to the questions.
  • Underline and circle or make notes as you go.  Look for patterns and trends (as ___ goes up, ____ goes down).
  • When looking at data, tables, graphs, etc., pay close attention to the axes, titles, labels and units.  These are a great indicator as to where to look for the info that you need.  Sometimes, the trend on the axis itself is what they are asking about!
  • Draw and mark on the charts – this helps you to see where the data fits.
  • Be sure if the numbers aren’t in order on a table, that you arrange them in order to look for trends.


  • IF taking the writing section, be sure to focus on organization, structure and clear evidence and support.
  • Use examples, and show that you know how to integrate support and relate to your topic sentence.
  • Stay on topic within your paragraphs and use transitions – this is KEY so the paper flows.
  • Personal or real world examples are key in illustrating your understanding of the concepts – do not just repeat the prompts and ideas they have shared.
  • Be sure your thesis is clear, you stay on topic and you leave them with food for thought.  (If ____ does not occur… ____ could be how this turns out….  or some such).
  • Address the counter argument – acknowledge the opposing view and counter that argument with your own points.
  • Remember, this is scored as a draft.  It’s more important to pay attention to the above than to make it absolutely perfect.

** We are also offering a full one hour webinar with even MORE strategies and examples-

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STOP the Madness!

STOP the Madness!

I did not become a parent so that I could have little people around to hound and nag on a daily basis… but sometimes, I simply do not know what else to do.  I know that I SHOULDN’T and that it is NOT effective, but I often find myself doing it anyhow.

By general (non-scientific) estimate, I find that at least 80 percent of the parents who come to me for support have exactly this concern (difficulty finding better ways to interact and defaulting to nagging, hounding or lecturing as a result).

It comes from somewhere good, somewhere deep within.  We want our children to have the best chance for success and to not have to learn so many lessons in the hard ways that we often learned.  We want to protect them from the consequences of some of the choices we see them making (not turning in work, choosing to procrastinate in lieu of studying, handing in mediocre work, poor time management, being socially unaware, lack of planning, acting out in search of attention, not asking for help – I could go on).

Oddly enough, as much as we think they don’t, our children DO KNOW this.  They know we have their best interests in mind.  Remember they are children (even the teenagers). Regardless of age, they haven’t lived and learned nearly as much as we have. Their brains haven’t developed to have the maturity and foresight that we have (or the ability to make logical and non-emotional decisions).  Sometimes, there is a neurological explanation for why they are having trouble getting things accomplished or remembering tasks (attention, learning, social-emotional, sensory, anger/frustration, or stress/anxiety related challenges and more).

However, because we tend to have selective memory (and generally grab small bits and pieces of our past experiences, mostly positive in nature), it’s easy to forget the valuable lessons that came as a result of each decision we have chosen to make in our own lives.

For today’s post, I am sharing a few tried and true “Instead of this, try that” suggestions.  I’d love to hear how they work for you (or what works), so message us or post a comment as you give these a try.

INSTEAD OF emailing the teacher,
TRY helping your child write an email or jot a few bullet points down about what they want to ask, so they can do this on their own.

INSTEAD OF listing reasons why homework is important and matters,
TRY asking them what value it has, or help them think forward and consider the outcomes of their efforts (if I slack on homework, it means ____, which means _____ which means _____) to help find their OWN values associated with these tasks and their day-to-day.

INSTEAD OF telling them what to do,
TRY asking what they want to do or accomplish; then ask what will that take…. and what will THAT take…until they come up with their OWN solutions or ideas.

INSTEAD OF calling them in late to school or writing an excuse,
TRY allowing them to realize the natural consequences. Consistently.   When used in conjunction with other strategies and an overall plan, the results have potential to be profound and lasting.

INSTEAD OF repeating directives a hundred times,
TRY removing the verbal aspect.  Perhaps make a sign:  “shoes,” “teeth,” “planner”…  Gesture or guide them with no words-even whisper instead of raising your voice.

INSTEAD OF checking their grades,
TRY letting them know you would like to check their grades soon, and ask if they think it’s a good idea to check themselves first (Side-note: this is a tough one, and the majority of students express that the negative feedback from parents contributes to further resistance and anger on the student’s part…sometimes they avoid doing the work on purpose out of frustration that parents make a big deal of grades – particularly when grades are often not updated, entered as a zero or as a placeholder by the teacher, or are inaccurate for some other reason.  They express, quite often, that their confidence comes down, and they feel that all their parents really care about are the grades).

These are just a few of our go-to strategies.  We have significantly stepped up our social media efforts, and are regularly posting ideas, tips and articles.  For more fabulous ideas and insight, be sure to click the links to follow us, and be sure check out our previous blog posts as well.

We look forward to hearing what works for you, and what ideas you find most successful or have come up with to manage these challenges at home.

STAY TUNED for more exciting announcements and offerings – coming soon!

Image via VGstockstudio/shutterstock




Keep it simple, students.

In a world that is fast paced and full of information and expectations, it is easy to become overwhelmed and find ways to avoid the task at hand or distract ourselves.  It’s no wonder so many of our students (and we, as adults) feel a sense of dread or anxiety as all of these to-do items and tasks swirl around in our minds.

Fortunately, after our mid 20’s, we are at least more equipped to manage and tackle these obstacles.  Neurologically speaking, our brains have developed enough to have the capacity for drawing on past experiences (plus there has been more time for learning opportunities) and to make connections we simply were not able to in our adolescent years.

In the spirit of simplification, I thought I would share a few tips for sorting through the “swirl” so it becomes easier to jump in and manage day to day.

Brain dump. Get ALL of the thoughts, tasks, emotions and ideas OUT.  Write, type, draw – just get them all out of the swirl.

Grab one.  Envision grabbing one of those many ideas swirling around and jump right in.  Maybe it’s the most important one; maybe it’s not.  What matters is that SOMETHING gets done.

Find ONE simple way to manage ALL expectations and tasks.  Most of our students (and parents) find that a functional assignment notebook or planner is the go-to tool for this (even those who at first resist, perhaps because they don’t want to take the time or write that much).  Once we find a way to SEE everything in one place and have the security that all is accounted for, it becomes easier to lay out plans and jump right in.

Be SPECIFIC, concrete, realistic and visual.  That’s quite a list, but give it a try.  Instead of “I need to get better at _______”… make it “In order to improve _____, I need to _______.”

Ask simple questions.  What is this about? What will it take? When can I get this done? What can be postponed? What will be my reward?

Create go-to plans and strategy lists (study plans, organization plans, asking for help plans) to make managing tasks across multiple areas become MUCH easier to carry out. Knowing there are options, and that we have plans, can significantly reduce anxiety and avoidance.

Make a list.  Simple, right?
Again – any way, shape or form will do…

  • write it out
  • print one
  • find an app
  • create a doc or chart online
  • use categories (do now, do soon, back burner, email/call, ideas, shopping list, etc.)
  • color code if you prefer
  • write these on mini sticky notes, and toss as you complete
  • write on scraps of paper and move them physically to reorganize or categorize, and toss as you go
  • don’t forget to list small rewards to keep motivated in between

Enlist help.  Yes. It’s ok to ask for help.  It may not be easy to delegate or ask for what we need, but this is a necessary skill.

Use other tools or charts to break down larger tasks.  List basic steps, then ask and record what it will take to complete each one; check off as you go.  Write out an organization and management plan for each class  (ex:  To find answers keys, I go here ____.  If I need help, I can go here _________.  Three people I can ask for help are ______, _______, ________.  To find the homework, I go here ________. Passwords and websites for this class =  __________).

Make an if-then list:  If I need __________, I can __________.  (If I am stuck in math, I can… go in early, ask my dad, text my tutor, search online for ideas or images/videos to help; If I am feeling stressed about a test, I can try deep breathing, make a study guide, use scratch paper to dump formulas and reminders at the start of the test, do online searches to print/save extra visuals; If I don’t know whether I am making the right parenting choices, I can draw out a plan or flow, enlist help, organize concerns and search solutions online to get started).

Make Your Plans MEANINGFUL

Make Your Plans MEANINGFUL

Don’t JUST plan…make your plans MEANINGFUL.

Looking ahead into the new year allows us to create plans for a fresh start.

What will be different this time? How will we make those plans work? What if we need to create plans for someone else (ie. our children)?

The bottom line is these plans must have MEANING.  The tough part is making the connection between where we are at and where we want to be.

So many students, all quite capable, share that they truly believe they can get an A in a class, or improve scores in writing, or perform better across the board.  When it’s time to take action and steps towards these goals, it isn’t enough to simply break down and lay out the plan (of course, this is a key component – the more specific and realistic, the better).  Hoping for the best isn’t going to work either.  What needs to happen is that they make a true projection and connection with what it would be like should the outcome be achieved (or perhaps not be achieved).

Over the years, I have observed that those who find the most success in executing their plans are those who 1) think ahead and anticipate what the outcomes might be and HOW they will get there (what it will take), and 2) consider the cost-benefit of their choices so they can connect with what the outcome would really mean for them.

A few points to consider as you lay out your own plans:

State the desired outcome, then ask WHAT WILL IT TAKE to do this?  Then ask again, AND WHAT WILL THAT TAKE?  Be as specific and realistic as possible. Next, lay out the costs and benefits of both taking and not taking necessary steps.  Then, make notes about what you want to remember as you move along. See our examples below to help get you started!

Example ONE: 

I want to keep up on the laundry.  It will take starting a load every morning.  That will take setting a reminder or two in my phone so I do not forget to get it started, swap it out and make this a habit.  This will take less than a minute!  It will also take my asking for help from the kids to put their own clothes away, and THAT will take consistency on my part to be sure they know WHAT is expected and that they do not earn free time until certain tasks are done.  THIS will take patience on my part and attention to my tone and how I approach assigning tasks and making my “demands” of them.  The costs of NOT doing this are a LOT of added stress, not being able to find clean clothes, we are more likely to be late, and I will probably yell at the kids (and myself) because we are losing time looking for clothes.  The BENEFITS of keeping up are that I will be less stressed – having laundry set and ready makes me feel accomplished.  I will feel more relaxed and ready to start each day on a good note.  It allows me to stay calm as we go through the morning rush, and I have more time to attend to other details (lunches, teeth brushing, backpack checks, etc.).  I need to remember that music or chatting on the phone helps the laundry go by more quickly. I also need to remember that even though the pile looks overwhelming, if I start chipping away, I am usually surprised at how little time and effort it takes to fold or put away a load of clothes.  If I find ways to go through the motions more enjoyably, it’s easier to keep up, and the benefit is a tremendous amount of stress relief.

Example TWO: 
I want to get an A in math this semester.  This will take doing ALL of the homework.  THAT will take writing down the assignments in my planner DURING class and CHECKING it when I get home.  It will also take asking questions AS SOON AS I do not fully understand. This will take marking them in my notebook and making time to go in early if needed.  THIS will take setting extra alarms and making a note in my assignment notebook so I do not forget.  It will also take better study habits for quizzes and tests.  This will take time (set aside time by writing it in assignment notebook) and making a study guide for formulas, rules, examples and steps.  This will take time as well. I need to use my assignment notebook (set alarms to remind me to check it) and lay out the time to prepare.  The costs of NOT focusing on the planning and time management or taking extra time to improve study habits are that I will NOT be able to earn an A and most likely will end up with a C again.  This will make me feel stressed, badly about myself, like I want to quit, and generally crabby.  The BENEFIT of doing these few things consistently is that my grade will quickly come up or stay at an A which will make me incredibly happy and proud. It will motivate me to keep up with these habits and decrease my stress levels considerably.  It will also make me more likely to increase my GPA so I can get into more colleges of my choice.  It will feel AWESOME, and I need to remember that I know the math, but am sabotaging my efforts when I don’t take a little extra time here and there.  I also need to remember that it never takes as long as I think it will to do these steps.

As always, we have some fabulous visual tools to help support and guide you in your efforts.  Check out those products at the link above, and let us know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Happy planning!

Communication as a Cornerstone

Communication as a Cornerstone

Communication in education is one of the most important factors in a student’s progress and development. Specifically the following relationships are key: Student-teacher, student-parent AND parent-teacher. Be sure to define what the communication will look like, identify goals and decide who is responsible for initiating.  Much depends on the student’s grade level and specific needs, of course. Regardless, you may find it helpful to incorporate some of the following suggestions to increase ease of communication and boost chances for student success.

    • Keep communication clear and concrete. What is the focus? What is the goal/purpose? What specific questions do you have or direction would you like?
    • Write out a plan (before, during and after any conversations)
    • If-then’s are a great way to establish a clear process (ex: IF there is a question about a grade, THEN parents will _______, student will ______ and teacher will _________)
    • Don’t hesitate to set up appointments at times other than the allocated parent-teacher conference days, and encourage students to regularly meet with teachers as well (not just for help, but for ideas, direction and feedback)
    • Students often hesitate to approach teachers because they don’t want to bother them, aren’t sure what to say or are nervous; writing out plans and preparing can help a great deal (encourage them to bring a sticky note with or use a basic form to make notes of questions and responses during the meeting)
    • Allow students to initiate the discussion about their progress (this takes guidance and direction, but often works well and allows students a chance to identify for themselves what areas they want to focus on and generate ideas for doing so)

When students are included in the communication process, they often feel more engaged, valued and even accountable. Students thrive in environments where the expectations are made clear, they have the opportunity to question, clarify, adjust and plan, and when parents support and facilitate as the students learn to communicate important information about their work, progress and needs.  Learning strategies for communicating and developing self advocacy skills at a young age are essential, as they will need these skills on an ongoing basis both in and out of school throughout life.  As a general rule, clear communication serves as a cornerstone and is fundamental to student success.
*Be sure to follow us on social media for great FREE tools and tips (such as our Grade Analysis self check-in form and our Teacher Tips and Feedback Form)

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