Newsletter Library

Alexandra in Tutorland

Happy spring! The big news in recent weeks has been about the impending SAT changes. Along with College Board’s planned exam redesign, the ACT will be making adjustments in the coming years geared towards releasing a digital version of the exam. Although these recent announcements signal shifts in the college entrance exams, we want to reassure you that we are ever-ready to respond to the changing needs of our students. We are here to answer your questions, assuage your concerns, and most importantly, we are dedicated to teaching our students to be brilliant learners who are college ready.

Optional essay? Computerized questions? Change in vocab?

Both the ACT and The College Board have announced changes in their respective exams that will take effect within the next few years. We’ll be monitoring the modifications as they are refined and confirmed, but here’s what you need to know now:



Demystified Programs and the Test Changes

The announcements about the test change were big news. Although we are excited to be part of the education field during such significant — and hopefully positive — times, we know that the changes to the exams will not intrinsically alter how we work and how we prepare students for standardized exams.

For over 10 years, our mission has been to guide students in acquiring the skills and confidence for lifelong learning. Our Demystified programs are rooted in methodical content review, rigorous development of critical thinking skills, and exposure to test strategy. We have never emphasized tricks or shortcuts. Instead, we have been steadfastly committed to teaching students how to be good readers, articulate communicators, and adept problem-solvers. And because tests are a necessary and unavoidable part of school — and life — we have given students all the practice and tools necessary for test day success. So, as the standardized exams and academic requirements change, we will anticipate and incorporate appropriate adjustments. We will, as always, be up-to-date. Our Demystified programs will evolve to meet changes while staying true to our tradition of excellence.

A Tale of One Tutor

Lucas Zeppetello,
New York

The first semester of college is a singular experience for everyone. New people, classes, and activities present themselves and it can often be intimidating to newcomers to engage in the different on campus communities that exist at every college and university. As a freshman at Columbia, I experienced this apprehension during my first weeks at school when I attended my first Engineers without Borders campus chapter meeting. The meeting was held in a two-hundred person classroom and quickly filled with upperclassmen who, laughing and talking with one another, gave an inaccessible aspect to the atmosphere within the room. I don’t remember much about that first gathering, and was uncertain about the club, but over the course of the following week I persuaded myself to attend following week’s meeting. Coming in with the same uncertainty that had accompanied me out the previous week, I was instantly surprised to see the number of members had decreased drastically and new members were quickly broken up to meet in small groups with different upperclassmen. Almost instantly, my fears about the club members were erased, as I found myself completely immersed in the project, which was to build a footbridge over a frequently flooded riverbank in rural Morocco. The first few meetings were mainly informational and, to my great relief, mostly aimed at acquainting new members with the club’s general infrastructure. I felt myself being drawn to writing grants for the project, an important task with a small team associated with it and throughout the semester kept attending meetings, volunteering for any grants-related task that needed doing, and talking with more experienced members about the group. At the start of next semester, I was asked to take charge of the grants team, which I agreed to do even though I felt woefully underprepared for the job. However, I continued to apply myself to the program, and the team wound up raising over $13,000 for the project which has now completed the footbridge! I continue to be an active member of Columbia’s Engineers without Borders campus chapter and am also travelling to Morocco this summer to help out with project implementation.

My experience with this student organization fits into of a wider pattern that I have observed since I started college: the most important thing to do when getting started in a new place with new people is simply showing up. If you are even the slightest bit interested in any sort of activity, go for it, and volunteer for things that you are uncomfortable with. If you need help, as I certainly did my first year writing grants, ask! Those with more experience and knowledge will be there to pick you up. The value of showing up and trying new things, especially at the beginning of college, cannot be understated and the spirit of getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things is one that keeps me active and excited about any sort of experience that comes my way.

The (academic) Odyssey

Dr. Melissa Bunner is a clinical psychologist in Austin with over 10 years clinical experience in neuropsychology. Visit her website for more information:

A picture of Dr. Melissa Bunner

Spring is in the air. After all the school cancellations and late starts for inclement weather, I have been thrilled for the warmer temperatures and sunshine. However, with the beginning of Spring also comes standardized testing. In our public schools, it is the STAAR, ELA, and NYS tests, while in private schools it may be ITBS, SSAT, or CTP, not to mention ACT and SAT for our upper high school students. It seems that Spring is synonymous with testing.

The question becomes, “How can I prepare my child?” I am not speaking of tutoring, homework, or practice tests. I am speaking of mental preparation. Many parents, children, and teachers experience anxiety in anticipation of these types of tests. There are a number of things you can do. Starting early will help your child be as successful as possible.

1. Manage your own anxiety. If you are worried bout the test, your child is guaranteed to pick up on it. If you have specific concerns, address them with his/her teacher, but not in front of the child. And remember, in the grand scheme of things, this really is a little thing.

2. If your son or daughter says that he/she is worried, validate them. Ask what they are worried about, and LISTEN. Don’t discount the worry. Remember that anxiety is a normal emotion. Acknowledge that big tests can be scary. Ask what they are worried about. Sometimes the fears are unfounded and can be allayed easily. At other times, you just have to listen.

3. Practice stress management techniques. There are many, but simple ones include taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, closing your eyes, visualizing a successful outcome, and saying a self-affirming mantra. Mantras to repeat might include, “I can do this” or “I am smart.” When my daughter was little she came up with “I rock!” You can write it down for them and put it in their lunchbox, bathroom mirror, etc.

4. Be confident. Even if you are worried about possible failing and/or low scores, before a test is not the time to talk about it. Instead, express your confidence that their teacher is teaching the right things and that they have been doing their work.

5. You have a wonderful child- TELL them! This recommendation applies to all aspects of competition- from sports, to school, to music, etc. These are the things they should here “I love you.” “Try your best.” “I’m proud of you.” For extra curricular activities, add in “Have fun!” Be simple. Kids need to know that your love and belief in them is not tied to performance.

6. Nutrition is important. We always hear, “Eat a good breakfast.” I agree, but I would add that you don’t want to make changes on the morning of testing. Protein in the morning is a good idea, but don’t give your child eggs and bacon on the morning of the test if he doesn’t usually eat it. I would hate for good intentions to lead to stomach aches. If you think changes in your child’s breakfast routine are warranted, start now!

7. Get a good night’s sleep. Although this is obvious, sometimes it’s easier said than done. I would encourage you to be diligent about bedtimes for at least a week before the tests. That way, if your child has trouble the night before, or has an activity that keeps them up past normal bedtime, they will be well-rested overall.

8. Distract them. Have fun. Be silly. Play. Laughing and smiling during testing weeks can help alleviate stress. The night before these tests is not the time to try and learn more math or improve reading vocabulary.

Of course, if your child is naturally a good test taker and/or not prone to worry, these suggestions may seem a bit “over the top.” However, if you keep these ideas in mind, you can do you part to support them during what can be a stressful time.

Sense and Sensibility

A picture of a computer with Demystified books in front of it.

A student asks: I use my computer and notebooks for the materials for each of my classes, but get confused about where things are! What should I do?

Answer: Now that computers are used more frequently, the addition of ANOTHER place to keep materials can definitely make staying organized more difficult. To eliminate this additional stress, create folders on your computer that match the way you organize your materials for school. For example, if you have a different binder with tabs to separate work for each of your classes, make a folder for each class on your computer and sub-folders within that for each of the tabs within the binder. This way, when you’re looking for your stuff you only have two places to look rather than searching aimlessly!

Much Ado About Learning

"When I'm studying vocabulary, I love to make flashcards with friends and use buzzers to see which person can figure out the word first. I also love drawing pictures of my notes. It's much more fun to draw and color a picture in addition to writing out notes; it's also a great way to help me visually remember the information!" -- Chey Onuoha, Austin, TX

"Frame studying as an exercise in problem solving. Rather than just “studying,” break down daunting tasks into manageable pieces and goals. Then make a score sheet and collect points as you reach each goal." -- John Parker, New York, NY

"A fun studying game to play is Bingo where you make a bingo card out of answers to questions for a test subject. The game is best played with a couple of players. Take turns creating the questions and answer keys. Then start playing! Bingo is a good tool for tests with word bank or multiple choice answers." -- Kelli Gavin, Dallas, TX

"Madlibs are awesome. "Although (first name) (last name) is a(n) (singular noun, derogatory) who continually (verb) on/in/at (proper noun, location), the (plural noun, animal) are ultimately (adjective), (adjective) creatures who not only (verb) (adverb), but also (verb) (adverb)" has strong thesis statement structure, while offering lots of practice around grammar and parts of speech. Try it with a whole introductory paragraph, or an entire essay. Students can fill them in and create their own." -- Rebecca Bachman, Austin, TX

"As a foreign language learner and tutor, I find that one of the best (and fun) ways to memorize vocabulary is to create creative mnemonic devices for trouble words. If you’re having a hard time with a word, create some way to help memorize it, no matter how ridiculous. For example, I always think of a ham (le jambon) when thinking of the word for leg in French (la jambe) because the words sound similar and that was how I memorized it when I was a teenager! The personal associations you make will help you commit the words to memory. It is also a way to exercise your creativity during a task that might otherwise be boring." -- Maureen Darcy, New York, NY

"For younger students, incorporating a hobby or toy into a study session can make learning fun! Using things like toy cars or dolls to help create a story or to use for a mathematics problem. This way the student is engaged and hardly knows they are learning. :)" -- Lindsay Goldman, New York, NY

"A fun way to study is to get a group of friends together and spend some time talking about the material. Make sure to focus only on what will be on the test and to probe the material. The conversation will engage your minds and allow you to answer questions your friends have and also to learn from your friends about things that were confusing to you in class." -- Jorie Feldman, New York, NY

"Games can take a subject that you may have trouble focusing in or one that you may dislike in general and make it a fun experience. Find something you are interested in and incorporate that into the study process. For example, if you enjoy basketball, play a game that incorporates basketball into learning multiplication facts – every time you shoot the ball, you must answer a multiplication question." -- Megan Morris, Austin, TX