Newsletter Library

Alexandra in Tutorland

Cartoon drawing of a female face

With an emphasis on editing, checking our work, and measuring everything twice, it’s clear that many of us strive for perfection. We endeavor to double-check our work and edit out any errors. When we talk about scientific breakthroughs and celebrate progress, we rarely hear about the trial and error that those innovators experienced. It isn’t often that we focus on Henry Ford’s failed company, but we all know the success of the Model T. While I’ll be the first to admit that with my tedious nature, I aim to uphold high standards in everything I do, I can’t overlook the value of making mistakes and learning from my errors. The striking thing about missteps is that, if we reframe how we perceive errors, we can recognize the value of the processes we take to reach our goals. Each draft and double check can be not a step to avoiding failure, but a moment of learning. The next time you embark on a homework assignment, a project, or try out a new sport remember:

  1. Mistakes happen – most things require practice and improvement so chances are the first draft, the first attempt, and the first experience will be fraught with imperfection. Before you become an expert, you’ll start with mistakes and that’s ok.
  2. Learn from them – Mistakes and missteps are a given, but how you handle the experience of making a mistake is important. Think about what you can glean from the error. How can you correct it this time? What does this mistake teach you about the next time you try something? What skills or strategy can you learn from the error?
  3. Don’t give up – most of us prefer to do things that make us feel successful so working on something that’s not a strength may be difficult. But remember that with practice and perseverance you can improve and with attention to mistakes you can learn to be even better.

Edison famously said, “I’ve not failed 3,000 times, I’ve just gotten 3,000 steps closer to finding out what works!” If we consider our mistakes as experiences from which to learn then all of our actions will become satisfying exercises in the pursuit of knowledge.

A Tale of One Tutor

Anthony Tran

A picture of Anthony Tran

Each and every day we find ourselves at a crossroad. We are stuck between two decisions, to persevere and accept our challenges, or to quit and accept defeat. These challenges present themselves in a variety of ways, from basketball practice and cross country, to finally beating the hardest level of a video game, to following through and accepting a difficult situation and not dropping out of classes in school.

In college, we are given a great deal of freedom. What we do with this freedom highly depends upon our own decisions. Last semester, I signed up for a flurry of classes, classes that once the semester began, I thought that I would surely fail. One particular class, genetics, proved to be particularly difficult. Finally, the last day to drop the class came. Many of my friends decided to drop the class and avoid hurting their GPA. Their biggest fear and main reason for quitting was a longstanding fear of failure. I myself feared failure. I feared failing the class, and in turn, failing out of school. I had to decide between accepting the daunting challenge of continuing in a class that many decided was not worth the risk, or living with myself knowing I quit and left without an effort or a fight.

At the end of the day, I decided to stay in the class. After speaking to my professor, I accepted the challenge and keep trying my hardest. My professor told me that the most important thing in all the activities that I A cartoon image of hurdlescommit myself to is not whether or not I pass or fail, but rather that I do my very best, and I do my best to learn what I can. She explained to me that despite popular belief, numerical grades are not the only benchmark for measuring whether I pass or fail a class, but rather the depth and effort I put into the class extend much more than any numerical grade can. The reason to accept challenges are to push our boundaries and find and extend our limits. In the end, my grade, though passing and far from ideal, but the experiences that I gained within the class were more rewarding than any measurable thing that any administration could give me. What I gained about this class was knowledge about myself and my own abilities.

Mythbuster and TV personality Adam Savage provides an interesting metaphor about success and failure. In thinking that life as a journey and success being the destination, failure would then be the car that we use to travel. We are constantly learning about our abilities, limitations and boundaries, but only after we push our boundaries do we learn things about ourselves. It was through this experience that I learned to always persevere, and in accepting challenges, we gain knowledge about ourselves and widen the breadth of our boundaries in a way more rewarding than any measurable standard.

The (academic) Odyssey

Sherri Maxman
New York-based education consultant, helps TC answer questions we often hear from college-bound students with learning disabilities.

  1. What are the ‘best’ colleges for LD students?

    Just as there are many good colleges for all students, there are many good colleges for LD students. There is no particular list because other factors must be taken into account—location, size, academics, sports, extra-curriculars, learning environment—along with whatever support an LD student might need.

  2. How do I find out what kinds of academic support and accommodations colleges offer?

    While some of this information is available on colleges’ websites, the very best way to find out is to call each college and ask if they are able to meet your student’s needs. Search for “Disability Services” on a college’s website and that will lead you to the department and person who can answer these questions. If the college is unable to meet the student’s need, I advise crossing it off the list before applying.

  3. Should I identify myself as LD on my applications?

    This is a very personal issue that depends on your circumstances. If you feel that your high school grades reflect your very best efforts, there is no need to mention a LD. However, if your high school grades are inconsistent—for example, strong grades in English and weak grades in math—an LD may be the reason. An LD should not be used as an excuse—rather, it can be an explanation. Colleges also appreciate learning as much as they can about applicants—they are just as concerned as you are about the right "fit" between school and student!

  4. I don’t do well on standardized tests—will I get into any colleges?

    An increasing number of colleges acknowledge that some bright students simply don’t achieve high scores on the SAT/ACT. While I advise all my clients to prepare well for these exams and to do their best, I also tell them to go to to see the list of 800+ colleges that do not require SAT/ACT scores. (Some do have other requirements, such as extra essays or graded high school papers, so check individual colleges’ websites.)

Sense and Sensibility

Question: I’m feeling really stressed out with finals coming up, taking the SATs, and important play rehearsals. Every time I start to think about the last few weeks of school, I get really nervous. I get this sinking feeling like I won’t be able to get through it all. What can I do to not feel so worried so that I can do what I need to in order to get through these really busy weeks?

Answer: It is natural to feel stressed and anxious as the end of the year approaches. Being tested in all subjects in one week, while still maintaining one's extracurricular commitments, seems like a huge undertaking. However, if you have been studying all along and have kept your materials organized, there is little need to worry. Even if you haven't had the most consistent track record, there is still room to make amends.

  1. Organize: The first thing you should do is gather and organize all of the materials you need to study. The most important paper in your arsenal for review time will be the review sheet your teacher will likely provide for finals. If you teacher does not give you one, he/she will at least give you a list of subjects that will be covered. Based on this review sheet, you need to go through all your binders and/or notebooks and compile all the materials that are necessary for you to review. You will want to make sure you have a hold of all your textbook and reading materials as well. Once all your materials are gathered in one place, e.g. one file folder or binder, you can then move to step two.

  2. Prioritize: Take a brief glance at all your materials. Do you recall which area you had the most trouble with? Can you tell from the information your teacher provided which section will count most on your final? You want to focus first and foremost on the most important material for you. This means working first on the material that has been the most challenging for you as well as the material that will count the most on your final exam. Remember, you should start to get organized and prioritize the minute you receive your review sheet. This will give you plenty of time to meet with your teacher. Once you have prioritized, you can move to step three.

  3. Make a Study Plan: With your materials organized and prioritized, you can now make a study plan. How long your study plan is depends on the number of days you have to study. Most students have at least a week. Your study plan should include detailed tasks you must accomplish each day. For example, Day 1 review Section on Native American early history- Make practice test Day 2. review Section on Early Colonists- Study map and review notecards previously made Day 3. Review Early Days of Revolution- Study key terms and practice short answers.

If you have followed your study plan and paid careful attention to the material you were weak on and the material that is worth the most points on your finals, you should do great. If you find that you are having a hard time following your study plan, determine whether there are any activities you can take some time away from. It is important to strike a balance between studying for end-of-the-year exams and maintaining your extracurricular commitments.

It is also essential to keep moving, both physically and mentally! Try to maintain as healthy of a diet as possible while getting in at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day. A body at rest equates with a mind at rest. Most of us learn best, when our body has had the opportunity to work itself. Mentally, keep moving as well. Don't allow yourself to bogged down with the "big" picture. Focus on the here and now and take each day at a time. Each day that you've followed your study plan is a step in the right direction and worthy of at least a pat on the back, if not a tasty frozen treat to cool yourself off!

Much Ado About Learning

"Make a list of your tasks, and prioritize them. For example, write down what has to be done today, what has to be done this week, and what has to be done in the next two weeks. I find that this helps me separate tasks so that they are less overwhelming as a whole." -- Rhea Datta, New York

"I find that my productivity suffers after several consecutive hours of nonstop studying, and so I make sure to work occasional study breaks into my schedule; I avoid working through my scheduled breaks. When I return to work afterwards, I feel recharged and less prone to procrastinating and feel more in control of my tasks." -- Kevin Xu, New York

"Sometimes assignments feel overwhelming if you’re trying to tackle the work on your own. If you have an assignment on a topic you know you are uncomfortable with it, don't be afraid to ask for help. Working on the “hard stuff” with a teacher or with other students can be a great time saver. By seeking help, you don't waste a lot of time just being confused and then frustrated. Sometimes it is good to struggle and discover, but talking it out is a great way to learn the material as well." -- Hannah James, Austin

"I completely understand the paralyzing fear that can halt productivity when you are feeling overwhelmed. To help myself get unstuck I start by making a list of everything I have to do. Next, I label and fill in four quadrants with items from my list; Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important. By organizing my to-do list based on those qualities, I know which tasks should be prioritized, and which ones can wait. The targeted list relieves stress, and helps me formulate an action plan to accomplish my most pressing goals! Happy Studying :)" -- Bri Bennett, Houston

"I like to formulate a to-do list in order of deadline, then put literally everything I need to do on it -- no matter how small. Writing these in long-hand then crossing them out provides me a satisfying sense of accomplishment and productivity." -- Christine Reilly, New York

"When I'm overwhelmed with assignments, I like to make a prioritized checklist with everything that needs to be done. Focus on one task at a time." -- Anthony Radosevich, Austin

"First, while it's awful to feel overwhelmed, it can be empowering to recognize this feeling. Recognition means you are ready to get unstuck, rather than say or do something you might later regret. Second, getting "unstuck" often requires you to remove yourself from the situation. If you have something else to work on that is more fun or at least easier, do that. If not, take a break. Just a few minutes outside or of laughter can do amazing things for your attitude. If it's close to the end of the day, maybe you just need to go to sleep and get ready to face the challenge again tomorrow. If you're still feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone. Maybe you need a different perspective or to be listened to!" -- Jay Forester, Dallas