Parenting Tips and Support

Just today, the test prep world and parents are abuzz. “What? another test?” 

One of my colleagues in the test prep tutoring world said to me, “dang, more tests suck!”

We agree. 

The LA Times reported one of our colleagues at Princeton Review saying that “the eighth grade is too late to begin pulling together a college prep portfolio….[this is] not the key year for college assessment. That’s sixth grade.”


I started my test prep career with Princeton Review. To read them say that it is 6th grade (that determines one’s merits being college bound) is just a little startling.

While there might be some merit in educational developmental theory that students at this age can indicate, or predict, some academic success, some of the time, this is not the only determination of intelligence or school performance. There are simply too many other issues at hand.

No one debates the increased importance of the SAT and ACT, in the sheer numbers of students applying to schools, and the emphasis that schools are placing on them. Still for the College Board to put out another test? We agree with PR on this one:this does seem like a great marketing plan to place importance of the College Board over the ACT folks. (We wonder if Paris Hilton’s PR firm is the same as the College Boards…but we digress…)

But it doesn’t make sense to those of us who really understand the human mind.

The human brain is plastic, easily changed and molded. A student uninterested in school and testing might not put forth the effort that another student, less smart might in performance.

A student not interested in the test, or completely pressured about taking it, will, as the freaked-out older GMAT and Medical Boards student, be point-penalized because of their anxiety.

As always, these tests will be, predictably, highly coachable. When you get the right training, you’ll get a great score. 

All the recent brain research points to the brain having plasticity at every stage. There is no, “use it or lose it”, rather a “use it, or train to use it better next time.” Then you will succeed.

Neurolinguistic Programming certainly indicates rapid shifts in behavior modification, as does hypnosis and other therapies. The neurological, such as that discussed in the book, The Brain that Changes Itself, and many others, points to our abilities shifting when we have the intention to become better physically as well as intellectually. We all know someone, or have seen someone on TV or in a magazine, who made a major shift: They have lost a lot of weight and then we see them training to compete in triathalons. Likewise, the brain can become conditioned to enhance the ‘natural’ or ‘nurtured’ smartness, and to be, simply, smarter. “We’ve had student start off with 400s on the GMATs to get in the 700s, or SAT students starting off in the 1500s, getting close to 2000. Did they get ‘smarter?” No. They just got great coaching.

The article states that the College Board said the exam would be voluntary starting in 2010, and that it was promted by the growing number of younger students listing for the PSAT.

While the PSAT is optional, and voluntary, last year, 3.4 million students took it. By creating another test, and sandwhich-ing the PSAT between the SAT and this new test, we wonder if it will heat up the pressure for people to take the PSAT, and perhaps ceasing it’s voluntary status.

While some argue that we need tests in order to help students plan on taking “gatekeeper classes” needed for college and to help schools identify talented students likely succeed in honors or AP courses, previously unrecognized.

But with added pressure at a younger age, these tests may do more harm than good. 

Another reason we’re glad to be available to coach students, if it really comes down to this… and if we teach our life skills earlier, to remain calm in the face of such (ridiculous) testing…well, then we’ll give our students skills earlier.

For fun, we thought we’d invite our readers to come up with some more “pre” pre things that might put this in better light.

A pre-tricycle: would that be 4 wheeled vehicle?

A pre-med education: would that mean only science classes in high school?

Pre-pre-school: an infant training academy?

We might as well have a little fun with this one… 

(original LA Times article: <,0,7851692.story> 

Yesterday’s New York TImes wrote about the ‘high cost’ of the college admissions process. It appeared not in the Education or regular section, but the ‘Health’ section. Turns out, the ‘high cost’ is the toll stress has on the applicants. WE know all about that! Cnsider these facts:

  • The New York Times, among other sources, reports that the high school class of 2009 will be 3.2 million: the largest group of students in U.S history ever vying for placement in the top schools.
  • Lower down on the tier-chain, mid-level schools will be accepting more of the fall out students rejected from top tier schools. So even if a student isn’t planning on competing to get into one of the top twenty schools in the country, the reality is that the student may still find himself or herself competing with students who applied for admission to those top schools and were rejected. This ‘chain’ continues to trickle down throughout the entire university system.
  • Below is the article, we’d love to hear what you think about it!

    Colleges High Cost, Before You Even Apply

    Taken from the New YOrk Times, April 29, 2008

    Published: April 29, 2008

    As the frenzied admissions season winds to a close, many students finally know where they will be attending college in the fall.

     Stuart Bradfor



    But there remains a troubling question: how much damage was done along the way?

    This year’s crop of applicants faced an unusually grueling admissions process. A demographic bubble has produced the largest group of graduating seniors in history, and they now are facing rejection by colleges at record rates more than 90 percent at Harvard and Yale, for example.

    There will be more disappointment this week as the May 1 admissions deadline passes and thousands who were on waiting lists learn that there are no spots left for them. And today’s high school sophomores and juniors may face worse odds. After a 15-year climb, the number of high school graduates still hasn’t peaked – that is expected to happen within the next two years.

    The college admissions process is an initiation rite into adulthood, says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of books on teenage stress and resiliency for the American Academy of Pediatrics. But if success is defined very narrowly, such as a fat envelope from a specific college, then many kids end up going through it and feeling like a failure.”

    Students complain about lack of sleep, stomach pain and headaches, but doctors and educators also worry that stress tied to academic achievement can lead to depression, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.

    There are some kids who can handle it, says Denise Pope, a Stanford University education lecturer and author of Doing School, a book about stress and academics. But some of these kids have had college on the brain since sixth or seventh grade or even earlier. When you have that kind of stress over that kind of time, that’s where it starts to worry us.

    At the start of the admissions season, Austin Grogin, 18, from Bellaire High School near Houston, applied to 12 colleges, writing different essays for each school. He had strong test scores and a journalism internship at The Houston Chronicle, he had organized a major breast cancer fund-raiser at his school, and he hoped to attend Emory University in Atlanta. “I had countless stomachaches and headaches,” says Mr. Grogin.

    By April, he was checking online at least twice a day, and was stunned when Emory didn’t accept him.

    At first I refreshed the page to make sure it wasn’t a mistake, he said. When the official rejection letter arrived in the mail, he invited his friends over and burned it. I felt burned by the school, he says, adding that he is looking forward to attending his second choice, the University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Some high schools are trying to improve the process by easing up on the workload of seniors who are filling out college applications. At Princeton High School in New Jersey, Patti Lieberman, a guidance counselor, says she emphasizes stories of real students who won better opportunities like research grants and White House internships after going to slightly less competitive schools. “We try to teach them, Bloom where you are planted,” she says.

    Stanford University’s School of Education this week is kicking off Challenge Success, expanding the mission of its previous program, Stressed Out Students. Challenge Success will work with high schools, teenagers and parents to help them redefine success in college admission and academic achievement in general.

    “College admission is how a lot of people are defining success these days,” says Dr. Pope, founder of the group. “We want to challenge people to achieve the healthier form of success, which is about character, well-being, physical and mental health and true engagement with learning.”

    Dr. Ginsburg says parents can help children develop resiliency for coping with life’s ups and downs. The key, he says, is to teach them that their parents’ high expectations of them aren’t tied to grades or accomplishments. It means teaching them, “I know who you are deep inside, and I always expect to see that compassion and generosity in you,” says Dr. Ginsburg.

    After achieving perfect scores on his SATs, Sam Werner of Norwalk, Conn., was devastated by rejections from Stanford and Princeton. Mr. Werner was also on the crew and golf teams, performed in his high school musical and ranked third in his class.

    “I kept wondering what more I could have done,” he says. “I realize I didn’t found a company or discover a new insect. I feel like it’s coming to a point where you have to do something like that to get into schools like Princeton or Stanford.”

    Today, Mr. Werner, a pre-med student at Notre Dame, says he has new perspective on being rejected by his top college picks. “At the time, it felt like it was the biggest deal in the world that I didn’t get into those schools,” he says. “But I love it here. Looking back on it now, this is definitely the right place for me.”